A new year has dawned, but it is difficult to even imagine what the world will be like six months from now.

This uncertainty is primarily due to the unpredictability of Donald Trump, who will mark his first anniversary as U.S. president later this month.

Our initial expectation, that he will start to act in presidential fashion once he was sworn in, has been totally dashed.

The world is teetering from Trump's "America First" foreign policy. In trade and environmental issues, the United States keeps walking out of long-established international frameworks.

Once dubbed the "police of the world" for defending the global order, America today is becoming a symbol of uncertainty and unpredictability.

If "Trump's way" of marginalizing multinational agreements and focusing solely on U.S. interests through bilateral deals becomes the norm, what will the world come to look like? The international community is at a crossroads.

Trump is not the only world leader aggressively pursuing a "my country first" policy. The dictatorial leaders of Russia and China are taking advantage, as if to catch the United States off-guard.

SHAKY MULTINATIONAL COOPERATION

Chinese President Xi Jinping consolidated his power during the 19th Communist Party Congress last year, and is forging ahead with moves to reinforce China's relations with nations of Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America--in fact, just about everywhere.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks certain to win a fourth presidential term in March. Having asserted leadership in Syrian peace negotiations, Putin is trying to make Russia a presence that will eclipse the United States in Middle East affairs.

In Europe, any move toward regional integration has lost its force, and political parties that refute the spirit of the European Union are gaining strength. Britian is going ahead with Brexit. A right-wing party surged in Germany's general elections last year, depriving Chancellor Angela Merkel of the chance to form a new Cabinet before the end of last year.

The United States is not the only country pulling out of multinational frameworks. The EU, which used to be seen as a world leader in upholding the ideals of democracy and freedom and eliminating national borders, is also on shaky ground now.

Public support continues to rise for politicians who argue stridently against opening their nations' doors to immigrants and refugees, fan the public's fear of terrorism and inveigh against the relocation of industries abroad. In many leading economies, established political parties are floundering while inflammatory populism keeps gaining ground.

DEMOCRACY UNDER THREAT

German political scientist Jan-Werner Mueller warns that the essence of populism is anti-plurarism, which boils down to this thinking: "Only we are the legitimate representatives of our nation."

Since "we" are supposed to be socially superior, "they" can be ignored. By extension, this same ideology separates "citizens" from "immigrants" and "our country" from "other countries." History teaches us that only conflicts result from erecting such walls and magnifying divisiveness.

With his new security strategy of "peace through strength," the world Trump has created is practically a throwback to the 19th century. And the outcome of the major nations vying for supremacy was two world wars that nobody wanted.

What path can the world take to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 19th and 20th centuries and prevent the birth of a dystopian world overrun by populism?

The quality of politics is being tested in every country.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have taken free market principles and representative democracy for granted. But today, we are discussing these subjects with greater anxiety than ever before.

Amid sluggish economic growth and fiscal problems, how do we rectify economic disparities that exacerbate the public's sense of disillusionment? And if we are to seek to level the playing field for people with diversifying interests, what form should democracy take?

The answers to these tough questions do not lie in making politics more "efficient" by authoritarian means, nor in xenophobia. The only option available is to use our imagination and empathize with "others" in our own countries as well as in the rest of the world, broaden the frameworks of international cooperation and seek to expand mutual interests between countries.

With America's reliability receding, the international community is now tasked with broader and heavier responsibilities.

NEED TO HONE JAPANESE DIPLOMACY

Against this background, how will Japan find its way?

It is crucial for Japan to acquire the diplomatic prowess to engage in deeper global communication, as well as with its neighbors, and explore every means to ensure that national stability and development prevail amid today's global current.

North Korea is our immediate problem. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in step with Trump, who won't spare the dictatorial regime's annihilation. But the threat to Japan posed by Pyongyang differs in nature from that on America.

The use of arms is absolutely not an option. Japan must aim for a "soft landing" through negotiations involving China, Russia and South Korea.

Our longer-term problem is how to build a peaceful world order, of which fast-growing China must be a part. With Russia becoming increasingly aggressive toward the United States, what Japan cannot do without is skillful multilateral diplomacy based on accurate and objective analysis of the state of the world.

Trump's America became isolated from the international community last year for unilaterally declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It was only right that Japan sided with the majority of United Nations members, not with the United States.

Diplomacy that is conducted solely on the basis of the Japan-U.S. alliance is precarious at best. While the relationship with the United States should be valued, Japan had better establish its own view and philosophy of the world and hone its diplomatic skills as a peace-seeking economic giant.

Japan's development owed to the stable world order that was established after World War II. Now that multinational frameworks of cooperation are in jeopardy, Japan's duty to support international solidarity is graver than ever.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3