On November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump won* the US Presidential Election.
For me, and many journalists around the world, everything completely changed.
For many it meant dealing with an administration hostile to the media, and uncovering it’s every move. For me, though, it was different. I don’t cover the US. I cover Asia, and one of the reasons I became a reporter more than three years ago is to illuminate this part of the world. I saw lack of understanding and good journalism as one of the key reasons for our unfortunate global situation.
This was a problem before 2016, but Trump’s election has only made things worse. In the past year and a half, the US media has become laser-focused on one single man and his actions. Sometimes it’s absurd – a misspelling of a single word (covfefe) in a tweet got more attention than all of Southeast Asia in 2017. Other times, it’s our inability to see things outside of a Trump-centric worldview – such as how Xi Jingping’s move to make himself President for life only got attention when Trump said “someday we should try that too.” Even then, the coverage was focused on Trump’s statement and included little about the implications of what was happening in China.
It’s not just a US issue. All around the world, Trump dominates foreign coverage at the expense of regional stories. Indonesians know more about Trump’s tweets than they do about China’s arguably more influential moves towards authoritarian rule. Japanese know more about rising fascism in the US than they do about the social movements that are bringing about progressive change in South Korea and Taiwan. Country after country, the same dynamic mostly holds true. We’re all becoming more ignorant of the world at the very moment where we need greater understanding. We’re more interconnected and more ignorant of each other than ever before.
Americans know little about Asia. Asians know about Trump, but not about their neighbors and the meaningful things happening across the continent. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Asia (under)covered is my attempt to change that and provide an alternative to the global Trump-focus and highlight the Asian trends, people and stories that are not getting enough global attention. It is aimed both at Westerners sick of mainstream media Trump-centrism, and Asians who want to better understand their part of the world.
I believe that Asia is the most important region of the world today, in nearly every facet. It has three of the four largest economies, several of the largest cities, and dominates global trade. It is also where social movements are remaking society, whether it’s the civic-minded hacker-democracy in Taiwan, the anti-corruption protests in South Korea, or the “tsunami rakyat” that overthrew a 61 year long regime in Malaysia. It does not fit into the US-centric “authoritarian trend” - it’s far more complex and nuanced. Ultimately, this list is for merely understanding Trump or even the US does not make one an informed global citizen.
This list also aims to highlight the great work being done by journalists across Asia, whose stories are often hidden in regional outlets, or in the back pages of mainstream US outlets. There is not a lack of good journalism. It’s that the good journalism is being buried and hidden in social media feeds that, as we all know, are being manipulated by companies or actors seeking to keep us either dis-informed, or misinformed.
Sign up for Asia (under)covered and you can better understand Asia.