Lin Jin-chia, psychiatrist, in The Storm Media (December 25, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: 國禎 吳)
A New Zealander pilot who broke Taiwan’s long streak with zero confirmed Covid-19 cases has become a public enemy and the focus of intense media criticism. The stock market even plummeted.
This pilot, who works for Taiwan carrier EVA Air, reportedly did not comply with the Covid-19 regulations of the flight crew by not wearing a mask or reporting respiratory symptoms at the end of his flight. As a result, he only had to undergo a short three-day home quarantine. Following this, he reportedly went out without wearing a mask. This negligence and violations of health-management protocols are a major breach in Taiwan’s epidemic-prevention efforts.
There has been limited evidence that EVA intends to act to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. Meanwhile, the Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) has stated that the airline’s Covid-10 measures are a matter for the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA). Yet, epidemic control is clearly not within their expertise. Since the CECC exists for this purpose, they should take greater responsibility.
The CAA has stipulated that the airlines are responsible for managing themselves and crews are supposed to follow regulations without supervision. Arguably, cabin crew face high levels of risk, perhaps even higher than medical staff. After being questioned by legislators, the CAA revealed that since the pandemic began, airline crews had committed 24 violations of regulations and only after this breach did the CAA meet with the airline industry to request that they develop a penalty mechanism.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Taiwan government has always adopted a tough public stance. They have, however, shamelessly refused to take responsibility for this incident and continue to avoid answering questions. This attitude is detrimental to Taiwan's overall epidemic prevention.
Chan King-cheung, veteran journalist, in Ming Pao (January 6, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
The Chinese government took the initiative to establish Hong Kong’s national security law in 2020. This represents a reshuffle with Beijing now completely controlling the decision-making power of the entire special administrative region (SAR). Some believe that this was the result of the months of protests in Hong Kong against the extradition bill. Looking back at developments over the past few years, however, there were several early signs that pointed to this development.
In 2014, Beijing published a white paper which asserted that the central government has "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong. According to the interpretation of mainland scholars, comprehensive jurisdiction refers to a sovereign state over its territory. Beijing clearly stated that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is limited to that which the central government grants.
Since the introduction of the National Security Law, Hong Kong has formally become part of the entire mainland system. Even in the economic, trade and financial fields, it is necessary to cooperate with national policies and safeguard national security. The culture of officialdom will also gradually shift from the traditional British civil-service system to the "leading cadre" model of mainland China.
Many Hong Kong people are now considering emigrating as the SAR has become increasingly unrecognizable. Hong Kong has traditionally been a bridge between the mainland and the West. Today, Hong Kong has taken a supporting role to the mainland. If this continues, Hong Kong will lose its former glory and its prospects are dire.
Yan Yan, Director of the Research of Oceans Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, in Global Times (February 10, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: US Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau)
China's new Coast Guard Law took effect on February 1 with much scrutiny from the international community. Some have raised questions over whether the Chinese Coast Guard will become a “second navy", the conditions in which the Chinese Coast Guard use force, and whether the new legislation conforms with international law. Some have claimed the measures would increase regional tensions.
The Chinese Coast Guard has both administrative law-enforcement and military attributes, which are similar to those in many countries in the world such as the US, Australia, the Philippines and Malaysia. The provisions on the use of force and the use of weapons neither violate the rules of international law nor go beyond current state practice. In the South China Sea, the competition for fishery resources has always been associated with the potential for conflict and has been a serious challenge to maritime security. Unlike other countries, China’s maritime law enforcement has never used force against ordinary fishermen of other countries who are operating in the surrounding waters.
The issue of the use of force in maritime law enforcement is particularly sensitive as it tends to intensify wider conflicts in the area. As such, some fear the new law will lead to China using force to consolidate its control over disputed seas. In fact, international law does not prohibit the use of force in law enforcement in disputed waters. Nevertheless, China's maritime law-enforcement forces have maintained goodwill and restraint in maritime operations for many years and will continue not to violate the principle of necessity and proportionality in the future.
Rather than displaying hypocrisy, the international community should take the implementation of the Coast Guard Law as an opportunity to engage with China in good faith and with a positive attitude.
Walden Bello, academic, social worker and member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines from 2007 to 2015, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (April 8, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: King Rodriguez/Presidential Communications Operations Office)
Every day since the February 1 military coup, the people have been taking to the streets in protest in all parts of Myanmar. Over 400 people have been killed by police and soldiers firing indiscriminately on crowds of protestors, or murdered randomly in dragnets carried out by day or under cover of darkness.
The Myanmar coup has placed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the spot. In a region where the lives of 650 million people are indissolubly linked politically and economically, the old principle of “non-intervention in the internal affairs” of other member countries that has long governed inter-state relations is anachronistic. The governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have recognized this in their historic call for a regional summit on recent developments in Myanmar.
Manila has not yet joined this call, which is really disappointing and ironic given that the democratic political system we have owes its existence to a people’s uprising in 1986.
Apparently, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is still hesitant to fully break with its previous policy of refraining from any criticism of the Myanmar government, even of the latter’s inhuman policy of genocide toward the Rohingya people.
Myanmar is at a crossroads. The coup was not a show of strength. It was an act of desperation. A decade of liberalization had given the people a taste of what full freedom would be after decades of stifling military rule, and they will not give up their dream. The Philippine government likewise is at a crossroads in its diplomacy toward Myanmar. It can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Let it be the latter.
Lin Yu-fang, a convenor of the National Policy Foundation, in China Times (February 27, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Rutger van der Maar)
In the minds of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders, the cross-strait confrontation is an unending civil war. As Macau and Hong Kong have successively been "returned", Taiwan has become the next "territory" that must be reclaimed. Over the years, the CCP has continued to dedicate huge defense budgets in pursuit of military modernization, bolstering its influence on the regional and international political arena while preparing for an invasion of Taiwan.
Beijing does not believe that the US military will rush into a war in the Taiwan Strait. The United States and Taiwan have no diplomatic relations, let alone a formal alliance. From the CCP’s point of view, the "Taiwan Relations Act" only guarantees that the US will continue to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan and does not promise any assistance in combat. Beijing also does not seem to believe that the United States dares to break the tacit understanding of power politics – that two nuclear-armed nations would not fight each other so as to avoid a nuclear war.
After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returned to power in 2016, Beijing has become more dissatisfied with Taiwan. It has not only blocked Taiwan diplomatically, but continues to oppress it militarily. At the end of 2016, Chinese military aircraft began frequently entering Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Chinese warships have also crossed the center line of the Taiwan Strait.
To counter these incursions, the defense ministry announced on October 5, 2020, that a total of 4,132 "air combat patrols" had been dispatched during the year, and the Air Force had spent NT$4.1 billion (US$144.2 million) in associated costs. These actions not only deepen mutual hostility but also increase the possibility of conflict. Perhaps it is time to face the possibility of armed conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
侯显佳 (Hou Xianjia), columnist, in Oriental Daily News (December 23, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Muzzafar Kasim/Ministry of Health of Malaysia)
While Covid-19 measures continue to be introduced they are proving to be ineffective, and society is becoming increasingly desperate. The pandemic situation in Europe is also critical, and many countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy have tightened their control measures. Malaysia, however, is doing the opposite, and the policy is becoming more relaxed. Instead, focus is being placed on the vaccines as a solution.
The Malaysian government has purchased 12.8 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer with the first batch of one million doses due to arrive in the first quarter of 2021. In addition, the government signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to purchase another 6.4 million doses. According to the prime minister, the government will also purchase Chinese and Russian vaccines to ensure that the supply of vaccines exceeds 80 percent of the population.
Compared with other countries, however, Malaysia's Covid-19 vaccination rollout is not progressing fast enough. Singapore, which also purchased the Pfizer vaccine, has already received its first batch. The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines ordered by Indonesia from China’s Sinovac arrived in December.
It will take some time before the vaccine is able to protect most of the population. The government must use this time to plan vaccine distribution and logistics to avoid chaos. Furthermore, during this period, Covid-19 measures cannot be relaxed. The government must continue to halt the spread of the virus otherwise the medical system may be overwhelmed even when after the vaccine arrives. Meanwhile, the public should remain vigilant and continue to observe social distancing while taking care of their personal hygiene.
Roberto R Romulo, Chairman, Philippine Foundation for Global Concerns, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines (1992-1995), in his column Filipino Worldview in The Philippine Star (March 12, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prachatai)
The desired end game of the Myanmar military coup would be a sham election where the junta’s party wins and strongman Min Aung Hlaing is made president. What the general did not expect was the determined opposition of the brave Burmese people. The junta has increasingly been violent and brutal in suppressing protests.
The US and other countries have imposed sanctions aimed at denying junta members access to their personal fortune deposited overseas and to prohibit doing business with the military-owned companies. Although China has stayed neutral and is watching developments before it commits itself, it has said that it is not happy with what has transpired.
All ASEAN came out with is a bland statement urging “all parties” to refrain from instigating violence and to seek a peaceful solution. Aside from falling on deaf ears in the junta, this was also not well received by the protesters.
The key is the heroism of the Burmese people opposing the junta. They want no less than a regime change. That can only happen two ways: either the world, including ASEAN and with China playing a key role, acts more purposefully to force the junta to back down, or senior government and military officials arise and side with the people.
We must keep supporting the Burmese people to stand fast and we must get our government to act and rouse ASEAN to action, which to date has reinforced the belief that it has been inutile when it comes to human rights and oppression. Taking the unprecedented, but legal expulsion of Burma from ASEAN would give a dramatic message to the junta and to the people, and swing the balance in favor of the latter. They could, of course, always be readmitted subsequently.
Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State in the Ministry for Sustainability and the Environment and Ministry for Transport, in Lianhe Zaobao (January 16, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: David Berkowitz)
Having a meal at a hawker centre is a simple pleasure for many Singaporeans. The first hawker centre was built in the 1970s to house mobile hawkers so that they could do business in a more hygienic environment. With the development of Singapore, the number of hawker centers has increased, and the quality has also improved. Singapore now has more than 110 hawker centers, which are an undeniable part of the country’s rich historical and cultural heritage. To satisfy demand, seven new hawker centers have been constructed since 2015, and 10 more are expected to be completed by 2027.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought challenges to the industry with many hawkers suffering a sharp decline in business due to office workers working at home and the absence of foreign tourists. To help hawkers, who are frontline heroes, through this difficult year, the government has provided assistance by reducing rent and offering subsidies. In addition, many center operators have worked closely with hawkers to introduce food delivery services.
After the Covid-19 crisis, it will be important to provide hawkers with the necessary support to ensure that they can successfully adapt to the new normal. To achieve this goal, hawkers, trade associations, organization representatives and customers should engage in dialogue to gain an in-depth understanding of the concerns of all parties and work together to find solutions. While hawker culture has already successfully been included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, all Singaporeans should play a part in maintaining local hawker culture and support these businesses in the future.
Boo Cheng Hau, politician of the opposition Democratic Action Party, in Sinchew Daily (December 25, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Dennis Sylvester Hurd)
The World Bank forecasts that Malaysia’s economy will recover to grow by 6.9 percent in 2021. This will require the government to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the people against the disease before the middle of the year so that citizens can resume economic activities.
According to official statistics, more than 700,000 people are unemployed, though the actual situation may be worse. Meanwhile 15,000 Malaysians have been laid off in Singapore so it is possible that more of the 1.7 million Malaysians living abroad will seek to return to Malaysia. This should prompt the relevant authorities to review and improve social and economic policies.
Malaysia’s development model as a middle-income country has long been stuck. It is now time for the country to step out of the labor-intensive production model and enter the era of high-income and information-intensive production. Malaysia should revise its human resources and immigration policies while welcoming Malaysians working abroad to return home. This includes improving basic social and economic policies including enhancing local corporate culture, focusing on creativity, raising salaries and creating more job opportunities,
Many of the returnees are skilled workers so enterprises in various fields should be prepared to welcome them. This will help increase productivity and pave the way for investment into developing areas such as artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0.
Meanwhile, corruption must be tackled. The financial system still lacks transparency and facilitates corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and other criminal activities, which have a negative impact on investors’ confidence. All Malaysians have a role to play in tackling this.
Lee Jeong-hee, Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Seoul, in Munhwa Ilbo (February 26, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: National Tax Service, Republic of Korea)
As public spending has significantly increased since the Covid-19 outbreak, there is more and more talk of increasing taxes. What has been proposed so far is to temporarily increase the taxes of the rich and on big companies and those that experienced high growth during the pandemic. The problem is that these proposals are not universal but targeted tax increases that have a high potential of triggering further discord among social groups.
There are three problems associated with raising taxes on the rich and focusing levies on a small portion of society. First, these taxes may undercut economic productivity by discouraging the reinvestment of financial profit. Second, these measures seek to allocate rent from one group to another and could exacerbate social division. Third, taxing a small segment of society may decrease the sense of collective responsibility to support the government’s finances and place the burden on particular groups.
A sustainable tax policy must be based on the principal of universal taxation where everyone is expected to fulfill his or her civic duty. Before raising any tax, the government must first review what led to the need for the increase in the first place. We must fully embrace the principle that any public spending must be paid for in the form of taxation – that somebody needs to foot the bill.
The public sector must redouble its efforts to update its processes and programs and clearly demonstrate to the taxpayers the results generated by the increased tax revenue. The government must be reminded that the end goal is not the tax increase itself, but the resolution or alleviation of social and economic problems thanks to the greater resources and manpower paid for by taxpayers.
Friska Yolanda, journalist, in Harian Republika (March 18, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Presidential Secretariat Press Bureau)
Hearing the phrase “made in China”, many people immediately think of a low-quality, mass-produced product. This is not completely wrong but it is also not so true. Not all products made in China are of poor quality. This stereotype, however, has developed so widely that it tars other products from China that are of good quality, including vaccines.
Countries in the world have started to vaccinate their citizens to create herd immunity to Covid-19 so that the pandemic ends and community activities can return to normal. Since the pandemic hit, a number of countries have immediately developed vaccine-related research. Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, and a number of other pharmaceutical companies are competing to develop a Covid-19 vaccine using various methods.
For developed countries, funding is not an obstacle. It is different from developing countries, especially poor countries. Indonesia has chosen the Sinovac vaccine. This vaccine from China was doubted because of its efficacy – only 65 percent – which is key to meeting World Health Organization (WHO) standards. The doubts come from people who either believe more in Western products, or are anti-vaccine adherents, or hate China, or simply do not like the government's efforts at all.
Many are reluctant to be vaccinated first. They want to see the results and the impact on the volunteers who receive the injections first. To convince the public, President Joko Widodo was the first person to be vaccinated in Indonesia using the Sinovac product. Some alleged that it was not actually Sinovac, while some said that what the president got was not a vaccine but a vitamin.
Whatever the brand, vaccination is one way to end the pandemic. Millions of victims have fallen, and the economy has stagnated due to restrictions on activities. Vaccination is the way out so that our lives return to normal.
Cha Sang-min, Director General, Coalition for Our Common Future, in Dong-A News (February 20, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Korea Shin-Kori NPP)
About 84 percent of global energy is generated from fossil fuels, and the carbon dioxide and fine particulate matters generated from consuming these sources are one of the major causes of climate change and air pollution. Generating one kilowatt of energy results in 991 grams, 782 grams and 549 grams of carbon dioxide for coal, crude oil, and gas, respectively. Compare that to solar panels and nuclear energy which only generate 57 grams and 10 grams of carbon dioxide, respectively. Taking the economic and reliability factor account, it is evident that nuclear is the clear winner. Unfortunately, many have turned against this reliable source of energy due to the media’s exaggeration of the risk.
Since nuclear started to be used as a source of energy in 1951, there have been about 30 reported accidents globally. Most were minor, but the few bigger accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima received such extensive global attention and struck immense horror that the public sentiment toward nuclear energy has faltered. But the Chernobyl incident was a result of human error, while Fukushima was not due to a technical failure but to a tsunami that led to the flooding of the facility.
By contrast, the 1975 Banqiao dam accident in Henan, China, caused the deaths of 240,000 people in a single day. It is not so evident that the nuclear energy is such a risky source of energy. In fact, the deadliest source of energy is undeniably fossil fuels and the resulting air pollution that causes the death of approximately four million people around the world. To overcome the great challenge of mitigating climate change, we must move beyond the perceptions of nuclear risk and make smart choices on how best to move beyond fossil fuels.
Aoki Jun, journalist, in Mainichi Shimbun (March 12, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Chris Redan / Shutterstock.com)
While the US government has officially deemed China's oppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region a "genocide," the Japanese government has taken a cautious stance. The question of whether the Chinese government's actions fall under "genocide" – the destruction of an ethnic or religious group through mass killings, moves to harm and prevent births of members and other such acts – has been a major theme disputed in the international community.
Although Japan has not joined the Genocide Convention, it is capable of determining whether cases qualify as genocide. A senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited a lack of information to determine whether genocide has taken place or not. The official also pointed out that deeming China's actions a genocide will not necessarily improve the state of human rights, and that ongoing discussion with China is indispensable for improving the situation.
If the Japanese government were also to deem China's actions a genocide, it is certain that not only the US but Japan, too, would bear the brunt of China's criticism. It is likely then that Japan would have to "brace for retaliatory measures such as a halt in trade between the countries," according to a former high-ranking ministry official. A source close to the government involved in policymaking regarding China, argued that "it is Japanese companies and the public who will suffer the consequences. When considering economic ties with China, Japan cannot act in the same way as the US."
There have been concerned voices among those from the Xinjiang region that the Uyghur culture will be lost. Some regard Japan's stance on the issue as weak. The Japanese government faces a tough decision on how to act to help improve the state of human rights for Uyghurs while avoiding an extreme deterioration of relations with China.
Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (March 14, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gwydion M Williams)
On March 24 last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that day everything in India would come to a halt, the first reaction in this village was panic. The worst affected were workers from distant villages who suddenly lost their jobs. The village economy is built on fishing and tourism. It is to work on the fishing boats and in the small hotels, rustic homestays and noisy restaurants that these workers come. Unlike in the cities where migrant workers suffered terribly, in this village people found ways of helping the outsiders survive. The village temple distributed food and at first there was compassion and goodwill in abundance.
Then as days went by and the disease continued its relentless march, anxiety and fear spread and the village banned outsiders from coming here. Nobody died in this village and only a few people got sick, but a blanket of dread hung over everything for months. What made life more difficult was that weeks after the lockdown ended came Cyclone Nisarga. It ripped off the roofs of village homes and tore down old trees and fragile electricity poles. Luckily, nobody was killed.
This year seems to have begun on a happier note. The tourists are back. Sometimes it feels as if the nightmare has ended, but then comes news of a “surge” and once more panic spreads. But now there are vaccinations and people have adjusted to the idea that Covid-19 is going to be around for a while. It is remarkable that the “experts” who predicted that there would be 500,000 deaths in India by last July have been proven wrong. Where are those experts by the way? What has been most impressive is that India with its hopelessly inadequate public healthcare facilities has somehow handled the pandemic almost painlessly.
Umair Javed, Assistant Professor, Lahore University of Management Sciences, in Dawn (March 8, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat)
Gender inequality takes a variety of forms in Pakistan, but a fundamental one is political inequality. Gender-based variation in politics include barriers to voting, barriers to seeking elected office, barriers to access within political parties, and barriers to representation in policymaking and governance.
Leaving other aspects aside for the time being, it is worth starting with the most basic act of political participation: voting. Out of Pakistan’s nearly 106 million registered voters, only 44 percent are women, at least 6 percent less than their actual proportion in the adult population. These issues are compounded at two levels – eligible female voters not being registered on electoral rolls, and women not being registered as citizens at all.
Even if women are registered, female turnout tends to be lower than male turnout across the country. The male-gap in voter turnout in the 2018 general elections stood at 9.1 percent, with 11 million more men voting than women.
So what factors are responsible for driving this suppression of women voters, and what can be done to mitigate it? Evidence from the authors’ prior fieldwork in Lahore suggests that gatekeeping by male household members remains a persistent factor, even in urban centres; 8.3 percent of male respondents said it was not appropriate for women to vote in a general election.
Outside of household dynamics, the lack of engagement by political parties also contributes to inequality in voting outcomes. It is this last factor, which highlights both a central problem, as well as a pathway towards reduced gender-based political inequality. Political parties face the greatest responsibility in minimizing exclusion. If resolving this issue requires legislation and its implementation, political elites should work it out through legal reform. What is clear is that the current state of exclusion cannot and should not be allowed to persist.