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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.

The Fight Against Infectious Disease Cannot Rely on Medical System Alone
Thursday, February 13, 2020
The Fight Against Infectious Disease Cannot Rely on Medical System Alone

Lim Wooi Tee, physician and author, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 11, 2020)

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

The Fight Against Infectious Disease Cannot Rely on Medical System Alone

Singapore has raised its alert level to orange following reports of several cases of Covid-19 without any travel history or links to existing patients. People have panicked, causing shortages of several products in supermarkets. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans to remain calm.

The government and the medical system have responded correctly to the outbreak with infection control procedures following those adopted for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The screening of passengers arriving from Wuhan began as early as January 3. Only North Korea and Papua New Guinea were faster than Singapore in banning the entry of people from Hubei Province and Chinese tourists. There has been transparency of information, which the media has been releasing without delay.

Yet more cases are to be expected. PM Lee’s call for patients with mild symptoms to be isolated and treated at home has upset some of the public. But this is reasonable advice as there are a limited number of beds in isolation wards and intensive care units for those who are critically ill and high-risk patients such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Quarantine and treatment at home does not mean that the medical system has abandoned those deemed not to require hospitalization. Prioritizing cases ensures that people have access to medical resources according to the severity of their condition.

Prevention is always better than cure. This epidemic is a good opportunity for Chinese communities across Asia to deepen their understanding of disease and medical treatment and to consider whether they rely too heavily on the medical system. Meanwhile, there is no need to panic and stockpile. Singapore is an important transport hub so there should be no shortage of food and daily necessities.


Questions to Consider after the Deadly Korat Shooting
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Questions to Consider after the Deadly Korat Shooting

Prapun Bunpan, columnist, in Matichon (February 10, 2020)

Summary by Tom Tuohy (Photo credit: Youkonton / Shutterstock.com)

Questions to Consider after the Deadly Korat Shooting

The Buddhist festival on February 8 should have been a peaceful holiday, but a shocking event took place at Nakhon Ratchasima, where over 18 hours an army soldier killed 29 people and injured 58 others before he was shot dead.

There are interesting points about the Korat shooting to consider. First, it is easy jump to the conclusion that the tragedy happened because of the personal frustrations of one person. But it is undeniable that the attacker was a military man who murdered people using army weapons, bought with taxpayers’ money. Unfortunately, the killer cannot be questioned.

Second, how can the army guarantee the following: high standards for the storage and disarming of weapons, the mental health of young people, and that such an incident – a soldier with heavy weapons killing innocent people in public areas – will not happen again.

Third, while the Lopburi robbery in January, which resulted in the deaths of three people, and the Korat shooting may differ in many details, one common element is they both happened in large department stores. Shopping centers are public areas that support people’s way of life in a modern society as temples and markets did in the past. They are full of people and enclosed spaces, and can be so complex that when serious crimes occur, it can be difficult for those inside to escape or for emergency responders to enter.

For many years, the government has attached great importance to internal security by expanding the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). But what are the real "dangers to internal security"? Could there be a particularly catastrophic incident in the community perpetrated by those who possess military weapons? Even if unlikely, it is still another "near danger" that the government must be aware of and find ways to prevent.


A Crack in the System
Thursday, February 6, 2020
A Crack in the System

Yudi Latif, former head of the Board for the Development of Pancasila Ideology, in Kompas (February 6, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

A Crack in the System

The explosion of religious radicalism and the emergence of instant “kingdoms” need to be seen as the visible eruption of pressures within the national social and moral consciousness. The history of the archipelago shows us that where the center of government fails to provide clear social and moral guidelines, varieties of public disturbance and the tradition of the “Just King” (a messianic figure in Javanese folklore, similar to Britain’s legendary King Arthur, who would create a just and peaceful society) will tend to emerge.  

We need to ask ourselves why our era of reform has brought with it a social and moral crisis. One reason is that the freedom celebrated by the proponents of reform has not been transformed into civil liberties. 

While democracy is celebrated with a variety of direct elections, in reality the governments that are chosen do not automatically represent the sovereignty of the masses. As a result of a democracy centered on money and manipulation, a surplus of freedom does not create a life that is more just and civilized. 


China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative
Monday, February 3, 2020
China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative

Pei Sai Fan, Visiting Professor at the National University of Singapore, Co-Founder of the Lee & Pei Finance Institute, and senior official at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from 1999 to 2014; and Ma Rongbao, Managing Director, CICC Capital Management, Beijing, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 1, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

China-Singapore Financial Cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative

Singapore’s important role in the economic, financial and trade cooperation between China and ASEAN is growing. As one of the world’s advanced international financial centers and a key node in the Maritime Silk Road, Singapore is well positioned to play a significant part in the financing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), providing both professional and international funding for trade and commerce between countries and regions along the route. 

Singapore is uniquely positioned to connect financial markets and support cross-border financing cooperation. In addition, the city can promote wealth and risk management, while supporting the large-scale and long-term financing support needed for infrastructure projects. Singapore can also expand offshore financial cooperation and accelerate internationalization of the renminbi, China’s currency.

Beyond financial services, Singapore can expand the regional space for cooperation, while promoting coordinated regional development. Furthermore, Singapore can offer a third-party arbitration mechanism to Belt and Road countries to build cooperation and mutual trust. Singapore and China can also deepen cross-border financial regulatory cooperation through the use of fintech. This financial cooperation could include integrating digital financial services such as issuing an encrypted digital currency – a “Belt Road coin” – to provide inclusive financial services and improve cross-border payment systems. 

With the strengthening of mutual political trust combined with the ongoing expansion of economic exchange and the increasing opportunities along the Belt and Road, Singapore-China bilateral cooperation will deepen. Closer financial cooperation can be beneficial to both countries. Through the BRI, Singapore can further utilize its reputation as a global trade, finance and shipping hub to advance regional integration and economic globalization.


People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them
Monday, February 3, 2020
People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them

Noriko Hama, economist and professor at Doshisha Business School, in AERA (January 30, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them

Japan is not the only country that has to worry about lower fertility rates anymore. China's birthrate is falling, and 10 out of 28 European Union member countries are also experiencing declining populations due to lower fertility and low levels of immigration. 

It is, however, important to understand why political leaders seem to think low fertility rates and declining populations are a problem. Nationalists such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy from 2018-19 have argued that population decline is the biggest challenge facing their countries. To combat this trend, the thinking goes, women must be encouraged to have more children as a patriotic duty. 

Even moderates argue that, in the face of a shrinking population, productivity must somehow be increased to maintain economic growth. But the drive to increase growth will also put a strain on the environment at a time when climate change is a concern.

Policymakers need to stop regarding population decline as a threat to the nation or to economic growth. Instead, they must understand that declining fertility is a human rights issue. People, including women, generally want to have children. But they feel they cannot. This is the issue that must be addressed.


Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission

Dedi Haryadi, Founder and Chairman, Beyond Anti Corruption, in Kompas (January 22, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

Reforming the Corruption Eradication Commission

The deconstruction and reconstruction of the Corruption Eradication Commission (known as KPK in Bahasa) is nearly complete, creating KPK 2.0, in line with Law No 19 of 2019. One important difference is the creation of a supervisory board that makes the KPK more bureaucratic and whose impact is already being felt.

A further change is that KPK commissioners are now recognized as officials with the rank of minister who are responsible directly to the president. It is difficult to hope that KPK 2.0 will be able to become a free and independent anti-corruption agency given this situation.

This has occurred due to a coordinated campaign waged on social media in an organized and systematic manner stating that the KPK required deconstruction and reform. This resulted in a far weaker public response in defense of the KPK than had occurred in earlier attempts to emasculate it.


The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition

CK Tay, columnist, in China Press (January 17, 2020)

Summary by a contributor (Photo credit: Prachatai)

The Never-Ending Debate Over Malaysia’s Leadership Transition

When will Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pass the baton to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) President Anwar Ibrahim? 

Mahathir had said that he would hand over power in two or three years, but some politicians – including Azmin Ali, Deputy President of PKR – have urged him to stay on for a full term of five years. Anwar’s supporters are worried about unexpected twists if the leadership transition drags on. There are also voices urging Anwar to take over as soon as possible to stabilize the Pakatan Harapan administration, as Mahathir has seemed uninterested in pushing for real political reforms.

Mahathir most recently promised to relinquish the post after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. He has also reiterated that he would make good on his promise to hand over to Anwar. Nonetheless, many people do not trust him simply because of his many policy flip-flops since returning to power. 

When a country’s policies are reversed and changed so often under the helm of the same prime minister, investors are understandably worried that the next leader would come in and overturn existing policies, causing them to suffer investment losses. Examples of flip-flops that have left investors in limbo include: calling off the ongoing East Coast Rail Link project, only to revive it later with a revised route; and delaying the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System projects.

A “coup” should be a hush-hush operation. Leaders of the four political parties within the Pakatan Harapan coalition should meet and discuss matters behind closed doors. It will do investors and businesspeople no good if the disagreement over the Malaysian PM handover continues to boil up publicly till November.


Dust in your Eyes
Monday, January 20, 2020
Dust in your Eyes

Summary by Tom Tuohy

Dust in your Eyes

For two years, Thai people have become familiar with the term “PM 2.5”, with private companies producing masks with that grade of air filter to reduce dust levels. In early 2019, the pollution problem was big news for several days and Thailand ranked high globally for its poor air. In October, 2019, the government made the issue a national priority, but the problem has returned. 

Reports suggest that 72.5 percent of the dust comes from cars and the rest from open burning and heavy industry, including the construction of new train lines. The low-pressure weather pattern over the Bangkok metropolitan area can trap the dust under a canopy.

The government has asked citizens to use cars that meet higher emission standards and introduced legislation to prohibit bus engines from belching black smoke. These measures need to be monitored.

Citizens, academics and the media criticized the government because, while the problem has been around for two years, it has offered no measures to improve people’s daily lives. This criticism should not be seen as a negative attack on the government and civil servants.

If the government insists that they are trying to solve this problem, then they must be serious about finding a solution. They must review the measures taken and determine what needs to be improved. They should not let the dust get into their eyes so they cannot do the right thing.


Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”
Friday, January 17, 2020
Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”

Wang Heting, Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Public Management at Henan Normal University, in Beijing Daily (14 January 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Tsai Ing-Wen’s Re-election is Just a “Storm in a Teacup”

Tsai Ing-Wen’s successful re-election as Taiwan’s president on January 11, 2020, was inconsistent with the expectations of many people. However, from a long-term perspective, Tsai’s win is nothing but a “storm in a teacup” in the sense that it does not deviate from Taiwan’s political development. Nor will it change the fact that Taiwan is part of China or stop the historical trend towards unification.

Tsai Ing-Wen's re-election was due to several factors, namely, external interference from the United States and lingering influence from Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law movement and its Hong Kong independence figures, which has been subsequently exploited by the Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for political gain. Through these factors, Taiwan’s political environment and electoral campaign have become both hostile and polarised, overlooking the needs of the voters. As a result, the election is only a victory for the DPP and not for Taiwanese compatriots.

However, despite the DPP’s victory, progress towards the motherland’s reunification will not weaken. In recent years, owing to the increasing strength of the mainland’s economy, reunification remains in reach. In addition, Taiwanese society’s view towards cross-strait relations and perception of the mainland have been steadily improving. As such, Taiwanese society now understands the necessity of unification.

Today, the conditions for advancing reunification are unprecedented. However, it will be necessary to continue strengthening international support for the “one China” principle and ensure false signals are not sent to Taiwan pro-independence forces. Even more importantly, the deepening of cross-strait integration will be necessary to expand the path towards peaceful reunification.


China’s Presence in the South China Sea
Thursday, January 16, 2020
China’s Presence in the South China Sea

Steven Yohanes Polhaupesy, China analyst, in Kompas (January 15, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard

China’s Presence in the South China Sea

For two weeks since the end of 2019, China has trampled on Indonesia’s sovereignty by means of illegal fishing in the exclusive economic zone in the waters off Natuna on the southern edge of the South China Sea.

Some 30 foreign ships have been operating in the Natuna Sea, a presence that clearly needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness because this is not only a question of Indonesian sovereignty but also an expression of arrogance and an extension of the power of China in the context of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Since Xi Jinping took the leadership of China in 2012, activities related to territorial claims in the South China Sea have become increasingly aggressive. This illustrates two issues. First, the short-term importance of fishing for China’s maritime economy. Second, that this short-term importance is part of China’s longer-term strategic imperative to reinforce its hard-power presence in the region.


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.