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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.
Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law
Friday, May 22, 2020
Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law

Hidetomi Tanaka, Professor in the Faculty of Business and Information of Jobu University, in iRONNA (May 19, 2020)

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

Take a Second Look at Abe’s Attempt to Revise Special Prosecutor Law

The biggest political story in Japan in the first half of May was not only COVID-19, but also the attempt by the Abe government to revise how special prosecutors are appointed. The move resulted in huge and unprecedented backlash on social media, and plummeting poll numbers for Abe and the cabinet, forcing Abe to back away from the plan.

Take a sober second look at the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposed amendments to the law on how special prosecutors are appointed. These changes are perceived by opposition lawmakers and the public to make it easier to control the public prosecution office and make it difficult to investigate alleged government abuses. The debate surrounding the proposed amendment has been clouded by emotion rather than based on reality. Affecting the tenor of the discussion has been the slump in Abe's popularity since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in Japan in late February.

Critics of the amendment have embarked on a fishing expedition that is aimed at scoring political points instead of uncovering the truth, with facts being replaced by intuition and gut feeling about the prime minister's supposed disingenuousness and duplicity when proposing the amendments. With the help of uninformed television celebrities, the fishing expedition has snowballed into a social media hashtag campaign. The public had already made up their minds without bothering to learn about the proposed amendments.

While everyone in Japan is free to express a political opinion, individual judgement must not be based on intuition, feelings and anti-intellectualism.


Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle
Friday, May 22, 2020
Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle

Yutaka Suzuki, Professor, Laboratory of Systems Genomics, Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, in Tokyo Shimbun (May 18, 2020)

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

Do Not Use War Imagery As A Metaphor In The Coronavirus Battle

We are not fighting a war against Covid-19. Instead, it is a marathon. Shigeru Omi, who has been on the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board since 2013 and is deputy chair of the Japanese government's expert panel on the coronavirus, has stated that war imagery should not be used as a metaphor for the struggle against epidemic in Japan.

Kaori Muto, a specialist in research ethics at The University of Tokyo, has also argued that militaristic language is problematic, because it implies there are generals who control the "battle", while there are "the weak" whose lives must be sacrificed. This is unacceptable, she says.

Health authorities are continuously struggling to find the best ways to inform and persuade the public. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, however, has called the fight against Covid-19 "World War III" and a "war of endurance". So, another challenge for health professionals is how to compete with government in providing reliable information.


Quarantine Vs Commemorations
Friday, May 22, 2020
Quarantine Vs Commemorations

MSM Ayub, Deputy Editor and columnist, in Daily Mirror (May 22, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Indi Samarajiva)

Quarantine Vs Commemorations

Is quarantine a method of punishment? That may be a good question to ask after watching police prevent Northern Province politicians from commemorating Tamils who were killed during the civil war that ended 11 years ago.

While the government was preparing to commemorate the members of the armed forces and the police who laid down their lives in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Northern politicians planned a commemoration of those Tamils, including members of the LTTE, who were killed in the war. 

The government, despite its opposition to those events, had not banned them. But the police used the public-health instructions to prevent the Tamil politicians and the Northern people from attending.  

The quarantine process was perceived as a method for isolating people infected with the coronavirus. The police warned former Northern Province chief minister CV Wigneswaran, who was heading to a commemoration, that they would punish him with quarantine if he disobeyed, even though he and his followers said that they would adhere to health requirements. 

Wigneswaran proceeded to the venue with police permission. He and his group travelled in separate vehicles, wearing face masks. Yet the police later consulted the higher authorities before they prevented him from attending the event. The government had instructed the police not to allow gatherings because of the Covid-19 threat. If he had disobeyed, they could have arrested him.

The importance placed on these events by the Tamil politicians and media indicates the vast division among communities 11 years after the end of the war. The government’s position on the commemoration of Tamils killed in the war is not clear. Is it illegal to hold such events? If so, why didn’t the government ban those commemorations under the relevant law without citing the coronavirus threat?


Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives

Suroto, Director, INKUR (Induk Koperasi Usaha Rakyat, or People’s Cooperative Effort), in Republika (May 18, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Danumurthi Mahendra/USAID)

Economic Recovery Sidelines SMEs and Cooperatives

Looking at the scheme for the recovery of the economy, I doubt if this will improve the purchasing power of the public, which the Covid-19 crisis has damaged far more than the monetary crises of 1998 and 2008. The virus has affected both upstream and downstream sectors of the economy where micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) and the cooperatives operate, representing 99.3 percent of Indonesian enterprises, contributing 57 percent of GDP.

The recovery scheme envisages a leading role for major companies, including the state-owned enterprises. The role of MSMEs and cooperatives is minimal. Out of the state funding of 318.09 trillion rupiahs (US$21.5 billion), MSMEs and cooperatives get only 34 trillion rupiahs (US$2.3 billion), and that in the form of interest subsidies.

I suspect there is a hidden agenda in this program in which certain elements have lobbied for a leading role in policy. Our recommendation is for a bigger role for the MSMEs and cooperatives.


Will Covid-19 Accelerate the Shift of Manufacturing from China to ASEAN?
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Will Covid-19 Accelerate the Shift of Manufacturing from China to ASEAN?

Yu Hong, Senior Research Fellow, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (May 20, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Will Covid-19 Accelerate the Shift of Manufacturing from China to ASEAN?

As Covid-19 rages across the globe, both the appeal of globalization and the influence of international organizations have diminished. Instead, this crisis has emphasized the importance of building a strong nation and resilient economy.

ASEAN members are among the countries with the closest economic and trade exchanges with China, with which they have strong ties through global supply chains. The impact of the pandemic is evident in two areas: First, ASEAN's tourism revenue depends significantly on Chinese tourists. The significant decline in their numbers has had a huge negative effect on tourism, aviation, catering and other supporting sectors across ASEAN. Second, ASEAN countries participate in the China-centered global industrial chain, relying upon exports of raw materials and intermediate products to China for final processing and assembly. Many countries, notably Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, have trade deficits with China. Deepening deficits will be detrimental to their industrial development.

As a result of rising production costs in China combined with accelerated domestic economic transformation and the Sino-US trade war, a considerable number of multinational companies are diversifying their supply chains by moving some facilities out of China. Covid-19 has accelerated this process, with the crisis being a turning point in the restructuring of the global industrial chain. While seizing the opportunities brought about by these developments remains crucial for ASEAN’s economic growth, the crisis has demonstrated that economic reliance on China and its industry chains carries significant risks.

With a large young labor force and expanding middle class, ASEAN’s potential is huge. The region’s rich natural resources and low production costs allow ASEAN to play a growing role in the global industrial chain. The restructuring of the global supply chain provides an opportunity for ASEAN countries to implement bold economic and labor reforms to accelerate development of manufacturing.


Should Taxpayers Bail Out Thai Airways Again?
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Should Taxpayers Bail Out Thai Airways Again?

Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer, in Khaosod News (May 15, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Should Taxpayers Bail Out Thai Airways Again?

The public is debating whether to rescue Thai Airways from its 200 billion-baht (US$6.2 billion) debt or let it go bust. At its peak, the 60-year-old airline was the pride of the nation. But today, Thai Airways is seen as a source of national embarrassment and never-ending sinkhole of taxpayer money. Rumors have it that the airline is ready to file for bankruptcy.

Should taxpayers shoulder the burden? This is not a question of pride or no pride, but how the government should spend our money at the time Thailand is facing grave economic prospects due to the coronavirus.

Not every Thai takes pride in Thai Airways because its prohibitive prices led some to view the airline as more of the pride of the middle class and the elite. It’s an airline on which politicians and those in power feed, while ordinary people are left to clean up the mess. Perhaps the only aspect for which it can now truly be called a national carrier is that all of us taxpayers will likely have to reach into our pockets to cover the losses incurred by the airline.

Thai Airways is a shadow of its past glories. It failed to be competitive now that the aviation sector is full of low-cost rivals. Its management is bloated and ineffective, its business model a failure.

Even if one says that the government should bail out Thai Airways, there is no guarantee how long it will take before the airline comes back begging for more taxpayers’ money. Any attempt to bail out the airline must be sound, transparent and accountable to the public. Thai Airways must bite the bullet and reform. We cannot keep paying for it as long as they can’t give us a credible solution to its woes.


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

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

Summary by Nevin Thompson

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

Support for the Abe Government has Cratered

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

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


Chinese-language Education Reform Will Promote Rapid Mass Literacy
Monday, May 18, 2020
Chinese-language Education Reform Will Promote Rapid Mass Literacy

He Zihuang, senior educator, in Lianhe Zaobao (May 16, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Mailer Diablo)

Chinese-language Education Reform Will Promote Rapid Mass Literacy

It is a shame that the Chinese-language teaching reform over recent years seems to have overlooked the issue of rapid mass literacy. Rapid mass literacy refers to the process of students learning a lot of words in a very short period of time with the goal of quickly being able to read independently.

As the recognition of new words will provide an important foundation for students to learn, literacy teaching should be the focus in the lower grades of primary school. Students can only read independently if they have mastered a certain number of Chinese characters and vocabulary. The promotion of rapid mass literacy, therefore, will support early reading and writing ability.

Singapore’s Ministry of Education has mentioned the importance of literacy each time it carries out Chinese-language education reforms. They have, however, always lacked specific implementation measures. The current approach to literacy teaching takes places over a long time period and has minimal benefit to the cultivation of students’ interest in reading. As a result, the level of Chinese literacy among students does not match their intellectual development.

Promoting rapid mass literacy in the first and second grades of primary school offers a feasible approach. This is not only a way to tackle the difficulty of learning Chinese but is also the only way to increase students' interest in learning Chinese. It is therefore hoped that future Chinese education reforms will seek to promote rapid and large-scale literacy.


Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low
Monday, May 18, 2020
Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low

Clement So York-kee, Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication and Associate Dean (Student Affairs) of the Faculty of Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao (May 14, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Iris Tong/Voice of America)

Press Freedom Ranking Drops to New Low

Press freedom is both a basic right and an important social indicator. The Hong Kong Journalists Association recently released the latest Hong Kong Press Freedom Index survey results, which reported the lowest score since its inception. The survey is divided into two parts: the public’s assessment of 41.9 (the closer to zero the greater the press freedom) and the media’s score of 36.2. The scores have been declining in recent years.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers, or RSF, in French) publishes the annual World Press Freedom Index. According to data for 2020, Hong Kong ranked just 80th out of 180 countries and regions surveyed, down seven places from the previous year and a record low. Hong Kong ranked 18th in the world in 2002, when the index debuted.

Last year’s protests presented a crisis in both politics and the press. Journalists faced three specific problems while working: personal threats while conducting interviews, difficulties in obtaining the information needed for reporting, and insufficient laws to protect them while doing their job.

In addition, violence has become increasingly problematic and frequent. This year’s survey showed that 65 percent of the 222 journalists interviewed had been violently treated by police or civilians an average of four times.

Political disputes are intensifying, the economy is facing difficulties due to the impact of Covid-19, and the society is under increased pressure. Meanwhile, the press is facing both political and economic pressures as well as self-censorship. While Hong Kong must work hard to get out of its predicament, we must also pay attention to the freedom of the press.


During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray
Friday, May 15, 2020
During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray

Nikhat Sattar, writer, in Dawn (May 15, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: pxfuel)

During Ramazan, Covid-19 is an Opportunity for Those who Pray

Even as the world battles a virus that has gripped the human race, Muslims observe the month of fasting with fervor and hope. Covid-19, in fact, should be taken as an opportunity for those who pray, because they can now do so in isolation and away from temptations of social gatherings. This is the time for deep introspection and developing and strengthening one’s bonds with the Creator, with no one watching.

Ramazan is very special for Muslims. It is one of the main ways God prescribes for them to work towards developing piety and righteousness. Indeed, if we do not control tendencies to anger, abuse, lying, cheating, committing other small or big sins, our fasts will be merely acts of starvation.

The main reason for the special place occupied by Ramazan in the hearts of Muslims is that the Quran was first revealed during this month. The night during which this revelation first came to the Prophet is the one every practicing Muslim aspires to search for and find. It is the blessed night during which every matter is decreed. It is the night in which, through prayer, sins are forgiven, supplications are accepted, and mercy and blessings surround the persons engaged in prayer.

It is clear that sincere worship during this night would have considerable worth in the eyes of God. This is when angels descend to do God’s merciful bidding. This is the night of peace, consolation, warmth and compassion, bringing Muslims and the universe together into one entity of creation by God, bound to Him by virtue of this connection and hence bound to each other, called upon to establish peace and harmony, with each other and with nature.


Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?
Friday, May 15, 2020
Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?

Liou Pei-pai, former director of the Taiwan Animal Health Research Institute, in China Times (May 11, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Office of the President, Taiwan)

Has the Handling of Covid-19 Really Been a Success?

President Tsai Ing-wen and Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung, supported by media aligned with the ruling coalition, like to boast about Taiwan’s Covid-19 achievements. The government has sought recognition from overseas and even engaged in activities such as face-mask diplomacy, which has garnered thanks from foreign dignitaries.

The reality, however, is that in the early stage of the epidemic Taiwan civilians successfully controlled the epidemic through rapid compliance and the wearing of masks. Major tasks such as the analysis of the virus, antibody screening, testing and vaccine development have not been given significant attention. 

The crisis in Taiwan has nearly subsided, with no domestic cases appearing for 29 days. Taiwan must now focus on its post-epidemic prevention work. While the government claims to have an overall plan for the development of vaccines, new drugs, and faster testing, they have forced academic institutions and private pharmaceutical companies to pursue the fight alone, without government funding.

As a result, no concrete achievements have been made in Taiwan, while research in these fields has yielded results in many countries around the world. Reviewing the situation objectively, Taiwan's epidemic prevention work has fallen behind. Taiwan must urgently think about what should be done to handle another wave of the epidemic.


Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable
Friday, May 15, 2020
Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable

侯显佳 (Hou Xianjia), columnist, in Oriental Daily News (May 13, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Abdul Razak Latif / Shutterstock.com)

Profiting from the Crisis is Unacceptable

As nationwide efforts are made to combat the Covid-19 epidemic, we must also prevent the emergence of another disease – corruption. It has recently been reported that there have been suspected cases of corruption in the course of the Ministry of Health’s procurement of medical materials during the crisis. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is investigating several allegations including abuse of power relating to negotiations and contracts.

The purchase of medical materials must follow the principles of transparency, openness and integrity. While government departments should be able to make purchases quickly with minimal red tape, they must still choose reputable and recognized contractors or sellers. Medical supplies such as respirators and medical equipment should only be purchased from established companies. In addition, the government should publish the amount and details of the materials. While enhancing transparency and credibility, this can also eliminate rumors and speculation.

During the crisis, many large companies, businesses, civilians and non-governmental organizations have made donations. When received by the government, they should also provide information about these materials so that medical staff and hospitals can ensure they have access to the available supplies and equipment they need. 

Investigations will clarify if there are indeed cases of corruption or abuse of power. This epidemic is expected to continue for a long time. Steps must be taken to prevent individuals from using this crisis to make a fortune.


The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War
Thursday, May 14, 2020
The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

R Siti Zuhro, Senior Researcher, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, in Kompas (May 14, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Cabinet Secretary of the Republic of Indonesia)

The President Should be Supreme Commander in Covid-19 War

A while ago, the public was shocked by video of a regent from North Sulawesi stating that regulations from the central government regarding assistance for the public during the Covid-19 crisis were confusing and created problems for his region. The comment was understandable. As a local leader dealing directly with the public, people like this have to provide a sense of security at a time when the central government is seen as having taken too long to adopt policies.

At the central level, ministries and central government institutions have not developed the unity required to confront the crisis so it is hardly surprising that problems emerge when they should be developing synergies with local governments. Communication and coordination with local governments are critical. Indeed, leaders at the village level represent the front line in serving the public and must be involved.

The president should be the “supreme commander” in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic. The assumption is that if the president is the supreme commander, decisions can be made more rapidly, with better focus and integration.


Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

Bruce Rhick Estillote, registered nurse, in Rappler (May 12, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: J De Guia/ILO)

Letter to the President: Reconsider Deployment Ban of Nurses Abroad

This open letter asks you to reconsider the deployment ban of overseas healthcare workers. We feel grateful for your intent to protect Filipino nurses from the risk posed by Covid-19. However, I believe no one understands the danger better than healthcare workers.

In the past, we sent soldiers abroad to fight for our allies, despite the fact that we were under threat of war on our own soil. The difference is that soldiers are at the disposal of the government. Nurses are not. Nurses who want to lift their families out of poverty have been singled out. This pandemic will not be gone soon. How long will they have to wait? Three or four months? Maybe a year or so?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. But a pandemic, like a war, is a threat that is never gone. Military enlistment is not best done at the brink of a war, and neither is the massive employment of nurses during a pandemic. Prevention is better than cure, says the old adage. Before we reached this point, there were not enough efforts to attract nurses to work in our country because the popular belief was that the supply was great, that there was nothing to worry about.

Had it not been for the pandemic, our nurses here would not have been seen as more valuable. Data suggests that the Philippines has surpassed other countries in terms of death tolls among healthcare workers. It seems that neither the situation here or overseas can make us feel safe. But soldiers and nurses alike know what they signed up for. At least, once abroad, we can send our families financial support to help them get by during the pandemic.


After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?

Li Yan, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), in Global Times (May 12, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Alana Langdon/US Navy)

After Fighting the Pandemic, Will the World Start Preparing for War?

An annual report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that in 2019 the increase in global military expenditure was the biggest in 10 years. The total expenditure for all countries in the world now exceeds USD$1.9 trillion – a record post-Cold War high. The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on the world and human society. It is therefore important to consider whether this crisis will change the trend towards military readiness and the potential of an arms race.

Global military spending has increased for two reasons. First, competition between countries over resources and territory has intensified causing the international security situation to evolve and produce conflict hotspots. This has resulted in increased militarization in various countries. Second, economic growth in major countries has provided the financial support for military spending.

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis alter those two reasons. First, the crisis may intensify competition between countries and strengthen the need for various nations to be militarily prepared. The international community has not responded to this pandemic in a unified way. As such, intensified competition between countries could become a world trend after 2020. Second, the economic depression caused by the crisis may greatly restrict military spending in many countries. The pandemic may help countries re-evaluate the cost-effectiveness of military expenditure and force countries to shift their focus away from focusing on defense.

Further increases in security requirements, along with the tremendous weakening of financial support, will mean that policymakers around the world face new challenges. In recent years, China has put forward the diplomatic concept of a "community of shared future for mankind". The enlightened nature of such Chinese concepts is increasingly important and should be used to help addresses issues of military readiness and their negative effects.