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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
November 8, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: China Begins Leadership Transition

China launched its eighteenth National Congress on Thursday, a once-in-a-decade power transition (BBC) that will see Xi Jinping replace President Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang step in for Premier Wen Jiabao. Hu began the session with a stark message on corruption, warning more than 2,000 delegates that a failure to tackle the issue could "even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state (AP)." While Li and Xi's appointments have been long expected, the exact composition of the committee, which could reduce its number from nine to seven, will not be revealed until next week. The highly scrutinized transition has been fraught by political scandal, fueled by media reports about the wealth and graft of the ruling Communist Party.


"China's vested interests are a roadblock to change. When leaders sought to improve labour rights, exporters cried bloody murder. So entangled is power and money that the incumbents resisting change and the party supposedly fostering it are one and the same thing. In short, collectivist leadership will curb any lurking Chairman Mao tendencies Mr Xi may have and vested interests will seek to squash his inner Deng Xiaoping. That is, of course, assuming Mr Xi wants to push through change," writes David Pilling for the Financial Times.

"In China, as anywhere else, a crisis can catalyse reform or revolution. Pray that it is reform. This increasingly urgent reform, if it happens, will not result in a western-style liberal democracy any time soon, if ever. But even some Communist party analysts acknowledge that, in China's own long-term national interest, the changes will need to go in the direction of more rule of law, accountability, social security and ecologically sustainable development," writes Timothy Garton Ash for the Guardian.

"Dissidents and other undesirables were hustled out of Beijing for the 18th Party Congress or otherwise kept confined from public view—a show of the Chinese security's state's octopus-like grasp on society. The police presence in Beijing now is overwhelming. Hu's Opening Ceremony speech gave little indication of real political openness in the future," writes Hannah Beech for TIME.



Australian PM Refuses to Meet Ahmadinejad

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard ramped up her criticism of Iran over its nuclear program and again ruled out a meeting (Australian) with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bali, where world leaders are attending a two-day forum on democracy.



Obama to Visit Myanmar

U.S. President Barack Obama plans to visit Myanmar on November 19 to meet President Thein Sein and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, further endorsing Myanmar's transformation (Reuters) under its quasi-civilian government. Obama would be the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar.

AFGHANISTAN: Twenty people died (AP) in a spate of attacks across Afghanistan on Thursday in the latest clash between insurgents and Afghan security forces as NATO draws down its troops.



Arab League Doubts Assad's Hold On Power

Nabil Elaraby, the head of the Arab League, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime will not stay in power for much longer (AlJazeera), and urged the opposition Syrian National Council — which is currently meeting in Qatar — to set aside differences in forming a new leadership.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses Syria's crisis and the global response.

IRAN: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unexpectedly held talks (Hurriyet) with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the Democracy Forum in Bali, with the Syrian crisis reportedly dominating discussion.

Steven Heydemann addresses Turkey's mounting Syria problem in this CFR interview.



UN Secretary General Discusses Mali Crisis

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed the ongoing Mali crisis in a meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in New York, stressing the need to redouble efforts (UNNS) to find a political solution in the northern part of the country, where government forces and Tuareg rebels have fought since January.

SOMALIA: The UN Security Council on Thursday extended the African Union Mission in Somalia (AllAfrica), which has been fighting Islamist militant group al-Shabaab, for four more months until March 2013.



Greece Passes Austerity Bill

Greece's parliament narrowly approved a crucial austerity bill (BBC) on Wednesday amidst violent protests across the country, signing off on the $17.3 billion bill that includes tax rises and pension cuts. MPs must now pass a revised budget on Sunday before eurozone finance ministers meet next week to approve 31.5 billion euros in loans from the EU and IMF that Greece needs to avoid bankruptcy.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into the eurozone in crisis.

GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged a "strong" Britain to stay in the EU (Telegraph) as she headed for talks with Prime Minister David Cameron over the EU budget.



Puerto Rico Votes on U.S. Statehood

Voters in Puerto Rico supported a non-binding referendum to become a U.S. state (AP), with nearly two-thirds supporting full statehood. The measure will require approval from the U.S. Congress, but President Barack Obama has said he will respect the vote. Puerto Ricans would gain the right to vote in all U.S. elections but would also have to pay federal taxes, something they are currently exempt from.

GUATEMALA: A magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck Guatemala on Wednesday, killing at least thirty-nine people (LAT).



Talk of Potential Compromise on the Fiscal Cliff

House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday that House Republicans are willing to consider tax increases "under the right conditions" as part of a deal to avert the fiscal cliff, reports the Associated Press.

Chris Smith (R-NJ) was reelected to another term and has a good chance of taking over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, reports Politicker NJ.



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