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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.

Scrapping The Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High-Speed Rail Is Unwise
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Scrapping The Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High-Speed Rail Is Unwise

Cheah See Kian, journalist and political analyst, in Oriental Daily News (January 15, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: MyHSR Corp.)

Scrapping The Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High-Speed Rail Is Unwise

After much controversy, the Malaysian government has announced that it would terminate the Kuala Lumpur–Singapore high-speed rail project. There are various theories as to why this happened. One is that Malaysia cannot cope with such a financial burden. Another is that Malaysia wished to contract domestic enterprises for the construction between Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru.

The original high-speed rail agreement was reached between the leaders of Malaysia and Singapore in 2013. The prime minister at the time, Najib Tun Abdul Razak, declared at the time that once the line was completed in 2026, it would only take 90 minutes to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Estimates put the cost at between 80 billion ringgit (US$19.4 billion) and 140 billion ringgit (US$33.9 billion). Shortly after taking office in May 2018, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stated that the cost could amount to 110 billion ringgit (US$26.7 billion) and, as a result, his government would suspend the plan.

The government has clearly not considered the economic multiplier and driving force of the project. It would be nonsensical to develop a high-spread railway from just Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur without the cooperation of Singapore. In the long run, Malaysia must look around the region so as to not fall behind. Neighbors such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam are all developing their own high-speed railways. In addition, in abolishing the project, the Malaysian government now has to compensate Singapore.

High-speed rail construction should not be regarded as a simple transportation tool or a single industry responsible for its own profits and losses. Instead, it should be viewed as a strategic industry with great significance and should be vigorously supported. The construction of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail would have actually driven development and been a symbol of progress.


The Economy Is Growing Faster Than The Mainland’s – So What?
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
The Economy Is Growing Faster Than The Mainland’s – So What?

主筆室 (pen name meaning “Chief Writer’s Room”), commentator, in Storm Media (February 8, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: bryan…)

The Economy Is Growing Faster Than The Mainland’s – So What?

In 2020, Taiwan's economic growth rate was 2.98 percent, marking the first time that it surpassed China in 30 years. While this achievement may appear worthy of celebration, it is important to not get too excited.

The key reasons why Taiwan’s growth rate surpassed China’s in 2020 was Taiwan’s successful control of Covid-19 combined with the impact of the Sino-US trade war. In addition, China suffered in the first quarter of 2020 as it struggled to control the epidemic. Obviously, Taiwan’s growth will not exceed China’s after normality returns.

While a higher growth rate is of course a good thing, Taiwan actually no longer requires a rapid growth. There are more important concerns such as the living environment. In addition, attention must be paid to future risks such as the worryingly high degree of unbalanced development. For example, while private investment is growing, semiconductors have an oversized role.

In terms of foreign international economic and trade relations, Taiwan’s marginalization has continued to worsen. In November 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement was signed but Taiwan was blocked from participating. Taiwan has also made no progress in joining regional economic and trade organizations such as Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). In addition, the shifts in Sino-US relations since US President Joe Biden took office remain unknown, and it is not clear whether they will benefit Taiwan.

There is no point, therefore, in celebrating surpassing China in economic performance under these extraordinary circumstances. Instead, more attention should be paid to how to address the risks and challenges ahead.


For Food Security, Strengthen Domestic Production
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
For Food Security, Strengthen Domestic Production

Agus Yulianto, journalist, in Republika (May 24, 2021)

Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Erlian Zakia Ayu Anggarani/Pixabay)

For Food Security, Strengthen Domestic Production

Located right on the equator, almost all of Indonesia, from Sabang to Merauke, has high levels of soil fertility. If the proper application of technology accompanies cultivation, then Indonesia can achieve food self-sufficiency and security. Indonesia, however, does not make optimal use of its natural resources so it still imports a significant amount of food meet its basic needs. The farmers’ lack of technology ultimately results in lower production and quality.

The national sugar needs are met by issuing import allowances to factories with industrial business licenses for entry into any port without the government’s permission. There has been no incentive to maximize domestic production. Indonesia is also importing increasing amounts of salt, soybeans, corn and garlic.

President Joko Widodo proposed importing rice in 2021. Due to criticism and pressure from several parties, however, Jokowi finally decided that there should be no imports until the end of this year unless there is an emergency that forces the government to maintain the national rice reserve stock.

So far, there has been initiative to strengthen the domestic food processing industry and increase the production of raw materials so that it does not always depend on imports, which are detrimental to local farmers as they put deflationary pressure on prices. The government, therefore, must change mindset. Food security should be reached by farmers maximizing domestic production. This would not only allow Indonesia to be independent from other countries’ production but it will also improve the livelihood of farmers.

Indonesia is a large nation with an incomparable abundance of natural resources. It must be appropriately managed for the welfare of the people and not for the wealth of the few people who take advantage of Indonesia's “deficient” conditions by importing.


What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?

Miyake Kuni, President of the Foreign Policy Institute and Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, in The Japan Times (May 30, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson)

What is Really Behind the Calls to Cancel the Olympics?

I received my first Covid-19 vaccination. It gave me a new perspective on the pandemic. If we have the right organization with the right chain of command in place, we can not only address the spread of Covid-19 but also host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Asahi Shimbun, a major sponsor of the 2020 Tokyo Games, called in an editorial for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be canceled – the only national paper calling for the games to be scrapped. The editorial made waves and raised several questions, including whether it is part of a political game aimed at weakening Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The Asahi editorial urged Suga to make a decision on the cancellation, although the paper is aware that the authority to cancel the games belongs to the International Olympic Committee. This raises the question as to whether its position is motivated by politics rather than journalism. A general election must be called by this fall. Was the Asahi editorial part of a subtle attempt by the left-leaning paper to damage the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition and to help opposition parties?

Many ordinary Japanese are tired and stressed, having had to wear face masks as part of their daily lives since March 2020 and maintain proper social distance. They have been so frustrated that they are psychologically not prepared to hold the Olympics and Paralympics this summer. But this does not necessarily mean that all Japanese have lost confidence in the games.

Given the growing capability of the government to start controlling, if not containing, the Covid-19 pandemic, Tokyo should be able to handle the Olympics without exacerbating the spread of the virus. A narrative could even be framed that it would be proof that the world is overcoming the disease.


How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?

Beatrice Louise Gabon Santillan, 18-year-old high-school senior, in Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 25, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Robinson Niñal/Presidential Communications Operations Office)

How Many More Body Bags Can We Take?

After my mom had fully recovered from Covid-19, I thought the storm had passed. It turned out the worst was yet to come. On the night of Jan. 18, Covid-19 took the life of my beloved grandmother.

From the moment I saw my grandmother in a body bag carried by a vehicle meant for water deliveries with no memorial service, I knew that more could have been done to save her, and that so many others have undergone the same loss due to our country’s poor health care system and governance. It became clear to me that many people did not have a fighting chance to begin with. I realized that there is a bigger issue at hand.

The other viruses our nation is facing include an administration that is not proactive in dealing with the pandemic, politicians that “help” Filipinos but are really just documenting their actions to kickstart their campaign for the 2022 elections, and individuals who were given priority status in hospitals while other patients died out in the cold. The system has been broken for so long. This pandemic just shed even more light on its complete dilapidation. The leaders we placed into power have not done us any good, nor do they plan to. Their empty promises and selfish actions have only managed to push our nation further into decay.

People often tell me that I am young, and that I have much to understand about the system and how it is virtually impossible to change, but I beg to disagree. I am eligible to vote in the upcoming elections. Although casting my ballot will create merely the smallest change, if at all, it is a good place to start.


In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet
Monday, May 24, 2021
In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet

Funabashi Yoichi, Chairman, Asia Pacific Initiative, and editor-in-chief of Asahi Shimbun (2007-10), in The Japan Times (May 22, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Bechard/US Navy)

In Preparing For A Taiwan Contingency, Tokyo Must Remain Discreet

Successive US administrations have stuck to a basic policy of strategic ambiguity on the subject of the Taiwan Strait. “Strategic ambiguity” refers to a deliberate refusal to clarify whether or not the US would hasten to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese military attack. It was devised as a means of simultaneously deterring both a declaration of independence by Taiwan and a Chinese offensive aimed at forcing Taiwan’s unification with the mainland.

Some are raising doubts about the effectiveness of strategic ambiguity. Yet a transition to a policy of “strategic clarity” with regard to Taiwan carries risks. China could overreact, setting off an arms race. The US could fall into a trap if it presents strategic clarity as a red line. Observing it would become a litmus test for American credibility. Furthermore, such clarity is not very effective when it comes to gray-zone geopolitical challenges involving cyberattacks, supply-chain disruption and social media battles for political influence.

We should not overestimate China’s abilities. Experts are divided on the question of China’s ability to launch an invasion of Taiwan and the merits of its strategy. Taiwan’s growing strategic value to both the US and Japan is undisputable. If Taiwan is lost, the US will no longer be able to maintain a line of defense along the first island chain. This would signal the demise of the US as a power in the western Pacific. It would also jeopardize the US-Japan security alliance and the security of Japan’s sea lanes.

The reference to Taiwan in the 2021 joint declaration clearly considers a possible Taiwan contingency and the role of Japan. It is precisely for this reason that we must keep our “words” discreet and quietly prepare for “actions” that serve the goals of deterrence and dialogue.


The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights
Thursday, May 20, 2021
The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights

Jeong Sang-hwan, lawyer, prosecutor and standing commissioner (2016-19) at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, in Maeil Shinmun (March 15, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Korean Culture and Information Service)

The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights

The approach toward North Korea adopted by the US under Barack Obama was that of “strategic patience”, whereas that of the administration of Donald Trump was “top-down”. The former continued to bring up the human rights issue, whereas the latter completely ignored it. Both approaches failed.

The administration of President Joe Biden is expected to take a different approach in regards to human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). With the reality of intercontinental ballistic missiles bringing the actual threat ever closer to the US and the hard line the US is already taking with China, it would be difficult for Washington to remain silent on the humanitarian issue in DPRK.

Unfortunately, in South Korea, the administration of President Moon Jae-in has been sidelining the human rights issue. The foundation for DPRK human rights provided for under a law enacted in 2016 has still not been launched, and the Ministry of Unification remains ever so silent on human rights issues. Even the National Human Rights Commission limits itself to lip service by addressing “softer” issues such as the rights of the disabled and women rather than addressing the core human rights problems in the DPRK. Even the North Korea Leaflet Prohibition Act hurriedly passed last year has outright cut off the only means through which civil society in South Korea can speak out on the human rights issue in the North.

This course of action, however, is unlikely to continue with the expected pressure on Seoul from the Biden administration to break the silence on human rights issue in the North. It is no longer reasonable or acceptable to remain silent on the DPRK’s horrendous human rights record for the sole reason of keeping the dialogue with Pyongyang.


From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering
Thursday, May 13, 2021
From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering

Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University and Director for Contemporary South Asia, in The Indian Express (May 6, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Government of India)

From Mao To Modi: The Link Between Great Power And Great Suffering

Is mass suffering, inflicted by policy design or emerging as a policy byproduct, an integral part of the Narendra Modi regime’s view of national power and national revival?

Consider three big events causing mass suffering since Modi came to power. First, the 2016 demonetization produced long lines of people waiting to convert their currency, many collapsing out of sheer exhaustion. Second, the national lockdown of 2020 witnessed millions of rural migrants – tired, shocked and hapless – walking miles and miles to reach their homes. Finally, we have the biggest spectacle of all unfolding in our midst today, bringing sickness and death to thousands and thousands of Indians.

The prime minister neither expresses adequate remorse, nor sufficient compassion. What he does is the opposite of remorse and compassion. The Modi regime cannot accept governance failure, for to accept failure is to show weakness.

The obsession with state strength, national power and leader infallibility on the one hand and insensitivity to mass suffering on the other have been associated mostly with the big Communist polities. The most discussed case is of Mao Zedong and China. Mao was unmoved by the suffering. After retreating and fixing the food deficit, he returned to the theme of national reconstruction and Chinese glory. The Cultural Revolution was inaugurated. An estimated 2 million Chinese died. National renaissance and a return to China’s glory were infinitely more important than a couple of million lives.

Is it too much to expect Modi to admit that even if the virus is more virulent, India is actually going through a man-made disaster? How else can one understand the lack of oxygen, the scarcity of hospital beds and, most of all, the shortage of vaccines in the vaccine capital of the world? Could not the planning have been better?


A Strategic Solution To End The Conflict In Papua
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
A Strategic Solution To End The Conflict In Papua

Jannus TH Siahaan, commentator on defense and security issues, in Tempo (May 4, 2021)

Summary by Made Ayu Mariska (Photo credit: Frida Skjæraasen/Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation -Norad)

A Strategic Solution To End The Conflict In Papua

The government’s decision to classify the armed criminal group in the provinces of Papua and West Papua as terrorists might be the wrong step in solving the ongoing conflicts. By classifying the group as terrorists but keeping military actions secret, the government will only receive more criticism from various parties for violating human rights.

Instead of labelling the Free Papua Movement (OPM) as a terrorist group, the government needs to carry out widespread education nationally to achieve consensus from the Indonesian public that the OPM is a rebel group that wants to establish an independent state and destroy the unity and integrity of the Republic of Indonesia. Indonesia must convince the international public at the UN that the conflicts in Papua are an internal, not an international, affair.

Beyond military and diplomacy issues, the economic and social problems in Papua must be addressed. The government must take Papua’s development to the next level. The region suffers from more than just a lack of infrastructure, Papuans struggle with poverty, unemployment, and social inequality, while witnessing their rich natural resources being exploited. The government has to increase their presence to deal with sociocultural and environmental-protection issues.

Fiscal spending for social and cultural development must be determined proportionally, along with the budget for environmental preservation, in addition to the establishment of fundamental regulations for protecting the environment and cultural development. The regulations related to social order must be addressed humanely and with environmental nuances, not only taking into account economic considerations, but also the sustainability of Papuan culture and environment.


Close Real Estate Tax Loophole
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Close Real Estate Tax Loophole

Song Ki-gyun, economic researcher, in Pressian (March 27, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong

Close Real Estate Tax Loophole

There is a lot of talk about a “tax bomb” for rich homeowners due to the comprehensive real estate tax. The cause for the buzz is the combined increase in the official assessment value of properties (determined by the government) and the increase in the tax rate. This year alone, official assessment values have risen by an average of 19.19 percent in Seoul district. According to the Ministry of Land, an average homeowner in expensive Gangnam district in Seoul would pay about US$5,000 in taxes.

In theory, the tax rate increases significantly when a homeowner owns more than one property. The tax is designed to encourage such owners to sell their properties and make home ownership more affordable. There is a big loophole, however. An owner may purchase the property before the value exceeds the official assessment cut-off of US$531,000 and register it as a rental property. In this case, no matter by how much the value of the rental property increase, the owner would not be subject to the real estate tax.

According to the aggregate exemption logic, rental properties would be counted separately in the tax calculation so if an individual property does not exceed the cut-off value, there would be no real estate tax due. According to one study based on the Ministry of Land database, the top three property owners in the country each own 753, 591 and 586 properties. It is estimated that without this loophole, each owner would be subject to over US$8 million in real estate taxes. Civil society groups have pressured the government to close this loophole, but it seems unlikely that the current administration would do so.


Time For Barristers To Wake Up
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Time For Barristers To Wake Up

Gu Minkang, Council Member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, in Hong Kong Commercial Daily (February 11, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Hong Kong Bar Association)

Time For Barristers To Wake Up

The Hong Kong Bar Association has stirred up controversy yet again by electing as its chairman Paul Harris, a British citizen with political ties. Harris represented the UK’s Liberal Democrats as an Oxford City councillor between 2018 to 2021, during which time he expressed support for the Hong Kong protests. In 1995, Harris founded the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, which has received support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the US.

The Bar Association was established in accordance with the Hong Kong Societies Ordinance. Article 8 of the Ordinance stipulates that if an officer of a society “reasonably believes that the prohibition of the operation or continued operation of a society or a branch is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”, they then “may recommend to the Secretary for Security to make an order prohibiting the operation or continued operation of the society or the branch”. Hong Kong barristers should therefore call for Harris to resign as chairman.

Due to "one country, two systems", it is possible for foreigners to chair the Bar Association. The association, however, check the political background and character of the chairman candidates to ensure that those who are "anti-China” cannot hold such positions. At the same time, the government should consider setting up necessary "safety valves".

This decision also has major bearing on the election of Hong Kong judges, who are elected in accordance with the Judicial Officers Recommendation Committee Ordinance. Under normal circumstances, the chairman of the Bar Association serves as member of the committee. To prevent persons with political positions from exerting undue influence on the committee, it is necessary for the government to refrain from appointing individuals like Harris.


Biden Administration Statement Reverts To The Old One-China Framework
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Biden Administration Statement Reverts To The Old One-China Framework

Song Cheng-en, doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, in The Storm Media (January 28, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: stingrayschuller)

Biden Administration Statement Reverts To The Old One-China Framework

Not long after the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, Beijing dispatched military jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. This provocation was seen as not only a military exercise but as a political test for the new administration. The US State Department responded by condemning China for threatening regional peace and stability.

The statement noted Chinese attempts to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan, and called on Beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives”. The US reaffirmed that it would stand with its friends and allies in the Indo-Pacific to promote mutual prosperity, security and values, including deepening relations with democratic Taiwan.

This statement was both soft and tough, maintaining the Trump administration's strong tone, while demonstrating the continuity of US foreign policy. The wording, however, suggested that Washington intends to bring its Taiwan policy back to the framework of the past:

First, the use the "People's Republic of China" (PRC) to refer to China is in line with the position established in “Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” between the United States and China in 1979. Second, the use of "Taiwan" throughout the text complies with the unofficial policies under the "Taiwan Relations Act". Third, the use of the phrase "Taiwan's democratically elected representatives" deliberately avoids mentioning the Taiwan government, president or officials.

It is impossible to judge the direction of the Biden administration’s Taiwan policy with a single statement and whether the US government returns to the One-China framework will ultimately depend on the government’s own interpretation. Nevertheless, close attention must be paid to how Taiwan’s status is supported or hindered by US policy.


“Chinese” and “Hong Konger” Identities Not As Mutually Exclusive As Before
Monday, May 3, 2021
“Chinese” and “Hong Konger” Identities Not As Mutually Exclusive As Before

Francis Lee Lap-fung, Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (February 1, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

“Chinese” and “Hong Konger” Identities Not As Mutually Exclusive As Before

The Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion has published its latest report on identity. According to the 2019 survey, 55.4 percent of respondents described themselves as a “Hong Konger”, while only 10.9 percent believed that they were “Chinese”, and 32.3 percent chose a mixed identity. In 2020, the proportion of people who chose "Hong Konger" dropped to 44.2 percent, while the proportion of people who chose "Chinese" rose slightly to 15.1 percent. These survey results may be welcomed by the government, yet it should be noted that among the 18 to 39-year-old citizens, more than 70 percent of the people still identified as a "Hong Konger".

When citizens were asked to score their Hong Kong and Chinese identities separately, the score for Chinese identity had fallen from 57.3 points to 54.9 between 2019 and 2020. Hong Kong identity scored much higher at 82.6 points in 2019 but fell to 78.7 in 2020. In the first ten years after the handover, there existed a significant positive correlation and a complementary relationship between these two scores (i.e., those who identified themselves strongly as Hong Kong people were more likely to view themselves as Chinese).

This complementary relationship had diminished in recent years and was no longer present in the 2018 survey, particularly among young people aged between 18-39 years old, where a strong Hong Kong identity correlated with a weak Chinese identity, making the two identities mutually exclusive. In 2020, the “Hong Konger” identity has declined. Yet, this has not resulted an increase in the identity score for “Chinese”. Meanwhile, the two identities of “Hong Konger” and “Chinese” are now not as mutually exclusive as before, suggesting that some citizens feel that Hong Kong is becoming more and more "mainlandized".


Why The UK’s Plan To Establish An Anti-China Alliance of Democracies Has Failed
Monday, May 3, 2021
Why The UK’s Plan To Establish An Anti-China Alliance of Democracies Has Failed

Shen Yi, Associate Professor in the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University, in Guancha (February 14, 2021)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Georgina Coupe/Number 10)

Why The UK’s Plan To Establish An Anti-China Alliance of Democracies Has Failed

According to a report, the UK’s plans to convert the G7 alliance of developed nations into an anti-China democratic alliance called the D10 (through the inclusion of Australia, South Korea and India) has been suspended. Various factors had prompted the UK to shift back to that classic Cold-War mentality. Constructing a political quasi-alliance that targets China and demonstrates the values of “Western democracy and freedom” was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to save face by creating a distraction from domestic problems.

The collapse of the D10 plan was inevitable due to the decline in the status of the G7. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the G7 was arguably at the center of the world. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, by 2021, the global share of nominal GDP of the G7 had fallen to are 46 percent. When considering purchasing power parity, this figure decreases to just 32 percent. In sharp contrast, China’s volume, proportion and role in the global system have all shown significant improvement and growth. According to the IMF, China already accounted for roughly 18 percent of the world’s GDP in 2019.

Facing such a shift in the international system, the US and Western countries have two approaches to consider. First, a pragmatic approach would consider the huge benefits brought by the global production system. The alternative approach involves a bizarre ideology based upon throwing around ideas such as the D10 and repeatedly chanting a few catchwords in the hope of restoring the lost old days. Ultimately, the world should have no interest in such plans. After all, there are far more important issues to solve such as the Covid-19 crisis, the need for sustainable economic development, and climate change.


Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership
Friday, April 30, 2021
Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership

Sayuri Romei, Stanton nuclear security fellow, RAND Corp., in Asahi Shimbun (April 28, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Zach Stern)

Nuclear Ban Treaty Offers Rare Chance To Strengthen Regional Leadership

Japan is conspicuously absent from the signatories of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which took effect in January 2021. The treaty itself is profoundly divisive. Many doubted it would even enter into force. Skeptics describe the TPNW as merely symbolic, as no nuclear power had joined. Supporters of the treaty are confused by this skepticism and point to its long-term objective: to have a significant impact on the international community and change the perception of nuclear weapons.

This divisiveness is here to stay. In Japan, this polarization is even more tangible. Polls show Japan’s public overwhelmingly favors Japan joining. The government, however, does not. One explanation is the view that the treaty is not grounded in reality and will exacerbate the gap between nuclear and non-nuclear states. As a self-proclaimed bridge-builder between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons states, Tokyo does not see how this treaty can bridge that gap.

Another reason behind this stance is Japan’s alliance with the United States. Tokyo prioritizes the alliance, thus ensuring that nuclear deterrence is effectively extended to Japan. Officials never miss an opportunity to emphasize Japan’s atomic survivor identity and its efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Japanese officials see the TPNW as tone-deaf to their concerns and disruptive of Japan’s balancing act.

The implementation of Tokyo’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision requires Japan to be a reliable partner for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Since all but one ASEAN nation has joined the TPNW, Tokyo’s timing and handling of this issue may impact Japan’s image and leadership. Given the evolving security environment, it may not be the right time to de-emphasize extended nuclear deterrence. Yet leaving the diplomatic door open to the TPNW could be valuable for Japan’s future position in the region.