The Best of InAsia 2018

In Asia, December 19, 2018

Season’s Greetings. 2018 has been an eventful year, in Asia and in the stories shared here in the InAsia blog, where I had the pleasure in May to take over the reins from longtime editor Alma Freeman. We’re all grateful, at year’s end, for the continued engagement of our readers, and for the thoughtful contributions of our bloggers, who brought us their unique perspectives and insights on developments in Asia. Here are a few of the year’s most fascinating essays, some of them favorites of our readers and some favorites of yours truly. Enjoy! And be sure to join us in 2019, when our January 2 edition will feature predictions for the year ahead from our country representatives across Asia.

John Rieger
Editor, InAsia

  • From Myanmar, Kim Ninh looked back on an astonishing time in a country suddenly emerging from decades of dictatorship and isolation, and reflected on that country’s remarkable transformation. Matthew Arnold drew on the Foundation’s Myanmar Strategic Support Program for an analysis of the surprising institutional costs of dictatorship—in this case, a lack of institutions or experience to conduct effective policymaking. And economist James Owen took a look at municipalities snapping up the latest technologies to leapfrog traditional developmental hurdles.
  • The summer was punctuated by Pakistan’s general elections. As the polling date approached, Farid Alam considered the nation’s checkered electoral history and parsed the demographic data to ask a prescient question: will youth right the nation’s course? A week after the election, Sofia Shakil posted this tribute to the resurgent spirit she encountered on the streets and at the polls. And InAsia sat down with Avais Sherani to analyze the election results, acknowledge the power of the youth vote, and assess the remarkable victory of a new political party and a new prime minister, Imran Khan.
  •  In Afghanistan, the search for peace and stability was a common theme. Kabul policy and research analyst Moahammad Shoaib Haidary connected the dots between a new peace offer to the Taliban and the start of work on the long-delayed Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. And Haidary and Farrah Azeem Khan mined the Foundation’s Survey of the Afghan People for insights into the state of Afghan society and the country’s fragile democracy.
  • In Nepal, whose economy depends significantly on remittances from abroad, Nandita Baruah and Nischala Arjal’s coverage of the latest ILO report on labor migration was a major draw for readers. And as Nepal navigates a transition to federalism, its constitutionally mandated eight human rights agencies have lagged behind. Namit Wagley asked if there were just too many cooks, and offered some suggestions for moving forward.
    Manila traffic

    Manila, Philippines. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

  • In 2017, President Duterte of the Philippines promised a “golden age of infrastructure.” In this article, King Francis Ocampo suggested starting with “roads, roads, roads.” And while the Philippines may be the social media capital of the world, it still trails much of Asia in terms of internet speed, cost, and accessibility. Mari Chrys Pablo explored the legal and regulatory changes that could unleash the Philippine internet. Finally from the Philippines, drones, phones, and property rights: Jaime Faustino and Lesley Wynn explored using aerial drones and mobile apps to fix the nation’s dysfunctional system of land titles.
  • In May, Timor-Leste offered a thought-provoking lesson in the mechanics of democracy when, as Asia Foundation Development Fellow Carmeneza dos Santos Monteiro reported, nationally televised political debates, a first for the country, changed the tenor of parliamentary elections in Asia’s youngest nation.
  • Paula Uniake examined the effects of a searing two-year drought in Cambodia, and considered ways in which environmental stress affects men and women differently (be sure to view the maps full screen). Amarzaya Naran and Soomin Jun brought success stories from Mongolia’s first-ever Women’s Business Center and Incubator. And former Luce scholar Allison Curro went looking for stories for her children’s book, Girl Power in Myanmar. Where are all the strong women in Myanmar? They’re everywhere, she reports, and they’re stepping up in historic ways and numbers.
  • Also in Mongolia, Bayanmunkh Ariunbold chronicled emerging signs that the business community may be ready to shrug off the corrupt business practices that have taken root in that country since the advent of democracy and free markets in the early 1990s.

    India. Photo/reddees Shutterstock.com

  • In early September, the Supreme Court of India overturned the nation’s 157-year-old law criminalizing homosexuality. “India Comes Out” was the title of Diya Nag’s analysis of the benefits of embracing India’s LGBTQI community, which is roughly the size of the entire population of the Philippines. And Development Fellow Vaibhav Lodha talked with InAsiaabout “ftcash,” his mobile payment platform to help micromerchants access India’s banking and financial system. Lodha’s company and their app went on to win $250,000 in MIT’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge.
  • On the evening of September 28, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck Palu, in Sulawesi, Indonesia, followed by a tsunami. Ade Siti Barokah chronicled the inspirational responses of local civil society organizations, communities, and individuals to the twin disasters. 2018 also marked the 10th anniversary of China’s Wenchuan earthquake, which struck Sichuan Province, leaving more than 69,000 people dead and over 40 million affected. There was a silver lining, wrote Huang Zhen from our China office: China has overhauled its disaster-management system, and Chinese civil society organizations are now an integral part of disaster preparedness and response.

    Krabi, Thailand. Photo/Flickr user Alex Berger

  • The seas around Southeast Asia are a vital source of food and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, and they generate several billion dollars in GDP for the region. But overfishing and destructive fishing techniques now threaten the sustained existence of this vital ecosystem. In this report, Santi Nindang and Kim DeRidder spelled out some of the urgent steps that are needed to head off this looming disaster. John Brandon reported from the 32nd annual ASEAN Summit on the pressing need for regional collaboration on cybersecurity in the world’s fastest-growing internet region. And in a pair of essays, Thomas Parks assessed the prospects for renewing weakening ties with America’s oldest ally, Thailand, and argued for an ASEAN that takes a stronger role in coordinating regional development cooperation in Southeast Asia.
  • Finally, in a pair of thoughtful and surprising reports from our series Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia, Dr. C. Raja Mohan considered the implications of President Trump’s sudden departure from longstanding diplomatic precedent in South Asia, and Prof. Harry Harding explored an Asia-Pacific where opinions of the Trump administration, two years in, remain decidedly mixed.

I hope you’ll enjoy these stories from 2018 as we usher in the New Year.

John Rieger is the editor of InAsia. He can be reached at john.rieger@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

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