SIGN UP FOR INSIGHTS

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.
Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law
Friday, May 22, 2020
Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law

Hidetomi Tanaka, Professor in the Faculty of Business and Information of Jobu University, in iRONNA (May 19, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet)

Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law

The biggest political story in Japan in the first half of May was not only COVID-19, but also the attempt by the Abe government to revise how special prosecutors are appointed. The move resulted in huge and unprecedented backlash on social media, and plummeting poll numbers for Abe and the cabinet, forcing Abe to back away from the plan.

Take a sober second look at the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposed amendments to the law on how special prosecutors are appointed. These changes are perceived by opposition lawmakers and the public to make it easier to control the public prosecution office and make it difficult to investigate alleged government abuses. The debate surrounding the proposed amendment has been clouded by emotion rather than based on reality. Affecting the tenor of the discussion has been the slump in Abe's popularity since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in Japan in late February.

Critics of the amendment have embarked on a fishing expedition that is aimed at scoring political points instead of uncovering the truth, with facts being replaced by intuition and gut feeling about the prime minister's supposed disingenuousness and duplicity when proposing the amendments. With the help of uninformed television celebrities, the fishing expedition has snowballed into a social media hashtag campaign. The public had already made up their minds without bothering to learn about the proposed amendments.

While everyone in Japan is free to express a political opinion, individual judgement must not be based on intuition, feelings and anti-intellectualism.


Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle
Friday, May 22, 2020
Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle

Yutaka Suzuki, Professor, Laboratory of Systems Genomics, Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, in Tokyo Shimbun (May 18, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: Official Website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet)

Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle

We are not fighting a war against Covid-19. Instead, it is a marathon. Shigeru Omi, who has been on the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board since 2013 and is deputy chair of the Japanese government's expert panel on the coronavirus, has stated that war imagery should not be used as a metaphor for the struggle against epidemic in Japan.

Kaori Muto, a specialist in research ethics at The University of Tokyo, has also argued that militaristic language is problematic, because it implies there are generals who control the "battle", while there are "the weak" whose lives must be sacrificed. This is unacceptable, she says.

Health authorities are continuously struggling to find the best ways to inform and persuade the public. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, has called the fight against Covid-19 "World War III" and a "war of endurance". So, another challenge for health professionals is how to compete with government in providing reliable information.


The Coronavirus Relief Allowance for Children is too Small
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
The Coronavirus Relief Allowance for Children is too Small

Chieko Akaishi, Director, Single Mothers Forum, in Yahoo! Japan (April 5, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: MIA Studio / Shutterstock.com)

The Coronavirus Relief Allowance for Children is too Small

The 10,000 yen (US$93) supplementary child benefit launched by the Japanese government as part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic should be applauded, but it is not enough. According to a survey, more than half of households are experiencing declining income because of the economic shutdown. Their finances are worsening from month to month and will continue to do so. Some families now rely on donations of rice and can only eat two meals a day.

In addition, the cost of living continues to increase. Due to social distancing and school closures, families must spend more on educational materials for homeschooling and on food, which for low-income families is typically provided by schools.

The per-child household allowance may be topped up to 30,000 yen (US$279) per child per month, but this can only be done through an application process which may exclude some households such as those with parents who are in same-sex relationships or are freelance workers.

Does the government understand the severity of such a situation? Cash delivered to households when the parents don't have the time or information to apply. To prevent households with children from having no rice to eat today, the allowance should be at least 30,000 yen per child.


Absence of Chinese: How Covid-19 Has Made Kyoto More "Local Friendly"
Monday, February 24, 2020
Absence of Chinese: How Covid-19 Has Made Kyoto More "Local Friendly"

Osamu Tekina, writer and cultural commentator, in Nikkan Gendai (February 22, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: John Gillespie)

Absence of Chinese: How Covid-19 Has Made Kyoto More "Local Friendly"

The coronavirus may have helped temporarily solve the problem of "over-tourism" in Kyoto. Many popular – and typically overcrowded – tourist spots such as the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest have been virtually deserted. The reason: a drop in visitors from China. Where there would normally be hordes of people snapping photos, now there may not be a single Chinese tourist.

A ban on travel to foreign countries by the Chinese government is responsible for this fall in number of visitors to Kyoto. Now empty, hotels have had to drop room rates by up to 50 percent. Shopkeepers and patrons in a Kyoto bar said that, for locals, the absence of Chinese and other Asian tourists is a welcome reprieve.

Residents have been complaining about the government's efforts to increase foreign visitors to Japan to 40 million a year (from the record high of 31.9 million in 2019) and to turn the city into a "national park". But the Japanese government’s uncertain approach in its attempts to contain Covid-19 may well ensure that tourists will continue to stay away from Kyoto and the rest of the country.


Abe's Economic Policy Failure is Life Threatening
Monday, February 24, 2020
Abe's Economic Policy Failure is Life Threatening

Yoichi Takahashi, former finance ministry official, in Yukan Fuji (February 22, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US)

Abe's Economic Policy Failure is Life Threatening

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe increased Japan's consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in September 2019. This was a human disaster that, combined with coronavirus, will strike a body blow to society and the economy.

In the last quarter of 2019, Japan reported its fourth-worst decline in GDP since 1994. All things considered, the 2019 economic decline is actually worse than the slump in 2014 following an increase in the consumption tax, or VAT, at that time.

Policymakers including those at the Bank of Japan have largely ignored the September increase, instead blaming a series of typhoons for Japan's disastrous Q4 results. The problem is that economic measures such as consumption taxes can in fact be a matter of life-and-death for regular people. In Greece, for example, economic policy affected lives and people’s health more than any medicine, surgery or access to medical insurance. Greek austerity resulted in more sickness, homelessness and murders; more people died.

The consumption tax increase by the Abe government, combined with the unexpected coronavirus epidemic, are poised to give Japan's economy a double punch that will result in more deaths.


Asia's Fight Against the Coronavirus
Friday, February 21, 2020
Asia's Fight Against the Coronavirus

Nobumichi Izumi, former senior managing editor, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, in nippon.com (February 20, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: NIAID-RML)

Asia's Fight Against the Coronavirus

In the fight against Covid-19, the novel coronavirus steadily progressing towards a pandemic, Asian countries have not learned the past lessons of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 to achieve success this time. As with SARS, while international cooperation across Asia is crucial to mitigating the effects of the virus, it is difficult to share accurate information about the coronavirus.

Once again, the Chinese government's attempts to prevent public panic by controlling messaging about the spread of the virus have hampered efforts in Japan to contain Covid-19. During the SARS outbreak, in the absence of clear, trustworthy information from government authorities, many cities across China saw outbreaks of hoarding and other public disorder as people panicked, wondering what to do. Rather than learning from the past, China has imposed the same information control measures.

This secrecy has made it difficult for Japanese authorities to learn from China's experience with Covid-19 so far. The lack of information combined with perceived incompetence in dealing with the quarantine of Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers in Yokohama is slowly turning into a crisis testing Japan's logistics and communications capabilities. Japan must respond effectively if it is to host the Tokyo Olympics starting in July.


Parasite Cannot Be Stopped
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Parasite Cannot Be Stopped

Yoji Gomi, Senior Staff Writer, Tokyo Shimbun (February 19, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: taniavolobueva / Shutterstock.com)

Parasite Cannot Be Stopped

While Parasite may have won international acclaim after winning four Oscars at the Academy Awards, Bong Joon-ho's film may not be the best PR for South Korea. The film, which depicts the life of members of an economic underclass was filmed on location in a Seoul neighborhood, where underground apartments are common. It is perplexing that the local government has organized tours of the area, seemingly ignoring the poverty of the residents. Ram-don, the noodle dish made famous worldwide by the movie, has also become popular, but most people choose to include expensive cuts of beef, ignoring the class-conscious message of the film.

But politicians in South Korea appear to have grasped the implications of Parasite. In the lead up to upcoming national elections, the ruling party has promised to improve unemployment insurance, while opposition politicians have mimicked the look and feel of Parasite movie posters.


People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them
Monday, February 3, 2020
People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them

Noriko Hama, economist and professor at Doshisha Business School, in AERA (January 30, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

People Want Children But Feel They Cannot Have Them

Japan is not the only country that has to worry about lower fertility rates anymore. China's birthrate is falling, and 10 out of 28 European Union member countries are also experiencing declining populations due to lower fertility and low levels of immigration. 

It is, however, important to understand why political leaders seem to think low fertility rates and declining populations are a problem. Nationalists such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister of Italy from 2018-19 have argued that population decline is the biggest challenge facing their countries. To combat this trend, the thinking goes, women must be encouraged to have more children as a patriotic duty. 

Even moderates argue that, in the face of a shrinking population, productivity must somehow be increased to maintain economic growth. But the drive to increase growth will also put a strain on the environment at a time when climate change is a concern.

Policymakers need to stop regarding population decline as a threat to the nation or to economic growth. Instead, they must understand that declining fertility is a human rights issue. People, including women, generally want to have children. But they feel they cannot. This is the issue that must be addressed.


Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Waving a Flag in the Year of the Tokyo Olympics

This is the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Many people will have the opportunity to wave a variety of flags. But why are so many people attracted to flags in the first place?

In the 1970 movie Planet of the Apes, the rival chimpanzees and gorillas are portrayed as waving black and white banners, respectively. It is only the human beings who use flags. It is said that the earliest flags date to the Zhou Dynasty in China around the 11th century BC and were used to direct troops.

More recently, the flag has been used by nation states to symbolize independence and unity. Following the 9/11 attacks, for Americans, the Stars and Stripes symbolized freedom. The Hinomaru, Japan’s national flag (a red disk on a white background), generates complex feelings for some people around the world. For some, the act of raising this flag calls to mind the dark days of the war of aggression. Waving the Rising Sun flag (which happens to be the official emblem of the Asahi Shimbun) can bring back memories of Japanese militarism in countries such as South Korea.

The Rising Sun flag is often waved at sports meets, eliciting criticism. The Japanese government has stated that it has no political meaning and is not a symbol of militarism. Sports fans, however, should remember that raising this flag at the Tokyo Olympics this summer could fuel division and conflict. Instead, spectators should learn history, remember to respect others, and communicate the value of peace.


In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes
Friday, January 10, 2020
In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes

Hidetomi Tanaka, Professor in the Faculty of Business and Information of Jobu University, in iRONNA (January 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

In the Liberal Narrative, Ghosn and Iran Commander are Both Heroes

The year 2020 began with a jolt for Japan with the flight of former Nissan chairman (and French national) Carlos Ghosn and the death of Qasem Soleimani, a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed by the Trump administration.

While he was accused of money laundering and violating Japanese financial regulations, Ghosn since his arrest has been portrayed by liberals in the Japanese and French media as a victim of and a hero fighting against the Japanese legal system. It seems these liberals support anyone who appears to be "anti-Abe" (Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving post-war prime minister and a member of the ruling center-right Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP) and anti-establishment.

The runaway liberal virtue signaling was even more pronounced following the murder of Soleimani. A commentator writing in the Asahi Shimbun stated that such was Soleimani's esteem in Iran that subordinates wept at the news of his death. Liberal commentators would have us think that a man who killed tens of thousands and who has been declared a terrorist by the United States is "beloved".

What seems to be most important in this liberal narrative is anti-Americanism and opposition to whoever is in power.


Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation
Thursday, January 9, 2020
Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Restraint Needed in US-Iran Confrontation

While Trump continues with his erratic behavior, this time the consequences of his disruptive actions are even more severe. Following the killing of the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Tokyo Shimbun calls on both the US and Iran to exercise restraint so that their conflict does not escalate to war.

By killing Soleimani at the Baghdad airport, the United States has violated Iraq's sovereignty. Concerned that their country will become a battlefield between the US and Iran, Iraqi legislators have passed a resolution demanding the withdrawal of American troops there.

The Trump administration's consistent hostility towards Iran, including his withdrawal from nuclear deal, has weakened Iranian moderates into distress while bolstering hardliners. The world is watching now as Iran plans its retaliation for Soleimani's death.

Tokyo Shimbun calls on Iran to stick with the nuclear deal. Actions, including military force, that would further destabilize the current situation should be avoided. Finally, the Japanese government should cancel its plans to dispatch ships and planes from the Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East. Any deployment should be discussed in the national Diet first.