This Year In Asia
From Duterte’s war on drugs and Modi’s war on cash to Myanmar’s war on its own, we had it all covered in a significant year for the region
2017 was as eventful a year for Asia as it was for us at This Week in Asia reporting it. Covering the world’s most happening region can be its own reward, but we also bagged gold as the best news website at the Asian Digital Media Awards 2017, presented by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN IFRA) and Google. We welcome the recognition that we are covering the region right, and would like to thank our readers for all the support.
Just as we had predicted, 2017 was a breakout year for artificial intelligence. As Chinese companies joined the race in earnest, with AI applications spreading in sectors from logistics to health care, the Koreans raised their game after being beaten at their own, the Japanese brought out the bazooka to retain their competitiveness, while cosmopolitan Singapore quietly drew in the talent that is key to AI success.
AI, of course, was not the only thing over which countries in the region butted heads. From an unpredictable Donald Trump to a volatile Kim Jong-un, there was enough to keep Asia on the boil, with fresh territorial disputes, such as Doklam, adding to legacy geopolitical contests, such as the South China Sea.
Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric has had Asia wondering this year if the US would reduce its engagement in the region. The summit between Trump and Xi Jinping, closely followed for clues to America’s Asia policy, proved to be a delicate first step in the interaction between the world’s two most powerful men.
One major factor tempering the evolving US-China relationship is North Korea’s increasing recklessness, in its defiance of both the US by threatening war, and of long-standing ally China, by liquidating Beijing’s allies in the hermit kingdom. One of them was Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of the “Little Rocket Man”, whose sensational murder was extensively covered by This Week in Asia, including a deep-dive on how Macau became North Korea’s window to the world.
The cautious tango between Xi and Trump has so far failed to paper over China-US differences on the South China Sea, the main theatre of the region’s geopolitics where old contestations run up against new realities. While China’s race up the global pecking order and the possibility of an American retrenchment reshape the policy dynamics in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia, Pakistan and Thailand, fears of an ascendant China plague its relations with countries like Japan, Singapore and South Korea.
Trump has now widened the conventional arena of geopolitical competition to include the Indian Ocean, drawing in India into disputes that were once confined to the Pacific. As this comes amid moves by the US, Australia, India and Japan to revive a coalition of “like-minded” democracies, China naturally sees it as the latest attempt to contain it. More so because its relations with India have rapidly declined this year after years of careful rapprochement.
The two Asian giants found themselves facing off near Bhutan for over two months this summer in an unusual show of defiance that threatened to spiral into armed conflict. As China’s growing economic interests expand its footprint westwards, the new tension with India is a throwback to the friction during the colonial period and the 1962 war that continues to poison their relations.
The open enmity between the two nations that once called themselves brothers was not the only family drama playing out in the region this year. In Singapore, the first family was at war with itself as a dispute between Lee Kuan Yew’s children over his property and legacy spilled into the open in an ugly display of sibling rivalry.
While the Brothers Lee were slugging it out in Singapore, in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, high on power, launched his own war – on drugs – that ravaged his country and reshaped his relations with China and the US. In India, the lasting impact of another war, waged by Narendra Modi on cash, became clearer this year. The unexpected move roiled the Indian economy and, as This Week in Asia had predicted, punctured his reputation as a smart economic manager. And, Myanmar embarked on a war on its own people. Over 600,000 Rohingya fled the country as Myanmese armed forces massacred village after village of Rohingya Muslims, causing an unprecedented humanitarian and refugee crisis, as well as raising fears about an upsurge of Islamist sentiments in the region.
Islam’s power as a lightning rod had already become evident in Indonesia this year, as blasphemy charges against Christian ethnic Chinese Jakarta governor Ahok exposed the ethno-religious divisions that could be stoked for political mobilisation. This Week in Asia extensively covered this important development and its implications for President Joko Widodo, race relations and the stability of the region.
Which brings us back to the many things we got right in 2017. The South China Morning Post and This Week in Asia stood out in their coverage of the biggest political event in China this year, namely, the 19th Party Congress, being the only publication in the world that correctly predicted who would make it to the apex Politburo Standing Committee and why. It’s not for nothing that the Post is considered the window to China – and This Week in Asia has emerged as the leading voice on the wider region in a little over a year.
As we go into a new year, our only resolution is to keep getting it right, and continue to cover the region with the unique perspective that has made us such an important publication in such a short time. Happy reading, and happy holidays!
Team This Week in Asia