CK Tay, columnist, in China Press (January 17, 2020)
Summary by a contributor (Photo credit: Prachatai)
When will Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad pass the baton to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) President Anwar Ibrahim?
Mahathir had said that he would hand over power in two or three years, but some politicians – including Azmin Ali, Deputy President of PKR – have urged him to stay on for a full term of five years. Anwar’s supporters are worried about unexpected twists if the leadership transition drags on. There are also voices urging Anwar to take over as soon as possible to stabilize the Pakatan Harapan administration, as Mahathir has seemed uninterested in pushing for real political reforms.
Mahathir most recently promised to relinquish the post after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. He has also reiterated that he would make good on his promise to hand over to Anwar. Nonetheless, many people do not trust him simply because of his many policy flip-flops since returning to power.
When a country’s policies are reversed and changed so often under the helm of the same prime minister, investors are understandably worried that the next leader would come in and overturn existing policies, causing them to suffer investment losses. Examples of flip-flops that have left investors in limbo include: calling off the ongoing East Coast Rail Link project, only to revive it later with a revised route; and delaying the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System projects.
A “coup” should be a hush-hush operation. Leaders of the four political parties within the Pakatan Harapan coalition should meet and discuss matters behind closed doors. It will do investors and businesspeople no good if the disagreement over the Malaysian PM handover continues to boil up publicly till November.
An editorial in Khaosod (January 17, 2020)
Summary by Tom Tuohy
For two years, Thai people have become familiar with the term “PM 2.5”, with private companies producing masks with that grade of air filter to reduce dust levels. In early 2019, the pollution problem was big news for several days and Thailand ranked high globally for its poor air. In October, 2019, the government made the issue a national priority, but the problem has returned.
Reports suggest that 72.5 percent of the dust comes from cars and the rest from open burning and heavy industry, including the construction of new train lines. The low-pressure weather pattern over the Bangkok metropolitan area can trap the dust under a canopy.
The government has asked citizens to use cars that meet higher emission standards and introduced legislation to prohibit bus engines from belching black smoke. These measures need to be monitored.
Citizens, academics and the media criticized the government because, while the problem has been around for two years, it has offered no measures to improve people’s daily lives. This criticism should not be seen as a negative attack on the government and civil servants.
If the government insists that they are trying to solve this problem, then they must be serious about finding a solution. They must review the measures taken and determine what needs to be improved. They should not let the dust get into their eyes so they cannot do the right thing.
Wang Heting, Associate Professor in the School of Politics and Public Management at Henan Normal University, in Beijing Daily (14 January 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Tsai Ing-Wen’s successful re-election as Taiwan’s president on January 11, 2020, was inconsistent with the expectations of many people. However, from a long-term perspective, Tsai’s win is nothing but a “storm in a teacup” in the sense that it does not deviate from Taiwan’s political development. Nor will it change the fact that Taiwan is part of China or stop the historical trend towards unification.
Tsai Ing-Wen's re-election was due to several factors, namely, external interference from the United States and lingering influence from Hong Kong’s anti-extradition law movement and its Hong Kong independence figures, which has been subsequently exploited by the Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for political gain. Through these factors, Taiwan’s political environment and electoral campaign have become both hostile and polarised, overlooking the needs of the voters. As a result, the election is only a victory for the DPP and not for Taiwanese compatriots.
However, despite the DPP’s victory, progress towards the motherland’s reunification will not weaken. In recent years, owing to the increasing strength of the mainland’s economy, reunification remains in reach. In addition, Taiwanese society’s view towards cross-strait relations and perception of the mainland have been steadily improving. As such, Taiwanese society now understands the necessity of unification.
Today, the conditions for advancing reunification are unprecedented. However, it will be necessary to continue strengthening international support for the “one China” principle and ensure false signals are not sent to Taiwan pro-independence forces. Even more importantly, the deepening of cross-strait integration will be necessary to expand the path towards peaceful reunification.
Steven Yohanes Polhaupesy, China analyst, in Kompas (January 15, 2020)
Summary by Keith Loveard
For two weeks since the end of 2019, China has trampled on Indonesia’s sovereignty by means of illegal fishing in the exclusive economic zone in the waters off Natuna on the southern edge of the South China Sea.
Some 30 foreign ships have been operating in the Natuna Sea, a presence that clearly needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness because this is not only a question of Indonesian sovereignty but also an expression of arrogance and an extension of the power of China in the context of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Since Xi Jinping took the leadership of China in 2012, activities related to territorial claims in the South China Sea have become increasingly aggressive. This illustrates two issues. First, the short-term importance of fishing for China’s maritime economy. Second, that this short-term importance is part of China’s longer-term strategic imperative to reinforce its hard-power presence in the region.
An editorial in Asahi Shimbun (January 11, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson
This is the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Many people will have the opportunity to wave a variety of flags. But why are so many people attracted to flags in the first place?
In the 1970 movie Planet of the Apes, the rival chimpanzees and gorillas are portrayed as waving black and white banners, respectively. It is only the human beings who use flags. It is said that the earliest flags date to the Zhou Dynasty in China around the 11th century BC and were used to direct troops.
More recently, the flag has been used by nation states to symbolize independence and unity. Following the 9/11 attacks, for Americans, the Stars and Stripes symbolized freedom. The Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag (a red disk on a white background), generates complex feelings for some people around the world. For some, the act of raising this flag calls to mind the dark days of the war of aggression. Waving the Rising Sun flag (which happens to be the official emblem of the Asahi Shimbun) can bring back memories of Japanese militarism in countries such as South Korea.
The Rising Sun flag is often waved at sports meets, eliciting criticism. The Japanese government has stated that it has no political meaning and is not a symbol of militarism. Sports fans, however, should remember that raising this flag at the Tokyo Olympics this summer could fuel division and conflict. Instead, spectators should learn history, remember to respect others, and communicate the value of peace.
Lin Xing-fei, columnist, in Tianxia (CommonWealth) magazine (January 11, 2020)
Summary by Dana Liu
After an unpopular start, how did Tsai Ing-wen win the presidential election? First, the destabilizing shift in US-China relations over trade disputes brought into focus Taiwan’s own relationship with China. Second, Xi Jinping’s speech on January 2, 2019, laid out an unsettling vision of unification as the future direction of Taiwan, deepening anxieties over Taiwan’s sovereignty and freedom. Third, escalating demonstrations in Hong Kong served as a “window” for Taiwan to imagine its future under “one country, two systems”. The further escalation of campaign rivalries between the two paths of unification vs independence also stimulated tense generational conflicts within Taiwan.
China’s crucial role was to help Tsai win the younger generation’s support and trust. Generational conflicts that existed in the passage of the gay marriage law deepened as student protests in Hong Kong fueled a stronger Taiwanese rejection of the “one country, two systems” policy. Wu Yi-rou, former student association representative at National Taiwan University, says young people liken China’s “Taiwan solution” unification policy to a frog slowly cooked in warm water before being swallowed. For them, it is easy to see what their future might be like in the situation Hong Kong: a younger generation protesting the consequences of a handover decided 30 years earlier without considering the ramifications of that decision.
The Green party has played anxiety over national sovereignty to its advantage: Christians who opposed gay marriage in 2018 supported Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2020 in view of the China threat. The Australian spy scandal in November spread further distrust. Perhaps Taiwan is entering a new war of generational conflict, ending the traditional blue and green divide. Tsai has a great opportunity to reject and replace the “one country, two systems” policy, but what the impact would be on the future of China-Taiwan relations remains unknown.
An editorial in Siam Rath (January 9, 2020)
Summary by Tom Tuohy
January 1, 2020, was D-Day, with a ban on single-use plastic bags coming into force. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment made agreements with 90 department stores, shopping centers, supermarkets and convenience stores not to give out plastic bags.
This is a good start and people are now aware of the new measures and are carrying around reusable bags or know that they would have to pay for them if vendors make them available. While the ban has caused some dissatisfaction, this is not a surprise. Stores have publicized it for some time.
Marine expert Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a professor of fisheries at Kasetsart University, says that the management of disposable plastic marine waste got worse in 2019 and hundreds of rare sea creatures were injured or killed from consuming garbage and waste. Thai beaches are full of plastic, and volunteers often need a shovel to dig it out from the seafloor. This affects the ecosystem because the material splits into micro-plastics, eventually entering the food chain.
The government’s plan has three steps: Campaign – Agreement – Regulation. They have been campaigning for 20 years but must speed up the process of plastic waste management in the sea, or face trade barriers, tax increases, and bans on Thai products. Failure to address the problem may also affect beach travel and the international image of Thailand.
The ministry will initiate the third step this year by issuing regulations to upgrade Thailand's management of plastic waste to catch up with the 127 countries that already have regulations managing plastic waste. We must, therefore, increase awareness and cooperation among Thais to look at the overall benefits: a better quality of life and a cleaner environment to safeguard the future of our children.
Hidetomi Tanaka, Professor in the Faculty of Business and Information of Jobu University, in iRONNA (January 7, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson
The year 2020 began with a jolt for Japan with the flight of former Nissan chairman (and French national) Carlos Ghosn and the death of Qasem Soleimani, a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed by the Trump administration.
While he was accused of money laundering and violating Japanese financial regulations, Ghosn since his arrest has been portrayed by liberals in the Japanese and French media as a victim of and a hero fighting against the Japanese legal system. It seems these liberals support anyone who appears to be "anti-Abe" (Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving post-war prime minister and a member of the ruling center-right Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP) and anti-establishment.
The runaway liberal virtue signaling was even more pronounced following the murder of Soleimani. A commentator writing in the Asahi Shimbun stated that such was Soleimani's esteem in Iran that subordinates wept at the news of his death. Liberal commentators would have us think that a man who killed tens of thousands and who has been declared a terrorist by the United States is "beloved".
What seems to be most important in this liberal narrative is anti-Americanism and opposition to whoever is in power.
Zhan Hao, investor and author, in Aigupiao (January 7, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Following the assassination of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani on January 3, US-Iran relations have deteriorated. Over the next few years, strategic relations will be confrontational with limited room for improvement. Therefore, in this context, there are two scenarios that China should consider in shaping its response:
1. Direct military conflict between the US and Iran
The odds for this happening are low, as neither the US and Iran can afford to take such a systemic risk. In the small chance that there is a war, the global economy will be severely hit, with trade and commerce, including the crude-oil supply, disrupted. For China, it will be important to strengthen energy-supply guarantees, as well as bolster economic relations with neighboring countries. Furthermore, a US-Iran war may prove to be good time to reunify with Taiwan due to weakening US assistance to Taipei. Ultimately, if direct military conflict does break out, China must take full advantage of the situation and not allow the US to defeat Iran.
2. An ongoing confrontation
While China should not allow the US to overthrow the regime in Tehran, it also should not fight on behalf of Iran, as China has no core interests in the country. However, China should strategically strengthen its cooperation with all parties in the Middle East, especially as the US is currently in a position where its global hegemony is increasingly difficult to maintain. China, on the contrary, is growing stronger and this is reflected in its increasing global influence, which will continue to expand as China maintains its strategic strength.
Based on these scenarios, China must remain focused and plan accordingly. China will have to maintain strategic flexibility and keep up with the ever-evolving international situation.
An editorial in Tokyo Shimbun (January 7, 2020)
Summary by Nevin Thompson
While Trump continues with his erratic behavior, this time the consequences of his disruptive actions are even more severe. Following the killing of the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Tokyo Shimbun calls on both the US and Iran to exercise restraint so that their conflict does not escalate to war.
By killing Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, the United States has violated Iraq's sovereignty. Concerned that their country will become a battlefield between the US and Iran, Iraqi legislators have passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of American troops there.
The Trump administration's consistent hostility towards Iran, including his withdrawal from nuclear deal, has weakened Iranian moderates into distress while bolstering hardliners. The world is watching now as Iran plans its retaliation for Soleimani's death.
Tokyo Shimbun calls on Iran to stick with the nuclear deal. Actions, including military force, that would further destabilize the current situation should be avoided. Finally, the Japanese government should cancel its plans to dispatch ships and planes from the Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East. Any deployment should be discussed in the national Diet first.
See Kian Cheah, political analyst, in Nanyang Siang Pau (January 6, 2020)
Summary by a contributor
Malaysia filed a submission with the United Nations in December 2019, seeking to establish the limits of its continental shelf in the northern part of the South China Sea. This came 11 years after the Vietnam-Malaysia joint UN submission for a portion of their continental shelf in the southern part of the disputed waters.
What are the motives behind Malaysia’s latest move? Malaysia’s UN challenge against China could be seen as a gesture to prod China to expand its investment in Malaysia. In particular, Malaysia wants China to step up its involvement in Malaysia’s mega projects, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail. China is also possibly the only country in the world that is capable of helping Malaysia to realize its Greater Kuala Lumpur project – a region ten times the size of Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is well aware that it has everything to lose if it files the submission just to please the United States. Its claims on the South China Sea could therefore be interpreted as a bargain with China. Malaysia and China could opt for private negotiations on the South China Sea, because neither wishes to see both sides suffering consequential losses.
While it is highly possible that Vietnam, after losing the Philippines as its ally on the issue of maritime territorial dispute, is eager to find another partner from ASEAN to voice their discontent with China, Malaysia is unlikely to pair up with Vietnam in this pursuit.
Tay Tian Yan, Deputy Executive Editor-in-Chief, in Sin Chew Daily (January 1, 2020)
Summary by a contributor
Malaysia’s Vision 2020 dream is dashed. Not only has it failed to be a fully developed country by 2020, it is also far from being a united nation with a diverse, liberal and advanced society. Malaysia is currently bogged down by worsening racial tension, religious dogmatism, a lack of a clear development direction and endless political drama.
Interactions between ethnic groups have fallen into the trap of a zero-sum game, with each blaming the country’s problems on the other. Grassroots support for the anti-ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) rally and the Malay Dignity Congress pointed to hardening racial sentiments. A mufti calling for the closure of vernacular schools and an Islamic welfare association warning the Chinese Organisations Congress of the recurrence of May 13, 1969, racial riots have also found support from the ground.
Religious dogmatism has seeped into everyday life and government policies. A Muslim evangelical foundation is permitted to organize programs in national schools, while society reels from a “Buy Muslim First” campaign (choose Muslim-made products over others).
In terms of development direction, the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 lacks substance and specific execution plans. Since taking over federal power, the new government has reneged on its election promises and made many about-turns on its policies. The East Coast Rail Link, Lynas rare earth plant and Bandar Malaysia – projects once condemned by the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition – are now celebrated as the country’s pride.
On the political front, both Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional choose to continue on the racial and religious path to gain electoral votes and retain federal administration, a great harm to social harmony. There have also been signs of a power struggle among the component parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition. Meanwhile, the final battle between Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim, while entertaining, is damaging to the country. Inconsistent policies and unstable politics will only push investors away.
Cho Hong-sik, Professor of Political Science, Soongsil University, in Segye Ilbo, (January 6, 2020)
Summary by Charles Lee
Amidst the dire heat wave and brush fires from climate change, Australia nevertheless opened the new decade beautifully with internationally renowned fireworks. Like the colorful display across the night sky, whites and Aboriginals, Chinese and Indians, and all sorts of other people enjoyed the festivities on the ground.
Until 1970, Australia maintained a “white Australia” immigration policy but since then, has opened its doors to highly educated young talents from the world over. Thanks to this, since 1973, Australia’s population has almost doubled, and its economy has become 21 times larger.
There are two kinds of advanced economies in the world. Nearly all rich Western countries drive economic development through active acceptance of immigration. In contrast, East Asian countries, epitomized by Japan, prefer to maintain social stability by protecting their traditional ethnic identity. As a result, Japan’s population has begun to shrink each year after peaking at 128 million in 2008. At present, South Korea and China look likely to follow Japan’s stagnant path.
What choice will South Korea make in the coming decade? Will it become a forgettable fossil of a country maintaining old ethnic traditions, or will it rise again as a dynamic young country through an endless infusion of new blood?
South Korea’s fate today stands at a crossroads: between comfortable and conservative corrosion and the opportunities offered by a breakthrough transfusion of new blood. But the greatest tragedy is the fact that excellent young Korean talents are going abroad and contributing to invigorating other nations’ destinies.
Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, president of the Hong Kong Legislative Council from 2008 to 2016, in am730 (6 January 2019)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Beijing has repeatedly requested that the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government solve the “deep-rooted problems” in Hong Kong society. Following the anti-extradition amendment bill protests, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has publicly committed to do so. But these issues have remained unresolved for many years.
The mainland reckons that the problems largely have to do with the economy: Hong Kong's industry is not so diversified. As a result, housing prices have risen rapidly, while income growth has stagnated, widening the gap between the rich and the poor and solidifying class structures. Grievances within society have mounted.
One key reason why these problems are difficult to resolve is the restraint in Hong Kong’s politics due to a dogmatic adherence to the “big market, small government” concept. This leads to inaction. The SAR government is committed to the far-right idea of a free-market economy and remains indifferent to social inequities. As a result, Hong Kong has one of the greatest wealth disparities among the world’s developed economies.
Change must come from the government rather from the protestors. But the current administration is unwilling to abandon this far-right form of governance. Furthermore, Hong Kong does not have a mechanism for "party rotation" so successive governments have unwaveringly adhered to the dogmatic approach.
To create conditions for major social reform, it would be necessary to address the way the chief executive and governing institutions are selected. The method for choosing the chief executive determines whether the leader will have the political determination and energy to promote social reform. To achieve significant social policy reforms will require shaking up vested interests. Introducing universal suffrage for the chief executive and governing bodies would make a big difference to achieving this. Only with determination to address the deep-seated problems in Hong Kong can they be resolved.
Guo Jiping (a pen name) in People’s Daily (December 31, 2019)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
The phase-one trade deal reached between China and the US will be beneficial not only for China and the US but also for peace and prosperity around the world.
In December 2019, China and the US reached a phase-one trade deal on the basis of equality and mutual respect. On both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and the world as a whole, markets responded positively. While challenges are inevitable in international relations, only cooperation and mutual promotion, rather than confrontation and containment, can make relations last.
As economics and technology continue to make the world more integrated, China and the US are seeing their interests increasingly intertwined. While disputes are a normal part of cooperation, supremacy cannot overthrow justice and rationality. As such, cooperation is always the best choice. China, facing the US-initiated trade war, will never surrender to any form of pressure, and remains devoted to safeguarding its core national interests. In addition, China is committed to resolving issues through dialogue, properly handling differences while seeking common ground, and overcoming obstacles with practical solutions.
Improvements in relations between the China and the US over the past 40 years help to demonstrate that working to create opportunities and maximizing common interests between China and the US is the right approach. Furthermore, working towards the common good of the world is the most worthwhile cause. The phase-one trade deal illustrates that, if China and the US remain committed to win-win cooperation while respecting each other’s national dignity, sovereignty and core interests, they can overcome any form of difficulty. Only through the strengthening of relations will both countries and their people be able to benefit.