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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
July 22, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Abe's Mandate Bolstered in Japanese Upper House Elections

Yuya Shino/Courtesy Reuters  

Yuya Shino/Courtesy Reuters

Japanese voters gave the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a sweeping victory in upper house elections Sunday, strengthening Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's grip on power as he seeks to further his bold economics plan—Abenomics—and pursue a nationalist foreign policy, pledging to move Japan past the "postwar regime" (WSJ). The LDP and its smaller partner, New Komeito, will now have 135 out of 242 seats in the upper house; the LDP already controlled the lower house, giving Abe the ability to pursue his agenda with newfound ease through 2016. Abe's plans to stimulate growth include the consumption tax, corporate tax breaks, and pursuing U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks, a contentious issue among farmers (Kyodo). The LDP also seeks to rewrite Japan's pacifist constitution to enhance its defense capabilities amid regional tensions. Voter turnout was 52 percent, the third-lowest on record (NYT).


"A gap is opening between urban voters and rural ones living far from the luxury-car salesrooms and stockbrokers' bars where the atmosphere is most buoyant. In the countryside farmers threaten to punish the LDP for Mr Abe's surprise decision in March to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional free-trade agreement which they say will damage their livelihoods," writes the Economist.

"Voters who are pleased with [Abe's] bold economic plans may also be unwittingly giving Abe free rein to pursue a radically nationalist agenda that risks destabilizing the already tense security situation in East Asia. Abe and supporters in the conservative LDP, which already has a solid majority in the more powerful lower house, have made no secret of their desire revise the constitution, which has remain unchanged since it was adopted in 1947," writes Kirk Spitzer for Foreign Policy.

"The biggest contribution Mr. Abe can make to Japan's national security is to promote faster growth. Twenty years of stagnation, punctuated only by the Koizumi reform moment, mean that Japan lacks the economic dynamism to support an aging population. Only faster growth can finance Japan's debt burden and pay for defenses able to prevent China from asserting regional dominance. The Abe Restoration requires economic reform first," writes the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.



Chinese Double Quakes Leave Seventy-Three Dead

A rescue operation is under way after two earthquakes, with magnitudes of 5.9 and 5.6, struck Gansu province in northwest China on Monday, leaving seventy-three dead and more than four hundred injured (SCMP), according to local officials.



Biden's India Trip Focuses on Economic Ties

U.S. vice president Joe Biden arrives in India today for a four-day visit (Hindu), where talks will focus on intensifying disagreements over economic policy, a civil nuclear agreement, and Afghan security following the 2014 U.S. withdrawal.

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan president Hamid Karzai gave a lukewarm response (AFP) on Monday to an invitation for security talks with his Pakistani counterpart, newly elected president Nawaz Sharif, who had dispatched his top diplomat to Kabul.

This CFR interactive explains the history of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.



Kerry Revives Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have "established a basis" for the resumption of direct peace talks, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry announced Friday after the latest round of shuttle diplomacy, with talks in Washington expected "within the next week or so" (NYT). Former U.S. ambassador Martin Indyk is reportedly Kerry's choice to lead negotiations (al-Monitor).

In this blog post, CFR's Robert Danin discusses how diplomatic ambiguity may facilitate progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

IRAQ: A suicide bomber killed at least twenty-two soldiers and three civilians in an attack on an Iraqi army convoy Monday (Reuters), the latest attack amid escalating sectarian violence that has killed nearly six hundred so far this month.



South Sudan to Shut Down Oil Production

South Sudan's oil minister said Saturday that it would sell 6.4 million barrels before shutting down production at the end of July, following Sudan's threat to shut down pipelines from the landlocked nation due to its alleged support of rebels operating along the border (Reuters).

ETHIOPIA: Egypt called on Ethiopia to discuss the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Nile that Cairo said could jeopardize Egypt's water security downstream (Ahram). Sudan would also be affected.



EU Ministers Vote to Blacklist Hezbollah

The European Union will designate the paramilitary arm of Hezbollah a terrorist organization (DeutscheWelle), a move European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed to Monday. The decision follows the Lebanese group's intervention in the Syrian civil war and alleged responsibility for the 2012 bombing of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.

This CFR Backgrounder describes Hezbollah's history and role in Lebanese politics.

BELGIUM: Belgium swore in a new king, Philippe, on Sunday amid increasing tensions between the country's Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons (AFP).



Pope Francis Heads to Brazil Amid Political Unrest

Pope Francis will arrive in Brazil on Monday in his first overseas trip as leader of the Catholic Church (MercoPress). He is expected to speak on social justice as protests for better governance, which began last month, continue.

COLOMBIA: The Red Cross is talking to the FARC about releasing a former U.S. service member (Reuters) kidnapped last month. The rebel group, which said it would release Kevin Scott Sutay during ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government, killed nineteen Colombian soldiers on Saturday.



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