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This week our top story explores the link between human trafficking and organ selling in Indonesia. We also have an interview with Dr Avinash Paliwal, reader in International Relations at SOAS University in London, on the potential for unrest or even violence surrounding Bangladesh’s critical election.
The Diplomat Brief
September 6,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores the link between human trafficking and organ selling in Indonesia. We also have an interview with Dr Avinash Paliwal, reader in International Relations at SOAS University in London, on the potential for unrest or even violence surrounding Bangladesh’s critical election.
Story of the week
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Why Are Indonesians Illegally Selling Their Kidneys?

What Happened: A bombshell case in Indonesia saw police and immigration officers accused of working with human traffickers to send as many as 122 Indonesian nationals to Cambodia, where their kidneys were harvested for sale. The case shone a spotlight on a particularly gruesome ring of human traffickers: those that deal in human organs. According to Indonesian police, the transnational trafficking group had been in operation since 2019 and had netted some $1.6 billion over the years.

Our Focus: Human trafficking has become an increasingly large problem in Southeast Asia, from the organ-harvesting scheme in this case to frequent reports of people being held in slave-like conditions and forced to scam others over the internet. “Young Indonesians are lured to work abroad with very tempting salary offers. But if the victims don’t reach their targets, their vital organs are sold instead,” explained Gabriel Goa, who runs an NGO called Advocacy Services for Justice and Peace in Indonesia. “We have seen so many of these kinds of online scams that send Indonesians to the Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar. This is an extraordinary type of crime across Southeast Asia.”

What Comes Next: The kidney-selling ring brought headlines to an often-overlooked problem: Indonesia is a major source country for trafficking in persons, with most victims winding up enslaved or under debt bondage. “Due to a shortage of work opportunities and poverty, people just believe online information or have low literacy,” making them vulnerable to scams, Indonesian activist Damai Pakpahan told The Diplomat. The issue is particularly difficult to tackle given the emergence of transborder networks of human traffickers, with victims lured from one country into another. Southeast Asian countries have been slow to coordinate to try to tackle the problem and its jurisdictional headaches.

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Behind the News


Avinash Paliwal

Dr. Avinash Paliwal, reader in International Relations at SOAS University in London, on the potential for another attempted coup in Bangladesh: “This bargain [between the military and the Awami League] has been dented – but not eliminated – by the recent Rohingya crisis, Hasina’s decreasing ability to offer higher budgetary allocations towards defense and attract international defense contracts, and the U.S.-led sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

China’s Xi to Skip G20 Summit

For the first time since assuming office, China’s President Xi Jinping will skip the G-20 summit. Given the ongoing border tensions between China and G-20 host India, whether Xi would travel to New Delhi for the summit has been hotly debated all year. The signs seemed positive after the latest border talks, and a rare public interaction between Xi and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BRICS summit. But China effectively blew up any chance of a meeting by issuing its new standard map, highlighting its claims to land administered by India, right before the summit. Now the question is whether the downgrade – China will be represented by Premier Li Qiang – will more negatively impact Beijing’s interests or New Delhi’s.

Find out more

South Asia

India’s Big G-20 Moment

India is hosting the G-20 summit this weekend, with top leaders from the United States, U.K., Australia, Japan, South Korea, and others to attend. It’s the moment Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been waiting for, but geopolitical tensions – from a rift with China to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – will make any deliverables a difficult task. Meanwhile, Pakistan is watching closely, hoping it can persuade its allies to prevent any joint statement from adopting India’s position on cross-border terrorism or Kashmir.

Find out more

Southeast Asia

ASEAN Meetings Open in Jakarta

Southeast Asia's leaders are in Indonesia this week for the final Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit of the year, and a host of related sideline meetings with key Asian and Western counterparts. During the September 5-7 meetings, ASEAN has been once again forced to contend with an agenda chock with regional concerns, which have opened up divisions between the bloc’s 10 member states and threatened the bloc’s “centrality” to Asian diplomacy. At the top of the list are China-U.S. tensions, the ongoing civil war in Myanmar, which this week saw the military-ruled nation stripped of its right to chair ASEAN in 2026, and growing frictions in the South China Sea, which have flared up since the start of the year.

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Central Asia

The Barca-Kyrgyzstan Connection

What do FC Barcelona and corruption in Kyrgyzstan have to do with each other? Potentially a great deal. The Barca Legends visited Kyrgyzstan recently to help inaugurate two new football academies. But President Sadyr Japarov is touchy about investigations into how the schools are funded. Kloop, which did such an investigation, is now facing threats of closure.

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Visualizing APAC

Source: Federation of Afghan Journalists in Exile

There has been a sharp decline in active media outlets in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover 2 years ago.

See the full picture
Word of the Week



Ehburun, Dhivehi for “in one round.” Maldives’ incumbent president hopes to win Saturday’s election “ehburun” to avoid a difficult run-off later.

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A Decade Down the Belt and Road

The Diplomat Magazine | September 2023

A Decade Down
the Belt and Road

This month, our cover story details the new wave of interest in reclaiming local identity – and shedding the legacies of Russian and Soviet colonialism – in Central Asia. We also explore “colonial nostalgia” in Hong Kong, uncover the imperialist roots of today’s South China Sea disputes, and trace how South Asia’s struggles with authoritarianism reflect a dark inheritance from the British Raj. 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

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