Happy New Year, Digital Travellers! We certainly hope that wherever you celebrated the New Year, you did so in style and with good cheer.
And now, on to the weekly update.
Oddly, Asia feels a little quiet this week. Things have happened, sure, but there just seems to be a lot less effort by states to cause trouble with each other (which is refreshing).
Among the prominent stories that have fallen far short of joyous over these past seven days was the controversial Bangladeshi election; a collapsed residential building in Russia; further confusion over the US policy in Syria; and the potentially devastating storm Pabuk set to make landfall over much of Thailand's southern coastline. Furthermore, the US State Department has urged its citizens to be cautious when travelling to China.
There has been good news though. Israel celebrates the completion of its second international airport which should be fully operation by March. This will make not only the Holy Land easier to get to, but also sites like Petra (Jordan). For coffee lovers in China, Starbucks are on the cusp of really establishing themselves in a land famous for its tea, while in Myanmar, the old walled city of Kyaing Tong is once again open for visitors.
- We re-conceptualised this blog series to be more inclusive of emerging places of interest and new things to do (see our Merry Update for more details)
- The countries’ list has been reconfigured into regions rather than just alphabetically arranged;
- The blog update is much shorter; and
- The hyperlinks for sources remain our preferred citation methodology.
Disclaimer: The Digital Traveller 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 email@example.com so that we can correct it. Thank you.
Russia and Central Asia
Russia: From what we’ve been reading this week, Russia has been fairly quiet save for a tragedy in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk. A gas explosion left a residential apartment building as rubble, leaving a shell of masonry for the neighbours. Several deaths are confirmed, with more expected and dozens of injuries. Survivors are forced to confront the harsh Russia winter without knowing where they will be.
The Middle East
Israel: There have been several news stories worth noting in Israel this past week. Among the headlines is Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who pledged to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem. Elsewhere, Israel had reasonable grounds to complain against their neighbours, Jordan for, stepping on the Israeli flag as part of the entrance to a trade complex in the Jordanian capital Amman. Understandably, this has caused a friction. Amongst all of this, a new political party in Israel has emerged: the New Right. One good, useful piece of news for Digital Travellers intending to visit the region is the soon-to-be opened Ramon Airport, located near Eilat. Isreal’s second international airport is expected to start interstate flights in March. This is great news for not only visitors to Israel and the Red Sea, but also for those wishing to see Petra.
Syria: The big news from Syria remains President Trump's decision to withdraw. However, the President has offered no timetable for when this is meant to happen (though he did note his desire to protect Kurdish fighters who are US allies). At the same time, the US has been busy intensifying its aerial campaign against those few remaining ISIS pockets.
China and East Asia
China: While China has been quieter than usual (though you may disagree with this statement if you are Taiwanese), the US State Department urged its citizens this week to be cautious when travelling to and around China. Elsewhere there’s good news for coffee lovers: Starbucks is poised to break-in to the Chinese market. It has been tough for US companies like Starbucks to establish themselves, but the Seattle-based firm has plans to open 6,000 stores by 2022. Some observers, however, are sceptical about this ambitious plan with both the US-China trade war in the background and the increasingly growing local competition in the foreground.
Japan: For most, the New Year is about celebration and ushering-in the next twelve months. For a small minority, however, it’s about terror and violence. Tokyo, like London, was struck by an attack. In the Japanese capital, a minivan hit pedestrians who had assembled in downtown Tokyo for the festivities.
North/South Korea: It’s seldom easy to predict the North’s intentions at any given time, but Kim Jong-un has certainly said he wishes to meet his opposite number in the South ‘frequently’ this year. With so much to discuss, this might help bring greater integration and stability to the region.
Taiwan: Again, Taiwanese-Chinese rhetoric made the papers. Taiwan yet again asserted its independence while Beijing ‘reminded’ Taipei that the island belongs of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed reunification by force if peaceful negotiations fail. For those wishing to read a quick overview of historical relations between the two, check out al Jazeera’s article here. The last 6 months or so certainly have heated up; let's hope 2019 brings the temperature down again.
Myanmar/Burma: Conflict continues in Rakhine State as the Arakan Army does battle with government troops. Despite this, there is some good news for a change. There have been fewer deaths reported along the main Yangon-Mandalay expressway, and the ‘lost’ walled city of Kyaing Tong, in Shan State, is once again possible to visit - unleash your inner Indiana Jones! Further to the south, a growing tourist industry is having a positive affect upon local businesses. This certainly provides one argument in favour of visiting Myanmar even though the government and army are international condemned for its terrible human rights record.
Thailand: Over the last few days, worrying reports about the impeding landfall of storm Pabuk have been prominent—Thailand’s first major storm outside the monsoon season for 30 years. Concerns are growing over not just the strength of Pabuk but also the scope of the area for landfall: much of the south, both west and east coasts (inclusive of the major tourist resorts at Phuket and Krabi), are at risk from heavy rain and high seas. One expert, Seree Supratid, said that the storm ‘“will sweep up the whole south beginning from Narathiwat and Pattani. On Friday it will move up to Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Surat Thani. Then on Saturday, it will go to Chumphon.”' There has been no general evacuation order, but thousands of tourists have left many of the popular islands for the mainland; boat companies have suspended services. As if this wasn’t bad enough, a recent resurgence of measles in the south of the country has affected thousands and killed at least 22 children.
India and the Sub-continent Area
Bangladesh: Bangladesh’s incumbent leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and her party, the Awami League, won big in the country’s highly controversial elections. This will be Hasina’s fourth term. The opposition called the vote farcical and are demanding a new vote. The election period also witnessed 17 deaths and several opposition candidates either forced to pull out on polling day or imprisoned prior to ballot casting. Others cite election day irregularities. There is also concern that Hasina’s crushing victory could turn Bangladesh into a ‘one-party state.’ Things could get a little hairy in the country over the next few weeks, Digital Travellers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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