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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
November 15, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: China Passes Reins to Older, More Conservative Leadership

China's ruling Communist Party concluded its Eighteenth National Congress on Thursday, unveiling what commentators say is an older, more conservative leadership (Reuters)lineup in the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee led by new party chief Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang. Most notably, two candidates with strong reform credentials—Guangdong party boss Wang Yang and party organization head Li Yuanchao—missed the cut, along with the sole woman candidate Liu Yandong. Observers say the new leadership, which includes North Korea-educated Zhang Dejiang, favors cautious economic reforms (BBC) and will likely steer clear of any radical policy changes.


"Let's face it. China's 18th Party Congress was a heartbreaker. In terms of personnel, it was a triumph of the Party's conservative clique; and in terms of policy, it was a victory for more of the same. It didn't have to be that way, but the Party elders elected to preserve their legacy at the expense of opening the door to real change," writes CFR's Elizabeth Economy.

"In recent years, the notion of "political reform" became a kind of taboo subject. The mere suggestion of it was considered risky, let alone any meaningful discourse on viable frameworks. Leftists would be very happy to completely eliminate the concept from their vocabulary. The fact that the party congress report contains the idea sends a clear signal that there is no question about the necessity of political reform. What is open for discussion now is how current institutions can reform. People who care about political reform must spot the trends and ride the tide," writes Hu Shuli of Caixin.

"The new line-up shows that 86-year old former leader Jiang Zemin still has important influence, because at least four out of seven new members are widely seen as his allies. Meanwhile the outgoing leader Hu Jintao's three allies - Li Yuanchao, Liu Yuandong and Wang Yang - did not make it into the Standing Committee. Mr. Hu has also given up his post as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, indicating he will fully retire from his political posts and stay away from political life too. The prospect of political reform now looks more unlikely as most of the new leaders are regarded as political conservatives," writes Raymond Li for the BBC.



North Korea Suspected of Giving Arms to Syria

South Korean authorities intercepted a shipment of North Korean missile components on a Chinese ship to Syria in May, a move that violates United Nations sanctions (AFP), according to Security Council diplomats. North Korea is barred from trading nuclear and missile technology under UN Security Council sanctions imposed after its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.



Myanmar to Release Prisoners

Myanmar will release 452 prisoners (BBC), including political detainees, under an amnesty, days before a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama. The move marks the latest in a series of prisoner releases under the reformist government of President Thein Sein, although rights groups believe at least 300 political prisoners still remain in jail.

This CFR Backgrounder delves into Myanmar's history and path to reform.

PAKISTAN: A Pakistani soldier sentenced to death four years ago for murdering his senior officer became the first man to be executed (PakistanToday) in the country in almost four years.



Israel-Gaza Violence Escalates

Three Israelis were killed after rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel in the latest escalation of violence at the border (Haaretz). Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, killing Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari in an air strike, prompting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut short a trip to Switzerland.

EGYPT: The European Union approved a $6.4bn financial support package (FT) for Egypt after President Mohammed Morsi held talks with the EU's foreign policy chief in Cairo.

CFR's Isobel Coleman discusses Egypt's leaders in this blog post.



Eurozone Slides Into Recession

Figures show the eurozone has gone into a double-dip recession (Guardian), as GDP fell by 0.1 percent in the third quarter after shrinking by 0.2 percent in the previous period. As the crisis in the eurozone's southern states spreads, the latest figures stoke economist fears that the recession could drag into next year.

This CFR Issue Guide delves into the eurozone crisis.

RUSSIA: Russia warned the United States on Thursday that the U.S. Congress will damage relations with Moscow if it passes legislation (Reuters) designed to punish Russian officials for human rights violations.



Mozambique Opposition Threatens Destruction

Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's largest opposition party and former rebel movement Renamo, threatened to "destroy the country" (AllAfrica) if the government does not surrender to his demands.

DR CONGO: United Nations human rights investigators found that rebel groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo arbitrarily executed (UNNS) at least 264 civilians over a five-month period this year.



Argentina Asks UN Court for Return of Ghana Ship

Argentina has asked a United Nations court to order the release (MercoPress) of one of its navy ships impounded in Ghana over a debt dispute, saying the seizure violates maritime law. The ship was prevented from leaving Ghana last month after a local court ruled in favor of the hedge fund staking payment claims from Argentina.

BELIZE: American software company founder John McAfee said Wednesday he is in hiding after police labeled him a person of interest (HuffPost) in the murder of American Gregory Viant Faull on the island.



Obama Reinforces Position on Bush Tax Cuts

In his first press conference since June, President Obama on Wednesday "signalled some willingness to compromise" on how to raise revenue to avert the fiscal cliff, but also repeated his assertion that the top tax rate of 35 percent has to go up, reports the Financial Times.

Republicans in Congress reelected House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, while Senate Democrats reelected majority leader Harry Reid. Nancy Pelosi announced that she will seek to remain the House minority leader (Reuters).



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