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DRI Asia Review
December 31,
2021 in Shifts and Shocks
Afghanistan and Taliban
COVID-19 travails across Asia-Pacific
Biden’s first year in office
Military coup in Myanmar
Space, cyber, and infrastructure contests

Welcome to a special year-end edition of the newsletter of Diplomat Risk Intelligence, the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, your go-to outlet for definitive analyses from and about the Asia-Pacific. We give you how DRI saw the year’s momentous developments in the Asia-Pacific unfolding as and when they happened, and analyzed them blending deep qualitative and quantitative desk research and insights from globally renowned experts.

The Taliban Returns to Kabul

Arguably the most significant international security development of the year was the astonishingly rapid collapse of the Ghani government and the Afghan military on August 15 and the return of the Taliban as the ruling regime in Afghanistan. While the full import of the events will only be understood over the coming years, DRI advanced its prognoses, based on exhaustive in-house research and interviews with 10 leading experts, for what lies ahead, both in terms of geopolitical as well as security risks in a two-part Monthly Report while also presenting a deep-dive into the causes of the collapse of the old order.

Afghanistan and Taliban 2.0: International Security and Geopolitical ImplicationsThe first part of the report looked at the domestic and international drivers behind the collapse of the Afghan government. It also probed the internal dynamics of Taliban 2.0, the group’s possible economic strategies, as well as the social implications of their return to Kabul.

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Afghanistan and Taliban 2.0: Political Drivers, Taliban Strategies, and Domestic ImplicationsThe second part of the report examined the Taliban’s relationships with key terrorist organizations and Afghanistan’s neighbors. It also looked at the Taliban’s convoluted relationships with major regional powers who could prove to be key in granting the new regime in Kabul a veneer of international legitimacy provided, of course, that their own interests are guarded by Taliban 2.0.

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COVID-19 Pandemic Continues to Wreak Havoc

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hammered India over the course of the summer, bringing national capital New Delhi to its knees. Elsewhere in Asia—including Japan—the pandemic continued to depress economic activity and disrupt political and social life.

Comorbid: India’s Economy and the PandemicThe Indian economy was severely battered by the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic even as the threat of a third wave looms large. India’s economic growth over the two-year period FY20 to FY22 could be zero percent or negative. This follows an economic slowdown during the three years preceding the pandemic. A DRI Monthly Report examined the factors that are likely to shape the recovery of the Indian economy from the impact of the pandemic and its interaction with existing structural economic bottlenecks, and was based on interviews with eight senior experts on the Indian economy as well as secondary research.

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Tokyo: Pandemic and the CityAs COVID-19 continues to sweep through the planet disrupting familiar patterns and generating new ones, cities have borne the brunt of the pandemic the most. For the inaugural edition of DRI Trendlines, we looked at how COVID-19 has changed Tokyo, one of the world’s greatest and most iconic. By bringing in and analyzing multiple streams of data, we gave you a one-of-a-kind profile of urban pandemic life.

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Biden Assumes Office Amid Turmoil and Sets Priorities

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States—after the chaos of the Trump years which ended in a shocking violent assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6— has been widely seen as a necessary (but far from sufficient) condition in restoring U.S. diplomatic reputation around the world, not to mention bringing a semblance of social stability at home. DRI tracked the priorities and tasks of the Biden Administration throughout the year.

The 3 AM Call: The Biden Administration and Five Asia-Pacific CrisesThe inaugural DRI Monthly Report presented five crisis scenarios in Asia the Biden administration may have to encounter early on its term: Chinese military action against Taiwan in the Pratas Islands; a renewed China-Philippines tussle in the South China Sea; potential escalation pathways for the China-India standoff in eastern Ladakh; an Afghanistan contingency that also involves India and Pakistan; and finally, a natural disaster in the Philippines that compounds the United States’ dilemma when it comes to Taiwan’s defense. While the scenarios, crafted by renowned Asia specialists, are set in the future, they are grounded in the current geopolitical state-of-play and make limited assumptions. The report also included an overview of the likely trajectory of Biden’s Asia policy which would frame his responses to these and other regional contingencies.

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The Soundless Wailing: Water, Climate Change, and Security Risks in the Asia-PacificTrue to his campaign promises, climate change has emerged as a major national security priority for Biden—and rightly so. In the context of national and international security, it acts as a threat multiplier and exacerbates existing issues and geopolitical conflicts such as conflicts between states over natural resources (most commonly, water), migration due to scarcity/sudden extreme weather events causing undesirable/illegal influx of “climate refugees,” and conflicts over territories with abundant natural resources. A DRI Trendlines analyzed multiple streams of data to show how security in the Asia-Pacific stands to be transformed by climate change.

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The Junta Seizes Power in Myanmar

The pandemic—while destroying lives and likelihoods of the most vulnerable across the world—has hardly come in the way of autocrats seeking to consolidate, or in many cases outrightly grab, power.

Darkness at Dawn: The Myanmar Coup and Its AftermathOn February 1, the Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, staged a coup d'état and imposed a one-year state of “emergency.” It also appears to be increasingly comfortable with repressing ensuing protests using extreme force. In the process, the Tatmadaw has significantly imperiled Myanmar’s slow but steady democratic transition, created considerable complications for Western as well as regional powers, including China, and stands to also fuel the country’s ethnic conflicts. In a DRI Monthly Report, six prominent experts and long-time specialists in Asian affairs examined the various factors that are likely to shape what would follow the February putsch. The report examined Myanmar’s internal politics, political economy, ethnic conflicts, and relations with neighboring major powers China and India, as well as ASEAN.

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Commons, Tech, and Infrastructure Fuel Geopolitical Jostling

As China-U.S. relations enter a period of “extreme competition” (to use a phrase of Biden’s), it hasn’t left the global commons untouched, as space and the oceans emerge as key frontiers of what many call a new cold war. At the same time, cyber and emerging tech have also become principal arenas of geopolitical contestation, while worries of weaponization of international infrastructure-development plans—especially by China, through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—abound.

An Asian Space Odyssey: Civil, Military, and Commercial Space AmbitionsGreat-power competition, diffusion of power in the international system, proliferation of technologies and reduction in barriers to entry, growing commercial interest in exploration, and an outdated security regime have all contributed to an extremely congested and contested operating environment in space. At the same time, and because of many of the same reasons, space stands to receive sustained attention from nation states and private actors alike. In a DRI Monthly Report, five world-renowned experts presented a comprehensive examination of the state of play, trends, and prospects when it comes to outer space. The report outlined the space orientation of major Indo-Pacific powers and examined norms and emerging capabilities – civil, military, and commercial – in that domain.

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Dense Grey Webs: Cyber Risks and Trends in the Asia-PacificThe COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated global adoption of digital technologies, and the Asia-Pacific is no different. From Singapore and Australia to Japan and South Korea, countries across the Asia-Pacific region have been forced to shift towards working, living, and learning online, with services like video calling, e-healthcare, remote learning, and digital payments witnessing unprecedented levels of investment and adoption. All of this has contributed to an already complex, ever-evolving cyber risk landscape. A DRI Monthly Report, based on in-house research and consultations with leading experts, distilled the key cyber risks facing the Asia-Pacific.

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Here Be Dragons? Pakistan's Economy and the China-Pakistan Economic CorridorChina has described BRI as a development and economic self-reliance opportunity for other countries and has marketed it as a "win-win" proposition. A DRI Trendlines examined various streams of data and zoned in on the initiative’s marquee China–Pakistan Economic Corridor within the overall context of Pakistan’s economy, and to understand it better, also visualized the evolution of BRI projects in, and economies of, four other participating countries: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

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Just as in the past year, over 2022, DRI will continue to present best-in-class research and analyses on issues that are coming to define the Asia-Pacific. In the meantime, our best wishes to you for a healthy, happy and prosperous new year!

Diplomat Risk Intelligence (DRI) is the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine.

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