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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 28 April 2021

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 28 April 2021
This week: Information manipulation in Thailand and China, Tibet’s exile election, and protecting the environmental in Malaysia.

Undercovered this week

Information manipulation may have been perfected by China, but its being utilized as a tool of repression across Asia. Case in point: Thailand, where, Pavin Chachavalpongpun reports for Global Asia, the Thai elites have transformed themselves into informational autocrats in cyberspace, to control domestic public opinion.

Meanwhile in China, a bomb explosion killed 5 in southern China, but did not even make local headlines. A fascinating analysis by David Bandurski into how Chinese media often doesn’t cover slightly sensitive news, due to Beijing’s heavy hand (China Media Project).

Two environmental stories from Malaysia that deserve attention; The first, by Pashmina Binwani is on the Pan-Borneo highway, which would connect various parts of the island shared by three countries, but could harm its unique biodiversity, too (Macaranga).

The second, in Mongabay, looks at how the fare of a peat forest not from the capital Kuala Lumpur is under threat, and its fate rests in the hands of a single, powerful state official(Fatima Qureshi).


Worth watching: the dramatic rise of the youth-oriented Indonesian Solidarity Party, in the crucial Jakarta governor’s race, scheduled for next year. If this holds, it could mean an entrant of a new opposition party in a country that desperately needs it.

And you probably missed it, but there was an election last week, for Tibet’s government in-exile, with tens of thousands of Tibetans participating from around the world. Aiding them was an online tool called smartvote Tibet aimed at informing and connecting this scattered community (Sonam Palmo Brunner, Global Voices).

In the end, the election had a voter turnout of over 70 percent – higher than most western democracies! And the next Sikyong, or President, will be Penpa Tsering. Read about him, and the incoming parliament, here.


Increasingly, China is being blamed, and its business interests are being attacked, in Myanmar, due to its perceived support for the military junta. In this piece for The Kachin Post, Subir Bhaumik explores how the Belt & Road Initiative has played a role in the ongoing conflict, and what this means for other countries expanding their relationship with China.

There are, amazingly, still dozens of Chinese ships making incursions into Philippine waters. It’s both getting little attention globally, but also little response from the pro-Beijing Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte. In this piece, Leila Salaverria reports on the growing call for strong action (Inquirer).

And, as anyone who reads mainstream coverage of Southeast Asian geopolitics, the perceived dichotomy of US vs. China is often false – including in Vietnam.

Solutions Stories

Diversity, and acceptance, are active processes. That is why I enjoyed this piece about a teacher in Thailand’s Isaan region, the poorest part of the country, and his efforts to teach diversity to his students. We need more of this in Asia, and around the world (Prachatai).

And in Indonesia, a surprising resurgence is taking place – a seaweed boom, as many locals turn to the ocean to support livelihoods, partly due to the impacts of the pandemic (The Conversation).

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.