Asian Insider: Discover Invisible Asia | How to vaccinate billions?

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents and commentators.

Dear ST reader,

Welcome to The Straits Times’ new iteration of our Asian Insider newsletter. From today, the bulletin will be delivered to your inbox once a week. In it, we cover the biggest news developments, features, analyses and commentaries that keep you ahead of critical issues around the region. 

This week, we look at how the vaccination campaigns are progressing in Asia, the looming civil war in Myanmar, and Beijing’s hard message on Xinjiang cotton.

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Invisible Asia

Have you been following our ongoing Invisible Asia series of feature stories, videos and podcasts, shining the spotlight on people living in the shadows of their societies, largely unseen, unheard and little talked about? The latest instalment by India correspondent Rohini Mohan explores the lives of the country’s infamous Dalit sewer cleaners, trapped in a caste-ridden occupation, outlawed for decades yet far from expunged. 

Whatever your preferred medium, this series has something for you; each format scripted individually, telling the same story through a different narrative. Listen to the specially crafted audio stories here, or follow the video playlist on our YouTube channel. 

More from this series: 

China’s short-term labourers 

Indonesia’s ‘ISIS family’ 

Thailand’s sea gypsies 

Vaccinating billions

As Asia gears up for the task of immunising billions of people against the deadly coronavirus in the shortest time possible, some unanticipated problems and unorthodox solutions are the order of the day. 

Indonesia is training soldiers to wield the syringe; Indonesia bureau chief Arlina Arshad explains why. Malaysia correspondent Ram Anand reports on how the government is encouraging millions of illegal workers to get the jab without fearing deportation. And civil servants in Singapore have resorted to making catchy clips on TikTok to debunk fake news on the immunisations. 

In South Korea, people are demanding their “vaccine holiday” for getting inoculated, South Korea correspondent Chang May Choon writes. China correspondent Elizabeth Law expounds on how the quality and quantity of the country’s vaccines are hampering its plan to inoculate 580 million people by the end of June. 

Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard. Across the world, about 700 million doses of Covid-19 shots have so far been administered. Track the global vaccination race in our interactive special here

Back to school

Philippines correspondent Raul Dancel is among the many parents anxiously awaiting the return to pre-Covid times. He recounts his journey back to “school”, multiplying and dividing fractions as he helps his son navigate online learning in his final year of primary education amid the pandemic. "Sometimes we just want to cry because we worry that our students will fail, that we are not doing enough," he quotes his son’s teacher as saying in a heartbreaking Facebook post. 

Catch more slices of life from around Asia from The Straits Times’ network of correspondents in our Letter from the Bureau series:

China goes hard on ‘soft boys’ 

WFV - work from village, India style 

Saving Bandung’s zoo from a grim fate

The Myanmar crisis

Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups are weighing the costs as civil war looms, Indochina bureau chief Tan Hui Yee writes. Anger over the military regime's brutality has united the country’s Bamar majority with ethnic minorities long familiar with the junta’s atrocities. But they will have to overcome decades of rivalry to form a coalition big enough to challenge the junta. 

With hordes of Myanmar people fleeing across the borders, neighbouring countries Thailand, India and China will have to deal with a massive refugee crisis amid the pandemic

Thailand’s former foreign minister warns that it will be all downhill for Asean if it cannot muster the courage to convince Myanmar’s generals to change their course, US bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh reports. "Ten years ago we were midwives to democracy (in Myanmar) and now it has been snatched away,” Mr Kasit Piromya said. Watch the Asian Insider episode on Asean’s Myanmar dilemma

Delve deeper: 

Myanmar's misery has energised a new generation in the diaspora 

On the run and in the shadows, Myanmar's NGOs face uncertain future 

The Xinjiang saga

Our weekly Power Play column that examines facets of the intense US-China rivalry, has China correspondent Danson Cheong interpreting Beijing's hard message for the world through its counter sanctions and consumer boycotts over the Xinjiang cotton saga. China has thrown off the shackles from its “century of humiliation” to embrace a new, more confrontational attitude as its hopes for a reset in ties with the United States dissipate.

Arctic route in the limelight

The Suez Canal jam may be over now, but the incident caused by the Ever Given’s misadventure has highlighted the attractiveness of some alternative maritime trade routes. Associate editor Ravi Velloor says this shift carries important strategic and commercial implications for South-east Asia.

The Biden boom - plus and minuses

Another global development sending ripples in Asia, is the coming “Biden boom”, as Associate editor Vikram Khanna calls it. The massive stimulus package being progressively announced by Mr Biden will likely be the biggest spending spree of our generation. And it will bring some welcome benefits for Asia, but also painful downsides. 

As Mr Biden seeks to roll out his ambitious stimulus plan, The Straits Times bureaus take stock of the “infrastructure wars” on the horizon and their end goals. Watch out for this on Saturday in our ST Asian Insider Special

See you next Thursday. In the meantime, keep safe and keep reading.

Magdalene Fung 

Assistant Foreign Editor