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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.
Close Real Estate Tax Loophole
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Close Real Estate Tax Loophole

Song Ki-gyun, economic researcher, in Pressian (March 27, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong

Close Real Estate Tax Loophole

There is a lot of talk about a “tax bomb” for rich homeowners due to the comprehensive real estate tax. The cause for the buzz is the combined increase in the official assessment value of properties (determined by the government) and the increase in the tax rate. This year alone, official assessment values have risen by an average of 19.19 percent in Seoul district. According to the Ministry of Land, an average homeowner in expensive Gangnam district in Seoul would pay about US$5,000 in taxes.

In theory, the tax rate increases significantly when a homeowner owns more than one property. The tax is designed to encourage such owners to sell their properties and make home ownership more affordable. There is a big loophole, however. An owner may purchase the property before the value exceeds the official assessment cut-off of US$531,000 and register it as a rental property. In this case, no matter by how much the value of the rental property increase, the owner would not be subject to the real estate tax.

According to the aggregate exemption logic, rental properties would be counted separately in the tax calculation so if an individual property does not exceed the cut-off value, there would be no real estate tax due. According to one study based on the Ministry of Land database, the top three property owners in the country each own 753, 591 and 586 properties. It is estimated that without this loophole, each owner would be subject to over US$8 million in real estate taxes. Civil society groups have pressured the government to close this loophole, but it seems unlikely that the current administration would do so.


Sexism is Behind the Energy Drink Boycott
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Sexism is Behind the Energy Drink Boycott

Kim Min-ah, senior reporter, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (March 15, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: thejames)

Sexism is Behind the Energy Drink Boycott

Bacchus is a South Korean energy drink enjoyed by all age groups. The maker of this popular drink, Dong-A Pharmaceutical, has become the subject of a boycott because of a group job interview that underscored the country’s entrenched sexism. In a session with two male candidates and one female, the head recruiter asked the men about their experiences in the army. When it was the woman’s turn, the questioner asked her to share her views on the pay gap between men and women to make up for the men’s military service. When the company later received public praise for its progressiveness after offering discounts on their feminine products, the woman candidate expressed her outrage about the incident on the social media.

Despite the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and many economic organizations in 2019 which clearly forbid interview questions that favor or put at a disadvantage any group because of gender, such practices are still common. Every day, Korean female candidates for employment experience outrageous comments at interviews including prospective employers remarking that they try not to hire female applicants anymore to avoid potential “me-too” accusations of sexual harassment problems, or that women should not only consider their career success but also fulfill their civic duty in a country suffering from a chronically low birth rate.

All female candidates face some discrimination because of concerns that unmarried women might get married, married women might have children, or unmarried women or women with no children are not being patriotic. This persistent sexism has come to a point where people can no longer enjoy a popular tonic and pretend as if nothing is wrong.


The Goal of Tax Policy is to Solve Social and Economic Problems
Monday, March 29, 2021
The Goal of Tax Policy is to Solve Social and Economic Problems

Lee Jeong-hee, Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Seoul, in Munhwa Ilbo (February 26, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: National Tax Service, Republic of Korea)

The Goal of Tax Policy is to Solve Social and Economic Problems

As public spending has significantly increased since the Covid-19 outbreak, there is more and more talk of increasing taxes. What has been proposed so far is to temporarily increase the taxes of the rich and on big companies and those that experienced high growth during the pandemic. The problem is that these proposals are not universal but targeted tax increases that have a high potential of triggering further discord among social groups.

There are three problems associated with raising taxes on the rich and focusing levies on a small portion of society. First, these taxes may undercut economic productivity by discouraging the reinvestment of financial profit. Second, these measures seek to allocate rent from one group to another and could exacerbate social division. Third, taxing a small segment of society may decrease the sense of collective responsibility to support the government’s finances and place the burden on particular groups.

A sustainable tax policy must be based on the principal of universal taxation where everyone is expected to fulfill his or her civic duty. Before raising any tax, the government must first review what led to the need for the increase in the first place. We must fully embrace the principle that any public spending must be paid for in the form of taxation – that somebody needs to foot the bill.

The public sector must redouble its efforts to update its processes and programs and clearly demonstrate to the taxpayers the results generated by the increased tax revenue. The government must be reminded that the end goal is not the tax increase itself, but the resolution or alleviation of social and economic problems thanks to the greater resources and manpower paid for by taxpayers.


Exaggeration of the Risk of Nuclear Energy Prevents Smart Choices
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Exaggeration of the Risk of Nuclear Energy Prevents Smart Choices

Cha Sang-min, Director General, Coalition for Our Common Future, in Dong-A News (February 20, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Korea Shin-Kori NPP)

Exaggeration of the Risk of Nuclear Energy Prevents Smart Choices

About 84 percent of global energy is generated from fossil fuels, and the carbon dioxide and fine particulate matters generated from consuming these sources are one of the major causes of climate change and air pollution. Generating one kilowatt of energy results in 991 grams, 782 grams and 549 grams of carbon dioxide for coal, crude oil, and gas, respectively. Compare that to solar panels and nuclear energy which only generate 57 grams and 10 grams of carbon dioxide, respectively. Taking the economic and reliability factor account, it is evident that nuclear is the clear winner. Unfortunately, many have turned against this reliable source of energy due to the media’s exaggeration of the risk.

Since nuclear started to be used as a source of energy in 1951, there have been about 30 reported accidents globally. Most were minor, but the few bigger accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima received such extensive global attention and struck immense horror that the public sentiment toward nuclear energy has faltered. But the Chernobyl incident was a result of human error, while Fukushima was not due to a technical failure but to a tsunami that led to the flooding of the facility. 

By contrast, the 1975 Banqiao dam accident in Henan, China, caused the deaths of 240,000 people in a single day. It is not so evident that the nuclear energy is such a risky source of energy. In fact, the deadliest source of energy is undeniably fossil fuels and the resulting air pollution that causes the death of approximately four million people around the world. To overcome the great challenge of mitigating climate change, we must move beyond the perceptions of nuclear risk and make smart choices on how best to move beyond fossil fuels.  


Myanmar, Russia and the South Korean Government
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Myanmar, Russia and the South Korean Government

Jung Ki-soo, freelance writer, in Dailian (February 7, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: MgHla aka Htin Linn Aye)

Myanmar, Russia and the South Korean Government

Myanmar’s recent history is comparable to that of South Korea. Its recent military coup d’états in 1962 and 1990 were only one and two years after the Korean suppressions. In 2008, Myanmar finally saw democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the popular votes, although these victories were not complete due to the constitutional power reserved for the military.

Although Suu Kyi still embraced this limited form of democracy as an initial stepstone, this compromise with the military cost her reputation after the Rohingya genocide. The shaky partnership took another turn when her party won another landslide last November and the military junta leader’s approaching retirement triggered another coup.

Will this lead to another long period of darkness in Myanmar’s democracy? With social media and the persona involved, Myanmar’s democracy may be expected to bounce back. There is a similar turn of events taking place in Russia where opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his supporters are gaining momentum through social media campaigns.

On the other side of this trend are countries like China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) that epitomize the counter-democratic movement. What is surprising is the level of tolerance or even embrace of these regimes by the South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in government. Recently, on a phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Moon warmly congratulated the Communist Party of China as it marks its 100th anniversary. South Koreans only learned of this from the front page of China’s People’s Daily. Moon also fired up a storm in 2017 when he endorsed a controversial pro-China and anti-imperialist book.

In a world where people in Myanmar and Russia are fighting for democracy, we are left to wonder why the leader of a country that has fought so hard for its own democracy is so willing to accommodate the nations that try to suppress it.


Redesign City Parks During the Pandemic
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Redesign City Parks During the Pandemic

Jang Byoung-kwan, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Daegu University, in Maeil News (January 30, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong

Redesign City Parks During the Pandemic

Social distancing is widely understood to be the most effective method of containing a pandemic. This policy is expected to persist for some time to come. In view of this, many parks have been pre-emptively closed to deter people from congregating. Although this makes sense, especially since most parks in Korea are designed to be public squares, conducive for big gatherings, for many working and residing in high-density cities, parks are the only venues where they can disconnect from the crowd and unburden themselves.

Given the current situation, the question of how to optimize parks to make them both safe and effective has been an issue for cities in many countries. One of the most important elements of a successful park is the design of walkways, ideally paths along which one could spend 20 to 30 minutes by oneself without encountering anyone else. Strategic design of these walkways along with thematic fountains, scenic flower bed and solo benches is so important but is sadly missing in many parks in Korea.

In times when people are encouraged to minimize social contact, it has become ever more important for people to get out of crowded apartments units and enjoy themselves in the outdoors. In view of this, local governments must reconsider the current policy of keeping parks shut and evaluate the possibility of opening more public spaces in a safe and organized way. If opening the parks in their current layout is not an option, it might be advisable to consider developing more trails in the nearby mountains and forests for citizens in this time of physical and mental stress. Covid-19 will be a long-term problem. We should brace ourselves and invest in what will help us get through the crisis.


Who is Winning the Park Chung-hee vs Kim Il-sung Battle?
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Who is Winning the Park Chung-hee vs Kim Il-sung Battle?

Lee Dae-hyun, editor, in Maeil News (January 23, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Shin So-young)

Who is Winning the Park Chung-hee vs Kim Il-sung Battle?

The two people who have had the most influence on the Korean Peninsula in the last century are arguably Park Chung-hee of the South and Kim Il-sung of the North. The two never met but had significant influence in the trajectory of the two countries.

In many ways, Park laid the ground for the South’s miraculous economic growth with his five-year economic plan, the Saemaul Undong (New Community Movement), and the export-driven growth policy. His priorities allowed the South to overtake the North in the economic development race: the South’s GDP per capita increased twentyfold from US$82 in 1961 to US$1,640 dollars in 1979. During the same period, the North’s increased from US$195 dollars to US$1,114.

Today’s numbers serve as even starker evidence of Kim’s utter defeat in the competition with Park. According to the latest statistics, the South’s GDP is estimated to be 54 times the North’s, its GDP per capita 27 times, and the total trade volume 322 times. Life expectancy of North Koreans is 66.7 for men and 73.5 for women, while in the South it is 80 for men and 85.9 for women.

Despite these numbers, the reality is less clear about who the true winner might be. The South continues to tolerate the North’s unacceptable insults and nuclear threats. Whereas the North is currently ruled by Kim’s grandson, the South is being governed by those who would much prefer to erase the memory of Park from history. There is no guarantee as to how the North-South battle will play out in the future. Now, from their respective places in the afterlife, perhaps it is Kim who is triumphant and Park who is the frustrated one. 


Understanding the Low Birth Rate
Monday, February 1, 2021
Understanding the Low Birth Rate

Kim Se-jeong, counsel at SSW Pragmatic Solutions, in JoongAng Sunday (January 9, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Hippopx)

Understanding the Low Birth Rate

This is the first year since the start of the national registration system that the death rate has exceeded that of births. The birth rate in Korea for the past two years has been 0.9, lowest among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. It is clear that Korean women do not want, or are unable, to have children and society must try to understand the cause of the problem to solve it.

In a Korean society, there is incredible pressure to stick to “normal” family structures, consisting of a formal union between a man and woman. Every other form of family such as single parenthood, divorced or informal cohabitation is deemed inappropriate and subject to prejudice. Imagine a person seeking employment having to make known to a prospective employer that he/she is not married but has a child. The immense pressure and opprobrium would discourage child-rearing despite the nation’s desperate need for more children.

Even in “normal” families with children, child-rearing is no easy task and is especially cumbersome in a society built on competition and conformity. According to the ministry of Health and Welfare, there were over 40,000 reported cases of child abuse and 42 related child deaths in 2019 alone. Korean society obviously not only needs more children but also a better system to take care of existing children and their parents.

Considering all this, it is outrageous to find “advice” on the Seoul Center for Pregnancy website for pregnant women to be considerate of their husbands’ lack of cooking skills when the mothers go to hospital and to brace themselves for losing weight after giving birth. It really is no surprise that Korean women are not having babies.


The Shameless Governing Class Sows Division for Political Gain
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
The Shameless Governing Class Sows Division for Political Gain

Yang Sung-hee, editor at JoongAng Ilbo Plus, in JoongAng Sunday (December 26, 2020)

The Shameless Governing Class Sows Division for Political Gain

Perhaps history is but a repetition of people in hardship scapegoating each other. This psychology may help explain why conspiracy theories flourish at the turn of every crisis and disaster. In the US alone, there is a wide variety of allegations ranging from Bill Gates purposely spreading the coronavirus so that he can profit from vaccines to microchips secretly being implanted in serum. Despite the craziness, a whopping 30 percent of Americans believe in such stories. This may be just about humans trying to survive an unreasonable crisis.  

Be that as it may, for ordinary citizens, the responsibility to ensure a cohesive functioning society falls on the people of governing class and the media. In a crisis, they have a duty to calm the general population’s uneasiness and fears and work together to bring back reason and a sense of normalcy. 

On the streets these days, however, it has become all too easy to overhear outrageous conspiracy theories centered on politicians and probably spread by politicians to serve their ambitions. People talk and believe that Covid-19 has been purposely left to spread so that the long-awaited timing of the vaccines will coincide with a by-election. Others believe that social-distancing measures will be tightened only after the president’s artist son finishes his exhibition. 

More outrageous than these theories is the shamelessness of the governing class in using division and scapegoating for political gain. The media exaggerate unfounded theories to gain traffic. The political class uses the crisis to defame others and score political points. These are all sad examples of how our system is failing miserably. The thriving coronavirus politics is more tiring than the pandemic.


Landlords Too May Be Hurting
Monday, January 18, 2021
Landlords Too May Be Hurting

Yang Jong-gon, journalist, in Seoul Economic Daily (December 15, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jens-Olaf Walter)

Landlords Too May Be Hurting

The “benevolent landlord campaign” was started to encourage rich landlords to play their part in the pandemic by reducing or eliminating rent payment. Although the idea was conceived by the government to promote voluntary goodwill, it was not difficult to imagine how this could further divide people by pointing the finger at a group of “greedy” people. 

The truth is not all landlords are fabulously wealthy. In fact, there are many who funded their properties with loans, and given the ongoing recession and closures, it is not difficult to imagine their own financial strain. Closures of businesses lead to financial losses for property owners. Covid-19 does not discriminate. Everyone bleeds, whether they own or rent. 

To add fuel to the voluntary campaign, the non-abiding landlords may now face the risk of becoming outright criminals as the authorities are proposing to force a halving or even an elimination of rent payments altogether. If the goal is to help those in need, one might ask why not also help the landlords in distress. To ensure fairness, at the very least, they must also be offered an extended timeline for loan and interest payments. 

Favoring tenants’ concerns over those of landlords may be popular, but what is popular may not be fair. Before playing favorites among its constituents, the government must remember the risk of further dividing the public in this time when more mutual support and social cohesion are desperately needed.


The Imperfect Vaccine Solution
Friday, December 11, 2020
The Imperfect Vaccine Solution

Hong Gi-bin, political economist, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (December 5, 2020)

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

The Imperfect Vaccine Solution

The year 2020 will be remembered first for the pandemic and second for the widespread distrust and dissatisfaction with governments. The virus has been powerful at physical destruction but also at shattering social unity and paralyzing the global economy. In less than a year since the Covid-19 outbreak, so-called developed countries have broken down on so many levels, and too many lives have been lost in the process. 

The UK government has approved a vaccine for distribution to British citizens. Other developed countries will be approving and releasing other versions. But none of the current vaccines have fully completed comprehensive tests on possible side effects, and while some argue that this was necessary to speed up the rollouts, this course of action is no different than that of heavily criticized Russia and China that already started using their own versions of imperfect vaccines on their population. 

Understandably, pharmaceutical companies are requesting a blanket exemption from liability for any potential side effects from widespread vaccination. The rush, the irresponsibility of governments and manufacturers, and the potential disastrous side effects have increased the possibility that many will refuse to be inoculated with any vaccine. South Korea has already seen a rise in vaccine resistance following the unexpectedly high death toll from seasonal flu shots. According to a Pew Research Center poll in September, 51 percent of Americans would refuse vaccination. 

Vaccines may be the key to save us from Covid-19, but the strategy that governments are pursuing may make this rescue impossible. 


Lessons From the Japanese Economy
Monday, November 23, 2020
Lessons From the Japanese Economy

Lee Kang-kook, Professor at the College of Economics of Ritsumeikan University in Japan, in SisaIN (November 21, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Richard Schneider)

Lessons From the Japanese Economy

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), developed economies are expected to record on average a 14.4 percent fiscal deficit and a 20.2 percent surge in public debt. Few doubt the importance of expansionary fiscal policy but the big question mark lingers over the sustainability of high government debt. 

One country stands out in any analysis of government debt. In Japan, public debt began growing significantly in the 1990s because of numerous public-works projects and then through the 2000s with spending relating to the country’s aging society. In 2019, it reached 238 percent of GDP. During all this time, tax revenue continued to decline due to economic recession. Many refer to this time as the “lost decades” as the government was unable to take control of the economy and wage stagnation triggered deflation. 

This negative trend was finally reversed by the policies of Shinzo Abe, who recently stepped down as prime minister. From 2013, the nominal economy started to grow and tax revenue started to increase. This was not accompanied by any significant increase in public spending. An increase in the value-added tax (VAT) led to a positive balance. The interest rate on a 10-year government bond has fallen to near zero and the government has recently been buying back its bonds and now hold about 48 percent of national debt.

The Japanese experience shows the importance of maintaining a growth rate above the interest rate by making use of expansionary fiscal policy and monetary policy. Those who worry about high public debt now may see Japan today as an example and overcome any fear of taking on too much.


Why Invoking the “Ruling Right” Will Not Work in a Cover-Up
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Why Invoking the “Ruling Right” Will Not Work in a Cover-Up

Chang Young-soo, Professor of Constitutional Law at Korea University, in Munhwa Ilbo (November 13, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: IAEA Imagebank)

Why Invoking the “Ruling Right” Will Not Work in a Cover-Up

Although the terrible nuclear incident at Fukushima, Japan, turned public opinion strongly against nuclear power, there was also criticism against throwing out years of research and investment to perfect the technology.

The real turning point, however, came with the release of an audit report on early retirement of Wolseong Nuclear Power Plant I, which found that the economic forecast for the power plant were set too low and that some unfavorable documents had been discarded. These findings cast doubt on the quality of due diligence leading up to the early retirement of the plant and on the integrity of the government.

What has been worse was the administration’s reaction to these findings. Some members of the president’s party accused the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of being “politically motivated” and labeled the decision regarding the plant’s early retirement to be the “ruling right” of the president. It truly is surprising coming from a party that strongly criticized its predecessor for overstepping its power.

In reality, the executive invokes right to rule only in exceptional cases where due to a critical political situation, legal matters are sidelined in the policy decision-making process. Historically, this right has been executed rarely and with great caution, mostly in national crises involving urgent diplomatic issues. The issue of the power plant is not that grave. Furthermore, citing the ruling right in no way serves as a barrier that fends off investigation. Citizens are left to wonder what the political party is hiding behind its outrageous logic. In any case, once the truth is revealed, those responsible will be held accountable.


Lesson From the Death of a Delivery Man
Monday, November 9, 2020
Lesson From the Death of a Delivery Man

Chang Sok-chu, poet and literary critic, in Segye Ilbo (November 6, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: lamoix)

Lesson From the Death of a Delivery Man

Another delivery man was found dead in his apartment. The cause of the death was overwork and the incident cast yet another spotlight on the brutal reality of the delivery industry where employees work day and night to meet the daily quota of 400 parcels. Although the surge in deliveries is inevitable due to the pandemic, the harsh reality where already 13 workers have lost their lives this year due to overwork is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

Labor exists in many forms. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Great Wall in China, and the Taj Mahal in India are all products of labor. Put simply, labor is an act of offering one’s time and energy to bring change. In a modern society, most people offer their labor in return for a fixed salary. In such cases, the laborers are “in servitude” to their employers. In a post-modern society, more and more work takes the form of “performance” where laborers voluntarily choose to push themselves to the limit for achievement. Good as it seems in theory, this shift has created the society of perpetual exhaustion that we know today.

Fatigue is a normal by-product of labor. Extreme accumulation of exhaustion, however, is not and should not be regarded as a normal side-effect of one’s achievements. In many societies, avoiding labor for no reason is not well regarded as is written in the Bible: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” A society must reconsider how it defines and values labor when its members are pushed to the brink every day. Labor must always result in a net benefit for both the laborers and the society. One death from a burnout is one too many to continue our business as usual.


Water Management in a Time of Climate Change
Friday, October 30, 2020
Water Management in a Time of Climate Change

Kim Sung-soo Kim, professor of law at Yonsei University, in The Seoul Shinmun Daily (October 27, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

Water Management in a Time of Climate Change

We live in a time of climate abnormality. But this is the new normal. According to the United Nations, water management will account for as much as 90 percent of successful adaption to climate change. The International Water Association (ISA) also found that as much as 20 percent of carbon emissions would depend on water management policies. Korean policymakers must pay urgent attention to this.

First, the government must promptly put together a unified water management body. Currently, flood control is separately managed by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, depending on the body of water and the function. This is not an effective structure to address a crisis such as rapid flooding.

Second, there must be proactive investment made in water management. The latest budget for 2020 shows a stark contrast between 14 trillion won (US$12.4 billion) allocated for road and railway and the 1 trillion (US$887 million) for water management. Also, although 98.4 percent of flooding occurs in the countryside, smaller counties have difficulty securing funds. The central government must step up and provide support.

Third, there needs to be legal and financial support to establish a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions policy.  The European Union has been a leader in this. Meanwhile, the Korean government has started talks on a ‘”Korean New Deal” of economic, environmental and social reforms.

There is an old saying that the “water is the greatest good because it helps everyone”. The times call for immediate action and collaboration between countries, states and generations. Pursuing a water-management strategy would be a critical first step in the right direction.