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2022 Review: a region reshaped by global health and economic crises, resilient from a year of change

Fireworks burst over the Marina bay to mark the New Year's celebration in Singapore. Photo: Mohd Fyrol/AFP

The world juddered shakily into 2022, one foot over the brake as nations warily eyed the rise of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant. In Southeast Asia, governments pushed optimistically forward with plans for an endemic “new normal” status in the hopes of improving the region’s battered economy. Indonesia re-opened to international tourists on 12 January and the Philippines followed soon after, lifting travel restrictions for 150 countries on 10 February. As Lunar New Year celebrations filled Singapore and Malaysia’s streets and temples with buoyant red lanterns and curling tendril of incense, hopes for good fortune and prosperity mingled with caution.

Singapore’s central Lau Pa Sat hawker market decked with festive lanterns for Lunar New Year. Photo: Amanda Oon for Southeast Asia Globe

In Eastern Europe, political tensions rapidly escalated into violence when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. The onslaught, a bloody escalation of the 9-year-old Russian-Ukrainian War, is estimated to have killed up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers to date and sent shockwaves through the world. Globe spoke to political experts and youth leaders about Southeast Asia’s response and how digitalisation has brought immediacy to worldwide events.

The war sent already rising fuel prices spiking, and in Laos, pumps hit empty as accelerated energy costs combined with the depreciation of the national currency sent the economy spiralling. Globe was on the ground in the heat of the Laos fuel crisis to speak with citizens facing an uncertain future.

This picture from Lao National TV taken between 9 and 10 May 2022 shows motorists queueing to pump fuel into their vehicles at a petrol station in Vientiane. Photo: STR /LAO NATIONAL TV/AFP

Meanwhile, Timor-Leste and the Philippines geared up for political change as general elections approached in March and May. The inauguration of Jose Ramos-Horta as Timor-Leste’s new president on the 20 May anniversary of the country’s independence from Indonesia promised progress as the Nobel Prize Laureate pledged to break a longstanding deadlock between the two main political parties. But in the Philippines, shifting narratives and misinformation campaigns resurfaced echoes from history as Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr., stepped into power.

As the year reached its mid-point, Globe embarked on a new phase with an expanded team. Caleb Quinely, Beatrice Siviero and Nisya Kunto brought a wealth of experience and talent to the publication and have enriched our content with honest, rigorous and insightful reporting from Thailand, Laos, Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Caleb kicked off his tenure as Globe’s Lead Editor with an investigation of new allegations of abuse inside Bangkok’s immigration detention centres.

Foreign detainees stand behind bars at an immigration detention centre in Bangkok during a visit organized by authorities for journalists. Photo: Romero Gacad/AFP

Beatrice was on the ground not long after a former policeman stormed a daycare centre in Uthai Sawan in October, leaving more than 30 people dead in Thailand’s deadliest attack of its kind, and her reporting gave immediate insights into the shocked aftermath of the tragedy.

Familiar faces from our sister publication Focus, Kimlong Ro and Nasa Dip also bring additional creativity, ideas and invaluable expertise to the Globe.

Plans for a satellite city ground to a sudden halt in August, when Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen reversed orders to clear Phnom Tamao forest that had been given just days before. The announcement, issued via Facebook following a social media storm, raised questions and optimism over the “power of the people” to sway government decisions and drive environmental action. 

By the end of the first day of reforestation, reports claimed more than 7,000 saplings had been planted. Photo: Anton L. Delgado for Southeast Asia Globe

Globe’s on-the-ground reporting of the event was done by our resident environmental expert and senior reporter, Anton L. Delgado. Throughout the year, Anton has brought his narrative writing flair and stunning photography skills to capture events ranging from the tragic irony of conservation authorities embroiled in illegal macaque trade networks to new discoveries into the elusive kouprey’s existence

Uncertainty hung in the air for Malaysians in November as they prepared for their general elections. In an exclusive Globe interview with political stalwart Mahathir Mohamad, the former leader looked back on his legacy, as the country’s youth looked forward with the formation of new parties and the introduction of automatic voter registration. A month after Vietnam effected Decree 53, a law enabling increased policing of the internet, a trend of politics becoming increasingly entwined in the digital space started becoming more clear

That month, international leaders flocked to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh as the Kingdom prepared to hand over the gavel of ASEAN Chairmanship. High profile attendees included U.S. President Joe Biden and UN Secretary António Guterres, who visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum to hear testimonies from Khmer Rouge survivors produced a poignant picture of Cambodia’s dark history in a new light. But as the event brought promises that such “atrocities are never repeated,” shadows of Cambodian involvement in networks of cyber-scams and human trafficking, and the ongoing crisis in Myanmar hung over the Kingdom’s bloc leadership.

The EU (Blue with gold stars) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) flags are on display as leaders arrive for the Southeast Asia for a summit, in Brussels on December 14, 2022. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Turbulent years teach us that we are not alone.

Whether it’s the far-flung solidarity found in global lockdowns, promises of EU-ASEAN connectivity or shared stories of dictatorship between a UN leader and Khmer Rouge survivors, the events of 2022 have helped build new bonds and new networks. 2023 welcomes Indonesia as the new ASEAN Chair, while Cambodia gears up to host the 32nd Southeast Asian Games and prepares for general elections in July. Regional and wider global events will define international relationships and Southeast Asia’s role on the wider global landscape. 

Southeast Asia Globe will maintain our mission to provide our readers with the top stories, first-hand insights and in-depth features which go behind the headlines. We’ll continue to evolve, bringing new media products, new talent and new stories to inform our most important network – our readers. 

We look forward to seeing you in the new year. Best wishes for the holiday season and the end of 2022. 


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