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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

Our Leader’s Internal Injury
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Our Leader’s Internal Injury

Kim Dae-joong, columnist, in Chosun Ilbo, (February 25, 2020)

Summary by Charles Lee  (Photo credit: cpt.kama / Shutterstock.com)

Our Leader’s Internal Injury

Until the outbreak at Shincheonji Church, South Koreans had been watching the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus (known as COVID-19) in China with half anxiety and half sympathy. But now, the situation has changed. The coronavirus has become South Korea’s own conflagration.

How did it come to this? In short, it is the result of President Moon Jae-in’s complacency and pride. The fierce diffusion of the coronavirus is testing the leaders of affected countries – Xi Jinping of China, Shinzo Abe of Japan and Moon – and their failure to prevent it at an early stage and inadequate response during its spread have wounded them.

Until the spread of the coronavirus exploded at Shincheonji Church, Moon had enjoyed a 64 percent approval rating. Despite repeated advice from the doctors’ association to block the influx of people from China, Moon was optimistic, given the small number of infections, even saying flattering and humiliating statements such as “China’s difficulty is our difficulty”.

Why do our leaders, especially those on the left, become intimidated by China as if it held the key to the Korean peninsula? Do they have the DNA of historical subservience? Do they fear the economic impact? Or do they expect some sort of influence over North Korea?

What did the Moon administration hope to gain by ignoring the people’s plea and leaving the China door open? In addition to this China-propelled disease, South Korea is suffering from an internal illness called the loss of leadership.


Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless

Al Araf, Executive Director, and Anton Aliabbas, Senior Fellow for Security Reform, at human rights monitor Imparsial, in The Jakarta Post (February 24, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Sriyana / Shutterstock.com)

Wrong to Make Islamic State Fighters Stateless

The decision of President Joko Widodo not to repatriate Islamic State (IS) sympathizers due to their potential security threat to the public may be justified in the context of the fight against terrorism. Other officials have stated that this will render them stateless. In formulating a counterterrorism policy, the state must fulfill its obligations in upholding the liberty of the person in a permanent balance with the protection of his or her security. The revocation of the citizenship of Indonesians who have joined IS is neither reasonable nor justifiable.

The revocation of citizenship does not solve terrorism; it instead legitimizes IS as a state. The IS sympathizers are legally Indonesian citizens, and the government cannot evade its constitutional mandate in dealing with them. Further, the government’s authority to rescind citizens’ citizenship has no legal grounds.

Leaving them stateless may breed new problems for global security. As we do not have any measure to closely monitor them, they can still re-enter Indonesia through its porous borders.


The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity

Ichlasul Amal, Lecturer in International Relations and Rector (1998-2002), Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Kompas (February 19, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

The Middle Class and the Problem of Inequity

The middle class has become an important topic in the context of reinforcing democracy but the discussion about the relationship between the two often arrives at only ambiguous conclusions. Given the increasing role of technology in society, the existence of a middle class is no longer directly related to the level of democracy.

The size of the Indonesian middle class has risen dramatically along with the reduction in poverty (now below 10 percent of the population) over the past 15 years. The statistics, however, belie the reality. Economic growth has only benefited the richest 20 percent, while 80 percent – around 205 million people – have not seen much change in their living standards. Inequity has accelerated faster than in neighboring economies and between different parts of the country.

Indonesia has a large workforce of around 133 million. There are 6.87 million unemployed, 56 million formal sector workers, and 70 million in the informal sector. This and many other factors create a complex situation, which makes it difficult to talk about the middle class and democracy. This presents a challenge for President Joko Widodo, but the issue does not yet appear to have become a policy priority.


Marketing Oscar Winner Bong Joon-ho
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Marketing Oscar Winner Bong Joon-ho

Park Lae-yong, editorial writer, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (February 12, 2020)  

Summary by Charles Lee (Photo credit: Kinocine PARKJEAHWAN4wiki)

Marketing Oscar Winner Bong Joon-ho

With director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite winning four Oscars, the political class is busy promoting “Bong Joon-ho” marketing. But during the previous governments of presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, Bong was placed on a cultural “blacklist”. The reason: “rigid leftist propensity”.

His movie Memories of Murder was deemed “a film that injected a negative perception of the civil servants and police by portraying them as corrupt and incompetent groups”. The Host was a film that “by etching anti-American sentiments and the government’s incompetence, nudged the national consciousness leftwards”. And Snowpiercer was a film that denied “the market economy and incited social resistance”.

The conservative MP who was senior advisor to the president on civil affairs at the time is now touting Bong as “Korea’s pride”. There is not an iota of remorse – or shame. There is no worse “parasite of the political class” than this. 


Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs

Ricky Gunawan, Director, and Will Doran, intern, LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), in Jakarta Globe (February 11, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Time for Indonesia to Decriminalize Drugs

When they visited Jakarta, three members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) told civil servants, NGOs and government officials that it was time to move forward on drug policy. The “war on drugs”, they said, had failed to achieve its intended objective and only resulted in the opposite – more production of drugs, an increase in drug consumption, the global phenomenon of mass incarceration, and more powerful organized crime.

Indonesia would benefit greatly from an approach that ceased to treat drugs as a criminal justice issue but instead treated them as a public health matter. The nation has draconian punishments for drug offenses, including the death penalty. Out of 369 death row prisoners in the country, 230 are awaiting execution on drug charges. It is time to open a dialogue with police forces to find ways to make changes that would benefit law enforcement and society as a whole.

Decriminalization would right the wrongs of the “war on drugs”. It would be accompanied by measures to promote voluntary drug treatment. It will not result in more addicts. Decriminalization will remove the stigma of drug use. It will save money and allow law enforcement to concentrate on more serious crimes. It will save lives, not ruin them. Reason, not prejudice, should drive the government’s policy.


A Crack in the System
Thursday, February 6, 2020
A Crack in the System

Yudi Latif, former head of the Board for the Development of Pancasila Ideology, in Kompas (February 6, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

A Crack in the System

The explosion of religious radicalism and the emergence of instant “kingdoms” need to be seen as the visible eruption of pressures within the national social and moral consciousness. The history of the archipelago shows us that where the center of government fails to provide clear social and moral guidelines, varieties of public disturbance and the tradition of the “Just King” (a messianic figure in Javanese folklore, similar to Britain’s legendary King Arthur, who would create a just and peaceful society) will tend to emerge.  

We need to ask ourselves why our era of reform has brought with it a social and moral crisis. One reason is that the freedom celebrated by the proponents of reform has not been transformed into civil liberties. 

While democracy is celebrated with a variety of direct elections, in reality the governments that are chosen do not automatically represent the sovereignty of the masses. As a result of a democracy centered on money and manipulation, a surplus of freedom does not create a life that is more just and civilized. 


China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative
Monday, February 3, 2020
China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative

Pei Sai Fan, Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore, Co-Founder of the Lee & Pei Finance Institute, and senior official at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from 1999 to 2014; and Ma Rongbao, Managing Director, CICC Capital Management, Beijing, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 1, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative

Singapore’s important role in the economic, financial and trade cooperation between China and ASEAN is growing. As one of the world’s advanced international financial centers and a key node in the Maritime Silk Road, Singapore is well positioned to play a significant part in the financing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), providing both professional and international funding for trade and commerce between countries and regions along the route. 

Singapore is uniquely positioned to connect financial markets and support cross-border financing cooperation. In addition, the city can promote wealth and risk management, while supporting the large-scale and long-term financing support needed for infrastructure projects. Singapore can also expand offshore financial cooperation and accelerate internationalization of the renminbi, China’s currency.

Beyond financial services, Singapore can expand the regional space for cooperation, while promoting coordinated regional development. Furthermore, Singapore can offer a third-party arbitration mechanism to Belt and Road countries to build cooperation and mutual trust. Singapore and China can also deepen cross-border financial regulatory cooperation through the use of fintech. This financial cooperation could include integrating digital financial services such as issuing an encrypted digital currency – a “Belt Road coin” – to provide inclusive financial services and improve cross-border payment systems. 

With the strengthening of mutual political trust combined with the ongoing expansion of economic exchange and the increasing opportunities along the Belt and Road, Singapore-China bilateral cooperation will deepen. Closer financial cooperation can be beneficial to both countries. Through the BRI, Singapore can further utilize its reputation as a global trade, finance and shipping hub to advance regional integration and economic globalization.


Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission

Dedi Haryadi, Founder and Chairman, Beyond Anti Corruption, in Kompas (January 22, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission

The deconstruction and reconstruction of the Corruption Eradication Commission (known as KPK in Bahasa) is nearly complete, creating KPK 2.0, in line with Law No 19 of 2019. One important difference is the creation of a supervisory board that makes the KPK more bureaucratic and whose impact is already being felt.

A further change is that KPK commissioners are now recognized as officials with the rank of minister who are responsible directly to the president. It is difficult to hope that KPK 2.0 will be able to become a free and independent anti-corruption agency given this situation.

This has occurred due to a coordinated campaign waged on social media in an organized and systematic manner stating that the KPK required deconstruction and reform. This resulted in a far weaker public response in defense of the KPK than had occurred in earlier attempts to emasculate it.


The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition

CK Tay, columnist, in China Press (January 17, 2020)

Summary by a contributor (Photo credit: Prachatai)

The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition

When will Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pass the baton to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) President Anwar Ibrahim? 

Mahathir had said that he would hand over power in two or three years, but some politicians – including Azmin Ali, Deputy President of PKR – have urged him to stay on for a full term of five years. Anwar’s supporters are worried about unexpected twists if the leadership transition drags on. There are also voices urging Anwar to take over as soon as possible to stabilize the Pakatan Harapan administration, as Mahathir has seemed uninterested in pushing for real political reforms.

Mahathir most recently promised to relinquish the post after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. He has also reiterated that he would make good on his promise to hand over to Anwar. Nonetheless, many people do not trust him simply because of his many policy flip-flops since returning to power. 

When a country’s policies are reversed and changed so often under the helm of the same prime minister, investors are understandably worried that the next leader would come in and overturn existing policies, causing them to suffer investment losses. Examples of flip-flops that have left investors in limbo include: calling off the ongoing East Coast Rail Link project, only to revive it later with a revised route; and delaying the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System projects.

A “coup” should be a hush-hush operation. Leaders of the four political parties within the Pakatan Harapan coalition should meet and discuss matters behind closed doors. It will do investors and businesspeople no good if the disagreement over the Malaysian PM handover continues to boil up publicly till November.


Dust in your Eyes
Monday, January 20, 2020
Dust in your Eyes

Summary by Tom Tuohy

Dust in your Eyes

For two years, Thai people have become familiar with the term “PM 2.5”, with private companies producing masks with that grade of air filter to reduce dust levels. In early 2019, the pollution problem was big news for several days and Thailand ranked high globally for its poor air. In October, 2019, the government made the issue a national priority, but the problem has returned. 

Reports suggest that 72.5 percent of the dust comes from cars and the rest from open burning and heavy industry, including the construction of new train lines. The low-pressure weather pattern over the Bangkok metropolitan area can trap the dust under a canopy.

The government has asked citizens to use cars that meet higher emission standards and introduced legislation to prohibit bus engines from belching black smoke. These measures need to be monitored.

Citizens, academics and the media criticized the government because, while the problem has been around for two years, it has offered no measures to improve people’s daily lives. This criticism should not be seen as a negative attack on the government and civil servants.

If the government insists that they are trying to solve this problem, then they must be serious about finding a solution. They must review the measures taken and determine what needs to be improved. They should not let the dust get into their eyes so they cannot do the right thing.


Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”
Friday, January 17, 2020
Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”

Wang Heting, Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Public Management at Henan Normal University, in Beijing Daily (14 January 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”

Tsai Ing-Wen’s successful re-election as Taiwan’s president on January 11, 2020, was inconsistent with the expectations of many people. However, from a long-term perspective, Tsai’s win is nothing but a “storm in a teacup” in the sense that it does not deviate from Taiwan’s political development. Nor will it change the fact that Taiwan is part of China or stop the historical trend towards unification.

Tsai Ing-Wen's re-election was due to several factors, namely, external interference from the United States and lingering influence from Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law movement and its Hong Kong independence figures, which has been subsequently exploited by the Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for political gain. Through these factors, Taiwan’s political environment and electoral campaign have become both hostile and polarised, overlooking the needs of the voters. As a result, the election is only a victory for the DPP and not for Taiwanese compatriots.

However, despite the DPP’s victory, progress towards the motherland’s reunification will not weaken. In recent years, owing to the increasing strength of the mainland’s economy, reunification remains in reach. In addition, Taiwanese society’s view towards cross-strait relations and perception of the mainland have been steadily improving. As such, Taiwanese society now understands the necessity of unification.

Today, the conditions for advancing reunification are unprecedented. However, it will be necessary to continue strengthening international support for the “one China” principle and ensure false signals are not sent to Taiwan pro-independence forces. Even more importantly, the deepening of cross-strait integration will be necessary to expand the path towards peaceful reunification.


China’s Presence in the South China Sea
Thursday, January 16, 2020
China’s Presence in the South China Sea

Steven Yohanes Polhaupesy, China analyst, in Kompas (January 15, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

China’s Presence in the South China Sea

For two weeks since the end of 2019, China has trampled on Indonesia’s sovereignty by means of illegal fishing in the exclusive economic zone in the waters off Natuna on the southern edge of the South China Sea.

Some 30 foreign ships have been operating in the Natuna Sea, a presence that clearly needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness because this is not only a question of Indonesian sovereignty but also an expression of arrogance and an extension of the power of China in the context of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Since Xi Jinping took the leadership of China in 2012, activities related to territorial claims in the South China Sea have become increasingly aggressive. This illustrates two issues. First, the short-term importance of fishing for China’s maritime economy. Second, that this short-term importance is part of China’s longer-term strategic imperative to reinforce its hard-power presence in the region.


Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

This is the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Many people will have the opportunity to wave a variety of flags. But why are so many people attracted to flags in the first place?

In the 1970 movie Planet of the Apes, the rival chimpanzees and gorillas are portrayed as waving black and white banners, respectively. It is only the human beings who use flags. It is said that the earliest flags date to the Zhou Dynasty in China around the 11th century BC and were used to direct troops.

More recently, the flag has been used by nation states to symbolize independence and unity. Following the 9/11 attacks, for Americans, the Stars and Stripes symbolized freedom. The Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag (a red disk on a white background), generates complex feelings for some people around the world. For some, the act of raising this flag calls to mind the dark days of the war of aggression. Waving the Rising Sun flag (which happens to be the official emblem of the Asahi Shimbun) can bring back memories of Japanese militarism in countries such as South Korea.

The Rising Sun flag is often waved at sports meets, eliciting criticism. The Japanese government has stated that it has no political meaning and is not a symbol of militarism. Sports fans, however, should remember that raising this flag at the Tokyo Olympics this summer could fuel division and conflict. Instead, spectators should learn history, remember to respect others, and communicate the value of peace.


Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes

Summary by Dana Liu

Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes

After an unpopular start, how did Tsai Ing-wen win the presidential election? First, the destabilizing shift in US-China relations over trade disputes brought into focus Taiwan’s own relationship with China. Second, Xi Jinping’s speech on January 2, 2019, laid out an unsettling vision of unification as the future direction of Taiwan, deepening anxieties over Taiwan’s sovereignty and freedom. Third, escalating demonstrations in Hong Kong served as a “window” for Taiwan to imagine its future under “one country, two systems”. The further escalation of campaign rivalries between the two paths of unification vs independence also stimulated tense generational conflicts within Taiwan.

China’s crucial role was to help Tsai win the younger generation’s support and trust. Generational conflicts that existed in the passage of the gay marriage law deepened as student protests in Hong Kong fueled a stronger Taiwanese rejection of the “one country, two systems” policy. Wu Yi-rou, former student association representative at National Taiwan University, says young people liken China’s “Taiwan solution” unification policy to a frog slowly cooked in warm water before being swallowed. For them, it is easy to see what their future might be like in the situation Hong Kong: a younger generation protesting the consequences of a handover decided 30 years earlier without considering the ramifications of that decision.

The Green party has played anxiety over national sovereignty to its advantage: Christians who opposed gay marriage in 2018 supported Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2020 in view of the China threat. The Australian spy scandal in November spread further distrust. Perhaps Taiwan is entering a new war of generational conflict, ending the traditional blue and green divide. Tsai has a great opportunity to reject and replace the “one country, two systems” policy, but what the impact would be on the future of China-Taiwan relations remains unknown.


Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations

Summary by Tom Tuohy

Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations

January 1, 2020, was D-Day, with a ban on single-use plastic bags coming into force. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment made agreements with 90 department stores, shopping centers, supermarkets and convenience stores not to give out plastic bags.

This is a good start and people are now aware of the new measures and are carrying around reusable bags or know that they would have to pay for them if vendors make them available. While the ban has caused some dissatisfaction, this is not a surprise. Stores have publicized it for some time.

Marine expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a professor of fisheries at Kasetsart University, says that the management of disposable plastic marine waste got worse in 2019 and hundreds of rare sea creatures were injured or killed from consuming garbage and waste. Thai beaches are full of plastic, and volunteers often need a shovel to dig it out from the seafloor. This affects the ecosystem because the material splits into micro-plastics, eventually entering the food chain.

The government’s plan has three steps: Campaign – Agreement – Regulation. They have been campaigning for 20 years but must speed up the process of plastic waste management in the sea, or face trade barriers, tax increases, and bans on Thai products. Failure to address the problem may also affect beach travel and the international image of Thailand.

The ministry will initiate the third step this year by issuing regulations to upgrade Thailand's management of plastic waste to catch up with the 127 countries that already have regulations managing plastic waste. We must, therefore, increase awareness and cooperation among Thais to look at the overall benefits: a better quality of life and a cleaner environment to safeguard the future of our children.