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Asia Undercovered 20 May 2020

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.