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This week our top story explores the role of religious and folk traditions in Myanmar’s anti-coup resistance. We also have an interview with Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, on China’s “inadvertent empire” in Central Asia.
The Diplomat Brief
April 20,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores the role of religious and folk traditions in Myanmar’s anti-coup resistance. We also have an interview with Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, on China’s “inadvertent empire” in Central Asia.
Story of the week
Prophecies, Rituals, and Resistance in Myanmar


Prophecies, Rituals, and Resistance in Myanmar

What Happened: In March 2022, Myanmar’s anti-coup resistance movement was filled with anticipation, thanks to a 30-year-old prophecy from a Buddhist monk foretelling the downfall of military rule. Prophecies, religious rituals, and soothsaying traditions have become a part of the ongoing conflict, with both the junta and its opponents using them to predict an ultimate victory.

Our Focus: “Divinations and yedaya rituals, believed to alter fate, have always been mainstays for those involved in politics, business, and the military, and are key aspects of popular religion not limited to the Buddhist majority,” writes Naw Theresa, an independent analyst based in Myanmar. The National Unity Government and its supporters, including the armed Peoples Defense Forces, have leaned heavily on these folk traditions to bolster morale. “Symbolisms and predictions boost real-world actions and help assure anti-junta protesters and netizens that victory is both inevitable and imminent… They are also intended to demoralize the Tatmadaw using its own cultural language and hamper it from claiming traditional legitimacy,” explains Naw Theresa.

What Comes Next: As Myanmar’s conflict looks increasingly like a full-on civil war – one that continues take a heavy toll on the population – both sides of the conflict are turning to spiritual traditions in a bid to keep their supporters onside. “Supportive prophecies and predictions serve as a coping mechanism for a populace increasingly squeezed by economic despair and spiraling insecurity,” Naw Theresa writes. At a time when the future of Myanmar looks more uncertain than ever, the certainty offered by prophecies and oracles looks increasingly attractive.

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Behind the News


Raffaello Pantucci

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at RSIS in Singapore and co-author of “Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire,” on the global neglect of Central Asia: “It is a great disappointment to me that many of the Indo-Pacific strategies focus almost solely on maritime power. This misses out the vast and rich hinterland that exists in the Eurasian heartland…To simply abandon it to its fate misses a regional opportunity, but also misses out on understanding how Chinese foreign policy actually works in practice.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

Shanghai’s Lockdown Continues

The lockdown in Shanghai stretched into a third week for most of the city, despite growing unrest from residents worried about lack of access to food and medical care. For the CCP, the handling of Shanghai’s COVID-19 outbreak has become a political affair, with Xi Jinping’s insistence on “zero-tolerance COVID policy” superseding local conditions.

Find out more

South Asia

Bangladesh, US Clash Again on Rights Issues

Human rights are once again causing friction in Bangladesh-US ties. This time, the cause is the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which took Bangladesh to task for invalid elections back in 2018. With Dhaka already protesting sanctions on its Rapid Action Battalion and its exclusion from Biden’s Democracy Summit, Bangladesh-U.S. relations look set to enter rough waters – even though robust cooperation is in both side’s strategic interest.

Find out more

Southeast Asia

Timor-Leste Elects a New President

Timor-Leste went to the polls on Tuesday in a runoff election to determine the next president. The top two contenders – Jose Ramos-Horta, backed by the CNRT, and incumbent President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres of Fretilin – are key players in the country’s existing political cleavages. The results should be announced this week; more important than the winner, however, is whether the results are widely accepted or challenged by the losing side.

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Central Asia

Kazakhstan Slows Wheat Exports With Quota

As the war in Ukraine drags on and Russia is increasingly cut off by sanctions, concerns rise about global food insecurity. Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters. Another major exporter, Kazakhstan, has placed a quota on wheat exports to ensure the stability of its domestic market, putting the country’s Central Asian neighbors – who import huge quantities of wheat – further at risk.

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Visualizing APAC

South Koreans are generally supportive of the U.S. alliance – but not even the strongest supporters are in favor of a 50/50 split in the costs.

See the full picture
Word of the Week



Dà​bái: Literally “big white” in Mandarin, it’s a popular nickname for the health or community workers, dressed in all-white, head-to-toe PPE suits, that enforce China’s “zero COVID” policies.

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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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Diplomat Risk Intelligence