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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.
Asia’s Rise Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the West’s Decline
Friday, January 15, 2021
Asia’s Rise Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the West’s Decline

Funabashi Yoichi, journalist and Chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative, in The Japan Times (January 13, 2021)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Shealah Craighead/The White House)

Asia’s Rise Doesn’t Necessarily Mean the West’s Decline

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a growing geopolitical perception of Asia’s rise and the decline of the West. While the pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to economies in both the East and West, East Asia has a much easier path to recovery. China is acting as an engine of growth. After emerging from the dark tunnel of the pandemic, East Asia may well be hailed as the winner and the West the loser.

The Covid-19 crisis could solidify the perception of Asia-Pacific Asianism that has arisen with China’s evolution into a global superpower. But the post-pandemic world is no seesaw game in which East Asia rises and the West falls. First, the pandemic is not yet over. No country in either East Asia or the West has found the optimal response to the pandemic that balances the three concerns of protecting citizens’ lives and health, the economy and livelihoods, and freedom and privacy.

The US-China conflict is another unknown. American distrust of China, which has deepened over the course of the Covid-19 crisis, is unlikely to lessen under the Biden administration. American values and strategic interests have been threatened by China’s military-civilian fusion industrial policy and its expanding “closed sphere of influence” in the Asia Pacific, its growing threat to the American way of life, and the weakening of the US network of alliances. Meanwhile, US allies and partners have high expectations for an American comeback in Asia.

East Asia has no desire to exist within a dichotomy, whether in relation to the United States and China, China and Japan, or East Asia and the West. Many East Asian countries rely on the US for their security and on China for their economy. They must retain some ambiguity to walk a delicate diplomatic tightrope.


This Year's General Election Will Hinge on the Coronavirus Situation
Friday, January 8, 2021
This Year's General Election Will Hinge on the Coronavirus Situation

Noguchi Takenori, political journalist, in The Mainichi (January 7, 2021)

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

This Year's General Election Will Hinge on the Coronavirus Situation

What kind of questions will Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide be posing to the public when this year’s general election comes?

Suga has not wavered from his time as chief cabinet secretary to Abe Shinzo in brushing off concerns of a renewed spread of infections and introducing the Go To Travel campaign. It was not so much that he fell one step behind in implementing measures, but rather that he took a confident gamble that economic activity and prevention of infection could be compatible – and lost.

After falling short in November-December's three-week challenge to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Suga administration’s approval ratings plummeted. There have been murmurs within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that they cannot fight an election with Suga as leader. If approval ratings continue to stay low, it may spark discussion on who will be the "face" of the party in the election. That would mean efforts to bring Suga down, either through the September party leadership election or even sooner than that, before the general election.

How would Suga respond? He will likely ask the public to evaluate his main policy achievements, such as bringing down cellphone rates and establishing a digital agency. If the Tokyo Olympic Games are held this summer as planned, there may well be economic fruits of the Go To Travel campaign as well. Suga thus far has taken the stance that if one gambles and wins, public opinion will follow without further explanation. Just because he is now prime minister, his way of thinking and operating cannot be expected to change overnight. Even if he faces protest from his own party, Suga likely wants to put everything he has to a referendum – or a snap general election, but it will all depend on the coronavirus situation.


Wellness is the Key Component to Covid-19 Recovery in Asia
Monday, December 28, 2020
Wellness is the Key Component to Covid-19 Recovery in Asia

Sawada Yasuyuki, Chief Economist, Asian Development Bank (ADB), in The Asahi Shimbun (December 18, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: tokyoaaron02)

Wellness is the Key Component to Covid-19 Recovery in Asia

While more than 2,000 Japanese deaths are attributable to Covid-19, the pandemic has taken a toll of severe economic, social and emotional impacts on large segments of the population, which may have led to the higher suicide numbers in recent months.

The reasons behind suicides are multi-faceted and complex, but evidence repeatedly points to the deterioration of mental health as one of the critical risk factors in Japan and around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has induced social isolation, fear, uncertainty, anxiety and economic hardship, causing a lot of mental stress globally, which could lead to a global mental health crisis. What is worse, while physical distancing has proven effective in reducing contagion, it undermines real-world social interactions, networks and bonds among people.

This highlights the importance of promoting “wellness”, which is the pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of overall health. Wellness is multidimensional and leads to holistic health, happiness and well-being. It is central to development and is, in fact, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (goal No. 3).

To keep high levels of wellness even while social distancing, access to digital platforms such as social networking services will be crucial. Digital learning opportunities will also be essential to ensure that students continue to study at home during the pandemic. Governments can play a critical role in mitigating the digital divide – the unequal access to online services – by increasing investment in information and communications infrastructure and making their services affordable and inclusive. Governments can support public infrastructure that promotes overall wellness, including walkways, bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centers and free sporting facilities.

Wellness will not only improve the physical and mental health of Asians but can also act as an engine of growth. It is vital for Asia’s post-pandemic recovery.


Expectations for Joe Biden's Administration Differ
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Expectations for Joe Biden's Administration Differ

Miyake Kuni, President of the Foreign Policy Institute, Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, and special adviser to the Cabinet, in The Japan Times (December 11, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Matt Johnson)

Expectations for Joe Biden's Administration Differ

The great majority of people in Tokyo and in many other capitals around the world remain ambivalent about a new Joe Biden administration. 

The Europeans realize the US’s diplomatic focus has shifted from the West to the East, although they may not wish to admit it. Political leaders in the Middle East and North Africa region are also cognizant of the fact that US attention is shifting from the Middle East to East Asia. Nations in the Indo-Pacific, with the obvious exception of China, will welcome growing US attention to the region. Many, including Japan, hope that Biden will not drastically change Washington’s current positions on China, although his rhetoric may differ from that of Donald Trump.

All in all, the friends and allies of the United States have their own agendas they would prefer to advance irrespective of what a Biden administration may wish to pursue. It is high time for those allies to unite to compete with China – and with Russia and Iran to lesser extents. Fortunately, the Indo-Pacific region has a head start with the creation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising the US, Australia, India and Japan. European nations have yet to join the diplomatic and military arrangement.

The United States and its allies must resume strategic discussions as they once did before Trump assumed office. The global alliance system is not a zero-sum game. For the Indo-Pacific to prosper, Europe and the Middle East do not need to suffer. To be a truly global community of like-minded nations, all must benefit and assist each other.

It must also be noted that this global alliance system is not aligned against any specific nation. China, Russia and Iran are welcome to participate. To that end, the Biden administration must still promote universal values, including those of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law.


Covid-19: Nobody is safe until everyone is safe
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Covid-19: Nobody is safe until everyone is safe

Takemi Keizo, member of the House of Councillors of Japan and World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for universal health coverage, and Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme, in The Japan Times (December 4, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prachatai)

Covid-19: Nobody is safe until everyone is safe

Covid-19 has devastated communities, systems and economies. For much of the world, and especially vulnerable populations, these past 12 months have been filled with insecurity and hardship. Driven by the common goal of ending the worst pandemic in a century, there has been unprecedented collaboration between scientists to develop effective vaccines and treatments.

Widespread cooperation around multilateral efforts such as COVAX, the initiative to drive equitable access to successful vaccines, illustrates that many acknowledge the need for solidarity in building a coordinated, global response. Some countries such as Japan have already taken significant steps toward preparing the national systems necessary to provide free vaccinations to all, prioritizing the needs of the vulnerable and underserved. Many low- and middle-income countries, however, where Covid-19 has caused even further strain on health systems, do not have the capacity to act similarly.

A synchronized international effort is needed. The UN secretary-general recently noted that ending the global pandemic will require sustained investment in health systems and a renewed commitment to universal health coverage, calling on countries to guarantee that health care technologies are accessible and affordable to all who need them.

Weak health systems can hinder a pandemic response. Technological advancements are crucial to curbing the spread of Covid-19, but they are not a silver bullet. Health, development and human security will be at great risk if communities do not have timely access to both innovations and strong health systems capable of delivering them equitably. Universal health coverage is crucial for addressing inequality. Investing in stronger health systems and accelerating progress toward universal health coverage through domestic efforts and global cooperation will bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as lead to smoother and more equitable distribution of health technologies, while helping to protect everyone through the pandemic and beyond.


Re-entry Restrictions Fuel Distrust Among Foreign Residents
Monday, November 2, 2020
Re-entry Restrictions Fuel Distrust Among Foreign Residents

Kanako Ida, editorial writer, in Asahi Shimbun (October 30, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Steven-L-Johnson)

Re-entry Restrictions Fuel Distrust Among Foreign Residents

The pandemic made many foreigners residing in Japan realize just how precarious their situation was. With the spread of infections from the spring, the government implemented the measure to not allow permanent and long-term foreign residents to re-enter if they left Japan. It was difficult for foreigners whose residential base was Japan to leave the nation if they had no assurance of being allowed to return.

Many gave up on important tasks, such as visiting relatives who are ill back in their native land. Others were kept separated from their family and jobs in Japan for extended periods because they simply had to leave. While foreign residents were allowed to re-enter Japan from September, that came on the condition that they could show they had tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of departing for Japan. No such restrictions were placed on Japanese returning from abroad.

The major disparity that arose left an emotional wound in many foreign residents who prided themselves on having engaged deeply with their local community and fulfilled such obligations as paying taxes. I was at a loss for words when a European acquaintance asked me, “Does the government of Japan consider foreign residents to be second-class citizens?”

Eight years ago, the foreign registration system was abolished, and a resident document is issued to anyone who remains in Japan for more than three months just like a Japanese. While a related change also made it easier for foreigners to re-enter Japan, the thinking about control is still in the forefront so there has been little progress in revising the system to make it easier for foreigners to live in Japan.

Can Japan become a nation trusted in the international community if it is unable to obtain the trust of foreigners who reside here?


Consent to restart nuclear plant will not sweep away concerns
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Consent to restart nuclear plant will not sweep away concerns

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: IAEA)

Consent to restart nuclear plant will not sweep away concerns

The Miyagi Prefectural Assembly has approved reactivation of the No. 2 unit of the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant. The governor of the prefecture is set to make a final decision on the restart after hearing the opinions of the heads of local bodies involved. The plant's operator, Tohoku Electric Power Co., will accelerate moves to restart the reactor in two years. If it is reactivated, the Onagawa plant will be the first nuclear plant in a prefecture heavily damaged by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami to reboot one of its reactors.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority completed a safety inspection of the reactor in February. The municipal assemblies in Ishinomaki and Onagawa, which the plant straddles, have indicated that they will approve the restart.

But many issues remain unsolved. The government has asked local bodies within a 30-kilometer radius of nuclear power plants to formulate wide-area evacuation plans. In the case of the Onagawa plant, seven municipalities have mapped out such plans, but there are misgivings about their viability. Furthermore, among the five local municipalities excluding those which house the nuclear power plant, some are opposed to reactivation. In spite of this, consent of such local bodies has not been made a prerequisite to resume operations.

Lingering safety concerns cannot be swept away. The governor says that the plant adopted "the toughest regulations and standards in the world, and safety has increased". But Japan learned from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that such disasters can exceed people's expectations.

Nuclear power plants are not 100 percent safe. Tohoku Electric and the prefectural government have a responsibility to listen to the concerns of residents and search for common ground. Rushing ahead to restart the reactor with consent as a mere formality while ignoring this responsibility is impermissible.


“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change
Friday, July 10, 2020
“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

Eri Yatsuzuka, author and publisher of mydeskteam.com, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: McDermid Japan)

“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

According to the government's “womenomics” plan to increase the number of women participating in the workforce, telework – or working from home – was supposed to allow female professionals to combine managing a household with managing a career.

During the pandemic, which has seen more people working from home than ever before, a survey conducted in May shows that the number of women in the workforce has declined, while the number of women assuming caregiver roles at home has increased. As schools have temporarily closed to stop the spread of Covid-19, women must look after or home-school children. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents who reported they have assumed more childcare duties during the pandemic were women. The women who must balance childcare and work have reported being only half as productive as before.

It is no wonder that, in another survey conducted at the same time, nearly 70 percent of women reported experiencing more stress since the start of the pandemic, compared to only 50 percent of men. More women than men felt stressed about completing basic household chores.

The pandemic has shown that women find it difficult to balance their professional lives and manage a household at the same time. There is the assumption, even in some local government policies, that working from home is "easier". There are also societal attitudes about what should be women's work in the home. Women are also conditioned to be responsible for household chores and childcare. We as a society must change if we want to improve productivity by encouraging women to join the workforce.


Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

Sayaka Osakabe, women's rights activist at Matahara Net, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 8, 2020)

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

Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

At least 30,000 people have lost their jobs since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in February. Since the economic crisis has been so severe, these job losses may be unavoidable. In some cases, however, employers are using the pandemic as an excuse to continue the longstanding practice of "maternity harassment", when expectant mothers or those on maternity leave are dismissed from or forced to quit their work.

According to legal experts, employers will often use various plausible sounding excuses such as a decrease in company sales volume to remove women planning to go on maternity leave or are already on it. Labor law provides a strict assessment framework for when such redundancies can be made. Employers are eligible for certain labor subsidies from the government to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. It cannot be easier to dismiss people or suspend them from employment during a pandemic than during a normal recession.

Japanese labor laws clearly state that female employees cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. All of this means that female employees who think they are experiencing discrimination because of a pregnancy must first refuse any requests to resign voluntarily. Next, they should immediately notify their prefectural labor bureau about their experience.


Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?
Monday, July 6, 2020
Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

Keizo Yamawaki, Professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University, and Bob W White, Director of the Laboratory for Research on Intercultural Relations and Professor of Anthropology, Université de Montréal, in The Japan Times (July 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

There is nothing new about the tendency to look for scapegoats during pandemics. Indeed, at many points in history, anxiety about contagious disease has manifested itself in the form of fear mongering and xenophobia.

Outside of Asia there has been a significant increase in the number of hate speech incidents targeting people of Asian descent, and in some cases other groups (such as Hassidic Jews, Roma communities and various types of migrants) have also been targets of discrimination. Hate speech is increasingly gaining the attention of local and national governments, but from the legal and policy perspective many questions remain unresolved.

In pandemic, there have also been examples of discrimination against foreigners in Japan. Anonymous letters demanding that Chinese people should leave Japan were sent to restaurants in the Chinatown in Yokohama. When the Saitama municipal government began distribution of masks to local kindergartens, a Korean-owned kindergarten was deliberately excluded. When popular comedian Ken Shimura died of Covid-19, there were tweets saying he was murdered by Chinese.

As local governments in Japan attempt to make communities more inclusive, fighting discrimination has become one of the key issues in municipal integration policy. During a meeting organized by Hamamatsu in October 2019, officials from cities in Europe, Oceania and Asia discussed the importance of cities in the promotion of inclusion and social cohesion. We believe that the best way to promote inclusion in Japan is to build on the already existing network of cities. In the coming years of living with Covid-19, this renewed network will hopefully make it possible for cities in Japan to engage with cities elsewhere in the world, and for Japan to take its place in the global fight against discrimination and the exclusion of migrants.


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.


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.


Support for the Abe Government has Cratered
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Support for the Abe Government has Cratered

Takanori Fujita, Representative Director of not-for-profit group Hotplus and Visiting Associate Professor, Faculty of Human Welfare, Seigakuin University, in Yahoo! Japan (May 18, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

(Photo credit: Official Website of the Prime Minister and His Cabinet)

Support for the Abe Government has Cratered

Although the government of Shinzo Abe has been launching one emergency economic measure after another, the prime minister's popularity has cratered, falling to an approval rating of just above 30 percent since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in February. According to a poll conducted in mid-May, support for the government was 33 percent, down from 41 percent a month earlier, the administration’s second-worst result since it was formed in 2012. Only 15 percent of respondents said that Abe is exercising the leadership needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly 70 percent said that his efforts were insufficient.

Despite a variety of relief packages aimed at countering the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, a large part of the electorate feels alienated by the government, thanks to years of austerity and neglect. People have been expected to help themselves and have been actively discouraged by the Abe administration over the past decade from seeking any help from the government during tough economic times. Even after receiving 100,000 yen (US$930) in government relief funds, just 15.8 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction with the government’s measures. Besides complaining that it took too long to distribute the benefit payments, many voters simply feel alienated after nearly a decade of neglect by the Abe government.


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.