Ei Sun Oh, senior fellow, Singapore Institute of International Affairs, and principal adviser, Pacific Research Center, Malaysia, in The Manila Times (April 27, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PNA)
The presidential election in the Philippines, one of the democracies in the developing world, is attracting attention. As neighbors with the best of intentions, we have our small wish list. Top of it would be an unwavering desire for the Philippine economy to prosper, for the sake of not just the Filipinos, but the growth of the region as a whole as well. Philippine economic growth was quite impressive at over 5 percent annually for a few years, but was inevitably dragged into negative territory by the pandemic. It has since rebounded but the country would have to work hard to keep up this momentum.
The pandemic recovery coincides with the entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), to which the Philippines and all other member states of ASEAN, as well as China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, have signed on. It essentially creates the world's largest free trade area and common market for its members. The new Philippine leadership, together with its regional counterparts, must put their heads together to take full advantage of RCEP.
As neighbors, we wish that the future Philippine leader would put less stress on ideology and more on pragmatism when it comes to the conduct of foreign and international affairs. There is an outcry for effective regional leadership that would hopefully steady the increasingly precarious regional ship in the South China Sea and beyond. A new Philippine leader should take charge of the rudder amid a turbulent sea of international intrigues. And a new leader must make sure that the very democracy that elected him or her into office is kept thriving and does not backslide into autocracy. The region is not immune from authoritarian or even dictatorial rule, and the Filipino fire for democracy must stay lit.
Jakkrit Sangkhamanee, associate professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Political Science of Chulalongkorn University, and Abhirat Supthanasup, National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health Research, Australian National University, in The Standard (March 31, 2022)
Summary by Nisara Panchang (Photo credit: Ministry of Labour, Kingdom of Thailand)
During the Covid-19 pandemic, public perceptions towards managing the spread of infectious disease in society is essential, in particular, the success and limitations of vaccines. In Thailand, there has been much debate over the effectiveness of each type of vaccine. In the early stages, Sinovac was the main vaccine deployed in Thailand. The National Communicable Disease Committee approved mixed vaccination, using Sinovac for the first dose and AstraZeneca for the second, with three to four weeks in between, to increase immunity to the Delta variant.
The Ministry of Public Health released a report on the effectiveness of the Sinovac from a study in Thailand that the efficacy of the vaccine against the Alpha and the Delta variants was 90 percent and 75 percent, respectively. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, warned against mixing and matching Covid-19 vaccines from different manufacturers. This led to public confusion, as well as criticism about the cross-vaccination plan, which consequently raised concerns over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine and driven demand for the Moderna version. Citizens have been willing to bear the increased cost of purchasing an alternative vaccine from private hospitals.
A weak vaccine is a vaccine that cannot work effectively in society as a result of unclear information and lack of transparency in procurement and distribution. To boost society’s immunity, the government should build trust and strengthen the legitimacy and acceptability of vaccines.
Park Nam-gyu Park, Professor of Business Administration at Seoul National University, in Munhwa Ilbo (April 07, 2021)
Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea)
The Minimum Wage Committee has launched its review for next year's minimum wage. It is, however, unlikely that its members will easily draw a conclusion because of the clear differences in position among the representatives of the various interests including government, employers and workers.
Giver price rises it would be great if workers could comfortably raise their hourly wages as they have called for. It is by no means simple, however. For a minimum wage increase to create a sustainable economic virtuous cycle, three important prerequisites must be met. The first is an increase in worker productivity. If the rate of productivity growth cannot catch up with the wage increase of workers, the company will have difficulties surviving in the market.
Second, there must be enough jobs to pay more than the minimum wage. Most of the minimum-wage jobs are at companies in the lodging/food, sports/leisure-related services, agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, where competitiveness is weak. Firms in these sectors often have a hard time surviving even with the smallest wage increases, which may lead to job losses.
Third, the demand for minimum-wage labor in the market must exceed the supply. Otherwise, those with jobs, whether by ability or luck, may be adversely affected by the policy, receiving higher than appropriate market wages. The current labor market shows very high disparities in terms of diversity and complexity which make it more difficult to have a practical effect on the minimum wage determined by a single standard.
Considering all the reasons above and that contracts between employers and workers are economic transactions in the private sector, classifications of the minimum wage by industry or region could be outdated. It is necessary to re-examine whether government involvement in the market is required and to restart a debate about the minimum wage.
Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (March 26, 2022)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: President of Ukraine)
Singapore has always been a strong advocate of international law and the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. All nations, large and small, must respect their sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity. Singapore, therefore, strongly condemns Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Any violation of these core principles, wherever and whenever it occurs, must be taken seriously.
This has been Singapore’s consistent position. In 1983, Singapore voted against the US invasion of Grenada at the UN General Assembly. We also voted against the invasion of Cambodia at the UN General Assembly from 1979 to 1989. Just because Singapore voted against the US in 1983 does not mean they are their enemies. Meanwhile, just as Singapore voted against the invasion of Cambodia, this does not mean the country supported the Khmer Rouge regime.
Singapore rarely imposes sanctions on other countries without a binding decision or direction from the UN Security Council. Given the unprecedented severity of Russia's aggression in Ukraine and Russia's unsurprising veto of the Security Council's draft resolution condemning its aggression, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan announced on February 28 that Singapore would implement sanctions on Russia. Unlike those of many other countries, the sanctions and restrictions are targeted and designed to limit Russia's ability to wage war against Ukraine.
There are a few things Singapore can learn from this conflict: First, conflict never arises without a reason. As every conflict has its historical roots, States should find ways to reduce the precursors of conflict and make every effort to resolve disputes through peaceful means. Second, Singapore should continue to create and develop structures such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) that work to bridge the divide in the region and promote cooperative behavior.
Dominic Lau Hoe Chai, President, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, in Oriental Daily News (April 1, 2022)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Uwe Aranas/CEphoto)
Many new policies are set to be introduced. As the country reopens its borders and enters its post-pandemic recovery phase, the government is focusing its energy on the implementation of policies for economic recovery, which must be clearly explained to the public.
The government has increased the minimum wage to RM1,500 a month for certain companies. While the new minimum wage is certainly a good thing for migrant workers, it is not a good thing for employers without an increase in employee productivity. This policy clearly has far-reaching implications and must be discussed openly before implementation.
Other proposals include the reduction of the speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour in central Kuala Lumpur. The view of the Kuala Lumpur City Council is that lowering the speed limit in busy areas of the city will improve road safety in these areas and reduce crashes and fatalities. The government, however, has not provided a channel to hear opinions of the public.
In addition, the US has accused Malaysian government-linked companies of using forced labor and initiated a ban of oil palm exports. Forced labor is a serious issue and will tarnish Malaysia's reputation. Considering this, as a Ministry with close ties to the public, the Ministry of Human Resources has a duty to communicate and any decisions and actions that have a direct impact on Malaysians.
Any policy implemented or proposed by the government has a potentially profound impact on the public. All policies should be properly explained so that the public can truly benefit from it.
Vikram S Mehta, Chairman, Brookings India, and Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, in The Indian Express (April 4, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: President of Russia)
Discussion of the genesis of the Ukraine crisis and the extenuating circumstances behind what is an egregious breach of the territorial integrity of a sovereign independent nation has limited value. What is now required are conversations on how to prevent a further escalation of this conflict. India should play a role in driving such conversations. Its decision to abstain from the UN resolutions condemning Russia should give it negotiating heft with Putin; also, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on friendly terms with him; and as the forthcoming chair of the G20 in 2023, India can claim standing.
Putin has failed to achieve his objectives. He has not succeeded in overrunning Ukraine, in changing the regime in Kyiv, or in securing a Russian sphere of influence. In the face of such a massive setback, what will Putin do next? Will he look for a face-saving way out of the corner? Or might he compound his original sin by escalating the conflict?
The conundrum is how to get him to look at the world through a different lens – how to get him to accept “defeat” without having to concede he has been defeated. There are no simple answers. A good start would be to set out what should not be done. Putin must not be squeezed into a corner. US President Joe Biden’s saying that Putin must not be allowed to stay in power was injudicious. So too were the comments that countries that buy Russian crude oil will find themselves on the “wrong side of history”. The effort now should be to create avenues for a face-saving backdown. India has the credibility and international clout and PM Modi has a personal equation with Putin. These should be leveraged to end this humanitarian tragedy.
Akiba Tadatoshi, mayor of Hiroshima from 1999 to 2011, in The Mainichi (March 4, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
As a former mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, I call for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the world leaders to declare immediately that no nation will use nuclear weapons in this conflict! I also call for Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, who is from Hiroshima, to visit Moscow to meet President Putin and attend the United Nations Security Council meeting to explain why, by conveying the cry of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I want to share the sense of urgency that the hibakusha and Japanese citizens felt when President Putin made the first of the two statements that we interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons. It compelled me to start an online signature collection campaign titled, "Do NOT Use Nuclear Weapons! -Message from Japan-" via Change.org.
Threatening to use nuclear weapons is a clear violation of international law. It is evident to everyone that the situation of Russia does not qualify as an "extreme situation of self-defense," so there is no doubt that it is a violation of international law.
I ask President Putin and other world leaders to declare immediately the nonuse of all nuclear weapons and ensure to fulfil their most fundamental responsibility as members of the human race. This is the responsibility of all the countries with nuclear weapons, not just Russia.
Simran Sawhney, research analyst, and Yang Jingwen, assistant operations manager, Civic Exchange, in Stand News (December 15, 2021) – original article longer available
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. In October 2021, the government issued the "Hong Kong Climate Action Blueprint 2050", outlining a mid-term goal towards carbon neutrality. Yet, the blueprint only focuses on the continuation and improvement of existing policies. The government should instead formulate a science-based, long-term comprehensive climate policy.
The government should seek to develop long-term carbon reduction strategies which should include researching low-carbon power generation technology, exploring the possibility of applying hydrogen energy, carbon capture and storage (CCS), energy storage and other technologies.
The government should also consider setting up an inter-departmental working group to formulate a green hydrogen energy policy for Hong Kong. As the current technology in this area remains expensive and immature, the government should consider providing subsidies and formulate carbon pricing to reduce the cost
Meanwhile, as Hong Kong’s renewable energy resources are limited, fossil fuels will still be required for power generation. This means that CCS technologies will be indispensable. Again, the cost of such technology remains prohibitively expensive for commercial application. The government and power companies, therefore, should actively participate in relevant R&D projects to help promote its development.
As more types of energy become available, balancing power supply will become more challenging. The government needs to consider different options, including improving Hong Kong’s domestic power-grid links, connecting the China Southern Power Grid, and increasing energy storage capacity to maintain a stable power supply.
Ralph Yau, Founder of Infinity Montessori Academy, in am730 (October 29, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: @KashungWis on Twitter)
An Olympic athlete took a group photo while visiting a primary school. Netizens were surprised to see that, in this photo, transparent plastic partitions had been installed on the front, left and right sides of each student’s desk. The Education Bureau only recommends – but does not require – the installation of such partitions in classrooms. Instead, students are required to wear masks and socially distance. The use of such partitions is a prime example of excessive-prevention and fails to consider the needs of students themselves.
The transparent plastic partitions are low quality and will have an impact on students’ vision. The brightness of the light passing through the partitions is also greatly reduced. Research has found that the incidence of myopia in school children is now 2.5 times that before the epidemic. It is believed that these plastic partitions are contributing to vision damage in a similar way as wearing a pair of very low-quality glasses. If students cannot see clearly, they will be less able to study.
Some British and American scholars have claimed that partitions not only have no effect on preventing the spread of the virus but can also become a means for the virus to spread. As the partitions obstruct the air flow, ventilation will be unable to introduce fresh air. Contaminated droplets therefore risk being concentrated in this "dead zone".
All partitions in the classroom should be removed. Hong Kong children deserve better. Yet now, they are lagging behind. Schools should follow educational principles, while the authorities should explain the relevant measures to parents, so as to not have a negative impact on children’s learning and development.
Moon Chung-in, Chairman, Sejong Institute, in Hankyoreh (March 6, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: President of Ukraine)
The primary cause of the war in Ukraine is the military adventurism and the victim mentality of a cold-blooded dictator. But can the US and the West be completely absolved of responsibility?
Harvard University scholar Stephen Walt had predicted that the US and the West’s aggressive values-based foreign policy could provoke Russia to invade Ukraine. Walt said that while security reasons were given for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eastward, in reality, it was oriented toward spreading the values of freedom and democracy. It was, therefore, not hard to predict that Putin would regard such movements as tending to isolate Russia and threaten his rule and that he would respond with harsh military action.
What set the tinderbox alight, however, was the miscalculations of the leaders – not only Putin’s unhinged decision to invade, but also Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s immature initial response and failure at managing the crisis and preventing a war. He exacerbated the situation by sending conflicting messages, dangling NATO membership before his supporters, promising neutrality to Russia, and appealing for nuclear armament to the West. He complicated the crisis with contradictory rhetoric, warning the outside world about an impending invasion and asking for military aid even while he told the Ukrainian people to stay calm because there was little chance of an invasion. Another misstep was Zelensky’s naive expectation of military assistance from the US and NATO.
People can hold various opinions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But if the US and the West had been more prudent about changing the status quo in Russia’s sphere of influence, if Ukraine’s domestic politics had been more unified, and if the Ukrainian president had been more adept at crisis management, this tragedy could have been avoided.
Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, senior lecturer at the School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, in Rappler (March 4, 2022)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Caltex)
Some presidential and vice-presidential candidates have been non-committal on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When Ferdinand Marcos, Jr, was asked for a statement, he said he did not have to take a stand because our country was not involved, except for concerns about Filipinos in Ukraine and Russia. His running mate, Sara Duterte, said we should always be "neutral" if the interests of the Philippines are not involved.
This view is erroneous. The Philippines is part of the global economy, and Russia's occupation of Ukraine is already having an impact. Filipinos have already felt the effects. The price of oil is rising. While the Philippines does not import oil directly from Russia, we still have to deal with the higher costs. In February, inflation remained at 3 percent. But gasoline prices rose by 32.1 percent and diesel by 46.4 percent.
In 2020, only 9 percent of Philippine imports of wheat came from Ukraine. Because of the war, wheat production in Ukraine and Russia is likely to be reduced, and wheat prices are rising in global markets. If the price of our imported wheat goes up too much, the price of flour and bread may also increase.
According to JP Morgan Chase, the Ukraine crisis could reduce the growth of the Philippine economy by 0.4 percent this year. The Philippines has an interest in the Russian occupation of Ukraine. And if we are neutral, are we then essentially siding with Moscow? Yet, our government condemned the occupation at the emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly.
In May, vote for a candidate who understands the place of the Philippines in the global economy and politics – and above all, one who has a stand. Candidates should not be neutral.
Feng Zhenhao (冯振豪), postgraduate student, in Oriental Daily News (January 9, 2022)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Firdaus Latif)
Malaysia has officially lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. This decision has prompted the reorganization of Malaysia’s political landscape and should have a positive impact. Ultimately, lowering the voting age is a sign of progress as it means the elderly can no longer monopolize public opinion. It will also ensure that the space for public discourse on issues is more diverse and open. Yet, Malaysia still lacks progress in many other policy areas.
With rising prices and a slow economic recovery, young voters are more likely to worry about their own livelihoods than educate themselves on public affairs. These voters will therefore be more likely to be coaxed by the rhetoric of a specific party. Malaysia’s ruling party has already looked to adapt to this new situation by providing aid, financial incentives and tax cuts for young people. Yet, these measures merely attempt to convey the message that the ruling party is friendly to young people, but do not show that it truly understands their needs.
Instead, the government should tackle the root causes of the challenges facing young people rather than the symptoms of the problems. Some examples include the raising the minimum wage, establishing more comprehensive and more accessible medical insurance, and setting up academic research projects for college students. In other words, policies that effectively help young voters become independent and plan their future.
The government must go further than simply lowering the voting age and instead demonstrate sensitivity to generational change. This can only be done through listening to voices in society and then formulating the necessary policy measures.
Ge Changyin, Associate Professor of Accounting at the China Agricultural University, in Jiemian (December 22, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Weibo)
China is the fastest-growing and largest market for livestreaming e-commerce in the world. While livestreaming services prosper through their innovative business models, how they earn their income differs from that of other traditional enterprises.
Viya and Li Jiaqi are superstar influencers in this market. The Zhejiang Provincial Tax Service recently disclosed that Viya had evaded taxes amounting to RMB643 million and underpaid RMB60 million in taxes between 2019 and 2020. She was fined RMB1.3billion, representing the largest penalty issued to a livestreamer and sending a clear message that the government will not tolerate tax evasion.
Here are some ways to address the emerging problems:
First, it is important to acknowledge that the obligation of taxpayers is to pay their taxes according to the law. One of the main functions of taxation is to address income disparity, and the Viya case is a lesson for every taxpayer. Second, the nature of livestream e-commerce should be categorized as business income rather than individual income, with a maximum tax rate of 35 percent. Third, local commercial departments should bear the responsibility of ensuring compliance of registered companies so that they are not used for tax avoidance.
To crack down on evasion, China’s taxation authorities should thoroughly investigate these livestreaming businesses and introduce targeted provisions where necessary.
Chen Duanhong, Dean of the Hong Kong and Macau Research Institute of Peking University and Vice President of the National Hong Kong and Macau Research Association, in HK01 (December 13, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Gaugear Msierpllo)
Many have been pessimistic about the voter turnout rate for the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections on December 19, 2021. Whatever happens, there is no doubt that these polls are a testament to the Hong Kong spirit.
Hong Kong should cherish the special constitutional arrangement of “one country two systems”. Indeed, according to Article 23, the central government has been generous to delegate exclusive legislative power to Hong Kong. Yet, many have been slanderously criticizing the central government and causing trouble in the political arena and the media to gain power and seek wealth.
One of the key considerations for China to implement “one country, two systems” was to protect Hong Kong's capitalist society. The Basic Law exists to secure prosperity and stability, which has been supported by entrepreneurship and the Hong Kong spirit.
A perfect democracy must recognize multiple electoral units, not just individual citizens. The design of the political system must reflect diversity and consider the interests of all sectors of society. The functional representation system is a unique characteristic of Hong Kong’s democratic system. It includes all industries, with most practitioners are represented.
Some people think that the new electoral system has expanded functional representation and squeezed the proportion of constituency direct elections, thus prompting voters not to participate in elections Clearly, there remains tension between functional representation and equality so a balance must be found. But it is only through turning up to vote that society’s preferences can be heard.
Giam Meng Tuck, commentator, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 19, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Facebook)
Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) issued a statement announcing the release of Yeo Jun Wei (also known as Dickson Yeo), a 40-year-old Singaporean doctoral student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, who was previously detained for spying. Yeo was arrested in the United States for recruiting American soldiers and officials, hiring them to write reports, and forwarding these to the Chinese intelligence service. In July 2020, he pleaded guilty in a US court to a crime of illegally serving as a foreign agent and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has reminded Singaporeans to learn from the case and not to be naïve towards issues relating to international relations, stating that the “mutual collection of intelligence” was the norm. While this was not the first high profile incident, the Yeo Jun Wei case has its own unique features.
As he is a Singaporean, Yeo was deported to Singapore in December 2020 where he was arrested under the Internal Security Act. When Yeo pleaded guilty in the US, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs stated that his activities did not pose a direct threat to Singapore.
Yet, Yeo’s case clearly demonstrates how such threats have become more pronounced due to social media, which has made it easier for foreign intelligence services to talent-spot, groom and cultivate potential agents, even from abroad. The case of Yeo Jun Wei should serve as a cautionary tale to all young, ambitious Singaporeans.