Lee Jin-soo, journalist, in Asia Business Daily (June 19, 2020)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Picture credit: Uri Tours)
North Korea made headlines when it cut the communication lines to the South and destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office building. The North cited the leaflets sent across the border by North Korean defector communities residing in South Korea as reason for their hostile actions. In an effort to cool the tensions, the South Korean government declared its plans to take legal action against the said organizations for violating the Inter-Korean Interchange and Cooperation Act and to cancel their registration as legal organizations.
Some worry that these measures are in violation of freedom of speech and the rights to information of the North Korean citizens. Sending cross-border propaganda leaflets is a right to free expression, but few can deny that this form of expression is a dangerous act that could trigger military conflicts on the sensitive Korean peninsula.
Furthermore, there have been multiple agreements made over the years between the two Koreas to refrain from slandering and defaming the other. The most recent Panmunjom Declaration of 2018 specifically calls for a stop to loudspeaker propaganda and leaflet distribution in the DMZ area.
The South Korean Constitution grants freedom of speech but asserts the need to withhold this freedom when necessary for national security, for maintenance of law and order, or for public welfare. This was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the government to limit the civil society’s leaflet propaganda for reasons of national security.
However important, freedom of speech cannot take precedence over peace, and the government must stop the leaflet propaganda.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok Post (June 19, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: World Travel & Tourism Council)
Even prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand's strategic posture had been dominated by political preoccupations at home. The pandemic merely accentuated trends and patterns in Thailand's foreign policy and security outlook in view of the geopolitical rivalry and competition between the US and China.
As virus infections have recently shown signs of slowing down, Thailand's strategic role and challenges are on course to return in full, just as they were prior to the virus outbreak. The domestic political instability from cycles of coups, constitutions, and elections since constitutionalism replaced the absolute monarchy in 1932 has made Thailand unable to make a break for a stable political future for the majority of its people. In turn, these domestic shortcomings have hindered Thailand's role abroad.
Thailand's circular holding pattern risks sliding into anemic economic growth while some of its neighbors have been expanding twice as fast with more dynamic prospects and progress ahead.
The coronavirus crisis has compounded Thailand's headwinds as the economy is forecast to suffer the deepest contraction compared to its ASEAN peers. Moreover, Thailand's structural reforms and economic upgrading to move up value chains and out of the middle-income trap have made little progress, with no promising prospects as long as the political environment remains murky.
Thailand will not be acting belligerently abroad to divert attention away from domestic problems. The country will continue to be risk-averse, playing it safe and getting by in international life. For the rest of the world, this country cannot be ignored without considerable geopolitical costs. But for the Thais, their country cannot regain strategic heft and command global attention until it goes through a kind of reckoning at home to see what kind of polity and country they want to end up with for a position and role abroad.
Tai Shih-yin, lawyer, in United Daily News (June 20, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Makoto Lin/Office of the President, Taiwan)
The Mainland Affairs Council has finally announced a new “Humanitarian Aid and Care Action Plan” for Hong Kong citizens. There remains, however, a number of legal uncertainties about how it would work.
First, the legal basis of the action plan is both general and brief. The relevant provisions have not been updated since they were devised in 1997. Whether the existing legal basis can cope with the new relationship between Taiwan and Hong Kong is unclear.
Second, once a draft “Refugee Law” is passed, the legal rights of Hong Kong people will be lower than that of foreigners or stateless people. From a macro perspective, Taiwan's assistance to Hong Kong people lacks comprehensive and clear legal protection.
Third, assistance is focused on “specific cases” through the Executive Yuan. This model inherently has the advantages of stricter scrutiny, adaptability to circumstances and the avoidance of wasted resources. In the absence of transparent and open supporting regulations, however, it will lack external supervision, and any administrative arbitrary decision making could affect the fairness of any assistance allocation.
Many more questions remain. For example, what is the definition and applicable eligibility criteria of the so-called “political reasons” in the aforementioned regulations? Are they limited to those prosecuted under the “Hong Kong version of the National Security Law”? Will the same assistance be provided to suspected criminals who have also participated in violent resistance in Hong Kong? If a case's application for assistance is rejected, what are the procedures for legal remedy?
Without a sound foundation for the rule of law, is the action plan merely lip service?
Justin Chan Long Hin, associate researcher, MWYO, in Hong Kong Economic Journal (June 16, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jonathan van Smit)
In late May, MWYO commissioned a survey of 509 18-34-year-olds to determine how they rate the government’s handling of the epidemic. The results were mixed. When they were asked to evaluate the government's overall anti-epidemic measures, only about a quarter thought the government had done a good job. This may be due to the distrust in the government among young people that had increased in the months before the pandemic.
The survey showed that 81 percent of young people believed that the closure of schools was helpful, while 69 percent believed that the isolation of travelers and close contacts of diagnosed cases was useful. In addition, 52 percent saw benefits in restricting or suspending the operation of certain industries. Only 20 percent of the young people interviewed believed that the government’s distributing free reusable masks was effective. This suggests that the earlier the government implemented certain measures, the greater the support for them.
The survey also found that those whose employment conditions had deteriorated were more dissatisfied with the overall performance of the government. If the government is able to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on the economy, it will likely boost the positive perception of its handling of the outbreak among those who are employed.
In terms of financial support measures, 57 percent of the young people surveyed believed that the government played a role in alleviating youth unemployment and economic pressure. A smaller number of young people (45 percent) thought that the government's distribution of HK$10,000 to each resident had the same effect, suggesting scepticism of the direct cash transfer approach. Overall, only 19 percent of the young people surveyed believed that the government's overall economic support measures were successful.
Khudori, member of the Food Security Council Working Group, in Republika (June 16, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: PK Niyogi)
The sugar cane harvest season is upon us again. Since May, farmers have been cutting their cane and taking it to factories for processing. Sadly, like years before, they are doing so just as prices collapse. They face a dilemma: If they process their cane, they will suffer a loss. If they do not, they know it is likely that the market will be filled with imported sugar.
Panicking because of a shortfall in the market and rising prices for sugar, the government since March has been handing out import licenses. In total, 1.14 million tons is being imported. As a result, the market has been overwhelmed with sugar.
According to Guntur Saragih, a member of the Commission for the Supervision of Business Competition, there are indications of cartel practices in the supply of sugar to the market. Importers, distributors and traders play with the price to the point that the consumer has to pay heavily. Every opportunity for such manipulation needs to be firmly closed so that farmers can get a reasonable return.
Hong De-sheng, Chairman, Taiwanese Association for Ageing Society (TAAS), in Storm Media Group (June 13, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Improvements in health and life expectancy have helped seniors become more active and socially engaged. According to an online survey by the Taiwanese Association for Ageing Society (TAAS), 88 percent of employed and retired people between the ages of 40 and 75 are willing to continue working after reaching retirement.
There are a number of reasons for this – 23 percent wish to utilize their expertise or interests, 23 percent want to improve their self-worth and increase social participation to keep the mind active and promote health, and 20 percent aim to maintain good physical strength and health. Among those who wish to work again, 46 percent prefer part-time working hours and 42 percent are flexible. Of the retirees who want to work again, 23 percent face barriers to attending an interview, while 15 percent have difficulty getting information on job opportunities because they lack digital access.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, by the end of 2019 there were more than 3.6 million elderly people (over 65 years old) in Taiwan, accounting for 15.28 percent of the total population. In addition to formulating laws and regulations on the employment of middle-aged and senior citizens, the government has encouraged all sectors to promote employment opportunities for them.
A special unit should be set up to facilitate the employment of the approximately 100,000 retirees in different industries. Information on geographical distribution, industry experience and expertise, and willingness to participate in certain activities can be collected through surveys and a digital platform. Supporting retiree participation in the industrial chain and people-centred sectors such as culture, tourism and education will not only improve the overall welfare of the elderly but will also help Taiwan become the next bright spot on the international stage.
Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, in ThePrint (June 13, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sumit Saraswat / Shutterstock.com)
The fight against the pandemic has been so chaotic the world over, and now, in India. What began as a firm, total lockdown that everybody participated in is now degenerating into political name-calling between the ruling party and opposition, the center and the states run by non-BJP parties.
More disappointingly, this also bedevils most public discourse on an issue so life-and-death that our focus should have been on dealing with it rather than employing it to pour out partisan emotions, whether of blind loyalty, deepest dislike, fear or fantasy.
The debate on the pandemic, from lockdowns to clinical treatments to prognoses to infection and death counts, is all divided by ideology. If you love Narendra Modi, Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, they’ve done nothing wrong. If you detest them, they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
For sure, the pandemic cares two hoots for ideology as long as it’s armed with this still-indestructible virus. But it has done something we couldn’t imagine: Divide epidemiologists on ideological lines. Epidemiology, we understand, is a very well-established science with a centuries-old tradition. It is now another casualty of 2020.
Politics never goes into a freeze, but you can put partisanship in suspended animation for a bit and leave it to the specialists and soldiers.
When BJP leaders, including Modi’s number two, Amit Shah, use the pandemic to launch an assault on state governments run by opposition parties, or to topple them, they are exploiting a grave crisis in cynical political self-interest. The result of this conflict, working at cross-purposes and name-calling, is now showing. The Covid situation, at this moment, looks as though nobody is really in control.
Kim Hye-ryoung, author and psychologist, in Hankook Ilbo (June 13, 2020)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: B Negin)
Recent news of a boy who died after his stepmother locked him in a suitcase and of another whose finger was rubbed against a hot frying pan has put a spotlight on inherent social problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Child abuse cases have risen by 13.8 percent. The young do not know how to protect themselves; some do not have the ability to report an abuse, let alone ask for help. Sadly, too many are cases could have been prevented, had only some people cared to notice and act.
Psychologist Alfred Adler included community feeling as an important factor that contributes to happiness. According to his theory, people are happier when they care not only for themselves but for others. Although Korea is well known for its group mentality, too often this “group” only extends to one’s immediate family. This is shown by Korea’s low adoption rate compared to other developed countries. The Korean mentality often means that parents are obsessed by their offspring, regarding them as possessions and are unable to love and care for other children who are just as vulnerable as their own.
More people should break free from this narrow-mindedness and adopt a feeling of community. Even just noticing whether a child on the street has a scar, is underweight or seems excessively intimidated may help prevent another death from child abuse. Watching out for all children as one’s own may be the best way to save our children and should be a basic duty that adults have to the vulnerable in society.
Ploenpote Atthakor, Editorial Page Editor, in Bangkok Post (June 13, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Krishnagopi06)
“This cannot be serious" was my initial reaction to reports saying The Transport Company (Thailand’s long-distance bus operator) is imposing a ban on foreign travelers to curb the spread of Covid-19. Absurd, isn't it? Don't they know the country has been locked down for months? No foreign visitors or tourists are allowed in, so where would a travel-related virus come from?
If that were not absurd enough, there are reports that at least one temple in Bangkok – Wat Pho – has also adopted a "Thais-only" policy, which is blatant discrimination and has been met with widespread criticism.
But we cannot blame the temple and The Transport Company – not entirely. For nearly three months, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has put forward the idea that foreigners or Thais abroad are a health threat.
The notion that "if they are allowed in, the country would be at risk of more infections" led to a ban on foreign visitors and stringent measures against Thais wishing to return home. The state came up with ways to make it tough to return, which means stranded Thais are unfairly exposed to Covid-19.
Air travel and borders are expected to remain closed until at least July. In fact, the "Thais only" gate was there at the temple long before Covid-19 hit the country. When Thais visit a temple, they don't have to pay or buy tickets. This is because it is presumed Thais are there to make merit. I don't agree with this policy, but I recognize the idea behind it: Thais pay taxes, so they don't need to get a ticket.
Discrimination will persist as long as the state does not learn about the problem. Several state-run recreational sites, national parks, museums and others condone discrimination by adopting two-tier tickets or prices.
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, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 15, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Kitty Mao)
Singapore needs innovative thinking to solve the problems caused by the Covid-19-induced economic downturn. There are several key issues:
First, Covid-19 will permanently change some economic activities – for example, accelerating the rise of contactless businesses and services, online education, remote offices, videoconferencing and other online business activities. Second, Covid-19 has accelerated digital globalization. With more people working from home, the separation of labor and the location of the company has become possible. Third, due to the greater autonomy of jobs, human resources will tend to be a managed more horizontally bringing about new social issues that will differ from the traditional company benefits systems relating to welfare and pensions.
Due to restrictions on international travel, Singapore should focus on creating opportunities at home while using this period to build a more solid foundation for Singapore's long-term survival and development.
First, Covid-19 highlights the importance of digital and information migration in human society. Digitalization and informatization can effectively improve the level of social governance and public safety. Second, it also underscores the importance of investing in digital solutions, from high-definition video and reliable information transmission systems to supercomputers and artificial intelligence. These have proven to be critical in addressing the pandemic and furthering research into treatment and a vaccine. Third, Covid-19 highlights the importance of national strategic materials reserves. Singapore must improve this capacity to prepare for further outbreaks.
In view of this, Singapore should simulate various disaster scenarios and carefully review which strategic industrial supply chains it should develop domestically. This will create job opportunities. Singapore should also focus its attention on strengthening its “new infrastructure" such as 5G infrastructure and new energy vehicles. Ultimately, Singapore should make use of the opportunities brought about by Covid-19 to strengthen the foundations for long-term sustainable development.
Leila De Lima, lawyer, human-rights activist and Senator, in Rappler (June 13, 2020)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Philippine News Agency)
Is the anti-terror bill protecting us from terror and fear? Or normalizing them? If this bill passes, no part of any person’s life is secure anymore, as it gives the government the power to track down or follow anyone, and to tap, listen, intercept or record any message, conversation, discussion, spoken or written words, including computer and network surveillance, and other communications of persons.
The government says that there are safeguards in place, including judicial authorization. Yet the law allows so much discretion on the executive, including in the determination of what constitutes terrorist attacks and who are terrorists and terrorist organizations, that it is easy to imagine a scenario where even the courts might not be willing, able, or prepared to stand as safeguards against abuse.
So, what is the danger? First, this is a criminal statute. It puts people in danger of losing their liberty, possibly for the rest of their life. People have the constitutional right to know what acts are being punished before they are penalized from doing them. Second, given the vague definitions, it could be weaponized as a tool of harassment against those that government wants to silence.
History has taught us that repressive regimes can and will abuse any power they can get, even to the point of using it against persons who are merely exercising their legitimate rights and freedoms.
Of course, we need to improve our response to terrorism. I applaud those who wish to amend the bill to protect the people. But the government cannot protect the people by perpetually and absolutely placing their lives under threat. Otherwise, the government will be doing a better job than the terrorists.
Zhang Yazhong, principal of the Sun Wen School in Taiwan, in Global Times (June 12, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: airbus777)
Taiwan’s Executive Yuan has drafted a humanitarian rescue plan which offers a route for Hong Kong people to seek political asylum in Taiwan. There are emotional, political, and legal factors behind why Taiwan is open to immigrants from Hong Kong. Emotionally, they are all part of the Chinese nation. Politically, there was a shared anti-Communist stance. Legally, Hong Kong is considered part of China.
Hong Kong pro-independence elements began to learn from Taiwan independence forces after the Sunflower Movement in 2014. Taiwan independence forces sent personnel to Hong Kong to train them in protesting and demonstrating. Both sides became teammates in promoting the anti-China narrative.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's support in the polls before 2019 was very low. Yet the more chaotic the situation was Hong Kong, the easier it was for Tsai to peddle her ideology of "terrorism, resistance and hatred” and ultimately win re-election. As Washington and Beijing have moved towards full-scale confrontation, Hong Kong's chaos has added firewood to Tsai’s pro-American, anti-China policies.
Beijing reckons that the violent separatists who want to "liberate” Hong Kong are the ones who will leave. What they seek is not freedom and democracy, but "independence", so the Hong Kong SAR government should be relieved to see these troublemakers gone.
The views of those that leave will complement those of the Taiwan pro-independence forces and strengthen the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s anti-Beijing stance. While most Taiwan people may be initially sympathetic, an influx of Hong Kong youths could lead to increased interference in Taiwan’s domestic affairs. The radical political activists will eventually realize that Taiwan is not their ideal home and will wish to move on. After all, the United States and other Western countries are where they really want to go.
Han Shengbao, journalist from China now living in Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 11, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stated that the United States and China will embark on a road of confrontation that could last for decades, making the long-anticipated “Asian century” more and more precarious. Southeast Asian countries including Singapore are right to be wary of being caught at the intersection of the interests of the major powers.
“In a world where the big fish eat small fish and the small fish eat shrimps, Singapore must become a poisonous shrimp,” Lee Kuan Yew used to say. In Singapore's early days, to survive alongside neighboring countries (small fish) and major world powers (big fish), it strived to build up its capabilities as a “poisonous shrimp”.
After more than 50 years, the "big fish" analogy has been quietly evolving. First, this analogy is a product of Cold-War thinking based upon a complex political and security environment. Today, Singapore has abandoned this thinking and holds a cooperative rather than confrontational approach to its relations with neighboring countries.
Second, a new "big fish" – China – has emerged. Singapore has had frequent military dialogues and exchanges with China. Meanwhile, the United State has become increasingly unfriendly, with President Trump turning the United States into a "shark". Prime Minister Lee concluded that the strategic foundation of “American peace” has fundamentally shifted. We are therefore at a critical and historic moment when Singapore must re-examine the "big fish" analogy.
Prime Minister Lee has stated that Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the United States and China. His position could not be clearer: Singapore cannot afford to alienate China. Prime Minister Lee also wishes that the US understands that if other countries deepen relations with China, it does not necessarily mean that they are fighting against the United States.
Dato’ Ray Tan, environmentalist, in Oriental Daily News (June 11, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Roksana Helscher/Pixabay)
Malaysians have needed to learn a lot under this “new normal”. In addition to wearing masks and maintaining social distance, increased hand washing, and disinfection have also become part of daily routines. Little consideration, however, has been given to how we should deal with used masks and efficiently reduce disposable plastic waste.
According to the Director of the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Corporation (SWCorp), consumers have changed their consumption patterns through greater online shopping for daily necessities and ordering food delivery. As a result, the amount of plastic waste has increased.
During the early days of the lockdown period, only packed take-outs were provided by food operators. The use of disposable plastic lunch boxes and plastic bags, therefore, increased significantly. This was largely unavoidable. Only one out of 10 workers prepares their own lunch. After nearly three months of different stages of lockdown, many people have become accustomed to minimizing dining out. Malaysians should make an effort to make their own lunches to reduce the use of disposable tableware and plastic.
It is undeniable that masks have now become one our daily necessities. The safe disposal of used masks has become a serious issue. While there are no reliable data to show the current global mask usage, Chinese media have reported that the daily output of masks in China on February 29 alone was 116 million. More concerning is that not only are the masks made from plastic but used masks may have also been contaminated with viruses and bacteria.
We must all work harder to think seriously about what can be done to deal with this new type of waste.
Yuri Octavian Thamrin, Indonesian Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, in Republika (June 10, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Pete Souza/The White House, 2015)
Despite Europe’s high level of development and culture, Muslims there have suffered many horrific experiences. Georgetown University Islamic Studies professor John Esposito sees Islamophobia in the West as a phenomenon related to terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks in the US and the ones in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016. But Islamophobia cannot be accepted with any excuse, not least because it endangers Europe’s own interests.
As a “social cancer”, Islamophobia is destructive to the democratic values, pluralism and tolerance of the people of Europe. It needs to be uniformly opposed. But it looks to be strengthening in the EU, especially since right-wing populist political parties continue to advance. Their electoral support has grown from 10.6 percent in 1980 to 18.4 percent in 2017. They continue to play the politics of identity and stir up fear.
The number of Muslims in Europe is sufficient to play a role in the mainstream, and they should no longer remain on the periphery. They must become professionals and entrepreneurs who deserve to be respected by the public. They need to organize to defend their rights and create a good relationship with the media, parliaments, governments and other institutions.