Asia Undercovered 18 Feb 2021

Undercovered this week

First, read this investigation published by a team of journalists for The Himalayan which uncovers how in Nepal, investors are making millions from opaque stock transactions, with connections to companies in Malaysia and Sweden. This is in a country where millions remain in poverty.

Turkmenistan gets little attention, but it’s run by a megalomaniac dictator. As he ages, political protests are rising in the country. Could the last neo-Soviet government finally shift towards reform? (Patrick Triglavcanin, Future Directions).

The Earth Journalism Network has just translated this data-driven feature by Kaca Data that looks at how fires, deforestation, and smog have evolved over time in Indonesia. Worth reading if you want to understand this environmental interplay.

Also from the archipelago – an illuminating piece by Reno Surya for New Naratif explores the personal stories of squatters living in abandoned colonial-era warehouses in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, and the reasons they have been forgotten.

Farmer-led protests continue in India, and are increasingly being met with fierce rhetoric by the central government. In this thought piece, Rameez Raja argues for the creation of a neutral, advisory group to mediate between the two increasingly entrenched sides (Madras Courier).

This is deeply worrying. China’s pro-Xi intellectuals are using Nazi thinking to justify the repression of Uyghurs, Tibetans, and, more recently, the destruction of Hong Kong’s autonomy. Written by Brian Hioe for Lausan (who we just featured in our first journalist Q&A)

Elections

Laos has a new secretary general – Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith – setting the stage for the 75 year old man to become President. He’ll join several other aged men as leaders of authoritarian regimes in Asia (see Vietnam, China). Some analysis on what this means for the country, and its neighbors, from RFA Lao.

In Indonesia, the Ulema Council, which has the power to issue religious edits, had edged closer and closer to the center of political power in the democracy. Alexander R Arifianto explores why, and what it means for SE Asia’s largest country (East Asia Forum).

Geopolitics

Asia’s Milk Tea Alliance – a loose grouping of pro-democracy activists across Asia – faces another challenge as protests grow in Myanmar after that country’s saw a military coup earlier this month. Wanpen Pajai writes on how far this youth-led, online movement can go for Southeast Asia Globe.

Palau has withdrawn from the Pacific Island Forum over concerns about China’s influence, and the Micronesia region being skipped as president of the bloc. Even the remote Pacific is not immune to battles over regional geopolitical influence by big powers (Stratfor).

Solutions Stories

Some positive news from Pakistan as women in Sindh state and won a historic recognition of their water rights, and will have a role in water governance going forward. Women will get representation on around 45,000 water course associations, 350 farmer organizations and 14 area water boards (Manoj Genani, The Third Pole).

And lastly, enjoyed this piece by Mong Palatino in Global Voices on the artists depicting the lives of youth activists in Thailand alongside the ongoing struggle for democracy in the country. Click to see some powerful works of activist art.

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Asia Undercovered: In-depth round-ups and analysis of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.