Asia Undercovered 4 June 2020

This week: An increasingly silent Tiananmen Anniversary, Chinese influence across the region, and the indigenous communities building an alternative model for conservation in Myanmar.

Undercovered this week

There’s little attention being given to the fact that this weeks marks the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the first in which there will no commemorative vigil in Hong Kong, banned by the police under the veil of Covid-19. I attended last year, and remember many telling me that they feared it would be the last one, due the then just announced extradition law. They were right. Now, we must #NeverForget. Here’s a photo gallery that shows what happened 31 years ago from HKFP.

And it’s not just Hong Kong. Thailand, too has banned a Tiananmen commemoration. Is it due to growing ties with China? (Prachatai)

In Myanmar, farmers in Shan state are upset about potatoes being smuggled in from China, undercutting their spuds, and are asking for the state to intervene (RFA).

Here’s an interesting agriculture story from South Korea, on the revival and continued use of traditional farming techniques, which could be useful in combating food insecurity and climate change (Latoya Abulu, Mongabay)


There is rising violence against perceived left-wing parties and supporters in Indonesia, with direct connection to the 1965 anti-communist purge. Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir explores what’s behind this, and why this violence is so persistent (The Conversation).

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed has been removed from Bersatu, the party he founded, for sitting with the opposition during a one day parliamentary sitting. There still hasn’t been a vote testing new Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin supposed majority (Shannon Teoh, Straits Times)

Remember the political turmoil in East Timor? It seems to be – for now – resolved, as a new alignment of parties has emerged, reports Michael Leach for Inside Story.


Tension is flaring between Indonesia and China, following a January incident in the North Natuna Sea, part of which China claims historic rights. Aristyo Rizka Darmawan contends in East Asia Forum that China’s claims on traditional fishing rights in the region are misconstrued.

Contrary to perceptions, Chinese financing of global energy has actually been declining since 2017 – and a rebound this year is unlikely, which could have broad repercussions for coal plants in particular (Panda Paw Dragon Claw).

In this thought piece, Jürgen Rüland explores the geopolitical competition between the United States and China through the lens of connectivity and infrastructure – and the pitfalls as donors chase speed over reliability, ignoring social and environmental impacts (East Asia Forum).

Solutions Story

Just one this week, but it’s a great one – a feature by Jack Jenkins Hill in Frontier Myanmar on how a group of indigenous people in Tanintharyi are preserving one of the largest remaining expanses of intact low-elevation evergreen forest in Southeast Asia using a traditional knowledge drive, bottom-up approach and building interconnections between other communities.

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.

Asia Undercovered 27 May 2020

Undercovered this week

Cyclone Amphan made landfall right along the Bangladesh-India border last week. It caused widespread damage but, thus far, relatively minimal loss of life. Now the rebuilding begins, but as Joydeep Gupta reports for The Third Pole, some locals are wondering if its worth it, considering rising sea levels and the inevitability of another storm.

China is looking to impose a draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong, seen by many as the end of one country, two systems. Lausan has an in-depth explainer of exactly what is so worrying about this legislation, and what it might do to the rule of law in the city-state – well worth reading.

Happy Eid, IdulFitri and Lebaran to those of you who celebrate. On my mind, thought, are the millions of Uyghur Muslims who could not celebrate (again) this year. In this piece, Ugyhur advocate Dilnur Reyhan laments the ongoing lack of solidarity from the Islamic world (and really, the world as a whole) to the ongoing genocide.

The crackdown has long expanded beyond religious extremist to encompass all aspects of Uyghur culture and heritage. For example, Hüsenjan, a Chinese state employee and member of the Chinese Communist Party, and compiler of the official Uyghur-Chinese dictionary (Darren Byler, SupChina)

A few weeks ago, a massive gas leak in a Andhra Pradesh, India factory killed at least 11. Officials are skeptical that new laws will have any impact in controlling companies, and hazardous industries, or holing them responsible (Down to Earth)

Also of concern – satellite imagery showing a resumption of potential atrocities against civilians in Rakhine State, Myanmar.


China’s growing influence is impacting domestic politics and elections across Southeast Asia. Two examples here - as Thailand edges towards China, its ties with the United States continue to weaken, which could derail diplomacy, argues Gren Raymond in East Asia Forum.

Meanwhile in Myanmar, the script as been flipped. Aung San Suu Kyi is now close to old adversary China while long-ruling military is skeptical of Beijing's intent ahead of pivotal polls, reports Bertil Lintner in Asia Times.


Has China invaded India? Something is happening along the Tibetan-Indian border, but no one is sure exactly what, due to limited information sources from the region. A great thread.

Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, the pandemic is resulting in defense budgets being trimmed due to economic challenges. This may allow China to expand its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, going as far to encroach on the waters of faraway Indonesia (Aristyo Rizka Darmawan, Lowy Interpreter)

Solutions Stories

Taiwan has gained a reputation as being progressive when it comes to gender identity. In this piece for Magdalene, Antonia Timmerman profiles Wonder Bar, a women-focused bar and safe haven for queer-identifying in the island nation.

And lastly, a more positive Ramadan story – I enjoyed this short piece on Lautze Mosque in Indonesia, a center for Chinese-Muslims, which blends traditional Chinese culture with Indonesian Islam (The Parrot).

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.


Asia Undercovered 20 May 2020

Super Cyclone nears Bengal Coast

A potential natural disaster in South Asia this week, as Super Cyclone Amphan nears the coast of West Bengal, India, and Bangladesh, resulting in mass evacuations. Both countries have systems in place to prepare for natural disasters, but the likely economic cost will be huge. And its coming at a terrible time.

Also Undercovered this week

The situation is getting worse in Hong Kong. More arrests, fake reports, propaganda, and the erosion of what little remains of democracy, all under the cover of a pandemic. Next – expanded measures to monitor social media and journalism. As Oiwan Lam writes in this piece for Global Voices, “The new ‘truth’ in Hong Kong is becoming aligned with the ‘one country.’”

In Indonesia, journalist Diananta Putra Sumedi was arrested for violating the country’s loosely defined ITE law, which regulates electronic information and transactions. Advocates are worried this law will be used to stifle free speech (Eko Wahyudi, Tempo)

And in Thailand, a biometric ID system is being rolled out in the restive, Muslim-majority south. If this sounds positively Xinjiang-esque, it’s because it is. What will this system evolve into? (Darika Bamrungchok).

Remember all the buzz about smart cities? Several were built in Asia, including a model one in South Korea. They remain mostly empty, failing to achieve their dreams, writes Oliver Wainwright for SCMP.

Some news from Borneo, as environmental poet and indigenous activist Yohanes Terang passed away last week. Here’s a homage to his legacy from Erik Meijaard in Mongabay.


Remember Han Kuo-yu once the rising star of the right and former presidential candidate? He’s facing a recall mayoral election which he seems certain to lose. Jens Kaster exlores how Beijing’s man in Taiwan crashed and burned so fast (Asia Sentinel).

Also, this happened yesterday


One of the big questions this year will be whether or not China will start investing in more sustainable projects overseas. But, thus far, the country’s green spending plans are small, and money continues to be poured into high-emissions ‘old’ infrastructure projects (East Asia Forum).

And in this piece for The Diplomat, Hussain Haqqani writes about a new report that details the high costs to Pakistan of its participation in the Belt and Road initiative.

Solutions Stories

We’re seeing mass layoffs in the media industry, including in Asia. But in India, one outlet, The Wire, a non-profit, has become one of the key new digital voices in South Asia. Read about how they build a unique model for success (IPI).

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.

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Undercovered this week

There’s a locust crisis hitting parts of Asia, especially Pakistan. There, farmers fear crop losses, which could devastate already-struggling rural regions, writed Jan Khaskheli in The News.

Another journalist has been killed in the Philippines. This time, it was community radio reporter Cornelio Pepino in Negros Oriental province. The archipelago remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists (Benar News).

A few weeks ago I shared a story about the clash between police and civilian protesters in Dong Tam, Hanoi, Vietnam. This piece from Toan Le argues that this episode reflects the limits of grassroots democracy to regulate and resolve conflicts between the state and society (East Asia Forum)

Worrying news from Indonesia. Parliament has just passed a pro-business mining law that, among other things, removes a limit on the size of mining operations and allows automatic permit extensions up to 20 years (Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay).

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army has made a surprising resurgence in Myanmar. The questions is – it is a legitimate revival, or a made-up excuse for the national military to further increase operations against ethnic Rohingya in Arakan (Asia Times).

I found this excellent feature by Andrew Haffner in Southeast Asia Globe incredibly informative. It explore the worrying impacts of antibiotic overuse in the region, with drugs entering waterways and leading to potential drug-resistance.


Could Malaysia see another new government soon? Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has a razor thin majority, and dissent is already appearing in his fractious coalition, writes Shannon Teoh in Straits Times.


Taiwan refused to deport a Filipina caregiver, and outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte. She likely faced prison – or worse – has she been forced to return (Global Voices).

And there’s a new rift between Indonesia and China over this video reported in Korean media showing a burial at sea aboard a Chinese ship. This follows issues around Chinese vessels fishing in Indonesian waters earlier this year.

Solutions Stories

First, a wonderful piece from Antonia Timmerman on Taiwan’s women environmental activists, who have been raising awareness of trash, waste management, and other issues on the island nation for nearly three decades (SCMP)

Not really a solutions story, but the photos from this visual piece in National Geographic of the living root bridges of Meghalaya, in North-east India, are stunning (h/t Asia Tech Review).

Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.


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Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca’s weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.

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