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Asia Undercovered 13 Jan 2020

Asia Undercovered 13 Jan 2020

Undercovered this week

Another loss – for the “crime” of writing biographies of Uyghur historical figures, jailed unjustly by China’s rulers.

Meanwhile, a Chinese journalist and historian, Du Bin – who often wrote books that showed the ruling Communist party in not a great light, was arrested for “picking quarrels,” another sign of deteriorating press freedom (Joshua Brouwer, China Digital Times).

Meanwhile, in Pakistan – which borders Xinjiang and has emerged as a key Chinese ally, the army’s de-radicalization program for Balochistan, a region with an ongoing independence struggle, share some worrying similarities with the Uyghur camps, reports Resaul Laskar for Hindustan Times.

On a different note, electricity restrictions are seeing some rare pushback on Chinese social media, reports Oiwan Lam – something to watch as energy prices spike due to an extremely cold winter in Northern Asia (Global Voices).

In Thailand, she responded yes to a social media post, and had to fight lese majeste charges for four year- eventually being found not guilty, reports Prachatai. Despite the outcome, imagine how incidents like this result in self-censorshop and fear online.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia once almost entirely disappeared due to human impacts, including dams. Only a tiny part has been rehabilitated, and, as Aliya Uteuova reports, lack of cooperation and capacity among the many countries both bordering and catchment areas is inhibiting further progress (EurasiaNet).

A bit of a long read, but this piece, on land governance in Myanmar is essential for understanding just how difficult solving long-standing ethnic tensions and conflicts will be in the multicultural country (TNI).

In Kashmir, forest dwellers have received eviction notices from the forest department and fear losing access to their traditional land, reports Athar Parvaiz for The Third Pole. One of them is 108 year old Zooni Begam, who has lived her whole life in her forest village.

Do read this immersive two part series by Bhrikuti Rai for Nepali Times, which focuses on the tragic story of Dilip Mahato, who was killed by the sand mafia, and the impact that illegal sand mining is having on both the environment, but people across Nepal.

Indonesia is cracking down on far-right Islamists, having banned the hardline Islamic Defenders Front and arrested its leader. In this piece for New Mandala, Afifur Rochman Sya’rani assesses the impacts of these moves, how it restricts Islamists political space, and the potential for a backlash.


Kyrgyzstan held it’s important elections last week, and recently freed Nationalist Sadyr Japarov won in a landslide. Now we have to wait and see what type of leader he’ll be (Nikkei Asia).

And in Mongolia, Ts. Oyungerel has announced she will seek the Democratic Party’s nomination. In this piece for The Diplomat, Manduul Bat-Orshikh asks if the country is ready for a female President, and the viability of her campaign.


I mentioned Pakistan above as a key Chinese ally, but in Southeast Asia, its Cambodia that has, too often, been essentially a Chinese puppet state, especially at the international stage. For East Asia Forum, Heimkhemra Suy analyzes this relationship, arguing that there’s no real alternative to Chinese domination in Phnom Pehn.

China’s announced plans to build a massive dam along the Brahmaputra, which would be even larger than the Three Gorges Damn, and downstream countries – most notably India – are concerned about the impacts for water security (The Third Pole).

And in this piece, Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat cautions that Indonesia’s growing dependence on China is dangerous, and explores how the country can hedge itself by diversifying its international cooperation (The Conversation).

Solutions Stories

In 2018, this community in Northern Thailand successfully campaigned against a plan to convert a wetland into a special economic zone. Now, as Carolyn Cowan reports, they are working to protect their land in the face of other environmental threats, such as climate change and dam construction along the Mekong (Mongabay).

And if you’re looking for some distractions, how about watching a Southeast Asian film?

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.