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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.

Will Covid-19 Generate Momentum for a Shift to a Stronger Economy?
Monday, August 3, 2020
Will Covid-19 Generate Momentum for a Shift to a Stronger Economy?

Arief Rosyid, head of the youth division of the Indonesian Mosque Council, in Republika (July 29, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: A Gromico/ILO)

Will Covid-19 Generate Momentum for a Shift to a Stronger Economy?

Crisis creates momentum for change. On the one hand, a crisis may be seen as something frightening but on the other hand it can open the door of opportunity for a nation to improve itself and advance. The question for us is whether Indonesia is going to use the momentum of the pandemic to shift to a better direction.

Many remain happy to stay in their comfort zone and maintain the status quo. Nevertheless, there is momentum to improve a number of factors and important sectors, especially health and the economy. Many have warned that the pandemic will destroy the world economy. But what we have seen from the reaction of people in Indonesia provides room for optimism: a high level of social concern and the emergence of a collective consciousness to help those in trouble.

We need to leave aside our differences and prioritize our shared goals to emerge strong from this pandemic.


To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility
Monday, August 3, 2020
To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility

Choi Dong-jin, Director, Korea Research Institute for Environment and Development, in Hankook Ilbo (August 1, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility

At the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy in even in developed countries did not exceed 50 years. Now, an average life expectancy exceeds 70 years worldwide and for the average Korean is around 83 years. A single biggest reason for this boost is due to clean water: It is widely believed that the previous life expectancy of 40 years was extended by as much as 20 years by water and sewage system improvements alone.

The discovery of worms and larvae in Incheon tap water has shaken the trust in this public resource. In May this year, there was a roundtable panel discussion to mark one year since the contamination incident. In the meeting, various measures to prevent future accidents were discussed and promises were made to prevent a recurrence, yet another outbreak followed less than two months later.

The Ministry of Environment and the Incheon government release the findings of their investigation and their planned countermeasures. Although the authorities will announce further measures that go beyond last year’s, it is questionable whether these actions would effectively prevent all future outbreaks and, more important, whether the public can regain confidence in the cleanliness of tap water.

Only when more people take responsibility than people who blame others will confidence be rebuilt. The responsibility for ensuring clean and safe public water should not be limited only to those working at the facilities but should also include all people working in water, the water experts, the water NGOs and so forth. Perhaps at this public announcement, all them could be present to convey collectively how we can ensure clean and safe water for all.


In the Pandemic, Competence is Essential but Difficult to Find
Monday, August 3, 2020
In the Pandemic, Competence is Essential but Difficult to Find

Okky Madasari, novelist, in Jawa Pos (August 2, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: F Latief/ILO)

In the Pandemic, Competence is Essential but Difficult to Find

In the beginning, politics was a noble undertaking, which the philosopher Aristotle said was as honorable as that of a teacher. Like a teacher, a political practitioner brought benefit to other people and developed policies that improved lives. People bestowed trust and honor on them.

But that was before, or rather an ideal, a theory, certainly different to the reality today. In America, Europe and even our beloved country, politics has become a matter of scorn. Without any competence or track record of public concern, individuals emerge to contest elections. They ask to be chosen without offering any honorable outcome that is credible. They ask to be trusted even though they have never done anything except enrich themselves and their family.

Now, the pandemic is affecting all of them. They cannot hide the number of deaths. The economic impact cannot be minimized. Covid-19 is a reminder that to be a leader, competence is an essential ingredient, one that is difficult to find at this time.


Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon
Friday, July 31, 2020
Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon

Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (July 26, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office)

Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon

Since the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have rediscovered that he needs to make an economic course correction. He urged foreign investors to come and invest in India. He then boasted of how many reforms his government had made to make it easier to do business. He has not noticed that since he became PM an “inspector raj” has been unleashed that would drive away the most intrepid investors. The government’s own Invest India arm has identified 767 pre-operation licenses that an investor is obliged to get from 35 ministries before starting a business.

The prime minister has chosen to work in a cocoon since he first took the job six years ago. Those people who could tell him how often his officials make regulations that make it harder to do business have been kept at a distance. Those who would be able to tell him how many fine Indian companies face bankruptcy, only because his government refuses to honor its contracts, are kept even further away. Since the pandemic, the walls of Modi’s cocoon have been fortified so he works in a chamber that totally insulates him from reality.

It is time that he started listening to those who can really tell him how difficult it remains to do business in India. The Chinese virus and international disenchantment with China offer Modi a second chance to change course, and make the administrative changes that are necessary if India is to move from poverty to prosperity. He could begin by asking which inspectors and regulations can be thrown into the garbage bin. Once this is done, he should step out of his cocoon and listen to those already doing business in India and try and understand what it is that prevents them from doing it more easily.


The Political (Re)constructions of Sukarno and Pancasila
Thursday, July 30, 2020
The Political (Re)constructions of Sukarno and Pancasila

Julia Suryakusuma, author, in The Jakarta Post (July 22, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Prayitno)

The Political (Re)constructions of Sukarno and Pancasila

To construct and reconstruct is a basic human activity. We build physical things, then they deteriorate and get destroyed. So we reconstruct and build them up again. But when we talk about social constructs, they exist in people’s minds to interpret the world. In no field is this so true as in history and politics with regard to both events and figures where interpretations can be distorted and manipulated, and you can even kill someone more than once. This happened to Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president who served from 1945 to 1966. From the start of the Suharto New Order military dictatorship (1966-1998), there have been various attempts at de-Sukarnoization.

It is now 22 years since the so-called end of the New Order, but the attempts to further reformulate the Pancasila (Five Principles) ideology Sukarno used to create a united Indonesia are still going on in the form of a controversial bill which aims to reduce the five principles into three and even one. Who knows what the motive is behind this bill? But luckily, deliberations have been postponed. Only postponed? Why not scrap it altogether?

The brouhaha over Sukarno’s legacy, including that of Pancasila, is a clear indication of our immaturity as a nation – and certainly that of our lawmakers. What with the coronavirus pandemic still unabated with its long-term effects such as poverty, decline in education and the health system, and the rise in domestic and sexual violence, do not our House of Representatives members have a better sense of priority of the nation’s and people’s needs?


Time to Tame the Real Estate Market
Monday, July 27, 2020
Time to Tame the Real Estate Market

Choi Chang-ryul, professor of political science at Yongin University, in Pressian News (July 24, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: kjh318203/Pixabay)

Time to Tame the Real Estate Market

Property prices in the provinces have crashed and non-Gangnam homeowners in Seoul complain of missing out. Gangnam and the few rich areas continue to be the prized darlings of the real-estate market.

The time to address the inequalities in property values is long overdue. When he was president Roh Moo-hyun clearly understood the seriousness of the problem. Seoul real-estate prices, especially in the Gangnam area, never soared so much as during his presidency. Fast forward to today, the price gap between Gangnam and non-Gangnam properties has spiraled beyond common sense, and all political efforts to control property prices have lost credibility.

Practically speaking, it will be difficult to tackle this issue without addressing the fundamental abnormalities of the capital, which accounts for only 12 percent of the land in the country but is home to 52 percent of the population, 80 percent of the top universities, and 95 percent of the top 100 companies. Despite many efforts to curb the real-estate inequalities, Seoul apartment prices have soared again and again to the point where people are now convinced that each new policy will only hike up values further.

There is now talk of relocating the National Assembly and the executive branch including the Blue House (Cheongwadae). This may be an inevitable measure that would disperse the concentration of wealth and power in the capital. Whether this radical proposal has been made after sufficient study of its feasibility, timing and costs is questionable. Some believe that talk of relocation is but a distraction. But continued stagnation in the provinces and the starkly unequal property market will be a devastating problem for everyone in the long term. Serious action is called for but it is doubtful that the current government would be up to the task.


A Country of Perpetrators
Friday, July 24, 2020
A Country of Perpetrators

Ji-eun Kim, editorial writer, in The Korea Times (July 17, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

A Country of Perpetrators

At a dinner, a legislator casually asked why a reporter was not married. After hearing her terse response, he responded that she should just date him. As is common in a hierarchical and patriarchic society, no one stepped up to call out the inappropriate comment and the journalist was no longer able to partake in the conversation.

This was a trivial incident compared to the many more serious aggressions made against Korean women every day. Following the recent suicide of Seoul’s mayor after a woman who was previously his secretary accused him of sexual abuse, too many in the society are criticizing the victim and not the aggressor. Some believe in conspiracy, questioning why the victim waited four years before reporting the incident. Others are convinced that the woman must have triggered the action. Many sympathize with the popular mayor and argue that it was selfish for the victim to destroy a person’s life over this. Such is the blanket logic repeatedly applied whenever a sex scandal breaks out involving powerful male politicians, professors and the like.

The least that the society can do for the victim is to empathize with her pain, assure her that the fault is not hers, and that she does not walk alone in this battle. The only way effectively to prevent future incidents is to assess objectively past aggressions and indisputably label such acts as abuse without regard to the aggressor’s reputation as a human rights lawyer, a civil activist, or a three-time elected mayor of Seoul. At all costs, the victim must be protected, and society must come to accept that the popular mayor was also a sex offender.


The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?

Lim Teck Ghee, commentator and public policy analyst, in Oriental Daily News (June 19, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: www.freemalaysiatoday.com)

The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?

The death of George Floyd has triggered a wave of anti-racism protests around the world. Millions of citizens, especially young people, took to the streets in solidarity with American demonstrators while criticizing their government's direct or implicit support for racist actions, actions and policies. In spite of Covid-19 restrictions, there were demonstrations in more than 50 countries. While there were no similar protests in Malaysia, some of the country’s leaders have made statements asking citizens to reflect on the treatment of minority groups.

One of them was Nazir Razak, the former chairman of CIMB Group. He expressed support for the movement and reflected upon the universality of this issue in Malaysian society: "How minorities here face the same challenges every day. How institutionalized measures to redress inequality between races have been abused or become out of date, and need to be overhauled. How we don’t even define racism or legislate against it. Our nationhood – what it means to be Malaysian and how our government, economy and society work – needs recalibration."

Political commentator Tajuddin Rasdi wrote that the curve of racism will never be flattened because racism is not considered dangerous, nor do people believe that their alleged enemies are discriminated against. Nazir suggests that Malaysia needs "a new platform" to solve the entrenched racism and that we should be prepared to open the Pandora box and face the difficult problems related to racism.

The racist virus in Malaysia may be completely different from the virus in the US or other countries. However, it ultimately remains a significant problem in both the public or private sphere and affects every aspect of our lives each day. Exposing this virus to the sunlight can give society a better understanding of this social disease and how we can disinfect ourselves from its hazards.


Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public

Umbu TW Pariangu, lecturer, Universitas Nusa Cendana, in Republika (July 15, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: USAID)

Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public

The permissive attitude of the public toward vote buying has the potential to influence the regional elections in September. The Syndicate for Elections and Democracy (Sindikasi Pemilu dan Demokrasi) found in a survey that majorities in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan were prepared to accept cash from candidates for local leadership positions at the elections. In Sumatra, 62.95 percent were prepared to accept money, while the figure was 60 percent in Java and 64.77 percent in Kalimantan.

Asked why they were prepared to accept money, they responded that good luck could not be rejected, that the money represented lost income while they were voting, and represented a useful addition to money for daily needs. In Sumatra, 57 percent admitted they would vote for candidates who gave them money, while 50 percent would do so in Java and 60 percent in Kalimantan.

The findings are not a great surprise. Economic pressure can be blamed for a loss of rationality among the public and a victory for pragmatism. People are no longer afraid of the coronavirus; they are afraid of poverty and hunger.


School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture

Sanitsuda Ekachai, editor, in Bangkok Post (July 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Cpl Jessica Olivas/US Marine Corps)

School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture

A teacher in Si Sa Ket decided to punish a female student for wearing her hair longer than her earlobes. He cut her hair to length but only halfway – not just to humiliate her but also to warn other students to not challenge school authorities.

Social media has been rife with photos showing students' partially-shorn heads. These examples debunk the teachers' oft-repeated rhetoric. Their mission of selfless giving for the future of the nation? It's all a lie.

Here's the ugly truth: schools are the main pillar of Thai authoritarianism. They train young minds to be submissive to power, starting with total obedience to teachers who act like little dictators. By killing a questioning mind and focusing on punishment via public humiliation to extract docility, schools nurture the culture of fear to make children conform with the militaristic system.

Schools are the microcosm of Thailand's totalitarian society. Thai teachers run schools like despots ruling over small kingdoms. But winds of change are coming. Today, students no longer accept abuse. In May, the Education Ministry announced a new hair rule, allowing students and parents to have a say.

As schools increasingly become militarized, students' academic performance continues to take a nosedive, remaining far behind other countries regionally and internationally. Unperturbed, teachers continue to teach the ultra-nationalistic curriculum dictated by the centralized education authorities, because their salaries depend on years of service, not performance.

If we want education reforms, if we want teachers to respect human rights, we must decentralize the education system. We must make teachers accountable for their performance. We must also give local communities the power to hire and fire teachers. Resistance from those clinging to power will be fierce. But as people's values change, a system which refuses to adjust will soon become obsolete.


Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism

Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business and Executive Director of the Institute for Business in the Global Context at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in The Indian Express (July 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism

You may be among the 2,00,000 plus Indian students studying or planning to study in an American university. US President Donald Trump seems to have problems with “aliens” of many stripes. The latest anti-student salvo began with a White House proclamation to stop “aliens who present a risk to the US labor market”. Now we have guidance from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that will prevent all international students from getting or keeping a student visa if their classes are to be taught exclusively online.

The announcement risks making noncitizens of the US second-class citizens in digital classrooms. It eliminates the option of traveling to gain better digital access or time-zone synchronization. Those who are forced to return, must uproot themselves, face restrictions in travel, return to potentially unsafe conditions or carry unsafe conditions with them. The US has the highest volume of Covid-19 cases in the world.

So, why pick this fight? First, this is part of Trump’s push to get back to business-as-usual, a narrative essential for re-election. He’s been urging schools to re-open. The international student visa move is a way to strong-arm university administrations. Losing these students would mean loss of much-needed revenues for universities. Second, don’t forget the long-running China-as-enemy rhetoric. China is the biggest source of international students. A third reason has to do with the enemy within: liberalism. The three states that overwhelmingly benefit from international students – California, New York and Massachusetts – will, without question, vote for Joe Biden.

Finally, Trump knows his base gets weaker the closer you get to college. Sixty-four per cent of non-college-educated Whites supported Trump, as compared with 38 per cent of Whites with a university degree. Punishing colleges and “elitism” is a powerful part of the re-election narrative.


Diplomacy During the Pandemic
Monday, July 13, 2020
Diplomacy During the Pandemic

Retno LP Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, in Kompas (July 9, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Violaine Martin/United Nations)

Diplomacy During the Pandemic

The global crisis caused by Covid-19 has made it essential for Indonesian diplomacy to adapt rapidly in line with dynamic challenges in the current environment. No less than 215 states and territories are affected. The number of cases continues to creep upward, while at the same time panic grows over the impact on the global economy.

In the midst of such global panic, every nation has had to focus on meeting the requirements of their domestic situation. As a result, from the beginning of the pandemic, the diplomatic priority for Indonesia has been to fulfill two factors: the safety of its citizens both inside the country and overseas, and the availability of medical supplies.

Global solidarity is the key to emerging from this crisis. In April, we signed the UN General Assembly resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019”, which was supported by 188 states. At the same time, increasing self-sufficiency is important. Indonesia, for instance, is dependent on imports for 95 percent of its pharmaceutical ingredients.


Population in Freefall
Friday, July 10, 2020
Population in Freefall

Lee Woo-Il, Chairman, Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies, in Seoul Economic Daily (July 5, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SUNY Korea)

Population in Freefall

In an ongoing overwhelming health crisis, we are overlooking another serious national plight – that of a population freefall. According to the “2020 World Population Prospects” report by the UN, South Korea ranks 198th in the world, with an extremely low fertility rate of 1.1.

Such a drastic reduction in population is a serious problem in many ways. For one, the current college enrollment of 500,000 students a year is soon expected to fall dramatically. In 1996, the government introduced a policy for the establishment of universities which led to a ballooning number of new institutions and graduates. As a result, an incredible 70-80 percent of the population graduate from college. But because there are not enough jobs for them, youth unemployment is high.

Another obvious problem is the stark decrease in the working population. The median age of the population is 43. This is expected to rise to over 50 by 2035. In the face of a looming crisis from the combination of an ageing and shrinking population, there seems to be only two solutions: accepting mass immigration, or restructuring industry to align with the changing population structure.  

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the accompanying industry-wide changes at least seem to provide some relief. Increasing use of artificial intelligence and automation in production is expected to reduce overall jobs drastically, and given South Korea’s decreasing workforce, the burden of mass unemployment will be alleviated much more than in other countries. But in the face of a predictable combined population and industrial shock, the government would need to review various legal measures holding back innovation and private investments and restructure the current cookie-cutter conformist education system into one able to encourage citizens to excel in their strengths, creativity and individuality.


“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change
Friday, July 10, 2020
“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

Eri Yatsuzuka, author and publisher of mydeskteam.com, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: McDermid Japan)

“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

According to the government's “womenomics” plan to increase the number of women participating in the workforce, telework – or working from home – was supposed to allow female professionals to combine managing a household with managing a career.

During the pandemic, which has seen more people working from home than ever before, a survey conducted in May shows that the number of women in the workforce has declined, while the number of women assuming caregiver roles at home has increased. As schools have temporarily closed to stop the spread of Covid-19, women must look after or home-school children. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents who reported they have assumed more childcare duties during the pandemic were women. The women who must balance childcare and work have reported being only half as productive as before.

It is no wonder that, in another survey conducted at the same time, nearly 70 percent of women reported experiencing more stress since the start of the pandemic, compared to only 50 percent of men. More women than men felt stressed about completing basic household chores.

The pandemic has shown that women find it difficult to balance their professional lives and manage a household at the same time. There is the assumption, even in some local government policies, that working from home is "easier". There are also societal attitudes about what should be women's work in the home. Women are also conditioned to be responsible for household chores and childcare. We as a society must change if we want to improve productivity by encouraging women to join the workforce.


Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

Sayaka Osakabe, women's rights activist at Matahara Net, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 8, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: milatas / Shutterstock.com)

Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

At least 30,000 people have lost their jobs since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in February. Since the economic crisis has been so severe, these job losses may be unavoidable. In some cases, however, employers are using the pandemic as an excuse to continue the longstanding practice of "maternity harassment", when expectant mothers or those on maternity leave are dismissed from or forced to quit their work.

According to legal experts, employers will often use various plausible sounding excuses such as a decrease in company sales volume to remove women planning to go on maternity leave or are already on it. Labor law provides a strict assessment framework for when such redundancies can be made. Employers are eligible for certain labor subsidies from the government to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. It cannot be easier to dismiss people or suspend them from employment during a pandemic than during a normal recession.

Japanese labor laws clearly state that female employees cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. All of this means that female employees who think they are experiencing discrimination because of a pregnancy must first refuse any requests to resign voluntarily. Next, they should immediately notify their prefectural labor bureau about their experience.