3 min read

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 27 July 2021

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 27 July 2021

This week: Asia loses two heroes, a peek inside the Great Firewall, and why little has changed 5 years after a historic ruling on the South China Sea.

Undercovered last week

Asia lost some heroes in the past week. First, Stan Swamy, an 84 year old Jesuit priest, humanitarian, and voice for the voiceless of India, detained unjustly and infected by Covid-19 in prison, in what Amit Bhaduri calls a “perfect murder,” in the header to this moving poem written as a tribute to him.

Across Indonesia, East Timor, and occupied West Papua, tributes poured in after the passing of Carmel Budiardjo, the founder of Tapol, a human rights group that fought for the release of political prisoners, against military occupation, and for justice. She was 96. Learn about her life, convictions, and journey by reading this touching piece by Andreas Harsono for Project Multatuli.

Sadly, some of these conflicts continue, particularly in West Papua, where Indonesia is planning to soon hold a national sporting event. Instead of featuring darker-skinned Melanesian locals, they’ve flown a light-skilled celebrity to be the event’s ambassador, an example of “banal diversity,” argues Aryo Danusiri for The Conversation.

The mineral fueling conflict in Myanmar: jade, the illegal mining and trading of which is being used by both the military and armed ethnic groups as a source of revenue for weapons and more (Andrew Nachemson, Kyaw Hsan Hlaing, Mongabay).

Worrying news from Vietnam, as a spate of arrests of political activists occurred in early July, including a blogger, a human rights advocate, and 3 people spreading information on social media. They face up to 20 years in jail (88 Project).

A peek inside the firewall – Yaqui Wang writes about the anti-censorship blogger Program-Think, who posted on how to circumvent the Great Firewall in China, but has been silent for two months, leading some to fear that they’ve been arreted, or worse (HRW).

In June, a massive fire broke out at a Taiwanese-owned factory in Thailand, killing one, injuring 40, and forcing 80,000 to evacuate. It burned for two days, releasing huge amounts of pollution. And it will be repeated, argues Yiamyut Sutthichaya for Pracatai, highlighting issues around the lack oversight, zoning control, and transparency  that led to this disaster.


As Malaysia’s Parliament sits for the first time in six months, the failure of the un-elected Muhyiddin government to deal with the pandemic’s health, social and economic costs has created the worst crisis since the 1969 race riots, and could lead to a political transformation, argues Bridget Welsh for East Asia Forum.

Meanwhile, in Macau, which hasn’t seen protests like neighboring Hong Kong, in a shocking move, 21 opposition candidates have been banned from campaigning for the legislature, including many sitting members, and the founder of a pro-democracy party (Oiwan Lam, Global Voices).


Worth watching: Japan and the Philippines are holding their first-ever joint air exercise, a sign of growing security cooperation as both countries see increased air and sea intrusions into their territorial waters by an increasingly assertive China (Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat).

July was the five year anniversary of the 2016 South China Sea ruling, in which an international tribunal, in a landmark ruling, dismissed Beijing’s claim to the region. Yet, on the ground (or sea) little has changed, as the verdict has had no impact on China’s behavior. Pratik Jakhar explores why, and if the future may be different (Lowy Interpreter).

Solutions Stories

Afghanistan has been the subject of lots of bad news lately – so here, let’s recognize some heroes; the young journalists fighting for press freedom and continuing to report despite an incredibly challenging environment. A great piece by Raksha Kumar for Reuters Institute.

And in Kazakhstan, opposition activist, Aset Abishev has been granted an expected early release from a four-year sentence on politically motivated charges, and while the reason is unclear, it’s likely global attention and pressure played a role (RFEL).

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.