Welcome back, Digital Travellers!
Updates and Changes
So, as we said in yesterday’s Merry Update, we’ve rebranded and re-conceptualised our weekly Staying Safe (in Asia) blog hereby transforming it into Having Fun and Staying Safe (in Asia). This, we feel, better represents our duel emphasis both on security abroad as well as finding new places, and indeed, the best places to explore and experience in those foreign lands. Our intention with our original Staying Safe iteration, after all, was never to make readers fearful of a particular place, but rather to feel informed about the contemporary risks of destination X; risks often missed or omitted by many travel-centric sites, books, and articles.
Since our launch back in March 2018, we always intended on publishing a companion blog that promotes the best—and newest—of Asia but couldn’t quite do it with a small team. This fusion blog therefore works much better on a variety of levels. Our new look Friday offering further allows us to broaden our horizon to include ethical discussions and present debates about places that may inspire greater desire on the one hand or a reconsideration on the other based on your personal views.
Secondly, we’ve also rejigged the layout. Gone is the list of the entire continent’s nations arranged alphabetically, rather they’ve been subdivided by region and then arranged as before. This, we hope, will help to better navigate of the weekly update in a speedier fashion. The other bonus should be apparent for those Digital Travellers aspiring or preparing for multi-country trips, particularly in regions that suffer from bouts of insecurity.
Elsewhere, the hyperlinks remain in place and will continue to deliver readers to Wikipedia for very quick information about those countries until such time as we have fully developed our own summary of each country. The hyperlinks have also been retained in text that, when pressed, takes you to the source of the information be it news on politics and security or the hippest new restaurant in town or latest attraction that is months from appearing in the next guidebook.
We hope our changes improve your user experience.
Disclaimer: The Digital Traveller Team endeavours to not proffer or impose our personal opinions on politically sensitive topics. If, however, you feel that we have gone beyond our usual mandate to highlight political and security developments in Asia, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can correct it. Thank you.
Russia and Central Asia
Russia: On the extreme flanks of Putin’s new Russian empire, the state has been militarily busy in projecting its power. In the Crimea, the Russians detained three Ukrainian naval vessels that served to stir further tensions whilst also incurring the ire of the West. Things have become even more complicated with the suggestion that Russia may now have nuclear arms in Crimea, according to hacked EU cables. In the East, Russia has built new barracks on disputed islands near Japan, leading Tokyo to protest. Russia intends to built further facilities on the islands which now hosts some 3,500 troops on the two larger islands.
Georgia: In Georgia, suggestions of illegality concerning a recent election has left many reeling; some demanding new polls. Anger has spilled onto the streets as 25,000 staged a mass protest in the capital, Tbilisi. Watch this space for further developments.
The Middle East
Iran: In Iran, there was concern by several international actors including the US, UK, and France, that the Islamic Republic’s recent missile tests were in breach of the UN’s resolution, further raising tensions in the region. Not long after the missile test denunciations, a suicide attack on the 7th wounded some 40 people at a police post in Chabahar, and a day after, President Rouhani declared the US sanctions were, in effect, ‘economic terrorism.’ Little progress was made on de-escalating regional tensions.
Israel/Palestinian Territories: The last three weeks have been fairly busy, and deadly. On December 3rd, the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem was released to house arrest; a day later, the Israeli army launched operations to destroy tunnels to Lebanon (tunnels that were later confirmed by the UN) On the same day, Hamas sentenced six Palestinian spies to death who were supposedly undercover Israelis. This spate of news culminated in the deadly shooting of Israeli settlers from a Palestinian vehicle in the West Bank.
Qatar: In a surprise move, Qatar 'quit' OPEC, ostensibly to concentrate on its Liquified Natural Gas market (its primary business), but most regional analysts have interpreted this as a snub by Qatar who have been under an extensive blockade by a Saudi-led group (Saudi is the main player in OPEC).
Saudi Arabia: The Khashoggi fallout continues, as does the ongoing critique of MbS’s war in Yemen. Little has changed seen our last update despite a steady flow of international articles and opinion pieces.
Syria: In a surprise move—and one of the biggest stories of December—US President Donald Trump announced that US troops—over 2,000—would pull out of the country, declaring that the war against ISIS was won after ISIS withdrew from its last stronghold. Commentators have been surprised by the apparent suddenness of the move (which Trump refutes by saying that he has been vocal about his desire to pull them out for sometime), whilst security analysts are concerned that pulling out the troops out now could have serious implications for the security of region.
Yemen: After years of conflict and failed talks of compromise amid a backdrop of a very potential famine, concerned parties have come to the table and agreed a ceasefire in Hodeidah. Evidently, there is a long way to go, but this is a good, solid start towards peace.
For all the negative press the region gets, it’s easy to forget the Middle East has many beautiful places with some fine cuisine and friendly locals. Check out this piece for some great reasons to visit this marvellous part of the world.
China and East Asia
China: The power of a strong China is becoming ever clearer with few states seemingly willing to challenge such a giant. The Uyghurs are still in re-eduation camps, but that’s not even the biggest worry for the last few weeks. Beijing has threatened to retake Taiwan by force and incarcerated hundreds of Canadian citizens in a tit-or-tat move over Canada’s detention of Huawei’s CFO.
North Korea: Despite the triumph of the big Singapore meeting in the summer, a return to a state of stasis has materialised: North Korea are intent that they wont denuclearise until the US removes their threats to the DPRK regime, too.
Indonesia: In troubled Papua New Guinea, of late blighted by TB outbreaks, an Indonesian soldier was killed in a separatist attack at the beginning of December. Security forces had been hunting for the separatist group after nearly 20 workers were killed.
Japan: With South Korea apparently locking on to a Japanese aircraft, and the Russians garrisoning disrupted islands, it’s hardly surprising Japan feels a little concerned. On December 11th, Reuters ran an article that reported Tokyo’s plans to increase defence spending to pay for new fighters and radar. This might just be the provocation Japan’s Prime Minister needs to change the constitution…
Myanmar/Burma: One of the biggest stories in the last few weeks in Myanmar has been Jack Dorsey’s tweets. Dorsey is the CEO of Twitter, and recently wrote about his vacation to Northern Myanmar on his social media platform. Those tweets which raved about the beauty of Myanmar and hospitality of the locals (which was fair game), but his lack of acknowledgement or understanding of the brutal army’s oppression of many of Myanmar’s ethnic peoples caused moral outrage on Twitter and beyond has there was not a word for the many peoples affected on his long thread. Dorsey further encouraged others to visit the country despite those various conflicts. This latest social media faux pas has lead to some commentators further insisting on a tourist boycott of the country until its human rights record drastically improves. The Asia Times also has a piece worth reading for those interested, while the South China Morning Post raises some pertinent ethical questions about travelling to countries like Myanmar.
In the same period, ethnic violence has continued across the country in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States, but over the last few days, the Myanmar army has announced a ceasefire in the north until April 30th. This is the first time this has occurred in decades of civil war, so hope is in the air. In other good news, plans are afoot to deal with Yangon’s rat problem—which has long been an issue for the city—by increasing its ‘rat hunters.’
For those still intent on visiting and wishing to get a local’s perspective to the country (rather than entirely relying on guidebooks), Digital Travellers may wish to have a read of this piece in the Myanmar Times or the editor of The Irrawaddy’s opinion about royal Mandalay. Perhaps following in the footsteps of Kipling and Orwell might lead you to this article on Mawlamyine. If you’re looking for the next big thing in Myanmar, it may well be Chin state; rough, rugged, and beautiful: follow this link here. If one wishes to take Dorsey’s advise regarding Pyin Oo Lwin, then you may find this story useful. For those with more time and a sense of old-school adventure, check out Oliver Slow’s article for Frontier Myanmar that revisits the Myanmar-leg of Paul Theroux’s great train journey around Asia. And speaking of trains, Yangon’s charmingly slow commuter rail network is being updated; 2020 is scheduled as the year for completion.
Thailand: When we think of Thailand those amazing beaches, that delicious food, swarms of smiling locals, and an inexpensive economy usually come to mind. Most of these impressions remain true. Yet, over the month, a series of articles might make us at least stop and think about our impact when we head to countries like Thailand in the future.
The Bangkok Post, for example, reports that Thailand is the most unequal country in the world for 2018. At the same time, Bangkok is no longer the cheap place it once was: the Thai capital is now amongst the 100 most expensive cities on the planet. At the other end of the scale, tourism is putting local communities under threat, as this article in The Irrawaddy demonstrates. This is an important piece of reading if ethical travel is something you consider when travelling abroad.
India and the Sub-continent
Maldives: Good news for Brits heading to the Maldives: there’ll soon be a new UK embassy built on the islands-nation. This should make things a little easier if there are any unfortunate issues while on vacation.
Sri Lanka: For nearly two months, the country has been beset by political turmoil. At last, this period seems to be drawing to an end: the Supreme court overturned the sacking of Parliament, ruled to be unconstitutional. Also, in the same crisis, former President Rajapaksa has been barred from acting as prime minister, a move that helped inspire the recent spate of impasse after the elected PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was replaced by Rajapaksa back in October. Fingers crossed things calm down.
Asia, in General
If holy sites are you thing, you may wish to have a browse of this article, ‘38 Beautiful Holy Sites Around the World,’ many of which are in Asia and offer some sublime ideas for excursions. Also, as mentioned above in our Thailand section, Bangkok is now one of the most expensive cities in the world. To see how that compares against others, check out this link here.
That’s all from us this time. As always, if you hear of anything we’ve missed, or have a juicy tip, let us know by emailing the team at email@example.com, or through our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thedigitaltravellerteam/?ref=bookmarks.
*This update was compiled by Thomas David Dowling
Have fun and stay safe
The Digital Traveller Team