Vinita Dawra Nangia, Executive Editor, in The Times of India (May 16, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PradeepGaurs / Shutterstock.com)
As the Covid battle roars unabated, all around is the sound of fading faith and breaking hearts. On social media – which in these times has fast transformed from the scourge of humanity to its greatest savior – you hear faint voices of hope gradually turn into doubt, fear and panic before quietly fading away, victims of this insidious virus that taunts humanity and mocks our bastions of security.
Helpless gazes turn to one another, but who amongst us knows any better than the next? Not even the most optimistic any longer hold out a glimmer of positivity. We have been defeated. What is gone is lost forever, and with it is gone our belief of invincibility and the arrogance of knowing all. We thought science and technology had all answers and were infallible predictors of future menaces, ready with antidotes. But of course, that was before an invisible virus taught us better. We debated whether we are the makers of our own destiny or mere puppets in the hands of Nature “red in tooth and claw”. As we helplessly wait for the scourge to end its torment – when it will – there is little left to speculation.
Sadness and desolation are all around, deeply entrenched in our hearts and souls. But at least it proves that we still feel – we feel for each other. As “the sea of faith” retreats with a last “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar”, we still hang on to our humanity, our empathy, pain and anger. And of course, we must! Let us own that pain and anger rather than turning our eyes away – why deny it with talk of positivity and hope, when we can clearly see hope retch and gasp for breath, miserably curled up in a dark corner?
Shih Wing-ching, Chief Executive, Centaline Group, and owner of the am730 newspaper, in am730 (February 26, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: KM Asad/European Union)
On the grounds that Hong Kong people have been unfairly treated politically and are not granted their political rights, the UK government decided to allow those who hold or have the right to hold British National (Overseas) passports to qualify for right of abode in the UK. The British view this as a moral commitment to the people of a former colony.
The persecution that the Rohingya in Myanmar suffer is far more serious than that of Hong Kong people. If the UK is to perform its moral duties towards the people of Hong Kong, why not do so for the Rohingya, too? In fact, the British are more responsible for their situation. The British moved them from what is now Bangladesh to the northwest of Myanmar. Because the Rohingya are different from the Burmese in appearance, culture and religion, they have been unable to integrate successfully into Myanmar society. Ethnic conflicts have persisted. When it comes to the Rohingya issue, the British were the initiators.
Recently, the problems of the Rohingya have intensified. Myanmar’s government has sent troops to suppress them. Villages have been burned down and citizens killed. Their situation is far worse than that of the dissidents in Hong Kong. While dissidents in Hong Kong have lost their right to stand for election, the Rohingya do not even have the right to citizenship or survival.
The reason why the UK is unwilling to assist the Rohingya is simple: They have no assets to bring to the UK. Most of them have limited skills to earn a living and may become burden to the state. Hong Kong citizens who intend to immigrate to Britain must understand that the UK’s willingness to accept them is not based on morality or responsibility, but merely on political and economic calculations.
Beatrice Louise Gabon Santillan, 18-year-old high-school senior, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Communications Operations Office)
After my mom had fully recovered from Covid-19, I thought the storm had passed. It turned out the worst was yet to come. On the night of Jan. 18, Covid-19 took the life of my beloved grandmother.
From the moment I saw my grandmother in a body bag carried by a vehicle meant for water deliveries with no memorial service, I knew that more could have been done to save her, and that so many others have undergone the same loss due to our country’s poor health care system and governance. It became clear to me that many people did not have a fighting chance to begin with. I realized that there is a bigger issue at hand.
The other viruses our nation is facing include an administration that is not proactive in dealing with the pandemic, politicians that “help” Filipinos but are really just documenting their actions to kickstart their campaign for the 2022 elections, and individuals who were given priority status in hospitals while other patients died out in the cold. The system has been broken for so long. This pandemic just shed even more light on its complete dilapidation. The leaders we placed into power have not done us any good, nor do they plan to. Their empty promises and selfish actions have only managed to push our nation further into decay.
People often tell me that I am young, and that I have much to understand about the system and how it is virtually impossible to change, but I beg to disagree. I am eligible to vote in the upcoming elections. Although casting my ballot will create merely the smallest change, if at all, it is a good place to start.
Funabashi Yoichi, Chairman, Asia Pacific Initiative, and editor-in-chief of Asahi Shimbun (2007-10), in The Japan Times (May 22, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Bechard/US Navy)
Successive US administrations have stuck to a basic policy of strategic ambiguity on the subject of the Taiwan Strait. “Strategic ambiguity” refers to a deliberate refusal to clarify whether or not the US would hasten to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese military attack. It was devised as a means of simultaneously deterring both a declaration of independence by Taiwan and a Chinese offensive aimed at forcing Taiwan’s unification with the mainland.
Some are raising doubts about the effectiveness of strategic ambiguity. Yet a transition to a policy of “strategic clarity” with regard to Taiwan carries risks. China could overreact, setting off an arms race. The US could fall into a trap if it presents strategic clarity as a red line. Observing it would become a litmus test for American credibility. Furthermore, such clarity is not very effective when it comes to gray-zone geopolitical challenges involving cyberattacks, supply-chain disruption and social media battles for political influence.
We should not overestimate China’s abilities. Experts are divided on the question of China’s ability to launch an invasion of Taiwan and the merits of its strategy. Taiwan’s growing strategic value to both the US and Japan is undisputable. If Taiwan is lost, the US will no longer be able to maintain a line of defense along the first island chain. This would signal the demise of the US as a power in the western Pacific. It would also jeopardize the US-Japan security alliance and the security of Japan’s sea lanes.
The reference to Taiwan in the 2021 joint declaration clearly considers a possible Taiwan contingency and the role of Japan. It is precisely for this reason that we must keep our “words” discreet and quietly prepare for “actions” that serve the goals of deterrence and dialogue.
Jeong Sang-hwan, lawyer, prosecutor and standing commissioner (2016-19) at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, in Maeil Shinmun (March 15, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Korean Culture and Information Service)
The approach toward North Korea adopted by the US under Barack Obama was that of “strategic patience”, whereas that of the administration of Donald Trump was “top-down”. The former continued to bring up the human rights issue, whereas the latter completely ignored it. Both approaches failed.
The administration of President Joe Biden is expected to take a different approach in regards to human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). With the reality of intercontinental ballistic missiles bringing the actual threat ever closer to the US and the hard line the US is already taking with China, it would be difficult for Washington to remain silent on the humanitarian issue in DPRK.
Unfortunately, in South Korea, the administration of President Moon Jae-in has been sidelining the human rights issue. The foundation for DPRK human rights provided for under a law enacted in 2016 has still not been launched, and the Ministry of Unification remains ever so silent on human rights issues. Even the National Human Rights Commission limits itself to lip service by addressing “softer” issues such as the rights of the disabled and women rather than addressing the core human rights problems in the DPRK. Even the North Korea Leaflet Prohibition Act hurriedly passed last year has outright cut off the only means through which civil society in South Korea can speak out on the human rights issue in the North.
This course of action, however, is unlikely to continue with the expected pressure on Seoul from the Biden administration to break the silence on human rights issue in the North. It is no longer reasonable or acceptable to remain silent on the DPRK’s horrendous human rights record for the sole reason of keeping the dialogue with Pyongyang.
Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University and Director for Contemporary South Asia, in The Indian Express (May 6, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Government of India)
Is mass suffering, inflicted by policy design or emerging as a policy byproduct, an integral part of the Narendra Modi regime’s view of national power and national revival?
Consider three big events causing mass suffering since Modi came to power. First, the 2016 demonetization produced long lines of people waiting to convert their currency, many collapsing out of sheer exhaustion. Second, the national lockdown of 2020 witnessed millions of rural migrants – tired, shocked and hapless – walking miles and miles to reach their homes. Finally, we have the biggest spectacle of all unfolding in our midst today, bringing sickness and death to thousands and thousands of Indians.
The prime minister neither expresses adequate remorse, nor sufficient compassion. What he does is the opposite of remorse and compassion. The Modi regime cannot accept governance failure, for to accept failure is to show weakness.
The obsession with state strength, national power and leader infallibility on the one hand and insensitivity to mass suffering on the other have been associated mostly with the big Communist polities. The most discussed case is of Mao Zedong and China. Mao was unmoved by the suffering. After retreating and fixing the food deficit, he returned to the theme of national reconstruction and Chinese glory. The Cultural Revolution was inaugurated. An estimated 2 million Chinese died. National renaissance and a return to China’s glory were infinitely more important than a couple of million lives.
Is it too much to expect Modi to admit that even if the virus is more virulent, India is actually going through a man-made disaster? How else can one understand the lack of oxygen, the scarcity of hospital beds and, most of all, the shortage of vaccines in the vaccine capital of the world? Could not the planning have been better?
Jannus TH Siahaan, commentator on defense and security issues, in Tempo (May 4, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Frida Skjæraasen/Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation -Norad)
The government’s decision to classify the armed criminal group in the provinces of Papua and West Papua as terrorists might be the wrong step in solving the ongoing conflicts. By classifying the group as terrorists but keeping military actions secret, the government will only receive more criticism from various parties for violating human rights.
Instead of labelling the Free Papua Movement (OPM) as a terrorist group, the government needs to carry out widespread education nationally to achieve consensus from the Indonesian public that the OPM is a rebel group that wants to establish an independent state and destroy the unity and integrity of the Republic of Indonesia. Indonesia must convince the international public at the UN that the conflicts in Papua are an internal, not an international, affair.
Beyond military and diplomacy issues, the economic and social problems in Papua must be addressed. The government must take Papua’s development to the next level. The region suffers from more than just a lack of infrastructure, Papuans struggle with poverty, unemployment, and social inequality, while witnessing their rich natural resources being exploited. The government has to increase their presence to deal with sociocultural and environmental-protection issues.
Fiscal spending for social and cultural development must be determined proportionally, along with the budget for environmental preservation, in addition to the establishment of fundamental regulations for protecting the environment and cultural development. The regulations related to social order must be addressed humanely and with environmental nuances, not only taking into account economic considerations, but also the sustainability of Papuan culture and environment.
Gu Minkang, Council Member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, in Hong Kong Commercial Daily (February 11, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Hong Kong Bar Association)
The Hong Kong Bar Association has stirred up controversy yet again by electing as its chairman Paul Harris, a British citizen with political ties. Harris represented the UK’s Liberal Democrats as an Oxford City councillor between 2018 to 2021, during which time he expressed support for the Hong Kong protests. In 1995, Harris founded the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, which has received support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the US.
The Bar Association was established in accordance with the Hong Kong Societies Ordinance. Article 8 of the Ordinance stipulates that if an officer of a society “reasonably believes that the prohibition of the operation or continued operation of a society or a branch is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”, they then “may recommend to the Secretary for Security to make an order prohibiting the operation or continued operation of the society or the branch”. Hong Kong barristers should therefore call for Harris to resign as chairman.
Due to "one country, two systems", it is possible for foreigners to chair the Bar Association. The association, however, check the political background and character of the chairman candidates to ensure that those who are "anti-China” cannot hold such positions. At the same time, the government should consider setting up necessary "safety valves".
This decision also has major bearing on the election of Hong Kong judges, who are elected in accordance with the Judicial Officers Recommendation Committee Ordinance. Under normal circumstances, the chairman of the Bar Association serves as member of the committee. To prevent persons with political positions from exerting undue influence on the committee, it is necessary for the government to refrain from appointing individuals like Harris.
Song Ki-gyun, economic researcher, in Pressian (March 27, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong
There is a lot of talk about a “tax bomb” for rich homeowners due to the comprehensive real estate tax. The cause for the buzz is the combined increase in the official assessment value of properties (determined by the government) and the increase in the tax rate. This year alone, official assessment values have risen by an average of 19.19 percent in Seoul district. According to the Ministry of Land, an average homeowner in expensive Gangnam district in Seoul would pay about US$5,000 in taxes.
In theory, the tax rate increases significantly when a homeowner owns more than one property. The tax is designed to encourage such owners to sell their properties and make home ownership more affordable. There is a big loophole, however. An owner may purchase the property before the value exceeds the official assessment cut-off of US$531,000 and register it as a rental property. In this case, no matter by how much the value of the rental property increase, the owner would not be subject to the real estate tax.
According to the aggregate exemption logic, rental properties would be counted separately in the tax calculation so if an individual property does not exceed the cut-off value, there would be no real estate tax due. According to one study based on the Ministry of Land database, the top three property owners in the country each own 753, 591 and 586 properties. It is estimated that without this loophole, each owner would be subject to over US$8 million in real estate taxes. Civil society groups have pressured the government to close this loophole, but it seems unlikely that the current administration would do so.
Song Cheng-en, doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, in The Storm Media (January 28, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: stingrayschuller)
Not long after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, Beijing dispatched military jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. This provocation was seen as not only a military exercise but as a political test for the new administration. The US State Department responded by condemning China for threatening regional peace and stability.
The statement noted Chinese attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan, and called on Beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives”. The US reaffirmed that it would stand with its friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific to promote mutual prosperity, security and values, including deepening relations with democratic Taiwan.
This statement was both soft and tough, maintaining the Trump administration's strong tone, while demonstrating the continuity of US foreign policy. The wording, however, suggested that Washington intends to bring its Taiwan policy back to the framework of the past:
First, the use the "People's Republic of China" (PRC) to refer to China is in line with the position established in “Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” between the United States and China in 1979. Second, the use of "Taiwan" throughout the text complies with the unofficial policies under the "Taiwan Relations Act". Third, the use of the phrase "Taiwan's democratically elected representatives" deliberately avoids mentioning the Taiwan government, president or officials.
It is impossible to judge the direction of the Biden administration’s Taiwan policy with a single statement and whether the US government returns to the One-China framework will ultimately depend on the government’s own interpretation. Nevertheless, close attention must be paid to how Taiwan’s status is supported or hindered by US policy.
Shen Yi, Associate Professor in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, in Guancha (February 14, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Georgina Coupe/Number 10)
According to a report, the UK’s plans to convert the G7 alliance of developed nations into an anti-China democratic alliance called the D10 (through the inclusion of Australia, South Korea and India) has been suspended. Various factors had prompted the UK to shift back to that classic Cold-War mentality. Constructing a political quasi-alliance that targets China and demonstrates the values of “Western democracy and freedom” was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to save face by creating a distraction from domestic problems.
The collapse of the D10 plan was inevitable due to the decline in the status of the G7. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the G7 was arguably at the center of the world. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, by 2021, the global share of nominal GDP of the G7 had fallen to are 46 percent. When considering purchasing power parity, this figure decreases to just 32 percent. In sharp contrast, China’s volume, proportion and role in the global system have all shown significant improvement and growth. According to the IMF, China already accounted for roughly 18 percent of the world’s GDP in 2019.
Facing such a shift in the international system, the US and Western countries have two approaches to consider. First, a pragmatic approach would consider the huge benefits brought by the global production system. The alternative approach involves a bizarre ideology based upon throwing around ideas such as the D10 and repeatedly chanting a few catchwords in the hope of restoring the lost old days. Ultimately, the world should have no interest in such plans. After all, there are far more important issues to solve such as the Covid-19 crisis, the need for sustainable economic development, and climate change.
Francis Lee Lap-fung, Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (February 1, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
The Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion has published its latest report on identity. According to the 2019 survey, 55.4 percent of respondents described themselves as a “Hong Konger”, while only 10.9 percent believed that they were “Chinese”, and 32.3 percent chose a mixed identity. In 2020, the proportion of people who chose "Hong Konger" dropped to 44.2 percent, while the proportion of people who chose "Chinese" rose slightly to 15.1 percent. These survey results may be welcomed by the government, yet it should be noted that among the 18 to 39-year-old citizens, more than 70 percent of the people still identified as a "Hong Konger".
When citizens were asked to score their Hong Kong and Chinese identities separately, the score for Chinese identity had fallen from 57.3 points to 54.9 between 2019 and 2020. Hong Kong identity scored much higher at 82.6 points in 2019 but fell to 78.7 in 2020. In the first ten years after the handover, there existed a significant positive correlation and a complementary relationship between these two scores (i.e., those who identified themselves strongly as Hong Kong people were more likely to view themselves as Chinese).
This complementary relationship had diminished in recent years and was no longer present in the 2018 survey, particularly among young people aged between 18-39 years old, where a strong Hong Kong identity correlated with a weak Chinese identity, making the two identities mutually exclusive. In 2020, the “Hong Konger” identity has declined. Yet, this has not resulted an increase in the identity score for “Chinese”. Meanwhile, the two identities of “Hong Konger” and “Chinese” are now not as mutually exclusive as before, suggesting that some citizens feel that Hong Kong is becoming more and more "mainlandized".
Sayuri Romei, Stanton nuclear security fellow, RAND Corp., in Asahi Shimbun (April 28, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Zach Stern)
Japan is conspicuously absent from the signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which took effect in January 2021. The treaty itself is profoundly divisive. Many doubted it would even enter into force. Skeptics describe the TPNW as merely symbolic, as no nuclear power had joined. Supporters of the treaty are confused by this skepticism and point to its long-term objective: to have a significant impact on the international community and change the perception of nuclear weapons.
This divisiveness is here to stay. In Japan, this polarization is even more tangible. Polls show Japan’s public overwhelmingly favors Japan joining. The government, however, does not. One explanation is the view that the treaty is not grounded in reality and will exacerbate the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states. As a self-proclaimed bridge-builder between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, Tokyo does not see how this treaty can bridge that gap.
Another reason behind this stance is Japan’s alliance with the United States. Tokyo prioritizes the alliance, thus ensuring that nuclear deterrence is effectively extended to Japan. Officials never miss an opportunity to emphasize Japan’s atomic survivor identity and its efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Japanese officials see the TPNW as tone-deaf to their concerns and disruptive of Japan’s balancing act.
The implementation of Tokyo’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision requires Japan to be a reliable partner for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Since all but one ASEAN nation has joined the TPNW, Tokyo’s timing and handling of this issue may impact Japan’s image and leadership. Given the evolving security environment, it may not be the right time to de-emphasize extended nuclear deterrence. Yet leaving the diplomatic door open to the TPNW could be valuable for Japan’s future position in the region.
Kim Min-ah, senior reporter, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (March 15, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: thejames)
Bacchus is a South Korean energy drink enjoyed by all age groups. The maker of this popular drink, Dong-A Pharmaceutical, has become the subject of a boycott because of a group job interview that underscored the country’s entrenched sexism. In a session with two male candidates and one female, the head recruiter asked the men about their experiences in the army. When it was the woman’s turn, the questioner asked her to share her views on the pay gap between men and women to make up for the men’s military service. When the company later received public praise for its progressiveness after offering discounts on their feminine products, the woman candidate expressed her outrage about the incident on the social media.
Despite the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and many economic organizations in 2019 which clearly forbid interview questions that favor or put at a disadvantage any group because of gender, such practices are still common. Every day, Korean female candidates for employment experience outrageous comments at interviews including prospective employers remarking that they try not to hire female applicants anymore to avoid potential “me-too” accusations of sexual harassment problems, or that women should not only consider their career success but also fulfill their civic duty in a country suffering from a chronically low birth rate.
All female candidates face some discrimination because of concerns that unmarried women might get married, married women might have children, or unmarried women or women with no children are not being patriotic. This persistent sexism has come to a point where people can no longer enjoy a popular tonic and pretend as if nothing is wrong.
Lin Jin-chia, psychiatrist, in The Storm Media (December 25, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: 國禎 吳)
A New Zealander pilot who broke Taiwan’s long streak with zero confirmed Covid-19 cases has become a public enemy and the focus of intense media criticism. The stock market even plummeted.
This pilot, who works for Taiwan carrier EVA Air, reportedly did not comply with the Covid-19 regulations of the flight crew by not wearing a mask or reporting respiratory symptoms at the end of his flight. As a result, he only had to undergo a short three-day home quarantine. Following this, he reportedly went out without wearing a mask. This negligence and violations of health-management protocols are a major breach in Taiwan’s epidemic-prevention efforts.
There has been limited evidence that EVA intends to act to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. Meanwhile, the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) has stated that the airline’s Covid-10 measures are a matter for the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA). Yet, epidemic control is clearly not within their expertise. Since the CECC exists for this purpose, they should take greater responsibility.
The CAA has stipulated that the airlines are responsible for managing themselves and crews are supposed to follow regulations without supervision. Arguably, cabin crew face high levels of risk, perhaps even higher than medical staff. After being questioned by legislators, the CAA revealed that since the pandemic began, airline crews had committed 24 violations of regulations and only after this breach did the CAA meet with the airline industry to request that they develop a penalty mechanism.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Taiwan government has always adopted a tough public stance. They have, however, shamelessly refused to take responsibility for this incident and continue to avoid answering questions. This attitude is detrimental to Taiwan's overall epidemic prevention.