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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

AsiaGlobal Voices is a curated feed of summaries of opinion articles, columns and editorials published in local languages in media from across Asia.

The publication of AsiaGlobal Voices summaries does not indicate any endorsement by the Asia Global Institute or AsiaGlobal Online of the opinions expressed in them.

A Country of Perpetrators
Friday, July 24, 2020
A Country of Perpetrators

Ji-eun Kim, editorial writer, in The Korea Times (July 17, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

A Country of Perpetrators

At a dinner, a legislator casually asked why a reporter was not married. After hearing her terse response, he responded that she should just date him. As is common in a hierarchical and patriarchic society, no one stepped up to call out the inappropriate comment and the journalist was no longer able to partake in the conversation.

This was a trivial incident compared to the many more serious aggressions made against Korean women every day. Following the recent suicide of Seoul’s mayor after a woman who was previously his secretary accused him of sexual abuse, too many in the society are criticizing the victim and not the aggressor. Some believe in conspiracy, questioning why the victim waited four years before reporting the incident. Others are convinced that the woman must have triggered the action. Many sympathize with the popular mayor and argue that it was selfish for the victim to destroy a person’s life over this. Such is the blanket logic repeatedly applied whenever a sex scandal breaks out involving powerful male politicians, professors and the like.

The least that the society can do for the victim is to empathize with her pain, assure her that the fault is not hers, and that she does not walk alone in this battle. The only way effectively to prevent future incidents is to assess objectively past aggressions and indisputably label such acts as abuse without regard to the aggressor’s reputation as a human rights lawyer, a civil activist, or a three-time elected mayor of Seoul. At all costs, the victim must be protected, and society must come to accept that the popular mayor was also a sex offender.


The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?

Lim Teck Ghee, commentator and public policy analyst, in Oriental Daily News (June 19, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: www.freemalaysiatoday.com)

The Virus of Racism: How Can We Disinfect Ourselves from It?

The death of George Floyd has triggered a wave of anti-racism protests around the world. Millions of citizens, especially young people, took to the streets in solidarity with American demonstrators while criticizing their government's direct or implicit support for racist actions, actions and policies. In spite of Covid-19 restrictions, there were demonstrations in more than 50 countries. While there were no similar protests in Malaysia, some of the country’s leaders have made statements asking citizens to reflect on the treatment of minority groups.

One of them was Nazir Razak, the former chairman of CIMB Group. He expressed support for the movement and reflected upon the universality of this issue in Malaysian society: "How minorities here face the same challenges every day. How institutionalized measures to redress inequality between races have been abused or become out of date, and need to be overhauled. How we don’t even define racism or legislate against it. Our nationhood – what it means to be Malaysian and how our government, economy and society work – needs recalibration."

Political commentator Tajuddin Rasdi wrote that the curve of racism will never be flattened because racism is not considered dangerous, nor do people believe that their alleged enemies are discriminated against. Nazir suggests that Malaysia needs "a new platform" to solve the entrenched racism and that we should be prepared to open the Pandora box and face the difficult problems related to racism.

The racist virus in Malaysia may be completely different from the virus in the US or other countries. However, it ultimately remains a significant problem in both the public or private sphere and affects every aspect of our lives each day. Exposing this virus to the sunlight can give society a better understanding of this social disease and how we can disinfect ourselves from its hazards.


Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public

Umbu TW Pariangu, lecturer, Universitas Nusa Cendana, in Republika (July 15, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: USAID)

Vote Buying and the Pragmatic Public

The permissive attitude of the public toward vote buying has the potential to influence the regional elections in September. The Syndicate for Elections and Democracy (Sindikasi Pemilu dan Demokrasi) found in a survey that majorities in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan were prepared to accept cash from candidates for local leadership positions at the elections. In Sumatra, 62.95 percent were prepared to accept money, while the figure was 60 percent in Java and 64.77 percent in Kalimantan.

Asked why they were prepared to accept money, they responded that good luck could not be rejected, that the money represented lost income while they were voting, and represented a useful addition to money for daily needs. In Sumatra, 57 percent admitted they would vote for candidates who gave them money, while 50 percent would do so in Java and 60 percent in Kalimantan.

The findings are not a great surprise. Economic pressure can be blamed for a loss of rationality among the public and a victory for pragmatism. People are no longer afraid of the coronavirus; they are afraid of poverty and hunger.


School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture

Sanitsuda Ekachai, editor, in Bangkok Post (July 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Cpl Jessica Olivas/US Marine Corps)

School Hair Saga Reflects Authoritarian Culture

A teacher in Si Sa Ket decided to punish a female student for wearing her hair longer than her earlobes. He cut her hair to length but only halfway – not just to humiliate her but also to warn other students to not challenge school authorities.

Social media has been rife with photos showing students' partially-shorn heads. These examples debunk the teachers' oft-repeated rhetoric. Their mission of selfless giving for the future of the nation? It's all a lie.

Here's the ugly truth: schools are the main pillar of Thai authoritarianism. They train young minds to be submissive to power, starting with total obedience to teachers who act like little dictators. By killing a questioning mind and focusing on punishment via public humiliation to extract docility, schools nurture the culture of fear to make children conform with the militaristic system.

Schools are the microcosm of Thailand's totalitarian society. Thai teachers run schools like despots ruling over small kingdoms. But winds of change are coming. Today, students no longer accept abuse. In May, the Education Ministry announced a new hair rule, allowing students and parents to have a say.

As schools increasingly become militarized, students' academic performance continues to take a nosedive, remaining far behind other countries regionally and internationally. Unperturbed, teachers continue to teach the ultra-nationalistic curriculum dictated by the centralized education authorities, because their salaries depend on years of service, not performance.

If we want education reforms, if we want teachers to respect human rights, we must decentralize the education system. We must make teachers accountable for their performance. We must also give local communities the power to hire and fire teachers. Resistance from those clinging to power will be fierce. But as people's values change, a system which refuses to adjust will soon become obsolete.


Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism

Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business and Executive Director of the Institute for Business in the Global Context at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in The Indian Express (July 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Trump’s Anti-Student Salvo is an Attack on Liberalism

You may be among the 2,00,000 plus Indian students studying or planning to study in an American university. US President Donald Trump seems to have problems with “aliens” of many stripes. The latest anti-student salvo began with a White House proclamation to stop “aliens who present a risk to the US labor market”. Now we have guidance from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that will prevent all international students from getting or keeping a student visa if their classes are to be taught exclusively online.

The announcement risks making noncitizens of the US second-class citizens in digital classrooms. It eliminates the option of traveling to gain better digital access or time-zone synchronization. Those who are forced to return, must uproot themselves, face restrictions in travel, return to potentially unsafe conditions or carry unsafe conditions with them. The US has the highest volume of Covid-19 cases in the world.

So, why pick this fight? First, this is part of Trump’s push to get back to business-as-usual, a narrative essential for re-election. He’s been urging schools to re-open. The international student visa move is a way to strong-arm university administrations. Losing these students would mean loss of much-needed revenues for universities. Second, don’t forget the long-running China-as-enemy rhetoric. China is the biggest source of international students. A third reason has to do with the enemy within: liberalism. The three states that overwhelmingly benefit from international students – California, New York and Massachusetts – will, without question, vote for Joe Biden.

Finally, Trump knows his base gets weaker the closer you get to college. Sixty-four per cent of non-college-educated Whites supported Trump, as compared with 38 per cent of Whites with a university degree. Punishing colleges and “elitism” is a powerful part of the re-election narrative.


Diplomacy During the Pandemic
Monday, July 13, 2020
Diplomacy During the Pandemic

Retno LP Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, in Kompas (July 9, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Violaine Martin/United Nations)

Diplomacy During the Pandemic

The global crisis caused by Covid-19 has made it essential for Indonesian diplomacy to adapt rapidly in line with dynamic challenges in the current environment. No less than 215 states and territories are affected. The number of cases continues to creep upward, while at the same time panic grows over the impact on the global economy.

In the midst of such global panic, every nation has had to focus on meeting the requirements of their domestic situation. As a result, from the beginning of the pandemic, the diplomatic priority for Indonesia has been to fulfill two factors: the safety of its citizens both inside the country and overseas, and the availability of medical supplies.

Global solidarity is the key to emerging from this crisis. In April, we signed the UN General Assembly resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019”, which was supported by 188 states. At the same time, increasing self-sufficiency is important. Indonesia, for instance, is dependent on imports for 95 percent of its pharmaceutical ingredients.


Population in Freefall
Friday, July 10, 2020
Population in Freefall

Lee Woo-Il, Chairman, Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies, in Seoul Economic Daily (July 5, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SUNY Korea)

Population in Freefall

In an ongoing overwhelming health crisis, we are overlooking another serious national plight – that of a population freefall. According to the “2020 World Population Prospects” report by the UN, South Korea ranks 198th in the world, with an extremely low fertility rate of 1.1.

Such a drastic reduction in population is a serious problem in many ways. For one, the current college enrollment of 500,000 students a year is soon expected to fall dramatically. In 1996, the government introduced a policy for the establishment of universities which led to a ballooning number of new institutions and graduates. As a result, an incredible 70-80 percent of the population graduate from college. But because there are not enough jobs for them, youth unemployment is high.

Another obvious problem is the stark decrease in the working population. The median age of the population is 43. This is expected to rise to over 50 by 2035. In the face of a looming crisis from the combination of an ageing and shrinking population, there seems to be only two solutions: accepting mass immigration, or restructuring industry to align with the changing population structure.  

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the accompanying industry-wide changes at least seem to provide some relief. Increasing use of artificial intelligence and automation in production is expected to reduce overall jobs drastically, and given South Korea’s decreasing workforce, the burden of mass unemployment will be alleviated much more than in other countries. But in the face of a predictable combined population and industrial shock, the government would need to review various legal measures holding back innovation and private investments and restructure the current cookie-cutter conformist education system into one able to encourage citizens to excel in their strengths, creativity and individuality.


“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change
Friday, July 10, 2020
“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

Eri Yatsuzuka, author and publisher of mydeskteam.com, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: McDermid Japan)

“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

According to the government's “womenomics” plan to increase the number of women participating in the workforce, telework – or working from home – was supposed to allow female professionals to combine managing a household with managing a career.

During the pandemic, which has seen more people working from home than ever before, a survey conducted in May shows that the number of women in the workforce has declined, while the number of women assuming caregiver roles at home has increased. As schools have temporarily closed to stop the spread of Covid-19, women must look after or home-school children. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents who reported they have assumed more childcare duties during the pandemic were women. The women who must balance childcare and work have reported being only half as productive as before.

It is no wonder that, in another survey conducted at the same time, nearly 70 percent of women reported experiencing more stress since the start of the pandemic, compared to only 50 percent of men. More women than men felt stressed about completing basic household chores.

The pandemic has shown that women find it difficult to balance their professional lives and manage a household at the same time. There is the assumption, even in some local government policies, that working from home is "easier". There are also societal attitudes about what should be women's work in the home. Women are also conditioned to be responsible for household chores and childcare. We as a society must change if we want to improve productivity by encouraging women to join the workforce.


Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

Sayaka Osakabe, women's rights activist at Matahara Net, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 8, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: milatas / Shutterstock.com)

Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

At least 30,000 people have lost their jobs since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in February. Since the economic crisis has been so severe, these job losses may be unavoidable. In some cases, however, employers are using the pandemic as an excuse to continue the longstanding practice of "maternity harassment", when expectant mothers or those on maternity leave are dismissed from or forced to quit their work.

According to legal experts, employers will often use various plausible sounding excuses such as a decrease in company sales volume to remove women planning to go on maternity leave or are already on it. Labor law provides a strict assessment framework for when such redundancies can be made. Employers are eligible for certain labor subsidies from the government to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. It cannot be easier to dismiss people or suspend them from employment during a pandemic than during a normal recession.

Japanese labor laws clearly state that female employees cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. All of this means that female employees who think they are experiencing discrimination because of a pregnancy must first refuse any requests to resign voluntarily. Next, they should immediately notify their prefectural labor bureau about their experience.


Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?
Monday, July 6, 2020
Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

Keizo Yamawaki, Professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University, and Bob W White, Director of the Laboratory for Research on Intercultural Relations and Professor of Anthropology, Université de Montréal, in The Japan Times (July 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

There is nothing new about the tendency to look for scapegoats during pandemics. Indeed, at many points in history, anxiety about contagious disease has manifested itself in the form of fear mongering and xenophobia.

Outside of Asia there has been a significant increase in the number of hate speech incidents targeting people of Asian descent, and in some cases other groups (such as Hassidic Jews, Roma communities and various types of migrants) have also been targets of discrimination. Hate speech is increasingly gaining the attention of local and national governments, but from the legal and policy perspective many questions remain unresolved.

In pandemic, there have also been examples of discrimination against foreigners in Japan. Anonymous letters demanding that Chinese people should leave Japan were sent to restaurants in the Chinatown in Yokohama. When the Saitama municipal government began distribution of masks to local kindergartens, a Korean-owned kindergarten was deliberately excluded. When popular comedian Ken Shimura died of Covid-19, there were tweets saying he was murdered by Chinese.

As local governments in Japan attempt to make communities more inclusive, fighting discrimination has become one of the key issues in municipal integration policy. During a meeting organized by Hamamatsu in October 2019, officials from cities in Europe, Oceania and Asia discussed the importance of cities in the promotion of inclusion and social cohesion. We believe that the best way to promote inclusion in Japan is to build on the already existing network of cities. In the coming years of living with Covid-19, this renewed network will hopefully make it possible for cities in Japan to engage with cities elsewhere in the world, and for Japan to take its place in the global fight against discrimination and the exclusion of migrants.


Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States
Monday, July 6, 2020
Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in The Nation (June 30, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States

Compared to other developing countries, small-island developing states (SIDS) in the Asia-Pacific region have done well in containing the spread of the virus. So far, available data indicates relatively few cases of infections, with 15 deaths in Maldives, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Yet, while rapid border closures have contained the human cost of the virus, the economic and social impacts of the pandemic on SIDS will place Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) even farther out of their reach.

One reason SIDS economies have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic is their dependence on tourism. Tourism earnings exceed 50 per cent of GDP in the Maldives and Palau and comprised 30 per cent in Samoa and Vanuatu in 2018. The severe impact of Covid-19 on these economies is also a result of heavy reliance on fisheries, which represent a main source of SIDS marine wealth and bring much-needed public revenue. The coronavirus crisis will jeopardize these income streams as a result of a slowdown in fisheries activity.

As part of the post-virus recovery, new foundations for sustainable tourism and fisheries in Asia-Pacific SIDS must be built. These sectors must not only have extensive links to local communities and economies, but also be resilient to external shocks. Enhancing economic resilience must focus on building both the necessary physical infrastructure and creating institutional response mechanisms.

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the price of weaknesses in health systems, social protection and public services. It also provides a historic opportunity to advocate for policy decisions that are pro-environment, pro-climate and pro-poor. Progress in our region’s SIDS through sustainable tourism and fisheries are vital components of a global road map for an inclusive and sustainable future.


Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads
Monday, July 6, 2020
Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads

Joseph Leopold Ratnasekera, Catholic priest and missionary, in Daily Mirror (July 6, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Presidential Secretariat, Sri Lanka)

Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads

Sri Lanka will hold its 16th parliamentary election on August 5 this year. The time has come for the country to discern the sad situation we are in and look for alternative political choices that will put in power only genuine and authentic politicians.

The most crucial problem is the lack of production in our export sectors, in the apparel and textile industries that have to be revamped. The fast-dwindling tea, rubber and coconut industries have to be saved with more creative policies and reinforced for greater production with modern technologies. The export sector is always the livewire of any economic stability of any country. It will minimize the need of imports. There is so much that can be produced locally to cater to the local population as well. Hard work has to be encouraged and excellence demanded in all fields of industry.

There must be a firm resolve to curb bribery and corruption in the government and stringent measures have to be taken to ensure honesty, transparency and accountability in the way these offices are held and performed. Much of the loss of quality resulting in the wane and the bane in national politics has been the rash and recklessness of those holding public office. In the over-all context of the national scenario, all are agreed on the urgency of a bounce-back plan to revive the virus-saddled economy that has experienced considerable setbacks in many sectors.

Let there not be any unpatriotic trend mooted or vicious cry raised for autonomous rule in any part of the country. This island-nation is one with one Sri Lankan identity. All races and religious groups must unite in one common ideal of pursuing a prosperous and peaceful motherland for all.


How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again
Monday, July 6, 2020
How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again

Saifur Rashid, Professor of Anthropology, University of Dhaka, in Dhaka Tribune (July 5, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nurunnaby Chowdhury (Hasive))

How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again

We know that public universities stand to provide any student, irrespective of their financial background, an education upon passing the competitive admission process. They are not like private universities, where students have to spend a lot of money to get a degree, although they have some scholarships for the poorer students.

Historically, the students and faculties of the University of Dhaka (DU) have not only been engaged in learning, teaching, and research but have also been playing a very significant role in various social, cultural, and political movements in the country.

Despite various limitations, DU is still ranked as the best university in the country. But we can’t be happy with this. We want to make our university world class. Before celebrating the centenary of DU in 2021, we need to examine our methods and figure out how we can take our university to a certain height by raising the quality of teaching and research.

How are we going to live up to the challenge of branding the university, which was once called the “Oxford of the East,” and meet the standards set by the development of science, technology, and the liberal arts in the 21st century?

The alumni can come forward to raise sufficient funds for research and provide scholarships to the students to go to the best universities for higher education. To make DU one of the finest seats of learning regionally as well as globally, we need to prepare a 25-year perspective plan with immediate, mid- and long-term targets.

Every member of DU and its alumni who are proud of their engagements and contributions to building the nation would also like to feel more pride by rebuilding the image of this university and converting it to a world class center for the production and dissemination of knowledge.


The Minimal-Contact Economy
Friday, July 3, 2020
The Minimal-Contact Economy

Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister for Research and Technology of Indonesia, in Kompas (June 23, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Said Safri / Shutterstock.com)

The Minimal-Contact Economy

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on Indonesia. A number of practices which have no precedent in this republic such as working from home, social distancing and large-scale social restrictions that have been in place for three months have shaken our economy. Economic activity involving lots of human labor has more or less stopped, including in the informal sector. Many economic activities that require a physical presence no longer operate, leaving a part of the public without income.

As a result, in addition to the slowing economy, unemployment and poverty are increasing. While this is a disturbing situation, the example of other countries that were hit earlier made it clear that the coronavirus spreads quickly and takes many lives. There was no choice but to limit social interaction.

How long will this last? There is no clear answer, although the ideal would be to find a vaccine. However, this will take time, and economic activities cannot be stopped. As free people, humans do not wish to be detained for very long.


Defending Tech Sovereignty
Friday, July 3, 2020
Defending Tech Sovereignty

Arghya Sengupta, Research Director at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and Lalitesh Katragadda, Founder, Indihood, in The Times of India (July 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Defending Tech Sovereignty

As Indian soldiers face the Chinese army in Ladakh, their courage in defending our borders makes our hearts both heavy and proud. However, as citizens, our actions belie our feelings. India’s trade deficit with China is US$48.5 billion, on the back of China’s near-complete domination of India’s consumer electronics market. The resulting economic upside is significant enough to fund China’s entire military expenditure on the Indian border. How do we face our soldiers and tell them that we are bankrolling the very peril that they are bravely pushing back against?

In this context, the decision by the Indian government to ban 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat is a significant statement of intent. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act allows the government to block access to any content on the internet if protection of Indian sovereignty requires such blocking.

While any direct connections between companies which own the blocked apps and the Chinese government are difficult to detect, by virtue of China’s national intelligence law every technology company in the country is under a legal obligation to “assist and cooperate with state intelligence”. Further, according to China’s cybersecurity law, all companies “must accept supervision from the government”. When that government wages war on India’s borders, a strong case exists to follow due procedure and block these applications.

Ultimately, in technology as in the economy, we need to learn from our soldiers on the front. We need to steel ourselves for a few years of hardship with knowledge and belief that we will overcome. If we don’t, our dream of a tech sovereign India will become like a TikTok video – short-lived and illusory. If we do, perhaps our foes may never dare to draw battle lines inside our physical territory.