Keizo Yamawaki, Professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University, and Bob W White, Director of the Laboratory for Research on Intercultural Relations and Professor of Anthropology, Université de Montréal, in The Japan Times (July 3, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
There is nothing new about the tendency to look for scapegoats during pandemics. Indeed, at many points in history, anxiety about contagious disease has manifested itself in the form of fear mongering and xenophobia.
Outside of Asia there has been a significant increase in the number of hate speech incidents targeting people of Asian descent, and in some cases other groups (such as Hassidic Jews, Roma communities and various types of migrants) have also been targets of discrimination. Hate speech is increasingly gaining the attention of local and national governments, but from the legal and policy perspective many questions remain unresolved.
In pandemic, there have also been examples of discrimination against foreigners in Japan. Anonymous letters demanding that Chinese people should leave Japan were sent to restaurants in the Chinatown in Yokohama. When the Saitama municipal government began distribution of masks to local kindergartens, a Korean-owned kindergarten was deliberately excluded. When popular comedian Ken Shimura died of Covid-19, there were tweets saying he was murdered by Chinese.
As local governments in Japan attempt to make communities more inclusive, fighting discrimination has become one of the key issues in municipal integration policy. During a meeting organized by Hamamatsu in October 2019, officials from cities in Europe, Oceania and Asia discussed the importance of cities in the promotion of inclusion and social cohesion. We believe that the best way to promote inclusion in Japan is to build on the already existing network of cities. In the coming years of living with Covid-19, this renewed network will hopefully make it possible for cities in Japan to engage with cities elsewhere in the world, and for Japan to take its place in the global fight against discrimination and the exclusion of migrants.
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in The Nation (June 30, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
Compared to other developing countries, small-island developing states (SIDS) in the Asia-Pacific region have done well in containing the spread of the virus. So far, available data indicates relatively few cases of infections, with 15 deaths in Maldives, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Yet, while rapid border closures have contained the human cost of the virus, the economic and social impacts of the pandemic on SIDS will place Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) even farther out of their reach.
One reason SIDS economies have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic is their dependence on tourism. Tourism earnings exceed 50 per cent of GDP in the Maldives and Palau and comprised 30 per cent in Samoa and Vanuatu in 2018. The severe impact of Covid-19 on these economies is also a result of heavy reliance on fisheries, which represent a main source of SIDS marine wealth and bring much-needed public revenue. The coronavirus crisis will jeopardize these income streams as a result of a slowdown in fisheries activity.
As part of the post-virus recovery, new foundations for sustainable tourism and fisheries in Asia-Pacific SIDS must be built. These sectors must not only have extensive links to local communities and economies, but also be resilient to external shocks. Enhancing economic resilience must focus on building both the necessary physical infrastructure and creating institutional response mechanisms.
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the price of weaknesses in health systems, social protection and public services. It also provides a historic opportunity to advocate for policy decisions that are pro-environment, pro-climate and pro-poor. Progress in our region’s SIDS through sustainable tourism and fisheries are vital components of a global road map for an inclusive and sustainable future.
Joseph Leopold Ratnasekera, Catholic priest and missionary, in Daily Mirror (July 6, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Presidential Secretariat, Sri Lanka)
Sri Lanka will hold its 16th parliamentary election on August 5 this year. The time has come for the country to discern the sad situation we are in and look for alternative political choices that will put in power only genuine and authentic politicians.
The most crucial problem is the lack of production in our export sectors, in the apparel and textile industries that have to be revamped. The fast-dwindling tea, rubber and coconut industries have to be saved with more creative policies and reinforced for greater production with modern technologies. The export sector is always the livewire of any economic stability of any country. It will minimize the need of imports. There is so much that can be produced locally to cater to the local population as well. Hard work has to be encouraged and excellence demanded in all fields of industry.
There must be a firm resolve to curb bribery and corruption in the government and stringent measures have to be taken to ensure honesty, transparency and accountability in the way these offices are held and performed. Much of the loss of quality resulting in the wane and the bane in national politics has been the rash and recklessness of those holding public office. In the over-all context of the national scenario, all are agreed on the urgency of a bounce-back plan to revive the virus-saddled economy that has experienced considerable setbacks in many sectors.
Let there not be any unpatriotic trend mooted or vicious cry raised for autonomous rule in any part of the country. This island-nation is one with one Sri Lankan identity. All races and religious groups must unite in one common ideal of pursuing a prosperous and peaceful motherland for all.
Saifur Rashid, Professor of Anthropology, University of Dhaka, in Dhaka Tribune (July 5, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nurunnaby Chowdhury (Hasive))
We know that public universities stand to provide any student, irrespective of their financial background, an education upon passing the competitive admission process. They are not like private universities, where students have to spend a lot of money to get a degree, although they have some scholarships for the poorer students.
Historically, the students and faculties of the University of Dhaka (DU) have not only been engaged in learning, teaching, and research but have also been playing a very significant role in various social, cultural, and political movements in the country.
Despite various limitations, DU is still ranked as the best university in the country. But we can’t be happy with this. We want to make our university world class. Before celebrating the centenary of DU in 2021, we need to examine our methods and figure out how we can take our university to a certain height by raising the quality of teaching and research.
How are we going to live up to the challenge of branding the university, which was once called the “Oxford of the East,” and meet the standards set by the development of science, technology, and the liberal arts in the 21st century?
The alumni can come forward to raise sufficient funds for research and provide scholarships to the students to go to the best universities for higher education. To make DU one of the finest seats of learning regionally as well as globally, we need to prepare a 25-year perspective plan with immediate, mid- and long-term targets.
Every member of DU and its alumni who are proud of their engagements and contributions to building the nation would also like to feel more pride by rebuilding the image of this university and converting it to a world class center for the production and dissemination of knowledge.
Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister for Research and Technology of Indonesia, in Kompas (June 23, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Said Safri / Shutterstock.com)
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on Indonesia. A number of practices which have no precedent in this republic such as working from home, social distancing and large-scale social restrictions that have been in place for three months have shaken our economy. Economic activity involving lots of human labor has more or less stopped, including in the informal sector. Many economic activities that require a physical presence no longer operate, leaving a part of the public without income.
As a result, in addition to the slowing economy, unemployment and poverty are increasing. While this is a disturbing situation, the example of other countries that were hit earlier made it clear that the coronavirus spreads quickly and takes many lives. There was no choice but to limit social interaction.
How long will this last? There is no clear answer, although the ideal would be to find a vaccine. However, this will take time, and economic activities cannot be stopped. As free people, humans do not wish to be detained for very long.
Arghya Sengupta, Research Director at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and Lalitesh Katragadda, Founder, Indihood, in The Times of India (July 3, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
As Indian soldiers face the Chinese army in Ladakh, their courage in defending our borders makes our hearts both heavy and proud. However, as citizens, our actions belie our feelings. India’s trade deficit with China is US$48.5 billion, on the back of China’s near-complete domination of India’s consumer electronics market. The resulting economic upside is significant enough to fund China’s entire military expenditure on the Indian border. How do we face our soldiers and tell them that we are bankrolling the very peril that they are bravely pushing back against?
In this context, the decision by the Indian government to ban 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat is a significant statement of intent. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act allows the government to block access to any content on the internet if protection of Indian sovereignty requires such blocking.
While any direct connections between companies which own the blocked apps and the Chinese government are difficult to detect, by virtue of China’s national intelligence law every technology company in the country is under a legal obligation to “assist and cooperate with state intelligence”. Further, according to China’s cybersecurity law, all companies “must accept supervision from the government”. When that government wages war on India’s borders, a strong case exists to follow due procedure and block these applications.
Ultimately, in technology as in the economy, we need to learn from our soldiers on the front. We need to steel ourselves for a few years of hardship with knowledge and belief that we will overcome. If we don’t, our dream of a tech sovereign India will become like a TikTok video – short-lived and illusory. If we do, perhaps our foes may never dare to draw battle lines inside our physical territory.
Yutaka Suzuki, Professor, Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, in Tokyo Shimbun (July 1, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson
As schools across Japan reopen and try to make up for instruction time lost during Covid-19 closures, we must ensure learning continues to be flexible. While school summer holidays have been shortened and some students are now attending classes six days a week, online teaching has ended. This may present a barrier to learning for the students who traditionally have not done well with in-person learning and have stayed away from school. In fact, the online learning presented during the closures engaged some of these students with schooling. The past few months have proven that students can learn without necessarily needing to be physically present in school. Online learning should be continued for these students.
Henry Ren Jie Chong, Research Fellow at the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies, in Oriental Daily News (June 26, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
There has long been a controversy over whether Chinese Malaysians should learn Malay. One of the main arguments for this is the idea that Chinese should learn Malay to be integrated in society, be accepted by the Malays, and to prove that they are “Malaysian”. But we should move beyond the issue of language and discuss what it means to be a national of any country.
History textbooks would often describe nationality and ethnic groups as referring to the same blood, language and culture groups. This is an inaccurate definition, however. The same language is not enough to be an element of unity. Neighbors Austria and Germany both use German, yet they are not the same country. Switzerland is another example. It has four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. The Swiss does not therefore think that people who speak another language are necessarily of another country.
There are many ways to distinguish one another within a country. Even if there is one language, there remains many other ways to distinguish citizens from each other. And, even if there are different languages, it is still not be impossible to build a nation. In other words, language is not a key factor.
In Southeast Asia, many countries are still building their nation-state. Malaysia is no exception. The question of whether everyone should learn Malay comes up in the context of building a nation. But we should try to think outside such a framework and more about what kind of country we want to build.
Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, UK and UN, in Dawn (June 29, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: United States Institute of Peace)
Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives have principally been shaped by its geostrategic location in a tough neighborhood. This explains why security concerns had such a dominant influence. The sweep of foreign policy over the decades reveals a complex interplay between internal and external factors, and between domestic goals and an ever-changing international environment.
Of course, big power interests had a major impact on policy, intersecting with elite interests to sometimes complicate if not aggravate Pakistan’s challenges. An unedifying aspect of this was a mindset of dependence fostered among officials during prolonged periods of the country’s alignments. This dependence proved to be habit forming. Reliance on external financial assistance created a perverse incentive for urgent economic reform and serious domestic resource mobilization. It also encouraged ruling elites to constantly look outside to address financial deficits and other sources of internal vulnerabilities, even see outsiders as catalytic agents to promote development and solve problems at home.
The most recent turning point has seen Pakistan tie its strategic future more firmly to China while facing an implacably hostile India. In fact, the country’s daunting foreign policy challenges call for a more imaginative strategy to navigate a more complex and unsettled multipolar world.
The world has changed fundamentally but habits ingrained over the years by the ruling elite have yet to do so. Pakistan learnt to rely on itself for its defense when it pursued and acquired the strategic capability to deter aggression. But the habit persists of seeking help from foreign donors to deal with chronic financing gaps — frequently dramatized by frantic trips to Arab capitals. A similar lesson has yet to be learnt about financial self-reliance which is only possible through bold fiscal reform and a reordering of budget priorities. The tyranny of dependence waits to be overcome.
Thang Lengleng, Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 26, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Code@SG/Infocomm Media Development Authority)
The government’s establishment of the new Singapore Digital Office (SDO) will encourage electronic payments throughout society. However, ensuring the elderly can keep up with new technologies remains a challenge. Over a decade ago, the government establishment of the Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) to address this issue.
The elderly are benefiting from a digitized life. According to one 2018 survey, 55 percent of those over 60 used the internet, an increase of 25 percent in just two years. Nevertheless, there will still be some elderly people still excluded from the digital world. Beyond creating new learning opportunities, we must build deeper understanding of the willingness among the elderly to accept new technologies.
Studies have shown that if seniors understand how technologies would be beneficial to them, that they are not too difficult to use, and that their family and friends also recognize the importance of these skills, then they are more likely to accept them. Yet there are not many seniors who are willing to take on new challenges.
It is important to recognize the diversity of elderly people. While education, income and occupation can all affect the willingness of the elderly to accept new technology, it is also a fact that the higher the age, the lower the rate of using new technology. As such, it is necessary to be more attentive to and respect the older age group, who are more likely to be marginalized.
While the government continues to promote digitalization measures, they have repeatedly stated they will retain non-digital alternatives. In addition to providing assistance to encourage the elderly to learn, the government must also take into account the specific design of products and digital services and embrace the principle of simplicity and ease of use. This can help seniors to embrace the digital transformation.
Hsu Mien-sheng, Taiwan diplomat, in The Storm Media (June 27, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: www.vystrcil.cz)
Domestic media recently reported that the Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil plans to visit Taiwan. This will not only involve Czech-Taiwan relations but also cross-strait relations. If cross-strait relations are harmonious, exchanges with countries without diplomatic relations are relatively straightforward. Visa-free treatment for Taiwan citizens in the European Schengen countries was achieved under harmonious cross-strait relations. Today, ties are tense and Taipei’s exchanges with countries with which it has no diplomatic relations will inevitably aggravate Beijing.
Vystrčil has been extremely friendly to Taiwan. Despite his lofty status, however, he is of relatively low political importance. Czech President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček all have discouraged the visit because of their concerns about the relationship between the Czech Republic and China. Beijing has reacted strongly, with the Chinese Embassy in Prague declaring that the visit is “blatant support for the separatist forces and activities in Taiwan, which seriously violate China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Many politicians from countries with no diplomatic relations have visited Taiwan over the years, but they have observed diplomatic practices and not announced it beforehand. There has been no incident and no trouble to any party. Diplomacy should be about doing more and talking less. It is necessary to respect the professional judgment of diplomats and act in the proper way to prevent incidents. In this case, Taiwan’s representative in the Czech Republic behaved inappropriately by not consulting other parties on the handling of this announcement.
While Taiwan should cherish its friendship with the Czech Republic, we must avoid getting too excited. It would be inappropriate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to use this visit for publicity. While it was originally seen as a positive event, any negative consequences could be more costly that it is worth.
Duk-min Yun, Chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, in Chosun Ilbo (June 27, 2020)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Cheong Wa Dae, The Republic of Korea)
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office building. Given the special context of the North and the South, this act is equivalent to an attack of a diplomatic office. Most countries in such situations would consider military action, and at the very least, immediately cease diplomatic relation. President Moon Jae-in responded that he will remain patient, adding that it was the South that broke a promise with propaganda provocation. His administration calls for providing additional support to the North and passing laws against further civilian provocation.
What is most infuriating is that this attitude of the leadership is jeopardizing the South’s hard-fought democracy. South Korea is a UN member state and its government holds no power to restrict its citizens’ basic rights over bilateral agreements or treaties. Criminalizing South Korean citizens from practicing their freedom of speech over an agreement with the DPRK is just that.
Not only the freedom of speech but also human rights is sacrificed when it comes to the DPRK. Despite South Korea’s usual solid stance of protecting its citizens’ rights abroad, this stops at the DPRK. There are six South Korean nationals detained in the North. This is in addition to 11 passengers from the Korean Air Lines plane hijacked in 1969 and another estimated 20,000 and 516 civilians kidnapped during and after the Korean War. Yet the issue of releasing detained citizens went unmentioned during the three inter-Korea summits held between the current leaders of the two Koreas.
The DPRK is a special country that must be dealt with through cooperation and mutual respect at all costs. But the attitude of the current leadership makes one question whether democracy and human rights still make up the fundamental core of our national identity.
Wong Kam Fai, Associate Dean (External Affairs), Faculty of Engineering, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and former president of Hong Kong Information Technology Joint Council, in Hong Kong Economic Times (June 25, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: N509FZ)
The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 has severely affected the lives of Hong Kong people. Quarantine policies and travel restrictions hindered exchanges and cooperation within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA).
There are nearly 300,000 Hong Kong people working in Guangdong Province and nearly 900,000 immigrants from the mainland in Hong Kong. Many people travel between both places, living in one and working in the other. Although under the "one country, two systems" policy, Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau belong to three different administrative regions, those that travel frequently between the three places, perceive themselves as "Bay Area" people who should work together to create value for the GBA.
Since February, to restore economic and social order, a "health code" program was launched on the mainland. The system relies on the national integrated government service platform to carry out data sharing on epidemic prevention health information systems in various provinces and cities. Without such a code, Hong Kong lags the rest of the country.
The Hong Kong Government should launch a health code as soon as possible. This will facilitate the relaxing of the 14-day mandatory isolation and the restarting of customs clearance operations. From the mainland’s experience, the health code has played an irreplaceable and important role in the balance between continuous epidemic control and the resumption of normal life.
The Greater Bay Area, the 13th largest economy in the world by GDP, has not been able to lift the cross-border movement restrictions, even though the domestic epidemic situation is under control. A Bay Area health code is urgently required in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau to protect the health of people in the GBA. This will support the potential of the GBA by allowing Bay Area people to pass across the border while protecting their health.
Ruan Zongze, Executive Vice President, China Institute of International Studies, in Global Times (June 24, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: futureatlas.com)
While competition, confrontation, decoupling and the “new Cold War” have all become the labels associated with China-US relations, not all hope is lost. The US is attempting to redefine the relationship. “Strategic competition" has become the key phrase to describe Washington’s policy towards Beijing. The US has stressed that "competition" is not “containment”, a term that had applied to American policy towards the Soviet Union.
The global pandemic, economic recession and anti-racism protests have complicated the US election year. The US has become lost, suspicious and angry. It needs to find a distraction to divert attention. Since President Donald Trump took office, he has launched "principled realism" in an effort to promote US interests.
Washington would uphold “principled realism” and adopt a competitive approach to China. This involves deliberately distorting China’s political system and strategic intentions while arrogantly exaggerating the “China threat” and falsely claiming that China has launched a challenge to the US’s economy, values and national security. As an excuse, it advocates a continued hardline policy to exert pressure on China across all fronts. In contrast to China's assertion of "harmony and difference", the US always wants to change others. Now, the US wants to change China with "principled realism".
The interests of all countries are deeply intertwined in the era of globalization, and China and the US are no exception. China is on the rise, and a more powerful and prosperous China can provide more effective solutions to the world’s problems. Trying to push Sino-US relations into a "new Cold War" is tantamount to creating more problems and reversing history. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we all live in the same global village. Where the world will go after this crisis will depend on the wrangling between the two orders of multilateralism and unilateralism.
Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 21, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PCOO EDP/King Rodriguez)
When Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016, the media organizations that had been critical of him during the campaign became his principal targets. He named three in particular: the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, the broadcast network ABS-CBN, and the news website Rappler. He attacked all three for biased and distorted reporting.
Duterte accused the Inquirer owners of not paying the correct taxes on their other businesses, and of illegally extending a lease on a choice property in the city owned by a government agency in exchange for low rental. He denounced ABS-CBN for taking his money and not airing his campaign advertisements during the 2016 presidential election and accused its owners of not paying their debts to a government-owned bank. He vowed to prevent the renewal of the network’s franchise, telling its owners to sell the company instead. Irked by its critical reporting on the conduct of his bloody war on drugs, he banned the Rappler reporter from entering Malacañang (the presidential palace).
All this would have been more than enough to cue everyone in the hunting party to pursue the prey. But the president never stopped issuing the call for the hunt. He would repeat the same charges each time he went off-script in his rambling speeches. It came to a point when he sounded as if he wanted nothing less than a lynching.
To ignore this context and the authoritarian viciousness that has preceded the state-enabled proceedings against the Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and Rappler is to subject oneself to willful blindness. It would not be unlike covering the rest of a patient’s body with a sheet during surgery to show only the choice tissue of the moment. It is to disregard the rest of the morbid mess underlying the president’s obsessive focus on the offending wound.