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News > World

Asia: The New Power

  • Members of a pro-China group display China's national flag in Taipei, Taiwan

    Members of a pro-China group display China's national flag in Taipei, Taiwan | Photo: EFE

Published 31 December 2019

It is without a doubt the fastest-growing region on the planet, it is currently changing the current idea of economic power is defined, yet challenges remain. 

Here are the most relevant issues of the last decade:

1. China Rising:

China's President Xi Jinping (R) during the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China 20th anniversary celebration at the East Asian Games Dome, in Macao, China, 20 December 2019/EFE

Undoubtedly the most relevant story coming out of Asia is China becoming the second-largest economy in the world. During this decade it surpassed Japan as the economic powerhouse in the region, setting up a strategic understanding with Russia for mutual cooperation and laying the grounds for what may become the economic juggernaut of the next decade, the “Belt and Road Initiative”.

Politically it saw the rise of Xi Jinping and along with that a more focused and disciplined approach, with a powerful fight against corruption being felt throughout the country, a much more prominent say in foreign affairs, which is a position that has rattled the United States, a country that has tried and thus far failed to contain China with punitive measures and intervention in the internal affairs of the Asian giant. 

2. Duterte and the Rise of the Strongman:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand, November 2, 2019/Reuters

The former mayor of Davao came onto Philippine's political scene as a supposed “outsider”, defeating other candidates within a notoriously corrupt political system, where a fed up and desperate population gave Rodrigo Duterte a strong mandate.

Unfortunately, his strong-arm tactics in suppressing crime, antics, and disregard for a generally adhered to a consensus with respect for human rights, have also emboldened an ever-growing opposition who describes Duterte as an “authoritarian autocrat.” He now faces a slowing economy, a still powerful insurgency and dwindling popularity, which in fairness remains very high to this day. 

3. Vietnam’s Economic Miracle:

Vietnamese soccer fans celebrate with national flags and image of late President Ho Chi Minh on a street after the victory of Vietnam's U22 soccer team in South East Asia Games against Indonesia, in Hanoi/Reuters

Vietnam 30 years ago was considered one of the poorest countries in the region after being devastated by the neocolonial powers of France and the United States, which waged unrelenting war against the country as it fought valiantly to achieve its independence. In spite of this, during the last decade, its economic growth of 6-7% annually rivaled only by China, and its exports are worth as much as the total value of its GDP.

It has also achieved this with large human capital and infrastructure investments and generally more equal wealth distribution and ever-growing participation by women, in comparison to other countries in the region. 

4. North Korea Resists

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea/Reuters

In spite of a well-oiled media campaign to discredit the northern Asian country, Kim Jong Un has managed to surprise many by staying one step ahead of U.S. plans to oust him and his government, resorting even to nuclear deterrence, which has, whether you agree with it or not, saved North Korea from a fate similar to that of Libya or Iraq, whose governments and leadership believed they could negotiate in good faith with the United States and its allies.

The future is uncertain, but the U.S. thus far seems unwilling to go to war in the face of a strong response.

5. The Rohingya Plight

While a noticeable rise in xenophobia could be seen around the world in the last decade, one of the most heartbreaking instances has been the persecution of one of Myanmar’s minorities. 

The Rohingyas are one of the many minorities living in Myanmar, but in their case, the successive governments there have denied them citizenship, with the consequent deprivation of rights, because they consider them to be descendants of immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar during a military operation which was called a "textbook ethnic cleansing" by the United Nations. To this day there seems to be no easy solution on the horizon. 

6. Japan: Fukushima and the Challenge of Nuclear Energy

In history, only two events have been classified as a "Level 7" nuclear accident, a classification used by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for large radioactive events with effects on health and the environment. Fukushima in 2011 was one of them.

It is considered the second-worst nuclear accident in history, behind the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. There has been ongoing controversy regarding the health damage left behind by the accident and its ionizing radiation and its long-term effects on residents. 

7. Homophobia in Malaysia and Elsewhere in Asia:

Though homosexuality is prohibited in the mostly Muslim Asian country, crimes against members of the LGBT community went relatively unreported until an increase following the nation’s general elections where Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, was re-elected for the second time.

Raids against gay clubs were defended by Minister Khalid Samad who said on Twitter: “The government is very serious about dealing with this radical belief. Hopefully, this initiative can mitigate the LGBT culture from spreading into our society.”

8. Sexual Abuse Explodes in India:

People shout slogans during a protest against the alleged rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman, in Chandigarh, India, December 2, 2019/Reuters

While it is clear that it is not an India only problem, headlines around the world exploded with news of violent gang rapes in the country during the last decade. The outrage by society and from victims led to an analysis of the actual situation: Only about a third of rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction.

At the end of 2017, Indian courts had a backlog of more than 100,000 rape cases. Currently, civil society, progressive and feminist groups are pushing for real changes in the criminal code to begin to address this problem. 

9. Christchurch Shooting:

All hell broke out in the middle of prayer in two mosques in the town of Christchurch in New Zealand, on March 15, 2019, becoming the worst mass shooting in the country's history. The balance: 49 dead, 48 wounded. The crime was committed by a white supremacist, who spoused unsurprising anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiments.

It ultimately did backfire on white supremacists thanks to a swift reaction by authorities which led to a quick ban on semi-automatic weapons and general repudiation of the criminal’s actions.

10. Modi, Ultranationalism, Kashmir and Citizenship Law:

Narendra Damodardas Modi the current Prime Minister of India has taken India on a sharp right turn and created a host of problems for minorities, the poor in India and leftist forces by advocating a hard Hindu nationalist perspective, which has seen violent examples in widespread violations of human rights in Kashmir, violent intimidation of secular Hindus and left-wing political opponents.

The latest in an endless stream of authoritarian measure is the so-called “Citizenship Law,” with a clear anti-Muslim bias is being fought against by millions of citizens at the time of this article.


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