Akimoto Satohiro, Chairman and President, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, in The Japan Times (February 11, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sikarin Thanachaiary/World Economic Forum)
A key component in understanding US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is diversity. Biden has made clear that inclusivity and diversity will be core values of his administration. In addition to his choice of Kamala Harris as vice president, he appointed five women, three Latinos, two Blacks, one Native American and one openly gay person to Cabinet posts. Biden appointed women and minorities to key positions in the administration. Biden elevated diversity to the top of his foreign policy agenda. On February 5, he issued a historically important memorandum committing the United States to LGBTQ rights in the international community.
Japan should take note. Diversity is an element that Japan has not fully grasped yet as part of the bilateral relationship. This is something Japan needs to work on, as diversity in the modern Western sense is still not a main part of Japan’s main political discourse. The US and Japan may share many fundamental values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law, but their respective societies differ on the matter of race and ethnic diversity.
The gender gap remains wide in Japan, where traditional gender roles persist. Take the comments on women made by Mori Yoshiro, who serves as the Tokyo Olympics games chief. Mori was quoted as saying that women talk too much. He issued an apology for making “inappropriate remarks”.
Japan should take this incident seriously and learn from it so that Japan engages the Biden administration on the same wavelength. Diversity has become a fact of life and a core political value in America, along with democracy, freedom, rule of law, free enterprise and transparency. If Tokyo recognizes this and promotes diversity as a universal value, it will not only strengthen Tokyo’s relationship with Washington but also bolster Japan’s standing in the international community.
C Uday Bhaskar, retired naval officer and Director, Society for Policy Studies, in Hindustan Times (February 16, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Vir Nakai)
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the disengagement of troops by both China and India at the contested Pangong lake. This development is cause for modest satisfaction.
It is significant that China has agreed to pull back from a position of relative tactical advantage. Will the current disengagement and the acceptance of a temporary suspension by India of patrolling rights in one area lead to greater malleability in managing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – remember China has been reluctant to clarify the LAC despite repeated Indian attempts – and provide a roadmap towards an agreed border? That would be the most desirable outcome, in which case the compromise by India would be a prudent political determination. An equitable and consensually settled border remains the Holy Grail for Delhi.
However, if this is only a brief pause for Beijing and President Xi Jinping as China prepares for a major political event — the July centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China — and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) subsequently reverts to its pattern of territorial assertiveness. Delhi may rue the accommodations it has made in the disengagement process.
Whatever the outcome, it will have an impact on external interlocutors such as the US, Russia and China’s other neighbors. While Delhi’s resolve to resist Beijing’s aggressive bellicosity will be noted by the smaller nations, the Delhi-Beijing dynamic will also shape – and be shaped by – the US-China-India triangle. President Joe Biden has signaled that the US will hold Beijing’s feet to the fire over the Indo-Pacific and the principles of freedom of navigation and territorial integrity, with a continued focus on reinvigorating Quad. How China reads this message, and how it orients itself in relation to contested territoriality will shape many outcomes in Asia and beyond. Pangong is the bellwether.
Shih Wing-ching, Chief Executive, Centaline Group, in am730 (December 16, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Alejandro Reyes)
Opposition figures who have fled overseas continue to lobby Western governments to sanction Hong Kong in the belief that if Hong Kong’s global financial center status would be threatened and the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government would be forced to give in. Furthermore, they believe that if Hong Kong loses this position, it will become a burden to China.
Beijing understands that the various restrictive measures adopted by the US in the past have not been effective and have sometimes even backfired. For example, when the US announced measures to restrict Chinese companies from listing in the US, many Chinese companies decided to list in Hong Kong instead. Many Chinese companies then chose Hong Kong as their secondary listing market. This resulted in a substantial increase in trading volume on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Financial circles in the US are now starting to worry that New York's status as an international financial center cannot be maintained without Chinese firms being allowed to go public in the US.
Chinese companies have a huge domestic market, impressive returns and strong competitiveness in the international market. Investors will not give up investing in Chinese companies simply because of the opposition of the US government. For this reason, many international-level investment banks expect that funds will gradually flow out of the US market and into the Chinese market (including Hong Kong). This scenario is completely different from Hong Kong's losing its status as a financial center.
Ultimately, financial centers respond to the real economy. As long as Hong Kong can continue to provide better property-rights protection, a freer trading environment, and a higher level of rule of law, Hong Kong's status as a global financial center is safe for the foreseeable future.
Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer, in Khaosod (February 5, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: ฮินะจัง เชียงใหม่)
The military coup in Myanmar sent a political ripple through Thailand, its next-door neighbor, not because of any immediate influx of political asylum seekers (yet) but for the similar fate the two countries share. Nearly seven years after Thailand’s 2014 coup, which is unlikely to be the last, junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-ocha is still in power, albeit as prime minister of an elected government after elections in March 2019.
Thais, particularly those supporting democracy could not help but feel sorry about what is happening next door and consider what they can do about it. They are aware that Burmese were quick to denounce the coup in droves, despite the more ruthless reputation of the Burmese military generals compared to Thai generals. Politicians, academics, doctors, nurses, stars, models and flight attendants protested. In Thailand in 2014, too few people were willing to come out to denounce the coup. Spreading on social media after the Myanmar coup was this comment: “If Thais don’t fight, we will remain like slaves. If Burmese don’t fight, they will remain like Thais”.
It is now up to young Thais to decide what kind of neighbors they would like to be, what kind of people-to-people relations they want to have with those in Myanmar facing military suppression. Will it be one of apathy, selfish ASEAN non-interference, or that of empathy and solidarity? Will Thais simply sit and watch the suppression of political rights in Myanmar unfold and say it is just like domestic violence next door so let them sort it out – or will they do what they can to help stop the rape and abuse? The past few days have been encouraging, but this is just the beginning as more are being arrested in Myanmar for taking a stance against illegitimate military rule.
James Wang, senior journalist, in Liberty Times (December 1, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jason Goh/Pixabay)
The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, which ruled Taiwan under martial law for nearly four decades, continues to produce the most absurd political performances at the most inappropriate of occasions. Instead of behaving maturely under a democracy, they chose to humiliate themselves by throwing pig guts in the parliament to raise the issue of food safety and to protest the government’s decision to allow meat imports from the US. The KMT continue to prove themselves completely incapable of adapting to Taiwan's democracy. Their political judgment remains inferior.
Taiwan is small, and its economic development depends on foreign trade which must comply with international rules. While the government has the responsibility to ensure the safety of food and meet global standards, in a free market, the consumer should ultimately have the freedom to choose what food they wish to consume. In a free market, nobody can force you to consume anything.
American meat will be imported in compliance with international food safety standards. The KMT consistently exaggerates and more and more behaves inappropriately in depriving Taiwan consumers of the right to choose. The KMT want to dictate whether Taiwan people can consume American produce or not.
Aw Kah Peng, Chairman, Shell Companies in Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (December 24, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jason Goh/Pixabay)
The future of Singapore's transportation sector will depend upon innovation and sustainability. Over the next 50 years, a major challenge facing Singapore will be how to provide clean, economical and reliable energy.
Singapore’s governance advantages include a focus on long-term planning. In 2020, the government launched a sustainable transportation vision, which included the phasing out of all internal combustion engine cars by 2040. The enhanced vehicle emission reduction tax plan implemented from January 1, 2021, will further narrow the price gap between electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles.
The government also announced a three-year incentive to encourage consumers to purchase electric vehicles. They plan to expand the electric vehicle charging network to 28,000 charging stations by 2030. In addition to electric vehicles, hydrogen and liquefied natural gas are also designated as important sources of future energy to meet the needs of heavy vehicles.
To popularize electric vehicles, Singapore requires the corresponding infrastructure, including a robust national power grid. The government must also continue to control vehicle growth through measures such as quotas and land-use restrictions, while increasing the use of car-sharing services. In addition, the government should use data and digital technology to expand and improve the public transportation system, while encouraging more people to abandon private cars. This would support the government's goal of ensuring that by 2030 80 percent of Singapore households will be within a 10-minute walk to a subway train station.
As Singapore intensifies its efforts to promote low-carbon and sustainable transportation, the government should establish an energy ecosystem, formulate corresponding regulations to meet specific needs, and work to reshape the commuter experience. Most important is the need for the government, industry, and consumers to work together to identify trends that meet society’s changing needs.
Sun Chenghao, professor at the Institute of American Institute, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, in Global Times (December 19, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: G7 UK)
The British government issued invitations to India, South Korea and Australia to participate in the G7 summit in 2021 and form a so-called "Democracy 10" (D10). Although there has been no mention of China, many are speculating that responding to the “China challenge” will be a key issue addressed at the summit.
The G7, which is dominated by the US and Europe, is full of differences which cannot be resolved, even with Joe Biden taking office. The differences will become unavoidable challenges.
First, the US and Europe have completely different perceptions of the world situation. The Trump administration’s judgment of the international situation was extremely pessimistic and perceived the world as facing fierce economic and political challenges. Europe, however, still optimistically believes in the benefits of international cooperation.
Second, there is an inconsistent view of security. The Trump administration listed China and Russia as strategic competitors. Europe, meanwhile, believes the main security threats facing the world are transnational issues such as terrorism, infectious diseases, and climate change.
Third, the US emphasizes hard power while Europe stresses soft power. Biden supports strengthening the US military. Europe, however, believes that it should exert regulatory power in international affairs rather than pursue military force.
The main objective of the US is to maintain its hegemony, while Europe is more concerned about the peaceful environment needed for its own development, upholding its values and taking care of the concerns and interests of its allies. On the issue of competition with China, these two approaches clash. The three Indo-Pacific countries invited by the UK to the G7 summit also have their own unique views, making it even more difficult for this improvised alliance to form an “anti-China” consensus.
Ruchir Sharma, Head of Emerging Markets and Chief Global Strategist, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in The Times of India (February 16, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Pradeep Gaurs / Shutterstock.com)
Many commentators complain that, with the pandemic-stricken economy “in the ICU”, now is exactly the wrong time to push painful reform. But if not now, when? Few nations ever accept harsh medicine unless they are forced to by a crisis. Reformers come out better in the end. Today, developed nations are offering stimulus packages to ease the shock of the pandemic, but they are running up debts that will slow growth in the future.
Meanwhile, India is one of the many emerging countries that, lacking the funds for more stimulus, are instead pushing reforms which are likely to boost productivity and growth. India’s reforms encompass the controversial agricultural reforms, the new privatization push, and the broad shift in spending away from subsidies and other freebies to capital investment.
Indonesia’s reforms are as ambitious, including looser labor laws, tax cuts, deregulation, and most recently a push to open up the financial sector. The Philippines lowered its corporate taxes from among the highest to among the lowest in Asia, and will emerge more competitive. Brazil, a chronic over-spender, has imposed caps on its deficit and is working to meet them by downsizing a wildly generous pension system and streamlining bureaucracy by making it easier to fire public workers and cut their benefits.
By comparison, there is nothing particularly harsh about how the Indian government is treating its patient. When the sugar rush of stimulus fades, the effect will not be felt equally. Nations that exercised restraint and prioritized economic reforms are likely to see their growth prospects continue to improve. Those that spend heavily to ease the pain are likely to pay for it in higher debts and slower growth. This was the lesson of 2008 and every major global crisis: Seize the opportunity to reform, or it will never happen.
Alex Magno, political scientist, in his First Person column in The Philippine Star (February 16, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Minette Rimando/ILO)
The first doses the country is receiving from the COVAX facility are due to arrive. A small rollout of our vaccination program has been rehearsed and is ready to execute.
However, according to a government survey, only three in ten residents of the National Capital Region are ready and willing to accept inoculation. Vaccine hesitancy may be the largest hurdle confronting our effort to achieve herd immunity in some form.
There are many reasons for the high degree of vaccine hesitancy. One major reason is anxiety about the economic costs of dealing with possible side effects. Recall that when we began testing in scale, some infected persons sought to avoid testing because if they were found positive, they could lose work days. A few even escaped from isolation facilities and needed to be tracked down by law enforcement agencies.
The national government, local governments and private enterprises have agreed to procure the vaccines and make them available for free. If we charged real costs for buying and deploying the vaccines, too many will seek to avoid inoculation. On top of providing the vaccines for free, it now appears some coverage for contingent costs needs to assured. Everything must be done to ensure a soft landing for the vaccination program.
The fewer hurdles, physical and financial, to accessing the vaccines, the better. Those in charge of the vaccine rollout should not want in creativity to assure access to the vaccines will be as painless as possible. The vaccination program can be trickier than it seems at first glance. We are working with a limited cold chain and we have never before had to inoculate so many people in so short a time. Expect some mishaps here and there. What is important is that we perfect the system as we go along.
Dr Chan Chi-kit, Associate Professor, School of Communication, The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (December 10, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jonathan van Smit)
Recent social movements have seen the youth rush to the front line. Now, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and shifts in the political and legal environment, social movements have temporarily cooled down. This provides a chance to consider whether Hong Kong youth are really so rebellious.
Social scientists have long studied whether young people are more rebellious in contemporary society. Generally, the youth of each generation hold different characteristics depending on their collective memories and values. In February 2019, researchers at the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies analyzed polling data from 1998 to 2017 on attitudes towards government performance. They found that only from 2010 onwards did Hong Kong youth’s evaluation drop to levels significantly lower than that of the adult group. This coincided with the continuous wave of social movements led by young people over the past 10 years.
A political scholar has described how the recent wave of social movements in Hong Kong is a result of decades of political transformation and social reforms. This has cultivated a "defensive" civil society where citizens may not usually actively participate in politics, but once they feel a sense of crisis, they will fight back.
The analyst made two further observations: First, feelings of threat and danger were high, with everyone reacting to some desire to hold on to some of value of Hong Kong. Second, a feeling of "relative deprivation” emerged from the sense of powerlessness in light of sudden, profound changes within society. While these observations are not specific to the youth, they can help us better understand the motivations of Hong Kong’s youth as they marched on the streets in 2019.
Wang Yiwei, Professor, School of International Studies, Renmin University of China, in Guancha (December 31, 2020)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: European Council President)
The China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) has finally been reached, illustrating three key points:
First, the completion of the negotiations means that China-EU cooperation has transformed from a rivalry in the industrialized era to a broad partnership in the post-carbon and digital age. The agreement will help European companies better enter the world's fastest-growing market and participate in fair competition. It will also provide the same guarantee for Chinese companies operating in the EU.
Second, the agreement shows that ideology can be a productive force. The EU is aware that ideology in the traditional sense has not brought substantial benefits. Instead, the EU has become a victim of confrontation between China and the US and between Russia and the US. Drawing lessons from history, China and the EU eliminated ideological interference, cooperated pragmatically and hedged against global uncertainty. Furthermore, ideological differences can be resolved through conversation rather than confrontation.
Third, the agreement illustrates that while both China and the EU both respect relations with the US, they will neither wait for nor be subject to the US. The EU desires to be a geopolitical player rather than merely a chessboard. The EU has chosen to reduce its dependence on American technology and work with China to develop future multilateral investment and trade rules.
While the European side initially attempted to push various demands on China, an agreement was successfully reached. This shows that the EU has become more and more pragmatic in the face of the strategic anxiety produced by global changes. The end of the Trump era combined with the completion of the China-EU investment agreement, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership have created some much needed optimism for a global economy suffering under the strains of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ameya Bokil, Srujana Bej and Nikitak Sonavane of the Bhopal-based Criminal Justice & Police Accountability Project in The Indian Express (February 9, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sarabjit Singh/Tribune India)
The Covid-19 vaccine being administered by the government of India raises safety and efficacy concerns, stemming from a rushed approval process. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs has recommended that all state governments pursue criminal action against individuals and organizations spreading “unfounded” or “misleading” rumors that “create doubt” about the vaccine’s efficacy.
Given the government’s lack of proactive transparency on safety issues with respect to the vaccines’ approval, public scrutiny serves an important function. The evolution of a nebulous category of “fake news” has become the bedrock of curtailment of free speech. Where restrictions are vague, overbroad, and punitive, they create a chilling effect on free speech and have been held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
A report has documented 55 instances of targeting of journalists during the lockdown. State governments have used the garb of epidemic disease control to prosecute persons for reporting on mismanagement of the pandemic, corruption and the lack of state support for migrant workers and others affected by the pandemic. The only purpose of these “fake news” laws has been to advance narratives of effective governance during the pandemic.
No democratic government can be considered effective if it fails to be transparent and accountable. Effective government function necessarily requires adequately engaging with and scientifically responding to both valid criticism and unscientific misconceptions to build robust public discourse. When criminal law is relied on to place gags on valid questions and there is a failure to communicate all necessary information to the public, the government violates the principle of informed consent – a crucial tenet of healthcare. “Minimum government, maximum governance” has unfortunately translated into minimum government transparency and maximum public penalization.
Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (January 31, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Stephan Mosel)
It has been a crazy week in Wall Street, where the entire financial services industry of the United States, including the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, is located. The place has become the epicenter of a populist revolt being waged by small “amateur” retail investors against those they perceive to be the grand manipulators of the financial markets – hedge fund managers, brokerage firms, gigantic investment houses, and their enablers in the mainstream media.
These insurrectionists of the stock market are mobilizing an army that is driven not mainly by profit but by a passionate resentment against the rapacious few that make money at the expense of everyone else. Their most hated targets are the so-called “short-sellers” – professional investors that make their money from driving down the value of certain stocks by dumping them and then buying them back at a lower price.
Mostly young people who have basically known no other reality but that of the digital world, the stock markets’ new warriors are leveraging their mastery of the internet to challenge the power of the entrenched financial oligarchy. It is easy to mock this development as nothing but the fanciful protest of a digital generation that is out to remake the global order using the virtual weapons at their disposal.
I am not so sure. If one can imagine a global anarchist movement rising up against entrenched hierarchies – brought together and empowered by an online communication system, and able to operate synchronously across time zones, geographic boundaries, and functional domains – it’s not difficult to see in this stock market revolt a portent of something more encompassing and radical than the “reset” of the capitalist system that the Davos thinkers have in mind.
Haryo Kuncoro, professor of economics at the State University of Jakarta School of Economics and research director at the Socio-Economic and Educational Business Institute, in The Jakarta Post (January 27, 2021)
Summary by Alejandro Reyes
US President Joe Biden’s treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, has emphasized her commitment not to interfere with the US dollar. Her statement has given rise to various interpretations. It could be an initial signal that Biden's economic policies will tend to be pro-market and that market forces will determine the value of the dollar.
Yellen has probably already anticipated the second interpretation. The commencement of vaccination in the US raises optimism about a faster-than-expected economic recovery in the second half of this year. This has triggered discourse about the US central bank gradually reducing its bond-buying program to sustain the nation’s economic recovery. The two policies above, if they are really implemented, will undoubtedly shake the global market.
The first-round impact will work directly on the commodity markets. The volume of trade will fluctuate in accordance with the dynamics of US dollar. If the dollar strengthens, exporters will suffer, and importers will benefit.
How about Indonesia? If both US economic policy scenarios prove correct, Indonesia will face a flight of foreign capital, which in the short term will depreciate the rupiah. Imports of raw materials, equipment and machinery will shrink, which will further affect production capacity. If the US economy quickly recovers, Indonesia can seize export opportunities and offset the pressure for the rupiah’s depreciation.
Indonesian products can fill the role of Chinese products that are subject to high tariffs. Indonesia's share of non-oil and gas exports to the US ranks second after China. In another scenario, Chinese products that should be destined for the US will be transferred to other countries, including Indonesia. In addition, North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America are wide open to become potential markets for Indonesian products.
Kim Se-jeong, counsel at SSW Pragmatic Solutions, in JoongAng Sunday (January 9, 2021)
Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Hippopx)
This is the first year since the start of the national registration system that the death rate has exceeded that of births. The birth rate in Korea for the past two years has been 0.9, lowest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. It is clear that Korean women do not want, or are unable, to have children and society must try to understand the cause of the problem to solve it.
In a Korean society, there is incredible pressure to stick to “normal” family structures, consisting of a formal union between a man and woman. Every other form of family such as single parenthood, divorced or informal cohabitation is deemed inappropriate and subject to prejudice. Imagine a person seeking employment having to make known to a prospective employer that he/she is not married but has a child. The immense pressure and opprobrium would discourage child-rearing despite the nation’s desperate need for more children.
Even in “normal” families with children, child-rearing is no easy task and is especially cumbersome in a society built on competition and conformity. According to the ministry of Health and Welfare, there were over 40,000 reported cases of child abuse and 42 related child deaths in 2019 alone. Korean society obviously not only needs more children but also a better system to take care of existing children and their parents.
Considering all this, it is outrageous to find “advice” on the Seoul Center for Pregnancy website for pregnant women to be considerate of their husbands’ lack of cooking skills when the mothers go to hospital and to brace themselves for losing weight after giving birth. It really is no surprise that Korean women are not having babies.