Editor's Note: The Daily Brief will not be sent on Monday, December 24 or Tuesday, December 25, due to the holiday. The DB will resume on Wednesday, December 26.
India and the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations strengthened their ties at a summit in New Delhi, as both sides agreed on a much-awaited ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement (TheHindu) that would boost trade to $100 billion by 2015. But the meeting also saw ASEAN call on India for help in resolving bitter territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, with Vietnam asking for New Delhi's direct intervention (AFP) and Myanmar saying India's role was "crucial" to stability in the region. India's foreign minister sought to distance the country from the disputes, insisting the issue did not require (Reuters) India's intervention.
"Unsurprisingly, India's growing ties with ASEAN has made it the target of criticism from China on multiple occasions. New Delhi has therefore had to maintain a careful balancing act between deepening ties with China's neighbors and not unnecessarily provoking Beijing, which could retaliate in a number of ways, including: its alliance with Pakistan, on the Sino-Indo contested border, or by increasing the frequency of Chinese naval deployments in the Indian Ocean," writes Zachary Keck for The Diplomat.
"India has an equally complex relationship with China. And, despite the potential, India is far from becoming a credible balancing power to China, largely because its economy is one-third of China's, and New Delhi's ability to deliver on infrastructural support is abysmal. That might affect the larger strategic relationship with ASEAN," writes The Times of India.
"The New Delhi summit underscored India's growing role in one of the world's fastest-growing regions. Twenty years after India launched a 'Look East' diplomatic push to promote trade with a neglected neighboring region, the relationship is finally beginning to gain traction," writes Ross Colvin for Reuters.
Park, Obama Talk Northeast Asian Security
South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama held phone talks on Friday, agreeing to cooperate on dealing with the Northeast Asian security crisis (Yonhap) triggered by North Korea's rocket launch earlier this month.
CFR's Scott Snyder discusses South Korea's presidential stakes in this Expert Brief.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
UK Blocks Drone Case
A UK high court rejected an attempt by Noor Khan, a Pakistani man, to force the UK government to reveal whether it was providing intelligence (BBC) for U.S. drone strikes. Khan, whose father died in a drone strike in Pakistan, said the UK could be committing a war crime by helping the CIA identify targets.
INDIA: Narendra Modi, the polarizing leader of India's western state of Gujarat, won a resounding reelection as chief minister (NYT), edging him closer to a PM bid.
Egypt's Top Prosecutor Retracts Resignation
Talaat Abdullah, Egypt's top prosecutor appointed by President Mohammed Morsi, retracted his Monday resignation in a move that could cause fresh uproar (al-Jazeera) after he was accused of pressuring a judge not to release 130 anti-Morsi protestors taken into custody earlier this month.
IRAQ: Iraqi Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi called for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's resignation after a "militia force" allegedly raided (AlArabiya) the ministry on Thursday.
Tribal Violence Kills Dozens in Kenya
At least thirty-nine people were killed on Friday in an attack on a village in southeastern Kenya's coastal region, where deadly tribal violence also erupted earlier this year (AFP). The attacks were thought to be linked to Kenya's March general election and a change in district boundaries that has led to a shift in power between ethnic groups.
MALI: The UN Security Council has authorized an African-led military force to help oust Islamists (RFI) from northern Mali, unanimously voting to give the force an initial one-year mandate.
CFR's John Campbell discusses how racism could be obstructing extremism in Mali in this blog post.
EU Mulls WTO Complaint Against Russia
Tensions heightened before an EU-Russia summit on Friday as Brussels considered whether to launch the first World Trade Organization complaint against Moscow (FT) over mounting frustration on trade disagreements since Russia joined the group three months ago.
RUSSIA: A Moscow court unexpectedly reduced the prison sentence of Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, by two years (DeutscheWelle).
Cuba Denounces U.S. Sanction Fines
Cuba on Thursday denounced the multi-million dollar fines the U.S. government slapped on two foreign banks for violating Washington's sanctions on the island. HSBC had agreed to pay $1.9 billion to the U.S. government last week to settle accusations (MiamiHerald) that it laundered drug money through its Mexican branches, and violated U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba.
CFR's Julia Sweig delves into the frozen U.S.-Cuba relationship in this interview.
Boehner’s 'Plan B' Rejected by Republicans
House Speaker John Boehner's fiscal cliff "Plan B," which would have prevented taxes from going up on incomes under $1 million in the absence of a comprehensive budget deal, failed Thursday evening after Republican leaders were unable to secure enough votes (USAToday) for it to pass the House. "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator (Harry) Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff," Boehner said (CNN).
Supporters of potential Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel have launched a campaign to defend him against criticism, particularly regarding his positions on Iran and Israel, reports Politico.