Welcome to the first in a new series of special issues for Asia Undercovered. What to Watch are forward looking, complementing our other content aimed at ensuring readers understand what’s happening in Asia.
While Backgrounders give historical and political context for breaking news, Special Issues dive into coverage around a theme, and regular weekly updates focus on recent undercovered stories, What to Watch issues highlight two major, upcoming events or trends, and other stories to watch in Asia in the coming month (or, in this case, year).
To Watch: China and Human Rights
There are signs that China’s free pass to violate the human rights of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians, human rights lawyers, and journalists may be coming to an end. But that could be said last year, or two years ago too. Instead, things have only gotten worse.
In fact, China’s assertiveness regionally and globally has grown, especially in the digital sphere, as 2019 saw unprecedented efforts by Chinese diplomat to spread disinformation online. In this piece for The Diplomat, Sarah Cook makes five predictions about Beijing’s assault on media freedom for 2021,
For the Uyghurs, this means that 2021 will likely another painful year. Attempts at building solidarity with Muslims-majority nations haven’t borne fruit yet. This piece by Anne Marie Murphy in Asanist explores the limits of Uyghur solidarity in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Another thing worth watching are if growing concerns about Uyghur forced labor in supply chains amounts to anything. While the focus this far has been on apparel and technology, other sectors could be impacted too, including solar, as Xinjiang is also a key source for raw materials for solar panels (Michael Copley, SPGGlobal).
In 2022, Beijing is also supposed to host the Winter Olympics. Will we see a wave of protests like 2008? Will boycott threats grow? Some of this might depend on whether the pandemic-delayed 2020 Games are held in Tokyo in 2021.
Also worth watching: Asia’s 2021 Elections
Compared to 2019, or 2020, 2021, is a relatively light year for elections in Asia, with only a handful of polls scheduled for this year. Of those, these three are the ones to watch.
Kyrgyzstan – The election, scheduled for 10 January, will be for President, but also whether the country, which saw massive protests late last year, will be a presidential or parliamentary system. Already there are concerns about the opposition being targeted. 18 candidates are running, and if the results are contested, expect agitation to rise again.
Japan – Will take place before the end of October. With Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga already seeing his popularity fade, there are two main questions. Will he run for Prime Minister? And can the opposition come together to form a formidable alternative to his LDP party? To get a preview, read this piece by Michael Bosack on five things to watch in Japanese politics this coming year.
Hong Kong – The legislative council elections were supposed to be in 2020, but was delayed until 2021, with the pandemic used as an excuse. With pro-democracy legislators giving up their seat, along with draconian regulations that basically require a loyalty test to the Communist Party to run, few expect these to be free and fair.
Other Events to Watch
Thailand Protests – The movement is on pause until early next year. Then what? Will there be a crackdown, or a revolution? At least online, we’re seeing signs of greater repression, reports Colleen Scribner for The Diplomat.
Indonesia’s uncertain future – How will SE Asia’s largest country recover from the pandemic? Will the trend towards authoritarianism continue? Will protests re-emerge? Here’s a preview of an important year for the emerging economy in Future Directions.
India and China – Asia’s two largest countries will continue to battle for influence. With Pakistan and Nepal firmly in China’s camp, Bangladesh is the focus of an investment and trade offers from both countries (Stratfor).
Asia Undercovered: In-depth round-ups and analysis of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.