It's time once again to gaze into the crystal ball. Across the region, 2014 has been a year of economic anxiety and political fragility. A consumption tax hike that threatens to derail Abenomics, Japan's fading policy designed to reinvigorate that economy. Protests in Hong Kong. Massive street demonstrations in Pakistan. A military coup in Thailand. A ferry disaster in Korea that triggered national mourning and curtailed advertising spend there.
But the biggest source of uncertainty has been the Chinese economy. The new leadership team of President Xi Jinping is attempting to rebalance the economy from one driven by exports and capital investment to growth more reliant on services and consumer spending.
This transition has been, at best, clunky. Economic observers are divided on whether or not long-term structural changes are in the works or whether China is trapped in a middle-income trap.
But there is one thing that has incontestably improved: confidence in President Xi. It is difficult to overstate the positive impression that he has made on the Chinese people. He is practically revered, but not blindly. His crackdown on corruption is seen as an artful balance of political savvy and reform. His recent agreements with the United States on environmental and high-tech trade issues reveal a crafty leader of a nation that is both competitor and collaborator. In short, the Chinese people think Xi Jinping is smart and switched on.
This is huge step forward. Despite the technocratic skill of Beijing mandarins, the Chinese economic is fueled by intangibles. In any country, but most of all China, anxiety is unproductive. Although the jury is still out on the Chinese government's incremental reform agenda, the people support their leader. And regard him as a force of stability.
As 2015 dawns, this is perhaps the best economic news of all.
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