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.
Review Fulbright Scholarship Selection Process
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
Review Fulbright Scholarship Selection Process

Lee Jung-eun, journalist, in Dong-a Ilbo (April 28, 2022)

Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Yonhap)

Review Fulbright Scholarship Selection Process

The Fulbright Program is one of the best foreign policy initiatives of the United States, according to Ahn Byung-man, a leading academic who served as minister of education, science and technology from 2008 to 2010. Among the Fulbright scholars are 61 Nobel Prize laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, 40 heads of state or government, and over 100 key Korean public figures.

The fairness of the selection process, however, has been under scrutiny since revelations emerged about Kim In-chul, a candidate for the position of education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs, and how he and then four of his family members had received scholarships in the past. A government review board is looking into the selection process of the Fulbright and another scholarship scheme. The public wants Kim’s nomination withdrawn. (The administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol did eventually do so in early May, making Kim the first nominee of the new government to step down before confirmation.)

The Fulbright Program has a strong diplomatic dimension and promotes better understanding between the United States and other countries. Students who have never been to the United States or have not been exposed to American culture are given priority in selection over students who have experience living in the US. All attributes being equal, the scholarship will be given to the person who has not experienced life there. Yet, Kim's son and daughter, who had lived in the US before, both won the scholarship.

Did a student's dreams did not come true because the Kim family and their associates shared the scholarships among them? This situation is not only embarrassing for Korea but also for the 160 other countries around the world that participate in this program.

Environmental Protection is Inconvenient
Wednesday, June 8, 2022
Environmental Protection is Inconvenient

Myung Hee-jin, journalist, in Seoul Shinmun (April 22, 2022)

Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Yonhap News Agency)

Environmental Protection is Inconvenient

The Ministry of Environment announced the implementation of a deposit scheme for disposable cups for 38,000 stores, including cafes, bakeries and fast food chains with more than 100 affiliated stores. An additional 300 won (US$0.25) will be charged for every drink ordered in a disposable plastic cup. Customers will be able to get their money back if they bring the cup back to the coffee shop or other outlet. Workload will increase, notably from having to explain the system to customers at the beginning of the implementation. In particular, there is great concern that conflicts between staff and consumers will ariseMeanwhile, the debate continues for equal treatment as take-out and delivery packaging containers are not subject to the same regulation.

Environmental protection is an urgent task. It is difficult, however, to agree whether this method, which is implemented and mandated by the government, is really the best. Furthermore, is a scheme that inconveniences people to protect the environment not making environmental protection even more difficult ?

According to opinions from industry experts and consumers, a policy such as reducing the price of coffee when a person brings their own cup or tumbler would be more effective rather than paying a deposit that can be considered as a fine. It is difficult to implement an environmental protection policy accepted by everyone without causing overwork for employees and inconvenience to customers.

Company performance depends on whether or not they can make money in the marketplace. Would it not be more effective to make consumers aware of the value of their consumption rather than forcing an inconvenient deposit on everyone?

Acknowledging Gender X
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Acknowledging Gender X

Jo Chan-je, journalist, in Kyunghyang Shinmun (April 1, 2022)

Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Raphael Rashid @koryodynasty on Twitter)

Acknowledging Gender X

There are people who consider themselves as intersex or non-binary, deviating from the male-female gender identity. They are called the “third sex”. The concept of gender, which refers to acquired sex, has drawn attention since the 1960s. In 2003, an “X” instead of an “M” or “F” appeared for the first time in the gender information field of an Australian passport. This was the first acknowledgement of the existence of a third adult gender X.

From April 2022, American citizens can select an “X” as their gender on their passport without a proof of sex reassignment surgery. This measure improves the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the United States – including 1.2 million adult non-binary, 5.5 million intersex and 2 million transgender individuals. This demonstrates the commitment of the administration of US President Joe Biden to diversity at a time when LGBTI people have been discriminated against in the military, work, religious activities, and sports. The social atmosphere has changed a lot however institutional support is still slow in improving.

The situation in Korea is even worse. According to a survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, more than 8 out of 10 people have never tried to correct their gender because of medical expenses and concerns of unfair treatment. Will the “X” mark appear in the gender column of Korean passports? Unfortunately, the case of transgender Sergeant Byun Hee-soo, the reactions of Koreans to the queer parade, and the behavior of conservative politicians promoting gender confrontation do not indicate a change anytime soon.

Minimum Wage Single Standard is an Anachronism
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
Minimum Wage Single Standard is an Anachronism

Park Nam-gyu Park, Professor of Business Administration at Seoul National University, in Munhwa Ilbo (April 07, 2021)

Summary by Paul Forien (Photo credit: Jeon Han/Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea)

Minimum Wage Single Standard is an Anachronism

The Minimum Wage Committee has launched its review for next year's minimum wage. It is, however, unlikely that its members will easily draw a conclusion because of the clear differences in position among the representatives of the various interests including government, employers and workers. 

Giver price rises it would be great if workers could comfortably raise their hourly wages as they have called for. It is by no means simple, however. For a minimum wage increase to create a sustainable economic virtuous cycle, three important prerequisites must be met. The first is an increase in worker productivity. If the rate of productivity growth cannot catch up with the wage increase of workers, the company will have difficulties surviving in the market. 

Second, there must be enough jobs to pay more than the minimum wage. Most of the minimum-wage jobs are at companies in the lodging/food, sports/leisure-related services, agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, where competitiveness is weak. Firms in these sectors often have a hard time surviving even with the smallest wage increases, which may lead to job losses. 

Third, the demand for minimum-wage labor in the market must exceed the supply. Otherwise, those with jobs, whether by ability or luck, may be adversely affected by the policy, receiving higher than appropriate market wages. The current labor market shows very high disparities in terms of diversity and complexity which make it more difficult to have a practical effect on the minimum wage determined by a single standard.

Considering all the reasons above and that contracts between employers and workers are economic transactions in the private sector, classifications of the minimum wage by industry or region could be outdated. It is necessary to re-examine whether government involvement in the market is required and to restart a debate about the minimum wage.

The Ukraine War is a Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
The Ukraine War is a Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

Moon Chung-in, Chairman, Sejong Institute, in Hankyoreh (March 6, 2022)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: President of Ukraine)

The Ukraine War is a Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

The primary cause of the war in Ukraine is the military adventurism and the victim mentality of a cold-blooded dictator. But can the US and the West be completely absolved of responsibility? 

Harvard University scholar Stephen Walt had predicted that the US and the West’s aggressive values-based foreign policy could provoke Russia to invade Ukraine. Walt said that while security reasons were given for the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eastward, in reality, it was oriented toward spreading the values of freedom and democracy. It was, therefore, not hard to predict that Putin would regard such movements as tending to isolate Russia and threaten his rule and that he would respond with harsh military action.

What set the tinderbox alight, however, was the miscalculations of the leaders – not only Putin’s unhinged decision to invade, but also Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s immature initial response and failure at managing the crisis and preventing a war. He exacerbated the situation by sending conflicting messages, dangling NATO membership before his supporters, promising neutrality to Russia, and appealing for nuclear armament to the West. He complicated the crisis with contradictory rhetoric, warning the outside world about an impending invasion and asking for military aid even while he told the Ukrainian people to stay calm because there was little chance of an invasion. Another misstep was Zelensky’s naive expectation of military assistance from the US and NATO.

People can hold various opinions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But if the US and the West had been more prudent about changing the status quo in Russia’s sphere of influence, if Ukraine’s domestic politics had been more unified, and if the Ukrainian president had been more adept at crisis management, this tragedy could have been avoided.

Voters Choose the Presidential Candidate They Dislike Least
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Voters Choose the Presidential Candidate They Dislike Least

Summary by Jeongyeo Lim (Photo credit: 이재명

Voters Choose the Presidential Candidate They Dislike Least

A poll shows that the public disapproves of all three candidates in next year’s presidential election – the ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Jae-myung (32 percent approval) and Yoon Seok-youl (28 percent) and Hong Joon-pyo (31 percent) of the opposition People Power Party. If votes were cast, the winner would be whomever people dislike the least.

The popular verdict on these hopefuls is unsurprising given their track records of controversies. Lee gave preferential treatment to the development of a particular area when he was mayor of Seongnam City in Gyeonggi Province. Yoon is suspected of stoking accusations against his rivals even as he claims to be the keeper of the rule of law and common sense. Hong is lampooned for openly hurling expletives at fellow politicians.

Political divisions are at the root of this situation where candidates with approval ratings below 50 percent are leading the presidential race. In our political environment there are more shameless "fighting cocks" than wholesome talents because the culture requires vindication over those with differing views rather than compromise or constructive competition. Enemies are to be scorched.

There can be no future in a country where the presidential race has deteriorated into a mud fight of hatred, and the public must choose their least disfavored candidate. Whoever takes office will be beleaguered with weak approval ratings and correspondingly lackluster administration. This would lead to a vicious cycle of imbalanced policies favoring the president’s supporters. Deepening schism is possible. Knowing full well how this might unravel our society, we must not blindly go down this path.

If the presidential candidates are truly the ones who seek to lead the nation, they must avoid shallow calculations to position themselves at the extremes of the political landscape. They must instead offer a vision that will unite the country.

The Anti-Discrimination Law is Much Overdue
Monday, August 23, 2021
The Anti-Discrimination Law is Much Overdue

Kim Hyung-tae, educationalist, in Pressian (June 26, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Screenshot from Yonhap on YouTube)

The Anti-Discrimination Law is Much Overdue

It always seems to take a tragedy to set the legislative wheels in motion. This time, it was Byun Hee-soo, 23, who was forcefully discharged from the army for undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Her death has sparked action on an Anti-Discrimination Bill. Much overdue, this legislation forbids discrimination based on attributes such as gender, disability, age, language and sexual orientation. It was first introduced in the National Assembly in 2007 but has repeatedly failed to pass.

Conservative and religious organizations are using the same extreme tactics that they used when he Seoul Ordinance of Students Rights was under discussion a decade ago. They warned that passing the law would lead to the proliferation of homosexuality, AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. They spammed legislators with messages and caused scenes. The ordinance was passed but it is sad that, ten years later, it still is the country’s most progressive legislation.

One would hope that the changing generations in national politics will lead to more support to do the right thing. Those who oppose the Anti-Discrimination Bill should reconsider their previous stand against the Ordinance of Student Rights and what was the actual result. What they predicted would happen on Seoul campuses did not take place. In any case, in line with Christian teaching, discrimination should not be tolerated. It is time to take our national consciousness to the next level and not let outdated ideas hinder progress.

Traditional Services vs Digital Platforms: An Inevitable Battle
Monday, August 9, 2021
Traditional Services vs Digital Platforms: An Inevitable Battle

Kim Charm, editor, social policies, in Chosun Biz (June 19, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: KM Solutions)

Traditional Services vs Digital Platforms: An Inevitable Battle

Flagging down a taxi on the street is becoming an outdated practice. Now, most people use their smartphones to access an increasing array of services, including a ride, a trip and cleaning.

Digital platforms are also encroaching into the traditional professional services. The most well-known is the LawTalk, a legal tech company that charges subscription fees to connect attorneys to clients. There are about 4,000 attorneys on the service, which some joke is the fourth largest law firm by revenue size.

Worried about the impact on legal fees, the Korean Bar Association (KBA) updated its internal regulations to punish attorneys offering services on platforms and plans to bring a lawsuit. Not many think that the KBA can win in this battle, however. In two earlier legal attempts, the platform company won by arguing that they are not providing a legal service, but a marketing service. Many expect that the current efforts by the KBA will merely delay an inevitable victory for the platforms.

There are many similar battles between the traditional professional services and the emerging digital platform companies. The Korean Medical Association is fighting to extend review requirements to beauty and medical platforms. The Korea Association of Certified Public Tax Accountants has taken legal action against a digital accounting and tax service.

With the proliferation IT technology, the battle between the digital and the conventional order is expected to spread to even more industries. Digitalization transformation can be inclusive, distributing the benefits more evenly among players, while customers benefit from convenience. Service providers are growing fast and are gaining in the compensation and respect they receive.

Politicians Purposely Stir Up Anti-Business Sentiment
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Politicians Purposely Stir Up Anti-Business Sentiment

Jeon Jae-ho, industry editor, in Chosun Biz (May 28, 2021)

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: Steve Boland)

Politicians Purposely Stir Up Anti-Business Sentiment

One of the first tasks undertaken by the new chairman of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) was to research and gain insight on the growing anti-chaebol sentiment. This phenomenon is neither uniquely Korean nor new, but it is imperative to understand public opinion as this trend could lead to more regulation of corporations.

According to two Korea University professors, there are two main reasons contributing to “anti-chaebolism”. First is the close relationship between the chaebols and the government dating back to the late 1940s under president Syngman Rhee, which was deepened under the military dictatorship of president Park Chung-hee. The chaebols were given incomparable preferential treatment to support their fast growth. For many, this was unfair and diminished the legitimacy of the success these business groups.

The second reason is the fabrication and manipulation of the anti-chaebol sentiment by the politicians. Both presidents Park and Chun Doo-hwan built up and tapped into the anti-chaebol sentiments. Under President Kim Dae-jung, certain chaebols were blamed for causing the financial crisis and were punished. Even today, the tradition of the incoming government penalizing the chaebols which were closely associated with the outgoing party continues. Politicians intentionally use the anti-chaebol sentiment to bolster their legitimacy.

From the corporations’ point of view, it is clearly in their interest to regain public trust. People expect the chaebols to play their part by giving back to society, providing good employment opportunities, and fulfilling their corporate social responsibility. There is much speculation about what the new KCCI chairman might do to turn the anti-chaebol tide.

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.