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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.
May Diwali Bring Hope This Vile Year
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
May Diwali Bring Hope This Vile Year

Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (November 15, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Khokarahman)

May Diwali Bring Hope This Vile Year

This has been a vile year not just for India but for the whole world. Except perhaps for our old foe China from whence came the worst pandemic in more than a century. As someone who thinks of China as an evil country, it galls me that it seems somehow to be doing just fine. So we must hope that on this Diwali festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the gods hear our prayers and help us to banish Chinese soldiers from our territory. May the gods punish China by doing as much harm to its economy as has been done to ours and to the economies of some of the richest countries in the world.

Having got my bile against China off my chest, I feel good. Since it is Diwali, I am going to try to talk about things that may help us all get into a festive mood. What has cheered me up in these long months of lockdowns was the announcement of the New Education Policy. It will be a long while before Indian children in government schools get access to an education and not just literacy, but this policy is a step in the right direction. It is my hope that it will be the first step towards decolonizing a public education system that was created by our colonial masters. It should have been decolonized years ago and, if it happens now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be remembered in history for this.

Now it is time for Modi to concentrate on reviving the economy. His economic failures, that began with demonetization, should reduce any satisfaction he gets from his political successes. When I light the diyas this evening, I shall pray that we will not need masks this time next year.


A Long Way Since 1962: The Relationship with China has Changed
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
A Long Way Since 1962: The Relationship with China has Changed

Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, The United Service Institution of India and the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, in The Indian Express (October 20, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: BMN Network)

A Long Way Since 1962: The Relationship with China has Changed

Fifty-eight years ago, Chinese troops entered the Indian territory to make a point. Historians and international relations scholars have spent half a century trying to explain that unexpected and first-ever war between the two Asian giants. The simple point that Mao Zedong tried to make at the time to Jawaharlal Nehru was that China did not regard India an equal. Fifty-eight years later, that is precisely the point that Xi Jinping has been trying to make to Narendra Modi.

In the 1950s, objective circumstances and material reality offered adequate reasons for Nehru to imagine that India was China’s equal and he, Mao’s. In 2020, Modi would be living in a make-believe world in case he harbored any such illusions. Xi wants him to get the message.

In the 1950s, and indeed till the turn of the century, there were good reasons for Indian leaders to view China as an equal. India under Modi finds itself in a better military and diplomatic space. The major power differential is economic and technological. Today, the Chinese economy is nearly five times the size of India’s in US dollar terms and almost two-and-a-half times India’s in purchasing power parity terms. In terms of Comprehensive National Power, which incorporates scientific and technological power and human capital formation, China out-ranks India many times over.

Xi’s confidence is based on the material foundations of Chinese power, requiring Modi to adopt a more cautious approach. For all the bravado of Modi’s domestic politics, he has so far walked a cautious diplomatic path, while keeping the powder dry. Modi cannot afford Nehru’s pretense for he can easily pay Nehru’s price. To regain global stature, India has to continue to focus on its domestic economic capability and human capital. There are no short cuts to global power and influence.


Digital Space as Sex-Crime Scenes – Call Social Media to Account
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Digital Space as Sex-Crime Scenes – Call Social Media to Account

Vrinda Shukla, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crimes Against Women and Children, Indian Police Service, in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in The Indian Express (October 8, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Digital Space as Sex-Crime Scenes – Call Social Media to Account

With only three days to go before her wedding, the bride-to-be received a call from her fiancé. Nothing could have prepared her for what he had to say. Hundreds of links had suddenly appeared on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook flashing extremely obscene pictures of the woman. Thus began a terrible nightmare for the hapless woman, her sole solace the strength of character and commitment of the groom-to-be.

The couple approached the police. It was a classic case of revenge porn – an invasion of sexual privacy and a form of online harassment where the perpetrator, usually a disgruntled ex-partner, posts intimate photos, often to shame the subject. The consequences for victims can be extreme, encompassing honor killings, breakdown of relationships, destruction of reputation and career, and immense emotional trauma.

While the police may succeed in prosecuting the perpetrators of such crimes, it can do little to clean up the mess left behind on the internet, the root cause of the victim’s suffering. Reporting such content by victims to social media platforms is often of no avail. Facebook receives half a million reports of revenge porn each month.

The dissemination of such photos and videos deserves to be defined as a sexual violation. It will then be considered a serious offence and encourage victims to report such crimes. Demanding accountability from social media giants is more important. Several countries have proposed tough laws on the issue, including imprisonment of their executives in extreme cases of non-compliance of requests made by law enforcement authorities.

With India having the world’s largest population of young people vulnerable to new mutations of deeply scarring sex crimes, the public-interest litigation filed in the Supreme Court is critical to establishing an efficient mechanism to remove sexually graphic abusive content and to seek accountability from social media platforms.


With China as Backdrop, New Delhi’s Moscow Watch
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
With China as Backdrop, New Delhi’s Moscow Watch

Harsh V Pant, Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, and Director of Research, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), and Nivedita Kapoor, Junior Fellow, ORF, in The Hindu (September 22, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India)

With China as Backdrop, New Delhi’s Moscow Watch

As India-China tensions along their border continue to escalate, India pulled out of military exercises organized by Russia, where it was scheduled to participate alongside other Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states. While Covid-19 was cited as the official reason, the border situation with China likely prompted this decision.

In June, the Russian, Indian and Chinese foreign ministers met in Moscow after the violent border clashes between Chinese and Indian troops. The meeting ended with no communiqué. Moscow has been playing a quiet diplomatic role without taking sides. India and Russia are pragmatic players aiming to maximize strategic maneuverability. Both recognize the value of having a diversified portfolio of ties.

The combination of a changing regional order, closer Russia-China ties, and India’s alignment with the US and other like-minded countries to manage Beijing’s rise has the potential to create hurdles for India-Russia cooperation in Asia.

While India would like to secure Russian support in this changing Asian regional order, the latter has seen China become its key partner as relations with the West have hit a new post-Cold War low. India for its part has sought to include Russia in its vision of the Indo-Pacific that does not see the region as “a strategy or as a club of limited members”.

A world split into two blocs would be detrimental to the interests of both New Delhi and Moscow, making it imperative that contradictions in their respective policies are managed pragmatically while taking a long-term view of the strategic partnership. Although the evolving global order makes it difficult for India and Russia to pursue convergent policies, it does not preclude the relationship from retaining relevance. The strategic space both provide the other is critical and underscores the need to insulate their relationship from the vagaries of the international system.


Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom

Chidanand Rajghatta, Foreign Editor based in Washington, DC, in The Times of India (August 17, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Lotus to POTUS: How Kamala Harris Might Bloom

Traditionally, American vice-presidents were considered so nondescript and superfluous that Thomas Marshall, the country’s 28th VP, joked about two brothers, one who ran away to sea, the other who became vice-president: Neither of them was ever heard from again. Franklin Roosevelt’s first veep, John Nance Garner, said the title was not worth “a bucket of warm spit”.

The choice of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate sends a different message. The US has had 45 presidents and 48 vice-presidents, none women. Only 14 veeps have gone on to become presidents, nine of them after the president’s death.

The Biden-Harris team offers a ticket to unprecedented history should it be victorious. Veeps go on to become presidents in the worst of circumstances, not necessarily in better circumstances. Biden himself, after serving two terms as Barack Obama’s veep, had to defer to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the party nomination in 2016, choosing “dignity over ambition” when he realized the odds were stacked against him. Harris, the first putative female veep of Black and Indian heritage, is viewed in some quarters as a possible regent under any circumstances for a man who would be the oldest president to be sworn into office – if he wins.


Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon
Friday, July 31, 2020
Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon

Tavleen Singh, columnist, in The Indian Express (July 26, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office)

Prime Minister Modi has Chosen to Work in a Cocoon

Since the pandemic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have rediscovered that he needs to make an economic course correction. He urged foreign investors to come and invest in India. He then boasted of how many reforms his government had made to make it easier to do business. He has not noticed that since he became PM an “inspector raj” has been unleashed that would drive away the most intrepid investors. The government’s own Invest India arm has identified 767 pre-operation licenses that an investor is obliged to get from 35 ministries before starting a business.

The prime minister has chosen to work in a cocoon since he first took the job six years ago. Those people who could tell him how often his officials make regulations that make it harder to do business have been kept at a distance. Those who would be able to tell him how many fine Indian companies face bankruptcy, only because his government refuses to honor its contracts, are kept even further away. Since the pandemic, the walls of Modi’s cocoon have been fortified so he works in a chamber that totally insulates him from reality.

It is time that he started listening to those who can really tell him how difficult it remains to do business in India. The Chinese virus and international disenchantment with China offer Modi a second chance to change course, and make the administrative changes that are necessary if India is to move from poverty to prosperity. He could begin by asking which inspectors and regulations can be thrown into the garbage bin. Once this is done, he should step out of his cocoon and listen to those already doing business in India and try and understand what it is that prevents them from doing it more easily.


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

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

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Divided by a Virus: Why the Pandemic Makes it Look Like Nobody is in Control
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Divided by a Virus: Why the Pandemic Makes it Look Like Nobody is in Control

Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, in ThePrint (June 13, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Sumit Saraswat / Shutterstock.com)

Divided by a Virus: Why the Pandemic Makes it Look Like Nobody is in Control

The fight against the pandemic has been so chaotic the world over, and now, in India. What began as a firm, total lockdown that everybody participated in is now degenerating into political name-calling between the ruling party and opposition, the center and the states run by non-BJP parties.

More disappointingly, this also bedevils most public discourse on an issue so life-and-death that our focus should have been on dealing with it rather than employing it to pour out partisan emotions, whether of blind loyalty, deepest dislike, fear or fantasy.

The debate on the pandemic, from lockdowns to clinical treatments to prognoses to infection and death counts, is all divided by ideology. If you love Narendra Modi, Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, they’ve done nothing wrong. If you detest them, they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

For sure, the pandemic cares two hoots for ideology as long as it’s armed with this still-indestructible virus. But it has done something we couldn’t imagine: Divide epidemiologists on ideological lines. Epidemiology, we understand, is a very well-established science with a centuries-old tradition. It is now another casualty of 2020.

Politics never goes into a freeze, but you can put partisanship in suspended animation for a bit and leave it to the specialists and soldiers.

When BJP leaders, including Modi’s number two, Amit Shah, use the pandemic to launch an assault on state governments run by opposition parties, or to topple them, they are exploiting a grave crisis in cynical political self-interest. The result of this conflict, working at cross-purposes and name-calling, is now showing. The Covid situation, at this moment, looks as though nobody is really in control.


It is Time to Open Up – or the Cure Will be Worse Than the Disease
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
It is Time to Open Up – or the Cure Will be Worse Than the Disease

Barkha Dutt, journalist, in her column in Hindustan Times (May 1, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Raam Gottimukkala/Pixabay)

It is Time to Open Up – or the Cure Will be Worse Than the Disease

India has extended the national lockdown with some relaxation. The government should have been more liberal in opening up. Other than districts in severely hit red zones, the rest of the country needed to be given space to breathe again. A greater calamity than Covid-19 – humanitarian, social and economic – is imminent if a uniform lockdown is continued.

This is not to argue that the clampdown and enforced physical distancing did not serve their purpose. The number of infections would have been substantially higher had the decision not been taken to shut down the nation.

But India is a global outlier in the number of fatalities from the pandemic. Whatever the reasons, the death rate is not higher than that of other diseases that claim Indian lives every day.

In the meantime, there are other grave crises emerging. Among them is the lack of access to health care for poor citizens.

The biggest gear shift needed is in that of attitude. While aggressive contact tracing and quarantine are essential, we cannot treat testing positive as a doomsday scenario. We have been shutting down housing societies, hospitals, factories and workplaces if even one person tests positive. If every case triggers panic, we shall never be able to rebuild our lives.

How to kickstart the economy should have all our attention. The biggest flaw in a lockdown is that it quarantines healthy people. What’s needed is not a sledgehammer that clamps down, but a sieve that sifts those who really need medical help from those who can just stay at home.

The lockdown has served its purpose. More of this will be a cure worse than the disease.


It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims

Tavleen Singh, journalist, in her column in The Indian Express (April 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

It’s Time for PM Modi to Win Back the Trust of Muslims

On Twitter daily, there are tweets so filled with hatred and venom against Muslims that it is as if the twits who post them truly believe that there would be no pandemic in India if it were not for our Muslim citizens.

Now, it has never been more important for the religious and political leaders of the Muslim community to come forward and stop Muslims from inviting hatred by attacking doctors and nurses. On April 15 in Moradabad, healthcare workers were assaulted when they were checking on people suspected of having the coronavirus. That was sickening.

If there is one good thing that this virus has done, it is that it has put an end to the problems created by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It has to stay that way. Never before has India more needed to come together to fight a common enemy. If the Muslims have lost trust in Narendra Modi’s government, and they have, it is time for the prime minister to go out of his way to win back this trust. The battles that lie ahead will not be won if we are distracted by violence, hatred and communal tensions.

All over the world today, prime ministers and presidents face the ultimate test of their leadership. Narendra Modi is no exception. His problems are bigger because he is forced to rely on a bureaucracy devoid of both compassion and competence.


The Coming Coronavirus Shocks
Thursday, April 16, 2020
The Coming Coronavirus Shocks

TJS George, journalist, in his Point of View column in The New Indian Express (April 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Khabar Uttarakhand ki)

The Coming Coronavirus Shocks

These days, I feel insignificant as a citizen, looking to politicians as parents and obeying them. We should be happy to do so but they speak in so many tongues. One wants me to do yoga, which will somehow cure all the nation’s ills. Another wants me to know that the coronavirus panic is just a ruling party plot to divert attention away from the riots in Delhi in February.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, says it is important to tackle the spread of pessimism, negativity and rumor. He convened a videoconference with 20-plus editors and print-media owners and asked them to act as a link between the government and the people. But he did not spell out a policy plan or speak in reassuring tones.

Yet the media chiefs were enamored by the PM’s gesture and agreed to publish only “inspiring and positive stories”. Said one owner of the opportunity to interact with the prime minister: “We were privileged.” In which other country could the media be more cooperative?

Some are predicting that the US will suffer its worst recession in history. When the US economy goes into recession, everybody is affected. One estimate has the global economy shrinking by 1.5 percent in 2020. The negative impact on economies will be prolonged. This will require social adjustments. But how many societies are ready?

Religion has been a factor in this crisis. Crowds have defied common sense. I hope God blesses the careless and careful equally.

Industries are reeling. The entertainment sector has come to a halt. Retail shopping has been disrupted. Experts warn of an unforeseen consequence – mental health problems – mainly because of the strain of unemployment, especially if people are without a job for a long time. For the poor, the future is grim. 


The Age of the Neoliberal Virus
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
The Age of the Neoliberal Virus

Tabish Khair, novelist and academic resident in Denmark, in The Hindu (March 24, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: SISTEMA 12)

The Age of the Neoliberal Virus

The coronavirus is the world’s first neoliberal virus. This is because of how governments around the world – even in the better social welfare capitalist states in Europe such as Denmark – have confronted it. While countries have shut down, other necessary measures have not been implemented. 

One of the most crucial is testing. This is a neoliberal response even in places with good healthcare systems. The burden of stopping the virus is being passed on to ordinary citizens who must isolate themselves while the government issues directives but spends as little as possible. This is not a surprise. Whenever corporations or banks have stumbled, governments have pumped money into them, while cutting public services including healthcare and research. This is happening again.

Rumors have it that the virus scare in China, combined with the racism in the West when anything bad happens in non-white nations, sent American and European investors into a panic. They sold shares in Chinese companies, which were then snapped up by the Chinese government and Chinese investors. Now, with China apparently in control of the virus, it would seem that they have gained more control of their economy too. Meanwhile, after briefings on the coronavirus, American legislators unloaded shares before the US market fell. Once again, this points to a neoliberal virus.

The UK openly conceded that many old people would need to die before the virus is brought under control. Politicians backtracked, saying they were doing their duty but not lying to the people. But were they? Or were they influenced by neoliberal logic that financial value is the only value that matters?


Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy
Friday, March 20, 2020
Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy

Azim Premji, Founder Chairman, Wipro Ltd, in The Economic Times (March 18, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Get on Top of the Learning Curve – Don’t Dilute the National Education Policy

Education is the key to empowerment of girls and the fulfilment of their dreams. A good education is a powerful force that contributes to making our society more just, equitable, humane and sustainable. 

Over the past 20 years, India has made real progress in education. Government schools are accessible to almost all villages, with primary schools usually within walking distance. Primary enrolment is nearly universal, with gender parity of access.to early classes. The thinking on education has become more progressive.

We urgently need to develop and adopt a new comprehensive policy framework for education. An excellent move in this direction is the draft National Education Policy (NEP) unveiled in May 2019. This laid out a comprehensive, nuanced and integrated road map for the transformation Indian education.

It recommends access to high-quality public education as the way forward and calls for substantial increase in investment to enable this expansion and improve public education at all levels. Vibrant, high-quality and equitable public education will be the foundation of Indian society.

As the NEP outlines, India should strive to attain high-quality early childhood care and education and ensure that every student achieves age-appropriate levels of development in their first five years of school. Curricula and teaching frameworks should be redesigned. There should be significant investment to ensure equitable inclusion of disadvantaged groups. Well trained teachers must be at the center of the education system. 

A new institutional architecture for higher education is needed, with some consolidation of universities and colleges. The NEP requires regulatory reform of higher education to ensure that institutions have greater autonomy that enables them to improve quality.

The final NEP should not be diluted from the carefully formulated draft that includes bold, progressive measures. These must not be sacrificed at the altar of expediency or extraneous compulsion.