Author: 

Michael Williams, Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Acting Head of the Asia Programme, Chatham House

Additional author info: 

Michael Williams is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Acting Head of the Asia Programme, Chatham House

Iran and the South China Sea are top of the 2013 foreign policy agenda with rising tensions forcing them into the world spotlight

On January 21 Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term, while in Beijing a new Chinese leadership takes shape over the coming months. But the world is not being made afresh: in both capitals these are old-new leaderships:  the Chinese succession process seems designed to minimize shocks and surprises. As for Obama, his strengths and weaknesses are well known. 

One thing, however, is certain. Over the next two years Obama will have to make a fateful decision on whether to go to war with Iran over its nuclear programme or push the world to accept a deal that is unlikely to satisfy the Israelis.   

What is equally certain is that Washington would like to reduce its Middle East commitments in order to focus on the Asia-Pacific region, where potential conflict presents a threat to the world’s prosperity. In the following pages, two experts look at two major foreign policy issues: the prospects for a deal over Iran and conflict in the South China Sea. 

A Japanese coastguard ship and a Chinese surveillance vessel keep watch on each other by the disputed Senkaku islands. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

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