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Asia Undercovered #53

Asia Undercovered #53

Welcome to the first regular issue of 2020! Already the media obsession horserace politics in the 2020 election, along with the legitimately worrying #WuhanCoronavirus means most of Asia is already being ignored.

Undercovered this week

As chaos grows alongside Narendra Modi’s increasingly authoritarian dictates, KP Fabian asks if India’s democracy is messed up (Madras Courier).

Myanmar’s only Mon language newspaper is down to just 1200 subscriptions, facing challenges from a shrinking press, the dominance of Burmese, and social media platforms as it struggles to survive (Lawi Weng, Global Voices)

In Indonesia, Bambang Hero Saharjo, a fire expert, has been given an award for testifying in an astounding 500 cases against companies accused of allowing fires to burn on their concessions. He’s done this despite threats and even a retaliatory lawsuit (Mongabay).

Protesting in Thailand comes with risks. One participant in a flashmob was photographed, doxxed, and then fired from her job (Prachatai).

Sadly, speaking truth is also risky, even from abroad. Olzi Jazexhi participated in a Chinese propaganda tour to Xinjiang, but saw through the facade and concluded the camps are depriving Uyghurs of their human rights. Upon returning home and speaking out, he was fired due to Chinese influence in Albania.

Meanwhile, more and more Uyghurs are speaking out about the unjust detentions of their loves ones. Here’s one particularly poignant story.

In the Philippines, one town has used its historical art legacy to stand up against proposed mining operations, which it also fears could lead to disaster in the case of an earthquake (Kodao).


ASEAN is trying to stay neutral as the US-China trade war grows – but can it? And could neutrality end up benefiting one party (China?)? (East Asia Forum)

Worth watching. China now has more diplomatic posts in the world than the United States. How will it use them? (China Digital Times)

I don’t include Mongolia much in Asia Undercovered but its a fascinating country – in between two authoritarian regimes (China and Russia), a young democracy, and facing massive developmental challenges as it grows increasingly dependent on trade with its neighbor. An excellent piece on East Asia’s other country by Ellen Born in The American Interest.


Sri Lanka just had a Presidential election, and has an upcoming Parliamentary one which could cement authoritarian populism. Kanishka Jayasuriya explores the reasons behind the rise of ethno-religious nationalism in the island nation (East Asia Forum)

And Taiwan voted to re-election Tsai Ing-wen as President in a landslide. Here’s a great visual of the results from Bloomberg.

A Lighter note

40 years of fighting, and an indigenous tribe in Indonesia has finally won the right to control their land – a victory for them, and the environment. This wonderful visually-driven deep dive tells the story of the Dayan Iban community of Sungai Utik in Borneo and their long fight for land rights (Eco Business).

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.