Al Araf, Executive Director, and Anton Aliabbas, Senior Fellow for Security Reform, at human rights monitor Imparsial, in The Jakarta Post (February 24, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Sriyana / Shutterstock.com)
The decision of President Joko Widodo not to repatriate Islamic State (IS) sympathizers due to their potential security threat to the public may be justified in the context of the fight against terrorism. Other officials have stated that this will render them stateless. In formulating a counterterrorism policy, the state must fulfill its obligations in upholding the liberty of the person in a permanent balance with the protection of his or her security. The revocation of the citizenship of Indonesians who have joined IS is neither reasonable nor justifiable.
The revocation of citizenship does not solve terrorism; it instead legitimizes IS as a state. The IS sympathizers are legally Indonesian citizens, and the government cannot evade its constitutional mandate in dealing with them. Further, the government’s authority to rescind citizens’ citizenship has no legal grounds.
Leaving them stateless may breed new problems for global security. As we do not have any measure to closely monitor them, they can still re-enter Indonesia through its porous borders.
Alexander Huang Chieh-cheng, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of International Affairs And Strategic Studies, Tamkang University, and Chairman, Council on Strategic & Wargaming Studies, in United Daily News (February 20, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: US Department of Defense/Army Sgt Amber I Smith)
After the end of the Cold War, the US and China pursued a "constructive strategic partnership", where Beijing was expected to become a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system. Following more than a decade of the US pivot to Asia, however, the pace of US-China decoupling has started to accelerate. Many are now wondering whether a "new Cold War" between Beijing and Washington has begun.
On February 8, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech on the strategic competition between US and China. He outlined the Trump administration’s hardline stance on China. Pompeo mentioned Taiwan six times, the most significant public recognition of Taipei by a high-level US official since 1971.
In addition to Taiwan, the US has made the military, geopolitics, trade, technology, currency, and supply chains all diplomatic battlegrounds with China. There are now restrictions on Chinese admissions to US universities, academic exchanges, visas and employment in scientific laboratories.
Combined with the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus, which is weakening bilateral economic cooperation and restricting the free movement of people, these moves are accelerating the pace of US-China decoupling. With Taiwan caught in the middle, cross-strait relations are likely to become more treacherous.
Improvements in mainland-Taiwan ties during the previous Kuomintang government were a result of mutual understanding between the decision makers on both sides. Beijing's policy towards Taipei has shifted from "anti-Taiwan independence" to "promoting reunification”. Yet it would be a big strategic mistake to take a stern rather than benevolent approach to cross-strait relations. It is important to stress that what Taiwan despises is one-party Communist rule and not their mainland compatriots. While the Covid-19 virus is wreaking havoc across China, Taiwan should not decouple from their compassion and sympathy for Chinese citizens.
Osamu Tekina, writer and cultural commentator, in Nikkan Gendai (February 22, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: John Gillespie)
The coronavirus may have helped temporarily solve the problem of "over-tourism" in Kyoto. Many popular – and typically overcrowded – tourist spots such as the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest have been virtually deserted. The reason: a drop in visitors from China. Where there would normally be hordes of people snapping photos, now there may not be a single Chinese tourist.
A ban on travel to foreign countries by the Chinese government is responsible for this fall in number of visitors to Kyoto. Now empty, hotels have had to drop room rates by up to 50 percent. Shopkeepers and patrons in a Kyoto bar said that, for locals, the absence of Chinese and other Asian tourists is a welcome reprieve.
Residents have been complaining about the government's efforts to increase foreign visitors to Japan to 40 million a year (from the record high of 31.9 million in 2019) and to turn the city into a "national park". But the Japanese government’s uncertain approach in its attempts to contain Covid-19 may well ensure that tourists will continue to stay away from Kyoto and the rest of the country.
Yoichi Takahashi, former finance ministry official, in Yukan Fuji (February 22, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US)
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe increased Japan's consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in September 2019. This was a human disaster that, combined with coronavirus, will strike a body blow to society and the economy.
In the last quarter of 2019, Japan reported its fourth-worst decline in GDP since 1994. All things considered, the 2019 economic decline is actually worse than the slump in 2014 following an increase in the consumption tax, or VAT, at that time.
Policymakers including those at the Bank of Japan have largely ignored the September increase, instead blaming a series of typhoons for Japan's disastrous Q4 results. The problem is that economic measures such as consumption taxes can in fact be a matter of life-and-death for regular people. In Greece, for example, economic policy affected lives and people’s health more than any medicine, surgery or access to medical insurance. Greek austerity resulted in more sickness, homelessness and murders; more people died.
The consumption tax increase by the Abe government, combined with the unexpected coronavirus epidemic, are poised to give Japan's economy a double punch that will result in more deaths.
Nobumichi Izumi, former senior managing editor, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, in nippon.com (February 20, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: NIAID-RML)
In the fight against Covid-19, the novel coronavirus steadily progressing towards a pandemic, Asian countries have not learned the past lessons of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 to achieve success this time. As with SARS, while international cooperation across Asia is crucial to mitigating the effects of the virus, it is difficult to share accurate information about the coronavirus.
Once again, the Chinese government's attempts to prevent public panic by controlling messaging about the spread of the virus have hampered efforts in Japan to contain Covid-19. During the SARS outbreak, in the absence of clear, trustworthy information from government authorities, many cities across China saw outbreaks of hoarding and other public disorder as people panicked, wondering what to do. Rather than learning from the past, China has imposed the same information control measures.
This secrecy has made it difficult for Japanese authorities to learn from China's experience with Covid-19 so far. The lack of information combined with perceived incompetence in dealing with the quarantine of Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers in Yokohama is slowly turning into a crisis testing Japan's logistics and communications capabilities. Japan must respond effectively if it is to host the Tokyo Olympics starting in July.
Yoji Gomi, Senior Staff Writer, Tokyo Shimbun (February 19, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: taniavolobueva / Shutterstock.com)
While Parasite may have won international acclaim after winning four Oscars at the Academy Awards, Bong Joon-ho's film may not be the best PR for South Korea. The film, which depicts the life of members of an economic underclass was filmed on location in a Seoul neighborhood, where underground apartments are common. It is perplexing that the local government has organized tours of the area, seemingly ignoring the poverty of the residents. Ram-don, the noodle dish made famous worldwide by the movie, has also become popular, but most people choose to include expensive cuts of beef, ignoring the class-conscious message of the film.
But politicians in South Korea appear to have grasped the implications of Parasite. In the lead up to upcoming national elections, the ruling party has promised to improve unemployment insurance, while opposition politicians have mimicked the look and feel of Parasite movie posters.
Ichlasul Amal, Lecturer in International Relations and Rector (1998-2002), Universitas Gadjah Mada, in Kompas (February 19, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard
The middle class has become an important topic in the context of reinforcing democracy but the discussion about the relationship between the two often arrives at only ambiguous conclusions. Given the increasing role of technology in society, the existence of a middle class is no longer directly related to the level of democracy.
The size of the Indonesian middle class has risen dramatically along with the reduction in poverty (now below 10 percent of the population) over the past 15 years. The statistics, however, belie the reality. Economic growth has only benefited the richest 20 percent, while 80 percent – around 205 million people – have not seen much change in their living standards. Inequity has accelerated faster than in neighboring economies and between different parts of the country.
Indonesia has a large workforce of around 133 million. There are 6.87 million unemployed, 56 million formal sector workers, and 70 million in the informal sector. This and many other factors create a complex situation, which makes it difficult to talk about the middle class and democracy. This presents a challenge for President Joko Widodo, but the issue does not yet appear to have become a policy priority.
Park Lae-yong, editorial writer, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (February 12, 2020)
Summary by Charles Lee (Photo credit: Kinocine PARKJEAHWAN4wiki)
With director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite winning four Oscars, the political class is busy promoting “Bong Joon-ho” marketing. But during the previous governments of presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, Bong was placed on a cultural “blacklist”. The reason: “rigid leftist propensity”.
His movie Memories of Murder was deemed “a film that injected a negative perception of the civil servants and police by portraying them as corrupt and incompetent groups”. The Host was a film that “by etching anti-American sentiments and the government’s incompetence, nudged the national consciousness leftwards”. And Snowpiercer was a film that denied “the market economy and incited social resistance”.
The conservative MP who was senior advisor to the president on civil affairs at the time is now touting Bong as “Korea’s pride”. There is not an iota of remorse – or shame. There is no worse “parasite of the political class” than this.
Ricky Gunawan, Director, and Will Doran, intern, LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid), in Jakarta Globe (February 11, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard
When they visited Jakarta, three members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) told civil servants, NGOs and government officials that it was time to move forward on drug policy. The “war on drugs”, they said, had failed to achieve its intended objective and only resulted in the opposite – more production of drugs, an increase in drug consumption, the global phenomenon of mass incarceration, and more powerful organized crime.
Indonesia would benefit greatly from an approach that ceased to treat drugs as a criminal justice issue but instead treated them as a public health matter. The nation has draconian punishments for drug offenses, including the death penalty. Out of 369 death row prisoners in the country, 230 are awaiting execution on drug charges. It is time to open a dialogue with police forces to find ways to make changes that would benefit law enforcement and society as a whole.
Decriminalization would right the wrongs of the “war on drugs”. It would be accompanied by measures to promote voluntary drug treatment. It will not result in more addicts. Decriminalization will remove the stigma of drug use. It will save money and allow law enforcement to concentrate on more serious crimes. It will save lives, not ruin them. Reason, not prejudice, should drive the government’s policy.
Lim Wooi Tee, physician and author, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 11, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: kandl / Shutterstock.com)
Singapore has raised its alert level to orange following reports of several cases of Covid-19 without any travel history or links to existing patients. People have panicked, causing shortages of several products in supermarkets. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans to remain calm.
The government and the medical system have responded correctly to the outbreak with infection control procedures following those adopted for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The screening of passengers arriving from Wuhan began as early as January 3. Only North Korea and Papua New Guinea were faster than Singapore in banning the entry of people from Hubei Province and Chinese tourists. There has been transparency of information, which the media has been releasing without delay.
Yet more cases are to be expected. PM Lee’s call for patients with mild symptoms to be isolated and treated at home has upset some of the public. But this is reasonable advice as there are a limited number of beds in isolation wards and intensive care units for those who are critically ill and high-risk patients such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Quarantine and treatment at home does not mean that the medical system has abandoned those deemed not to require hospitalization. Prioritizing cases ensures that people have access to medical resources according to the severity of their condition.
Prevention is always better than cure. This epidemic is a good opportunity for Chinese communities across Asia to deepen their understanding of disease and medical treatment and to consider whether they rely too heavily on the medical system. Meanwhile, there is no need to panic and stockpile. Singapore is an important transport hub so there should be no shortage of food and daily necessities.
Prapun Bunpan, columnist, in Matichon (February 10, 2020)
Summary by Tom Tuohy (Photo credit: Youkonton / Shutterstock.com)
The Buddhist festival on February 8 should have been a peaceful holiday, but a shocking event took place at Nakhon Ratchasima, where over 18 hours an army soldier killed 29 people and injured 58 others before he was shot dead.
There are interesting points about the Korat shooting to consider. First, it is easy jump to the conclusion that the tragedy happened because of the personal frustrations of one person. But it is undeniable that the attacker was a military man who murdered people using army weapons, bought with taxpayers’ money. Unfortunately, the killer cannot be questioned.
Second, how can the army guarantee the following: high standards for the storage and disarming of weapons, the mental health of young people, and that such an incident – a soldier with heavy weapons killing innocent people in public areas – will not happen again.
Third, while the Lopburi robbery in January, which resulted in the deaths of three people, and the Korat shooting may differ in many details, one common element is they both happened in large department stores. Shopping centers are public areas that support people’s way of life in a modern society as temples and markets did in the past. They are full of people and enclosed spaces, and can be so complex that when serious crimes occur, it can be difficult for those inside to escape or for emergency responders to enter.
For many years, the government has attached great importance to internal security by expanding the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). But what are the real "dangers to internal security"? Could there be a particularly catastrophic incident in the community perpetrated by those who possess military weapons? Even if unlikely, it is still another "near danger" that the government must be aware of and find ways to prevent.
Yudi Latif, former head of the Board for the Development of Pancasila Ideology, in Kompas (February 6, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard
The explosion of religious radicalism and the emergence of instant “kingdoms” need to be seen as the visible eruption of pressures within the national social and moral consciousness. The history of the archipelago shows us that where the center of government fails to provide clear social and moral guidelines, varieties of public disturbance and the tradition of the “Just King” (a messianic figure in Javanese folklore, similar to Britain’s legendary King Arthur, who would create a just and peaceful society) will tend to emerge.
We need to ask ourselves why our era of reform has brought with it a social and moral crisis. One reason is that the freedom celebrated by the proponents of reform has not been transformed into civil liberties.
While democracy is celebrated with a variety of direct elections, in reality the governments that are chosen do not automatically represent the sovereignty of the masses. As a result of a democracy centered on money and manipulation, a surplus of freedom does not create a life that is more just and civilized.
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; and Ma Rongbao, Managing Director, CICC Capital Management, Beijing, in Lianhe Zaobao (February 1, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Singapore’s important role in the economic, financial and trade cooperation between China and ASEAN is growing. As one of the world’s advanced international financial centers and a key node in the Maritime Silk Road, Singapore is well positioned to play a significant part in the financing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), providing both professional and international funding for trade and commerce between countries and regions along the route.
Singapore is uniquely positioned to connect financial markets and support cross-border financing cooperation. In addition, the city can promote wealth and risk management, while supporting the large-scale and long-term financing support needed for infrastructure projects. Singapore can also expand offshore financial cooperation and accelerate internationalization of the renminbi, China’s currency.
Beyond financial services, Singapore can expand the regional space for cooperation, while promoting coordinated regional development. Furthermore, Singapore can offer a third-party arbitration mechanism to Belt and Road countries to build cooperation and mutual trust. Singapore and China can also deepen cross-border financial regulatory cooperation through the use of fintech. This financial cooperation could include integrating digital financial services such as issuing an encrypted digital currency – a “Belt Road coin” – to provide inclusive financial services and improve cross-border payment systems.
With the strengthening of mutual political trust combined with the ongoing expansion of economic exchange and the increasing opportunities along the Belt and Road, Singapore-China bilateral cooperation will deepen. Closer financial cooperation can be beneficial to both countries. Through the BRI, Singapore can further utilize its reputation as a global trade, finance and shipping hub to advance regional integration and economic globalization.
Noriko Hama, economist and professor at Doshisha Business School, in AERA (January 30, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson
Japan is not the only country that has to worry about lower fertility rates anymore. China's birthrate is falling, and 10 out of 28 European Union member countries are also experiencing declining populations due to lower fertility and low levels of immigration.
It is, however, important to understand why political leaders seem to think low fertility rates and declining populations are a problem. Nationalists such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy from 2018-19 have argued that population decline is the biggest challenge facing their countries. To combat this trend, the thinking goes, women must be encouraged to have more children as a patriotic duty.
Even moderates argue that, in the face of a shrinking population, productivity must somehow be increased to maintain economic growth. But the drive to increase growth will also put a strain on the environment at a time when climate change is a concern.
Policymakers need to stop regarding population decline as a threat to the nation or to economic growth. Instead, they must understand that declining fertility is a human rights issue. People, including women, generally want to have children. But they feel they cannot. This is the issue that must be addressed.
Dedi Haryadi, Founder and Chairman, Beyond Anti Corruption, in Kompas (January 22, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard
The deconstruction and reconstruction of the Corruption Eradication Commission (known as KPK in Bahasa) is nearly complete, creating KPK 2.0, in line with Law No 19 of 2019. One important difference is the creation of a supervisory board that makes the KPK more bureaucratic and whose impact is already being felt.
A further change is that KPK commissioners are now recognized as officials with the rank of minister who are responsible directly to the president. It is difficult to hope that KPK 2.0 will be able to become a free and independent anti-corruption agency given this situation.
This has occurred due to a coordinated campaign waged on social media in an organized and systematic manner stating that the KPK required deconstruction and reform. This resulted in a far weaker public response in defense of the KPK than had occurred in earlier attempts to emasculate it.