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This week our top story explores the lingering impact of the 1984 industrial disaster in Bhopal, India. We also have an interview with journalist Daniel Bosley on the nexus between gangs, violence, and politics in the Maldives since its democratization.
The Diplomat Brief
December 6,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores the lingering impact of the 1984 industrial disaster in Bhopal, India. We also have an interview with journalist Daniel Bosley on the nexus between gangs, violence, and politics in the Maldives since its democratization.
Story of the week
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Bhopal’s Endless Health Crisis

What Happened: 39 years ago, a cloud of toxic gas escaped from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. But this was not a one-time disaster. “Like most people who hear about Bhopal, they associate it with something that happened a long, long time ago, a terrible thing and that was it,” Rachna Dhingra, who has worked with survivors for over 20 years, told The Diplomat. But the health and environmental impacts continue to wreak havoc today, especially among the poor.

Our Focus: To begin with, survivors struggle to find adequate treatment for their health issues, in part because the company responsible, Union Carbide, refused to reveal the exact make-up of the gases involved in the disaster. Then there are the continuing health woes even among those with no direct exposure to the December 1984 tragedy. People who moved to Bhopal after 1984 have experienced severe health issues that may be linked to water contamination. Children born there today are more likely to suffer “genetic defects, seizure disorders, autism, Cerebral Palsy,” and paralysis, according to a health worker. But compensation has been extremely limited, focused on the immediate, short-term impacts. “The whole settlement cost Union Carbide not even 50 cents per share. A disaster like this in any other place would have made the company fold,” Dhingra said.

What Comes Next: A lasting solution would involve research to understand the root causes of the health crisis, and money to clean up lingering contamination and provide proper health care. To fund that effort, locals hope that the U.S. government will force Dow Chemical, which owns Union Carbide, to appear in Indian court to take accountability. “Everyday, there are new victims being exposed to this poison... If the cleanup happens and Bhopal is made safe again, that would be a sense of justice,” said Satinath Sarangi, who runs a clinic in Bhopal. “We think it’s possible to fix the situation, but the government has to be on our side. There has to be a will to fix this,” Dhingra added.

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Behind the News


Daniel Bosley

Daniel Bosley, author of “Descent into Paradise – A Journalist’s Memoir of the Untold Maldives,” on the links between criminal gangs, politics, and religious extremism in Maldives: “By 2014, it became apparent that a fusion of Salafi-jihadis and gangs had occurred. Major gang leaders, some with conspicuous links to the government, now took on the role of a vigilante religious police.”

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This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

China-EU Summit

Three weeks after the big Biden-Xi meeting, it’s Brussel’s turn for a summit with China. European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are traveling to Beijing this week for the first in-person China-EU summit since 2019. While China-U.S. tensions attract most of the headlines, China-EU relations have arguably seen even more strain over the past four years, having had farther to fall. The China-EU summit on December 7 is worth watching to see whether Brussels is eager for a full thaw or takes a more cautious approach.

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South Asia

India’s Opposition Hopes Dashed

The Congress – the biggest party in India’s opposition – severely underperformed in widely watched state assembly elections last month. Results released this weekend saw the BJP winning big in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, with the Congress only managing to unseat another opposition party in Telangana. The results are a serious setback not only for the Congress, but for the prospects of the INDIA coalition of opposition parties in the 2024 general election.

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Southeast Asia

Philippines Accuses China of “Swarming” Contested Reef

In what it described as an “alarming development,” the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) this week accused China of “swarming” a disputed reef off the coast of Palawan Island. The PCG said that a patrol over the weekend had counted “more than 135” Chinese vessels “dispersed and scattered” in the vicinity of Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature that lies within Manila’s 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Chinese presence at Whitsun Reef is just the latest sign of Beijing’s increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, including forceful attempts to prevent the resupply of Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, which has pushed the Philippines closer to the U.S. and other security partners.

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Central Asia

CSTO Belated Declaration an Exercise in Selective Absurdity

More than a week after its summit in Minsk, the CSTO finally issued a declaration. It’s an aspirational litany at best, and at worst a delusional devotional to a specific view of the world order. Among the ironies encased in the declaration and a concurrent statement from the member states’ foreign ministers is the proclamation that “no state should ensure its security at the expense of the security of other states.” That’s a great sentiment, if only Moscow took its own advice.

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Visualizing APAC

Source: China Impact Studies surveys, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica

While preserving the cross-strait status quo remains the preferred option for most Taiwanese, only a tiny minority see that as the most likely outcome.

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Word of the Week


Күн карама

Krygyz for “sunflower.” The word can also be used derogatorily to denote fickleness or a lack of independence.

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Asian Studies at Georgetown
The Evolution of China’s Interference in Taiwan

The Diplomat Magazine | December 2023

The Evolution of China’s Interference in Taiwan

This month, our cover story explores trends in China’s information manipulation and interference efforts targeting Taiwan, ahead of the Taiwanese elections in January. We also take stock of the dangerous political deadlock in Bangladesh and visit “liberated zones” in Myanmar where the military regime has little or no control. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

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