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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 13, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: East China Sea Air Dispute Raises Security Concerns

Japan accused China of violating its airspace for the first time after a Chinese government plane (BBC) flew near the long-disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, prompting Japan to scramble fighter jets and launch a formal complaint (JapanTimes). China's foreign ministry spokesman responded by saying the plane's flight was "completely normal," reaffirming China's sovereignty over the islands. The intensified row comes months after Japan bought three of the uninhabited islands from a private Japanese owner, and while patrol ships from both countries have been shadowing each other in the regional standoff, Thursday's incident—the first in which aircraft was used—raises concerns that the tension could escalate into a clash (Reuters).


"While some analysts say China's new Communist party leadership will probably be keen to ease tensions, Japan's general election on Sunday is likely to result in a rightward shift and a tougher tone to foreign policy. And many Japanese nationalists are outraged by the now frequent challenging by Chinese state vessels of Tokyo's control of the waters around the disputed islands, which Tokyo calls the Senkaku and Beijing the Diaoyu," writes Mure Dickie for the Financial Times.

"Washington has served notice that while it does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the [islands], it supports Japan's absolute right to administer them. And, critically, if China attacked Japan, Washington would fulfill its obligations to Tokyo under the Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Security. This is a warning China should heed," writes an editorial for the Australian.

"The status quo among China, Japan, and Korea is now shifting in troubling and perhaps irreparable ways. The Obama administration's 'pivot' to Asia is a welcome development after decades of inordinate attention given to Europe and the Middle East. But the pivot has also strained U.S.-China relations as the new leadership in Beijing sees Obama's policies as an effort to contain China's rise," writes Victor Cha for Foreign Policy.



South Korean Elections Begin in Wake of Rocket Launch

Absentee voting for South Korea's presidential election kicked off Thursday (Yonhap), a day after North Korea successfully launched a long-range rocket in spite of strong international warnings. The election, which ends Friday, will see national security take center stage as competing camps used the rocket issue to sway voters.

CFR's Scott Snyder assesses the impact of North Korea's rocket launch in this blog post.



Gujarat Votes

The western Indian state of Gujarat is holding key elections (HindustanTimes) that are seen as a referendum on the popularity of Narendra Modi, a prominent Hindu nationalist, who is seeking reelection and has been tipped as a potential future prime minister.

AFGHANISTAN: The Taliban could govern parts of Afghanistan's south and east, with insurgents being drafted into the cabinet, under a new peace deal (McClatchy) that emerged on the eve of talks in Turkey.



Russia Says Assad Losing Control

Russia's deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly losing control and the rebels may win (Albawaba), marking the first acknowledgment from a Russian official that the Syrian president could lose the twenty-one-month civil war.

This blog post by CFR's Micah Zenko explores the perils of intervention in the Syrian civil war.

IRAN: Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Tehran Thursday for a one-day visit aimed at sealing a deal to ease international concerns (AlJazeera) over the country's disputed nuclear program.



AU Urges Congo Negotiations

The African Union has called for progress in the ongoing peace talks in Uganda between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the M23 rebels after negotiations stalled again (TheNewTimes) on Monday when rebels boycotted a meeting. The M23 recently withdrew from Goma and Sake after seizing control of the territory more than two weeks ago.

SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has accepted a nomination to run for the top position (AP) in the governing African National Congress party, challenging South African President Jacob Zuma.



Eurozone Approves Common Bank Supervisor

Eurozone finance ministers agreed Thursday morning on a plan to cede power to a common bank supervisor (FT) in Frankfurt after almost four months of intense debate that exhibited deep Franco-German divisions. The European Central Bank will begin direct supervision of up to 200 eurozone lenders from early 2014.

CFR's Robert Kahn discusses Europe's banking union in this interview.

UKRAINE: A session of Ukraine's new parliament collapsed amid brawling chaos on Thursday over the election of parliamentary officials (Reuters).

SPAIN: The UK reaffirmed its commitment to trilateral dialogue (MercoPress) on the territorial dispute over Gibraltar in a rebuttal to claims from Spain that the two countries would discuss the issue on bilateral terms without the presence of Gibraltar.



Chavez Recovery in Question

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's government told Venezuelans to prepare for "difficult" days ahead following the president's cancer treatment in Cuba (WSJ), and warned of the possibility that he wouldn't return in time for his inauguration next month.



Corker to Introduce Fiscal Cliff Legislation

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Wednesday that he will introduce a bill to raise the debt ceiling (TheHill) by $1 trillion in exchange for $900 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings in an attempt to jump-start fiscal cliff negotiations.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll (PDF) released Wednesday shows that 49 percent of the U.S. public approves of President Obama's handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations (CNN) and 25 percent approve of House Speaker John Boehner's actions.



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