Fu Laixing, commentator, in Lianhe Zaobao (October 3, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Dr David Sing / Shutterstock.com)
After achieving a vaccination rate of 82 percent, Singapore appeared ready to transition to the new normal of a Covid-19 resilient society. Then in August, the number of new daily cases rose dramatically. The question is: How long can society tolerate coexisting with the virus?
After two years there seems to be no end in sight and even after cases fall, it will till take several years for the world to return to normal. Indeed, over the past 130 years, the world has faced five major pandemics, lasting up to five years. The vaccine offers some hope. Yet, countries that have reached a certain percentage of vaccination rates such as Singapore now require their citizens to get a third booster shot. And even in the future, they will have to administer the vaccine regularly to maintain immunity as the virus evolves. Challenges stem from new variants and increased transmission during autumn and winter.
The situation is therefore precarious. Society believes that the government should not rush to loosen restrictions and that opening the borders must be done gradually. Reintroduced movement control measures have caught the public and companies by surprise. A survey found that two-thirds of the surveyed Singaporeans struggle with restrictions that limit social interaction and dining. Such measures will also undoubtedly affect Singapore’s economic performance in the second half of the year. Yet, without such action, infections will continue to climb, and it will be even more difficult to flatten the curve.
Coexisting with this virus over the next five years will be no easy task. The government must strike a careful balance between protecting Singapore’s livelihood and saving lives.
Jake J Maderazo, editor and columnist, in his Sharp Edges column in Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 7, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: US Department of State)
The country is better prepared today against this variant, following its experiences on the Alpha, Beta and Delta waves. The government has administered 96 million vaccine doses or 86.4 percent of our total population of 111,050,000. Those fully vaccinated (two doses) stands at 38,700,000 persons, or 34.76 percent of the total population. The number of booster inoculations is also increasing. And unlike last year, people can even choose their preferred brands because of the government’s huge supplies.
The highly infectious Omicron variant will have a direct effect on the coming political campaign and its results. Even if found “milder” or deadlier than Delta, disruptions in our daily life will happen. Probably, we will see a repeat of lockdowns, return of face shields/masks and closed businesses due to higher alert levels next year. And this means limited campaigns, political rallies and stricter health protocols for candidates and supporters.
If Omicron is a milder, controllable variant, the administration candidates especially the incumbent mayors will have the advantage, being at the forefront of relief and successful vaccination of their citizens. But if Omicron becomes deadlier than Delta, then the government’s pandemic response becomes an election issue. This administration’s moves will be under microscopic scrutiny by voters. If cases zoom up again because of Omicron and hospitals are overwhelmed, then the opposition candidates in both national and local elections will have a better chance of winning.
When Omicron arrives, it is inevitable that we will again return to strict or very strict precautionary measures. Yes, it will be hard, but unlike last year, we now have available anti-Covid-10 drugs to avoid hospitalization and death. Also, our healthcare system is much now better following its Alpha, Beta and Delta experiences. We all must hope for the best.
Miyake Kuni, President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, in The Japan Times (December 2, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Anthony Quintano)
During a virtual keynote speech on Japan-Taiwan relations at a forum organized by a Taiwan think tank, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned Beijing that an attack on Taiwan would be “economic suicide”. Beijing immediately lashed out at the former Japanese leader, denouncing Abe’s remarks as “openly nonsensical”,
Was Abe’s speech “openly nonsensical”?
As always, Abe was cautious in his use of words. He neither referred to the Republic of China nor Taiwan as an independent state. He neither called for its independence nor separation.
What might have alarmed China was Abe’s reference to an armed contingency. He said, “A Taiwan contingency is a Japanese contingency, and therefore a contingency for the Japan-US alliance. Beijing, President Xi Jinping should not have any misunderstanding in recognizing this.”
What Abe said is far from nonsensical. He wished for China to consider its ultimate national interests. He said that “any military adventure in Taiwan will have serious repercussions for the global economy” and therefore “China will suffer badly” because it is deeply involved in the global economy.
China will be or perhaps is already facing what I call “the middle-income trap with Chinese characteristics”. If China attacked Taiwan, China would immediately see its wealth and assets evaporate, which the nation and its people worked hard for over the past 40 years. Surely China does not wish for this.
Abe went on to say that “a military adventure against Taiwan is the way to economic suicide for China and would also have a significant impact on the world economy,” which China will continue to heavily depend on. If China’s political leaders are rational, they will clearly understand what Abe meant to say.
Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation; Likhita, researcher and adviser at Amnesty International; and Matt Mahmoudi, artificial intelligence and big data researcher at Amnesty International, in The Indian Express (November 24, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Srinivas Kodali @digitaldutta on Twitter)
You desperately need to get to the pharmacy to stock up on essentials. As you walk there, almost every street you pass has cameras installed, watching closely as they attempt to identify your face and track your movements. You cross the street, only to be intercepted by police officers who demand that you remove your face mask. You ask why, but no one responds. Then, without explanation, you are lined up and an officer captures your face on a tablet.
This might sound like a scene from a film set in a dystopian world. In fact, this is an emerging reality for the people of Hyderabad, which stands on the brink of becoming a total surveillance city. According to police, more than 600,000 cameras have already been deployed in the city.
Facial recognition technology identifies the distinct features of a person’s face to create a biometric map, which an algorithm then matches to possible individuals. The system searches across databases of millions of images, scraped without knowledge or consent, and often fails.
Yet, many police units in India today continue to acquire and deploy this dangerous and invasive technology. In India, these technological infringements on our human rights are particularly dire. The absence of any legal framework to govern data protection, especially in the context of personal biometric data, means that we are blindly turning our public spaces into sites of technological experimentation, where human rights are sidelined for profit and control.
The proposed Personal Data Protection Bill has been stuck for years in Parliament. Meanwhile, police forces and intelligence agencies have accelerated their unchecked personal data collection. Under the guise of the protection of women and children, huge amounts of public money are being spent on these technologies with no evidence of their effectiveness, further squandering precious public funds.
Mahathir Mohd Rais, Bersatu Segambut division chief, in The Malaysian Insight (October 25, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: zol m)
The “lazy Malay” narrative has spiked up recently. Among the weaknesses of the Malays that are often talked about are laziness, dependent way of life and lack of knowledge that led to their split into different groups of thought.
Although the Malays are given special protection and rights under the Constitution, their situation has not changed much. Many are still considered as low income and do not own property. This shows that privileges can turn into disaster if not taken care of properly.
The Malay community should learn to accept more changes to prove that they are able to compete and contribute to the country’s development. In addition, progress in the education system will help Malays free themselves from the shackles of the political, economic and social systems.
There are many Malay entrepreneurs in different sectors and some have even become millionaires, but the success of a few cannot be considered as the success of the Malays as a whole. While millions of “unlucky Malays” are still experiencing declining living standards due to either unemployment or lack of source of income, some groups of “lucky Malays” are comfortably enjoying growth in their personal wealth.
Injustice in this flawed economic system has long been manipulated by the “chosen Malays”. Their wealth increased even during the pandemic stemming from systemic failures in both policy and the legal system. Instead of harvesting the fruits of the system for their own good, “lucky and chosen Malays” should help the “unlucky Malays” who are less fortunate.
At the same time, the Malays should not be picky. They should seize all the opportunities and jobs available to gain knowledge and experience and close the gap that has been filled by immigrants or foreign workers. Success in uplifting the nation depends on their willingness to accept change.
Liu Jia Ming, electrical engineer, in Lianhe Zaobao (September 23, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Choo Yut Shing)
According to Singapore's transportation development blueprint, all internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will be replaced by electric vehicles by 2040. Electric vehicles do not emit exhaust gas containing toxic particles. Meanwhile, natural gas can be used to generate electricity, meaning Singapore’s air will be much cleaner. In addition, electric vehicles will reduce noise pollution by at least a half. Scientists, engineers and designers should also take advantage of this opportunity to redesign vehicles to tackle traffic congestion. In the future, big data analysis, artificial intelligence and robot operations can all be integrated to support automated driving.
Eliminating ICE vehicles will not be straightforward. Apart from developing new driving skills, licenses, maintenance, safety, insurance and so forth, there is the question of what to do with neighboring countries and to ensure compatibility between charging systems. The batteries and electronic parts needed to produce electric vehicles rely upon toxic metals such as lithium and arsenic. As such, the pollution and negative impact of electric vehicles are either not yet apparent or have not yet been fully studied.
To achieve full environmental protection and carbon reduction, it is still necessary to explore other solutions. The mayor of Paris recently proposed the concept of the "15-minute city" with the goal of all urban residents being able to get what they need in a 15-minute walk or bicycle ride. Such an example is not only environmentally friendly but can also increase productivity and improve the balance between work and rest. Ultimately, this is not just a challenge for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport. It will require the synchronization of the urban economic development of the city across sectors and actors to succeed.
An editorial in Dong-a Ilbo (Oct 25, 2021)
Summary by Jeongyeo Lim (Photo credit: 이재명 https://blog.naver.com/jaemyunglee/221290825385)
A poll shows that the public disapproves of all three candidates in next year’s presidential election – the ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung (32 percent approval) and Yoon Seok-youl (28 percent) and Hong Joon-pyo (31 percent) of the opposition People Power Party. If votes were cast, the winner would be whomever people dislike the least.
The popular verdict on these hopefuls is unsurprising given their track records of controversies. Lee gave preferential treatment to the development of a particular area when he was mayor of Seongnam City in Gyeonggi Province. Yoon is suspected of stoking accusations against his rivals even as he claims to be the keeper of the rule of law and common sense. Hong is lampooned for openly hurling expletives at fellow politicians.
Political divisions are at the root of this situation where candidates with approval ratings below 50 percent are leading the presidential race. In our political environment there are more shameless "fighting cocks" than wholesome talents because the culture requires vindication over those with differing views rather than compromise or constructive competition. Enemies are to be scorched.
There can be no future in a country where the presidential race has deteriorated into a mud fight of hatred, and the public must choose their least disfavored candidate. Whoever takes office will be beleaguered with weak approval ratings and correspondingly lackluster administration. This would lead to a vicious cycle of imbalanced policies favoring the president’s supporters. Deepening schism is possible. Knowing full well how this might unravel our society, we must not blindly go down this path.
If the presidential candidates are truly the ones who seek to lead the nation, they must avoid shallow calculations to position themselves at the extremes of the political landscape. They must instead offer a vision that will unite the country.
Al Araf, chair of the governing body of Centra Initiative and senior researcher at Imparsial (The Indonesian Human Rights Monitor), in Koran Tempo (October 5, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Prananta Haroun/Unsplash)
Indonesia is having a freedom-of-expression crisis. Arrests of those who criticized the government shows that civil liberties are being constrained. Since 2018, researchers and academics have observed that those in power aim to restrict their opposition and groups that are critical of authority.
On several occasions, President Joko Widodo has used non-democratic methods to manipulate and suppress opposition groups, for example, by politically manipulating the laws on blasphemy, treason and community organizations.
There are three ways by which the freedom of expression is being restrained. The first is by limiting participation in demonstrations. The second is by restricting the space for teachers and students to express their opinions and ideas. The third is the criminalization of and violence against activists who attack corruption and advocate for human rights, the environment and other issues.
There are at least three reasons why limits are being applied on civil liberties. First, in the current political climate, there is a desire to minimize as much as possible the differences of opinion among the people, opposition groups, and authorities. Second, there are threats to civil liberties due to conservative and orthodox security perspectives that prioritize maintaining the regime's political stability and sustainability. Finally, the authorities use repressive and ambiguous regulations as the basis for criminalizing opposition groups or critics of the rules.
Indonesia needs to make changes and improvements such as changing the state paradigm on security that ignores human rights. There should be more respect for human rights, updating of laws, legal reforms, and strengthening of supervising mechanisms, as well as better implementation and enforcement.
Alan Chong, Associate Professor in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, in Lianhe Zaobao (September 16, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Singapore International Foundation)
Public diplomacy is an important pillar for strengthening the legitimacy of government policies. Singapore’s public diplomacy has developed through external influences. From the establishment of the British colony to the eve of the Japanese occupation of World War II, the city’s three main ethnic communities carried out their own non-state forms of public diplomacy.
After independence in 1965, Singapore attempted to maintain its unique identity as a non-aligned international trade center open to everyone. Today, Singapore is not only actively pursuing the goals of ASEAN and the UN but it is also willing to maintain communication channels and low-key economic relations with countries that have fraught relations with the West such as Iran, North Korea and Myanmar.
Singapore's omnidirectional foreign policy is also reflected through its seeking a balance between China and the US, China and Japan, and China and India. This is evident in the fact that Singapore not only regularly has exchanges with these governments but has also signed extensive special economic agreements and trade agreements with them. Singapore’s success in formal public diplomacy is evident in the frequent invitations that senior officials receive to attend dialogues involving the United States and the European Union.
It is against this background that the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), as a practitioner of public diplomacy, fulfils its role. Together, the Foundation and Singaporean citizens jointly promote domestic and foreign cooperation to support positive changes. Today, the SIF supports public diplomacy through voluntary projects in the fields of healthcare and education, as well as through social entrepreneurship programs.
Singapore’s public diplomacy not only demonstrates the country’s good governance but projects an image of a country with global potential. Looking to the future, for organizations such as the SIF, public diplomacy should aim to place social and emotional connections above official political transactions.
Emori Keiji, editor, in The Mainichi (October 26, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Pool photo)
During his birthday press conference in November 2020, Crown Prince Akishino touched on the marriage of his elder daughter, then Princess Mako: "To respect their feelings means to approve their marriage…If they are truly serious about getting married, as parents, we should respect their feelings."
In fact, Crown Prince Akishino had voiced this view to those around him on countless occasions, ever since news outlets reported on the unofficial engagement of the then princess to Kei Komuro in May 2017. He has consistently stuck to the idea that as long as the pair wish to marry, their union cannot be disapproved of.
But the road leading to their marriage was a rocky one. After money trouble between Komuro's mother and her ex-fiancé was revealed, the situation took a turn for the worse. In February 2018, the Imperial Household Agency announced the postponement of Mako's engagement.
Crown Prince Akishino decided to not proceed with the engagement or marriage ceremonies, as he judged that the marriage would not be accepted and celebrated by most of the public. Mako refused a lump sum usually paid to female Imperial Household members who leave the family upon marriage. The recent union is an extraordinary one for an Imperial Family member, involving only a marriage registration.
The Imperial Household should have the public's best interests at heart. The activities of the Imperial Family and the postwar system that deems the emperor "the symbol of the State" are built upon the understanding and support of the Japanese public. What would have happened if the traditional rites had been approved even as many voices continued to criticize Mako's marriage? Crown Prince Akishino's decision not to carry out the rites must have been an agonizing one as a father.
Aaran Patel, master’s candidate in public policy at Harvard University, and Siddarth Shrikanth, master’s candidate in public administration and business administration, Harvard and Stanford Universities, in The Indian Express (November 5, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Government of India)
After weeks of tough talk, few expected India to lead from the front on the opening day of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. And yet it did. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement – a series of ambitious short-term climate targets, and a pledge to hit net-zero emissions by 2070 – was a welcome surprise.
The announcement cements India’s important position in the climate fight. Despite being responsible for a relatively small share of historical emissions, India is now the world’s third-biggest emitter, behind only China and the US. With one-sixth of humanity and millions yet to be lifted from poverty, what India does on climate will inevitably shape the world’s trajectory.
Net-zero by 2070 may seem a long way off. But the near-term targets that underpin the headline figure matter far more. None of this will be easy, but the goals point to a quiet revolution in India’s climate ambitions. India’s sheer vulnerability to climate change may have played a part.
To meet the challenge at hand, we see three guiding principles that could help bring this week’s bold pledges to life.
First, India must combine emissions reductions with climate adaptation, embedding environmental justice for people and nature. Second, corporate India has a vital role to play in complementing government policy. Third, to deliver decarbonization and development, India will need data and democratic deliberation. Building state capacity can help the country move from reactive decision-making to proactive planning and execution. But India will also require the analytical horsepower to craft and implement evidence-based policies.
COP26 represents a bold step, but the devil is in the details. Following through on these commitments with transparent, credible action would allow India to demonstrate genuine climate leadership for the rest of the developing world, and secure a better, greener future for its citizens.
Lim Hong Siang, Executive Director of socio-cultural and religious studies research center Saudara, in Malaysiakini (October 23, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Jeremy Eades)
Although the issue of alcohol has been around for a long time, the decision by the leaders of the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS, or Malaysian Islamic Party) to harp on the subject before joining the ruling coalition worsened the political climate. PAS took a rather extreme stance, demanding that alcohol be banned, regardless of the fact that the country is a multiracial and multireligious society with different perceptions of the drink they call the "devil's urine".
They must be prepared to take responsibility for their statements and behavior. Either they keep their promises or admit their mistake, apologize and call for everyone to move forward.
Since the 2008 political tsunami (when the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition suffered its worst general elections till then), "Malay grievances" have been touted in an atmosphere of racist and narrow religious politics. Malays are upset with the "Chinese uprising", worried because "Islam is threatened", and afraid that one day "the earth will be trampled on by others". This anxiety was successfully triggered, even though the national machinery was controlled almost entirely by Muslim Malays.
As citizens, non-Muslim Malays pay taxes, keep their money in homeland banks, and defend their country as Malaysians. But when there is a political power struggle, their rights are at stake without a shred of sensitivity to their sentiments.
Every day, Malaysians are plagued by crime and various social problems that demand policy changes so that the people are protected. It seems, however, that some people are more invested in discussing an alcohol ban than in dealing with the real problems in society.
Timothy Kwai, member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, in China Times (September 10, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: @張鈞甯 on Weibo)
According to a report, actress Janine Chang referred to Taiwan as "my country" in her master's thesis, which she wrote 11 years ago. As a result, she was accused by mainland Chinese netizens of being pro-Taiwan independence. She later clarified on Weibo that she was not and “had always regarded herself as Chinese”. President Tsai Ing-wen stated Chang’s situation was not only an infringement of personal rights but also highlighted the differences in the values of democracy and authoritarianism between the two sides of the Strait.
In Hong Kong few celebrities have actively supported the recent political demonstrations. The Hong Kong star Nicholas Tse recently announced he was planning to renounce his Canadian citizenship. Yet, if a Taiwan artist is slightly well known in the mainland, the chance of being misconstrued as “pro-independence” is notably higher.
The reason for this is that mainland China generally believes that, since Chen Shui-bian was elected president in 2000 (he served until 2008), Taiwan's shift towards "cultural independence" has intensified. This shift occupies many cultural fields, including education, language, literature, art, film and television. As a result, the influence of "cultural independence" is intensifying conflict in public opinion on both sides of the strait.
After Tsai Ing-wen took office as Taiwan’s leader, official cross-strait dialogue was severed, and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) continued to promote the concept of "cultural independence". This has resulted in a distorted subconsciousness of the new generation of Taiwan people and created a dangerous barrier between the two sides of the strait. This is the main underlying reason why Taiwan artists such as Janine Chang are criticized on the mainland.
Hastin AB Dumadi, Minister Counsellor and head of the Economic Department of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Singapore, in Kompas (October 6, 2021)
Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: UNICEF)
The South Korean boyband BTS appeared at the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations. This shows that Korea takes their soft power diplomacy seriously. According to a report by US National Public Radio (NPR), BTS is estimated to contribute at least US$5 billion to the economy each year. In addition, BTS attracts tourists to South Korea through its concerts, while also advancing the country’s fashion, merchandise and food industries, among others.
Just like South Korea, Indonesia has great potential to advance its creative economy. Many Indonesian entrepreneurs have contributed to and invested in the creative sector through movies on Netflix and international film festivals, being featured in Hollywood blockbuster movie soundtracks, fashion weeks, and culinary diplomacy.
There are four key factors required to advance Indonesia's creative economy:
First, strong will, especially from the government, is needed to give priority to the strengthening of the creative industry as one of the sources of economic strength.
Second, all crucial parties must put in the hard work.
Third, consistency in regulation, creation and maintaining quality to build strong branding for Indonesia and contributors to the creative industry.
Finally, strong collaboration among all stakeholders will lead to success by creating a conducive creative-economy ecosystem. The government, private sector, and talents must work hand in hand to move forward.
If Indonesia can bring together all the various elements needed for such an ecosystem, this sector can undoubtedly become a great driver of economic growth.
Soon Hoh Sing, current affairs commentator, in Oriental Daily News (August 29, 2021)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: John Ragai)
By 2030, the share of Malaysia’s population aged 65 years and over is forecast to exceed 10 percent. This will mean that the country will experience aging demographics and a low birth rate. This will put pressure on public finances due to falling tax revenues and increasing public health expenditure.
While this is a universal phenomenon, it is important to note that, since Malaysia is not a rich country, public debt has been rising sharply. If trends continue, it is likely that the lives of Malaysians will become increasingly difficult due to the country’s limited fiscal capacity. One of the possible consequences of this is that public services that are currently free or cheap will become chargeable or expensive, especially medical services.
In many developed economies such as South Korea and Taiwan, the population is already declining. Unless the fertility rate increases or foreign workers are welcomed, it is inevitable that our society will struggle. As far as Malaysia is concerned, in the 1950s, the number of births per woman was roughly five to six, while some even gave birth to 10 children. In recent years, however, this figure has dropped to two.
In developed countries, there are usually various measures in place to encourage childbirth. In Malaysia, there are Chinese groups that have set up grants to encourage childbirth, but the response has not been satisfactory. If it hopes to reverse the declining fertility rate, Malaysia will have to work out how to offer benefits to raising a family that outweigh the various costs. If not, the alternative will be to welcome foreign workers to make up for inevitable labor shortages.