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This week our top story explores Thailand’s approach to China under the new government of Srettha Thavisin. We also have an interview with Xavier Paules, author of the book, “The Republic of China: 1912 to 1949” on the importance of this often overlooked period of China’s history.
The Diplomat Brief
February 7,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story explores Thailand’s approach to China under the new government of Srettha Thavisin. We also have an interview with Xavier Paules, author of the book, “The Republic of China: 1912 to 1949” on the importance of this often overlooked period of China’s history.
Story of the week
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Thailand’s New Government Rebalances Its Relationship With China

What Happened: After the 2014 coup, Thailand’s military regime found itself on the outs with its nominal ally, the United States, and sought out China as an alternative. The result: major growth in economic ties, as China became the largest source of tourists to Thailand, as well as the country’s biggest trading partner. But the COVID-19 pandemic sent those economic exchanges into a tailspin – tanking Thailand’s economy in the process. Now a new government, under Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, is looking to pick up the pieces by casting its net farther afield.

Our Focus: “The military government moved closer to China by necessity because it’s the only major player out there that would accommodate, that would pursue relations with Thailand,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst and professor at Chulalongkorn University, told The Diplomat. Now Srettha is branching out – not by ignoring ties with China (which remain “very good, very warm, and very close,” said Thitinan) but by seeking closer partnerships with (and investment from) a variety of other countries, including the U.S., India, and the UAE.

What Comes Next: Benjamin Zawacki, author of the book “Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the U.S. and Rising China,” said that Srettha, a former real estate mogul, was looking to find “as many opportunities as he can” to revive the country’s economy – and that China would remain central to his goal. “Thailand will certainly go where the going is good and for years that has been China and that continues to be [true], Zawacki said. “But,” he added, “I think the past two years have given Thailand a bit of pause in terms of how much it wants to hitch its wagon to one particular economy.” That’s why Srettha is continuing outreach to China but also courting old and new partners – which has the effect of reducing Beijing’s relative influence in the country.

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Behind the News


Xavier Paules

Xavier Paules, author of the book, “The Republic of China: 1912 to 1949” (Polity, 2024) and an associate professor in history at EHESS, Paris, on the relationship between culture and government in early 20th century China: “In terms of intellectual brilliance and vitality, the Republican period has often been compared to another period Chinese history, called the Warring States era (481 BCE - 221 BCE). These two periods shared one characteristic: the absence of a strong central power.”

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This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

Japan’s Political Fundraising Scandal Continues

The political scandal that embroiled the ruling LDP continues to unfold, with the party presenting a list of 82 lawmakers believed to have pocketed money from political fundraising events without disclosing the fund, as required by law. The scandal broke last year, forcing Prime Minister Kishida Fumio to oust four members of his Cabinet in December. The public outrage continues to mount, with critics – including Japan’s long-sidelined opposition parties – accusing the LDP of preventing true accountability. Prosecutors have indicted four LDP lawmakers, but the true heavy-hitters believed to be implicated in the scandal have avoided punishment so far.

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South Asia

Pakistan’s Election (or Selection) Day

Pakistan will hold general elections on February 8, but the country’s most popular politician won’t be in the running. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has been disqualified, thanks to four separate convictions and a total prison sentence of 34 years. Many of his supporters think the legal cases are simply an excuse to mask the real reason for Khan’s imprisonment: his falling-out with Pakistan’s powerful military. With Khan out of the running and his PTI facing heavy restrictions, the PML-N and PPP are the players to watch, with former PM Nawaz Sharif heavily favored to return to the top office. How long can Sharif – who has never been allowed to complete a full term – stay on the military’s good side this time?

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Southeast Asia

Sentence Halved for Former Malaysian PM

Late last week, Malaysia’s Pardons Board confirmed that imprisoned former Prime Minister Najib Razak has received a royal pardon halving his prison sentence for his involvement in the gargantuan 1MDB scandal. In 2020, Najib was sentenced to 12 years prison, which he began to serve in August 2022 after exhausting his final avenue of appeal. The pardon, which had been rumored for several weeks, has prompted outrage from Malaysian civil society, with many arguing that it revealed the impunity enjoyed by the country’s wealthy and powerful. While Najib still faces other charges related to 1MDB, the pardon could see him free ahead of the country’s next general election – and primed for a political comeback.

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Central Asia

The Unexonerated Speak in Uzbekistan at Last

Starting in the late 1990s, Islam Karimov's Uzbekistan jailed thousands of people on vague charges of religious extremism. Of those swept up, many served extended prison terms and when they left jail, the stain of the conviction followed them. In a new documentary, some of those detained in the darkest days of the Karimov era – who remain unexonerated still despite significant changes in New Uzbekistan – tell their stories. It's time for them to be heard.

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Visualizing APAC

Source: IIE / Open Doors

After years of steady growth, the number of Americans studying in China peaked in 2011-12 and then began to fall. Those already diminished numbers cratered to just a few hundred when the pandemic hit.

See the full picture
Word of the Week



Yī gè jīgòu, liǎng gè páizi: Literally meaning “one organization with two signs” in Mandarin, it refers to the practice of having a body – like the Cyberspace Administration of China – be part of both China’s state government and the internal structure of the Chinese Communist Party.

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After the Election: Where Will Lai Lead Taiwan?

The Diplomat Magazine | February 2024

After the Election: Where Will Lai Lead Taiwan?

This month, our cover story outlines the factors – both domestic and geopolitical – that will shape Taiwan under the incoming Lai administration. We also delve into Southeast Asia’s electric vehicle (EV) ambitions in a country-by-country analysis and shine a light on the simmering but often ignored discontent in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

Read the Magazine