Undercovered this week
In Sept 2019, environmental advocate and net idol Houayheuang Xayabouly, better known as Muay, was detained for posting a Facebook video criticizing the Laos government response to a flooding disaster. A year later, a movement for her release is growing, writes Mong Palatino for Global Voices.
In Cambodia, plans to build a massive artificial island on reclaimed land in the middle of the Mekong river is sparking fears of environmental catastrophe (Andrew Haffner, Southeast Asia Globe).
Remember Thailand’s royal consort, banished in mysterious circumstances last year? King Vajiralongkorn has deemed her, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi ‘unblemished.’ Thais have responded with wordplay on social media, another sign that respect for the royalty is fading – fast (Prachatai).
An update on Indonesia protests (for more on this, see last week’s special issue) – President Joko Widodo is blaming “disinformation,” for the unrest. Besides being a blanket response, it’s also his fault. If only the government had, you know, released the full text of the law before voting on it? (Lenny Tristia Tambun, Jakarta Globe).
The next major planned election in Asia will take place in Myanmar. But calling it a democratic election might be a stretch. As a prep, read this informative piece by Bertil Lintner on the country’s slow, uncertain path towards reform, and the challenges yet unaddressed (Global Asia).
There are also upcoming regional elections in Indonesia. There, what was once a feared rise of right-wing Islamism has been replaced by fear of old-school authoritarianism, or, as Greg Fealy calls is, repressive pluralism (East Asia Forum).
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet more than 60 years ago. Since then, the region has been awaiting his return, even as they are unable to express even that simple desire. A thoughtful piece by Vijay Kranti that also explores how this dynamic impacts relations across the Himalayas (Phayul).
Worth watching: China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, is traveling to Southeast Asia to shore up relations with countries there. Wendy Wu previews his trip for SCMP, focusing on the Mekong Region and issues around the South China Sea.
Could China be angling to annex Mongolia? After moves to reduce linguistic rights in Chinese-occupied Inner Mongolia, Paul Lin makes a dramatic argument in Taipei Times that the neighboring nation may be next. This may be a stretch, but then again, who would have China would actually spark a military conflict with India this year?
The island of New Guinea is one of the world biodiversity hotspots. In this piece, Bruce Weber shares his favorite of the more than 13,634 known species of plants, and why they are worth protecting (The Conversation).
Worth reading: This interesting thought piece by Alice Evans in Madras Courier that explores the dramatic regional differences in gender disparity in North and South India. This is why blanket statements are rarely productive.
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.