A flag featuring a portrait of Vladimir Putin flutters outside the Kremlin in Moscow on March 5, the day after the Russian presidential election (XINHUA/AFP)
New leaders were elected in many countries in 2012. While Barack Obama won a second term as U.S. president, Vladimir Putin, Francois Hollande, Mohamed Morsi and Enrique Pena Nieto were elected the respective presidents of Russia, France, Egypt and Mexico. Shinzo Abe became Japan's prime minister following a long period of political strife in the country. Park Geun-hye became the first female president of South Korea.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and then UN Under Secretary General Sha Zukang (right) at the closing ceremony of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro on June 22 (WENG XINYANG)
Countries affirmed their commitment to environmentally friendly growth at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 20-22, with the adoption of an outcome document titled The Future We Want. A number of industrialized nations agreed on December 8 to participate in the second commitment period (2013-20) of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement that demands developed countries cut greenhouse gas emissions, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar. But global sustainable development remains an uphill battle, especially regarding differences between industrialized and developing countries over the issue of how to approach sustainability.
A Chinese marine surveillance ship patrols waters off the Diaoyu Islands on September 14 (ZHANG JIANSONG)
The Japanese government's "purchase" of three islets in the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, which have been on China's official atlas for centuries, from their "Japanese owner" in September, triggered a diplomatic row between the two neighbors. Prior to this move, Japan found itself embroiled in island disputes with Russia and South Korea. In April, China ran into a dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea after a Philippine naval ship attempted to harass Chinese fishermen near China's Huangyan Island, over which the Philippines claims sovereignty.
Despite these territorial spats, countries in the region have vowed to pursue free trade. At the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on November 20, leaders from 10 ASEAN nations and its six dialogue partners—China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand—initiated negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP, expected to take effect by the end of 2015, will give birth to the world's biggest regional free trade area.