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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.
The Case Against the Housing Tax
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
The Case Against the Housing Tax

Ahn Chang-nam, professor of taxation and finance at Kangnam University, in Asia Economics (May 28, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: song songroov)

The Case Against the Housing Tax

The government is discussing a yet another real-estate tax reform. Given the mounting opposition to a tax hike, the suggestion is to increase the threshold for taxation on households holding a single residential property from 900 million won to 1,200 million won and to assess the tax only on the top 2 percent of properties.

Despite this, the tax on a single residential property is still fundamentally flawed. Families often cannot move between homes because as soon as the value of the property exceeds the 900-million-won threshold, they will need to pay the transfer income tax. The same applies for the comprehensive real-estate holding tax. This is a tax introduced to discourage speculation in the high-end real-estate market, but when this tax starts to apply to ordinary households holding a single residential home because of increasing market value, the tax starts to become unfair and punitive.

If the government makes the right decision to eliminate the unfair housing tax, it can more than make up for the tax gap by aligning our system with other developed countries. It can consider the European Union model and remove many exemptions in the value-added tax (VAT) system. By simply reforming the VAT tax system and by eliminating the housing tax in line with the global trend, the government could fix the tax issue once and for all.

Whether or not the government will make this decision will have a decisive impact on the next election. Many people voted for the centrist government not out of approval but out of dislike for the other extreme alternatives. Whether it will continue to be the choice of the people will depend on its tax policy.


Vaccine Sovereignty Is Needed To Secure Our Future
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Vaccine Sovereignty Is Needed To Secure Our Future

Ahn Jong-joo, chief of Social Safety Communications Center at the Korea Social Policy Institute, in Pressian (May 25, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Marco Verch)

Vaccine Sovereignty Is Needed To Secure Our Future

The recent US-Republic of Korea summit was highly anticipated for a reason—hope for more vaccines. Eventually the meeting resulted in a donation of 550,000 doses of vaccine for soldiers and a consignment vaccine production agreement between two companies: Moderna and Samsung Biologics. Despite the government touting the achievement as a step forward in Korea becoming the next vaccine hub, this by itself was not a breakthrough and the dissatisfactory outcome reminds us once more of the critical need to produce our own vaccines as soon as possible.

The agreement entails the US entity shipping the vaccine concentrate to the Korean side which will repackage it into vaccine containers. This will not result in any knowledge transfer or a guaranteed domestic vaccine supply. But our goal as a nation must be to secure sovereignty over production of vaccines, not to become a hub for them. The benefits of securing vaccine sovereignty are many: it will work as an immediate boost to building domestic herd immunity, and it will also give a significant political leverage where we will be able to donate and allocate surplus vaccine supplies, especially to developing countries.

Many experts are predicting that Covid-19 and other coronaviruses will persist for the foreseeable future. Given what we know of the rapid mutation and the clear risk from the global spread, securing vaccine sovereignty is a matter of national security. As a country, we will never be secure without solid control over our vaccine supply and our government has the responsibility to encourage this development by supporting home-grown technology and working with the private sector to share the burden of R&D expenses. Only by securing the present and the future supply of critical vaccines will we be able to truly own our future.


To Preserve Liberal Democracy, Young People Should Become True Citizens
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
To Preserve Liberal Democracy, Young People Should Become True Citizens

Jun Sang-in, Professor in the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University, in Chosun Ilbo (May 22, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Alexey Matveichev)

To Preserve Liberal Democracy, Young People Should Become True Citizens

The recent reversal of the votes in the Seoul and Busan elections have put national focus on the 20-30-year-old age group. Generation MZ, as they are called, account for 33 percent of the population. The millennials, the M, include those born between the mid-80s and the mid-90s, while Generation Z includes those born after who have grown embracing the digital world.

These generations are the first in the country’s history who have been “gifted” citizenship in a democratic country. Since the liberation from Japanese occupation, liberal democracy struggled to bloom in the country. It took decades of fight and sacrifice to achieve what we now take for granted. In contrast, the Generation MZ have no experience in participating in the struggle and are “accidental citizens” in an already established system, for which previous generations fought hard.

American social activist Peter Palmer once confessed to be part of a generation that did not know about civic duty. Born in 1939, his generation was born into a country already lush with wealth and freedom, where the hardship of being a first-generation immigrant was but a legend and the suffering during the Great Depression and the Great Wars were but history. It was only when he started to notice the degradation of American democracy and a series of social crises that he realized that democracy is not something we “have” but something that we as citizens must “do”.

Similarly, because they did not have to fight for it, Generation MZ may take the current system for granted. The success and preservation of our democracy will depend on this new generation to progress from being “accidental” to becoming true citizens who continue the act of nurturing and protecting our hard-earned liberal democratic system.


The Vaccine Divide and Economic Recovery: Public and Private Sectors Should Work Together
Monday, June 28, 2021
The Vaccine Divide and Economic Recovery: Public and Private Sectors Should Work Together

Jo Ha-hyun, Professor of Economics at Yonsei University, in Munhwa Ilbo (April 30, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Yonhap)

The Vaccine Divide and Economic Recovery: Public and Private Sectors Should Work Together

Despite the South Korean government’s initially ambitious target to achieve herd immunity from Covid-19 by November 2021, the many delivery issues have made it impossible to meet that goal. It will be impossible to secure the needed quantity of Moderna vaccine, the top choice among Koreans, in the first half of the year. As for Pfizer, it is unclear that the additional 20 million doses which the government claims to have secured will be delivered.

Korea currently has a very low vaccination rate of 4.7 percent which is 35th out of the 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Compared to vaccine leaders such as Israel and now the US and the UK, both of which have attained around 50 percent of their populations, the vaccination-rate divide in the world is widening. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that the economic growth of the US and the UK will be 6.4 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. It does not take a scholar to see a clear link between the vaccination rate and economic recovery.

An analysis of the data from the 37 OECD countries data reveals that a one percent increase in vaccination rate is closely followed by around a 0.021 percent boost to economic growth. For both the national health and the economy’s sake, maximum effort must be put on securing more vaccine doses. This should include increased cooperation with the private sector to do so. When the country faced a similar challenge during the oil crisis, private companies actively did their part to secure the petroleum for the country. This is a time for the private and the public sectors to work hand in hand to save lives and put the economy back on the fast track to recovery.


Young Executives are Transforming the Corporate World
Monday, June 21, 2021
Young Executives are Transforming the Corporate World

Kim Yong-sub, director of Trend Insight & Business Creativity, in Hankyoreh (April 18. 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Korean Culture and Information Service)

Young Executives are Transforming the Corporate World

In an office, those with about four years of work experience are in their late 20s or early 30s. They typically oversee the operation but do not traditionally hold much power in the organization. A recent performance-evaluation scandal, however, shows that this traditional power structure might be in for a great shake-up.

The spark at semiconductor conglomerate SK hynix was started by a member of the junior staff who boldly sent an open email demanding transparency in the performance matrix system. Traditionally, such a “revolt” would have been easily dismissed, but as other young staff joined in applying pressure on management, dismissal was no longer possible. Despite their relatively insignificant individual power, this group collectively had clear leverage because of their numbers and their tactics.

The movement quickly spread to other conglomerates, including Samsung, LG and Hyundai. Young executives all over are now making collective demands for greater transparency and reforms. At LG Electronics, they set up the first-ever office worker union headed by somebody with only four years of experience. This movement is likely to continue and lead to an overdue transformation of the top-down management structure in most Korean companies, starting with demands for a greater transparency and the dismantling of the performance-matrix system that traditionally rewarded employees based on years of service and not merit.

The world is changing, and 20- and 30-year-olds are driving that transformation. They did not appear out of nowhere, but their impact will grow as they discover the bargaining power they have as a group in a traditional corporate world that for too long simply dismissed them.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Globalization
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Globalization

Jung Jae-hwan, Professor of International Relations at University of Ulsan, in Asia Business Daily (April 6, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: @bts_bighit)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Globalization

It is no secret that Covid-19 is accentuating many pre-existing economic and social problems. Especially in the West, the racism problem is on the rise with the upsurge in violence against Asians. In the US state of North Carolina, an African-American man is reported to have shouted that “Chinese should go home”, while wielding an iron rod. In Atlanta, a white American man shot eight women, four of whom were of ethnic Korean.

On the other hand, only two days before the shooting incident, the boy band BTS gave a performance at the Grammy Awards and, the year before, a South Korean movie Parasite surprised the world by winning in four categories at the Academy Awards, or Oscars. Evidently, globalization is bringing more diversity but is also causing terrible side effects such as racism and nationalism.

While some reckon that the recent surge in violence against Asians is due to the pandemic and some efforts to blame China and Asians in general, it would be more accurate to say that the pandemic magnified existing problems rather than caused them. Prior to the pandemic, the world observed the rise of “Trumpism” in the US and Brexit, both of which were driven by xenophobia and anti-globalization rhetoric.

BTS and other popular phenomena that foster diversity and inclusiveness keep in check racism, xenophobia and nationalism. We would need to look after the people who are “left out” from the benefits of the globalization movement. These are the people who have lost their economic and social competitiveness and are most vulnerable to fall into the dark side of globalization. Without providing appropriate safety nets for this minority, the world will not recover from the negative side effects of globalization even after it overcomes the pandemic crisis.


The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights
Thursday, May 20, 2021
The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights

Jeong Sang-hwan, lawyer, prosecutor and standing commissioner (2016-19) at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, in Maeil Shinmun (March 15, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Korean Culture and Information Service)

The Biden Administration and DPRK Human Rights

The approach toward North Korea adopted by the US under Barack Obama was that of “strategic patience”, whereas that of the administration of Donald Trump was “top-down”. The former continued to bring up the human rights issue, whereas the latter completely ignored it. Both approaches failed.

The administration of President Joe Biden is expected to take a different approach in regards to human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). With the reality of intercontinental ballistic missiles bringing the actual threat ever closer to the US and the hard line the US is already taking with China, it would be difficult for Washington to remain silent on the humanitarian issue in DPRK.

Unfortunately, in South Korea, the administration of President Moon Jae-in has been sidelining the human rights issue. The foundation for DPRK human rights provided for under a law enacted in 2016 has still not been launched, and the Ministry of Unification remains ever so silent on human rights issues. Even the National Human Rights Commission limits itself to lip service by addressing “softer” issues such as the rights of the disabled and women rather than addressing the core human rights problems in the DPRK. Even the North Korea Leaflet Prohibition Act hurriedly passed last year has outright cut off the only means through which civil society in South Korea can speak out on the human rights issue in the North.

This course of action, however, is unlikely to continue with the expected pressure on Seoul from the Biden administration to break the silence on human rights issue in the North. It is no longer reasonable or acceptable to remain silent on the DPRK’s horrendous human rights record for the sole reason of keeping the dialogue with Pyongyang.


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.