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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 3 Nov 2021

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 3 Nov 2021

This week: Japan election results, an investigation into illegal land conversion in Indonesia, and Indigenous resilience in the Philippines.

Undercovered last week

Worth Reading: The latest investigation from The Gecko Project uncovers how, in Indonesia, political interests close to the Ministry of Defense conspired to cut down tropical forests under the guise of Covid-19 recovery and food security, potentially embezzling billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, criticizing politicians is becoming a crime, as Indonesia’s powerful Chief Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan reported two activists for defamation – when in reality, they were highlighting concerns about military involvement in West Papua (Yogi Bratajaya, Yassar Aulia, Indonesia at Melbourne).

It is not making headlines anymore, but there is still fighting in Myanmar, including, reports DinDeng, in the capital Yangon for the first time, a start contrast from the past where conflict was usually in ethnic minority regions.

We highlighted the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam collapse in Laos in one of our first issues – a disaster that killed at least 40, displaced 6000, and got little attention in western media. For BKK Tribune, Heather Peters looks back the lessons from this disaster, why culture matters in development, and whether or not similar mistakes are being made around a hydro project near Luang Prabang.

Casinos will be welcome on the Philippines island of Boracay, popular with tourists. Locals, however, are opposed due to concerns the project will bring with it social problems of prostitution, money laundering, and more (Siegfred Deduro, Global Voices).

I’ve been waiting for this story. Wu Peiyue reports for Sixth Tone on the shady labor practices underpinning Chinese brand Shein which has quickly risen to become a global fashion giant. Turns out low prices come at a high social cost.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an existing plastic pandemic in Malaysia, where plastic masks litter the streets, dumps are overflowing with plastic take out containers, and investments into plastic recovery is lacking (Philip Golingai, Reporting ASEAN).

And another civil society group will leave Hong Kong as the place for freedom expression shrinks dramatically

Electoral Politics

There are efforts underway to amend Indonesia’s Constitution, partly due to the super-majority now enjoyed by the President’s coalition. But why? Rizky Argama explores the reasons why irresponsible and unnecessary proposals are being pushed now (Indonesia at Melbourne).

Recall elections are becoming all too common in Taiwan, which the opposition KMT targeting progressive. The latest victim is Chen Po-wei of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, and this could have implications for domestic politics going forward (Brian Hioe, The Diplomat).

There were also elections in Japan last week, with the long-ruling LDP maintaining power. (Paid-tier subscribers, keep an eye out for a special Backgrounder on this later this week!)


Sanction diplomacy: As more western countries place sanctions on Chinese and Russian officials and companies, there are concerns that Japan could become a hub for sanctions evasions due its failure to follow its western allies, argues Francis Shin for The Japan Times.

A supposed terrorist attack in Afghanistan is being pinned on Uyghur militants, raising fears that this could result in more persecutions of Ugyhurs in the country, possibly at the behest of the Taliban’s new ally, China (China Digital Times).

Solutions Stories

Bhutan is endowed with rich hydro energy resources, but it’s also looking at solar to fuel its carbon-negative economy, with the first solar plants connected to the grid earlier this year (Dawa Gyelmo, The Third Pole).

And in the Philippines, Keith Anthony Fabro reports on how Indigenous women are leading an effort to restore mangroves on a storm-hit island – showing how local empowerment can increase resilience

Reporting done right

I often criticize western media for misreporting and under-reporting Asia, but sometimes they get it right. This piece by several journalists at the Wall Street Journal is an example of this. It explores the stories of Chinese laborers working on projects overseas, and how they are also often victims of labor abuses. It illuminates their stories and helps us better understand the growing role of China in Southeast Asia.

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.