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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 16 August 2021

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 16 August 2021

This week: Revisiting a 2018 dam disaster, China investing in  junta-controlled Myanmar, and the power of video and photos in Cambodia.

Undercovered last week

In response to the military seizing power in Myanmar many foreign government and investors halted projects. One country that doesn’t seem to care? China which, according to this report by The Irrawaddy, is seeing its Belt & Road Initiative projects in the country fast-tracked.

On a different note, when the ruling Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary last month, it received letters and messages from around the world, including from two ethnic armed groups in Myanmar – Yaolong Xian explores these letters, and their potential meaning for New Mandala.

Asia Undercovered is now 3 years old – and one of the first stories we highlighted was a 2018 dam disaster in Laos that killed 71. Phairin Sohsai visits the affected regions, and reports on the broader risks that indigenous and local communities face from poorly planned dams across the region (BKK Tribune).

Li Liqun, a former political commentator, once named among the “hundred great public intellectuals of the nation” but under constant surveillance for nearly four years due to his political beliefs, committed suicide in late July. China Digital Times has translated his poignant last note, which states, bluntly, that China “has gone dark.”

A nine year old Dalit (lower-caste) girl was raped, murdered and forcefully cremated by upper-caste Brahmins in a clear instance of caste-based violence in India. For Madras Courier Ayushi Kalyani explores the reasons for this violence and how they aim to send a message to all Dalits to stay in their place.


Big news from Malaysia as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has resigned after a tumultuous year and a half in office. He’ll remain in a caretaker role until his replacement is be picked by the current Sultan, and we could see elections in Malaysia soon (The Online Citizen).

An election is approaching; the race for South Korea’s Presidency. The opposition People Power Party has made a surprising choice – 36 year old Lee Jun-seok, as party leader – despite him never holding elected office. Jinwoo Kim explores whether he can lead and capitalize on the rising unpopularity of term-limited President Moon Jae-in (East Asia Forum).


Before Tsai Ing-wen entered office in 2016, Taiwan was heavily dependent on China as a trading partner. Her Southbound policy aimed to diversity the economy and build greater ties with South and Southeast Asian nations. For 9DashLine, Ratih Kabinawa explores its impact in mitigating Chinese economic coercion.

Cambodia will be the chair of ASEAN next year, with a full place – the Myanmar crisis, territorial disputes in the South China Sea. For East Asia Forum, Kimkong Heng looks at the challenges the country, with its pro-China leanings, will face in this role.

Solutions Stories

Staying in Cambodia with two stories about digital media.

  • First, a Q&A piece in Cambodianess featuring Hean Socheata, one of the few female photojournalists in the country, who shares why she believes in the art of visual storytelling and its power to shift perceptions.
  • Meanwhile, it’s not photojournalists but local protesters fighting against unjust land grabs, using video and live broadcasting to document human rights abuses in real time by Cambodia’s armed forces and gain some measure of protection (Gerald Flynn and Mech Dara, VOD English)

And in Sri Lanka, old buses are being sunk and turned into fish breeding sites, helping restore marine life around the island nation (Malaka Rodrigo, Mongabay).

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