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This week our top story examines the state of China’s cutting-edge combat aircraft development programs. We also have an interview with Afghan journalist Zahra Joya on women in Afghanistan and what international media misses in its reporting.
The Diplomat Brief
June 13,
Welcome to the latest issue of Diplomat Brief. This week our top story examines the state of China’s cutting-edge combat aircraft development programs. We also have an interview with Afghan journalist Zahra Joya on women in Afghanistan and what international media misses in its reporting.
Story of the week
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China’s 6th Generation and Upcoming Combat Aircraft: 2024 Update

What Happened: China’s PLA has entered the select club of cutting-edge aerospace powers. As the PLA seeks to cement that position, it has a variety of new projects in the pipeline, from a sixth-generation fighter jet and a carrier-borne fighter to a new round of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and a long-rumored stealth bomber. All this is occurring alongside upgrades to its fifth-generation J-20. Where do these projects stand, and what do we know about them?

Our Focus: China’s PLA excels at keeping tight wraps on information. It’s not even known, for example, how many J-20 are in the PLA’s arsenal, much less the detailed specifications of current and future models. But veteran PLA watcher Rick Joe parses what we do know – and which rumors have enough detail to be credible – in an analysis for The Diplomat. Upgrades to the J-20 are the surest bet, highlighted by the transition to a more powerful, homemade engine. It also seems sure that the PLA is working on a new sixth-generation fighter, informally dubbed the J-XD by analysts, but it’s early in the process and how the J-20 updates go will likely heavily inform the direction of the J-XD. Meanwhile, the long-rumored H-20 stealth bomber program may be on hiatus; little has been said about the project in recent years.

What Comes Next: Whatever China’s next combat aircraft look like, manned fighters are going to be accompanied by a growing arsenal of UCAVs and collaborative combat aircraft (CCAs). Militaries around the world are heading in that direction, and China is no exception. “Similar to other efforts by international air forces, PLA UCAVs and CCAs are very likely to be integral capabilities with the future J-XD fighter, as well as be compatible with existing fifth-generation fighters like the J-20 and J-35,” Joe concludes. But “the future trajectory and shape of PLA high end UCAV and CCA procurement remains one of the major unknowns of tracking future PLA combat aircraft.”

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Behind the News


Zahra Joya

Afghan journalist Zahra Joya, founder of Rukhshana Media, on what international media leaves out of its reporting on Afghanistan: “Important stories are being missed. These include the broader human rights abuses, the economic hardships faced by ordinary Afghans, the plight of ethnic and religious minorities, and the resistance movements within the country. Additionally, the resilience and bravery of Afghan citizens, who continue to strive for a better future despite immense challenges, deserve more attention.”

Read the interview
This Week in Asia

Northeast Asia

President Yoon’s Big Diplomatic Week

Fresh off hosting an unusual summit of African leaders in Seoul, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol is in Central Asia this week. After a day in Turkmenistan on June 10, he is in Kazakhstan from June 11-13 and will finish up his trip in Uzbekistan on June 13-15. Yoon’s big diplomatic push may be a response to frustration on the political front at home: With the opposition expanding its majority in the National Assembly, Yoon has little power to promote his domestic agenda, but more freedom on foreign policy.

Find out more

South Asia

Modi’s Third Term Begins

Despite a lackluster electoral performance (at least compared to the BJP’s high standards), Narendra Modi secured a third consecutive term as prime minister. His inauguration on Sunday began the “Modi 3.0” government, and analysts are keen to see how the new reliance on coalition partners may impact Modi’s policymaking going forward. The revitalized opposition will be keen to pounce on any perceived cracks in the governing coalition.

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Southeast Asia

Diesel Prices Leap in Malaysia as Subsidy Reforms Begin

Diesel prices this week jumped by more than 50 percent in Malaysia, after Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government began to revamp the country’s long-standing system of fuel subsidies. To release the pressure on the national budget, Anwar’s government plans to remove blanket fuel subsidies in favor of measures that target low-income earners more directly. Anwar, who has targeted the country’s elaborate and costly system of cost-of-living subsidies since his first days in office, says that the move is necessary to “save” the country’s economy. While the price of non-subsidized diesel still falls well below the cost in neighboring countries like Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, Anwar’s reform is still likely to attract political attacks from his opponents on the Malay nationalist right-wing.

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Central Asia

Keeping Kyrgyz Journalism Afloat

Kyrgyzstan has long hosted Central Asia's most vibrant media. While it has faced pressure before, in 2024 the country’s journalists find themselves battling to stay afloat as the once-called “island of democracy” sinks. In January several outlets were raided and nearly a dozen people arrested. Six months later some are not sure how to stay in journalism amid the government’s growing hostility, but many remain resolute that what they do matters.

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Visualizing APAC

Razor-wire separates Myawaddy and Mae Sot at the Myanmar-Thailand border. The sound of war is never too far away as anti-regime forces fight the junta’s military, sending refugees fleeing over the border.

See the full picture
Word of the Week


अच्छे दिन आने वाले हैं

Hindi for “good days are ahead,” the promise of prosperity was the BJP’s electoral slogan in 2014 and has been a mainstay of Modi government rhetoric. With economic anxiety running high, that worked against the BJP in the 2024 election.

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Papua New Guinea: All Geopolitics Is Local

The Diplomat Magazine | June 2024

Papua New Guinea:
All Geopolitics Is Local

This month, our cover story draws out the complex interplay between Papua New Guinea’s domestic instability and the country’s pivotal role in great power competition in the Pacific. We also scrutinize the deep roots of Pakistan’s ongoing economic crisis and take stock of how different Indo-Pacific states are approaching the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. And, of course, we offer a range of reporting, analysis, and opinion from across the region.

Read the Magazine