News Timeline: East Asia 2021

January 6 – Australia

Global Health: Coronavirus, or Covid-19

With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has accounted for 22 percent of coronavirus deaths. In the meantime fewer than 300 Australians have died of complications from Covid-19. That’s 50 times lower per capita deaths than in the United States. Australia unlike the United States, put travel restrictions at the center of its virus response. In March, the country mandated that everyone arriving from overseas, including Australian citizens, spend two weeks quarantined in a hotel, which was strictly enforced. Their cases went significantly down by spring. Other countries, such as China, some other Asian countries, and eastern Canada, successfully followed Australia’s lead.[1]  

More on the different approaches to the coronavirus and their results

February 1 – Myanmar

Military coup d’état

Myanmar’s military launches a coup d’état detaining State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (equivalent of Prime Minister) and other democratically elected leaders from the National League for Democracy (NLD). They introduce a daily curfew and a one-year-long state of emergency.  Power is handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing who has begun replacing the government ministers. The military takeover follows weeks of insisting that the November general election that saw an overwhelming support for the NLD was fraudulent.[2]

Background: Myanmar was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a civilian government was formed. Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010.

More on the military coup in Myanmar

Who is General Min Aung Hlaing

More about Aung San Suu Kyi

March 22 – China

The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada impose sanctions on China in response to its human rights abuses against its Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang province.  Chinese authorities have detained so far more than a million Uighurs in “re-education” camps where they are subjected to systematic torture, sexual abuse, and rape.  The U.S. labels these abuses genocide and crimes against humanity.  The sanctions include travel bans and frozen assets; they also target senior officials who have been accused of serious human rights violations against the Uighurs.  Australia and New Zealand who depend on trade with China issue a joint statement endorsing the sanctions, but do not impose their own.[3]  China condemns the sanctions and vows to impose its own sanctions against these countries.[4]

Who are the Uighurs and why is China being accused of genocide?

March 25 – North Korea

North Korea launches two ballistic missiles, days after firing two non-ballistic missiles into the Yellow Sea.  This test is a violation of United Nations Security sanctions, as North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.  North Korea’s neighbors, Japan and South Korea, condemn the test.  North Korea last fired ballistic missiles a year ago amid stalled relations with former President Donald Trump’s Administration.[5]

Profile of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un

April 1 – Hong Kong

Pro-democracy opposition

A court in Hong Kong finds several prominent pro-democracy activists guilty of unauthorized assembly.  They face up to five years in prison.  The verdict is part of a China-led campaign to suppress opposition in the Hong Kong territory.  So far more than 2,400 people have been charged since massive antigovernment demonstrations started in 2019 as the authorities are trying to crush the movement.[6]

April 30 – Kyrgyzstan / Tajikistan

Clashes over water dispute

At least 31 people are killed and more than 10,000 are evacuated after a dispute between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over water facilities led to major clashes.  When people on both sides started throwing stone at each other, border guards and then military units stepped in.   A ceasefire is agreed between the two countries.

Background:  The collapse of the Soviet Union turned Soviet republics into independent countries with hard borders, which created border claims and disputes.  Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan dispute a third of its 600-mile border. Restrictions on access to land and water that communities regard as theirs have often led to deadly clashes in the past.[7]

Map of Tajik-Kyrgyz border clashes

Kyrgyzstan profile

Tajikistan profile

May 7 – China

Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19

The World Health Organization (WHO) gives emergency authorization for China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 Vaccine, which will give access to coronavirus vaccinations in low- and middle-income countries.  The approval allows the Sinopharm vaccine to be included in WHO’s global initiative, Covax, that promotes equitable vaccine distribution around the world.  But so far China itself is facing a vaccine shortage like India, a major vaccine maker, that has stopped vaccine exports due to its worsening coronavirus crisis.[8]

May 31 – China

Changes to one-child policy

After changing its one-child policy in 2016 and allowing couples to have two children, once again China changes the policy this time allowing three children.  The change comes after a new census showed that the country’s population grew at its slowest pace in decades.  In 2016, 18 million babies were born but in 2020, only about 12 million, the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.  However, many young Chinese couples chose to have fewer children as part of different life choices and high costs of living.

Background: The one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to slow population growth.  Families that violated the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions.  The one-child policy led to a severe gender imbalance in the country. The traditional preference for male children led to large numbers of girls being abandoned or placed in orphanages, or to sex-selective abortions or even female infanticide.[9] 

The Chinese family in charts

June 23 – Hong Kong / China

Closure of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy paper Apple Daily

Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily is closing after the authorities raided its offices, arrested its chief editor and five other senior managers, and froze the paper’s assets.  The publication had become a leading critic of the Hong Kong leadership and Chinese Communist Party; it widely criticized the leadership of both China and Hong Kong, as well as reported extensively on the pro-democracy protests.  The closing of Apple Daily is seen as a blow to media freedom in the city.  Supporters of the paper gather outside its office and light their phone flashlights as a show of solidarity.[10]

Apple Daily’s final hour (video: 4 min)

June 28 – Australia

Global Health: coronavirus, or COVID-19

The government in Australia imposes a two-week lockdown in Sydney and a few other cities in an effort to control the outbreak of COVID-19’s highly infectious Delta variant, the worst outbreak since last year.  The Covid outbreak in Australia is still very mild by global standards with no deaths from it since last year.[11] Overall, Australia has had 35,688 Covid-19 cases with 932 deaths.[12]

July 19 – Peru

Politics: Elections

A month after Peru’s general election, the country confirms a presidential victory of former schoolteacher and union leader Pedro Castillo.  He wins by a margin of only 44,000 votes beating right-wing Keiko Fujimori who now claims electoral fraud, however, with no evidence.  Election observers have found no irregularities.  This is Fujimori’s third run for the presidency.  She is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is in jail serving a 25-year sentence for crimes including corruption and human rights abuses.  Keiko Fujimori herself is being investigated for alleged corruption and money laundering.  During the campaign, Castillo pledged to nationalize Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon sectors and to create a million new jobs in his first year in office.[13]

Who is Pedro Castillo

July 21 – Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19

Countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, which so far were successful in containing the coronavirus, but have low vaccination rates, are now the new epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.  They are dealing with their largest outbreaks yet, running out of hospital beds and oxygen, imposing new lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.   Indonesia has now the world’s highest count of new infections, surpassing India and Brazil.  The country reports 57,000 new cases in one day and a record 1,205 deaths, bringing the country’s official toll from the pandemic to more than 71,000.  Experts note that these numbers are underreported because of limited testing in the country.  Only 6 percent of Indonesia’s 270 million people are fully vaccinated and only 15 percent had at least one shot.  The country also relies on the Chinese vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech, which has proved less effective. The United States is donating 4.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Indonesia.[14]

August 4 – East Asia

Global Health: Coronavirus, or COVID-19

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpasses 200 million worldwide due to the spread of more infectious delta variant and low vaccination rates, especially poor countries.   The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine boosters until at least 10 percent of the population in every country is vaccinated.

The United States, Brazil, Indonesia, India and Iran represent about 38 percent of all global cases each day.  The United States accounts for one in every seven infections reported worldwide.  Florida with its low vaccination rates becomes new epicenter of Covid cases.  Unvaccinated people represent nearly 97 percent of severe cases.[15]

More on Covid’s Toll Compared With Other Things That Kill Us

September 15: Australia

AUKUS: trilateral security pact

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States sign a trilateral security pact, AUKUS that includes cooperation on naval technology, closer alignment of regional policies and actions, and greater integration of the militaries and the defense industries of the three allies.  The UK and the U.S. will also help Australia build its first nuclear-powered submarine fleet.  The goal is to counter China’s expansion in the South China Sea and its aggressive stance towards Taiwan and to match technologically Australia’s navy with that of China’s, the world largest.  Nuclear power submarines can remain at sea for up to five months and operate more quietly, evading enemy detection.  Australia will be only the seventh country in the world to have submarines propelled by nuclear reactors.[16]

September 15 – North Korea / South Korea / Japan

Ballistic missiles

North Korea fires a short-range ballistic missile that lands in waters off the Korean Peninsula, just outside Japan’s territorial waters.  This is North Korea’s third such test this month.  North Korea is barred from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons under the international law and was sanctioned for previous tests by the United Nations Security Council. 

Just hours later, South Korea successfully tests its first submarine-launched ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in the waters of South Korea.[17]

More on North Korea’s missile tests and South Korea’s new submarine

September 22 – China

Global Health: Coronavirus pandemic, or Covid-19

After one Covid-19 positive case, Harbin, the city of 10 million people in China’s far north, orders a lockdown in compliance with the Chinese government’s “zero tolerance” Covid policy.   The policy seeks to extinguish even small outbreaks of infections with sweeping measures.[18]

October 31 – Japan

Parliamentary elections

Japan holds general elections choosing members to the House of Representatives, the lower and more powerful house of Japan’s two-chamber Diet.  Ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) along with coalition partner Komeito retain control of the parliament.  The LDP wins 261 seats, 293 with Komeito, which gives them an absolute majority making it easier to pass legislation.  Japan’s prime minister and LDP leader Fumio Kishida will remain in office.  Japan’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic party of Japan loses more than a dozen seats, while the rightwing populist Japan Innovation party, quadruples its presence to 41 seats becoming the third-biggest party in the chamber.

Prime Minister Kishida promises to focus his government policies on response to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as improvements of Japan’s medical infrastructure to better cope with a possible rise in Covid-19 cases and giving support for those who were hit by the pandemic.  He also pledged to double defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, citing rising tensions between China and Taiwan and North Korea’s ballistic missile tests.[19]

Japan’s military spending vs. its pacifist constitution

November 22 – South Korea

Former military dictator

South Korean former military dictator, Chun Doo-hwan dies at the age of 90.  He took power through a military coup in the aftermath of the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in December 1979 and stayed in power until 1988.[20] 

More on Korea’s former Military Dictator

December 6 – Myanmar

Jailing of Aung San Suu Kyi  

The military government that seized power in February 2021 in a coup finds ousted Aung San Suu Kyi guilty of inciting dissent and breaking Covid rules and sentences her to two years in jail.  Aung San Suu Kyi was the head of the civilian government between April 2016 and February 2021.  This verdict is the first out of 11 charges in what was described by UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet as a “sham trial.”  She has been in detention since the military takeover.[21] 

Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar democracy icon who fell from grace

How a peace icon ended up at a genocide trial (video, 4:07 min)


[1] David LeonhardtGraphics by Lauren Leatherby. “The Unique U.S. Failure to Control the Virus.” August 6, 2020. Updated August 8, 2020. Accessed February 17, 21.

[2] “Myanmar coup: Aung San Suu Kyi detained as military seizes control.” BBC News. February 1, 2021.

[3] Pranshu Verma. “U.S. Joins Allies to Punish Chinese Officials for Human Rights Abuses.” The New York Times. Published March 22, 2021. Updated March 25, 2021. Accessed May 4, 2021.

[4] “Uighurs: Western countries sanction China over rights abuses.” BBC News. March 22, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2021 and “Who are the Uighurs and why is China being accused of genocide?” BBC News. March 26, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2021.

[5] “North Korea fires two ballistic missiles into the sea.” BBC News. March 25, 2021. Accessed April 21, 21.

[6] Austin Ramzy. “Hong Kong Court Convicts Democracy Leaders Over Protest March.” The New York Times. March 31, 2021. Updated April 7, 2021. Accessed May 18, 21.

[7] “Deadly fighting on Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border kills at least 31.” BBC News. April 30, 2021. Accessed May 27, 2021.

[8] Sui-Lee Wee. “W.H.O. approves China’s Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use.” The New York Times. May 7, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.

[9] “China allows three children in major policy shift.” BBC News. May 31, 2021. Accessed June 5, 21.

[10] “Apple Daily: Hong Kong pro-democracy paper announces closure.” BBC News. June 23, 2021. Accessed July 1, 21.

[11] Damien Cave. “Sydney Outbreak Tied to Delta Variant Grows.” The New York Times. Published June 28, 2021. Updated July 21, 2021. Accessed August 1, 21.

[12] “Covid summary statistics.” Australian Government Department of Health. Coronavirus (COVID-19) case numbers and statistics. Updated August 5, 2021. Accessed August 6, 21 from

[13] “Pedro Castillo declared president-elect of Peru.” BBC News. July 20, 2021. Accessed August 24, 2021.

[14] Fira Abdurachman, Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono. “The Pandemic Has a New Epicenter: Indonesia.” The New York Times. July 17, 2021. Accessed September 8, 2021.

[16] Julian Borger and Dan Sabbagh. “US, UK and Australia forge military alliance to counter China.” The Guardian. September 15, 2021. Accessed November 5, 21.

[17] Yoonjung Seo. “North Korea tests missile hours before South Korea launches new submarine.” CNN. September 28, 2021. Accessed November 5, 21.

[18] Chris Buckley. “One Covid case prompts closures across a Chinese city of 10 million.” The New York Times. COVID Updates. September 22, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2022 from

[19] Justin McCurry. “Ruling party of Fumio Kishida wins comfortable victory in Japanese election.” The Guardian. October 31, 2021. Accessed February 4, 2022.

[20] Choe Sang-Hun. „Chun Doo-hwan, Ex-Military Dictator in South Korea, Dies at 90.“ The New York Times. November 22, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2022.

[21] “Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar court sentences ousted leader in widely criticised trial.” BBC News. December 6, 2021. Accessed March 8, 22.