As the first half of 2016 comes to a close, we want to draw some perspective on who the rising leaders are around the world. While many are promising great change, it is unclear as to how many of them will change the current state of international affairs for better or worse. As to how it will affect the United States, it is too early to tell.
The first female president of Taiwan has already caused a stir in the Pacific. Elected in the beginning of 2016, the Democratic Progressive Party leader has promised to move away from the China-friendly policies of her predecessor and diversify Taiwan’s economic partners while maintaining stability in the region.
Along with being the first woman elected to that office, Tsai Ing-Wen is also the first president of aboriginal descent, the first unmarried president and the first to never hold an executive post before the presidency. Her domestic policy is an ambitious and progressive one that supports disenfranchised minority groups and marriage equality. She assumed office on May 20 and we must wait to see how she approaches these issues, as well as Taiwan’s role in the South China Sea dispute. The United States continues to monitor this situation closely as Chinese expansionism continues to flare tensions in the region.
From one first to another. The Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan became the first Muslim mayor of a major capital in the Western World when he ousted Boris Johnson to become Mayor of London in May 2016. The unprecedented election sent shockwaves around the world that culminated in a media spat between Khan and Donald Trump over the latter’s proposed ban on Muslims.
Khan, the son of working class Pakistani immigrants, was formerly a high-profile human rights solicitor and Member of Parliament for Tooting. His politics have been described as center-left and his platform was appealing enough to give him the largest mandate in UK history. Khan is a devout Sunni Muslim and hopes to ameliorate the increasing ethnic tensions fermenting in Europe. Watch for his handling of London’s massive housing crisis and the upcoming Brexit referendum. Khan opposes leaving the European Union, an opinion shared by President Obama who thinks a British exit would hurt the country’s trade with the United States.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi led her party, the National League for Democracy, to victory in Myanmar’s first open election in 25 years. “The Lady”, as she is known, had spent nearly 15 years in some form of confinement under orders of the country’s oppressive military junta. As a political prisoner she tirelessly advocated for democracy for which she was international lauded and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Since her release in 2010, she has been very politically active. Although constitutionally barred from becoming president, Aung San Suu Kyi now serves as State Counsellor, a role akin to Prime Minister. Yet despite her sterling global reputation, she has been criticized for her handling of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis and her attitude to the plight of that persecuted minority. She will surely make headlines this year as she leads her country’s economic revitalization, and attempts to circumvent military obstructionism to her assuming the presidency. In addition, Aung San Suu Kyi maintains a strong relationship with Hillary Clinton from the latter’s engagement with Myanmar as Secretary of State. If Clinton becomes president, that relationship will provide a strong foundation for diplomatic ties between the two countries going forward.
Justin Trudeau is already having a stellar first year in office as Prime Minister of Canada. After a sweeping victory in the 2015 election for his Liberal Party, Trudeau has been on a worldwide charm offensive, marking a significant turn from his conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper. Most notably, he instituted stringent environmental reviews for pipeline projects and shifted Canada’s focus in Iraq and Syria from airstrikes against ISIS to training Kurdish forces.
Trudeau is pursuing a progressive agenda at home, including mending relationships with Canada’s indigenous and minority populations, legalizing marijuana, developing infrastructure and promising a fair and transparent government. As the second youngest PM in Canadian history, as well as the only child of a former PM to serve in the office, Trudeau will face significant pressure to succeed. His honeymoon period is coming to a close and it will be interesting to see how he handles the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as Canada’s expanding role in world affairs. One critical relationship will be the one with Canada’s neighbor to the south. Trudeau has shared a warm, almost brotherly relationship with Obama but a Trump presidency would draw a tense contrast between the two North American powers.
The praise has not stopped ringing for Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Her unyielding dedication to bring the world together for 6 years of tense negotiations culminated in the historic Paris Agreement, a comprehensive action plan that aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. A record 155 countries signed the agreement on Earth Day 2016, significantly including the United States in spite of notable domestic opposition.
Figueres is a Costa Rican diplomat with 35 years of experience in policy planning and multilateral negotiations. Throughout her career she has been a leader in the fight against climate change and is well regarded for her collaborative approach to diplomacy. She is set to end her tenure as Executive Secretary in July and due to her impressive record and reputation many are suggesting that she would make a strong candidate for UN Secretary General in the election later this year. She would join a list of women vying to be the first ever female Secretary General.