Momentous Accords: One of the bloodiest epochs in world history appeared to be drawing to a close in Cambodia in 1991 when four factions that had waged civil war there signed an Oct. 23 peace agreement. After signing the agreement in Paris, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the deposed Cambodian leader, triumphantly returned home to head a new coalition government. But a political accord did not erase memories of the brutal 1970s. Amid the triumph, an angry mob attempted to lynch a leader of the Khmer Rouge, the Maoist faction that is blamed for the deaths of at least 1 million Cambodians by execution, torture and starvation when it ruled the country during the 1970s. Under the new agreement, Sihanouk will head a coalition government running the country with assistance from the United Nations for about two years until elections are held. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese, who had ousted the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia in 1979, patched up their relations in November with traditional adversary China, which had backed the Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
A Korean Rapprochement: Ending a 43-year diplomatic standoff, North and South Korea abandoned diplomatic claims to each other's territory, accepted separate admissions to the United Nations, and agreed in principle to banning nuclear weapons from the peninsula. North Korea announced that it would join the United Nations only after South Korea had mustered sufficient support from Moscow and Beijing to ensure its admission to the world body. The move was a victory for South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, who had painstakingly established ties with nearly all Communist and former Communist Asian countries.
Historic Ripples in Japan: Fifty years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan assumed a larger international role. Widely criticized for offering too little too late in the Persian Gulf War, Tokyo finally contributed $11 billion to the war effort and $2 billion to front-line countries. Japan's Parliament weighed a decision to allow the deployment of Japanese troops overseas for the first time since World War II, as part of U.N. peacekeeping missions. But in the end, the historic proposal, which had worried some Asian countries while being applauded by Washington, came to naught. With a $90-billion trade surplus, Japan remained the world's No. 1 creditor. In November, the country got a new prime minister--Kiichi Miyazawa.
Small Steps in China: The international isolation imposed on China after the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tian An Men Square was broken in August with a visit by Miyazawa's predecessor, then-Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan. Other Beijing visits ensued by a string of world leaders, including British Prime Minister John Major and U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Chinese leaders offered the Western dignitaries little in the way of human rights concessions. Earlier in the year, some leaders of the pro-democracy protests in 1989 were put on trial and given stiff jail sentences. Ideological controls and political repression continued.
Upheaval in the Philippines: Cataclysmic natural events seemed to single out the Philippines in 1991 as Mt. Pinatubo erupted in one of the worst volcanic disasters of the century. Three hundred people were killed outright, and hundreds more died of malnutrition and disease. A million lost their homes, farms or jobs. The oldest overseas American military base, Clark Air Base, was abandoned in a blanket of ash and turned over to the Philippine government, which said it did not have the money to clean it up. That country's Senate, reacting to growing nationalism, rejected a 10-year extension of the lease on the huge Subic Bay Naval Base, which the United States has agreed to vacate by the end of this year. It was a year of numerous setbacks for President Corazon Aquino, whose attempts to recover billions allegedly stolen by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos were rejected by courts in the Philippines and limited by courts in the United States. Imelda Marcos, the president's widow, returned home and, despite charges of corruption and tax evasion, left open the possibility that she will join a list of six candidates running to succeed Aquino as president.
A Whiff of Democracy: Not since the 1960s had Africa seen a year of such momentous political change. In more than a dozen countries, stultifying single-party governments yielded to vulnerable movements offering a whiff of democracy. But rarely without bloodshed.