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This week our top story details the cat-and-mouse game underway between Cambodia’s authorities and the striking workers of the NagaWorld casino. We also have an interview with author and journalist Jeevan Vasagar on the mythos of the “Singapore model.”
The Diplomat Brief
March 30,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story details the cat-and-mouse game underway between Cambodia’s authorities and the striking workers of the NagaWorld casino. We also have an interview with author and journalist Jeevan Vasagar on the mythos of the “Singapore model.”
Story of the week
Cambodia Weaponizes COVID-19 in Its Struggle Against Striking Workers


Cambodia Weaponizes COVID-19 in Its Struggle Against Striking Workers

What Happened: For four months, workers at NagaWorld, Cambodia’s only licensed casino-hotel complex, have been on strike, protesting mass layoffs in 2021. Since the strike began in December, Cambodia’s government has been trying to quash the associated protests – most recently by taking advantage of COVID-19 restrictions to detain those who gather outside the NagaWorld complex and take them for testing or quarantine.

Our Focus: Journalist Josep Prat spoke to a number of strikers who reported being forcibly bused away for COVID testing, which they see as a flimsy excuse for temporary detention. A joint statement by 51 Cambodian civil groups, communities, and trade unions, released on February 24, described the forcible busing and testing as an “arbitrary application of COVID-19 measures.” Indeed, no restrictions were in force inside NagaWorld casino itself during Prat’s recent visit. Meanwhile, around 200 strikers were detained outside, ostensibly due to COVID-19 restrictions.

What Comes Next: The repressive tactics aimed at the striking workers are a microcosm of the tight-fisted political rule Hun Sen has implemented since outright banning his political competition in 2017. There’s little space left for civil society, including labor unions, making Cambodia’s workers even more vulnerable at a time when the pandemic has put livelihoods at risk around the world. The striking workers, however, are determined to continue. “I lost all my savings, but my family is supporting me and I’m not going to stop either,” one told Prat.

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Behind the News


Jeevan Vasagar

Jeevan Vasagar, author of the newly released book “Lion City: Singapore and the Invention of Modern Asia,” on Singapore’s political system: “Singaporeans have been increasingly vocal about expressing political views – and social media allows them to do so… I’d define Singapore as a democracy now, a country with meaningful elections. I think it’s still a few steps away from being a truly competitive democracy, but I think that will come and I don’t think there will be any loss of security, stability, or growth when it does.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

China, EU Hold Summit as Ukraine Looms Large

On April 1, China and the EU will hold a much-anticipated virtual summit, one that will set the stage for a new era in their relationship. Beijing’s refusal to criticize the Russian invasion of Ukraine – something many European nations view as an existential threat – has the potential to completely reshape the trajectory of China-EU relations. Case in point: Just ahead of the summit, China is hosting Russia’s foreign minister for his first multilateral meeting since the Ukraine invasion. In that context, resurrecting the China-EU bilateral investment treaty looks like the least of Beijing’s worries.

Find out more

South Asia

Imran Khan’s Government Hangs in the Balance

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is still fighting for his political survival this week, as a no-confidence vote draws closer. At heart, the issue is whether Khan can patch up relations with Pakistan’s powerful military, which previously backed his government. As Khan grows increasingly desperate, Pakistani analysts are worried that chaos will erupt in the capital.

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Southeast Asia

Singapore’s PM Visits the United States

This week, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is on a mammoth eight-day working trip to the United States. The tour, which winds up on April 2, involves talks with senior U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and according to Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, will “build on the robust, longstanding, and multi-faceted relationship” between the two nations. The trip, which will also involve a meeting between Lee and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, was likely organized after the planned U.S.-ASEAN summit, initially set to be held in Washington on March 28-29, was postponed indefinitely due to scheduling clashes.

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Central Asia

Kazakhstan's Oil Industry May Have a Russia Problem

The Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) pumps oil from Kazakhstan to global customers in the West, but this week the consortium said it would halt loading at its marine terminal at Novorossiysk, a Russian port on the Black Sea. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the ensuing sanctions on Moscow, has put Kazakhstan's oil industry in an awkward spot, entangled in a veritable mess of companies and joint ventures that blur and bend the lines between Russia and the West.

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Visualizing APAC

Source: Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data; via Our World in Data

The Omicron variant is fueling China’s biggest COVID-19 wave since the initial outbreak in early 2020 – and sparking major lockdowns, including in Shanghai, as China sticks to its “zero COVID” policy.

See the full picture
Word of the Week



qiān yī fā dòng quán shēn: Mandarin, literally “pulling one hair moves the entire body.” The idiom means that making one small change (for example, a policy shift) will result in a cascade of unintended side effects.

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Vaccine Diplomacy in Asia

The Diplomat Magazine | March 2022

Vaccine Diplomacy in Asia

This month, our cover story reexamines the concept of “vaccine diplomacy,” which has worked to the detriment of the world. We also outline the main concerns driving voter sentiment in South Korea’s presidential election, trace the steps that led to Sri Lanka’s disastrous Delta peak in 2021, and outline Singapore’s awkward search for the next prime minister. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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Diplomat Risk Intelligence