The coincidence between this week’s Latin American trips by U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping highlight the undeclared competition between the U.S. and China in Latin America, and across the globe. The new competition is a struggle over the economic, legal, and political norms that will prevail as the global center of gravity shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the course of the twenty-first century.
Of the five countries attending March's BRICS summit in South Africa, only one could boast a growth rate significantly higher than 5 percent. That was China, and although its current growth of about 8 percent is less than half the 20-percent rate seen in headier days, it goes some way to explaining why it is still attracting serious money amid a worldwide slump in foreign direct investment (FDI).
Voters went to the polls in February, and the electorate’s rejection of the austerity program carried out by a technocratic regime backed by both of the main political parties resulted in a hung parliament. The anti-euro Five Star Movement, headed by irreverent comedian Beppe Grillo, made a stunning third-place finish.
A special election was held in mid-April to fill the presidential vacancy created by the death of Hugo Chávez in early March. Chávez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, was heavily favored to defeat the joint opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. However, Maduro won by less than two percentage points, compared to Chávez’s nearly 11-point margin of victory over Capriles in October 2012, and the opposition candidate has challenged the results.
The relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Latin America has entered new stage, defined by the new physical presence of Chinese firms “on the ground” in the region. The new presence does not supplant the exponential growth of trade between China and Latin America, but rather, changes the dynamics and imperatives faced by both sides at both a commercial and political level.
The landmark victory of the DPJ in 2009 promised a fresh start after five decades of the LDP political dominance. But the party failed to live up to expectations, and went down to defeat at an early election that was held in December 2012 against a backdrop of growing economic pessimism. The LDP’s victory capped a remarkable political comeback for Shinzo Abe.
Iran is preparing for a presidential election. It is assumed that the clerical establishment headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will use the substantial power at its disposal to guard against a repeat of the domestic upheaval that erupted in the aftermath of the 2009 contest. Nevertheless, the next president’s power will be limited.
Approaching the midpoint of the current four-year parliamentary term, political conditions in Thailand remain generally calm. However, the recent gubernatorial election in the capital, at which the incumbent, a member of the opposition DP, only narrowly fended off a challenge from the candidate of the governing PTP, highlights the persistence of deep political divisions. If not handled with care, this could give rise to a repeat of the destabilizing protests that erupted in 2010.
Politics has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous in North Korea. One minute Great Successor Kim Jong-un is cavorting with American basketball great Dennis Rodman and telling President Barack Obama to call. Next the North Korean People’s Army is threatening to abandon the six-decade-old armistice and use “lighter and smaller nukes” against the United States and South Korea.
The Kenyan presidential race was a game of building the broadest and most cohesive coalition of ethnic voting blocks, where kinship trumped detailed policy programs on the voters’ list of priorities. As such, Kenyatta’s victory brings little changes to the business environment with regard to the government’s inclination to raise taxes on foreign companies or corruption worries. Nonetheless, barring any complications in cooperation with the ICC, the new regime should remain open to foreign investment.
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