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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.
Diplomacy During the Pandemic
Monday, July 13, 2020
Diplomacy During the Pandemic

Retno LP Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, in Kompas (July 9, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Violaine Martin/United Nations)

Diplomacy During the Pandemic

The global crisis caused by Covid-19 has made it essential for Indonesian diplomacy to adapt rapidly in line with dynamic challenges in the current environment. No less than 215 states and territories are affected. The number of cases continues to creep upward, while at the same time panic grows over the impact on the global economy.

In the midst of such global panic, every nation has had to focus on meeting the requirements of their domestic situation. As a result, from the beginning of the pandemic, the diplomatic priority for Indonesia has been to fulfill two factors: the safety of its citizens both inside the country and overseas, and the availability of medical supplies.

Global solidarity is the key to emerging from this crisis. In April, we signed the UN General Assembly resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019”, which was supported by 188 states. At the same time, increasing self-sufficiency is important. Indonesia, for instance, is dependent on imports for 95 percent of its pharmaceutical ingredients.


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

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

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SUNY Korea)

Population in Freefall

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

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

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

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


“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change
Friday, July 10, 2020
“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

Eri Yatsuzuka, author and publisher of mydeskteam.com, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 7, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: McDermid Japan)

“Womenomics” in the pandemic: Society Must Change

According to the government's “womenomics” plan to increase the number of women participating in the workforce, telework – or working from home – was supposed to allow female professionals to combine managing a household with managing a career.

During the pandemic, which has seen more people working from home than ever before, a survey conducted in May shows that the number of women in the workforce has declined, while the number of women assuming caregiver roles at home has increased. As schools have temporarily closed to stop the spread of Covid-19, women must look after or home-school children. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents who reported they have assumed more childcare duties during the pandemic were women. The women who must balance childcare and work have reported being only half as productive as before.

It is no wonder that, in another survey conducted at the same time, nearly 70 percent of women reported experiencing more stress since the start of the pandemic, compared to only 50 percent of men. More women than men felt stressed about completing basic household chores.

The pandemic has shown that women find it difficult to balance their professional lives and manage a household at the same time. There is the assumption, even in some local government policies, that working from home is "easier". There are also societal attitudes about what should be women's work in the home. Women are also conditioned to be responsible for household chores and childcare. We as a society must change if we want to improve productivity by encouraging women to join the workforce.


Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic
Thursday, July 9, 2020
Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

Sayaka Osakabe, women's rights activist at Matahara Net, in Yahoo! News Japan (July 8, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson (Photo credit: milatas / Shutterstock.com)

Prevent Maternal Harassment During the Pandemic

At least 30,000 people have lost their jobs since the start of the Covid-19 crisis in February. Since the economic crisis has been so severe, these job losses may be unavoidable. In some cases, however, employers are using the pandemic as an excuse to continue the longstanding practice of "maternity harassment", when expectant mothers or those on maternity leave are dismissed from or forced to quit their work.

According to legal experts, employers will often use various plausible sounding excuses such as a decrease in company sales volume to remove women planning to go on maternity leave or are already on it. Labor law provides a strict assessment framework for when such redundancies can be made. Employers are eligible for certain labor subsidies from the government to deal with the economic effects of the pandemic. It cannot be easier to dismiss people or suspend them from employment during a pandemic than during a normal recession.

Japanese labor laws clearly state that female employees cannot be discriminated against in the workplace because of pregnancy, childbirth or maternity leave. All of this means that female employees who think they are experiencing discrimination because of a pregnancy must first refuse any requests to resign voluntarily. Next, they should immediately notify their prefectural labor bureau about their experience.


Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?
Monday, July 6, 2020
Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

Keizo Yamawaki, Professor at the School of Global Japanese Studies, Meiji University, and Bob W White, Director of the Laboratory for Research on Intercultural Relations and Professor of Anthropology, Université de Montréal, in The Japan Times (July 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Fear and discrimination: Are Japanese cities ready for life with Covid-19?

There is nothing new about the tendency to look for scapegoats during pandemics. Indeed, at many points in history, anxiety about contagious disease has manifested itself in the form of fear mongering and xenophobia.

Outside of Asia there has been a significant increase in the number of hate speech incidents targeting people of Asian descent, and in some cases other groups (such as Hassidic Jews, Roma communities and various types of migrants) have also been targets of discrimination. Hate speech is increasingly gaining the attention of local and national governments, but from the legal and policy perspective many questions remain unresolved.

In pandemic, there have also been examples of discrimination against foreigners in Japan. Anonymous letters demanding that Chinese people should leave Japan were sent to restaurants in the Chinatown in Yokohama. When the Saitama municipal government began distribution of masks to local kindergartens, a Korean-owned kindergarten was deliberately excluded. When popular comedian Ken Shimura died of Covid-19, there were tweets saying he was murdered by Chinese.

As local governments in Japan attempt to make communities more inclusive, fighting discrimination has become one of the key issues in municipal integration policy. During a meeting organized by Hamamatsu in October 2019, officials from cities in Europe, Oceania and Asia discussed the importance of cities in the promotion of inclusion and social cohesion. We believe that the best way to promote inclusion in Japan is to build on the already existing network of cities. In the coming years of living with Covid-19, this renewed network will hopefully make it possible for cities in Japan to engage with cities elsewhere in the world, and for Japan to take its place in the global fight against discrimination and the exclusion of migrants.


Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States
Monday, July 6, 2020
Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in The Nation (June 30, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Post-Covid, Sustainable Tourism, Fisheries Keys to Growth in Small-Island States

Compared to other developing countries, small-island developing states (SIDS) in the Asia-Pacific region have done well in containing the spread of the virus. So far, available data indicates relatively few cases of infections, with 15 deaths in Maldives, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Yet, while rapid border closures have contained the human cost of the virus, the economic and social impacts of the pandemic on SIDS will place Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) even farther out of their reach.

One reason SIDS economies have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic is their dependence on tourism. Tourism earnings exceed 50 per cent of GDP in the Maldives and Palau and comprised 30 per cent in Samoa and Vanuatu in 2018. The severe impact of Covid-19 on these economies is also a result of heavy reliance on fisheries, which represent a main source of SIDS marine wealth and bring much-needed public revenue. The coronavirus crisis will jeopardize these income streams as a result of a slowdown in fisheries activity.

As part of the post-virus recovery, new foundations for sustainable tourism and fisheries in Asia-Pacific SIDS must be built. These sectors must not only have extensive links to local communities and economies, but also be resilient to external shocks. Enhancing economic resilience must focus on building both the necessary physical infrastructure and creating institutional response mechanisms.

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of the price of weaknesses in health systems, social protection and public services. It also provides a historic opportunity to advocate for policy decisions that are pro-environment, pro-climate and pro-poor. Progress in our region’s SIDS through sustainable tourism and fisheries are vital components of a global road map for an inclusive and sustainable future.


Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads
Monday, July 6, 2020
Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads

Joseph Leopold Ratnasekera, Catholic priest and missionary, in Daily Mirror (July 6, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Presidential Secretariat, Sri Lanka)

Parliamentary Elections: Nation at a Crossroads

Sri Lanka will hold its 16th parliamentary election on August 5 this year. The time has come for the country to discern the sad situation we are in and look for alternative political choices that will put in power only genuine and authentic politicians.

The most crucial problem is the lack of production in our export sectors, in the apparel and textile industries that have to be revamped. The fast-dwindling tea, rubber and coconut industries have to be saved with more creative policies and reinforced for greater production with modern technologies. The export sector is always the livewire of any economic stability of any country. It will minimize the need of imports. There is so much that can be produced locally to cater to the local population as well. Hard work has to be encouraged and excellence demanded in all fields of industry.

There must be a firm resolve to curb bribery and corruption in the government and stringent measures have to be taken to ensure honesty, transparency and accountability in the way these offices are held and performed. Much of the loss of quality resulting in the wane and the bane in national politics has been the rash and recklessness of those holding public office. In the over-all context of the national scenario, all are agreed on the urgency of a bounce-back plan to revive the virus-saddled economy that has experienced considerable setbacks in many sectors.

Let there not be any unpatriotic trend mooted or vicious cry raised for autonomous rule in any part of the country. This island-nation is one with one Sri Lankan identity. All races and religious groups must unite in one common ideal of pursuing a prosperous and peaceful motherland for all.


How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again
Monday, July 6, 2020
How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again

Saifur Rashid, Professor of Anthropology, University of Dhaka, in Dhaka Tribune (July 5, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Nurunnaby Chowdhury (Hasive))

How to Make Dhaka University the “Oxford of the East” Again

We know that public universities stand to provide any student, irrespective of their financial background, an education upon passing the competitive admission process. They are not like private universities, where students have to spend a lot of money to get a degree, although they have some scholarships for the poorer students.

Historically, the students and faculties of the University of Dhaka (DU) have not only been engaged in learning, teaching, and research but have also been playing a very significant role in various social, cultural, and political movements in the country.

Despite various limitations, DU is still ranked as the best university in the country. But we can’t be happy with this. We want to make our university world class. Before celebrating the centenary of DU in 2021, we need to examine our methods and figure out how we can take our university to a certain height by raising the quality of teaching and research.

How are we going to live up to the challenge of branding the university, which was once called the “Oxford of the East,” and meet the standards set by the development of science, technology, and the liberal arts in the 21st century?

The alumni can come forward to raise sufficient funds for research and provide scholarships to the students to go to the best universities for higher education. To make DU one of the finest seats of learning regionally as well as globally, we need to prepare a 25-year perspective plan with immediate, mid- and long-term targets.

Every member of DU and its alumni who are proud of their engagements and contributions to building the nation would also like to feel more pride by rebuilding the image of this university and converting it to a world class center for the production and dissemination of knowledge.


The Minimal-Contact Economy
Friday, July 3, 2020
The Minimal-Contact Economy

Bambang Brodjonegoro, Minister for Research and Technology of Indonesia, in Kompas (June 23, 2020)

Summary by Keith Loveard (Photo credit: Said Safri / Shutterstock.com)

The Minimal-Contact Economy

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on Indonesia. A number of practices which have no precedent in this republic such as working from home, social distancing and large-scale social restrictions that have been in place for three months have shaken our economy. Economic activity involving lots of human labor has more or less stopped, including in the informal sector. Many economic activities that require a physical presence no longer operate, leaving a part of the public without income.

As a result, in addition to the slowing economy, unemployment and poverty are increasing. While this is a disturbing situation, the example of other countries that were hit earlier made it clear that the coronavirus spreads quickly and takes many lives. There was no choice but to limit social interaction.

How long will this last? There is no clear answer, although the ideal would be to find a vaccine. However, this will take time, and economic activities cannot be stopped. As free people, humans do not wish to be detained for very long.


Defending Tech Sovereignty
Friday, July 3, 2020
Defending Tech Sovereignty

Arghya Sengupta, Research Director at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, and Lalitesh Katragadda, Founder, Indihood, in The Times of India (July 3, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes

Defending Tech Sovereignty

As Indian soldiers face the Chinese army in Ladakh, their courage in defending our borders makes our hearts both heavy and proud. However, as citizens, our actions belie our feelings. India’s trade deficit with China is US$48.5 billion, on the back of China’s near-complete domination of India’s consumer electronics market. The resulting economic upside is significant enough to fund China’s entire military expenditure on the Indian border. How do we face our soldiers and tell them that we are bankrolling the very peril that they are bravely pushing back against?

In this context, the decision by the Indian government to ban 59 Chinese apps including TikTok and WeChat is a significant statement of intent. Section 69A of the Information Technology Act allows the government to block access to any content on the internet if protection of Indian sovereignty requires such blocking.

While any direct connections between companies which own the blocked apps and the Chinese government are difficult to detect, by virtue of China’s national intelligence law every technology company in the country is under a legal obligation to “assist and cooperate with state intelligence”. Further, according to China’s cybersecurity law, all companies “must accept supervision from the government”. When that government wages war on India’s borders, a strong case exists to follow due procedure and block these applications.

Ultimately, in technology as in the economy, we need to learn from our soldiers on the front. We need to steel ourselves for a few years of hardship with knowledge and belief that we will overcome. If we don’t, our dream of a tech sovereign India will become like a TikTok video – short-lived and illusory. If we do, perhaps our foes may never dare to draw battle lines inside our physical territory.


Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it
Friday, July 3, 2020
Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it

Yutaka Suzuki, Professor, Department of Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, in Tokyo Shimbun (July 1, 2020)

Summary by Nevin Thompson

Online Learning Should Continue for Students who Prefer it

As schools across Japan reopen and try to make up for instruction time lost during Covid-19 closures, we must ensure learning continues to be flexible. While school summer holidays have been shortened and some students are now attending classes six days a week, online teaching has ended. This may present a barrier to learning for the students who traditionally have not done well with in-person learning and have stayed away from school. In fact, the online learning presented during the closures engaged some of these students with schooling. The past few months have proven that students can learn without necessarily needing to be physically present in school. Online learning should be continued for these students.


The Confusion Around Languages
Friday, July 3, 2020
The Confusion Around Languages

Henry Ren Jie Chong, Research Fellow at the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies, in Oriental Daily News (June 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

The Confusion Around Languages

There has long been a controversy over whether Chinese Malaysians should learn Malay. One of the main arguments for this is the idea that Chinese should learn Malay to be integrated in society, be accepted by the Malays, and to prove that they are “Malaysian”. But we should move beyond the issue of language and discuss what it means to be a national of any country. 

History textbooks would often describe nationality and ethnic groups as referring to the same blood, language and culture groups. This is an inaccurate definition, however. The same language is not enough to be an element of unity. Neighbors Austria and Germany both use German, yet they are not the same country. Switzerland is another example. It has four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansh. The Swiss does not therefore think that people who speak another language are necessarily of another country.

There are many ways to distinguish one another within a country. Even if there is one language, there remains many other ways to distinguish citizens from each other. And, even if there are different languages, it is still not be impossible to build a nation. In other words, language is not a key factor.

In Southeast Asia, many countries are still building their nation-state. Malaysia is no exception. The question of whether everyone should learn Malay comes up in the context of building a nation. But we should try to think outside such a framework and more about what kind of country we want to build.


The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence
Thursday, July 2, 2020
The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence

Maleeha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the US, UK and UN, in Dawn (June 29, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: United States Institute of Peace)

The Tyranny of Power Asymmetry and Dependence

Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives have principally been shaped by its geostrategic location in a tough neighborhood. This explains why security concerns had such a dominant influence. The sweep of foreign policy over the decades reveals a complex interplay between internal and external factors, and between domestic goals and an ever-changing international environment.

Of course, big power interests had a major impact on policy, intersecting with elite interests to sometimes complicate if not aggravate Pakistan’s challenges. An unedifying aspect of this was a mindset of dependence fostered among officials during prolonged periods of the country’s alignments. This dependence proved to be habit forming. Reliance on external financial assistance created a perverse incentive for urgent economic reform and serious domestic resource mobilization. It also encouraged ruling elites to constantly look outside to address financial deficits and other sources of internal vulnerabilities, even see outsiders as catalytic agents to promote development and solve problems at home.

The most recent turning point has seen Pakistan tie its strategic future more firmly to China while facing an implacably hostile India. In fact, the country’s daunting foreign policy challenges call for a more imaginative strategy to navigate a more complex and unsettled multipolar world.

The world has changed fundamentally but habits ingrained over the years by the ruling elite have yet to do so. Pakistan learnt to rely on itself for its defense when it pursued and acquired the strategic capability to deter aggression. But the habit persists of seeking help from foreign donors to deal with chronic financing gaps — frequently dramatized by frantic trips to Arab capitals. A similar lesson has yet to be learnt about financial self-reliance which is only possible through bold fiscal reform and a reordering of budget priorities. The tyranny of dependence waits to be overcome.


Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

Thang Lengleng, Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore, in Lianhe Zaobao (June 26, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Code@SG/Infocomm Media Development Authority)

Do the Elderly Suffer from Technophobia?

The government’s establishment of the new Singapore Digital Office (SDO) will encourage electronic payments throughout society. However, ensuring the elderly can keep up with new technologies remains a challenge. Over a decade ago, the government establishment of the Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) to address this issue.

The elderly are benefiting from a digitized life. According to one 2018 survey, 55 percent of those over 60 used the internet, an increase of 25 percent in just two years. Nevertheless, there will still be some elderly people still excluded from the digital world. Beyond creating new learning opportunities, we must build deeper understanding of the willingness among the elderly to accept new technologies.

Studies have shown that if seniors understand how technologies would be beneficial to them, that they are not too difficult to use, and that their family and friends also recognize the importance of these skills, then they are more likely to accept them. Yet there are not many seniors who are willing to take on new challenges.

It is important to recognize the diversity of elderly people. While education, income and occupation can all affect the willingness of the elderly to accept new technology, it is also a fact that the higher the age, the lower the rate of using new technology. As such, it is necessary to be more attentive to and respect the older age group, who are more likely to be marginalized.

While the government continues to promote digitalization measures, they have repeatedly stated they will retain non-digital alternatives. In addition to providing assistance to encourage the elderly to learn, the government must also take into account the specific design of products and digital services and embrace the principle of simplicity and ease of use. This can help seniors to embrace the digital transformation.


Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations

Hsu Mien-sheng, Taiwan diplomat, in Storm Media Group (June 27, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: www.vystrcil.cz)

Don’t Get Too Excited About Czech-Taiwan Relations

Domestic media recently reported that the Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil plans to visit Taiwan. This will not only involve Czech-Taiwan relations but also cross-strait relations. If cross-strait relations are harmonious, exchanges with countries without diplomatic relations are relatively straightforward. Visa-free treatment for Taiwan citizens in the European Schengen countries was achieved under harmonious cross-strait relations. Today, ties are tense and Taipei’s exchanges with countries with which it has no diplomatic relations will inevitably aggravate Beijing.

Vystrčil has been extremely friendly to Taiwan. Despite his lofty status, however, he is of relatively low political importance. Czech President Miloš Zeman, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček all have discouraged the visit because of their concerns about the relationship between the Czech Republic and China. Beijing has reacted strongly, with the Chinese Embassy in Prague declaring that the visit is “blatant support for the separatist forces and activities in Taiwan, which seriously violate China’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Many politicians from countries with no diplomatic relations have visited Taiwan over the years, but they have observed diplomatic practices and not announced it beforehand. There has been no incident and no trouble to any party. Diplomacy should be about doing more and talking less. It is necessary to respect the professional judgment of diplomats and act in the proper way to prevent incidents. In this case, Taiwan’s representative in the Czech Republic behaved inappropriately by not consulting other parties on the handling of this announcement.

While Taiwan should cherish its friendship with the Czech Republic, we must avoid getting too excited. It would be inappropriate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to use this visit for publicity. While it was originally seen as a positive event, any negative consequences could be more costly that it is worth.