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The Diplomat Brief
September 30,
The Diplomat Brief
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story is an update on the progress of China’s aircraft carrier ambitions. We also have an interview with Ben Bland, of the Lowy Institute, on his biography of Indonesia President Joko Widodo — “Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia.”
Story of the week
003 and More: An Update on China’s Aircraft Carriers


003 and More: An Update on China’s Aircraft Carriers

What Happened: Over the past year, the PLA watching community has taken careful note of any and all snippets of information regarding the progress of China’s third aircraft carrier – dubbed, for now, 003.

Our Focus: “003 will be the Chinese Navy’s first CATOBAR carrier,” Rick Joe writes, “and while it will remain conventionally powered, it will likely be significantly larger than Liaoning and Shandong…”

What Comes Next: Exactly how many aircraft carriers China aims to constructed is a figure of broad speculation. With two shipyards capable of construction carriers (Dalian and Jiangnan), the common assumption that Beijing is planning six carriers by 2035 might be an underestimate.

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Behind the News


Ben Bland

Director of the Lowy Institute’s Southeast Asia Program, Ben Bland – who from 2012 to 2016 was the Financial Times correspondent in Jakarta – on the rise of Indonesian President Joko Widodo: “Jokowi made it to the top ‘accidentally, on purpose.’ Successful politicians, like comedians, need good timing.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

Murdered South Korean Official Brings Inter-Korea Relations Back in Focus

A shocking incident last week that saw a South Korean official killed at sea by North Korean soldiers – allegedly while the former was trying to defect to the North – could have been a serious flashpoint in already strained relations. But instead, Kim Jong Un quickly issued a rare apology in hopes of defusing tensions. Now South Korean President Moon Jae-in is calling for the tragedy to become a spark that reignites inter-Korean dialogue, requesting a joint investigation and resumption of the North-South military hotline.

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South Asia

The Quad Sets a Date

The foreign ministers of Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. are scheduled to meet in Tokyo on October 6 as the quad seeks to shape rules of the road for the Indo-Pacific. It will be the group’s second such meeting; the first was held in September 2019 following the concept’s revival in 2017.

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Southeast Asia

Myanmar Nears National Elections

Campaigning continues apace for Myanmar's upcoming national election on November 8, although stringent coronavirus measures have largely prevented parties from mounting the colorful rallies that preceded the last poll in 2015. In recent days, the country has seen an alarming spike in COVID-19 infections, something that may soon force the Union Election Commission to reconsider its decision to forge ahead with the poll.

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Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan Heads to the Polls

On October 4, as many as 3.5 million Kyrgyz citizens will head to the polls to elect the country’s next parliament. The month-long campaign featured brawls and protests, par for the raucous Kyrgyz democratic course. With 16 parties to chose from, and the nominal ruling party not even running, the election is anyone’s game.

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Visualizing APAC


The Real Strategic End Game in Decoupling From China

Going all-in on the transatlantic economy is the only serious option for Western democracies seeking to counter China.

See the full picture
Trade Relations: US, EU, and China
Trade Relations: US, EU, and China

Visualizing trade relations between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and China, and China and Europe.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, and UNCOM statistics

Word of the Week



tóngzhì, literally “comrade” — The term is more commonly used today as slang for “gay.” The coronavirus pandemic is presenting unique challenges for China’s queer youth.

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The Diplomat BriefThe Bell Boeing V-22
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The Diplomat Magazine | October 2020

U.S. Alliances Under Trump

This month, we take stock of the state of U.S. alliances in Asia after four years of the Trump administration. We also decipher the role China plays in Myanmar’s peace process, scrutinize the civil-military nexus taking shape in Pakistan under Imran Khan, and highlight the major developments that have molded Fiji over its 50 years of independence. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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Diplomat Risk Intelligence
The Diplomat Brief