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.
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.


Learn from History to Meet the Needs of the Disabled
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Learn from History to Meet the Needs of the Disabled

Kang Shin-wook, Commissioner of Statistics Korea (KOSTAT), in Money Today (October 5, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Design for Health)

Learn from History to Meet the Needs of the Disabled

October 9 is a national day for Hangul (the Korean alphabet). Although all Korean learn of King Sejong the Great, its creator, not many are aware that the venerated monarch was blind in his later years. Whereas the King sought to lift his people from illiteracy by creating a much easier way of writing, he himself had already lost his sight by the time Hangul was released to the public.

It is also not widely known that King Sejong actively promoted building an inclusive policy for the disabled. When his minister of interior who had a serious spine disability fell down the stairs during an official ceremony, it is said that the King had the stairs enlarged to not let the physical disability discourage his minister. King Sejong also approved giving official titles to musicians with disabilities and created professional public posts designed to give opportunities for the blind. Six hundred years ago, King Sejong was ahead of his time with his policy of inclusion.

According to the recent census, 26 percent (up by 4.5 percent from 2017) of respondents with disabilities ranked medical support as what they needed most, with 24.2 percent citing financial assistance and 18.7 percent (up by 8.7 percent from three years ago) help finding employment.

As the wise king sought to do six centuries ago, the hope is that statistics will help guide the implementation of policies for building a more inclusive and just society for all.


US-China Relations Prompts Shifts in the Semiconductor Sector
Friday, September 18, 2020
US-China Relations Prompts Shifts in the Semiconductor Sector

An Yuhua, Professor of Finance at Sungkyunkwan University Graduate School of China, in Digital Times (September 15, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SK hynix)

US-China Relations Prompts Shifts in the Semiconductor Sector

Despite the attempt of the US to gain the upper hand over China through aggressive trade policies, whether or not these measures actually serve American interests remains questionable. The US is leading in the global semiconductor industry, while Japan specializes in the supply of strategic chemical materials, the EU in lithography patents, Korea in dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), and Taiwan in foundry and packaging. Despite this landscape where each economy has its comparative advantage, China will now be forced to build an integrated semiconductor industry.

This is both good and bad news for the Korean semiconductor companies. On the one hand, China could potentially become an alternative source for Korean companies that heavily depend on Japanese suppliers and face the risk of a supply cut during political conflict. On the other hand, Chinese progress in memory technology could upend the current comparative advantage of Korean firms. Especially given the scale and massive support Chinese firms may enjoy, once Chinese technology catches up and there is a price war, it will only be a matter of time before South Korean players drop out.

Semiconductors are an indispensable economic base for the South Korean economy. Over the past 10 years, the US semiconductor business has seen increasing challenges from rising global competition. Even when TSMC, the Taiwan semiconductor company, beat the mighty Intel, there was not much the US could do to reverse the situation. In other words, the semiconductor business is shifting to Asia and, given the recent push from the US, there is a real possibility that China will rise to be number one in the world. Given the prospects for such a landscape, Korean firms must learn to look beyond their immediate technological advantage and rigorously prepare for the future to stay competitive in the global market.


Clergy in Need during the Pandemic
Monday, August 31, 2020
Clergy in Need during the Pandemic

Kim Jin-ho, chief researcher at The Christian Institute for the Third Era, in The Kyunghyang Shinmun (August 15, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Puttipong Klinklai / Shutterstock.com)

Clergy in Need during the Pandemic

Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, and this time, clusters have been centered on religious institutions, especially small churches located in the capital. One of the clusters was found to have started with the pastor himself, who is believed to have been infected while working as a salesman.

Clergy holding a paying job outside the church have long been disallowed, but there has been increasing support for permitting this practice in case of dire economic need. According to one study, the average annual household income for a pastor is 17 million won (US$14,500), which is astonishingly low.

The cleric who started the cluster of recent infections is likely to have depended on his second job for financial survival. It is well known that infections tend to break out in the worst type of work conditions and usually these are the only type of employment to which destitute clergy can turn.

Although this is a serious problem not only for public health but for basic human rights of the clergy, there is little being done to alleviate the problem. Every year there are over a thousand churches that cease operations and fewer than three percent of churches survive beyond five years. Nonetheless, the number of religious institutions continues to increase along with the number of closures. Unless this situation is properly addressed, more desperate church leaders might create Covid-19 clusters, which would make all religious institutions look bad.


Foreign Worker Employment: A Modern Form of Slavery
Friday, August 28, 2020
Foreign Worker Employment: A Modern Form of Slavery

Hong Myung-kyo, researcher and activist, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (August 26, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jose Antonio Diaz)

Foreign Worker Employment: A Modern Form of Slavery

The Employment Permit System (EPS) in Korea came to existence as a necessary measure following an ugly incident involving harsh public mistreatment of a Bangladesh foreign worker in 2003. It was meant to legalize foreign work permits in specific industries such as manufacturing, construction, agriculture and fisheries, where there is acute shortage of local labor supply. There are an approximate 200,000 foreign workers from 16 Asian countries who are legally employed for three to four-year periods under this system.

The EPS, however, has many flaws, of which the most serious is the restriction on foreign workers from having any say in renewing their work permit. This allows employers to dictate fully often unfair terms of employment in exchange for renewal. Another shortcoming is the restraint on foreign workers from freely changing employment. Currently, foreign workers may not change or terminate employment without pre-approval of the existing employer except for non-payment or outright abuse, for which the foreign worker would bear the burden of proof. According to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, over 96.5 percent of workers experienced difficulties in changing employment. In many ways, this is a modern form of slavery.

This model of foreign labor extraction to amplify domestic capital accumulation is but a local version of global labor abuse. Similar practices are easily observed in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong where foreign workers’ rights to choose better employment, fair working conditions, and a workplace free of abuse are suppressed to varying levels.

Humanity has seen colonization and enslavement during most of 20th century. Sadly, today’s foreign labor system is reminiscent of the old days, with the oppressed continuing to suffer and the oppressors perpetuating an unfair system.


To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility
Monday, August 3, 2020
To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility

Choi Dong-jin, Director, Korea Research Institute for Environment and Development, in Hankook Ilbo (August 1, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

To Calm Fears About Tap-Water Quality Will Require Taking Responsibility

At the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy in even in developed countries did not exceed 50 years. Now, an average life expectancy exceeds 70 years worldwide and for the average Korean is around 83 years. A single biggest reason for this boost is due to clean water: It is widely believed that the previous life expectancy of 40 years was extended by as much as 20 years by water and sewage system improvements alone.

The discovery of worms and larvae in Incheon tap water has shaken the trust in this public resource. In May this year, there was a roundtable panel discussion to mark one year since the contamination incident. In the meeting, various measures to prevent future accidents were discussed and promises were made to prevent a recurrence, yet another outbreak followed less than two months later.

The Ministry of Environment and the Incheon government release the findings of their investigation and their planned countermeasures. Although the authorities will announce further measures that go beyond last year’s, it is questionable whether these actions would effectively prevent all future outbreaks and, more important, whether the public can regain confidence in the cleanliness of tap water.

Only when more people take responsibility than people who blame others will confidence be rebuilt. The responsibility for ensuring clean and safe public water should not be limited only to those working at the facilities but should also include all people working in water, the water experts, the water NGOs and so forth. Perhaps at this public announcement, all them could be present to convey collectively how we can ensure clean and safe water for all.


Time to Tame the Real Estate Market
Monday, July 27, 2020
Time to Tame the Real Estate Market

Choi Chang-ryul, professor of political science at Yongin University, in Pressian News (July 24, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: kjh318203/Pixabay)

Time to Tame the Real Estate Market

Property prices in the provinces have crashed and non-Gangnam homeowners in Seoul complain of missing out. Gangnam and the few rich areas continue to be the prized darlings of the real-estate market.

The time to address the inequalities in property values is long overdue. When he was president Roh Moo-hyun clearly understood the seriousness of the problem. Seoul real-estate prices, especially in the Gangnam area, never soared so much as during his presidency. Fast forward to today, the price gap between Gangnam and non-Gangnam properties has spiraled beyond common sense, and all political efforts to control property prices have lost credibility.

Practically speaking, it will be difficult to tackle this issue without addressing the fundamental abnormalities of the capital, which accounts for only 12 percent of the land in the country but is home to 52 percent of the population, 80 percent of the top universities, and 95 percent of the top 100 companies. Despite many efforts to curb the real-estate inequalities, Seoul apartment prices have soared again and again to the point where people are now convinced that each new policy will only hike up values further.

There is now talk of relocating the National Assembly and the executive branch including the Blue House (Cheongwadae). This may be an inevitable measure that would disperse the concentration of wealth and power in the capital. Whether this radical proposal has been made after sufficient study of its feasibility, timing and costs is questionable. Some believe that talk of relocation is but a distraction. But continued stagnation in the provinces and the starkly unequal property market will be a devastating problem for everyone in the long term. Serious action is called for but it is doubtful that the current government would be up to the task.


A Country of Perpetrators
Friday, July 24, 2020
A Country of Perpetrators

Ji-eun Kim, editorial writer, in The Korea Times (July 17, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong

A Country of Perpetrators

At a dinner, a legislator casually asked why a reporter was not married. After hearing her terse response, he responded that she should just date him. As is common in a hierarchical and patriarchic society, no one stepped up to call out the inappropriate comment and the journalist was no longer able to partake in the conversation.

This was a trivial incident compared to the many more serious aggressions made against Korean women every day. Following the recent suicide of Seoul’s mayor after a woman who was previously his secretary accused him of sexual abuse, too many in the society are criticizing the victim and not the aggressor. Some believe in conspiracy, questioning why the victim waited four years before reporting the incident. Others are convinced that the woman must have triggered the action. Many sympathize with the popular mayor and argue that it was selfish for the victim to destroy a person’s life over this. Such is the blanket logic repeatedly applied whenever a sex scandal breaks out involving powerful male politicians, professors and the like.

The least that the society can do for the victim is to empathize with her pain, assure her that the fault is not hers, and that she does not walk alone in this battle. The only way effectively to prevent future incidents is to assess objectively past aggressions and indisputably label such acts as abuse without regard to the aggressor’s reputation as a human rights lawyer, a civil activist, or a three-time elected mayor of Seoul. At all costs, the victim must be protected, and society must come to accept that the popular mayor was also a sex offender.


Population in Freefall
Friday, July 10, 2020
Population in Freefall

Lee Woo-Il, Chairman, Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies, in Seoul Economic Daily (July 5, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SUNY Korea)

Population in Freefall

In an ongoing overwhelming health crisis, we are overlooking another serious national plight – that of a population freefall. According to the “2020 World Population Prospects” report by the UN, South Korea ranks 198th in the world, with an extremely low fertility rate of 1.1.

Such a drastic reduction in population is a serious problem in many ways. For one, the current college enrollment of 500,000 students a year is soon expected to fall dramatically. In 1996, the government introduced a policy for the establishment of universities which led to a ballooning number of new institutions and graduates. As a result, an incredible 70-80 percent of the population graduate from college. But because there are not enough jobs for them, youth unemployment is high.

Another obvious problem is the stark decrease in the working population. The median age of the population is 43. This is expected to rise to over 50 by 2035. In the face of a looming crisis from the combination of an ageing and shrinking population, there seems to be only two solutions: accepting mass immigration, or restructuring industry to align with the changing population structure.  

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the accompanying industry-wide changes at least seem to provide some relief. Increasing use of artificial intelligence and automation in production is expected to reduce overall jobs drastically, and given South Korea’s decreasing workforce, the burden of mass unemployment will be alleviated much more than in other countries. But in the face of a predictable combined population and industrial shock, the government would need to review various legal measures holding back innovation and private investments and restructure the current cookie-cutter conformist education system into one able to encourage citizens to excel in their strengths, creativity and individuality.


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

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

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

Democracy is in Jeopardy over the DPRK

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

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

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

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


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

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

Summary by Soomi Hong (Picture credit: Uri Tours)

The Limits of Freedom of Speech

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

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

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

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

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


Fostering a Community Feeling Can Prevent Child Abuse
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Fostering a Community Feeling Can Prevent Child Abuse

Kim Hye-ryoung, author and psychologist, in Hankook Ilbo (June 13, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: B Negin)

Fostering a Community Feeling Can Prevent Child Abuse

Recent news of a boy who died after his stepmother locked him in a suitcase and of another whose finger was rubbed against a hot frying pan has put a spotlight on inherent social problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Child abuse cases have risen by 13.8 percent. The young do not know how to protect themselves; some do not have the ability to report an abuse, let alone ask for help. Sadly, too many are cases could have been prevented, had only some people cared to notice and act.

Psychologist Alfred Adler included community feeling as an important factor that contributes to happiness. According to his theory, people are happier when they care not only for themselves but for others. Although Korea is well known for its group mentality, too often this “group” only extends to one’s immediate family. This is shown by Korea’s low adoption rate compared to other developed countries. The Korean mentality often means that parents are obsessed by their offspring, regarding them as possessions and are unable to love and care for other children who are just as vulnerable as their own.

More people should break free from this narrow-mindedness and adopt a feeling of community. Even just noticing whether a child on the street has a scar, is underweight or seems excessively intimidated may help prevent another death from child abuse. Watching out for all children as one’s own may be the best way to save our children and should be a basic duty that adults have to the vulnerable in society.


Regulations Out of Touch with Reality
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Regulations Out of Touch with Reality

Hurr Hee-young, Professor, School of Business, Korea Aerospace University, in The Korea Economic Daily (May 27, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: PxHere)

Regulations Out of Touch with Reality

There are two department stores standing side by side in Mok-dong ward in Seoul. The first sells products from small and medium enterprises (SMEs). When a bigger Hyundai Department Store (run by chaebol) opened next door, the revenue of the former unexpectedly tripled as the area saw increase in foot traffic. The two co-exist more in symbiosis rather than as competitors.

The newly elected Korean government promised favorable policies towards SMEs. The proposals include further regulating operating hours of big shopping complexes by increasing mandatory closure from the current twice a month to four times. However, whether such market regulations would really result in boosting the traditional markets and protecting local businesses is questionable.

First, the proposed regulations fail to understand that with the increasing dominance of online commerce, offline revenue has been in decline, chaebol-led or not. Second, restricting the operation of distribution chains will only further decrease foot traffic in the offline economy. According to the Korea Employers Federation, online shopping revenue increase by as much as 37 percent on Sundays with mandatory closures of big retail chains. Third, increasing market regulation decreases consumer benefit as demonstrated by Starfield chain of shopping malls which had a project blocked to protect local business but which over 70 percent of residents favored.

The regulation on operating hours of big retail corporations back in 2012 was aimed at protecting the SMEs and local businesses. Despite this, consumers only turned more to online shopping instead of increasing local spending. The biggest losers of the regulations were the farmers whose sales declined due to the mandatory curbs on the operations of their distributors.

The decisive force in the market is consumers’ choice, not more regulations. The key for survival in the marketplace is to understand better what consumers want and then adapt.


Parental Neglect, Filial Piety and the Hara Goo Law
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Parental Neglect, Filial Piety and the Hara Goo Law

Kim Gi-dong, editor, in Segye Ilbo (May 22, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: MFDice)

Parental Neglect, Filial Piety and the Hara Goo Law

Abandoned by her mother at age nine, and then a difficult childhood under her grandmother's care. This is a story of Hara Goo of the celebrated South Korean pop girl group Kara. Goo's suicide last November after suffering cyber bullying made tragic headlines around the world. What is less known is the scandal caused by Goo's mother, who reappeared at her daughter's funeral after a 20-year absence, to demand half of her daughter's inheritance.

In Korea, murdering and defrauding someone can disqualify a person from inheriting a victim’s wealth. But not parental negligence. Goo’s brother petitioned for the Hara Goo Law to address this unfairness. The legislation, however, failed to pass within the term of the 20th National Assembly.

South Korean society is witnessing the rise of another extreme of "filial litigation". Upon having their inheritance from their parents, the children neglect their filial duty and the parents then sue for return of their wealth. The mere fact that "filial duty legislation" (to prevent children from neglecting elder parents), was formally discussed during the 19th National Assembly shows the extent of this social issue in this Confucian country where the elderly are traditionally respected.

Today, the bulk of the baby boomer generation carries the burden of supporting the younger and older generations. For most of them, their parenthood covered their children's education, entrance to university, and initial employment. But the parents’ duty now seems never ending as they fund their children's wedding and then the rearing of their grandchildren. On top of caring for this new-normal "kangaroo generation", baby boomers are also expected to support their own elderly parents. From all legal wrangling over inheritance to the increasing burden on one generation, and now with Covid-19 complicating everything, gatherings at family holidays would seem to be gloomier these days. 


Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail
Monday, May 11, 2020
Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail

Ha Jae-geun, culture critic, in Dailian (May 9, 2020)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: LegoCamera / Shutterstock.com)

Media Malpractice: Reporting an Unnecessary Detail

The media coverage of the 66th Covid-19 infection case in Yongjin (in the Seoul Capital Area) is causing a national outrage. The confirmed patient visited a number of bars and clubs before testing positive for the virus. His itinerary was disclosed in accordance with the epidemic control policy. What made the media coverage outrageous was the unnecessary reporting that one of the places he visited was a gay club.

Adding this irrelevant detail was grossly problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is morally flawed. Revealing or speculating on a person’s sexual orientation without consent is a gross violation of the victim’s privacy, especially given the conservative South Korean context.

Second, what the media implies may not even be accurate. Yet the mere implication suffices in framing the victim as being part of a sexual minority. Since the initial media coverage, there has been an influx of malicious bashing of sexual minority groups, which is wrong by itself but was not unforeseeable. Knowing this, the media should have been extra careful but instead utterly failed.

Third, such coverage impedes to control the outbreak. With the public now assuming that all those associated with the confirmed patient are also members of a sexual minority, those who were in close contact with him have good reason to hide and deny any association with the incident.

In short, reporting the connection to the gay club was not only immoral but also counterproductive for society. From a public-health perspective, there was no reason for the nature of the club to have been disclosed. Irresponsible reporting turned out to be just as detrimental to society as citizens not abiding by the social-distancing rules.