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Bowie's death was just the start of it, as 2016 began

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HARVEY MORRIS

| China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-12-19 17:29

The bad taste joke of this holiday season is that back in January everyone thought the worst thing that could happen in 2016 was the death of David Bowie.

It turned out that the sad and premature demise of The Man Who Fell to Earth on Jan 10 was just the start of it. Maybe, the superstar knew something that we didn't.

Since then, Britain has effectively retreated behind the Channel fogbanks, while in the US a man who lost money running a casino-an extraordinarily rare feat-is headed for the White House.

Wars continue unabated in the Middle East, with world powers seemingly unable or unwilling to stop them. At least, so-called Islamic State is on the retreat but, as with previous conflicts, this one will defy the prediction that it will all be over by Christmas.

There have been a few bright spots. Brazil hosted a successful Olympics, even if it did slightly spoil the party atmosphere by impeaching and removing its president the following week. Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 in a rain-spattered celebration that heartened all but the most diehard republicans. In May, the orbit of the planet Mercury transited the sun, an event for which, exceptionally, neither monarchs nor politicians could be credited or blamed.

Bowie's death was just the start of it, as 2016 began

David Bowie died as the year began and things did not get any better. [Photo/Agencies]

Much of the current angst in the West, it must be said, is self-induced. How else to explain the decision by Britain's ITV to screen a pre-Christmas special by cranky Australian controversialist John Pilger, entitled The Coming War on China? (He blames it on the Americans, by the way).

Britain's red-top, right-wing press, having boosted the Brexit vote with dire tales of baby-eating immigrants and vampiric Eurocrats (well, almost) also appears to have caught the war bug as the festive season approaches.

"Britain and NATO ready to launch a 'MAJOR WAR' with Russia in Europe," trumpeted The Express, cavalierly interpreting the somewhat less apocalyptic remarks of Moscow's ambassador to London. Things are no more cheerful across the Channel. Even the sober Les Echos ran a piece asking "Can a third world war break out?" The UN had certainly displayed its incapacity to stop the conflicts that would continue to torment the world into 2017, lamented its author, Jacques Hubert-Rodier.

But even Les Echos' Cassandra saw one bright spot on the horizon, writing that, despite tensions in the South China Sea, "it is difficult to see China launching itself into a major military adventure. Nevertheless, the spark of conflicts is never foreseeable".

It was a further sign that, in Europe, China is increasingly viewed as one of the sensible voices in an increasingly mad world, a perception that has strengthened when contrasted with the worryingly divisive rhetoric coming from president-elect Donald Trump.

China has a host of issues to resolve with its Western partners, not least over trade, tariffs and emergent protectionist tendencies in the US and Europe, and there are also differences over how to handle the conflicts in the Middle East, but Beijing's contribution has remained diplomatic and, for the most part, low-key.

China's economic power means it inevitably continues to be drawn ever more tightly into the international discourse in the United Nations and other international forums.

There has been speculation that the first Chinese person to enter the top echelon of the UN bureaucracy could be the next head of the department of peacekeeping, a post traditionally filled by a Westerner.

Once reticent about intervening, China now contributes more soldiers to UN peace missions than any other permanent member of the Security Council. And China is unique in only engaging in peacekeeping through the world body.

Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister who takes office as the next UN Secretary-General on Jan 1, was recently in Beijing, where he praised China's contribution.

"Today, China is one of the biggest financers of the UN and its actions," he said. "At the same time, it is making a very important contribution to peacekeeping and to more initiatives that will be announced soon."

Maybe it was a hint for 2017.

Harvey Morris is a Senior Media Consultant for China Daily UK.

Bowie's death was just the start of it, as 2016 began

Queen Elizabeth II visits Goodenough College early this month for an engagement during an eventful year in which she turned 90. [Photo/Agencies]

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