The world’s priorities in 2018, according to its leaders’ new year’s addresses

New year, new you.
New year, new you.
Image: Reuters/Etienne Laurent
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New year’s speeches by world leaders don’t typically contain much news, but taken together, they offer a helpful view of the global mindset as we turn the calendar. So here’s a look at the most notable ones for 2018.


President Xi Jinping delivered a hopeful address to citizens in which he focused on the goal of eliminating poverty in the country by 2020. He emphasized sharing the collective economic growth in the country with all citizens, especially those living in poorer, rural areas.

Key quote, on international relations:

As a responsible major country, China must speak out … China will act as a builder of world peace and a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order. The Chinese people are willing to join all peoples of the world in creating a beautiful future of greater prosperity and greater peace for mankind.


Nicos Anastasiades highlighted Cyprus’ economic improvements in 2017, which included finally being able to offer citizens refunds on their taxes and starting to provide healthcare through a national system. In 2018, he said the country would focus on developing its renewable energy. Cyprus was supposed to submit an energy plan to the EU by Jan. 1, 2018, but they never did.

Key quote, on Turkish military presence: 

With respect to the Cyprus problem, after hard and methodic work in the last few years, we managed to come closer than ever to the aim of ending the occupation and reuniting our country…Our unnegotiable aim remains a solution which actually reunites our country transforming it into a modern, European and absolutely independent state corresponding to the expectations of its citizens.


Queen Margrethe II encouraged citizens to celebrate diversity of talent, and suggested everyone try “something that there is no need for, something pointless!” because experiences that inspire the imagination are important.

Key quote, on the virtues of immigration:

It is not merely a question of being short of hands. We also need ideas and inspiration from abroad in order to maintain the high position which Denmark holds in so many fields, in the same way as we succeed in inspiring others throughout the world.


Emmanuel Macron called for a renewed spirit of unity in the country, and cautioned against nationalism. He also said France will continue to take “determined action” in the fight against Islamist terrorism, and would “welcome the men and women who are fleeing countries where they are threatened because of their origins, their religion, or their political convictions.”

Key quote, on inequality:

What is success worth if it is only the success of a handful of people?


Prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili extended warm wishes to those serving in Georgia’s armed forces. He promised that the country was working toward peace and stability in its 100th year of independence after the Russian Revolution.

Key quote, to those serving in international missionaries:

I really believe that we can restore trust and together we will build a joint future for ourselves and our children.


Angela Merkel, the acting chancellor of Germany, gave (paywall) an end of year speech with a more solemn as she acknowledged the political division in the country. This was the first year in which an even more conservative party than her own—Alternative for Germany—took up 12.6% of the vote in the parliament election, and have since blocked Merkel’s attempts to form an actual government based on their parties’ interests.

Key quote, on empathy and unity:

My wishes for the New Year are for us to become aware again of that which holds us together at heart; that we focus again on what we have in common; and for us to strive to have more consideration for others. I mean consideration in the broadest sense: paying attention, truly listening and showing understanding for others.


Prime minister Narendra Modi used his speech for the new year to call for a more progressive country. He acknowledged that this year would be the first year that those born in the 21st century would be eligible to vote, and proposed creating at least one position for someone aged 18 to 25 from each district’s in 2018’s August parliament.

Key quote, on encouraging young adults to vote:

Your vote will prove to be the bedrock of New India. The power of the vote is the greatest strength of a democracy. The vote is the most effective tool in bringing about a positive change in the lives of millions of people…It’s about you determining & deciding the course of the nation in the 21st century, your dreams in the India of the 21st century.


Prime minister Shinzo Abe used his new year’s speech to address what he calls a national crisis: Japan’s declining birth rate and rapidly aging population. He promised that in the years to come, he and other lawmakers would use the country’s healthy economic growth to provide more resources for families who wish to have children, who will eventually be needed to support older citizens leaving the workforce.

Key quote, on making it easier for families to have children:

We will invest boldly in children’s futures. We will take on the unease people feel over childrearing and nursing care by dramatically reforming the social security system into one that is oriented to all generations. We will build a society that provides opportunities for all people, no matter their age, to brush up their skills and take on new challenges.


President Muhammadu Buhari used his new year’s address to quash the notion of re-architecting Nigeria’s system of political governance, which been hotly debated recently under the rubric of “restructuring.” The debate has centered around reducing the influence of Nigeria’s federal government. While restructuring may not be on the cards, Buhari vowed to look into reducing waste, “extravagance,” and corruption by government officials. Indeed, he mounted a high-profile anti-corruption campaign last year.

Key quote, on political restructuring:

In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the ongoing debate about ‘restructuring.’ No human law or edifice is perfect…When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was by turns belligerent and conciliatory in his new year’s message. He threatened the US with a nuclear strike that could be launched at the touch of a button—or so he claimed. But he turned to South Korea to offer cooperation and dialog to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula. He even ordered his bureaucrats to begin talks with the south about sending a delegation to participate in next month’s winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Key quote, on its nuclear capabilities:

The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office. They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality.


Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke of familial love and the importance of personal improvement in his new year’s message, which is broadcast on state television a few minutes before midnight across the country’s 11 time zones. Putin is seeking a fourth term as president this year, when Russia hosts the soccer World Cup.

Key quote, on forgiveness and change:

[I urge everyone] to tell words of love and care to each other, forgive mistakes and offenses, to hug, to warm with care and attention. Let changes for the better happen to every person, everyone family. Let everyone be healthy, let new children be born and make us happy.


Binding Singapore’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious polity together in the face of an uncertain global environment was the theme of prime minister Lee Hsien Loong’s new year’s speech. He delivered a mini-history lesson about the founding of British colonial Singapore in 1819, linking that event to the prosperity of Singapore today. He also set the stage for a May speech by Singapore’s head of state that will reveal the policy directions devised by a new generation of leaders groomed by the ruling People’s Action Party.

Key quote, on the Singaporean identity:

But the “Singapore Story” began way before 1965. Just in the past few months, I have attended several special anniversary celebrations: the 100th anniversaries of the Singapore Malayalee Association, Masjid Khalid, and Nanyang Girls’ High School, as well as the 150th anniversary of Thong Chai Medical Institution. All these organisations are older than independent Singapore. Each has contributed to the Singapore Story. We must understand truly how far back our history reaches, and how complex it is.

South Korea

President Moon Jae-In promised to focus on improving workers’ conditions in his new year’s speech. Moon has been under pressure (paywall) all year from Korea’s powerful labor unions to deliver on his campaign promises to reduce hours, raise the minimum wage, and get more temporary workers into full-time employment. This is on top of a political scandal that finally came to a head, and seemingly endless provocations from North Korea. If this year is anything like the last, Moon will be in for a tough 12 months.

Key quote, on labor relations:

In the New Year, I look forward to seeing various dialogues exchanged at different levels of society, including the tripartite talks among labor, management and the government. If we make a little concession and share the burdens, we will be able to move one step closer to the Republic of Korea where all of us prosper together.

United Kingdom

British prime minister Theresa May underlined the importance of successful Brexit trade and security talks in her new year’s message, but also pointed to critical domestic issues. Among them were a promise to continue investing in Britain’s National Health Service, and a commitment to harassment-free workplaces. She couldn’t get away from the fact that it’s going to be a challenging year for the UK however it’s sliced, although she predicted the year would be one of “renewed confidence and pride” in the country.

Key quote, on Brexit talks:

Because whichever way you voted in the referendum, most people just want the government to get on and deliver a good Brexit, and that’s exactly what we are doing. Making a success of Brexit is crucial, but it will not be the limit of our ambitions.


Pope Francis delivered a New Year’s Eve homily mourning the injustices that “ruined” 2017, while also praising the good in humanity, particularly among educators and parents fostering civic duty in the next generation.

Key quote, on the environment:

We humans in so many ways ruined and hurt it with works of death, with lies and injustices… The wars are the flagrant sign of this repeated and absurd pride. But so are all the little and big offenses against life, truth, brotherhood, that cause multiple forms of human, social and environmental degradation.