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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 17, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Japan's Election Sets Conservative Tone

Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Shinzo Abe, won the country's general elections, regaining power (JapanTimes) in the lower house after three years in the opposition and ending the government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan. The yen plunged to its lowest in more than a year and a half against the dollar on Monday after the victory for the LDP, which is committed to aggressive monetary easing (Reuters). Abe's hardline position on China also drew public concerns from China (AFP), which reiterated its stance that the disputed East China Sea islands remain Chinese territory.


"Earlier this month, Japan entered its fourth recession since 2000, and it was clear that economic considerations motivated those Japanese who voted to abandon the DPJ. But it is the LDP's foreign policy platform that may have the biggest global impact," writes Hannah Beech for TIME.

"The big question about Abe and the LDP government that's going to emerge from this election is to what they'll give priority. If they follow the dictum, 'It's the economy, stupid,' and focus on getting some growth, a more dovish governor at the Bank of Japan--which he has a chance to appoint in April--and producing some results, then they have a chance to consolidate their gains," writes Gerald Curtis for

"An analysis of the vote as well as Abe's own comments suggests he would be best served by focusing on what matters most to voters - the economy - and steering clear of divisive issues such as revising Japan's pacifist constitution. That said, aggressive moves by China in a territorial row over tiny islands in the East China Sea could act to bolster support for Abe's tough-talking stance toward its giant rival," writes Linda Sieg for Reuters.



North Korea Marks Kim Jong-Il's Death

North Korea commemorated the first anniversary of the death of its former leader Kim Jong-il with a ceremony at a renovated mausoleum (Yonhap), where first lady Ri Sol-ju appeared to be seen in late stages of pregnancy.

CFR's Scott Snyder discusses North Korea's transition after Kim Jong-Il in this blog post.



Taliban Attacks U.S. Company in Kabul

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kabul on Monday that targeted a U.S. contracting company (Reuters) and killed two Afghan civilians, further threatening the country's security situation ahead of the 2014 NATO pullout.

PAKISTAN: A car bomb (Dawn) at a market killed seventeen people on Monday in northwest Pakistan's Khyber agency, which is part of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border.



Protests Planned in Egypt

Egypt's opposition groups called for nationwide protests ahead of the second leg of the constitutional referendum (al-Jazeera) to be held next weekend, alleging polling violations in the first round that saw supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed draft document claim victory.

SYRIA: Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Shara admitted that neither the Syrian Army nor the rebels are capable of winning the country's civil war (Haaretz), and that a "historic solution" involving neighboring countries and the UN Security Council was the only path to resolution.

Four experts discuss what U.S. policy in Syria should be in this CFR Expert Roundup.



South Africa Foils ANC Bomb Plot

A plot to bomb the national conference of South Africa's governing African National Congress was foiled Sunday (CityPress), with police arresting several suspected right-wing extremists. The ANC has been in power in South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994, and its leader, President Jacob Zuma, is an overwhelming favorite to win in 2014 elections.

KENYA: Blasts rocked a mainly Somali neighborhood in Nairobi late Sunday in the latest attack (AFP) blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab militants, raising concerns over security ahead of elections due in March 2013.



EU, Singapore Sign Trade Pact

The European Union and Singapore wrapped up a free-trade agreement (Bloomberg) after almost three years of talks. The deal will eliminate tariffs on all Singaporean imports over five years, while the island will allow duty-free access for all incoming shipments from the region immediately.

RUSSIA: Russia's opposition leaders announced their continued campaign of public rallies (Reuters) against President Vladimir Putin's thirteen-year rule despite a modest turnout at a weekend protest in Moscow.

CFR's Stephen Sestanovich reassesses the U.S.-Russia reset in this interview.



Chavez Supporters Sweep Gubernatorial Elections

Allies of Venezuela President Hugo Chávez won almost all twenty-three governors' races in elections on Sunday (MiamiHerald), although opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state who lost the presidential race to Chávez in October, won reelection in a critical race that may give him a second shot at leading the country.

ARGENTINA: Argentina is facing the prospect of expulsion from the IMF (Guardian) after its apparent failure to respond to a three-month deadline set by the body to produce accurate inflation and growth statistics.



Movement Seen on Fiscal Cliff

During fiscal cliff negotiations, House Speaker John Boehner said that he would agree to a tax increase (Politico) on the wealthiest taxpayers in return for major entitlement cuts. Boehner also offered to delay a fight over the debt ceiling (WaPo) for another year.

President Obama has decided on Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as his choice for secretary of state (Reuters), according to multiple sources.



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