Top of the Agenda: South Korea's Park Sworn In, Makes North Korea Top Priority
South Korean President Park Geun-hye was sworn in (Yonhap) as the country's first female president Monday, pledging to revitalize the economy and take a firm stance against North Korea, which analysts say will top her policy agenda as the region copes with the North's most recent nuclear test on February 12. Park said a trust-building process was needed, promising to move forward "step-by-step on the basis of credible deterrence" (BBC). Park also called for a revival of the nation's export-dependent economy, whose trade is threatened by neighboring Japan's weak yen policy (WSJ).
"But despite her condemnation of the latest nuclear bomb test, Ms. Park's policy toward North Korea remains vague. South Koreans say her first duty is to rescue their slowing economy. But she cannot avoid for long the question of how she deals with North Korea," writes Suki Kim for The New York Times.
"Domestically, the president-elect faces the daunting challenge of implementing what she has termed 'economic democracy'—expanded social welfare, more jobs for the young, and curtailing the power of the huge family-run conglomerates that dominate the country's financial system. But slow economic growth may hinder such bold reforms," write B.J. Lee for the The Daily Beast.
"Amongst her biggest concerns - and one that she arguably has little control over - is the slowdown in exports, which accounts for more than half of South Korea's overall economic output. Contraction in key markets such as the US and the eurozone has hurt," writes Puneet Pal Singh for BBC.
China Vows Peaceful Ties With Taiwan
China's Communist Party chief Xi Jinping emphasized peaceful ties (Reuters) on Monday during a meeting with a Taiwan delegation in Beijing, suggesting that China's policy toward the island will not shift dramatically when Xi becomes China's president.
CFR's Elizabeth C. Economy and other experts answer Tom Keene's questions on China's leadership transition and its implications for U.S.-China relations in this new video.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Karzai Orders U.S. Forces to Leave Province
Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave Maidan Wardak (Guardian), one of Afghanistan's most restive provinces, after reports from officials claiming the troops had been involved in the torture and disappearance of Afghan civilians.
PAKISTAN: Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered an inquiry into a nationwide power outage (Dawn) that blacked out most of the country on Sunday night.
Syria Offers Talks With Opposition
Syria is ready to hold talks (Haaretz) with the armed opposition, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Monday during talks in Moscow with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Russia, a traditional ally, recently reiterated its call for a political solution to the crisis.
ISRAEL: Israel approved the transfer of tax revenue (Bloomberg) it collects on behalf of Palestinians in a bid to reduce tensions in the West Bank after a week of demonstrations supporting four Palestinian prisoners hunger-striking for early release from Israeli jails.
African Leaders Sign Congo Peace Deal
Regional African leaders signed a UN-brokered peace accord (BBC) aiming to stabilize the troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where as many as 800,000 people have been displaced since the M23 rebel group took up arms against the Kinshasa government last May.
GUINEA: Guinea's opposition party coalition pulled out of the preparations for the legislative election (AllAfrica) set for May 12, and may also call for nationwide protests against the electoral commission.
Italy Hits Polls
Italians began voting on Sunday in parliamentary elections after fifteen months of austerity under Mario Monti's appointed technocratic government (FT).
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti talked to CFR about the looming challenges of the economic crisis in Europe and the future of the eurozone in this video.
CYPRUS: Nicos Anastasiades, the conservative candidate in the Cyprus presidential election, won a double-digit victory (NYT) on Sunday ahead of crucial talks with international lenders over a bailout.
Castro Announces Retirement
Cuban President Raul Castro said Sunday that his five-year term would be his last, marking the first time a deadline has been put on the Castro era (LAT). Miguel Diaz-Canel, an engineer and former education official with an increasingly high profile, was named as Castro's first vice president.
Washington should seize on changes afoot in Cuba to cultivate relations with its next generation of leaders, says CFR's Julia Sweig.
UNITED STATES: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in London on his first overseas trip (RFE) that will see him visiting nine countries in Western Europe and the Middle East.
CFR's Stewart Patrick talks about John Kerry and the eroding boundary between what is "foreign" and "domestic" in this blog post.