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This week our top story explores the ongoing protest movement in Sri Lanka and the threat it poses to the ruling Rajapaksa clan. We also have an interview with Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at American Progress, about former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s legacy in Japan.
The Diplomat Brief
April 13,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores the ongoing protest movement in Sri Lanka and the threat it poses to the ruling Rajapaksa clan. We also have an interview with Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at American Progress, about former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s legacy in Japan.
Story of the week
Sri Lanka’s Oppressive Stability Starts to Crumble


Sri Lanka’s Oppressive Stability Starts to Crumble

What Happened: On March 31, discontent in Sri Lanka over an economic crisis – and the accompanying food shortages, inflation, and power cuts – culminated in a march on the President’s House, with protesters demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resign. Protests have since spread across the country, representing a serious threat to the Rajapaksa clan’s rule.

Our Focus: As of early April, Rajapaksa brothers were filling the roles of president, prime minister, finance minister, and irrigation minister, not counting various nephews and other relations. The current administration picked up where the Rajapaksas’ rule left off in 2015, after an election upset. Once again, the family appealed to their strongman bona fides for having ended Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war to justify consolidating control. But amid the economic crisis, that seems to have backfired – there is now no one else to blame. Even the Sinhala Buddhist majority that formed the backbone of the Rajapaksas’ support has major grievances. “Today, protesters span all segments of Sri Lankan society, united in their anger toward the current government. Mass protests have even erupted in traditional electoral strongholds for the Rajapaksas, including outside the prime minister’s own residence in Tangalle, located in the Hambantota District,” writes Isha Gupta, a junior fellow at the South Asia Program of the Stimson Center in Washington, D.C. “…With only Gotabaya and Mahinda left in charge, it seems like the beginning of the end of the Rajapaksa family’s dominance in Sri Lankan politics.”

What Comes Next: The Rajapaksas’ fate is far from certain, however. They are cracking down on protests while also offering some limited concessions – although still refusing to step down, which has become the protestors’ key demand. Even if the protesters can force a power transition, it’s far from clear who would take the reins – and whether a new government would be able to move Sri Lanka away from Rajapaksa-style political patronage as a model of governance.

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Behind the News


Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at American Progress and the author of “The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan,” on the former prime minister’s continuing impact in Japan: “It seems increasingly clear that more than any particular policy achievement, Abe’s greatest legacy was a more substantial global leadership for Japan… The upshot is that the U.S. and other partners now expect more from Japan’s leaders, which has clearly been a factor during the Ukraine crisis.”

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This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

North Korea Celebrates the ‘Day of the Sun’

April 15 – the birth anniversary of founding leader Kim Il Sung – is North Korea’s biggest holiday. It’ll be even bigger this year: It’s not only the 110th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth but April 2022 marks the 10-year anniversary of current leader Kim Jong Un’s ascension to his final leadership title. Pyongyang’s spate of missile tests – including two separate ICBM launches in March – have analysts expecting the “Day of the Sun” to be celebrated with a literal bang – possibly even a nuclear test.

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South Asia

Pakistan’s New Prime Minister

After intense political maneuvering and intervention by the Supreme Court, Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote on Sunday. Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N and one of Khan’s biggest rivals, was sworn into the office on Monday. Khan, however, is not done fighting yet. He has sworn not to recognize the new government and promised to mobilize his supporters to continue the battle in the streets. The key question now is whether Pakistan’s powerful military will allow any pro-Khan movement to gain momentum.

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Southeast Asia

Student Protests in Indonesia

This week, thousands of university students demonstrated across Indonesia against rising cooking oil prices and rumored plans to extend President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s tenure. The protests, which in Jakarta were broken up by police wielding tear gas and water cannon, follow months in which senior political figures have pushed for a delay to the 2024 election or a constitutional amendment allowing Jokowi to serve a third term. Despite several recent denials from the Indonesian leader and calls for his Cabinet to focus on more concrete economic matters, the suspicions as to his motives persist.

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Central Asia

India Has High Hopes for Turkmenistan

The first foreign dignitary to pay a visit to newly ascended Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov was Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovind in early April. Naturally, TAPI – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline – was a key focus. India has high hopes for Turkmen gas deliveries , but the project remains mired in a mountain of concerns from security to financing.

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Visualizing APAC

Since the inauguration of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2016, the massive surge in Pakistani metal exports bound for China has been one of the most notable shifts in trading patterns.

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Word of the Week



A term used by Aboriginal Australians to refer to non-Indigenous, particularly White, people.

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Vaccine Diplomacy in Asia

The Diplomat Magazine | April 2022

The Philippines’ Critical Presidential Election

This month, our cover story probes the high stakes of the Philippines’ presidential election. We also dive into the Cold War history lurking behind Nicaragua’s 2021 break with Taiwan, explore Bhutan’s remarkable COVID-19 success story, and recount the recent gains – in the face of deep-seated prejudice – of Pakistan’s transgender community. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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