SIGN UP FOR INSIGHTS

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.

Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

This is the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Many people will have the opportunity to wave a variety of flags. But why are so many people attracted to flags in the first place?

In the 1970 movie Planet of the Apes, the rival chimpanzees and gorillas are portrayed as waving black and white banners, respectively. It is only the human beings who use flags. It is said that the earliest flags date to the Zhou Dynasty in China around the 11th century BC and were used to direct troops.

More recently, the flag has been used by nation states to symbolize independence and unity. Following the 9/11 attacks, for Americans, the Stars and Stripes symbolized freedom. The Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag (a red disk on a white background), generates complex feelings for some people around the world. For some, the act of raising this flag calls to mind the dark days of the war of aggression. Waving the Rising Sun flag (which happens to be the official emblem of the Asahi Shimbun) can bring back memories of Japanese militarism in countries such as South Korea.

The Rising Sun flag is often waved at sports meets, eliciting criticism. The Japanese government has stated that it has no political meaning and is not a symbol of militarism. Sports fans, however, should remember that raising this flag at the Tokyo Olympics this summer could fuel division and conflict. Instead, spectators should learn history, remember to respect others, and communicate the value of peace.


Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes

Summary by Dana Liu

Highest Vote in History: Why Tsai Ing-wen Got 8.17 million Votes

After an unpopular start, how did Tsai Ing-wen win the presidential election? First, the destabilizing shift in US-China relations over trade disputes brought into focus Taiwan’s own relationship with China. Second, Xi Jinping’s speech on January 2, 2019, laid out an unsettling vision of unification as the future direction of Taiwan, deepening anxieties over Taiwan’s sovereignty and freedom. Third, escalating demonstrations in Hong Kong served as a “window” for Taiwan to imagine its future under “one country, two systems”. The further escalation of campaign rivalries between the two paths of unification vs independence also stimulated tense generational conflicts within Taiwan.

China’s crucial role was to help Tsai win the younger generation’s support and trust. Generational conflicts that existed in the passage of the gay marriage law deepened as student protests in Hong Kong fueled a stronger Taiwanese rejection of the “one country, two systems” policy. Wu Yi-rou, former student association representative at National Taiwan University, says young people liken China’s “Taiwan solution” unification policy to a frog slowly cooked in warm water before being swallowed. For them, it is easy to see what their future might be like in the situation Hong Kong: a younger generation protesting the consequences of a handover decided 30 years earlier without considering the ramifications of that decision.

The Green party has played anxiety over national sovereignty to its advantage: Christians who opposed gay marriage in 2018 supported Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2020 in view of the China threat. The Australian spy scandal in November spread further distrust. Perhaps Taiwan is entering a new war of generational conflict, ending the traditional blue and green divide. Tsai has a great opportunity to reject and replace the “one country, two systems” policy, but what the impact would be on the future of China-Taiwan relations remains unknown.


Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations
Sunday, January 12, 2020
Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations

Summary by Tom Tuohy

Reducing Plastic Waste for Future Generations

January 1, 2020, was D-Day, with a ban on single-use plastic bags coming into force. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment made agreements with 90 department stores, shopping centers, supermarkets and convenience stores not to give out plastic bags.

This is a good start and people are now aware of the new measures and are carrying around reusable bags or know that they would have to pay for them if vendors make them available. While the ban has caused some dissatisfaction, this is not a surprise. Stores have publicized it for some time.

Marine expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a professor of fisheries at Kasetsart University, says that the management of disposable plastic marine waste got worse in 2019 and hundreds of rare sea creatures were injured or killed from consuming garbage and waste. Thai beaches are full of plastic, and volunteers often need a shovel to dig it out from the seafloor. This affects the ecosystem because the material splits into micro-plastics, eventually entering the food chain.

The government’s plan has three steps: Campaign – Agreement – Regulation. They have been campaigning for 20 years but must speed up the process of plastic waste management in the sea, or face trade barriers, tax increases, and bans on Thai products. Failure to address the problem may also affect beach travel and the international image of Thailand.

The ministry will initiate the third step this year by issuing regulations to upgrade Thailand's management of plastic waste to catch up with the 127 countries that already have regulations managing plastic waste. We must, therefore, increase awareness and cooperation among Thais to look at the overall benefits: a better quality of life and a cleaner environment to safeguard the future of our children.


In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes
Friday, January 10, 2020
In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes

Hidetomi Tanaka, Professor in the Faculty of Business and Information of Jobu University, in iRONNA (January 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes

The year 2020 began with a jolt for Japan with the flight of former Nissan chairman (and French national) Carlos Ghosn and the death of Qasem Soleimani, a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed by the Trump administration.

While he was accused of money laundering and violating Japanese financial regulations, Ghosn since his arrest has been portrayed by liberals in the Japanese and French media as a victim of and a hero fighting against the Japanese legal system. It seems these liberals support anyone who appears to be "anti-Abe" (Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving post-war prime minister and a member of the ruling center-right Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP) and anti-establishment.

The runaway liberal virtue signaling was even more pronounced following the murder of Soleimani. A commentator writing in the Asahi Shimbun stated that such was Soleimani's esteem in Iran that subordinates wept at the news of his death. Liberal commentators would have us think that a man who killed tens of thousands and who has been declared a terrorist by the United States is "beloved".

What seems to be most important in this liberal narrative is anti-Americanism and opposition to whoever is in power.


The US-Iran Conflict: What Should China Do?
Friday, January 10, 2020
The US-Iran Conflict: What Should China Do?

Zhan Hao, investor and author, in Aigupiao (January 7, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

The US-Iran Conflict: What Should China Do?

Following the assassination of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani on January 3, US-Iran relations have deteriorated. Over the next few years, strategic relations will be confrontational with limited room for improvement. Therefore, in this context, there are two scenarios that China should consider in shaping its response:

1. Direct military conflict between the US and Iran

The odds for this happening are low, as neither the US and Iran can afford to take such a systemic risk. In the small chance that there is a war, the global economy will be severely hit, with trade and commerce, including the crude-oil supply, disrupted. For China, it will be important to strengthen energy-supply guarantees, as well as bolster economic relations with neighboring countries. Furthermore, a US-Iran war may prove to be good time to reunify with Taiwan due to weakening US assistance to Taipei. Ultimately, if direct military conflict does break out, China must take full advantage of the situation and not allow the US to defeat Iran. 

2. An ongoing confrontation

While China should not allow the US to overthrow the regime in Tehran, it also should not fight on behalf of Iran, as China has no core interests in the country. However, China should strategically strengthen its cooperation with all parties in the Middle East, especially as the US is currently in a position where its global hegemony is increasingly difficult to maintain. China, on the contrary, is growing stronger and this is reflected in its increasing global influence, which will continue to expand as China maintains its strategic strength.

Based on these scenarios, China must remain focused and plan accordingly. China will have to maintain strategic flexibility and keep up with the ever-evolving international situation.


Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation

While Trump continues with his erratic behavior, this time the consequences of his disruptive actions are even more severe. Following the killing of the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Tokyo Shimbun calls on both the US and Iran to exercise restraint so that their conflict does not escalate to war.

By killing Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, the United States has violated Iraq's sovereignty. Concerned that their country will become a battlefield between the US and Iran, Iraqi legislators have passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of American troops there.

The Trump administration's consistent hostility towards Iran, including his withdrawal from nuclear deal, has weakened Iranian moderates into distress while bolstering hardliners. The world is watching now as Iran plans its retaliation for Soleimani's death.

Tokyo Shimbun calls on Iran to stick with the nuclear deal. Actions, including military force, that would further destabilize the current situation should be avoided. Finally, the Japanese government should cancel its plans to dispatch ships and planes from the Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East. Any deployment should be discussed in the national Diet first.


Tussle Over the South China Sea
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
Tussle Over the South China Sea

See Kian Cheah, political analyst, in Nanyang Siang Pau (January 6, 2020)

Summary by a contributor

Tussle Over the South China Sea

Malaysia filed a submission with the United Nations in December 2019, seeking to establish the limits of its continental shelf in the northern part of the South China Sea. This came 11 years after the Vietnam-Malaysia joint UN submission for a portion of their continental shelf in the southern part of the disputed waters.

What are the motives behind Malaysia’s latest move? Malaysia’s UN challenge against China could be seen as a gesture to prod China to expand its investment in Malaysia. In particular, Malaysia wants China to step up its involvement in Malaysia’s mega projects, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail. China is also possibly the only country in the world that is capable of helping Malaysia to realize its Greater Kuala Lumpur project – a region ten times the size of Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia is well aware that it has everything to lose if it files the submission just to please the United States. Its claims on the South China Sea could therefore be interpreted as a bargain with China. Malaysia and China could opt for private negotiations on the South China Sea, because neither wishes to see both sides suffering consequential losses.

While it is highly possible that Vietnam, after losing the Philippines as its ally on the issue of maritime territorial dispute, is eager to find another partner from ASEAN to voice their discontent with China, Malaysia is unlikely to pair up with Vietnam in this pursuit.


Post 2020: Where is the Road Ahead Leading Malaysia?
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Post 2020: Where is the Road Ahead Leading Malaysia?

Tay Tian Yan, Deputy Executive Editor-in-Chief, in Sin Chew Daily (January 1, 2020)

Summary by a contributor

Post 2020: Where is the Road Ahead Leading Malaysia?

Malaysia’s Vision 2020 dream is dashed. Not only has it failed to be a fully developed country by 2020, it is also far from being a united nation with a diverse, liberal and advanced society. Malaysia is currently bogged down by worsening racial tension, religious dogmatism, a lack of a clear development direction and endless political drama.

Interactions between ethnic groups have fallen into the trap of a zero-sum game, with each blaming the country’s problems on the other. Grassroots support for the anti-ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) rally and the Malay Dignity Congress pointed to hardening racial sentiments. A mufti calling for the closure of vernacular schools and an Islamic welfare association warning the Chinese Organisations Congress of the recurrence of May 13, 1969, racial riots have also found support from the ground.

Religious dogmatism has seeped into everyday life and government policies. A Muslim evangelical foundation is permitted to organize programs in national schools, while society reels from a “Buy Muslim First” campaign (choose Muslim-made products over others).

In terms of development direction, the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 lacks substance and specific execution plans. Since taking over federal power, the new government has reneged on its election promises and made many about-turns on its policies. The East Coast Rail Link, Lynas rare earth plant and Bandar Malaysia – projects once condemned by the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition – are now celebrated as the country’s pride.

On the political front, both Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional choose to continue on the racial and religious path to gain electoral votes and retain federal administration, a great harm to social harmony. There have also been signs of a power struggle among the component parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition. Meanwhile, the final battle between Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim, while entertaining, is damaging to the country. Inconsistent policies and unstable politics will only push investors away.

 


Economic prosperity vs social stability
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Economic prosperity vs social stability

Cho Hong-sik, Professor of Political Science, Soongsil University, in Segye Ilbo, (January 6, 2020)

Summary by Charles Lee

Economic prosperity vs social stability

Amidst the dire heat wave and brush fires from climate change, Australia nevertheless opened the new decade beautifully with internationally renowned fireworks. Like the colorful display across the night sky, whites and Aboriginals, Chinese and Indians, and all sorts of other people enjoyed the festivities on the ground.

Until 1970, Australia maintained a “white Australia” immigration policy but since then, has opened its doors to highly educated young talents from the world over. Thanks to this, since 1973, Australia’s population has almost doubled, and its economy has become 21 times larger.

There are two kinds of advanced economies in the world. Nearly all rich Western countries drive economic development through active acceptance of immigration. In contrast, East Asian countries, epitomized by Japan, prefer to maintain social stability by protecting their traditional ethnic identity. As a result, Japan’s population has begun to shrink each year after peaking at 128 million in 2008. At present, South Korea and China look likely to follow Japan’s stagnant path.

What choice will South Korea make in the coming decade? Will it become a forgettable fossil of a country maintaining old ethnic traditions, or will it rise again as a dynamic young country through an endless infusion of new blood?

South Korea’s fate today stands at a crossroads: between comfortable and conservative corrosion and the opportunities offered by a breakthrough transfusion of new blood. But the greatest tragedy is the fact that excellent young Korean talents are going abroad and contributing to invigorating other nations’ destinies.


Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, president of the Hong Kong Legislative Council from 2008 to 2016, in am730 (6 January 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Only Determination Can Resolve Hong Kong’s Deeply Rooted Problems

Beijing has repeatedly requested that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government solve the “deep-rooted problems” in Hong Kong society. Following the anti-extradition amendment bill protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has publicly committed to do so. But these issues have remained unresolved for many years. 

The mainland reckons that the problems largely have to do with the economy: Hong Kong's industry is not so diversified. As a result, housing prices have risen rapidly, while income growth has stagnated, widening the gap between the rich and the poor and solidifying class structures. Grievances within society have mounted.

One key reason why these problems are difficult to resolve is the restraint in Hong Kong’s politics due to a dogmatic adherence to the “big market, small government” concept. This leads to inaction. The SAR government is committed to the far-right idea of a free-market economy and remains indifferent to social inequities. As a result, Hong Kong has one of the greatest wealth disparities among the world’s developed economies.

Change must come from the government rather from the protestors. But the current administration is unwilling to abandon this far-right form of governance. Furthermore, Hong Kong does not have a mechanism for "party rotation" so successive governments have unwaveringly adhered to the dogmatic approach.

To create conditions for major social reform, it would be necessary to address the way the chief executive and governing institutions are selected. The method for choosing the chief executive determines whether the leader will have the political determination and energy to promote social reform. To achieve significant social policy reforms will require shaking up vested interests. Introducing universal suffrage for the chief executive and governing bodies would make a big difference to achieving this. Only with determination to address the deep-seated problems in Hong Kong can they be resolved.


In US-China Relations, Time will not Wait – Seize Every Moment
Friday, January 3, 2020
In US-China Relations, Time will not Wait – Seize Every Moment

Guo Jiping (a pen name) in People’s Daily (December 31, 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

In US-China Relations, Time will not Wait – Seize Every Moment

The phase-one trade deal reached between China and the US will be beneficial not only for China and the US but also for peace and prosperity around the world.

In December 2019, China and the US reached a phase-one trade deal on the basis of equality and mutual respect. On both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and the world as a whole, markets responded positively. While challenges are inevitable in international relations, only cooperation and mutual promotion, rather than confrontation and containment, can make relations last.

As economics and technology continue to make the world more integrated, China and the US are seeing their interests increasingly intertwined. While disputes are a normal part of cooperation, supremacy cannot overthrow justice and rationality. As such, cooperation is always the best choice. China, facing the US-initiated trade war, will never surrender to any form of pressure, and remains devoted to safeguarding its core national interests. In addition, China is committed to resolving issues through dialogue, properly handling differences while seeking common ground, and overcoming obstacles with practical solutions.

Improvements in relations between the China and the US over the past 40 years help to demonstrate that working to create opportunities and maximizing common interests between China and the US is the right approach. Furthermore, working towards the common good of the world is the most worthwhile cause. The phase-one trade deal illustrates that, if China and the US remain committed to win-win cooperation while respecting each other’s national dignity, sovereignty and core interests, they can overcome any form of difficulty. Only through the strengthening of relations will both countries and their people be able to benefit.


Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?
Monday, December 30, 2019
Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?

Shih Wing-ching, Chairman of Centaline Holdings and owner of the am730 newspaper, in am730 (23 December 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Has “One Country, Two Systems” Deteriorated to “One country, 1.5 Systems”?

Anti-government protesters have been using the slogan "Reclaim Hong Kong" as they feel that, since the handover in 1997, the concept of “one country, two systems” has gradually deteriorated into “one country, 1.5 systems”.  The “reclaiming” therefore pertains to the missing 0.5.

The protestors feel that, because of China, political rights in Hong Kong are becoming increasingly restricted. For instance, they claim that China is attempting to control the election of the Hong Kong chief executive and the legislature. In addition, the growth of Chinese-funded institutions has also reduced the status of the Hong Kong business community.

Meanwhile, the increase in mainland tourists has allegedly disrupted the daily lives of Hong Kong people. What concerns the protestors the most is that 150 mainlanders move to Hong Kong every day and there is the fear that they will not only compete with the Hong Kong people for resources, but also make Hong Kong become more like the mainland. These are the reasons why they claim that “one country, two systems” has descended into “one country, 1.5 systems”.

While these criticisms are not entirely groundless, they are somewhat exaggerated, and it is somewhat alarmist to claim the system of Hong Kong is only a “0.5 system”. Even if Hong Kong today does not have the original pre-1997 system, it still has at least around 0.85 of the system.

This is because many of the basic elements of Hong Kong's original system have actually been preserved. These include capitalist-style protection of private property rights, British common law-style judicial independence, basic human rights, a simple tax system, and professional and highly self-regulatory organizations. In addition, the government remains efficient, with low social expenditure, is financially stable, and has a large reserve surplus.

These are characteristics unique to Hong Kong. The system, therefore, is completely different to the Mainland’s. In fact, the current system is closer to the West than to China. It is therefore more accurate to refer to the current system as a 0.85 system. Hong Kong people should not consider fighting for the missing 0.15 at the risk of destroying the remaining 0.85.


China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong
Monday, December 30, 2019
China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong

Derek Yuen Mi-chang, Honorary Lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao Daily (December 24, 2019)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

China’s Future Depends on Hong Kong

Beyond the US-China trade war and the Hong Kong anti-extradition amendment bill protests, the US has been applying pressure on China on issues relating to Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. Today, China is at an inflection point. To determine its future direction, look to the country’s rich history.

There are parallels between the Opium Wars of the 19th Century and the protests in Hong Kong. Although 180 years apart, they both involved a clash between China and the West. The Opium Wars had as much to do with Britain’s assertion of “universal values” such as private property ownership and free trade as it did the selling of opium. Today’s tensions in Hong Kong are also about contending claims for “universal values” (such as human rights and democracy) and for principles of sovereignty and non-interference in a country’s internal affairs. Hong Kong is therefore a microcosm of the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reaction to the situation in Hong Kong has been to deploy nationalism, thus impeding China from continuing Deng Xiaoping’s reform path. The reason why the US is able to interfere over issues such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong is that the Communist Party’s grip over China has weakened and the “One-China” policy is unable fully to assimilate these places. 

China’s situation today is not so different from the Opium Wars. The US has identified Hong Kong as a magic button. Once it is pressed, China will inevitably tighten its grip internally and feel compelled to promote nationalism to maintain its system. As a result, China looks inward, and its society regresses backwards to the ways of the past. If China wants to avoid this fate, it must think hard about how to address the Hong Kong issue as soon as possible.


Education Revolution: The Other Side of Scrapping National Exams
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Education Revolution: The Other Side of Scrapping National Exams

Asma Nadia, writer and publisher, in Republika (December 14, 2019)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Education Revolution: The Other Side of Scrapping National Exams

A lot of people have been shocked by the plan of new Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim to remove or revise the National Exam (referred to as UN, or Ujian Nasional, in Indonesia. This is just a small part of the major change that is needed in the field of education.

In his statement, the minister is right to say that the potential of children cannot be measured from a test and that they are forced to chase a good result because of the importance attached to it. There are many, many students who succeed at these exams because they are intensively coached. I suspect that 100 percent of students at universities are the products of coaching clinics. That means is that the door is effectively closed to children whose parents cannot afford to pay for coaching.


Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay
Thursday, December 12, 2019
Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay

Ralph Recto, Senate President pro tempore of the Philippines, in Usapang Barako (Bar Talk), Abante (December 10, 2019)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Don’t Tax Workers’ Overtime Pay

December is the busiest time for Filipino workers. There is still a lot of work to be done before the holidays. Employees are likely to claim a lot of overtime. With our hard-working workers in mind, we have filed a bill to eliminate the tax on overtime pay. If this bill becomes law, it will benefit 26.7 people in both the public and private sectors.

While the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) does not support this bill because it would collect fewer taxes. But this money will not disappear. The extra cash goes into the pockets of works who will use it to purchase goods and service. This will stimulate consumption, boost the economy and eventually result in greater revenue for the government.

To be honest, nobody wants to work overtime. The administration is implementing new taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, sugared drinks and more. So, let us ensure that employees fully enjoy the benefits of their overtime pay. This would be an early Christmas present to hard-working Filipino workers.