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AsiaGlobal Voices

Trending Opinions From Across the Region

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

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

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

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

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

The Minimal-Contact Economy

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

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

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


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

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

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Defending Tech Sovereignty

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

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

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

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


Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it
Friday, July 3, 2020
Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it

Yutaka Suzuki, Professor, Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, in Tokyo Shimbun (July 1, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it

As schools across Japan reopen and try to make up for instruction time lost during Covid-19 closures, we must ensure learning continues to be flexible. While school summer holidays have been shortened and some students are now attending classes six days a week, online teaching has ended. This may present a barrier to learning for the students who traditionally have not done well with in-person learning and have stayed away from school. In fact, the online learning presented during the closures engaged some of these students with schooling. The past few months have proven that students can learn without necessarily needing to be physically present in school. Online learning should be continued for these students.


The Confusion Around Languages
Friday, July 3, 2020
The Confusion Around Languages

Henry Ren Jie Chong, Research Fellow at the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies, in Oriental Daily News (June 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

The Confusion Around Languages

There has long been a controversy over whether Chinese Malaysians should learn Malay. One of the main arguments for this is the idea that Chinese should learn Malay to be integrated in society, be accepted by the Malays, and to prove that they are “Malaysian”. But we should move beyond the issue of language and discuss what it means to be a national of any country. 

History textbooks would often describe nationality and ethnic groups as referring to the same blood, language and culture groups. This is an inaccurate definition, however. The same language is not enough to be an element of unity. Neighbors Austria and Germany both use German, yet they are not the same country. Switzerland is another example. It has four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. The Swiss does not therefore think that people who speak another language are necessarily of another country.

There are many ways to distinguish one another within a country. Even if there is one language, there remains many other ways to distinguish citizens from each other. And, even if there are different languages, it is still not be impossible to build a nation. In other words, language is not a key factor.

In Southeast Asia, many countries are still building their nation-state. Malaysia is no exception. The question of whether everyone should learn Malay comes up in the context of building a nation. But we should try to think outside such a framework and more about what kind of country we want to build.


The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence
Thursday, July 2, 2020
The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence

Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, UK and UN, in Dawn (June 29, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: United States Institute of Peace)

The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence

Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives have principally been shaped by its geostrategic location in a tough neighborhood. This explains why security concerns had such a dominant influence. The sweep of foreign policy over the decades reveals a complex interplay between internal and external factors, and between domestic goals and an ever-changing international environment.

Of course, big power interests had a major impact on policy, intersecting with elite interests to sometimes complicate if not aggravate Pakistan’s challenges. An unedifying aspect of this was a mindset of dependence fostered among officials during prolonged periods of the country’s alignments. This dependence proved to be habit forming. Reliance on external financial assistance created a perverse incentive for urgent economic reform and serious domestic resource mobilization. It also encouraged ruling elites to constantly look outside to address financial deficits and other sources of internal vulnerabilities, even see outsiders as catalytic agents to promote development and solve problems at home.

The most recent turning point has seen Pakistan tie its strategic future more firmly to China while facing an implacably hostile India. In fact, the country’s daunting foreign policy challenges call for a more imaginative strategy to navigate a more complex and unsettled multipolar world.

The world has changed fundamentally but habits ingrained over the years by the ruling elite have yet to do so. Pakistan learnt to rely on itself for its defense when it pursued and acquired the strategic capability to deter aggression. But the habit persists of seeking help from foreign donors to deal with chronic financing gaps — frequently dramatized by frantic trips to Arab capitals. A similar lesson has yet to be learnt about financial self-reliance which is only possible through bold fiscal reform and a reordering of budget priorities. The tyranny of dependence waits to be overcome.


Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

Thang Lengleng, Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Code@SG/Infocomm Media Development Authority)

Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

The government’s establishment of the new Singapore Digital Office (SDO) will encourage electronic payments throughout society. However, ensuring the elderly can keep up with new technologies remains a challenge. Over a decade ago, the government establishment of the Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) to address this issue.

The elderly are benefiting from a digitized life. According to one 2018 survey, 55 percent of those over 60 used the internet, an increase of 25 percent in just two years. Nevertheless, there will still be some elderly people still excluded from the digital world. Beyond creating new learning opportunities, we must build deeper understanding of the willingness among the elderly to accept new technologies.

Studies have shown that if seniors understand how technologies would be beneficial to them, that they are not too difficult to use, and that their family and friends also recognize the importance of these skills, then they are more likely to accept them. Yet there are not many seniors who are willing to take on new challenges.

It is important to recognize the diversity of elderly people. While education, income and occupation can all affect the willingness of the elderly to accept new technology, it is also a fact that the higher the age, the lower the rate of using new technology. As such, it is necessary to be more attentive to and respect the older age group, who are more likely to be marginalized.

While the government continues to promote digitalization measures, they have repeatedly stated they will retain non-digital alternatives. In addition to providing assistance to encourage the elderly to learn, the government must also take into account the specific design of products and digital services and embrace the principle of simplicity and ease of use. This can help seniors to embrace the digital transformation.


Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations

Hsu Mien-sheng, Taiwan diplomat, in The Storm Media (June 27, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: www.vystrcil.cz)

Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations

Domestic media recently reported that the Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil plans to visit Taiwan. This will not only involve Czech-Taiwan relations but also cross-strait relations. If cross-strait relations are harmonious, exchanges with countries without diplomatic relations are relatively straightforward. Visa-free treatment for Taiwan citizens in the European Schengen countries was achieved under harmonious cross-strait relations. Today, ties are tense and Taipei’s exchanges with countries with which it has no diplomatic relations will inevitably aggravate Beijing.

Vystrčil has been extremely friendly to Taiwan. Despite his lofty status, however, he is of relatively low political importance. Czech President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček all have discouraged the visit because of their concerns about the relationship between the Czech Republic and China. Beijing has reacted strongly, with the Chinese Embassy in Prague declaring that the visit is “blatant support for the separatist forces and activities in Taiwan, which seriously violate China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Many politicians from countries with no diplomatic relations have visited Taiwan over the years, but they have observed diplomatic practices and not announced it beforehand. There has been no incident and no trouble to any party. Diplomacy should be about doing more and talking less. It is necessary to respect the professional judgment of diplomats and act in the proper way to prevent incidents. In this case, Taiwan’s representative in the Czech Republic behaved inappropriately by not consulting other parties on the handling of this announcement.

While Taiwan should cherish its friendship with the Czech Republic, we must avoid getting too excited. It would be inappropriate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to use this visit for publicity. While it was originally seen as a positive event, any negative consequences could be more costly that it is worth.


Democracy is in Jeopardy over the DPRK
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
Democracy is in Jeopardy over the DPRK

Duk-min Yun, Chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, in Chosun Ilbo (June 27, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Cheong Wa Dae, The Republic of Korea)

Democracy is in Jeopardy over the DPRK

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office building. Given the special context of the North and the South, this act is equivalent to an attack of a diplomatic office. Most countries in such situations would consider military action, and at the very least, immediately cease diplomatic relation. President Moon Jae-in responded that he will remain patient, adding that it was the South that broke a promise with propaganda provocation. His administration calls for providing additional support to the North and passing laws against further civilian provocation.

What is most infuriating is that this attitude of the leadership is jeopardizing the South’s hard-fought democracy. South Korea is a UN member state and its government holds no power to restrict its citizens’ basic rights over bilateral agreements or treaties. Criminalizing South Korean citizens from practicing their freedom of speech over an agreement with the DPRK is just that.

Not only the freedom of speech but also human rights is sacrificed when it comes to the DPRK. Despite South Korea’s usual solid stance of protecting its citizens’ rights abroad, this stops at the DPRK. There are six South Korean nationals detained in the North. This is in addition to 11 passengers from the Korean Air Lines plane hijacked in 1969 and another estimated 20,000 and 516 civilians kidnapped during and after the Korean War. Yet the issue of releasing detained citizens went unmentioned during the three inter-Korea summits held between the current leaders of the two Koreas.

The DPRK is a special country that must be dealt with through cooperation and mutual respect at all costs. But the attitude of the current leadership makes one question whether democracy and human rights still make up the fundamental core of our national identity.


The Greater Bay Area Should Adopt its Own Health Code
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
The Greater Bay Area Should Adopt its Own Health Code

Wong Kam Fai, Associate Dean (External Affairs), Faculty of Engineering, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and former president of Hong Kong Information Technology Joint Council, in Hong Kong Economic Times (June 25, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: N509FZ)

The Greater Bay Area Should Adopt its Own Health Code

The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 has severely affected the lives of Hong Kong people. Quarantine policies and travel restrictions hindered exchanges and cooperation within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA).

There are nearly 300,000 Hong Kong people working in Guangdong Province and nearly 900,000 immigrants from the mainland in Hong Kong. Many people travel between both places, living in one and working in the other. Although under the "one country, two systems" policy, Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau belong to three different administrative regions, those that travel frequently between the three places, perceive themselves as "Bay Area" people who should work together to create value for the GBA.

Since February, to restore economic and social order, a "health code" program was launched on the mainland. The system relies on the national integrated government service platform to carry out data sharing on epidemic prevention health information systems in various provinces and cities. Without such a code, Hong Kong lags the rest of the country.

The Hong Kong Government should launch a health code as soon as possible. This will facilitate the relaxing of the 14-day mandatory isolation and the restarting of customs clearance operations. From the mainland’s experience, the health code has played an irreplaceable and important role in the balance between continuous epidemic control and the resumption of normal life.

The Greater Bay Area, the 13th largest economy in the world by GDP, has not been able to lift the cross-border movement restrictions, even though the domestic epidemic situation is under control. A Bay Area health code is urgently required in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau to protect the health of people in the GBA. This will support the potential of the GBA by allowing Bay Area people to pass across the border while protecting their health.


A New Narrative is Needed for China-US Relations
Friday, June 26, 2020
A New Narrative is Needed for China-US Relations

Ruan Zongze, Executive Vice President, China Institute of International Studies, in Global Times (June 24, 2020)

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

A New Narrative is Needed for China-US Relations

While competition, confrontation, decoupling and the “new Cold War” have all become the labels associated with China-US relations, not all hope is lost. The US is attempting to redefine the relationship. “Strategic competition" has become the key phrase to describe Washington’s policy towards Beijing. The US has stressed that "competition" is not “containment”, a term that had applied to American policy towards the Soviet Union.

The global pandemic, economic recession and anti-racism protests have complicated the US election year. The US has become lost, suspicious and angry. It needs to find a distraction to divert attention. Since President Donald Trump took office, he has launched "principled realism" in an effort to promote US interests.

Washington would uphold “principled realism” and adopt a competitive approach to China. This involves deliberately distorting China’s political system and strategic intentions while arrogantly exaggerating the “China threat” and falsely claiming that China has launched a challenge to the US’s economy, values and national security. As an excuse, it advocates a continued hardline policy to exert pressure on China across all fronts. In contrast to China's assertion of "harmony and difference", the US always wants to change others. Now, the US wants to change China with "principled realism".

The interests of all countries are deeply intertwined in the era of globalization, and China and the US are no exception. China is on the rise, and a more powerful and prosperous China can provide more effective solutions to the world’s problems. Trying to push Sino-US relations into a "new Cold War" is tantamount to creating more problems and reversing history. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we all live in the same global village. Where the world will go after this crisis will depend on the wrangling between the two orders of multilateralism and unilateralism.


Open Season on the Free press
Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Open Season on the Free press

Randy David, sociologist and journalist, in his Public Lives column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (June 21, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: PCOO EDP/King Rodriguez)

Open Season on the Free press

When Rodrigo Duterte became president in 2016, the media organizations that had been critical of him during the campaign became his principal targets. He named three in particular: the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, the broadcast network ABS-CBN, and the news website Rappler. He attacked all three for biased and distorted reporting.

Duterte accused the Inquirer owners of not paying the correct taxes on their other businesses, and of illegally extending a lease on a choice property in the city owned by a government agency in exchange for low rental. He denounced ABS-CBN for taking his money and not airing his campaign advertisements during the 2016 presidential election and accused its owners of not paying their debts to a government-owned bank. He vowed to prevent the renewal of the network’s franchise, telling its owners to sell the company instead. Irked by its critical reporting on the conduct of his bloody war on drugs, he banned the Rappler reporter from entering Malacañang (the presidential palace).

All this would have been more than enough to cue everyone in the hunting party to pursue the prey. But the president never stopped issuing the call for the hunt. He would repeat the same charges each time he went off-script in his rambling speeches. It came to a point when he sounded as if he wanted nothing less than a lynching.

To ignore this context and the authoritarian viciousness that has preceded the state-enabled proceedings against the Inquirer, ABS-CBN, and Rappler is to subject oneself to willful blindness. It would not be unlike covering the rest of a patient’s body with a sheet during surgery to show only the choice tissue of the moment. It is to disregard the rest of the morbid mess underlying the president’s obsessive focus on the offending wound.


The Limits of Freedom of Speech
Monday, June 22, 2020
The Limits of Freedom of Speech

Lee Jin-soo, journalist, in Asia Business Daily (June 19, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Picture credit: Uri Tours)

The Limits of Freedom of Speech

North Korea made headlines when it cut the communication lines to the South and destroyed the inter-Korean liaison office building. The North cited the leaflets sent across the border by North Korean defector communities residing in South Korea as reason for their hostile actions. In an effort to cool the tensions, the South Korean government declared its plans to take legal action against the said organizations for violating the Inter-Korean Interchange and Cooperation Act and to cancel their registration as legal organizations. 

Some worry that these measures are in violation of freedom of speech and the rights to information of the North Korean citizens. Sending cross-border propaganda leaflets is a right to free expression, but few can deny that this form of expression is a dangerous act that could trigger military conflicts on the sensitive Korean peninsula.

Furthermore, there have been multiple agreements made over the years between the two Koreas to refrain from slandering and defaming the other. The most recent Panmunjom Declaration of 2018 specifically calls for a stop to loudspeaker propaganda and leaflet distribution in the DMZ area.

The South Korean Constitution grants freedom of speech but asserts the need to withhold this freedom when necessary for national security, for maintenance of law and order, or for public welfare. This was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the government to limit the civil society’s leaflet propaganda for reasons of national security.

However important, freedom of speech cannot take precedence over peace, and the government must stop the leaflet propaganda.


Playing it Safe and Getting by in the World
Monday, June 22, 2020
Playing it Safe and Getting by in the World

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Associate Professor and Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University, in Bangkok Post (June 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: World Travel & Tourism Council)

Playing it Safe and Getting by in the World

Even prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand's strategic posture had been dominated by political preoccupations at home. The pandemic merely accentuated trends and patterns in Thailand's foreign policy and security outlook in view of the geopolitical rivalry and competition between the US and China.

As virus infections have recently shown signs of slowing down, Thailand's strategic role and challenges are on course to return in full, just as they were prior to the virus outbreak. The domestic political instability from cycles of coups, constitutions, and elections since constitutionalism replaced the absolute monarchy in 1932 has made Thailand unable to make a break for a stable political future for the majority of its people. In turn, these domestic shortcomings have hindered Thailand's role abroad.

Thailand's circular holding pattern risks sliding into anemic economic growth while some of its neighbors have been expanding twice as fast with more dynamic prospects and progress ahead.

The coronavirus crisis has compounded Thailand's headwinds as the economy is forecast to suffer the deepest contraction compared to its ASEAN peers. Moreover, Thailand's structural reforms and economic upgrading to move up value chains and out of the middle-income trap have made little progress, with no promising prospects as long as the political environment remains murky.

Thailand will not be acting belligerently abroad to divert attention away from domestic problems. The country will continue to be risk-averse, playing it safe and getting by in international life. For the rest of the world, this country cannot be ignored without considerable geopolitical costs. But for the Thais, their country cannot regain strategic heft and command global attention until it goes through a kind of reckoning at home to see what kind of polity and country they want to end up with for a position and role abroad.


The Government’s Plans to Aid Hong Kong Citizens Raise Questions
Monday, June 22, 2020
The Government’s Plans to Aid Hong Kong Citizens Raise Questions

Tai Shih-yin, lawyer, in United Daily News (June 20, 2020)

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

The Government’s Plans to Aid Hong Kong Citizens Raise Questions

The Mainland Affairs Council has finally announced a new “Humanitarian Aid and Care Action Plan” for Hong Kong citizens. There remains, however, a number of legal uncertainties about how it would work.

First, the legal basis of the action plan is both general and brief. The relevant provisions have not been updated since they were devised in 1997. Whether the existing legal basis can cope with the new relationship between Taiwan and Hong Kong is unclear. 

Second, once a draft “Refugee Law” is passed, the legal rights of Hong Kong people will be lower than that of foreigners or stateless people. From a macro perspective, Taiwan's assistance to Hong Kong people lacks comprehensive and clear legal protection.

Third, assistance is focused on “specific cases” through the Executive Yuan. This model inherently has the advantages of stricter scrutiny, adaptability to circumstances and the avoidance of wasted resources. In the absence of transparent and open supporting regulations, however, it will lack external supervision, and any administrative arbitrary decision making could affect the fairness of any assistance allocation.

Many more questions remain. For example, what is the definition and applicable eligibility criteria of the so-called “political reasons” in the aforementioned regulations? Are they limited to those prosecuted under the “Hong Kong version of the National Security Law”? Will the same assistance be provided to suspected criminals who have also participated in violent resistance in Hong Kong? If a case's application for assistance is rejected, what are the procedures for legal remedy?

Without a sound foundation for the rule of law, is the action plan merely lip service?


How Young People View the Government’s Handling of Covid-19
Friday, June 19, 2020
How Young People View the Government’s Handling of Covid-19

Justin Chan Long Hin, associate researcher, MWYO, in Hong Kong Economic Journal (June 16, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Jonathan van Smit)

How Young People View the Government’s Handling of Covid-19

In late May, MWYO commissioned a survey of 509 18-34-year-olds to determine how they rate the government’s handling of the epidemic. The results were mixed. When they were asked to evaluate the government's overall anti-epidemic measures, only about a quarter thought the government had done a good job. This may be due to the distrust in the government among young people that had increased in the months before the pandemic.

The survey showed that 81 percent of young people believed that the closure of schools was helpful, while 69 percent believed that the isolation of travelers and close contacts of diagnosed cases was useful. In addition, 52 percent saw benefits in restricting or suspending the operation of certain industries. Only 20 percent of the young people interviewed believed that the government’s distributing free reusable masks was effective. This suggests that the earlier the government implemented certain measures, the greater the support for them.

The survey also found that those whose employment conditions had deteriorated were more dissatisfied with the overall performance of the government. If the government is able to mitigate the impact of the epidemic on the economy, it will likely boost the positive perception of its handling of the outbreak among those who are employed.

In terms of financial support measures, 57 percent of the young people surveyed believed that the government played a role in alleviating youth unemployment and economic pressure. A smaller number of young people (45 percent) thought that the government's distribution of HK$10,000 to each resident had the same effect, suggesting scepticism of the direct cash transfer approach. Overall, only 19 percent of the young people surveyed believed that the government's overall economic support measures were successful.