Iokibe Makoto, Chairman of the Asian Affairs Research Council, in The Mainichi (February 21, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan)
The country is faced with troubles. This was due to the spread of the coronavirus, which poses a life-threatening danger to the entire nation. The people are not tolerant of a government that is unable to respond to the threat to their survival.
The threat from foreign enemies has not subsided. North Korea is even more defiant and provocative. China has built an all-round military system and is not afraid to use it. China's actions toward Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands cannot be blocked, and Japan must find a response.
Here are three suggestions on what should be done to overcome our national crisis:
First, establish a crisis management agency for disaster prevention and epidemic control.
Second, Japan must restructure its national security strategy. It is essential to find a way to prevent our neighbors, who are rushing to expand their armed forces, from using force. This is difficult to achieve, but a combination of three approaches may be useful: 1) strengthening self-help capabilities, including enhancement of missile networks, 2) making the Japan-US alliance more effective, and 3) expanding international cooperation.
Third is the revitalization of the economy. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has called for "new capitalism" through wage hikes and inequality correction. This is a global issue. The most urgent task is for Japan to regain its growth potential by strengthening research and development and direct investment. Now is the time to use aggressive fiscal measures to promote digitalization, where Japan is lagging, and to concentrate on accelerating investment in new industries with an eye on global warming.
As for the severe environmental crisis, what matters is how we act. History is rich with examples of recognizing severity and setting ambitious goals to turn a crisis into an opportunity. Let us aim for a creative recovery.
John Leo C Algo, environmental researcher and climate activist, in Rappler (February 13, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: bongbongmarcos.com)
According to surveys, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr, the son of the late dictator, is the frontrunner in the presidential election campaign. Many would call his recent moves, from refusing to attend presidential forums and media interviews to claiming anyone against him is biased, cowardly. But if you expect these controversies to turn the tide, you need a reality check.
Marcos will present his actions as part of his campaign against sociopolitical traditions and institutions in which the masses have lost faith. With the Philippines arguably in the worst shape it has been since the days when Marcos’s father imposed martial law, people desperate for change can equate that with the failure of the leaders who followed the senior Marcos after he was deposed to deliver promises of prosperity.
If voters are tired of leaders and institutions failing them, why are they still choosing to keep political dynasties in power? Is there no other choice out there? The lack of education of many voters is a problem, but we have been dealing with the same issues involving these families for decade. At what point do we start holding accountable those who can see, but choose to be blind anyway?
But maybe the pieces do fit. It is just that political analysts, experts and vocal netizens are analyzing a different game from what Marcos is playing. Marcos and friends have done a terrific job of taking control of the narrative, rewriting it to suit their own agendas. He raises so many red flags but his team focuses on making voters forget them and highlight instead a potential comeback. Now think about it: Why do all trolls and fake news peddlers praise the Marcoses and attack their opponents? Common sense has to kick in at some point.
Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi, country director of World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia, in Koran Tempo (November 30, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Max Pixel)
At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, the world committed to stop deforestation and land degradation. Different parties pledged to contribute to preserving the environment. Indonesia, as the co-chair of the country members of the FACT (Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade) Dialogue, promised to protect the forests in their commodity trade. In addition, over 30 financial institutions that cumulatively manage US$ 8.7 trillion in assets committed to eliminating deforestation risks in their investments in the agricultural and farming sector by 2025.
Apart from restoring forests, President Joko Widodo gave a speech on his plan to replant 600 hectares of mangrove. An ideal ecological and social forest and land restoration requires active cooperation with the people who own or occupy the land. The mangrove restoration initiative funded by the World Bank must, therefore, be designed and implemented through cooperation among the key actors. Consequently, it ensures restoration funds reach the community groups and local entrepreneurs who are working on land restoration. It is the only way to make a transformative systemic change.
To fulfil the promises made at Glasgow, the signatories to the closing declaration and relevant stakeholders need to establish a clear and measurable work plan to achieve the stated goals by 2030. Collaboration among all parties including business, civil-society organizations, and indigenous peoples and local communities is vital. It is essential to have transparency in monitoring, reporting and verifying the progress of implementing these commitments.
Misheel Lkhasuren, columnist, in The UB Post (February 9, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Carsten ten Brink)
The pandemic has proven the intrinsic value of the cultural and creative sector at generating social cohesion and economic growth in times of crisis.
Mongolian artists are seeking to embrace the latest technologies and merge Western techniques with Mongolian subject matter. The Ministry of Culture of Mongolia is even pursuing an e-culture policy. The ministry explains that cultural creations and resources must be combined with technical innovations to produce new types of products and put them into use. However, judging by the current situation, it does not provide enough revenue to support a professional career in Mongolia.
Even in Mongolia, major festivals and concerts are being held online. However, current monetization models in the digital environment are not sustainable for most artists. All streaming revenues effectively go into one big content pot, and artists’ royalties are allocated according to the overall market share of artists on the platform. This favors a small number of major international artists and acts.
New legislation and collaborative projects involving companies and civil society organizations, which benefit artists without hindering their presence on platforms, are needed to guarantee the viability of artists around the world.
The social security net for artists in Mongolia was already inadequate but the pandemic has exposed just how vulnerable workers in the cultural and creative sectors are. Public expenditure worldwide in the creative industries declined in the years preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, which in turn, led to an unprecedented collapse in income and employment in the sector, magnifying the already precarious working conditions of many artists and cultural professionals.
No measures are being taken to protect and support cultural workers in Mongolia. There is no real protection for them, no equal distribution of financial support, and no minimum wage.
Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, UK and UN, in Dawn (February 14, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China)
As saber rattling continues in the crisis over Ukraine, shifting geopolitics have pushed Russia and China into closer alignment while exposing differences within the Western coalition on how to respond. It has further intensified East-West polarization and sent tensions soaring to a new high amid US warnings that Russia might invade Ukraine.
The stand-off between US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries and Russia is widely seen to be about the balance of power and security architecture in Europe. President Vladimir Putin, who has witnessed several waves of NATO’s eastward expansion, has now drawn a red line insisting on a halt to more expansion. He regards this as a threat to Russia’s security and intrusion into its “sphere of influence”.
What this crisis has done is bring Moscow and Beijing into a tighter embrace which some Western analysts are now describing as a China-Russia axis. The meeting between President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing concluded with a strong expression of solidarity and resolve to mount a united front against the US.
Although the crisis is still playing out it has been marked by echoes of the Cold War. The stand-off also reinforces the overarching global dynamic of growing East-West mistrust and confrontation while holding out the prospect of a world increasingly riven into two competing blocs.
Sanjaya Baru, commentator and media advisor to the prime minister of India from 2004 to 2008, in The Times of India (February 15, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Embassy of India, Ukraine)
India’s decision to refrain from commenting on the Ukraine issue at the Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in Australia should come as no surprise. It is in keeping with the stance it adopted at the United Nations Security Council when it abstained on a vote on the issue and advised all parties to find a solution. This is an adequate and appropriate stand for India to take.
The sudden rise in tensions between the United States and its transatlantic allies, on the one hand, and the recharged China-Russia alliance, on the other, has spawned many columns in the media on India’s neutral stance. Many enthusiastic advocates of closer India-US relations have been suggesting that the Russia-China alliance and the East-West confrontation are reducing diplomatic space for India and that we will have to move even closer to the US. Some international relations scholars have argued that India cannot hold on to this neutral stand for long and will have to take sides.
This view is blind both to Indian history and strategic thinking. Successive governments in India, from Jawaharlal Nehru’s to Narendra Modi’s, have repeatedly asserted India’s right to adopt an independent stand based on its national interests, without aligning itself with any particular military bloc unless this was necessitated by national interest.
India’s independent voice in international affairs is a manifestation of her national self-image and no political leader, however favorably disposed to one bloc or another, can go against this grain of Indian nationalism. There is no denying that the US-India relationship is the most consequential relationship for India. Yet, India has no reason to favor the return to a “unipolar” world in which the US vanquishes Russia and China and reasserts its dominance over Europe and Asia. Rather, a multipolar balance of power system is a better option.
Phan Thuy Thanh, diplomat, in VN Express (January 31, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Trieu Nhat Le / Shutterstock.com)
Many Europeans refer to the Lunar New Year Festival as the "Chinese New Year". Not many know that Tet is uniquely Vietnamese. We should change this. Promoting culture is not a competition, but more people should know about our country's Tet celebrations. It is such an integral part of Vietnamese culture and a great opportunity to highlight our country on the global stage.
When I was ambassador to the EU, every time our embassy organized Tet events overseas, instead of mere parties, we opted for something a bit more comprehensive. We placed more emphasis on the word "Tet" as Vietnam’s unique variation of the Lunar New Year Festival, wanting people to remember and recognize the name as a distinctly Vietnamese event.
Brussels, as an international center in Europe, is famous for its festivals. While some people came to our Tet event to satisfy their curiosity at first, they soon became regulars. Soon, in the days leading to it, people began referring to "the Vietnamese Festival," and it attracted people from across Europe who came to enjoy Vietnamese food and cultural performances.
Gradually but certainly, Vietnamese Tet gained a footprint in Belgium. Every year our event was covered by the local news media. This is just a small story for me to tell as a diplomat. Vietnam has many more stories to tell the world. Tet is a small but significant one.
So, this Tet, bring along a foreigner friend to your home for a celebration. We can all become ambassadors and diplomats of our country by treasuring and sharing our values with the world. Tet is great way to start heightening awareness and appreciation of Vietnamese culture.
Endo Ken, Professor, Graduate School of Public Policy, Hokkaido University, in The Mainichi (February 4, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China)
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement has come into effect. Now is the time for Japan to reconsider its risks and opportunities. Japan's national interest is to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with China without alienating the US, Tokyo's ally. RCEP is a platform to pursue this interest.
This is where the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes in. In this context, the CPTPP can be positioned as an additional framework of a higher order. China, which applied to join the CPTPP, has for the first time in a long time put itself in the position of being a "demandeur". This is not bad for Japan. After all, Japan is the leader of the CPTPP and has veto power as a current member so it has little to lose even if China does not join.
There is room for Japan and the rest of the world to take advantage of this opportunity to correct and mitigate the China problem. Tokyo should take this opportunity to move to prevent China from unilaterally deviating from universal rules. During the past decade or so, China has baffled many countries with its coercive economic diplomacy. In light of China's tendencies, this is a difficult enough task on its own, but it is also important to work to bring some relief to political and military matters as well.
In urging a gradual reduction in the establishment of military bases, the flying of military aircraft, and the intrusion of (armed) fishermen and public vessels into politically disputed areas, it would do no harm to bring up the CPTPP membership application. To use a cold-hearted metaphor, take as much as you can before you let them into the room, and if the tactic does not work, let them stand in the hallway forever.
Josh Hong Man Fatt (唐南发), political commentator, in The Malaysian Insight (December 31, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Lan Rasso)
The High Court has ruled that the use of Tamil and Mandarin in vernacular schools is constitutional. Conservative Malay nationalists, however, are likely to appeal or combine with other political and religious forces to challenge the right of children to receive education in their mother tongue.
The rise of far-right Malay forces stemmed from the weakened political position of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) since 2008. The far right has become more and more vocal since the Pakatan Harapan coalition came into power in 2018. Prior to this, opposition to mother tongue education mainly came from UMNO politicians including Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020, and Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir’s deputy from 1993 to 1998 and now leader of the opposition.
Throughout his political career, Mahathir always publicly claimed that mother-tongue education hinders national unity. He also repeatedly promoted the Vision School initiative in a bid to promote national unity and integration, which was tantamount to supporting Malaysia’s extreme right-wing forces. Mahathir resumed these remarks after he became prime minister again in 20018. Even Teo Nie Ching, deputy minister of education under Mahathir, who had always been vocal on the subject of mother tongue education, dared not oppose his plans.
The background of this lawsuit is a result of Malaysia’s turbulent political situation and the fact that no political party can lead, allowing far right forces to manipulate the emotions of Malay voters. In an era when Malay politics are increasingly divided, the possibility for right-wing organizations to cooperate with extreme politicians will only increase. The public should respond calmly to avoid making the situation worse.
Zhang Yangai, macroeconomics researcher, in Jiemian (December 6, 2021) Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
The outlook for China’s domestic exports was pessimistic during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The economy, however, has subsequently outperformed, with the year-on-year growth rate for exports (in US dollars terms) increasing from 0.5 percent in 2019 to 3.6 percent in 2020 – and 32.3 percent in January-October 2021. Contrary to the mainstream view that China's export growth rate will decline significantly, exports will maintain double-digit year-on-year growth in 2022 for the following three reasons:
First, the pandemic’s trajectory remains uncertain. Despite the rapid increase in global vaccination coverage, the number of new confirmed cases observed worldwide continues to rise and fall in waves every 3-4 months. The recent emergence of the Omicron strain has triggered panic in global capital markets. If there is a super mutant strain in 2022, the recovery of overseas production will continue to be limited, which will increase import demand for Chinese goods.
Second, the safety and stability of China's industrial chain has been well demonstrated throughout the pandemic. This is conducive to boosting the popularity of Chinese enterprises to overseas customers and increasing exports, with the automobile industry serving as an example.
Third, the pandemic has given many Chinese products opportunities to go global. The label “Made in China” is constantly improving, and Chinese brands are more and more associated with affordable quality. As the pandemic has limited some overseas production, some customers have been "forced" to buy Made-in-China products, highlighting China’s cost-effective advantage. This trend can be expected to continue in 2022.
Overall, assuming the global pandemic continues throughout 2022, the market share of Chinese exports may expand. This will mean that the export industry chain will continue to play an important role in China’s economic growth, supporting stable employment while also managing the risk of renminbi depreciation.
Luther Lie, lawyer and Founder and President of the Indonesian Center for Law, Economics, and Business, in Media Indonesia (January 12, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Kementerian Badan Usaha Milik Negara, Republik Indonesia)
Every year, nearly two million Indonesians travel abroad for medical treatment. As a result, the state lost revenue worth 97 trillion rupiah (US$6.8 billion). This is the reason for constructing the Bali International Hospital, President Joko Widodo said at the groundbreaking. The hope is that Indonesian citizens will no longer go abroad to get health services, and even foreigners will fly in. When medical facilities in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia are more sophisticated, with many doctors available, why choose Indonesia?
Indonesia needs more than just international hospitals to capture health travelers, both domestic and international. First, if Indonesia is serious about becoming a center for medical tourism, a strategy is needed to acquire the most advanced medical technology. This could be the added value of the Bali International Hospital compared to reputable hospitals in other countries.
Second, Indonesia needs its sons and daughters to return to serve the country. The health minister has acknowledged that Indonesia has a shortage of doctors. At least 700 doctors died due to Covid-19. This is the time for Indonesian doctors who graduated abroad to return home. Many talented physicians want to return, but regulations make this almost impossible. But if doctors want to serve their homeland, why hinder them from doing so?
If the government is serious about making Bali a world health-services center and attracting two million Indonesians as well as foreign tourists, we need more than just luxury facilities. The country's medical system needs a breakthrough: It should not be limited to just services but also needs to be supported by high-quality education, research and development.
Global technology and talent, especially Indonesian diaspora doctors, are the keys to improving the quality of the national health system. Indonesia needs more than just an “international” hospital to host world-class healthcare.
Petrus Richard Sianturi, Founder and CEO of Legal Talk Society, in Koran Tempo (November 15, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Novrian Arbi/Antara)
The Minister of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology's regulation for the prevention and handling of sexual violence in higher education is a beacon of hope for the protection of victims. Indonesian criminal law has not been very friendly to the victims. This regulation, however, will not be strong enough if the state still maintains loopholes that allow perpetrators to make retaliatory accusations against the victims.
In many cases, perpetrators sue victims for libel because they can claim their name has been tainted and they know the victims do not have solid evidence. Libel reports by suspects of sexual violence need to be reconsidered so that the substance of the problem that needs to be resolved first, namely sexual violence, does get ignored. If the police shift their investigation to the libel case, the process gets muddied.
To avoid this situation, the state must first resolve allegations of sexual violence experienced by the victim even though there is a report by the suspect. Then, the viability of the libel case should be determined by the results of the investigations into the allegations against the perpetrator. This is to ensure that victims of sexual violence get a fair treatment of the case.
If these changes are made, the state can protect victims and help them recover. And it can move forward to eradicate sexual violence in any form, especially on a school campus.
Li Wenlong, Senior Economist at the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), in Lianhe Zaobao (October 19, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Ministry of Commerce, Thailand)
On September 16, 2021, China applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). A week later, Taiwan filed its own application. Singapore, Malaysia and Mexico have all expressed their support for China's accession. Meanwhile, Japan and Australia have shown no intention of supporting China's joining in the short term. Singapore, as a founding member with close relations with China, should play a more active role in promoting China's membership.
Once China joins, the development prospects of CPTPP will improve for the following reasons:
First, China is already the largest trading country in the world and the Asia-Pacific region. Without China's participation, the CPTPP would not be a true Asia-Pacific trade agreement.
Second, preventing China from joining goes against the concept of CPTPP as a free-and-open trade agreement. Instead, it would turn the CPTPP into a political tool used to confront and contain China. Owing to the political intentions of Japan and Australia against China, the ideological nature of the CPTPP has been strengthened. But other member states, including Singapore, do not want to conflict with China.
Third, the CPTPP is an important measure to promote further China's integration into Asia-Pacific and global trade. China has already conducted comprehensive research and evaluations and committed to high-level market opening that exceeds China’s current practices.
Finally, support for China to join the CPTPP will also ultimately benefit Singapore. At present, China is Singapore's largest trading partner. By supporting China's accession, the bilateral trade relationship between Singapore and China can be consolidated further.
Alex Eduque, philanthropist and columnist, in Manila Bulletin (December 11, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Wayne S Grazio)
This same time last year, though we tried our very best to keep up the festive spirit, things were much more subdued and grim. And while a lot has happened this past year, many things have still stayed the same.
If there is one thing we are more attuned with these days, it is rolling with the punches. We have accepted that change happens, and we are now more adaptable creatures. Change can be good when we do not resent it and readily accept it. Change is vital in enabling progress. And sometimes, we need to take a pause to internalize all of this. That is perhaps one of the gifts the lockdown brought us – the time to reflect and to realize. Life does indeed go on if we allow it to, and that the sun shines on us even when we least expect it.
The true meaning of Christmas is a prime example of tradition that will never change regardless of any situation. While the manner in which we choose to spend the holidays can differ, the core and the “reason for the season” will always remain the same.
We will look back at this pandemic as the time when the world literally came to a halt and our views of normalcy and routine changed completely. And although life has started to go on again, the question of whether we will ever return back completely to the normal we once knew still looms. When that day comes, I would like to keep the attitude of resilience, flexibility and open mindedness. This pandemic, if anything, taught me to count my blessings and appreciate the small things.
Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer, in Khaosod (November 7, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Pitthara Kaewkor / Shutterstock.com)
There has been an unprecedented flurry of reactions both in support and opposition to amending the controversial lèse-majesté law, which makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king and other royalty. Protests by monarchy-reform groups have reiterated their year-long call for the abolition of, or at least an amendment to, the law. It was not long before parties, ruling and opposition, publicly took a stance. Any hope that the current parliament will table a proposal for debate was diminished when Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-Cha said he opposes any amendment of the law. “Do not destroy what we respect,” he said.
With elections widely expected by the middle of next year if not earlier, it is most unlikely that the proposal will even be tabled by the current parliament. For many who are passionate for or against the law, the next elections will not just be about how to solve the economic crisis but will partly be a de facto referendum on the law itself if not more.
Any expectations that all the opposition parties are solidly behind the proposal to amend the law were dashed when the parties met and said in a press conference that they take no common stance on the law but will respect each opposition party’s position on the matter.
To amend or not amend the lèse-majesté law, or even to abolish it, is a debate we need to have. We can start by the different groups trying to be more honest about where they stand. The perpetuation of a state of self-denial will not do Thailand any good.