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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 16 Feb 2023

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 16 Feb 2023

This week: Trouble for Japan's ruling LDP, mourning the loss of Cambodia best (last?) independent news outlet, and how the Myanmar junta is using sexual images against women opposing it.

Undercovered last week

We may never know the true toll of Covid-19 in China, whether we look back to 2020, or the huge surge that took place this year. But we do get glimpses into the tragic losses, both from the disease itself, but also the lockdowns and crackdowns that accompanied the zero-tolerance policies.

One such loss was Zhang Jin, former deputy editor-in-chief of Caixin Media, known for its independent, investigative reporting in the previous decade. He was believed to have taken his own life, as he struggled with depression, while under lockdown (RFA)

The world recently commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. During it, Uyghurs around the world challenged leaders to act on the oft-cited words “never again.” Arthur Kaufman highlights this, and recent, new, worrying reports from Xinjiang, for China Digital Times.

Did you know that India has an extreme weather event on 314 out of 365 days last year? That is what Rajit Sengupta found for DownToEarth. And it makes me wonder why, again and again, climate-related weather events get so much less attention in Asia than in the US or Europe.

Worrying news from West Papua where a journalist, Victor Mambor, was targeted by a bomb near his home in Jayapura. Thankfully, he and his family are safe, but for how long? He’s been targeted several times for doing nothing more than deporting on the occupation of the region by Indonesian security forces (Alainsi Jurnalis Indonesi, h/t Splice Slugs).

I really enjoyed this piece by Saumya Kalia for the wonderful outlet Behan Box on the gig workers for Urban Co, an online platform for providing home based services in India. It interviewed 10 women to understand the dynamics of app-based work, and why there are rising tensions and evidence of exploitation.

This deserves more attention. Two young women, Tantawan ‘Tawan’ Tuatulanon and Orawan ‘Bam’ Phuphong, are on hunger strike as they face trial for Lèse majesté in Thailand. They’re calling for justice reforms and moratorium on political persecutions – which, apparently, is too much for the government (Prachatai).

My favorite source for news about Cambodia has been the independent outlet VOD. So was very, very worried to see that they may no longer be able to report on important issues in the increasingly authoritarian country.

Worth Reading: This excellent piece in Frontier Myanmar about how the coup, and the resulting conflict, has increased ethnic nationalism in Chinland, of the country’s many ethnic minority regions. It’s also increasingly a battlefield between the junta and Chin armed groups (Emily Fishbein).

Electoral Politics

It’s been an unpredictable year for politics in Japan, with the long-time ruling LDP seeing regular resignations and turmoil in the cabinet, and low approval ratings for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. Rintaro Nishimura argues that there’s a looming crisis in the party (Tokyo Review).

And in Mongolia, there’s an effort to amend the constitution, reports Anand Tumurtogoo. It may, scholars and advocates argue, may put its democracy in danger.


China’s Belt and Road Initiative is now a decade old, having investing billions across the world and raised the country’s economic coercive power. Despite a massive campaign to promote it, Arthur Kaufman finds that this propaganda effort is, mostly, unsuccessful (China Digital Times).

Quite a surprise. According to Gregory Poling, 2022 was the first time in a decade that China’s control over the South China Sea – which it claims almost entirely – did not appreciably advance. It’s a sign that SE Asia is, despite the odds, standing firm and increasing security cooperation (East Asia Forum).

Solutions Stories

Just one this week – a wonderful dive into the ghosts of Java by Tito Ambyo for History Today, and how these ghosts, often the result of human rights crimes, and now sharing their stories on YouTube.

Reporting Done Right

Check out this thread, and this investigation, by Pallabi Munsi for CNN that dug into one vile tactic being used by the Myanmar junta.

I hope to see more outlets willing to spend the time, and resources, to deeply investigate social media and illuminate the voices of victims in Asia.

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