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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.

Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low
Monday, May 18, 2020
Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low

Clement So York-kee, Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication and Associate Dean (Student Affairs) of the Faculty of Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (May 14, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Iris Tong/Voice of America)

Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low

Press freedom is both a basic right and an important social indicator. The Hong Kong Journalists Association recently released the latest Hong Kong Press Freedom Index survey results, which reported the lowest score since its inception. The survey is divided into two parts: the public’s assessment of 41.9 (the closer to zero the greater the press freedom) and the media’s score of 36.2. The scores have been declining in recent years.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers, or RSF, in French) publishes the annual World Press Freedom Index. According to data for 2020, Hong Kong ranked just 80th out of 180 countries and regions surveyed, down seven places from the previous year and a record low. Hong Kong ranked 18th in the world in 2002, when the index debuted.

Last year’s protests presented a crisis in both politics and the press. Journalists faced three specific problems while working: personal threats while conducting interviews, difficulties in obtaining the information needed for reporting, and insufficient laws to protect them while doing their job.

In addition, violence has become increasingly problematic and frequent. This year’s survey showed that 65 percent of the 222 journalists interviewed had been violently treated by police or civilians an average of four times.

Political disputes are intensifying, the economy is facing difficulties due to the impact of Covid-19, and the society is under increased pressure. Meanwhile, the press is facing both political and economic pressures as well as self-censorship. While Hong Kong must work hard to get out of its predicament, we must also pay attention to the freedom of the press.


During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray
Friday, May 15, 2020
During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray

Nikhat Sattar, writer, in Dawn (May 15, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: pxfuel)

During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray

Even as the world battles a virus that has gripped the human race, Muslims observe the month of fasting with fervor and hope. Covid-19, in fact, should be taken as an opportunity for those who pray, because they can now do so in isolation and away from temptations of social gatherings. This is the time for deep introspection and developing and strengthening one’s bonds with the Creator, with no one watching.

Ramazan is very special for Muslims. It is one of the main ways God prescribes for them to work towards developing piety and righteousness. Indeed, if we do not control tendencies to anger, abuse, lying, cheating, committing other small or big sins, our fasts will be merely acts of starvation.

The main reason for the special place occupied by Ramazan in the hearts of Muslims is that the Quran was first revealed during this month. The night during which this revelation first came to the Prophet is the one every practicing Muslim aspires to search for and find. It is the blessed night during which every matter is decreed. It is the night in which, through prayer, sins are forgiven, supplications are accepted, and mercy and blessings surround the persons engaged in prayer.

It is clear that sincere worship during this night would have considerable worth in the eyes of God. This is when angels descend to do God’s merciful bidding. This is the night of peace, consolation, warmth and compassion, bringing Muslims and the universe together into one entity of creation by God, bound to Him by virtue of this connection and hence bound to each other, called upon to establish peace and harmony, with each other and with nature.


Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?
Friday, May 15, 2020
Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?

Liou Pei-pai, former director of the Taiwan Animal Health Research Institute, in China Times (May 11, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Office of the President, Taiwan)

Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?

President Tsai Ing-wen and Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung, supported by media aligned with the ruling coalition, like to boast about Taiwan’s Covid-19 achievements. The government has sought recognition from overseas and even engaged in activities such as face-mask diplomacy, which has garnered thanks from foreign dignitaries.

The reality, however, is that in the early stage of the epidemic Taiwan civilians successfully controlled the epidemic through rapid compliance and the wearing of masks. Major tasks such as the analysis of the virus, antibody screening, testing and vaccine development have not been given significant attention. 

The crisis in Taiwan has nearly subsided, with no domestic cases appearing for 29 days. Taiwan must now focus on its post-epidemic prevention work. While the government claims to have an overall plan for the development of vaccines, new drugs, and faster testing, they have forced academic institutions and private pharmaceutical companies to pursue the fight alone, without government funding.

As a result, no concrete achievements have been made in Taiwan, while research in these fields has yielded results in many countries around the world. Reviewing the situation objectively, Taiwan's epidemic prevention work has fallen behind. Taiwan must urgently think about what should be done to handle another wave of the epidemic.


Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable
Friday, May 15, 2020
Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable

侯显佳 (Hou Xianjia), columnist, in Oriental Daily News (May 13, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Abdul Razak Latif / Shutterstock.com)

Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable

As nationwide efforts are made to combat the Covid-19 epidemic, we must also prevent the emergence of another disease – corruption. It has recently been reported that there have been suspected cases of corruption in the course of the Ministry of Health’s procurement of medical materials during the crisis. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is investigating several allegations including abuse of power relating to negotiations and contracts.

The purchase of medical materials must follow the principles of transparency, openness and integrity. While government departments should be able to make purchases quickly with minimal red tape, they must still choose reputable and recognized contractors or sellers. Medical supplies such as respirators and medical equipment should only be purchased from established companies. In addition, the government should publish the amount and details of the materials. While enhancing transparency and credibility, this can also eliminate rumors and speculation.

During the crisis, many large companies, businesses, civilians and non-governmental organizations have made donations. When received by the government, they should also provide information about these materials so that medical staff and hospitals can ensure they have access to the available supplies and equipment they need. 

Investigations will clarify if there are indeed cases of corruption or abuse of power. This epidemic is expected to continue for a long time. Steps must be taken to prevent individuals from using this crisis to make a fortune.


The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War
Thursday, May 14, 2020
The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

R Siti Zuhro, Senior Researcher, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, in Kompas (May 14, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of Indonesia)

The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

A while ago, the public was shocked by video of a regent from North Sulawesi stating that regulations from the central government regarding assistance for the public during the Covid-19 crisis were confusing and created problems for his region. The comment was understandable. As a local leader dealing directly with the public, people like this have to provide a sense of security at a time when the central government is seen as having taken too long to adopt policies.

At the central level, ministries and central government institutions have not developed the unity required to confront the crisis so it is hardly surprising that problems emerge when they should be developing synergies with local governments. Communication and coordination with local governments are critical. Indeed, leaders at the village level represent the front line in serving the public and must be involved.

The president should be the “supreme commander” in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic. The assumption is that if the president is the supreme commander, decisions can be made more rapidly, with better focus and integration.


Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

Bruce Rhick Estillote, registered nurse, in Rappler (May 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: J De Guia/ILO)

Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

This open letter asks you to reconsider the deployment ban of overseas healthcare workers. We feel grateful for your intent to protect Filipino nurses from the risk posed by Covid-19. However, I believe no one understands the danger better than healthcare workers.

In the past, we sent soldiers abroad to fight for our allies, despite the fact that we were under threat of war on our own soil. The difference is that soldiers are at the disposal of the government. Nurses are not. Nurses who want to lift their families out of poverty have been singled out. This pandemic will not be gone soon. How long will they have to wait? Three or four months? Maybe a year or so?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. But a pandemic, like a war, is a threat that is never gone. Military enlistment is not best done at the brink of a war, and neither is the massive employment of nurses during a pandemic. Prevention is better than cure, says the old adage. Before we reached this point, there were not enough efforts to attract nurses to work in our country because the popular belief was that the supply was great, that there was nothing to worry about.

Had it not been for the pandemic, our nurses here would not have been seen as more valuable. Data suggests that the Philippines has surpassed other countries in terms of death tolls among healthcare workers. It seems that neither the situation here or overseas can make us feel safe. But soldiers and nurses alike know what they signed up for. At least, once abroad, we can send our families financial support to help them get by during the pandemic.


After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?

Li Yan, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), in Global Times (May 12, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Alana Langdon/US Navy)

After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?

An annual report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that in 2019 the increase in global military expenditure was the biggest in 10 years. The total expenditure for all countries in the world now exceeds USD$1.9 trillion – a record post-Cold War high. The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the world and human society. It is therefore important to consider whether this crisis will change the trend towards military readiness and the potential of an arms race.

Global military spending has increased for two reasons. First, competition between countries over resources and territory has intensified causing the international security situation to evolve and produce conflict hotspots. This has resulted in increased militarization in various countries. Second, economic growth in major countries has provided the financial support for military spending.

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis alter those two reasons. First, the crisis may intensify competition between countries and strengthen the need for various nations to be militarily prepared. The international community has not responded to this pandemic in a unified way. As such, intensified competition between countries could become a world trend after 2020. Second, the economic depression caused by the crisis may greatly restrict military spending in many countries. The pandemic may help countries re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of military expenditure and force countries to shift their focus away from focusing on defense.

Further increases in security requirements, along with the tremendous weakening of financial support, will mean that policymakers around the world face new challenges. In recent years, China has put forward the diplomatic concept of a "community of shared future for mankind". The enlightened nature of such Chinese concepts is increasingly important and should be used to help addresses issues of military readiness and their negative effects.


Are Protesters Fighting for Justice – or Just for the Sake of Winning?
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Are Protesters Fighting for Justice – or Just for the Sake of Winning?

識鐵 (a pen name), psychiatrist, in Ming Pao (May 11, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Etan Liam)

Are Protesters Fighting for Justice – or Just for the Sake of Winning?

The Covid-19 pandemic has subsided and the mood has become cautiously optimistic. But Hong Kong people have not been able to relax. Even after the pandemic, tears in society remain.

Over the years, politicians have often talked about "democracy", "freedom" and "justice". There are many who remain dissatisfied with the government and stand on the side of the protesters. They may believe they are fighting for democracy, freedom and justice. Whether their actions truly reflect this is a different question.

It may be more appropriate to understand these actions through the concept of “brotherhood”, which is deeply rooted in Hong Kong culture. It is an emotional rather than rational idea. Legal procedures are too complicated and civilized negotiations are perceived to be useless, making it is easy for society to resort to violence. Meanwhile, protestors insist on their five demands more for the sake of winning and refusing to compromise with the government.

Brotherhood values loyalty over justice. The act of choosing to support a certain party requires never turning your back on them. Today, some are even claiming to be "real Hong Kongers" to separate themselves from anyone that disagrees with them. This cognitive shift from the pursuit of justice to a self-proclaimed "justice" is dangerous. We should define good and bad through one’s nature not by ideology. Those who truly respect justice will know that they are not above the law and will not claim to be the executors of justice.

Hong Kong people can be seen as children of the brotherhood. While a brotherhood society can be both humane and united, we should not confuse it with justice. In view of Hong Kong’s current situation with the upcoming Legislative Council elections, will we simply choose to fight – or instead strive together for Hong Kong's interests?


Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail
Monday, May 11, 2020
Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail

Ha Jae-geun, culture critic, in Dailian (May 9, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: LegoCamera / Shutterstock.com)

Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail

The media coverage of the 66th Covid-19 infection case in Yongjin (in the Seoul Capital Area) is causing a national outrage. The confirmed patient visited a number of bars and clubs before testing positive for the virus. His itinerary was disclosed in accordance with the epidemic control policy. What made the media coverage outrageous was the unnecessary reporting that one of the places he visited was a gay club.

Adding this irrelevant detail was grossly problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is morally flawed. Revealing or speculating on a person’s sexual orientation without consent is a gross violation of the victim’s privacy, especially given the conservative South Korean context.

Second, what the media implies may not even be accurate. Yet the mere implication suffices in framing the victim as being part of a sexual minority. Since the initial media coverage, there has been an influx of malicious bashing of sexual minority groups, which is wrong by itself but was not unforeseeable. Knowing this, the media should have been extra careful but instead utterly failed.

Third, such coverage impedes to control the outbreak. With the public now assuming that all those associated with the confirmed patient are also members of a sexual minority, those who were in close contact with him have good reason to hide and deny any association with the incident.

In short, reporting the connection to the gay club was not only immoral but also counterproductive for society. From a public-health perspective, there was no reason for the nature of the club to have been disclosed. Irresponsible reporting turned out to be just as detrimental to society as citizens not abiding by the social-distancing rules.


A Meaningless War of Words
Monday, May 11, 2020
A Meaningless War of Words

Chao Chun-shan, Emeritus Professor at the Graduate Institute of China Studies of Tamkang University, in United Daily News (April 14, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: D Woldu/ITU)

A Meaningless War of Words

During a press conference on April 8, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), accused Taiwan’s government of spearheading personal and racist attacks against him over the past three months. This accusation triggered a war of words between the WHO and Taipei.

There indeed is evidence of some Taiwan netizens criticizing Tedros for what they view is his "pro-China" stance, while using indecent and racist language. Attributing the actions of certain individuals online to the entire population of Taiwan or to the government is unreasonable. It is therefore extreme to assert that Taiwan is "racist". As an immigrant society, Taiwan is known for preserving the warm, harmonious and inclusive aspects of Chinese culture. Taiwan is also renowned for its welcoming people.

Dr Tedros may be unaware of Taiwan ’s historical relations with African nations. As early as the 1960s, Taiwan provided aid to Africa, sending to the continent a large number of medical, farming and engineering teams. Yet many African nations subsequently recognized mainland China, forcing Taiwan off the United Nations.

The Chinese government claims that Taiwan is exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to accelerate independence. These assertions are nothing more than further moves to oppose Taiwan ’s participation in the WHO. Taiwan is currently battling against the epidemic while simultaneously facing a political war of words. The coronavirus jeopardizes individuals, while political viruses endanger national security.


Finding a Balance Between Virus Control and Protecting the Economy
Monday, May 11, 2020
Finding a Balance Between Virus Control and Protecting the Economy

Dominic Lau Hoe Chai, National President, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, in Oriental Daily (May 8, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: S.O / Shutterstock.com)

Finding a Balance Between Virus Control and Protecting the Economy

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that most economic activities would resume on May 4. The government must closely monitor the situation and take relevant measures to prevent future outbreaks and support Malaysia’s economic recovery. The Gerakan party supports the government ’s decision, as it strikes a balance between the fight against the epidemic and the need to revive the economy.

The government cannot keep people at home and stop all economic activities indefinitely. This decision is undoubtedly important for businesses and citizens. SMEs account for 70 percent of domestic enterprises, contributing more than two thirds of employment opportunities and accounting for nearly 40 percent of GDP. Only by keeping the enterprises active can we avoid growth in unemployment.

The resumption of some economic activities and employment, however, does not mean that the control order has been lifted. On the contrary, this is only a slight loosening of measures. People can still not hold large-scale group activities. The public must strictly abide by the guidelines set by the government to avoid future outbreaks of the virus. This will hopefully strike a balance between virus control and protecting the economy.

Health experts have warned that the Covid-19 virus could continue to circulate for the next two years. The government and the people should not become complacent. Actions such as wearing masks, maintaining personal hygiene and keeping safe social distance are all necessary. Law enforcement agencies should also enforce the law strictly and penalize those who violate orders.

The Gerakan Party emphasizes its support of the government ’s recent decision as the longer strict controls are in place, the greater the impact on the national economy.


In Dealing Covid-19, Pay Attention to Mental Wellbeing
Monday, May 11, 2020
In Dealing Covid-19, Pay Attention to Mental Wellbeing

Lin Ming Hui, retired, in Lianhe Zaobao (May 9, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: cattan2011)

In Dealing Covid-19, Pay Attention to Mental Wellbeing

Singapore’s fight against the Covid-19 virus has been remarkable for three key reasons: First, Singapore responded quickly. In addition to the monitoring and management mechanisms already in place, authorities made continual judgments based on the situation. Second, the integrity of the medical system has been maintained and well coordinated. Third, government communication has been consistently transparent. From the prime minister to the ministers, all have ensured the population were informed about the situation.

Now, the battle against the virus is focused on community transmission among migrant workers. It is therefore increasingly necessary to have clearer and more targeted strategies, while also considering associated issues including mental wellbeing.  

After nearly two months of gradual strengthening of virus control measures, the number of people calling for psychological counselling and assistance has increased significantly. At the same time, there have been reports that some people have rebelled against the circuit-breaker measures. We should expect such incidents to increase in the community due to the extension of control measures.

The various challenges that each person experiences – unemployment or loneliness, for example – will influence their reactions. The circuit-breaking measures have already been extended to June 1. If the epidemic continues and they must be extended further, it will bring greater uncertainty and place society under increasing psychological pressure. Simply providing more information cannot bring relief.

While the epidemic will eventually pass, another challenge lies ahead in the form of economic reconstruction. Maintaining mental wellbeing will be essential in promoting national social solidarity and cohesiveness while supporting future economic revitalization and harmonious social development.


Education During the Pandemic
Friday, May 8, 2020
Education During the Pandemic

Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, Chairman, Democratic Party, in Media Indonesia (May 8, 2020) 

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: King Fajr / Shutterstock.com)

Education During the Pandemic

Along with virtually all parents at this time, my wife and I have to accept responsibility for helping our child study at home. Like others, we have to admit that explaining various lessons and assisting our children in their schoolwork is not as easy as we thought. And it now appears that the face of education in Indonesia is going to be changed enormously because of the pandemic. 

Online education is not simple. It requires personal discipline and certain facilities. I am grateful that I am able to assist our child. But I am also aware of the complaints of many other parents and people working in the education system about the availability of smartphones or laptops and an internet connection. In simple terms, online learning has the potential to expand socioeconomic inequity. Some are facing the very difficult choice of spending on food for their families or paying for their children’s education.

The potential for students dropping out of school is high. There are already indications of higher drop-out rates in Papua, North Maluku and Jakarta, all areas badly affected by the pandemic.


Strengthening China-Africa Ties in the Face of Covid-19 Challenges
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Strengthening China-Africa Ties in the Face of Covid-19 Challenges

Liu Zhaoyi, Director, South Africa Branch, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, in Global Times (April 30, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: GCIS, Republic of South Africa)

Strengthening China-Africa Ties in the Face of Covid-19 Challenges

The spread of Covid-19 across Africa has coincided with some negative comments against China in African media and on local social media platforms. These include conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus and claims that China is using aid to further control Africa.

The West, meanwhile, is waging a smear campaign against China by bandying terms such as “neo-colonialism” and “resource plundering”. These slurs have intensified during the Covid-19 crisis, influencing public opinion, particularly in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Mainstream media in the West inevitably drown out Chinese voices. To counter this, China needs to consider the following:

First, the attitudes and policies of African governments towards China evolve with the external situation. As governments again look to maximize their own interests, the re-emergence of business pragmatism will prompt governments to repair their relationship with China.

Second, even with provocation from the West, there is no real anti-China wave in Africa. Rather, any acrimony is a result of emotions stemming from mounting economic pressure. This issue will eventually fade.

Third, some African politicians have the politicized the epidemic. Yet the African people remain kind hearted, even though public opinion may have been swayed by simplistic messages from external forces.

Fourth, the epidemic has made China-Africa bilateral research institutes, think tanks, non-governmental organizations and institutions realize that exchanges cannot rely on seminars and workshops. Instead, Chinese actors should come to Africa with clear goals, better planning and long-term strategies.

Finally, the importance of youth should not be overlooked. Chinese youth can show the next generation of young Africans that China is not just powerful and wealthy but can still relate to Africa on many levels and issues such as poverty alleviation, employment and development. China and Africa can therefore face common challenges and solve problems together.


Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate

Kam Man-fung, director, Hong Kong Association of Young Commentators, and district councillor (2016-19), in Ming Pao (April 29, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Tksteven)

Centrists Have No Room For Survival in the Current Political Climate

A number of centrists have emerged through Hong Kong’s recent district council elections. They argue that Hong Kong is too polarized and needs to find a new “middle way”. But can Hong Kong still accommodate centrists today?

Many individuals certainly have a centrist approach to politics. From "left or right of center" to "pro-integration” to “status-quo” to “pro-independence", Hong Kong society has varying levels of degrees of agreement or disagreement on different issues. Even though an individual may hold economic interests in the mainland, they could still have reservations about the Chinese government and yet be neither “pro China” nor “anti China”.

Inside the Legislative Council, this is not the case. Yet Hong Kong was not always so polarized. Even though politicians may hold different voting priorities on a range of issues from economics to LGBT rights, today, following the anti-extradition-bill protest movement, Hong Kong is now polarized – pro or anti China. In this atmosphere, all other important issues that our society faces are overshadowed.

Nevertheless, some still believe that centrists can survive in today’s political climate. This is naïve. You need only ask a so-called centrist a number of revealing questions – for example, whether they would support the immediate passing of Article 23 (internal security) legislation. If they were opposed, then the pro-China faction would view them as anti China rather than as centrist, and vice-versa.

As the Hong Kong Legislative Council election approaches, centrist candidates must think carefully about how they will respond to such questions. It is necessary to understand that the issues facing Hong Kong today are inherently political. And in this political struggle, centrists simply have no room for survival.