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This week our top story details the harrowing flights (literally and figuratively) of Afghan Air Force pilots who fled the country as Kabul fell. We also have an interview with Elizabeth Economy, a noted expert on China’s politics and policy, on her new book, “The World According to China.”
The Diplomat Brief
January 5,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story details the harrowing flights (literally and figuratively) of Afghan Air Force pilots who fled the country as Kabul fell. We also have an interview with Elizabeth Economy, a noted expert on China’s politics and policy, on her new book, “The World According to China.”
Story of the week
The Final Flights of the Afghan Air Force


The Final Flights of the Afghan Air Force

What Happened: As the Afghan government collapsed and the military chain of command broke down, Afghanistan’s pilots were left with an impossible choice: stay and face possible death at the hands of the Taliban, or fly away from their homeland. At least 46 aircraft from Afghanistan made the journey across the Uzbek border; 16 aircraft fled to Tajikistan. The exact number of people on board those flights is unclear, but could be over 700 altogether.

Our Focus: The Diplomat spoke to two Afghan Air Force A-29 pilots and a Special Mission Wing pilot about their final days in Afghanistan. As the ground forces the pilots were meant to support fell to the Taliban, commanders ordered their wings to fly to Kabul. Then Kabul fell as well, and the pilots realized they were fighting for a government that no longer existed. As Brigadier General Fazal Karim “Skipper” Faqeer remembered, “One of my closest friends came to me and he said, ‘It’s over, it’s not about you. You’re fighting right now, you’re resisting. But it’s a political failure. We can do nothing.’”

What Comes Next: A U.S. military officer who spoke to The Diplomat is confident that every Afghan A-29 pilot is now out of Afghanistan, though not all have arrived in the United States yet. But while the war is over for the pilots and their families, the long transition to make a home in a foreign country is just beginning. “So we start a new life, emotionally we are hurting because we didn’t give up, we fought to the last moment,” Faqeer said.

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Behind the News


Elizabeth Economy

Elizabeth Economy, currently serving as a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Commerce while on leave from her position as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, on the long-term implications of China’s COVID-19 border closures: “One of the many tragedies of COVID-19 is the extent to which countries have elected or been forced to close their doors to others. In China, however, the leadership’s decision to remain mostly closed also reinforces a pre-existing trend of declining engagement with the outside world.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

COVID-19 Upsets Japan’s Diplomatic, Economic Plans

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio was supposed to visit Australia this week to sign a Reciprocal Access Agreement, allowing for the stationing of military personnel on each other’s territory. The visit, however, has been postponed due to the worsening COVID-19 outbreak in Japan. In the next week, Kishida will also need to decide whether to extend Japan’s border closures yet again, further delaying a return to economic normal as the Omicron variant takes hold in the country.

Find out more

South Asia

Indian Rebels Regroup in Myanmar

Two years ago, Myanmar’s military took action against separatist rebel outfits from India’s Northeast, dismantling their camps and training facilities on Myanmar’s side of the border. But since the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military has found Indian separatist groups to be useful allies – and now the insurgents’ camps are reforming, much to India’s dismay.

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Southeast Asia

Cambodia’s ‘Cowboy Diplomacy’ on Myanmar

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen will this week visit military-ruled Myanmar for meetings aimed at resolving the violent crisis stemming from last year’s coup d’etat. As this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the long-ruling leader has made clear that he intends to promote his own form of engagement with the junta, eschewing the slightly harder line advocated by member states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

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Central Asia

Moscow Promotes Russian in Central Asia

2021 ended with Russia emphasizing a consistent theme in its Central Asian diplomacy: urging leaders in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to promote and support the use of the Russian language in their countries. Widespread use of Russian in Central Asia is a lasting legacy of the Soviet Union, and Moscow is clearly not happy with attempts to promote local languages instead.

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Visualizing APAC

“Goodbye 19” and finger-root tablets – both billed as herbal treatments for COVID-19 – offered for sale at a Boots pharmacy branch in Thailand.

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Word of the Week



qù měi​yuán huà, Mandarin for “de-dollarization,” or the process of reducing the U.S. dollar’s role as a global currency.

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The Asia-Pacific in 2022: What to Expect

The Diplomat Magazine | January 2022

The Asia-Pacific in 2022: What to Expect

This month, our cover story highlights the trends and events to watch across the Asia-Pacific in 2022. We also trace Kim Jong Un’s evolution as a leader in the 10 years since he rose to power in North Korea, scrutinize how Biden’s approach to Asia is different – and not so different – from Trump’s, and contrast the rosy reporting on Vietnam’s labor reforms with the reality for workers. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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Diplomat Risk Intelligence