The year 2012 was more than usually full of ups and downs around the world. Major world powers elected new leaders, and while in some countries the new faces were no different from the old, in others the results signaled important shifts. The global economic crisis showed no signs of abating and cast especially dark clouds over southern Europe. Civil wars and conflicts plagued the Middle East, killing tens of thousands of innocent people.
◆ Obama Re-Elected
Pitching a slogan of "forward," U.S. President Barack Obama was re-elected for another four-year term. Obama beat off a challenge from Republican Mitt Romney, who sought to judge the administration for failing to deliver on its economic pledges. He won the support of a wide variety of voters but faces a Senate dominated by Republicans.
◆ China, Japan Have New Leaders
The Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping as the country’s new leader in mid-November, the first change in leadership in a decade there. The fourth generation of China's leaders headed by Hu Jintao will step down in March of 2013. China is expected to emerge as one of two global superpowers along with the U.S. over the next 10 years. But the new Chinese leader faces formidable tasks, including the huge gap between rich and poor and social unrest in China.
Conservative Shinzo Abe, the chairman of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party and proponent of strengthening Japanese military power, won by a landslide in general elections to return as prime minister. Abe briefly served five years ago but has since drifted significantly to the right. Pundits say Japanese voters shifted with him because they face a drawn-out recession and territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
Abe's election win is expected to dampen relations with Korea, since he is trying to justify the country's World War II atrocities. He has proposed scrapping past official apologies including one by former Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 which acknowledged the existence of sex slaves from Asia and to a certain extent the role the Imperial Army played in their enslavement.
◆ Territorial Disputes Flare Up in Asia
After Japan announced in September it had bought the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China from a private owner, bilateral relations chilled and even veered close to armed confrontation.
Marking the 75th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre on Dec. 13, when Japanese soldiers entered China and embarked on a vicious campaign that included mass rapes and killings of thousands of Chinese, a Chinese plane entered disputed airspace near the contested islands. And when China bolstered its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the Philippines turned to the U.S. and Japan for support, while Vietnam turned to India.
◆ Fiscal Crisis in Southern Europe Worsens
The fiscal crisis in southern Europe that began in 2009 continued to sap global economic growth this year. In June, Spain applied for 100 billion euros in emergency aid for its troubled banks, and the European Central Bank sought to put out the fire through outright purchases of risky sovereign bonds issued by troubled governments in the region.
The crisis also caused a political turbulence in the region. In France, the Socialists under François Hollande regained power for the first time in 17 years. More worryingly, in Greece parties of the extreme right gained a significant foothold. But the region has yet to see the end of the dark tunnel, with unemployment among young people soaring to 55 percent in countries like Spain and Greece.
◆ 'Arab Spring' Turns Bloody
Democracy movements in Middle Eastern countries either faced crises or escalated conflicts between rival groups, demonstrating just how difficult the political transition process can be.
The Islamist Mohamed Morsi was sworn in as Egypt's fifth president, but clashes erupted between supporters and opponents of a referendum proposed to revise the constitution. Meanwhile, civil war in Syria intensified leading to the death of more than 40,000 people. The "Arab spring" that saw falls of many autocratic governments in the region has turned into an "Arab winter."