Asia – continent of contrasts

When it comes to Asia, superlatives are unavoidable: the largest continent on earth is also the most populous with more than four billion inhabitants according to Countryaah. The highest mountains, the deepest lake and the largest forest area in the world are also in Asia. Here there is the highest proportion of raw materials worldwide.

The huge continent is difficult to describe in a few sentences. The landscape, cultural and economic differences between the individual countries are too great.

There are generally six Asian subregions. The Asian part of Russia is located in North Asia, often referred to as Siberia. With 13 million square kilometers of land, it covers three quarters of the Russian territory.

The landscape in the sparsely populated area is characterized by huge coniferous forests and endless steppes. The states of Central and Western Asia, located southwest of Siberia, are often referred to as the Near and Middle East. This region is full of contrasts. Countries such as Afghanistan and Iran have made headlines in recent years, especially as the scene of political and religious conflicts. The Asian part of Turkey and the extremely wealthy United Arab Emirates, however, prefer to every year millions of tourists. Here, sun-drenched beaches and cultural sights attract.

South Asia joins east of this region. The largest country in this region is India, which with 1.2 billion inhabitants is the most populous country in the world after China. In the northeast, the Himalayan Mountains form the geographical border with China. The vast country can look back on thousands of years of cultural history, the stone evidence of which is the Great Wall of China or the terracotta army of Xi’an.

At the same time, the country has become one of the most important economic nations in the world in recent decades. This is particularly noticeable in the mega cities like Beijing or Shanghai. The countries of Japan and South Korea, which also belong to East Asia, are also characterized by a flourishing economy and ultra-modern cities such as Tokyo and Seoul.

The Southeast Asia region and south of China is also popular with tourists. Countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam have a tropical climate according to Abbreviationfinder. Dense rainforests, fantastic beaches and colorful underwater worlds make the region attractive. Singapore has a special position. At just 716 square kilometers, it is the smallest country in Asia. Due to its long colonial history, its prosperity and the multicultural population, the city-state is a good “entry” into the world of Southeast Asia.

Country Public expenditure on education as a share of GDP (per cent) Public expenditure on education as a share of the state budget (percent)
Afghanistan 4.1 (2017)
Bahrain 2.3 (2017) 15.7 (2017)
Bangladesh 2.0 (2018) 7.5 (2016)
Bhutan 6.6 (2018) 11.4 (2016)
Brunei 4.4 (2016) 24.0 (2017)
Burma 2.0 (2018) 11.4 (2016)
Philippines 2.7 (2009) 10.2 (2017)
United Arab Emirates 13.2 (2009)
India 3.8 (2013) 5.0 (1997)
Indonesia 3.6 (2015) 14.1 (2013)
Iraq 3.6 (1989) 20.5 (2015)
Iran 4.0 (2018)
Israel 5.8 (2016) 20.0 (2017)
Japan 3.2 (2016) 15.0 (2015)
Yemen 5.2 (2008) 9.1 (2016)
Jordan 3.6 (2018) 12.5 (2008)
Cambodia 2.2 (2018) 11.7 (2017)
Kazakhstan 2.8 (2018) 9.1 (2014)
China 1.9 (1999) 13.9 (2016)
Kyrgyzstan 6.0 (2017) 12.6 (1999)
Kuwait 3.8 (2006) 18.5 (2017)
Laos 2.9 (2014) 13.4 (2006)
Lebanon 2.4 (2013) 12.2 (2014)
Malaysia 4.5 (2018) 8.6 (2013)
Maldives 4.1 (2016) 20.7 (2016)
Mongolia 4.1 (2017) 11.1 (2016)
Nepal 5.2 (2018) 13.5 (2017)
North Korea 15.9 (2017)
Oman 5.0 (2013)
Pakistan 2.9 (2017) 16.0 (2017)
Qatar 2.9 (2017) 13.8 (2017)
Saudi Arabia 5.1 (2008) 8.9 (2017)
Singapore 2.9 (2013) 19.3 (2008)
Sri Lanka 2.1 (2018) 20.0 (2013)
South Korea 4.6 (2016) 14.5 (2017)
Syria 5.1 (2009)
Tajikistan 5.2 (2015) 19.2 (2009)
Taiwan 16.4 (2015)
Thailand 4.1 (2013)
Turkmenistan 3.0 (2012) 19.1 (2013)
Uzbekistan 5.3 (2017) 20.8 (2012)
Vietnam 4.2 (2018) 19.2 (2017)
East Timor 4.1 (2018) 18.5 (2013)

Hong Kong


Hong Kong is the only place in China where Chinese citizens can criticize Beijing’s one-party government. Hong Kong residents have long been pushing for them to elect their head of government in direct elections and elect all members to the local parliament. Demonstrations with thousands of people have been held for many years on the streets of Hong Kong, often in connection with the anniversary of the territory being handed over to China.

In accordance with the 1984 treaty, China today handles Hong Kong’s foreign policy and defense and has the final say in all major issues. Otherwise, the region will be managed locally. The head of government, who replaced the British governor, is appointed by Beijing leaders for five years. Candidates for the post are nominated by a special election committee. The head of government is responsible for the region before China and heads the local government (Executive Council, ExCo). Parliament (Legislative Council, LegCo) has 70 members (increased by 10 members in 2012), 35 of whom are elected in direct elections. The rest are appointed by various social groups and by the business community in so-called functional constituencies, with the exception of 5 mandates where the candidates are nominated by the functional constituencies but then elected by the Hong Kong residents. According to critics, the system secures strong influence for Beijing-friendly forces because the so-called functional groups represent forces that are positive for Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong’s first elections under China’s rule in 1998, the Beijing Democratic Party (Democratic Party) became the largest party and retained that position in the elections two years later.

In 2002, Tung Chee-hwa, who had been head of government since the transition to Chinese rule, was re-elected for another five years. However, he resigned prematurely for health reasons. Many observers felt that he had, in fact, been fired by the leaders of Beijing because of Hong Kongborn’s growing dissatisfaction with him. His closest associate Donald Tsang was elected a new head of government in June 2005 and was re-elected in March 2007.

Since the election to LegCo in 2004, the Beijing-friendly parties have had a majority in the council. The Beijing-friendly party DAB (Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) was also the largest in 2008 and 2012. In the 2012 election, DAB received 13 of the 43 seats of the Beijing-friendly bloc. The Democratic Hangouts won 27 seats, with the Democratic Party and the Civil Party (Civic Party) as the largest parties with 6 seats each. Although supporters of democratization retained enough seats (27) to veto proposals from the Hong Kong government, the parties had hoped that things would be better. Voter turnout was relatively high, over 50 percent, which was largely due to the Hong Kong leadership’s attempt to introduce compulsory teaching on patriotic issues in schools. The proposal had aroused strong protests and media attention and was eventually withdrawn by the Hong Kong leadership.

In March 2012, the 1,200 members of the Election Committee appointed Leung Chun-ying a new head of government after Tsang. Leung received about two-thirds of the votes. A few days earlier, the DAB party had openly expressed its support for Leung, which was interpreted as a sign that he was the candidate Beijing wanted for the leadership post.

Chinese leaders pledged early to introduce direct, general elections to the head of government in 2017. A new movement, Occupy Central, warned in the summer of 2014 that it would occupy Hong Kong’s business district unless the electoral system were changed in a more democratic direction. That same summer, Beijing presented its plan for what a system of general, free elections would look like. Hong Kong residents would be allowed to appoint their leaders themselves, but the candidates would not be more than three, and they must first have been supported by a majority of a special nominating committee in a system that would continue to give Beijing great influence over the process. From September to October, students, along with the Occupy Central movement and democracy activists, occupied streets in central Hong Kong in protest of the plans. Police intervened on several occasions against the protesters. In mid-October, Hong Kong’s political leadership and student movement representatives who participated in the demonstrations met to try to find a solution to the conflict. The protests continued even in early December 2014. In connection with the police evacuating a couple of the areas occupied by protesters, crowds erupted. Shortly thereafter, the leaders of the Occupy Central movement called on their supporters and student activists who were still demonstrating to cancel the protests, which also happened.

In the LegCo elections in September 2016, Beijing-friendly politicians retained a majority of seats in the past, but the democracy supporters gained another three seats, giving them a total of 30 seats in the council. They were thus enough to block major changes in the Constitution. A handful of candidates in the democracy group were young activists who took part in the 2014 protests, including Nathan Law, one of the Occupy Central Movement’s student leaders and one of the founders of the new Demosisto party. Another new party that took place in LegCo was Youngspiration. In connection with the swearing-in of two new Youngspiration members in October 2016, riots arose as they refused to acknowledge Hong Kong as part of China. The activists were then stopped from taking their places in LegCo (see Calendar). There was dissatisfaction among young activists with the way democracy advocates in the Council acted. Demosisto, for example, advocates civil disobedience and believes that a referendum should be held on Hong Kong’s status when the old agreement expires.

In the March 26, 2017 election, Beijing-backed candidate Carrie Lam was named Leung Chun-ying’s successor. Leung had announced that he did not want to run for re-election. The election took place in the same way as previous elections, since the question of a change in the electoral system was put on ice after Democrat supporters in LegCo 2015 said no to the proposal that had Beijing’s support (see above). The Election Committee consisting of 1,194 members chose from three pre-elected candidates, in addition to Carrie Lam, also former Finance Minister John Tsang, who had the most popular support and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. Carrie Lam received 777 votes, John Tsang 365 and Woo Kwok-hing 21. Carrie Lam, who was deputy head of government under Leung Chun-ying, received the most votes. She thus became Hong Kong’s first female leader.

Just over two years later, in mid-2019, Hong Kong was shaken by new mass protests, which grew to become the most violent in many decades. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents objected to a bill from the Hong Kong government to allow criminals to be extradited to China. There was concern among many residents that an extradition agreement with China would give Beijing greater opportunity to access democracy activists and political opposition (see Calendar). Street protests continued despite Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam postponing the debate on the LegCo proposal indefinitely. The protesters demanded that the proposal be completely deleted and that Carrie Lam himself resign. The protests escalated in July and early August with increasingly violent clashes between protesters and police, not least because the police responded to the protesters with increasing brutality.

The unrest brought sharp warnings from Beijing. Demonstrators’ demands had now been extended to include amnesty for protesters arrested by the police, independent scrutiny of police violence and, not least, the introduction of direct general elections to the post of head of government in Hong Kong.

The protests reached their peak with the occupation of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019. A number of young activists then tried to defend the campus against the heavily armed Hong Kong police. For the first time, the clashes between police and protesters also resulted in two people losing their lives following injuries sustained during the demonstrations. There was also violence between democracy activists and government-loyal Hong Kongers. When the siege ended a few days later and the police had seized over a thousand activists, the demonstrations again became more peaceful.

In the direct elections to Hong Kong’s 18 district assemblies at the end of November the same year, many Hong Kong residents voted for pro-democracy parties. These gained an overwhelming majority of seats and took control of all the congregations except one.

New Year’s Day 2020, according to organizers, again about a million residents joined in a protest march. But in February 2020, protests began to slow down. This was not least because many Hong Kong residents avoided staying in large crowds because of concerns about being infected by the new coronavirus, which had begun to spread rapidly in China from December 2019.

Hong Kong succeeded through strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the region. Towards the end of spring, when restrictions to prevent the spread of infection gradually began to be lifted, smaller protests were again carried out in their quarters. However, the authorities announced that the ban on larger public gatherings remained, which meant that the annual demonstration in memory of the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989 could not take place. Nevertheless, democracy supporters gathered to protest Beijing’s decision at the end of May 2020 to enforce security legislation in Hong Kong.

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