While it’s no surprise the coronavirus pandemic dominated attention this year, readers also kept an eye on China’s geopolitical activities and how Asia-Pacific countries sought to balance their ties with Beijing. Tensions spiked in many places, with Australia-China ties at their lowest in years, Indian and Chinese troops locked in a months-long border stand-off , and Manila saying it would call Washington for help if Beijing continued pushing its claims in the South China Sea . Meanwhile, Tokyo jailed a celebrity stalker, while a stark warning made by Singapore’s late statesman Lee Kuan Yew resurfaced after four decades. Scroll on to find out readers’ favourite stories around the region in 2020. WHAT LOCKDOWNS? South Korea is currently experiencing a new wave of infections that’s deadlier than anything it’s seen all year, reinforcing the unpredictable nature of Covid-19. But back in March, Seoul earned international plaudits for the way it handled its early outbreaks, which involved aggressive testing, hi-tech contact-tracing, quick isolation of potential cases and well-coordinated government agencies. South Korea’s Covid-19 response is the opposite of China and Italy – and it’s working The coronavirus plan, which emphasised transparency and relied strongly on public cooperation, helped South Korea to largely avoid hardline measures at a time countries such as China and Italy were placing millions of their citizens under lockdown. As the year winds to a close, however, some officials say the country’s early success could have fuelled an overconfidence that is leaving authorities struggling to contain its third Covid-19 wave. DELIVERING JUSTICE In Australia , a racist attack against a food delivery rider in July prompted Adelaide’s Asian-Australian community to band together to help the police hunt down the perpetrators. A video of the attack, uploaded on social media, showed two white men approaching the Asian rider, before one of them hit him in the face. Chinese-Australians soon began circulating information on the possible whereabouts of the attackers in apps such as WeChat. Several netizens patrolled Adelaide’s Chinatown looking for the duo. Chinese-Australians hunt white men who hit Asian delivery rider The assault happened amid a rising number of reports of racist incidents against Asians in Australia . Activists said the attempt by Chinese-Australians in Adelaide to take matters into their own hands reflected an unwillingness by the government to clamp down on growing anti-Chinese rhetoric , due in part to deteriorating Australia-China ties . “The [increase of] negative stories coming out about China in Australia will only normalise the racism against Asians who are of Chinese background or who appear to be East Asian-looking,” said Erin Chew from the Asian Australian Alliance. HOUSE-HUNTING Talk about creepy. A Japanese man was jailed in February for stalking and assaulting a pop idol after figuring out her address by zooming in to her selfies and studying the reflections in her eyes. Hibiki Sato, 27, was found guilty in the Tokyo District Court of attacking Ena Matsuoka, a singer with the group Tenshi Tsukinukeni Yomi, in September last year. Japanese sex pest jailed for stalking singer using reflections in her eyes The unemployed man told police he discovered where Matsuoka had lived by going through her social media pictures and enlarging the images. He then cross-referenced the scenery and landmarks reflected in her eyes with Google Map’s Street View feature to identify a railway station near her home. Japan has in recent years seen young female stars being targeted by obsessive fans. In 2016, pop idol Mayu Tomita was stabbed 60 times by a fan in Tokyo. In 2014, two band members of AKB48 were assaulted at a fan event in Iwate Prefecture. A ROYAL HEADACHE When Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn moved to Germany around 2016, he became something of a curiosity, with reports of his extravagant and eccentric behaviour appearing in tabloids – including a shopping trip in which he wore a tight-fitting crop top over his bare torso. Is Germany about to lose patience with Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn? The monarch has also reportedly spent a lot of time at a luxury Alpine hotel in the Bavarian ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, along with his entourage. But as the heat on Thailand ’s monarchy and government continues to grow amid pro-democracy protests , Germans are finding his actions less entertaining, particularly his direct intervention in Thai politics while living in the European country. OUT OF STEP A photo of the Chinese ambassador to Kiribati walking across the backs of locals lying face down on the ground sparked outrage after it appeared on social media in August. US and Australian officials denounced the act. Commander Constantine Panayiotou, the US defence attaché to five Pacific Islands including Kiribati, said on Twitter: “I simply cannot imagine any scenario in which walking on the backs of children is acceptable behaviour by an ambassador of any country.” Chinese diplomat pictured walking on locals’ backs highlights Pacific power struggle But some in Kiribati, home to 120,000 people, said the practice was customary and that the image featuring China’s ambassador Tang Songgen had been taken out of context. The episode revealed how closely Beijing’s growing ties with Pacific island nations were being scrutinised as the US and China compete for influence in the region – which consists of 22 states and territories, and the world’s largest expanse of ocean encompassing critical sea and air lines of communication. VICE PRECEDENT The Philippines is grappling with a sudden rise in the number of Chinese sex workers that anti-crime groups say is tied to the growth of online gambling firms catered to China players. Some 300 Chinese sex workers and their clients were rounded up in raids in the second half of last year, the ABS-CBN reported. Agents believed the 12 raided brothels were being run by Chinese nationals, for Chinese clients. Rise of Chinese-only prostitution catches Philippines by surprise Since 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has bet heavily on Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) as a lucrative income source for the country. Scores of Pogos have opened up in multiple cities, with many unregistered and paying no taxes. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals have also sought jobs at Pogos, many as undocumented workers. JOBS DISSATISFACTION As Singapore ’s economy slows and job losses mount, some citizens have taken aim at a free-trade agreement between the city state and India . On social media, Singaporeans are blaming the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) deal, signed in 2005, for allowing Indian expats to “steal jobs” from locals – no matter how many times the government says it isn’t true. Are Singaporeans really losing jobs to Indian expats due to Ceca free-trade deal? Featuring prominently in their complaints were corporate transfers that let companies move India-based staff to Singapore for up to eight years without having to first advertise the jobs locally, and a list of 127 professions covered by the FTA that range from tech specialists to financial analysts. THAT’S WHAT HE SAID In September, as the Australia-China relationship spiralled further downward, a blunt message by the late Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew to Canberra resurfaced. During a visit to Australia in 1980, Lee warned the country – then battling high unemployment and inflation – that it risked becoming the “poor white trash of Asia” if it did not open up its economy. China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times echoed Lee’s comments in August, after Beijing announced a second inquiry into Australian wines and also suspended barley imports . But it quoted Lee’s words to warn the country of its fate if it decoupled from China. As Australia-China ties worsen, why is Lee Kuan Yew’s warning a talking point? Lee’s original warning counter-intuitively occupies a position of respect in Australia ’s political psyche today. At the time of Lee’s death in 2015, then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott praised the statesman for encouraging the country at a “critical time in our history to be better than we might have been”. Former prime minister Bob Hawke, who led liberal economic reforms in the 1980s, also wrote that Lee’s “harsh but fair comment helped galvanise my determination to undertake the reforms that would save us from that fate”. SINGLE-MINDED India has more single women today than at any time in recorded history, with groups including widows, divorcees and the never married accounting for one-fifth of the country’s female population. At the turn of the century, there were about 51 million unattached women in India , according to census data from 2001, but the number rose by almost 40 per cent to reach 71.4 million in 2011’s census. India’s women reject marriage in their millions, but society hasn’t caught up Single women have more freedom to get an education, pursue their careers and live life on their own terms, but observers say the growing number of singletons does not necessarily equate to an increase in female empowerment. Indian society is still largely rooted in patriarchy and gender inequality, with single women often stereotyped as choosy, morally loose or headstrong, according to sociologists. In rural areas, single women “have to constantly battle societal prejudices and fight for survival”, according to activist group the National Forum For Single Women’s Rights. Those in cosmopolitan cities also face sexual harassment and discrimination. SPOT THE DIFFERENCE A cartoon shared by the wife of Singapore’s prime minister on Facebook – which contrasts President Donald Trump ’s reaction to the US protests against racism with his comments on Hong Kong’s anti-government demonstrations – made headlines in China in June. Ho Ching shared the cartoon, carried by the city state’s Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao , which depicted how Trump had called for “democracy” as Hong Kong protesters smashed a shop window, but described people who did the same in Minnesota as “thugs”. Singapore’s Ho Ching sparks social media stir with US vs Hong Kong protests post The post was liked more than 3,700 times and was highlighted by China’s nationalist Global Times tabloid, which later published an article comparing the starkly different reactions by US officials to the two sets of protests. Hong Kong news portal Winandmac Media said on Twitter that Ho did not “understand the nature” of the city’s anti-government protests, and that it was “disgraceful to compare Hong Kong with the US”. BACK-UP PLAN In August, the Philippines said it would invoke its defence agreement with the US if China attacked its naval vessels in the South China Sea . Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr’s comments marked the first time a Duterte official had openly declared Manila would turn to Washington for help in the territorial dispute. The US and Philippines have since 1951 had a Mutual Defence Treaty that commits them to supporting each other in the event either is attacked. South China Sea: ‘If China attacks our navy, we’ll call the US’, Philippines says Under Barack Obama’s presidency, the US backed away from a concrete commitment to apply the treaty to the Philippines’ maritime territorial disputes with China. Locsin said Democratic administrations tended to be “appeasing” and the Obama administration had “bowed down to China, which is why we lost the reefs”, referring to the Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground China has occupied since 2012. By contrast, Republican administrations “have always been very firm about American commitment to freedom and independence of nations”, Locsin said. DEADLY ESCALATION In June, the Indian Army confirmed that 20 of its soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops along their shared border , known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The deaths were the first fatalities in four decades of simmering conflict along the 3,488km undemarcated border. The Indian Army said the incident had occurred during “the de-escalation process in the Galwan Valley”, referring to an area military officials had earlier accused Chinese troops of entering even though it was never under dispute. Indian Army says 20 of its soldiers killed in Chinese troop border clash in Galwan The area is between Indian-administered Ladakh and Chinese-administered Aksai Chin, which is strategically important to Beijing as it has China’s only direct road link to Xinjiang and Tibet. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Indian troops had crossed the border line twice on June 15, “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel, resulting in serious physical confrontation between border forces on the two sides”. Indian Army sources said following the incident, the Chinese military reached out and called for a meeting between the Major Generals from both sides to defuse tensions. Which stories mattered most to you in 2020? Find out with our Year In Review 2020 retrospective.