Year 2019 marks the end of a decade defined by natural disasters, political upheavals and mass displacements in the Asia-Pacific region.
From the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that killed close to 16,000 people and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster, to the forced evacuation of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017, the region saw major disruptions over the last 10 years that will continue to reverberate in the coming years.
Political triumphs and transitions also dominated the headlines, including the 2014 military coup in Thailand and the 2015 historic election in Myanmar that catapulted Aung San Suu Kyi to power.
Thailand and Japan’s monarchy also changed hands with the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016 and the abdication of the throne of Japan’s Emperor Akihito earlier this year.
Here are some of the momentous events in the region in the last decade:
Thai state deploys troops as tension builds
Years of discontent between supporters of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Thailand’s ruling elites exploded onto the streets of Bangkok in the early months of 2010, as the government of then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva turned to the military to quell protests that had brought the capital to a standstill.
At least 90 people were killed and 2,000 injured in the country’s worst political violence in 20 years.
Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra won elections the following year, but as protests resumed the military again intervened. The general who led the 2014 coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, was elected to head the government in controversial elections in 2019 that critics say were designed to preserve the military’s hold on power.
Jailed writer and activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
At the ceremony in Oslo, Liu was represented by an empty chair.
China said awarding the prize to a “criminal” like Liu was a “blasphemy”. His wife, Liu Xia, was put under house arrest.
Liu, a prominent critic of the Chinese government who took part in the Tiananmen Square protests and drew up Charter 08, developed liver cancer while in jail and died in hospital, still under guard, in July 2017.
A year later, Liu Xia was finally released and allowed to leave for Germany.
At 2.46pm on March 11 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the seabed of the Pacific Ocean not far from Japan, triggering a tsunami that rose as high as 38 metres when it crashed into the northwestern coast of the main island of Honshu.
At least 16,000 people were killed as the wall of water crashed ashore, and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
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In Fukushima, the nuclear power station was inundated, overwhelming reactor cooling systems, causing multiple meltdowns and sending radiation over a large area in a disaster rivalled only by Chernobyl.
Kim Jong-il declared dead at the age of 69 after suffering a heart attack, while aboard a train during a trip out of Pyongyang.
Kim took power in 1994 upon the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, who had led North Korea since the Korean peninsula was split in half by the Korean War.
Although the two sides signed a ceasefire in 1953 they remain technically at war. The younger Kim’s death paved the way for the appointment of his Kim Jong-un, who later carried out a deadly purge of the North’s leadership.
Xi Jinping announced as the next leader of China’s all-powerful Communist Party. He was formally installed as leader in March 2013.
With the announcement, Xi also became head of China’s military – a marked a break from the tradition of retiring leaders holding onto the post for a transitional period to extend their influence.
The run-up to Xi’s ascent to power was unsettled by events surrounding Bo Xilai, a political star seen as a candidate for a top post until a scandal in which his wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman. The sensational affair torpedoed Bo’s political career.
North Korea announced it will restart all nuclear facilities at is main Yongbyon complex, sparking new fears of conflict in the region.
Following the move, the US stationed a warship off the Korean peninsula.
Typhoon tears into disaster-weary Philippines
At least 6,000 people were reported killed when one of the strongest storms on record slammed in central Philippines. Hundreds of thousands of people were also displaced from their homes.
Thailand’s army chief announces that a military commission that imposed martial law is taking control of the country’s government.
General Prayut Chan-Ocha, who headed the commission, said that the military takeover was necessary to maintain order in the country during a political unrest. Prayut would later become the country’s prime minister.
Thailand has experienced 12 coups – including the May 2014 coup – since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board. The disaster came just four months after another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, MH370, disappeared on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Russia and its separatists in Ukraine were blamed for bringing down the plane using a BUK missile launcher.
The Netherlands, which is leading the investigation into what happened, will begin a trial of four key suspects in March 2020.
Jakarta Governor Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo was elected as president of Indonesia. He won over his opponent, former Gen Prabowo Subianto, who would later challenge him again in the 2019 presidential elections.
Widodo, a former furniture maker known widely as “Jokowi,” campaigned as a fresh face and outsider. He also promised to reform the country’s economy and political system.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, died at the age of 91.
Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91
Lee was widely considered to be single-handedly responsible for Singapore’s unique success story, the architect behind its fantastic transformation from glorified fishing village into one of the world’s economic powerhouses.
Thousands queued to sign the books of condolence, lining the streets despite the rain, for his funeral.
After nearly four decades of brutal military rule, Myanmar held elections. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, won in a landslide but Suu Kyi was barred from the presidency by the constitution.
Myanmar will go to the polls again in 2020.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected as president of the Philippines for a six-year term in office.
Nicknamed “The Punisher”, then 71-year-old Duterte promised a relentless crackdown on drugs and crime, and an overhaul of the country’s constitution.
The mayor’s single-issue campaign focusing on law and order chimed with popular anxiety about corruption, crime and drug abuse, but for many his incendiary rhetoric and talk of extrajudicial killings echo the country’s authoritarian past.
Since his victory, Duterte has carried out a deadly war on drugs. Earlier this month, police said at least 5,552 people were killed between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2019. Human rights advocates, however, placed the death toll to at least 27,000.
Thailand’s King Bhumibol dies at the age of 88. The revered monarch ruled the country for 70 years, and had earned the deepest respect from the vast majority of Thais.
Crown prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Thailand’s new king
Bhumibol was the revered “father of the nation”. He came to the throne at the age of 18 in 1946 when his brother was shot dead in mysterious circumstances at the Royal Palace in Bangkok.
Following his death, his son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded him. King Maha was formally crowned as Thailand’s new monarch earlier this year.
The plight of the Uighurs
Chinese government carries out a crackdown against Muslim minority Uighurs in its westernmost province of Xinjiang.
Conservative estimates put the number of ethnic Uighurs – and other Muslim minorities held under some form of detention since 2017 – between one and 1.5 million.
However, Randall Schriver, the top US defence official in charge of Asia, said in May that the figure was “likely closer to three million citizens” – representing almost a third of the total 10 million Uighur population.
China has denied that Uighurs are being held against their will. Beijing has described the facilities as “training centres” or “re-education” camps aimed at countering the “terrorist threat” and “extremism” in Xinjiang. Beijing also denies any mistreatment of Uighurs.
Myanmar’s military began a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya in western Rakhine. Stripped of their rights, the Rohingya had already endured years of suffering. Many were confined to camps after violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012, while others sought the help of people smugglers to escape to Southeast Asia.
At least 740,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh and remain in refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.
In 2018, UN investigators concluded that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent”. It called for the prosecution of the commander-in-chief and five generals.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu-kyi has defended the military action in Rakhine state during her appearance at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in December 2019, while denying the “genocidal intent” of the state.
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An opposition alliance led by Malaysia’s former ruler Mahathir Mohamad won a majority in parliament – a shock victory that ends the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition’s 60-year grip on power.
The opposition won 113 seats – one more than required for simple majority – leading to the ouster of Najib Razak as prime minister.
The Pakatan Harapan’s win was a stunning triumph that almost no one had predicted. It also paved the way for the prosecution of Najib in the 1MDB case.
Najib, 66, now faces dozens of criminal charges over accusations that $4.5bn was stolen from 1MDB.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sign an agreement pledging to support a peaceful resolution to seven decades of hostilities between the two countries and a de-escalation of nuclear tensions, during a historic meeting in Singapore.
Since the June 12, 2018 meeting, the two leaders have met twice in Vietnam and in the border between South and North Korea.
However, negotiations on Pyongyang’s denuclearisation and the lifting of US sanctions have stalled leading to the return of heated rhetoric between the two nations.
Close to 2,000 people were killed when an earthquake hit the Indonesian city of Palu in central Sulawesi island. The magnitude 7.5 quake rocked the city of 350,000, triggering a tsunami that swept people to sea, as well as soil liquefaction, that buried many people and homes.
At least 51 people were killed and dozens of others wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a gunman opened indiscriminate fire at Muslim worshippers.
A 28-year-old Australian man, Brenton Tarrant, was charged with multiple counts of murder. His trial begins on June 2, 2020.
The attack led to an overhaul of New Zealand’s gun laws, with the government banning military-style semi-automatic weapons.
Japan’s 85-year-old Emperor Akihito marks an end to his three-decade reign. He is the first monarch to abdicate his throne in 200 years.
Prince Naruhito, the emperor’s first-born son, succeeded Akihito. Naruhito’s formal enthronement was held in an elaborate ceremony last October.
Mass protests erupted in Hong Kong following the decision of Chief Executive Carrie Lam to schedule a bill allowing extradition of suspects living in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets during several demonstrations, some of which have turned violent.
So far, more than 6,000 people have been arrested, with nearly 3,000 people injured.
Hong Kongers have accused authorities of using excessive force against protesters.
Amid resistance from Beijing and the Hong Kong government, there are no signs that the six-month old protest movement is ending.