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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.

Covid-19 Economic Stimulus: Where will the money come from?
Friday, April 3, 2020
Covid-19 Economic Stimulus: Where will the money come from?

Lim Tak Sing (林德成), columnist, in his 成天幻想 (Daydream) column in Sin Chew Daily (March 28, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: peakpx)

Covid-19 Economic Stimulus: Where will the money come from?

In response to the Covid-19 epidemic, Malaysia’s new government has announced a 250 billion-ringgit (US$57.2 billion) economic stimulus package. While this package is urgently needed, it is important to question where the money will come from. 

With the plunge in global oil prices, government revenue will continue falling. While the Prime Minister continues to promise the implementation of large infrastructure projects such as the East Coast Rail Link, the recent distribution of emergency funds will suppress Malaysia’s fiscal capacity. Cost reduction will be one of the only options for the government to manage the country’ fiscal deficit. 

With limited funds, however, the government may be forced to raise money through government-linked companies and private institutions, while also selling off government assets and land. With the potential for currency devaluation, finding a balance between "capital preservation" and "economic relief" will require skill. Both approaches will have a significant impact on Malaysia’s economy.

In spite of these measures, industry will be severely damaged, and it is unclear whether many companies can return to their original business models. The potential wave of business closures is likely to shake the country’s economic foundation. 

The government has often stated that “Industry 4.0” requires the digital transformation of enterprises. This epidemic could be a turning point for businesses to adapt to the future, with live broadcasting, online shopping and online teaching all becoming necessities.  

Ultimately, these economic measures can only fix the symptoms while helping buy additional time rather than address the root issues of the country’s economic problems.  


Support Organic Farmers During the Covid-19 Crisis
Thursday, April 2, 2020
Support Organic Farmers During the Covid-19 Crisis

Lee Jae-ouk, Vice Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, in The Financial News (March 29, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: 570cjk)

Support Organic Farmers During the Covid-19 Crisis

Approximately 55 percent of the ingredients used in preparing meals for school-lunch programs are organic. School lunches account for an about 39 percent of the organic food consumption in the country. For many organic producers, this represents a reliable market. This sourcing practice has been praised for both the health and nutrition benefits and the support it provides for the livelihood of organic farmers.  

With the coronavirus crisis, schools have been closed for five weeks and are tentatively scheduled to open on April 6. [The opening of the new school year has been delayed to April 9 with classes conducted online.] Due to the delay in the start of school, many organic farms are feeling the crunch from losing a major share of their market and have been frantically searching for alternatives.

Since early March, the Ministry of Agriculture has been actively promoting increased public consumption of organic produce in collaboration with local governments. By encouraging bulk purchases and subsidizing promotions, about 28 percent of what used to be purchased for school lunch programs has been re-allocated. This was not a bad result, but the battle for organic producers is far from over. 

With a further delay in the opening of schools possible, the Ministry of Agriculture will continue its support and consider distributing free organic-food packages to people in quarantine. Korea will overcome the Covid-19 emergency just as it has weathered numerous previous crises. The public should help organic producers get through this very difficult time.


Lock Down the Country but Don’t Let the Economy Collapse
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Lock Down the Country but Don’t Let the Economy Collapse

Watana Muangsook, politician and former government minister, in Siam Rath (March 27, 2020)

Summary by Tom Tuohy (Photo credit: Mx. Granger)

Lock Down the Country but Don’t Let the Economy Collapse

A lockdown of the country would stop almost all economic activity and increase the social distance between citizens. This will reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It would be appropriate to do this when people do not yet have sufficient awareness of Covid-19 and know how to defend themselves against the disease.

While such a measure may have a positive effect on disease prevention and control, it will have a negative impact on the country’s economy, which might collapse if the strategy is not properly pursued. We can control the disease and keep the economy going if the crisis ends within six months to even a year. But if we let our economy collapse, it will take more than 10 years to recover – and more people will starve than die of Covid-19.

So the government must provide protective equipment for medical personal and develop treatments for the disease. It should prevent panic buying of essential goods that might cause a rise in prices. There should be greater awareness that older people are more vulnerable and could require special care if they fall ill. Once these measures are taken, then the government can relax the social distancing rules to get economic activities going again.

Do not close the country beyond the point that we wreck the economy – or we may see Thais committing suicide to escape economic hardship, poverty and disease as some had done even before Covid-19 arrived. 


Our Constant and Existential Water Challenge
Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Our Constant and Existential Water Challenge

Peter Joo Hee Ng, Chief Executive Officer, and Celine Teo, Senior Planner, Public Utilities Board (PUB), in Lianhe Zaobao (March 23, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Adhitya Andanu from Pexels)

Our Constant and Existential Water Challenge

Singapore's water supply system has always been closely linked to the development of the city. A report published by the World Resources Institute in 2015 indicated that Singapore is at a high risk of severe water scarcity by 2040. Today, however, the island state has emerged from this water crisis by implementing a pragmatic water policy – a supply management system with three aspects: optimization, recycling and reusing.

Singapore has long had to deal with the fundamental problem of a lack of water. Ensuring the security of water resources has been a top priority for Singapore's leadership. At the turn of the century, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) rapidly adopted new wastewater recovery and reuse technology to support the mass production of fresh water Meanwhile, the water-supply system, sewer and sanitary facilities, and drainage were combined to operate in unified way, thereby supporting recycling. This has shown that optimizing water systems requires advanced management and operational skills.

Yet Singapore still faces challenges such as wasteful domestic water consumption and loss due to industrial cooling and processing. The two "artificial" water sources, desalination and freshwater, are also both capital and energy intensive. And the effects of climate change threaten to destroy Singapore's water infrastructure and even parts of country because of rising sea levels. This presents an existential challenge. As a result, the PUB is now involved in developing and implementing measures to protect Singapore from rising sea levels.

Singapore’s long-term planning ensures that its water supply system will be able to meet needs while being resilient and sustainable. Through this pragmatic approach, Singapore is able to transform its disadvantages into strengths and its weaknesses into unlimited opportunities.


Which Kind of Filipino are We?
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Which Kind of Filipino are We?

Solita Collas-Monsod, broadcaster, economist, writer and Minister of Economic Planning of the Philippines (1986-1989), in her Get Real column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (March 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Shubert Ciencia)

Which Kind of Filipino are We?

The three requirements to deal with the Covid-19 crisis successfully are a well-prepared health system, good governance and social capital. Working together, they will flatten the curve of the rise of the disease, preventing our healthcare system from being overwhelmed and minimizing the economic and social impact, especially for the poor.

The government needs to have targeted policy responses instead of a general “divide-by n: approach” in which everybody gets an equal share. It has announced a 27.1-billion-peso (US$527.5 million) financial package, of which 24 billion pesos (US$467 million) are for economic and social costs. This is about 0.13 percent of GDP. Australia’s stimulus package is 0.93 percent of GDP, while in the US, their proposed package is 4.7 percent of GDP.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) worst-case scenario for the impact of Covid-19 on the Philippines is a drop of 1.7 percent of GDP and a loss of 730,000 jobs. The government’s rescue package allocates 2.8 billion pesos (US$54.5 million) to farmers and fisherfolk, with a maximum 25,000 pesos per borrower. That means the fund will accommodate 112,000 borrowers. According to the agriculture census, the Philippines has about 5 million farmers and fisherfolk.

If the Philippines is to get through the crisis without hurting the poor badly, the government has to go back to the drawing board and find a better way. It has thanked the tycoons and oligarchs for cooperating with the government. They should be acknowledged, but remember that they are giving from their excess, not from their substance. They will make less profits, but they will not be losing.

Are you the kind of Filipino who thinks not of “me” but of “we”, gives of your substance even though it hurts, and does not seek glory? 


The Age of the Neoliberal Virus
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The Age of the Neoliberal Virus

Tabish Khair, novelist and academic resident in Denmark, in The Hindu (March 24, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: SISTEMA 12)

The Age of the Neoliberal Virus

The coronavirus is the world’s first neoliberal virus. This is because of how governments around the world – even in the better social welfare capitalist states in Europe such as Denmark – have confronted it. While countries have shut down, other necessary measures have not been implemented. 

One of the most crucial is testing. This is a neoliberal response even in places with good healthcare systems. The burden of stopping the virus is being passed on to ordinary citizens who must isolate themselves while the government issues directives but spends as little as possible. This is not a surprise. Whenever corporations or banks have stumbled, governments have pumped money into them, while cutting public services including healthcare and research. This is happening again.

Rumors have it that the virus scare in China, combined with the racism in the West when anything bad happens in non-white nations, sent American and European investors into a panic. They sold shares in Chinese companies, which were then snapped up by the Chinese government and Chinese investors. Now, with China apparently in control of the virus, it would seem that they have gained more control of their economy too. Meanwhile, after briefings on the coronavirus, American legislators unloaded shares before the US market fell. Once again, this points to a neoliberal virus.

The UK openly conceded that many old people would need to die before the virus is brought under control. Politicians backtracked, saying they were doing their duty but not lying to the people. But were they? Or were they influenced by neoliberal logic that financial value is the only value that matters?


Don’t Victimize the Bats
Monday, March 23, 2020
Don’t Victimize the Bats

Joko Pamungkas, Lecturer in veterinary science, Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB University, in Kompas (March 20, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Don’t Victimize the Bats

Steps to eradicate bats as a result of their alleged role in spreading the coronavirus are unreasonable, representing a form of panic without foundation whether from the perspective of science or animal welfare. The regent of Subang in West Java has issued a memorandum calling on the public to eradicate bats in their surroundings. 

Plenty of scientific articles discuss the role of bats in spreading viruses including emerging infectious diseases. While it is true that bats often carry viruses related to those that affect the respiratory system in humans, the connection is not a direct one. For humans to be affected requires a complex process involving a third-party animal. There is, therefore, no reason to declare war on bats. 

What we need to do is work in a more systematic way rather than descend into panic. The closure of markets selling wild animals for food needs to be accompanied with a ban on hunting. The chain of the marketing of wild commodities needs to be broken. 


Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis
Friday, March 20, 2020
Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis

Roberto R Romulo, Chairman, Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (1992-1995), in his column Filipino Worldview in The Philippine Star (March 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: aldarinho / Shutterstock.com)

Help the Nation, Our Countrymen and the President Get Through the Crisis

The tragic way in which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been vilified on social media must stop. A video posted on Facebook of him with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong should be taken down. As the country struggles to get through the Covid-19 pandemic, we should behave as adults. “We have a solemn obligation to help the nation, our countrymen and the president.” 

Some corporations in the private sector have responded in an exemplary way, announcing such initiatives as aid for government hospitals, donations to poor communities, the creation of funds to battle the pandemic, the waiver of rental charges to tenants, and efforts to support employees, including the continuation of salary and bonus payments. More and more companies will be taking such steps in the coming weeks.


Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy
Friday, March 20, 2020
Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy

Azim Premji, Founder Chairman, Wipro Ltd, in The Economic Times (March 18, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy

Education is the key to empowerment of girls and the fulfilment of their dreams. A good education is a powerful force that contributes to making our society more just, equitable, humane and sustainable. 

Over the past 20 years, India has made real progress in education. Government schools are accessible to almost all villages, with primary schools usually within walking distance. Primary enrolment is nearly universal, with gender parity of access.to early classes. The thinking on education has become more progressive.

We urgently need to develop and adopt a new comprehensive policy framework for education. An excellent move in this direction is the draft National Education Policy (NEP) unveiled in May 2019. This laid out a comprehensive, nuanced and integrated road map for the transformation Indian education.

It recommends access to high-quality public education as the way forward and calls for substantial increase in investment to enable this expansion and improve public education at all levels. Vibrant, high-quality and equitable public education will be the foundation of Indian society.

As the NEP outlines, India should strive to attain high-quality early childhood care and education and ensure that every student achieves age-appropriate levels of development in their first five years of school. Curricula and teaching frameworks should be redesigned. There should be significant investment to ensure equitable inclusion of disadvantaged groups. Well trained teachers must be at the center of the education system. 

A new institutional architecture for higher education is needed, with some consolidation of universities and colleges. The NEP requires regulatory reform of higher education to ensure that institutions have greater autonomy that enables them to improve quality.

The final NEP should not be diluted from the carefully formulated draft that includes bold, progressive measures. These must not be sacrificed at the altar of expediency or extraneous compulsion.


Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored

Neni Nur Hayati, Executive Director, Democracy and Electoral Empowerment Partnership, in Republika (March 11, 2020)

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

Violence Against Women Should Not Be Ignored

There is nothing unusual when every year on March 8 we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on how far women have been able to achieve equality, welfare and a democratic lifestyle free from violence. The most important task facing us at the moment is to free women from a variety of forms of sexual abuse.

Recently, there has been an escalation of sexual violence toward women. It does not only occur in the real world but also online and in the privacy of our homes – for instance, in the form of incest. Sexual abuse is committed in public spaces such as public transport. Rather than providing a place for relaxation and rest, what happens is that unreasonable behavior occurs, with victims experiencing trauma and a reduction in their quality of life.

Based on data from the National Women’s Commission, in 2019 there were 5,509 cases of sexual violence against women. We may not want to admit it, but from year to year, many issues confronting women fail to get the required attention and indeed are often ignored.


Framework Urgently Required for Regulating Wild Animal Consumption
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Framework Urgently Required for Regulating Wild Animal Consumption

Yang Sanxi, media commentator, in Guancha Syndicate (March 10, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Framework Urgently Required for Regulating Wild Animal Consumption

The Covid-19 outbreak has drawn public attention to the source of the virus: wild animals. Many wild animals carry viruses, bacteria, parasites and other organisms, which could endanger human health. Consumption of wild animals is not only a dangerous habit but can destroy the balance of the ecological environment. Unsurprisingly, the recent complete ban on consumption of wild animals by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has received widespread public support.

The ban, however, has also generated some controversy over exactly which animals can still be farmed and eaten, especially regarding amphibians such as turtles, soft-shelled turtles and frogs, which remain common delicacies across China. The question affects many citizens who are employed in the food sector, as well as millions of farmers. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has provided an official answer to whether bullfrogs and soft-shelled turtles can still be eaten following the banning wild animal consumption. These animals have been included in a list of Protected Economic Aquatic Animals and Plants Resources under State Protection and can therefore be cultured and eaten in accordance with the management of aquatic species. 

This example shows why a framework is urgently needed to identify exactly which wildlife are banned and to ensure that those that are indeed safe to eat will not be mistakenly included in this category. As such, all localities and relevant departments should further clarify the relevant standards and scientific factors needed to determine the scope of the ban. This will help ensure strict compliance to the new regulations as well as preventing any unnecessary loss to economic livelihoods. In addition, it will be necessary to continue strengthening the inspection of the farming bullfrogs, soft-shelled turtles and so on to improve health and safety supervision.



Prevention and Control of Covid-19 Requires Blocking the Import of Cases
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Prevention and Control of Covid-19 Requires Blocking the Import of Cases

Wang Lixiang, Chairman of the Health Culture Committee of the China Health Association, in Global Times (March 6, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Ptrump16)

Prevention and Control of Covid-19 Requires Blocking the Import of Cases

China's handling of the Covid-19 outbreak has already achieved steady results. The situation overseas, however, is indicating a clear and rapid upward trend. Meanwhile, several overseas imported cases are beginning to appear across China. Considering such a severe situation, three key measures should be implemented to win the global fight against the virus.

First, implement a pre-entry health notification system. This would involve visitors providing certificates of good health from the health agency of their country of origin. In addition, all visitors should strengthen their sense of responsibility and self-control by truthfully reporting their health condition honestly to authorities.

Second, screening measures during entry should be enhanced through the implementation of a health review system. Border authorities must perform a complete inspection of health declarations for all people entering and exiting the country, while strictly carrying out temperature monitoring and conducting medical inspections utilizing face-recognition technology. 

Third, an isolation system must be enforced with a strict 14-day centralized quarantine for those from countries with severe epidemics. While guided by scientific principles of prevention and control, this must fully respect the reasonable demands of visitors, while taking account of their religion and customs. Technologies such as mobile applications should be deployed to track the movement of visitors to maximize the protection of vulnerable groups. 

China, alongside other countries, have already taken measures to reduce the frequency of flights between Japan and South Korea. It is necessary to observe closely the epidemic situation in the United States and Europe with timely adjustments made to the measures taken to monitor and control foreign visitors to China.


The Stagnation of Civil Society
Monday, March 9, 2020
The Stagnation of Civil Society

Azyumardi Azra, Director, Graduate School, and rector (1998-2006), Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, in Kompas (March 5, 2020)

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

The Stagnation of Civil Society

In keeping up with the chatter among experts and observers from both inside and outside Indonesia, we have to conclude that the retreat of democracy in Indonesia over the past few years is connected to the stagnation of civil society. If this stagnation continues, the fate of democracy in the country becomes increasingly unsure. 

In the past, institutions and international advocates of democracy praised Indonesia as a “full democracy” because of a public that was alive, dynamic and motivated. But some political developments over the past few years, especially relating to democracy and governance, have stripped civil society of its enthusiasm. 

Peter van Tuijl, a civil society expert and democracy activist who lived for a long time in Indonesia, writes that civil society is now on the defensive. Surveys in Indonesia confirm this picture. 


The Perils of Celebrities on Social Media
Monday, March 9, 2020
The Perils of Celebrities on Social Media

Watchchiranon Thongthep, reporter, on BBC News Thai (March 1, 2020)

Summary by Tom Tuohy

The Perils of Celebrities on Social Media

On February 22, the Student Union of Thailand organized a brief rally at Thammasat University to protest the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the Future Forward Party (FFP), or Phak Anakhot Mai. FFP’s legislators had been stripped of their status and its executive committee members banned from politics for ten years. Thai social media has since been abuzz.

Thai-Swedish model Maria Poonlertlap said she was proud of Thai students for protesting but admitted to being concerned about tweeting this and thought carefully before doing so. “As we are among the influencers, we should ask what an influencer's role is if we do not share our opinions or values with our followers or those who look up to us. I feel that it's time to say something,” she said, emphasizing that expressing opinions is natural in a democratic society.

In the past, celebrities putting forward their views have attracted strong criticism from the public, negatively affecting the actors or singers concerned. Many such public figures have had to apologize or refrain from making comments.

In an interview, Sunny Suwanmethanon, a Thai actor of French-Singaporean extraction, questioned the organizers behind the protest. "If anyone is to blame, it must be those who incited it because nobody thinks anyone is wrong, yet they were encouraged by others to do this, which they didn't think was wrong. Where will it end?”

Thai-American TV host Winyu Wongsurawat, known as John Winyu, posted on Twitter afterwards: "I don’t want to offend anyone, but has any student been incited to come out?" Since then, Sunny has faced a backlash, with the hashtag “#Sunny is sweet?” trending and a public campaign calling on people to stop following the actor's Instagram account.


Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet
Monday, March 9, 2020
Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet

Professor Nelson W S Chow, Emeritus Professor, Department of Social Work and Social Administration. The University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (March 6, 2020) 

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Peretz Partensky)

Cash Handouts: A HK$71-Billion Political Bet

Hong Kong’s 2020 Budget included the surprise announcement that every permanent resident aged 18 or above would receive a cash handout of HK$10,000 (US$1,282). The aim: to assist businesses and citizens affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and to boost consumption. While Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po denied that the handouts were to promote the popularity of the government, this decision was politically motivated.  

First, the pro-Beijing camp suffered a huge defeat in district council elections in November 2019 and as a result they are in urgent need of financial support. The government knows that if they do not provide such support it would anger legislators and weaken the pro-Beijing camp. 

Second, the budget provides a substantial increase in resources to the police force. The pan-democrats would inevitably oppose this. But it creates a dilemma for them as they would have to choose between opposing the cash handouts or indirectly supporting police brutality. 

Third, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has already exhausted her political capital. The only effective instrument the government can use to restore the slightest amount of trust in its governance would be through freeing up some of its HK$1.1 trillion (US$141 billion) in reserves.

The government’s reasons for the handout are misleading. While the public has largely welcomed the giveaway, the government should not believe that money can please all citizens, heal the anger at the establishment, or compensate for its mistakes in handling the epidemic. Hong Kong citizens have only one good reason for asking the government to provide handouts – that is, because there is such a huge fiscal reserve. 

This policy is a political gamble. The government has invested an unprecedented HK$71 billion (US$9.1 billion) on a bet. Whether it achieves the desired results will depend on how sophisticated its gambling skills are.