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This week our top story examines the buried history of Vietnam’s Great Famine – and why the Communist Party is not keen to discuss it. We also have an interview with Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, the prime minister of Mongolia, on his country’s economic plans and foreign policy.
The Diplomat Brief
June 6,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story examines the buried history of Vietnam’s Great Famine – and why the Communist Party is not keen to discuss it. We also have an interview with Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai, the prime minister of Mongolia, on his country’s economic plans and foreign policy.
Story of the week
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Remembering Vietnam’s Great Famine

What Happened: The Great Famine of 1945 killed somewhere between 1-2 million people in northern Vietnam. The tragedy formed a key part of modern Vietnam’s history; the anger and devastation helped galvanize the population to support the Viet Minh independence movement and, later, the Communist Party of Vietnam. Yet since then, the famine has been largely forgotten – not censored, exactly, but neglected in official versions of history. While historians have called for official commemorations, and grassroots efforts have erected some local memorials, the government has largely ignored the push to acknowledge the famine’s central role in Vietnam’s 20th century history.

Our Focus: Like its fellow Communist Party to the north, the CPV maintains an iron grip on history to ensure there are no challenges to its legitimacy. CPV rule must be centered as a historical inevitability – not a fluke created by a confluence of events, including the Great Famine. The famine’s history, by contrast, is inextricably linked to the complexity of Vietnam’s independence movement, with a rival government – now universally denounced in official accounts – spearheading relief efforts at the time. Further complicating a full reckoning with the tragedy, the Great Famine took place under, and was undoubtedly worsened by, Japanese colonial rule. With Japan-Vietnam relations riding high, especially over the last 15 years, Hanoi has little incentive to dig up old ghosts. “By the 2000s, the government was far more interested in Japanese investment,” Professor Ken MacLean from Clark University told The Diplomat. “The issue of Japanese obligations never became a pressing public demand in Vietnam with regard to the criminal tragedy that occurred.”

What Comes Next: Without the Great Famine, Vietnam’s history might look very different. The Viet Minh front, which was established in 1941, used the famine to mobilize illiterate and impoverished peasants. In addition, the famine contributed to the political chaos that made possible for the August 1945 revolution to happen and for the CPV to lay claim to it. Yet the government has not approved any official projects to commemorate the history, though it has allowed local memorials to stand. “Those who experienced it [the famine] are mostly dead,” Ho Tai Hue Tam, a professor at Harvard University, said. “Currently, both governments and people are more interested in the post-war, post-Doi Moi prosperity, which, in the post-COVID period, seems to be slipping away.” Still, there is renewed interest in Vietnam’s history, including the Great Famine, which may force the CPV to respond.

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Behind the News


Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai

Mongolian Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene Luvsannamsrai on efforts to tackle corruption: “We have already committed to a number of actions that align with the recommendations of the strategy in this, the ‘Year of Fighting Corruption.’ These include strengthening a corruption-free public service, effective participation of citizens, the involvement of civil society and media in this work, the independence of state institutions, reducing the risk of corruption in the budgeting and procurement process, and tackling theft, embezzlement, and waste.”

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This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

Taiwan’s 2024 Election Campaign Heats Up

In January 2024, Taiwanese voters will elect a new president and new legislators, cementing Taiwan’s political outlook for the next four years. The races are already heating up, now that both major parties have tapped presidential candidates: VP William Lai for the ruling DPP and New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih for the KMT. Despite long being seen as the KMT’s best candidate, Hou’s campaign faced early stumbles that could suggest party infighting hasn’t ended with his official nomination.

Find out more

South Asia

India, US Pledge Upgraded Defense Ties

Fresh off attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited India, where he and counterpart Rajnath Singh released a new five-year roadmap for defense cooperation. India and the United States are particularly keen to advance their partnership in the defense industry, and major announcements to that effect are expected when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Washington later this month.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Holds Multinational Naval Exercises

Indonesia this week kicked off a four-day multilateral naval exercise that is being attended by vessels and personnel from 36 nations, including China, Russia, and the United States. The four-day Multilateral Naval Exercise Komodo, a “non-war exercise prioritizing regional maritime cooperation, disaster management, and humanitarian operations,” will take part in the waters between Borneo and Sulawesi. Coming on the heels of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, which saw U.S. and Chinese officials trade bitter recriminations over a dangerous encounter in the Taiwan Strait, the Komodo exercises mark a welcome moment of concord for the Asia-Pacific.

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Central Asia

After China, EU Comes Calling in Central Asia

Last year in October, the first EU-Central Asia Leaders' Meeting came just two weeks after Russia’s own first summit with the Central Asian presidents. This year, European Council President Charles Michel met with Central Asian leaders in Kyrgyzstan on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping hosting the five Central Asian presidents in Xi’an in late May.

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Visualizing APAC

Southern Thai Railways Train No. 452, which plied the route from Sungai Kolok to Surat Thani, lies in the undergrowth after being derailed in an insurgent attack near Chana station. It was one of many trains to fall victim to attacks on Thailand’s “insurgency express.”

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Word of the Week



Quánqiú ānquán chàngyì: Mandarin for Global Security Initiative, a broad concept rolled out by Xi Jinping in April 2022 that is only slowly being fleshed out.

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Pakistan in Crisis: Imran Khan vs. the Army Chief

The Diplomat Magazine | June 2023

Pakistan in Crisis: Imran Khan vs. the Army Chief

This month, our cover story examines the central enigma of Imran Khan: Can he really remake Pakistani politics, as he claims? We also talk to some of the Taiwanese who took up arms to defend Ukraine, parse the changes (or lack thereof) in Uzbekistan under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, and trace Myanmar’s descent into civil war using the case study of one city in the country’s northwest. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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