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This week our top story revists the beginning of the 2022 protests in Kazakhstan, which would become known as “Bloody January.” We also have an interview with renowned historian Frank Dikötter about his latest book, “China After Mao.”
The Diplomat Brief
January 4,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story revists the beginning of the 2022 protests in Kazakhstan, which would become known as “Bloody January.” We also have an interview with renowned historian Frank Dikötter about his latest book, “China After Mao.”
Story of the week
Kazakhstan’s Bloody January: Day 1


Kazakhstan’s Bloody January: Day 1

What Happened: On January 2, 2022, protesters gathered in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, to denounce the overnight doubling of gas prices. Over the next 24 hours, the protests expanded in both geographic scope and subject matter, spreading across the country and snowballing into demands for political change and human rights. The movement culminated in chaos and violence in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, with rumors swirling of an attempted coup before the military was sent in to put down the unrest. The events would become known as Qandy Qantar (Bloody January). What really happened remains murky, even a year later. In a series of articles for The Diplomat over the next week, journalist Cheryl Reed traces the developments of the uprising through the eyes of the Kazakh journalists who covered it – beginning with the spark that ignited the flame on that first day in Zhanaozen.

Our Focus: “Because state-funded media generally doesn’t cover illegal protests, and there are few independent media outlets,” Reed writes, citizen journalists “filled a critical gap informing the country about what was happening during the early January 2022 protests.” The journalists and activists she spoke to emphasized that “regular guys” – not veteran activists, but people who had never protested before – were the ones taking to the streets on January 2, 2022. “I understood that this was something extraordinary,” videographer Issa Tazhenbayev told The Diplomat, explaining why he rushed to document the protests that emerged in Aktau later the same day.

What Comes Next: The early protests were peaceful, on the part of both demonstrators and police. But over the next days, violence broke out – some reports accuse provocateurs of urging the crowds to violence to justify a heavy-handed policy crackdown. The ensuing violence made covering the events even more critical, yet vastly more difficult. “Even as a reporter making a broadcast of the events, I had to stay objective,” Azattyq reporter Saniya Toiken told The Diplomat. “But everything was screaming inside me because I was worried about the fate of my country... I am really upset that people were killed.” She added a sentiment shared by many of the journalists Reed interviewed for this series: “I am not afraid. But they are killing my hope.”

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Behind the News


Frank Dikötter

Frank Dikötter, chair professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and author of the recent book “China After Mao,” on the strict limits to China’s post-Mao reform process: “[S]ince 1976, changes have been introduced to a rigidly collectivized economy in order to build up socialism, not to abandon it… ‘Red China’ never went away.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

South Korea Talks US Nuclear Drills

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed that his country will continue to expand its nuclear arsenal during a high-level party meeting at the end of 2022. In an oblique response, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told media that Seoul and Washington are holding discussions on joint planning and exercises involving U.S. nuclear assets. The Biden administration denied that, however, something Yoon’s office put down to quibbles over the proper definition of “nuclear exercises.

Find out more

South Asia

Nepal’s New Government Jumpstarts Railway Project With China

Nepal’s new prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, wasted no time living up to his pro-China reputation: Just a day after he took office, a team of Chinese experts landed in Nepal to conduct a feasibility study of the long-delayed Kathmandu-Kerung railway. That suggests Nepal will indeed tilt back in Beijing’s direction under Communist Party rule, after a stint at the helm by Nepal’s pro-India party, the Nepali Congress.

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Southeast Asia

Mr. Marcos Goes to Beijing

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is in Beijing this week on a three-day state visit aimed at improving his nation’s often tense ties with China. Traveling with a big business delegation, Marcos said he planned to seek cooperation with China in various areas, including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and investment. He also is set to discuss the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea. However, given that bilateral relations advanced little even under his pro-Beijing predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, a rapid improvement in ties remains unlikely.

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Central Asia

Berdimuhamedov Headed to China

Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov has the honor this week of being Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second foreign guest of 2023 (just beaten out by the Philippine’s President Ferdinanad Marcos Jr.) In characteristic fashion, neither Beijing or Ashgabat has said much about the agenda for the upcoming visit, but they don’t have to. The most important topic between China and Turkmenistan is the all-important matter of natural gas supplies.

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Visualizing APAC

81 percent of South Korean respondents hold negative or very negative sentiments toward China – far more than any of the other 56 countries surveyed worldwide as part of the Sinophone Borderlands project.

See the full picture
Word of the Week



Suryeong, the North Korean honorific translated as “Supreme Leader” used to refer to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un – and now China’s Xi Jinping.

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Asian Studies at Georgetown
2023: What to Expect

The Diplomat Magazine | January 2023

2023: What to Expect

This month, our cover story highlights the trends and events to watch across the Asia-Pacific in 2023. We also revisit the public discontent behind Kazakhstan’s “Bloody January” last year, delve into Nepal’s political landscape after its general election, and probe the future of the U.S. tech competition with China. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

Read the Magazine

Diplomat Risk Intelligence

Research Notes

Published by Diplomat Risk Intelligence, Research Notes* offer actionable insight to strategic decision-makers seeking to understand political risk and economic trends in Asia.

*Separate subscription required

January 2, 2023

Japan Issues a New National Security and Defense Strategy. Impact of Evolving Security Environment Extends Beyond Military Buildup

December 22, 2022

China’s Covid Surge Looms Over Economy: When Will It End?

December 14, 2022

China’s Reopening After Nationwide Protests: From Incremental to Swift Change

December 7, 2022

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen Resigns as Party Leader After Stinging Defeat in Local Elections
View all Research Notes
Diplomat Risk Intelligence