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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 19 Oct 2023

This week: Why Laos is relying on China, pollution in Kashmir, illegal plantations in Indonesia, and a shoutout to the best investigation I've read all year.

This week: Why Laos is relying on China, pollution in Kashmir, illegal plantations in Indonesia, and a shoutout to the best investigation I've read all year.

Undercovered last week

Tiny Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, completely dependent on its neighbors for connectivity, trade, and more. Lately, the country is it increasingly relying is China, and that comes with a cost (Cai Yiwen, Sixth Tone).

We lost another great outlet, as Southeast Asia Globe - one of the publications that gave me a chance when I first started out as a journalist in the region - is shutting down. Read one of their final pieces, on the "shadow fleet" of oil tankers hauling sanctioned oil through Southeast Asia - with the threat of environmental catastrophe (Ian Hollinger).

In one of India's richest states, rural hospitals are seeing a spike in infant and maternal deaths, due to lack of resources and unsanitary conditions. An expose into a broken system in BehanBox.

In Kashmir, increased pollution and sewage run-off is harming the region's pristine lakes, a situation some link to the G20 summit being held there. With more money, and industrialization, coming as India seeks to cement control over the occupied region, its likely to get much, much worse (Auqib Javeed, Scroll.in)

Palm oil has devastated tropical landscapes in Indonesia. Now, a report finds that half of the plantations in the key growing province of Riau are illegal, reports Hans Nicholas Jong for Mongabay.

Censorship Creep. In China, a discussion about why young people aren't watching the national daily news program was, apparently, too controversial, and got censored. The bar for allowable criticism keeps getting higher and higher (Alexander Boyd, CDT)

Electoral Politics

Thailand has a new cabinet, but despite a new party coming to power, the faces of the mostly male members resemble those of the old, military linked government, and that is worrying change-seeking voters (Thai Enquirer).

One party is sure to be happy about the new government, writes Jitsiree Thongnoi - China - which is glad that the Move Forward Party, which vowed to reset foreign relations, didn't get its rightful place as leader of the coalition (The China Project).


Worth reading: An interesting take in Lowy Interpreter on why Indonesia has been mostly silent, at least on the global stage, about China's incursions into its territorial waters in the North Natuna Sea. Aristyo Rizka Darmawan argues that the government has prioritized development of oil fields as a clearer marker of sovereignty.


Most of my stories from China are negative, and with good reason, but I did find and enjoy this piece about breakdancing's popularity among young Chinese, featuring some who aspire to compete at the Olympics (Ni Dandan, Zhang Han)

Reporting Done Right

The Ocean Outlaw Project has just released its latest investigation in numerous outlets, including New Yorker, exploring China's growing role in fisheries. It links deep sea fishing boats, the use of migrant labor from Southeast Asia (including many Indonesians), and the processing of this seafood in China. It found that many of the workers are Uyghurs, forced to leave their homeland and likely in situations of forced labor.

Do read - it's one of the most impressive pieces of investigative work I've read all year.

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. Curated by journalist Nithin Coca.