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Asia Undercovered Round-up: 5 July 2021

Asia Undercovered Round-up: 5 July 2021

A reminder: Why this newsletter exists

As a freelance journalist, I’ve often has issues with gatekeepers at major media outlets in the United States and Britain, many of whom have little understanding of regions like Southeast Asia. So I wasn’t surprised to, last week, see this tweet, not from some some random journalist, but the Asia Editor of Foreign Policy. He is actually in charge of commissioning journalists to cover Myanmar,yet thinks these kinds of jokes are okay.

To understand the Karen, or Kayin, an ethnic group suffering under the military junta and fighting for their rights for decades, watch this short documentary.

Undercovered last week

Hong Kong is rapidly losing its freedoms as civil society groups voluntarily shut down, pro-democracy outlets face forced closure, and political parties disband. The latest loss was the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. In this piece for China Heritage, Lee Yee, a renowned editor writes on how Hong Kong has caught up to the mainland when it comes to lack of freedom.

Worth reading: In Myanmar, conspiracy theories of foreign interference, promoted by the junta’s paranoid generals, are being used to justify the crackdown, reports Aye Min Thant for Rest of World.

Bhutan is often considered an idyllic mountain nation, in which conservation wins over development. But behind the facade is a mining boom that is threatening landscapes. An in-depth investigation by Dawa Gyelmo for The Third Pole.

Worrying trend: As Indonesia increases military actions in West Papua, there has been a corresponding increase in digital violations, including internet shutdowns, the use of dis/misinformation bots, and hashtag hijacking (Engage Media).

The Pahang indigenous people of Malaysia signed a contract, in a language they could not read, to receive new homes. It turns out they had actually consented to a logging project which they opposed, in a blatant violation of their rights or the standards of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, reports Yao-Hua Law for SEA Globe.

Environmentalism is now a crime in Cambodia, as young activists from the non-profit Mother Nature have been charged and placed in pretrial detention. They were arrested while filming illegal sewage discharge, and many see this as an attempt to stifle dissent (VOD English).


Bangladesh is becoming a single-party state under the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But an emerging Islamist movement may threaten its grip on power, as the party increasingly is unable to bring them under its wing (Mahir Abrar, East Asia Forum).

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, a pure single-party ruled state, there have been several important changes in the political landscape after this year’s 13th Party Congress, including the surprising extension of aging leader Nguyen Phu Trong as Party Secretary General. A good overview of a complicated process by Huong Le Thu for TH Boell.

Elections were held this past weekend in Japan’s largest city, Tokyo, the first big test for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The results are mixed – while his coalition gained seats, they failed to achieve a majority, while the left-leaning CDP and leftist JCP both main gains (Japan Times).


Japan wants to give former Bhutanese home minister Lyonpo Dago Tshering an award. But many Nepalis of Bhutanese origin, representing the over 100,000 who were evicted in what many consider a human rights violation, are calling for the award to be rescinded due to his role in these atrocities (Nepali Times).

Solutions Stories

How does one cope with decades of constant war? For some in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, the answer is breakdancing, reports Robin Huang for The Diplomat.

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.