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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.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.

Recognizing How Lethal the Virus Is Will Help Control It
Friday, April 24, 2020
Recognizing How Lethal the Virus Is Will Help Control It

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 1997, in Lianhe Zaobao (April 22, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office Singapore)

Recognizing How Lethal the Virus Is Will Help Control It

The spread of Covid-19 within guest workers dormitories has become the main battlefield for the authorities. Yet the most dangerous place remains within the community owing to the risk of undetected cases that remain hidden.

There are inevitably people in the community who have been infected with the virus but have not been diagnosed. They may not even know that they have contracted the disease as they are asymptomatic or just have mild flu-like symptoms. These cases are all potential sources of infection and could pass the virus to family members, friends or even strangers. The speed at which the virus spreads from person to person is exceptionally fast and persons without symptoms can also be contagious. For this reason, it is important to wear a mask.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently warned about this danger. The problem is that many people do not understand the power and horror of this virus. They cannot appreciate the need for control measures and blame the authorities for the inconvenience of having to abide by restrictions on their movements and activities. Some have even expressed their dissatisfaction by ignoring these measures and using racial slurs such as the term “Chinese virus”.

The reason why China was able to control the epidemic in Wuhan within a few months is that, after determining the risks, they immediately adopted extremely strict measures to seal the city and Hubei province. This gradually cut off transmission of the virus. We must break the chain of community infection in Singapore. There seems to be no other effective or feasible alternative than the current regulations that have been imposed. For the small number of people who do not heed the advice and insist on breaking the rules, there is no choice but to hold them accountable under the law.


Science Must be the Only Guiding Principle in Relaxing Lockdown
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Science Must be the Only Guiding Principle in Relaxing Lockdown

Kaiser Kabir, CEO of Renata Limited, in Dhaka Tribune (April 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Asian Development Bank)

Science Must be the Only Guiding Principle in Relaxing Lockdown

Most people are aware of the exponential curve that tracks epidemics. It is only through mass testing of random populations that we can get an idea where the disease situation of a country lies on the curve.

Apart from random testing, testing of people showing symptoms of the disease can lead to accurate decisions about isolation or release back into the community. However, these two approaches require many more tests than the government is doing at the moment. There is a general distrust of rapid antibody test kits because of their unreliability.

Moreover, there are only a handful of laboratories carrying out the more sophisticated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. It is vital that testing is ramped up to from a mere 2,000 a day to, say, 100,000 a day. In this regard, the private sector can have a hugely supportive role.

We are all aware that a prolonged lockdown is unsustainable. However, financial distress cannot be the impetus to relaxing a lockdown. Prematurely opening up the economy would invariably lead to mass transmission of the disease forcing us back into lockdown. After all, the sick, dying and dead do not make good workers.

Science must be the only guiding principle in relaxing a lockdown, and hence there is no alternative to mass testing. The government cannot do it all. We in the private sector are ready to offer a helping hand. We appeal to the government to accept our support.


The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis
Thursday, April 23, 2020
The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis

Raymund Narag, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Justice and Public Safety, Southern Illinois University, in Rappler (April 22, 2020)

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

The Plight of Non-Bailable Detainees During the Coronavirus Crisis

As the threat of Covid-19 knocks at the doors of jail and prison facilities, there are discussions on whether to release low-risk bailable and non-violent detainees and prisoners. The Supreme Court will address this issue soon.

One key segment of the detainee population that is seldom discussed is the "non-bailable" offenders, who account for at least 50 percent of detainees in jails and police detention centers. Persons charged with capital offenses may post bail if the evidence of guilt is not strong.

Given that all court hearings are suspended to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, courts cannot conduct hearings to determine the strength of evidence. Non-bailable detainees have no other recourse but to wait until the crisis is over. This is a very precarious state, compounded by jail congestion and the lack of medical resources.

A majority of the non-bailable detainees face drug-related charges and are non-violent first-time offenders. Some may have the capacity to post bail but cannot do so because judges have not ruled on whether the evidence of their guilt is strong or not. Given the threat of infections, being charged with a non-bailable offense, while still presumed innocent, can be a death sentence.

Our courts may adopt the following procedure:

  1. Counsel for the accused will submit a petition for bail, which can be done online to meet social distancing requirements.
  2. The judge will evaluate the case based on an assessment of the public-safety risk.

If deemed a low public-safety risk, the accused can be released on bail, subject to conditions placed by the judge. When the crisis is over, failure to attend court hearings, commission of new offenses, and violation of release conditions may be grounds for re-arrest.


It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims

Tavleen Singh, journalist, in her column in The Indian Express (April 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims

On Twitter daily, there are tweets so filled with hatred and venom against Muslims that it is as if the twits who post them truly believe that there would be no pandemic in India if it were not for our Muslim citizens.

Now, it has never been more important for the religious and political leaders of the Muslim community to come forward and stop Muslims from inviting hatred by attacking doctors and nurses. On April 15 in Moradabad, healthcare workers were assaulted when they were checking on people suspected of having the coronavirus. That was sickening.

If there is one good thing that this virus has done, it is that it has put an end to the problems created by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It has to stay that way. Never before has India more needed to come together to fight a common enemy. If the Muslims have lost trust in Narendra Modi’s government, and they have, it is time for the prime minister to go out of his way to win back this trust. The battles that lie ahead will not be won if we are distracted by violence, hatred and communal tensions.

All over the world today, prime ministers and presidents face the ultimate test of their leadership. Narendra Modi is no exception. His problems are bigger because he is forced to rely on a bureaucracy devoid of both compassion and competence.


Citizens Within the Belt and Road are all Connected
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Citizens Within the Belt and Road are all Connected

Lean Hooi Hooi, Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, in Oriental Daily News (April 19, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: esfera / Shutterstock.com)

Citizens Within the Belt and Road are all Connected

From the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan to the time when China was actively battling the epidemic, people from all sectors of Malaysian society contributed money and support by providing healthcare equipment and materials for China. Malaysian private enterprises delivered these items through various channels, while citizens came together to cheer on the Chinese people.

In mid-March, when the number of confirmed cases in Malaysia also started to rise, the government had no choice but to launch their own measures to control the epidemic. Now, Malaysia is facing its own shortage of medical supplies. China has responded by sending necessities including test kits, ventilators and protective personal equipment, while Chinese enterprises have made donations through the embassy. China also sent a team of medical experts to share their experiences with local counterparts.

This crisis has helped demonstrate the deep friendship between Malaysia and China. President Xi Jinping said that "the friendship between nations lies in the mutual love between the people and the mutual love of the people lies in mutual communication." Establishing common ground is the fundamental purpose of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There are three levels of people-to-people exchange: mutual understanding, trust and friendship to build a community of common destiny. The BRI enhances not only mutual understanding and friendship but also economic cooperation.

The Covid-19 virus presents a crisis and an opportunity to bring Malaysia and China closer. After the crisis, the people of the two countries will continue to work together to promote the movement of people, logistics and capital. This will ensure that the heavily damaged Malaysian economy can recover as quickly as possible.


Distance Learning: Is it Working?
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Distance Learning: Is it Working?

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar, columnist, in The UB Post (April 20, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Distance Learning: Is it Working?

This is the first time that online lessons are being offered due to pandemic prevention in Mongolia. Students have been complaining that e-learning is not effective and some of them have asked for a refund of their tuition.

A student at the Mongolian National University for Science and Technology said: “The courses provided by teachers are ineffective, and most of the materials are searchable on the internet. We lack information on how to register our lesson attendance, when to complete assignments and ways to ask questions from teachers about the things we don't know. Everything is unclear. Provincial students cannot attend classes and drop out. Many students work to earn their tuition fee. Ineffective online lessons are a waste for them.”

A student at the Mongolian National University of Education complained: “It was not possible to attend online classes because of the poor network. When my phone connects with the slow internet, it takes a long time to load. The government's decision neglects provincial students. How can provincial students make up for lost time if they miss classes? We need to be given that opportunity.”

No one was ready for this situation. However, it is a shame that students complain that they don’t want or can't adapt to online classes. Some students are demanding too much – government stipends, free public transportation, and free access to the internet. Students need to understand that they are adults and are responsible for their own welfare. Understanding that the crisis has impacted all of us, not just them, and working with others to find the best way to resume their learning will be a much more effective attitude for achieving their goal. Distance learning itself is not the problem; it is an opportunity that has benefited millions of learners around the globe.


In the Coronavirus Crisis, Media Censorship will Backfire
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
In the Coronavirus Crisis, Media Censorship will Backfire

Huma Yusuf, journalist, in Dawn (April 20, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

In the Coronavirus Crisis, Media Censorship will Backfire

As Covid-19 rips through the global population, governments are trying to suppress the news for various reasons — to keep public order and minimize panic, to burnish state credentials for crisis management, to score political points, or to seize control of the press and strengthen authoritarian control.

Newspaper publication across the Middle East has been suspended. Iraq withdrew Reuters’ licence for suggesting that the country was concealing the extent of the outbreak. Russian media outlets have been ordered to remove content critical of the state. In Pakistan, medical staff have been discouraged from speaking to journalists.

News suppression can be fatal. If it had not been for media censorship in China, news of the coronavirus would have surfaced earlier, saving lives and potentially avoiding the current pandemic. Governments have to strike a balance between allowing a free flow of information and regulating media content to ensure accuracy. This is tricky. And in countries like ours with authoritarian tendencies, the specter of fake news provides a convenient cover for rampant censorship.

In Pakistan, the crisis could lead to intensified media censorship. But such action would backfire. Lack of accurate information will breed complacency, impatience with lockdowns, and the inevitable spread of the virus. As the full economic impact of the pandemic becomes apparent, censorship will make obvious a discrepancy between the official narrative and what people are experiencing that will damage government credibility and produce resentment among the public.

Our government should support quality reporting by making information — and protective equipment — available to journalists. The media needs to get coverage of the pandemic right, keeping it timely, factual and in proper context. This will rebuild trust with the public, which has been lost in recent years.


Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?

Azyumardi Azra, Director, Graduate School, and rector (1998-2006), Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, in Kompas (April 16, 2020) 

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

Amid the Politics, Where is the Empathy?

The struggle against the Covid-19 virus is going to be a long one, especially in Indonesia. The worst scenario is if attempts to enforce social distancing fail or regional lockdowns are not able to control an undisciplined population that continues to move from hot zones to other areas. If that happens, the number of coronavirus cases could climb to over two million.

What is clear is that there are already many victims. These include those who have died but also those who have been affected economically. In the Jakarta area, it is estimated that since a lockdown was introduced on April 4, as many as 5.28 million people have been affected in addition to the 7.05 million already unemployed.

Indonesia is lucky to have a long tradition of philanthropy. Yet very few officials have been willing to donate all or part of their wages to help those affected. There is no political empathy among senior officials or the political elite. Meanwhile, the parliament and government are going ahead with discussions of the highly controversial work-creation bill.


As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?
Monday, April 20, 2020
As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?

Kevin Wong Tze-wai, Research Associate, and Victor Zheng Wan-tai, Assistant Director and Director of Research, Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (April 17, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

As the Virus Spreads, Has Calm Returned to Hong Kong?

There has been a marked reduction in social conflict since the spread of Covid-19. Does this mean that society has just temporarily paused their political disputes to fight the epidemic – or have the government’s measures to counter the epidemic successfully restored public opinion?

According to a recent opinion survey, the Chief Executive approval rating and the level of public trust in the government have stopped declining. While her popularity remains low, the Chief Executive ‘s score increased marginally to 25.0 percent from 23.4 percent.

Nevertheless, the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has clearly failed to restore public confidence. A survey in March found that 60.5 percent of respondents believed that the administration’s performance was “quite bad” or “very bad’, while 71.5 percent felt that their response was “insufficient” or “very insufficient”. The data suggests a correlation between those who already had a favorable opinion of the government or are pro-establishment and those who view its handling of Covid-19 crisis positively.

There is consensus across the political spectrum on the issue of controlling the spread of Covid-19. Supporters of social movements understand the importance of control measures and so there has been a temporary shift from protesting to battling the virus. Ultimately, society has no choice but to stay at home. The social divides revealed through the anti-extradition law amendment bill action have remained unresolved.

Today’s social calm is no doubt only temporary. The Chief Executive and the government's popularity have not yet picked up significantly. Protests will resume. As such, the government should also focus on repairing divisions within society. While handling of Covid-19 is putting pressure on an exhausted government, this should be seen as an opportunity to take a breath and then deal with the serious social conflict.


A Fast – and Slow – Post-Crisis Economic Recovery
Friday, April 17, 2020
A Fast – and Slow – Post-Crisis Economic Recovery

Wu Ge, Chief Economist at Changjiang Securities, in Caixin (April 16, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

A Fast – and Slow – Post-Crisis Economic Recovery

While a threat remains from imported cases and asymptomatic infections from abroad, China's Covid-19 epidemic situation has now been effectively controlled. With the country gradually returning to work, what will the economic recovery look like and what are the limitations?

China's important industries such as real estate and automobiles are starting to show signs of recovery from the stark lows reached during the first quarter. Services such as the food-and-beverage sector continue to struggle, with demand at around only half what it was at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, there are still some positive signs of recovery. Furthermore, while domestic demand remains sluggish, there are signs that a broader slow-but-steady recovery is underway.

The economic impact of the Covid-19 virus spans both supply and demand. With the steady resumption of economic activity, labor and other supply factors have subsequently improved. In contrast, the sharp drop in the number of orders combined with the rise in the unemployment has resulted in a contraction of demand, leading to a wider economic recession. Falls of both China’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) and Producer Price Index PPI support this trend.

The speed of the economic recovery will depend largely on the success of countercyclical adjustment efforts. It is, however, also inevitable that other major economies will attempt to address their respective economic shocks. As such, to hedge against the severe challenges stemming from a drop in external demand and a broader global economic downturn, an expansion of China’s domestic credit will need to take place. Based on the evidence so far, the economic recovery will be an unbalanced process as domestic demand will be higher than external demand, while capital-intensive industries continue to recover faster than labor-intensive ones.


A Critical Juncture in the Battle Against Covid-19
Friday, April 17, 2020
A Critical Juncture in the Battle Against Covid-19

Goh Choon Kang, former journalist and member of the Singapore Parliament from 1984 to 1997, in Lianhe Zaobao (April 15, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: huntergol hp / Shutterstock.com)

A Critical Juncture in the Battle Against Covid-19

During the first stage of epidemic, after the first case of Covid-19 was reported on January 23, 2020, Singapore’s approach was seen as the "gold standard”. The second stage started after the epidemic had rapidly spread across the globe, prompting many infected citizens to rush back home. While strict quarantine measures ensured these returnees would be isolated, there were still signs of community spread within nursing homes, preschools, construction sites and offices, while the number of people infected from an unknown source also increased. 

After the number of returnees had decreased, the number of imported cases also fell sharply. Community transmissions, however, have now soared, particularly within dormitories housing foreign workers. This has triggered a dangerous stage of the battle – a third "circuit breaker". 

How can countries can remain under lockdown for so long, with a vaccination still potentially 18 months away? Singaporeans must dutifully comply with the new circuit-breaker measures and be mentally prepared for a long battle. The question now is: What to do next?

First, Singapore must quickly control the epidemic in the dormitories housing foreign workers. There are as many as 43 such accommodations across the whole island, housing tens of thousands of guest workers. The government has already set up a working group to control this problem.

Second, the government must do everything in its power to halt community infection. As the number of cases where no association can be found is increasing, this stage of the battle is challenging and entails high risks. If we lose, it will be difficult to manage the consequences.

If the epidemic is under control by May 4, we can gradually resume economic activity. This is a deadly battle, and everyone must cooperate. The consequences of failure must be emphasized, and society must remain vigilant. 


Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty

Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PCOO EDP/King Rodriguez)

Fear and Hope Amid Uncertainty

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the coronavirus has confirmed that the government is extending the lockdown across Luzon till the end of April. In a speech the night before, President Rodrigo Duterte had appeared reluctant to do so not because he thought an extension was unnecessary but because he was concerned that prolonging the shutdown would not be sustainable. The government, he acknowledged, would run out of funds to feed those most in need.

For the first time, the president sounded helpless in confronting a problem. He admitted that he is waking up at three o’clock in the morning and pondering what to do. He ended by requesting citizens to join him in prayer that the nation may survive this pandemic.

It must be difficult for Mr Duterte to moderate his default rhetorical swagger. He was struggling to contain the virus of narcissism and arrogance that seems to prod him to pontificate on any issue. He thinks that a president must know everything.

If I were he, I would say only a few heartfelt words to comfort the nation and then step aside and let those with adequate knowledge explain the situation and clearly tell us what to do. A leader must have enough humility to admit that we still know little about the virus. When to lift the lockdown and how to relax precautions are the most important questions to which those in charge need the answers. Yet nobody knows how this will end so it is hard to know what to do. Right now, clarity is needed no less than courage.


The Coming Coronavirus Shocks
Thursday, April 16, 2020
The Coming Coronavirus Shocks

TJS George, journalist, in his Point of View column in The New Indian Express (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Khabar Uttarakhand ki)

The Coming Coronavirus Shocks

These days, I feel insignificant as a citizen, looking to politicians as parents and obeying them. We should be happy to do so but they speak in so many tongues. One wants me to do yoga, which will somehow cure all the nation’s ills. Another wants me to know that the coronavirus panic is just a ruling party plot to divert attention away from the riots in Delhi in February.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, says it is important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumor. He convened a videoconference with 20-plus editors and print-media owners and asked them to act as a link between the government and the people. But he did not spell out a policy plan or speak in reassuring tones.

Yet the media chiefs were enamored by the PM’s gesture and agreed to publish only “inspiring and positive stories”. Said one owner of the opportunity to interact with the prime minister: “We were privileged.” In which other country could the media be more cooperative?

Some are predicting that the US will suffer its worst recession in history. When the US economy goes into recession, everybody is affected. One estimate has the global economy shrinking by 1.5 percent in 2020. The negative impact on economies will be prolonged. This will require social adjustments. But how many societies are ready?

Religion has been a factor in this crisis. Crowds have defied common sense. I hope God blesses the careless and careful equally.

Industries are reeling. The entertainment sector has come to a halt. Retail shopping has been disrupted. Experts warn of an unforeseen consequence – mental health problems – mainly because of the strain of unemployment, especially if people are without a job for a long time. For the poor, the future is grim. 


Forced Conversions: Enticement Without Threat Should be Punishable
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Forced Conversions: Enticement Without Threat Should be Punishable

Sulema Jahangir, Honorary Executive Director, AGHS Legal Aid Cell, in Dawn (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: mariwara)

Forced Conversions: Enticement Without Threat Should be Punishable

The discrimination against women belonging to a religious minority has become worse. Women are becoming victims of rape, abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion. That largely underage girls are “converting” to Islam speaks volumes of their vulnerability.

In 2016 and last year, the government of Sindh attempted to outlaw forced marriages and conversions but religious parties objected both times, insisting that women of religious minorities convert willingly. While there are cases of forced conversion, there are also instances of influential men preying upon vulnerable young women, enticing them to convert and marry. Could enticement without the threat of violence become punishable?

Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that the right to freedom of religion includes the right to change one’s faith and that no one shall be subject to coercion to do so. Exploiting a position of power to entice vulnerable people or subordinates to convert amounts to coercion, which should be outlawed.

Once women convert, there is no going back, as apostasy would mean a death sentence. In many cases, women are also told that their families are infidels and they cannot meet them. This impedes their access to justice as they remain in the clutches of powerful men.

Pakistan has failed to comply with its international obligations to protect non-Muslim women and girls from exploitation by powerful groups and criminal elements. Even worse is the psychological impact on families of minorities who worry when their daughters venture out, and the culture of intolerance that is promoted when local leaders celebrate another conversion and marriage as a victory for the Muslim faith. This sends a chilling message to our most vulnerable people – that their girls are not safe.


Should We March in the Streets this June?
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Should We March in the Streets this June?

Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, President of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association (the union for public-sector doctors), in Stand News (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Studio Incendo)

Should We March in the Streets this June?

There are exactly two months until the first anniversary of "6/12" (June 12, 2019, the date of the first major demonstration against the government’s extradition amendment bill that led to months of protests in Hong Kong). It remains unclear, however, whether Hong Kong people will be able to take to the streets once again on this day. While society remains angry and deep divides have yet to be repaired, the Hong Kong government is unlikely to permit marches in light of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The second wave of the virus has slowed down somewhat, with the daily amount of infections falling from two digits to under 10. This trend, however, only reflects the drop in the number of workers and students returning from overseas and fails to indicate whether the virus is continuing to spread in the community. There have been sporadic cases with no obvious source. In addition, there are still 616 people in public hospitals for treatment, 13 of them in critical condition in intensive care units.

As the number of local infection cases and the age of infected persons rise slowly, there will inevitably be an increase in patients with critical illnesses and admissions to intensive care. There are already signs that Hong Kong’s intensive care services are inadequate and unevenly distributed.

In light of this danger, the logic of some citizens is odd. They expect people returning from overseas to comply with quarantine rules while they themselves still accept the risks associated with going out and potentially standing shoulder-to-shoulder with invisible carriers of the virus. We are facing a conflict between controlling the spread of the virus and protecting human rights and freedoms. To solve this public health crisis, citizens must be self-disciplined. Failing to do so will only give excuses to those in power to extend restrictions over our freedoms further.