Top overseas news stories for 2021 reflect pandemic’s continued shadow

The threat of the novel coronavirus has continued to cast a dark shadow over the world.

On the list of this year’s top 10 international news events selected by Yomiuri Shimbun readers, the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus ranked second, and the cumulative number of coronavirus-infected people exceeding 200 million placed third.

The omicron variant has wreaked havoc in Europe and the United States, and coronavirus infections are approaching 300 million people worldwide. It is encouraging that applications have been filed in the United States to use oral drugs for treatment and some of the drugs were approved — this was the 10th-ranked news story — but there are no signs of the pandemic being brought under control.

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa. The vicious cycle of a variant emerging and infections increasing again cannot be broken unless vaccination is promoted not only in developed countries but also in developing countries. International cooperation is essential in this regard.

Joe Biden’s inauguration as the new U.S. president topped the list of international news stories. Many readers likely expected a shift from former President Donald Trump, who promoted his “America First” policy and downplayed U.S. alliances and international cooperation.

Trump’s refusal to concede defeat in the presidential election and his supporters storming and occupying the U.S. Capitol shocked many Japanese people, and the event ranked eighth among readers’ picks.

The conviction of a white police officer who assaulted and killed a Black man, an incident that again underscored the depth of racism in the United States, ranked 11th.

The partisan divisions and racial and regional divisions that Trump fueled still continue. Biden’s leadership is being tested as to whether he will be able to mend them.

In fourth place was the staging of a coup by the Myanmar military, which detained Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy government. The fifth-ranked overseas news story was the Islamist Taliban taking advantage of the withdrawal of U.S. forces to seize the Afghan capital and take power.

Democratically elected governments were unilaterally overthrown by force in both cases. The international community has not recognized the legitimacy of the new governments of these two countries. People suffering from food shortages and the suppression of human rights under authoritarian rule must not be abandoned.

China-related news accounted for nearly one-third of the top 30.

The management crisis at Chinese real estate giant China Evergrande Group, which ranked ninth, probably reflected concerns over a slowdown in the Chinese economy, which cannot be separated from Japan’s. The news that China and Taiwan are competing to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact also attracted attention, ranking 24th.

As China intensifies its military threats against Taiwan, the Group of Seven leading industrialized countries for the first time referred to the Taiwan issue in their leaders’ statement — the No. 14 news story — indicating that they will be actively involved in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Cooperation among Japan, the United States and Europe is becoming more important.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 29, 2021.