Four storylines to watch as 2023 begins

Developments in Ukraine, China, cryptocurrencies, and inflation will all shape the world in the year to come

Today's expression: Intent on
Explore more: Lesson #535
January 5, 2023:

As the world flips the calendar to 2023, we discuss four stories that will have an impact in the next twelve months. How long will the war in Ukraine last? Will China experience a nasty wave of COVID? Can central banks avoid causing a recession? And how bad is the damage to crypto? Plus, learn the English expression "be intent on."

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Here are five things to watch for in 2023

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, welcome to Plain English for January 5, 2023. We’re ready to start another great year together—I hope you are too, and I hope you’ll join us every Monday and Thursday this year. This is where you can upgrade your English with lessons about current events and trending topics. We have 52 weeks ahead of us. That means 104 new English expressions coming your way this year, too.

We started the year off with “seek to.” Today’s expression is “to be intent on” and twice a week, we’ll show you more ways to express your best ideas in English.

Today’s current events topic is this: four things to watch for in 2023. They include the war in Ukraine, inflation, China’s new Covid strategy, and the future of cryptocurrencies. Let’s get going.

2023: Four things to watch for

Ukraine

January in Eastern Europe is cold. Nobody knows that better than Russia: the forbidding winter weather has aided Russia against invasions in the past. The cold weather of early 1813 helped defeat Napoleon’s invasion. But now “General Winter,” which so often helped Russia, may now be working against it. That’s because this time, Russia is the invading force.

Winter weather makes it harder to fight. Soldiers need warmer clothes and boots. The ground freezes. Tanks, weapons, and other equipment need more maintenance. Some experts think the war will settle into a winter stalemate, with neither side making any advances. In the meantime , Russia is intent on making life miserable for Ukrainians. Missiles attack the civilian electrical grid and other infrastructure; Russia’s objective is to weaken Ukrainian civilians’ support for the war.

The longer the war goes, the more pain Ukraine’s allies will feel, too. The bills for providing Ukraine with weaponry continue to add up , month after month. And consumers feel the pinch of higher energy prices. It’s in Russia’s interest to extend the war as long as possible. That makes a “negotiated peace” more likely.

In a “negotiated peace,” Ukraine and Russia would sign an agreement to stop fighting and would have to agree on new borders and areas of control. Russia can use that to declare victory and grab some territory. Ukraine says it won’t accept any loss of territory, as that would just encourage Russia to start another conflict in the future.

So here’s what to watch for: Will Ukraine and its allies in the west continue to fight off Russia or begin to negotiate an end to the conflict?

Inflation

The next thing to watch is inflation . Inflation in Europe and America has started to come down—but it’s still high. Central banks are raising interest rates, in the hopes of reducing inflation. But increasing interest rates also increases the risk of a recession in the future. The holy grail is to increase interest rates just enough to tame inflation, but not so much that it creates a deep recession. Many economists predict the U.S. will have a mild recession in 2023, and that Europe will have a more painful one, due to high energy prices .

Here’s what to watch for: If inflation continues to fall steadily in the world’s biggest economies, then interest rate hikes won’t be as painful, and the risk of a deeper recession will be lower.

COVID in China

China is dismantling its COVID-19 apparatus of testing, tracking, and lockdowns. It is a stunning reversal. Until just a few months ago, Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party were waging a “people’s war” against the virus. The war included draconian lockdowns, an unprecedented level of surveillance, and a lot of propaganda.

Chinese people were, mostly, willing to accept targeted lockdowns and restrictions on their freedoms because China avoided the death rates that western countries experienced. Chinese media highlighted death rates in America and Europe as a way of praising the Chinese government: Look, they said, at all the death in the west. We’ve avoided all that.

But as the Omicron variant spread in China, the lockdowns became more widespread. Protests in Beijing and elsewhere not only targeted the COVID policies, but also directly targeted Xi Jinping. The protests were the most direct challenge to Xi’s rule.

Potentially as a result of the protests, the Chinese government has done an about-face. The contact tracing and tracking apps, which were essential to daily life, have been erased from the app stores. Testing centers are being dismantled. Just weeks ago, the government was waging a people’s war against the virus; now, the war is over.

China may be done with the war on the virus, but the virus is not done with China. Because of its extensive lockdowns, Chinese people have not achieved immunity to COVID through past infections. Fewer people are vaccinated; many people over 80, the most vulnerable group, have not gotten the full course of vaccines. Until just a short time ago, many vaccine factories were sitting idle. China’s government has been slow to allow more effective western vaccines into the country. And they have far fewer ICU beds than more developed nations.

So here’s what to watch for: Will a deadly wave of COVID rip through China, the world’s most populous country? The numbers and modeling suggest that it will, but COVID has surprised experts in the past. Still, the first few months of 2023, the cold months when people are indoors, could be very hard indeed on the Chinese people.

Crypto

The last thing to watch: cryptocurrencies. A cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, collapsed in late 2022, wiping out billions of dollars of customer deposits. An exchange is not supposed to collapse like that: an exchange is supposed to be a neutral place where people buy, sell, deposit, and bet on currencies. But it proved not to be a safe and neutral place to do these activities at all. FTX had a reputation for being one of the more responsible actors in the crypto world. The founder is now facing over 100 years in prison if convicted of all he’s charged with.

And this was one of the safe crypto firms! The rest of the industry is likely to face a reckoning. So here are two things to watch for in crypto: Number one, how will governments respond? Will they respond by heavily regulating crypto activities, just like banking activities? And number two, will average crypto investors be scared off by the FTX collapse?

Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX have irreparably damaged the reputation of cryptocurrencies. In 2023, we’ll begin to learn just how bad the damage is.

Streaming?

I’m not sure this is coming in 2023; it might be another year or two out. But there is pressure building on the video streaming industry. There are a lot of small streaming providers out there, all charging six, seven dollars a month, and they don’t have great libraries.

I’m talking about Paramount Plus, Discovery Plus, Peacock. Consumers are getting tired of paying so many subscriptions and the cost of creating new content is going up. There are changes coming to the streaming industry. We’ll explore that in a future lesson, but consider that one thing to watch for in the entertainment world.

By the way, a minute ago I called China the world’s most populous country. If you’re listening in early 2023, that is true. But if you’re listening in late 2023, or after, that may not be true: India is forecast to surpass China as the world’s most populous country this year, according to the U.N.

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Expression: Intent on