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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.

Censoring the President for his own Good
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Censoring the President for his own Good

Manuel L Quezon III, writer and television host, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Minette Rimando/ILO)

Censoring the President for his own Good

In the past, a late-night television appearance by President Rodrigo Duterte would have been a major event. But times have changed. The president recently made an appearance, but the spirit of the times is such that, in mid-rant about his wives, state media cut him off, abruptly ending the broadcast. The government was having to censor its chief executive for his own – and his administration’s – good.

From the start of his administration through the mid-term, academics and analysts would outdo each other in arguing that the president was far more cunning, crafty, consistent and capable than people assumed. The president is none of the above, but instead is a member of a petty provincial dynasty long used to doing a minimum of executive work by bullying and blustering his way out of every predicament. And has quite a chip on his shoulder not least because his bark and bluster disguises weak leadership. Having been forced to resume the pandemic lockdown in Manila and then rambling on air to cover his helplessness, the people saw through the act. State media dared to do what they have never done to a sitting president – kick him off the air in mid-sentence.

A rumor has been circulating that the armed forces would be unable to meet its payroll. This was denied, but the seriousness of the fiscal situation was underscored by the president himself. Fitch Ratings has warned that the government might be forced to spend more on fighting the pandemic and to help revive the economy. There will be even more pressure to spend if the recovery stalls, it added.

Besides bayonets, it is the fiscal stick that is the most potent in the arsenal of any president. But with empty coffers, even the reliability of bayonets becomes shaky.


Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom

Chidanand Rajghatta, Foreign Editor based in Washington, DC, in The Times of India (August 17, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom

Traditionally, American vice-presidents were considered so nondescript and superfluous that Thomas Marshall, the country’s 28th VP, joked about two brothers, one who ran away to sea, the other who became vice-president: Neither of them was ever heard from again. Franklin Roosevelt’s first veep, John Nance Garner, said the title was not worth “a bucket of warm spit”.

The choice of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate sends a different message. The US has had 45 presidents and 48 vice-presidents, none women. Only 14 veeps have gone on to become presidents, nine of them after the president’s death.

The Biden-Harris team offers a ticket to unprecedented history should it be victorious. Veeps go on to become presidents in the worst of circumstances, not necessarily in better circumstances. Biden himself, after serving two terms as Barack Obama’s veep, had to defer to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the party nomination in 2016, choosing “dignity over ambition” when he realized the odds were stacked against him. Harris, the first putative female veep of Black and Indian heritage, is viewed in some quarters as a possible regent under any circumstances for a man who would be the oldest president to be sworn into office – if he wins.


Urgently Rethink Pandemic Policies - or the Future is Bleak
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Urgently Rethink Pandemic Policies - or the Future is Bleak

Kavi Chongkittavorn, journalist and commentator on regional affairs, in Bangkok Post (August 11, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Madelline Romero/PSI)

Urgently Rethink Pandemic Policies - or the Future is Bleak

Thailand's future might well be in danger if the government does not take urgent action to recalibrate its anti-pandemic policies. All the excellent measures the concerned authorities, as well as the public, have taken in mitigating the coronavirus over the past six months could easily turn against them. Thailand could emerge from Covid-19 with more disgruntled Thais including those who were repatriated. Worse, there will likely be additional unhappy foreign countries including their diplomats and citizens who have encountered discrimination.

Two important trends must be considered. First, public expectations are so high that any new community transmissions will not be tolerated. For the past 78 days, not a single local case has been reported. Thailand has been touted by the international community as one of the world's top countries in containing the virus. Second, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has been tough in handling foreign visitors, causing protests from the diplomatic community. This could have far-reaching repercussions for the country's economic recovery plans.

It will be imperative to educate the Thai public about the situation instead of focusing on the numbers. The CCSA must know how to manage public expectations. Any new cases popping up with more easing of lockdown could have a devastating effect on the government's image and stability. It will ignite a new cycle of the blame game among stakeholders and politicians.

Thailand should learn from Vietnam, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Singapore that opening up the country carries some risks – namely new infections no matter how efficient the preventive measures are – but it is essential to kickstart the country's economic recovery in the "new normal" era. Public understanding of this is essential, otherwise, the future is bleak.


The Dilemma Facing the Malaysian Chinese
Monday, August 17, 2020
The Dilemma Facing the Malaysian Chinese

黄瑞泰, middle school teacher and a committee member of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Oriental Daily (August 15, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jorge Láscar)

The Dilemma Facing the Malaysian Chinese

In Malaysia, the dilemma of the Malaysian Chinese is that, to live in peace as citizens, they need constantly to show their non-threatening loyalty.

Today's Malaysian Chinese society has two ways to face this dilemma. The first is to welcome the rise of China, hoping that this will increase the voices of Malaysian Chinese. This approach, however, not only fails to tackle the dilemma but also makes the situation increasingly complicated and awkward. The culture of the Chinese in Malaysia has long a history, and over the years, a Chinese culture unique to Malaysia has developed. The rise of China has led to a weakening of Chinese ways of living in Malaysia. As a result, many have embraced China, deepening the dilemma faced by the Malaysian Chinese community.

The second way is to reflect on the uniqueness of the Malaysian Chinese themselves and seek ways for the community to capture the local characteristics of Malaysia. This involves establishing and fostering uniqueness, a Malaysian Chinese ethos that integrates different ethnic cultures.

While the strength of China will inevitably bring huge changes, this may not necessarily help the Malaysian Chinese community to resolve their dilemma. They should work to wipe out completely the boundaries between them and promote the idea of a strong family.


Human Rights: Was Giving the Ruling Party Another Landslide Win Worth It?
Monday, August 10, 2020
Human Rights: Was Giving the Ruling Party Another Landslide Win Worth It?

Myagmardorj Buyanjargal, writer, in The UB Post (August 7, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sasha India)

Human Rights: Was Giving the Ruling Party Another Landslide Win Worth It?

It is not necessary to explain how the ruling Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) won another landslide victory in the parliamentary elections. But consider the polls from a human rights perspective.

The most recent potential human-rights violation of the government is that it let a Mongolian woman and male driver stay in no-man’s-land for two days, refusing to let them enter their home country. The student had travelled from the Czech Republic since the government’s efforts to bring back citizens from abroad due to Covid-19 have been dismally slow.

When a large number of Mongolians were demanding that authorities let her in, she was stuck between Mongolia and Russia because customs authorities told her to go back to Russia. While the authenticity of this explanation may be in question, no reasonable man would be surprised if this explanation was authentic as the government closed the border indefinitely in mid-March. We perhaps need to remember that the Constitution prohibits the extradition and exile of citizens to any other country in any case.

Another very clear example of human rights violations would be the decisions issued by the State Emergency Commission (SEC) and the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar ordering mayors of districts not to accept any request to organize any kind of meeting, including peaceful gatherings and protests. According to the Constitution, citizens shall be guaranteed the privilege to enjoy “freedom of thought, free expression of opinion, speech, press, peaceful demonstration and meetings”.

If we follow this pattern of a quiet “abuse” of human rights, it started even before the election. When the authorities have things to hide, most likely there will be human rights violations. Is this the beginning of a gradual undermining of human rights? If so, was it worth giving the MPP another landslide victory?


Under the King’s Guidance, Covid-19 Strategies Have Succeeded
Monday, August 10, 2020
Under the King’s Guidance, Covid-19 Strategies Have Succeeded

Chenkyab Dorji, diplomat, in Kuensel (August 8, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Thomas Trunk/123RF)

Under the King’s Guidance, Covid-19 Strategies Have Succeeded

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Bhutan was detected on 6 March 2020. Since then, under the enlightened leadership and personal guidance of His Majesty The King, the government has taken many steps to mitigate risks and prevent the transmission and spread of the disease in the country. In fact, His Majesty was already aware of the risks and challenges that Covid-19 could pose to the people and country even before the detection of the first confirmed case and was pro-actively preparing response plans and strategies.

Bhutan’s preparedness, response strategies and efforts have been lauded as many steps were taken in a proactive manner despite the fact that there was no local transmission in the country. Covid-19 has brought the country together to combat and overcome one of the greatest challenges of our times. The swift and deliberate manner with which Bhutan acted to prepare and respond while countries in the region and beyond were overwhelmed by the pandemic is noteworthy, particularly given our constraints and limited resources.

Going forward, what is important and imperative is for each and every citizen to be responsible by supporting the efforts of the Royal Government to prevent local/community transmission. As a senior citizen, I urge and appeal to all Bhutanese to be responsible and comply with health advisories such as wearing face masks, washing hands frequently and physical distancing. The Druk Trace App is an extremely important tool for contact tracing and must be used whenever visiting any public place.

We all have a solemn responsibility, individually and collectively, to prevent the transmission and spread of Covid-19. We cannot afford to become complacent, irresponsible or reckless. We must continue to work together with steadfast resolve and unity of purpose to protect our communities and our nation.


Why is India Anti-China but China is Not Anti-India?
Friday, August 7, 2020
Why is India Anti-China but China is Not Anti-India?

Long Xingchun, Executive Dean, and Zhang Sheng, researcher, Chengdu Institute of World Affairs, in Global Times (August 5, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: BMN Network)

Why is India Anti-China but China is Not Anti-India?

After the Sino-Indian conflict broke out in the Galwan Valley, the Indian government led a strong nationalist response giving birth to anti-Chinese sentiment. As a result, a simple border clash evolved into a complete economic decoupling with a widespread boycott of Chinese goods. The Indian government has even moved to ban 106 Chinese mobile apps while the Ministry of Education has started a review of Confucius Institutes and educational cooperation.

Meanwhile, there has been hardly any evidence of anti-Indian sentiment in China. The government has avoided introducing restrictions on Indian companies, and even the Chinese people have not retaliated by boycotting products.  China actually understands India's feelings as many Chinese people have felt that way themselves. During the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, there were large-scale protests and boycotts of Japanese goods in many Chinese cities. These actions reflected a victim mentality associated with being a weak country.

China today is a prosperous and powerful country. Its achievements have cleared away its sense of inferiority and eased the pain of history. As such, China does not need to defend its national interests through such methods. As China has surpassed Japan on economic and military terms, anti-Japanese sentiment in Chinese society has actually diminished. 

Ultimately, India’s anti-Chinese sentiment is the natural reaction of the weak facing the strong. The undeniable fact is that China has the advantage over India in economic, political and military terms. The real danger now is that the Indian government is being trapped by ultra-nationalism and is trying to use anti-China sentiment for political gain. China and India have long had disagreements along their border, but economic and cultural cooperation has been an important foundation of their relationship. Maintaining that common ground of peace, stability and prosperity is the responsibility of both nations. 


Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?

Michael de Castro, lawyer, in Rappler (August 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

Does it Matter if we are not Truly Democratic Now?

Is the Philippines a truly democratic country? Does it matter if we are not truly democratic now? This Republic is just 32 years old, counting from the first day of the effectivity of the 1987 Constitution. For all intents and purposes, it is just starting its life.

Youth has the inimitable quality of not letting itself be encumbered by the weight of tradition. We have yet to write the most important passages of our history. Remember your own awkward teenage years. The Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte is exactly that, writ large. The tens of thousands of murders in broad daylight, the hundreds of thousands of illegal arrests, the daily warrantless raids, the uneven hand in the implementation of laws – these are the zits, the stretch marks, the growing pains of our youth as a people. Every single evil is painfully avoidable, but the totality is necessary for the growth of our collective conscience.

Democracies older than ours do not speak lightly when they claim that every right, every phrase, every word in their own Constitution was written by the blood of their ancestors, in broad strokes by the force of history. They say that rights only matter when the people to whom they have been bestowed are brave enough to wield them.

Rights make sense only when they have been taken away. All of these freedoms were mere words in our recent past, yet now they take on the gravity of life and death.

No matter. This period in our history can only lead to our growth. Painful as it is, it can only make us stronger.

We, the people, are young. We are free to determine the trajectory of our shared fate. So, my dear fellow youth, do not give in to despair. Stay the course.


Clash of old and new values: Is Thailand heading for a big change?
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Clash of old and new values: Is Thailand heading for a big change?

Wichit Chaitrong, Editor, in The Nation (August 3, 2020)

Summary of Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prachatai)

Clash of old and new values: Is Thailand heading for a big change?

Ongoing youth-led protests have wide implications for the country and it has left many, especially those from the old generation, shocked. It may have been triggered by politics, but as the pro-democracy protests evolve, it has expanded to also impact the core values of Thai society.

By expressing their opinion about the role of the monarchy, the protests have touched on a sensitive issue, which has always been a taboo. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong have expressed concern about the dangers of slandering the highest institution. After the 2014 coup, the military-backed government promoted 12 core values for citizens, largely instructing people to follow the rule of authority, uphold traditional institutions and what is perceived as Thai culture. Liberals criticized the 12 values as a tool to brainwash people or an attempt to drag Thai society into the deep past.

Now, the political tide has turned, and the military's attempt to promote their 12 values has failed. Even schoolchildren are questioning school discipline on hairstyle, opposing traditional values that pupils must respect teachers. University students have raised questions about how the country is run, opposing the value of showing respect to traditional institutions.

Reacting to student campaign for a change, royalists organized a protest on July 30, claiming that their action was aimed at protecting the monarchy threatened by student protests. Observers said most of participants in the royalist gathering were senior people, contradicting the organizers' claim of vocational students rallying.

Where will this clash of values lead the country? “Traditionalists or the conservatives have encroached too much on the space of the liberals,” said Gothom Arya, adviser to Mahidol University's Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies. They should step back and open space for everyone, by “rewriting the Constitution”, he suggested.


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.