Is lady’s luck smiling down on you? Do you feel lucky? The number 21 is connected with luck, risk, taking chances and rolling the dice. It’s the number of spots on a standard die, it’s the minimum age at which you can enter a casino in most parts of the world, and the name of a family of card games, including blackjack, that are popular with people who love taking a chance on their luck.

All of which seems strangely appropriate for a year of unusual uncertainty. The great prize on offer is the chance of bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control, to bring back some kind of normalcy – the kind of way of life we were familiar with before the pandemic. But in the meantime risks abound, to health, economic vitality, governmental and social stability. As we enter 2021, let us be prepared for several emerging trends the world would witness.


  1. Disputes over vaccines availability. As the first vaccines become available in quantity, the focus will shift from the gallant effort of developing them to the equally daunting task of distributing them. Vaccine diplomacy will accompany fights within and between countries over who should get them and when. There is a world-wide co-ordinated efforts to demonstrate the safety of vaccination by world leaders, politicians, celebrities and activists. A point to note – how many people would refuse vaccinations?

  2. A mixed economic recovery. As economies bounce back from the pandemic the recovery will be patchy, as local outbreaks and clampdowns come and go—and governments pivot from keeping companies on life-support to helping workers who have lost their jobs. The gap between strong and weak firms will widen. In countries where people rely on welfares, the poverty index would set-back years of efforts in narrowing the gap.

  3. Adjusting to a New World Disorder. How much will Joe Biden, newly installed in the White House, be able to patch up a crumbling rules-based international order? The Paris climate treaty and the Iran nuclear deal are obvious places to start. In Asia, all eyes will be on the Biden administration’s foreign policies.

  4. More US-China tensions. Don’t expect Mr Biden to call off the trade war with China. Instead, he will want to mend relationships with allies to wage it more effectively. Increasing tension with China will be expected. Many countries from Africa to South-East Asia are doing their best to avoiding picking sides as the tension rises.

  5. Companies On The Front Line. Another front for the US-China conflict is companies, and not just the obvious examples of Huawei and TikTok, as business becomes even more of a geopolitical battlefield. Big tech companies come under immense scrutiny for privacy and data usage. We have just witnessed the fall from grace of Jack Ma’s Ant Group failed IPO. Many would not fathom how once China’s poster boy would be stopped in his tracks. As well as pressure from above, bosses also face pressure from below, as employees and customers demand that they take stands on climate change and social justice, where politicians and government have done too little.

  6. Digital transformation. In 2020 the pandemic accelerated the adoption of many technological behaviours, from video-conferencing and online shopping to remote working and distance learning. In 2021 the extent to which these changes will stick, or snapback, will become clearer. Many parts of ASEAN will play catch up to more affluent countries in terms of digital adaptation.

  7. A Less Footloose World. Tourism will shrink and change shape, with more emphasis on domestic travel. Airlines, hotel chains and aircraft manufacturers will struggle, as will universities that rely heavily on foreign students. Cultural exchange will suffer, too.

  8. Climate Change Opportunity. One silver lining amid the crisis is the chance to take action on climate change, as governments invest in green recovery plans to create jobs and cut emissions. A surprise announcement made by China as she aims for 'carbon neutrality by 2060'. How ambitious will countries’ reduction pledges be at the UN climate conference, delayed from 2020?

  9. The Year Of Déjà Vu. A second take on 2020, as events including the Olympics, the Dubai Expo and many other political, sporting and commercial gatherings do their best to open a year later than planned. Not all will succeed. Japan, till now, has insisted that Olympics will go ahead as scheduled as most parts of the world are still battling emerging waves of COVID- 19, failure of which would be an economic catastrophe.

  10. A Wake-Up Call For Other Risks. Academics and analysts, many of whom have warned of the danger of a pandemic for years, will try to exploit a narrow window of opportunity to get policymakers to take other neglected risks, such as antibiotic resistance and nuclear terrorism, more seriously.


2021 promises to be particularly unpredictable, given the interactions between the pandemic, uneven economic recovery and fractious geopolitics. I hope the succinct observations would serve its purpose in preparing us for the incoming onslaught. So let the dice fly high—and, whatever cards 2021 may end up dealing you, may the odds be ever in your favour.


Dr Kris See
Adjunct Fellow, AIMSMET

*The author can be contacted at