The year 2013 saw global tensions rise, especially in Asia-Pacific as U.S. efforts to stem the rising might of China coincided with a lurch to the chauvinistic far right in Japan.
On the other side of the world, a new pope spoke out against unfettered capitalism, while whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the scale of U.S. eavesdropping on people's private communications around the world. But the devastation wrought by super typhoon Haiyan galvanized international compassion.
◆ China Declares Controversial Air Buffer Zone
China declared a so-called Air Defense Identification Zone that partly overlaps with Korea's and Japan's, creating the potential for future disputes. The U.S. and Japan dispatched fighter jets to the affected areas in order to pressure China, while Seoul expanded its own zone.
Amid closer cooperation between Japan and the U.S. in a bid to outmaneuver China, Korea faced a growing threat of isolation as it weighed the pros and cons of opposing Beijing, its largest trading partner.
◆ Mandela Dies at 95
Former South African President Nelson Mandela, who symbolized the country's struggle against the racist apartheid regime, died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for fighting against apartheid and was released in 1990. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his pursuit of national reconciliation. In 1994, he became South Africa's first democratically elected black president.
◆ Pope Retires, Making Way for South American Jesuit
Pope Benedict decided in February to step down due to health reasons as he had to recognize his "incapacity to adequately fulfill" his ministry, the first time a pope resigned in nearly 600 years. The new pope is Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who took the papal name Francis, becoming the first-non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, the first Latin American and the first Jesuit. His early days in office were marked by pronouncements on global capitalism that some see as a radical departure for the usually conservative Vatican.
◆ Xi Jinping Takes Over in China
Xi Jinping became president of China in March this year. Xi launched a crackdown on corruption leading to the ousters of around 10 ministers and vice ministers.
In November, Xi launched a committee to oversee China's national security policy and also step up reforms and market opening. In December, China succeeded in sending an exploration module to the moon, becoming the third country to achieve such a feat after the U.S. and Russia. Xi is tasked with dealing with China's pollution and other environmental issues, as well as alleviating ethnic and socioeconomic tensions.
◆ NSA Whistleblower Exposes U.S. Snooping
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed shocking details of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance programs. His revelations cast light on the NSA's attempts to monitor ordinary citizens around the world and even wiretap heads of states that are allies of the U.S.
More revelations are expected, since Snowden says he gained access to more than 200,000 classified documents and has revealed only one percent of them. U.S. public sentiment is split on whether Snowden is a courageous whistleblower or traitor. He is presently in Russia, which offered him temporary asylum.
◆ Abe Visits Controversial War Shrine
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shifted into high gear his plans to revise Japan's pacifist, post-war constitution to allow the country to wage war against its enemies.
Abe, who spent the early part of his tenure focusing on reviving Japan's recession-hit economy, veered further to the right following his party's win in July's parliamentary elections, asserting its right to so-called collective self-defense, where its troops can operate abroad if an ally is in some way under attack, and boosting defense spending.
While claiming that he wishes to meet with the leaders of Korea and China, Abe paid a surprise visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted World War II criminals among Japan's war dead. It was the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to the shrine since Junichiro Koizumi in 2006.
◆ Super Typhoon Devastates the Philippines
Super typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Nov. 8, ravaging the center of the country. As of the middle of December, the death toll had surpassed 6,000, while 1,800 remained missing. Around 27,000 people were injured and 4.3 million left homeless.
A total of 1.1 million homes were destroyed by the typhoon. Haiyan, which was the strongest storm of this year, cost the Philippines US$14 billion worth of economic losses, according to Bloomberg News.