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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.
Society Faces Challenges Beyond the Cycles of Protests
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Society Faces Challenges Beyond the Cycles of Protests

Pravit Rojanaphruk, Senior Staff Writer, in Khaosod (September 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: from video by prachatai)

Society Faces Challenges Beyond the Cycles of Protests

The major anti-government protests will not only be about demands – but also about numbers, legitimacy, and how to coexist with those who disagree with you. Anyone can make demands or counter-demands, to their hearts’ content. Being able to achieve their goals without violence or suppressing others is another story.

Whatever the numbers both sides may claim, both the protesters and royalists have to bear in mind that they cannot escape or avoid one another. They cannot wave a magic wand in hope that there will be no more opposition and resistance to their respective “idealized” version of a desired Thai society.

Can there be a compromise, an accommodation of one another – or will it have to be another zero-sum game with no middle ground, with violence, a military coup or people’s revolt as the only outcome?

Thai history shows that change, including regime change, by force is much more common than peaceful transition and transformation. Now both sides, particularly the government of Gen Prayut Chan-ocha must ensure peace and guarantee the right to peaceful assembly.

To make the matter more complicated is the fact that even among the anti-government alliance, they seem to still differ on the priority of what should come first, Is it a new charter, new elections or monarchy reforms?

Many on the side of the protests are young. All sides do not need to repeat the same mistake of the violent past and instead seek a common solution that is peaceful. The time has also come for the young protest leadership to make its movement not just democratic by name but democratic and participatory and transparent in how it is being run.

Thai society faces challenges beyond protests and counter-protests. We have to learn how to deal with them and resolve them peacefully and democratically.


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

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

Summary by Soomi Hong (Photo credit: SK hynix)

US-China Relations Prompts Shifts in the Semiconductor Sector

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

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

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


Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment
Friday, September 18, 2020
Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment

Zhan Shaoxiang, financial officer, in Lianhe Zaobao (September 14, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Dickson Phua)

Don’t Blame Foreigners for Unemployment

As Singapore’s economic situation worsens and unemployment rises, the debate over whether government policies allow foreigners to steal jobs from locals has been reignited. But is this true?

First, it is necessary to look at Singapore’s economic environment in comparison to the rest of the world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many industries are suffering, and layoffs have become inevitable for both foreigners and local. The public, however, has paid too much attention to the number of unemployed locals, overlooking the situation for foreigners.

Second, in response to Covid-19, the Singaporean government has launched a series of measures to assist businesses. This includes an employment subsidy program that supports local workers. Yet there has been no subsidy for wages paid to foreigners

Third, Singapore is an open economy as well as an important financial, service and shipping center. To maintain this international status, it is necessary to recruit talent from all over the world. Foreigners have provided Singapore with knowledge, technology and management expertise, which is now an indispensable asset.

Fourth, the government has spared no effort in attracting multinational companies to Singapore, creating more employment opportunities. It is understandable that many companies will require some employees to be local as they may have a better grasp of the business.

Finally, foreigners consume food, clothing, housing and transportation and also pay taxes. This has promoted the development of the local economy and created income and employment opportunities for locals. Without foreigners, many houses would become vacant and restaurants and cafes would have less business.

The Ministry of Manpower should not interfere too much with a company’s freedom to hire employees. Every worker, whether local or foreign, contributes to Singapore’s economic development. Locals should avoid making excuses for their own problems by blaming the government, foreigners or companies.


Does Taiwan Still Need the Kuomintang?
Friday, September 18, 2020
Does Taiwan Still Need the Kuomintang?

Lee Min-yung, poet and social critic, in Liberty Times (September 16, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory

Does Taiwan Still Need the Kuomintang?

The stated goal and mission of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) no longer exists. The KMT wants to fight on behalf of the People's Republic of China and give them the authority to rule Taiwan. On the other hand, the goal of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and some other Taiwanese parties is to establish Taiwan as a separate entity from the People’s Republic of China. While the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) used to be enemies who wanted to destroy each other, now they are allies. Today, the main enemy of the KMT is not the CCP but the ruling party in Taiwan, the DPP.

In the 1950s, the KMT was centered on Chiang Kai-shek who used martial law and white terror to deal with dissidents. Not only those involved in communism, but also those who reformed and defended Taiwan were persecuted. In 1971, due to the self-serving nature of the KMT, the Republic of China was officially expelled from the United Nations and replaced by People's Republic of China. As a result, any protection over Taiwan's national status was immediately lost. 

The KMT now views Taiwan as a bargaining chip and supports its absorption by the CCP. However, after the lifting of the martial law and democratization, the Taiwan people who have left the KMT, including the descendants of post-war immigrants, have spurned the KMT’s desire to sell off Taiwan. The peaceful revolutions carried out through elections has gradually shaped a new distinct Taiwan. Considering these developments, does Taiwan still need the KMT?


Universities in the West on the Brink of Bankruptcy
Friday, September 18, 2020
Universities in the West on the Brink of Bankruptcy

Yu Pengkun, writer, in Guancha (September 17, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Theoden sA)

Universities in the West on the Brink of Bankruptcy

The pandemic has affected universities around the world. While China has been able to control the spread of the virus and reopen campuses, in the US, the UK, Australia and many other countries, the epidemic has not been be controlled, and universities have generally been encouraged to open up as soon as possible. As a result, many universities in these countries have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.

This year, almost all Australian universities have relaxed academic requirements for international students. Meanwhile, it has been reported that many prestigious universities in the US could close down.

Chinese cannot understand this phenomenon. During the epidemic period, students at universities in China took classes online so the only drop in revenue was from accommodation fees and canteen contract payments. The commercialization of education, which is common overseas, makes students and parents behave like consumers and, as a result of high tuition fees, many perceive the value of online teaching to be less than that of in-person instruction. There is still a strong belief that the epidemic is not to be taken seriously and that virtual learning is not necessary. This a result of anti-intellectual thinking encouraged by political elites.

The UK, the US and Australia have been unable to control the epidemic. As relations with China become more strained, Chinese parents and students must consider all possible risks and also whether distance learning is really worth the tuition. But why are prestigious universities facing serious financial difficulties with a drop in tuition fees in just one year? Ultimately, the commercialization of higher education is to blame. Over the past 20 years, China has also already experienced a certain degree of commercialization so attention must be paid by relevant departments to learn from problems in other countries.


Finding a Balance with the US and the Mainland
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Finding a Balance with the US and the Mainland

Ko Yu-chih, Associate Professor, Department of Diplomacy, National Chengchi University, in China Times (September 12, 2020)

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

Finding a Balance with the US and the Mainland

During the Cold War, Taiwan was seen to be abandoned by the US when Washington was forced into having relations with just one side of the Strait. With the possibility of a new Cold War between the US and China, Taiwan is now being made to choose a side and is leaning towards the US. The possibility of the US abandoning Taiwan again cannot be ruled out, however.

After President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May 2016, the continued decline in cross-strait relations has resulted in Taiwan kowtowing to the US. In the long run, Taiwan must be committed to building a balanced trilateral relationship. This, as Johnny Chiang, the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT) has stated, is the only option in line with Taiwan’s best interests.

Achieving balance is not an easy task. It requires not only the right time, the right place, and the harmony of people but also meticulous diplomacy. Mutual trust and respect mutual are the only way to avoid war. Maintaining peace across the Strait, amid declining Sino-US relations, is therefore an important goal that should transcend partisanship and that officials and civilians on both sides of the Strait should work together towards.

As the confrontation between Beijing and Washington increases, the security of the Taiwan Strait is more at risk. To reverse the downward spiral towards conflict and avoid a Cold War, cross-strait exchanges and dialogue must increase. He proposed to continue engagements to resolve the current differences in understanding between the two sides towards the "1992 Consensus". This will allow the two sides to ease tensions and establish an environment conducive to maintaining peace.


Biden Win a Boon or Bane?
Friday, September 11, 2020
Biden Win a Boon or Bane?

Kavi Chongkittavorn, journalist, in Bangkok Post (September 8, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Michael Stokes)

Biden Win a Boon or Bane?

If Joseph Biden wins the US election, Thailand must prepare a new strategy to "renew" and "reinvent" engagement with the US that will be tougher on issues related to China, human rights and democracy. The Biden administration's approach could be a boon or bane for Thailand, one of its five allies in the Indo-Pacific. With a new administration under the Democrats, the US State Department would again shape overall policy towards its benign ally.

Mr Biden would follow President Donald Trump's templates on China. Indeed, Mr Biden cannot appear to be soft on China, especially at this critical juncture. The US status as the most powerful country in the world has been severely challenged by China. It also happens at a time when Mr Trump's global leadership continues to falter as he continues to damage US credibility with his personal style of diplomacy and unpredictability.

Under a Biden presidency, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia will be high on the American agenda as the key countries in continental Southeast Asia that have close relations with China. For Thailand's future, it is imperative that the US and China have a stable relationship. The most important issue for Thailand is how to manage the two most powerful countries in the world to avoid any miscalculated risks. Healthy competition between China and the US will allow Thailand to balance its "win-win" approach more efficiently.

Southeast Asian countries cannot afford to become anti-Chinese as the United States has often been inclined to be. What the future US administration could do is to help the region to become more resilient and prosperous, so that these countries can engage their giant neighbor in the most efficient and beneficial way.


The Friendliness of the Abe Administration
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
The Friendliness of the Abe Administration

Ogasawara Yoshiyuki, Professor at the Institute of Global Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, in Liberty Times (September 7, 2020)

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

The Friendliness of the Abe Administration

The government of Abe Shinzo has been the friendliest Japanese government to Taiwan since the severance of diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Taipei in 1972. In the absence of formal ties, Prime Minister Abe and President Tsai Ing-wen regularly send encouraging messages to each other on Twitter – this alone is worthy of recognition.

One of the greatest achievements has been the Taiwan-Japan Fisheries Agreement signed in 2013. As a result, territorial issues between Japan and Taiwan have faded and bilateral relations have improved. The Abe government has also been committed to promoting bilateral exchanges – albeit in a low-key manner – since this agreement. When Tsai Ing-wen was elected president in January 2016, Abe congratulated her publicly, and in 2017 the Japanese government renamed its de-facto embassy from the Japan-Taiwan Interchange Association to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association.

After 2017, however, the Abe administration’s relationship with Taiwan stagnated due to Taiwan’s continued restrictions of food imports from five prefectures surrounding Fukushima, where the nuclear disaster occurred in 2011. Meanwhile, Japan-China relations began to improve with Abe openly welcoming a visit from Xi Jinping to Japan. Nevertheless, the Abe administration has also moved to contain China.

Overall, the tremendous support given by the people of Taiwan people during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami has helped to strengthen bilateral relations and also improve the attitude of Japanese society towards Taiwan. As a result, people-to-people exchanges have also become more frequent. While the Abe administration certainly contributed to improve in relations, it is even more important to acknowledge the hard work of many Japanese and Taiwan people who have continued to strive for deeper mutual understanding.


APEC Should Strengthen Cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative
Friday, September 4, 2020
APEC Should Strengthen Cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative

Chu Kar Kin, Hong Kong commentator, in Oriental Daily (August 30, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: APEC Secretariat)

APEC Should Strengthen Cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative

While there are still uncertainties arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit as originally planned. The theme is "Optimizing Human Potential towards a Future of Shared Prosperity”. In short, as the host country, Malaysia will strive to bring APEC's concept to the general public and lay the foundation for the establishment of balance and fair cooperation among various economies, and achieve more inclusive and sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. 

APEC and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are both mechanisms that bring together a number of developed and developing countries. It is time for the two to explore the feasibility of mutually beneficial cooperation. If APEC and the BRI can promote cooperation, the potential impact of these two international giants is limitless. Furthermore, it would be cross-industry and cross-sectoral, from energy to infrastructure, from supply chain to green finance, from logistics management to shipping and aviation. 

APEC and the BRI share the same direction. The integration and cross-industry cooperation of various industries can not only increase sustainability but also produce other benefits. The members of the BRI come from all over the world and new members will continue to join. APEC should consider establishing a formal partnership or alliance, with the BRI to achieve a win-win situation. This could be enshrined by signing a memorandum of cooperation.

The 21st century is a period of encouraging cooperation and inclusive economic cooperation. Future cooperation between APEC and the BRI will help to achieve this.


DPP Government Harms Taiwan by Promoting Decoupling from the Mainland
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
DPP Government Harms Taiwan by Promoting Decoupling from the Mainland

Xie Nan, Associate Researcher, Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Global Times (August 21, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: Solomon203)

DPP Government Harms Taiwan by Promoting Decoupling from the Mainland

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan is increasingly attempting to restrict cross-strait economic, trade and cultural exchanges. The DPP has moved to bar popular mainland streaming services, iQiyi and Tencent’s WeTV, from operating in Taiwan. At the same time, relevant departments have tightened the classification of "mainland capital". At present, the island currently imposes strict regulations on investment from companies that are at least 30 percent mainland-owned.

Streaming services such as iQiyi have contributed to the economic and social development of Taiwan, while at the same time introducing high-quality film and television content to the people, enabling citizens on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to share popular culture. This has helped strengthen cross-strait connections.

The restrictive measures imposed by the DPP represent a form of "ideological leadership" that closely follows the US "anti-China" line, even if this means damaging the real interests of the Taiwan people. Some Taiwan media have labelled the DPP authorities' strict restrictions on investment as "stupid" and "causing harm with no benefits".

Ultimately, the DPP’s strict restrictions on the flow of mainland capital to the island will only succeed in making cross-strait economic and trade interactions more unbalanced. Taiwan’s economic and social development will inevitably struggle as industries will realize how difficult it is to be successful without support from the mainland. Considering the continuous improvement of the mainland's economic and industrial competitiveness, its attractiveness to Taiwan will be enhanced, while Taiwan's economy will struggle. 

The DPP is exposing its weakness by continuing to introduce these "decoupling" measures. In the face of the rise of the mainland, the DPP can only respond with extreme measures. While such a response will create certain obstacles to the development of cross-strait integration, it cannot get in the way of reunification. 


Will There Be Another Financial Crisis?
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Will There Be Another Financial Crisis?

Kuay Chau Churh, writer, in Oriental Daily (August 21, 2020)

Summary by Alan Yang Gregory (Photo credit: jEd dC)

Will There Be Another Financial Crisis?

The global economic shock of 2020 was not caused by financial speculation or asset bubbles. The black-swan event was that led to it was instead a pandemic and, to control the spread of the virus, almost all countries have adopted a national lockdown policy, restricting international movement and prohibiting many economic activities.

The result of this unprecedented collective shutdown was revealed in the second quarter of 2020 when Malaysia’s GDP fell 17.1 percent year-on-year, setting a record for the worst quarter in history. This forced the central bank to revise its full-year GDP target from the original positive growth rate of 0.5 percent to a contraction of between 3.5 to 5.5 percent.

The ability to stage an economic rebound depends on Covid-19. Any recovery will depend not on its direction or intensity, but instead on when the epidemic can be completely eliminated. Instead of focussing on GDP, it is better to study the debt situation. With a healthy financial situation, anyone can survive the economic downturn.

But household debt is high, accounting for more than 80 percent of GDP. Malaysia’s unemployment rate soared to 5 percent in April, setting a new 30-year high. The job market in the next few months will definitely be bleak, and household financial problems will deepen. Another concern is the housing bubble – more than half of household debt is tied to mortgages.

The central bank will definitely cut interest rates further. If Malaysia is in a low interest rate environment in the next few years, it is conceivable that the banking and financial industries will be hit first. Can the financial system? 

If the economy is to survive, there is no other way than wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and take preventive measures. Only when the epidemic has stabilized can economic affairs recover. 


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

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

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

Clergy in Need during the Pandemic

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Foreign Worker Employment: A Modern Form of Slavery

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

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

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

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


“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal

Michael L Tan, medical anthropologist, veterinarian, and chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman from 2014 to 2020, in his column Pinoy Kasi in Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 19, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Ben Pederick/Good Morning Beautiful Films)

“Mafia” Deals in the Public Healthcare System: In Need of a Better Normal

Our chronic problems with PhilHealth and its predecessor Medicare reflect a deeper malaise: our refusal to build a public healthcare system that responds effectively to the needs of people, regardless of their paying capacity. This happened because we insisted on blindly following the US model of healthcare, which has been an abject failure. While Western Europe and many other countries around the globe put up national health services with tax-based benefits so everyone had access to care, we followed the Americans with patients left to pay out of their own pockets, or through expensive insurance.

Think back to scandals like ghost patients in dialysis centers, and the victimizing of senior citizens in urban poor communities, recruited for unnecessary cataract surgeries. “Mafia” deals have eroded PhilHealth’s funds, with predictions that there will be no funds left in a year, this happening during the pandemic.

This is not surprising because the Philippines just does not look at healthcare as a right. Nor do we look at it as an investment. We look at public health as inferior healthcare for the poor so our dismal record handling public-health problems is not surprising. When Covid-19 broke out, our health department abdicated its duties and left them to the military and politicians.

Worse, PhilHealth and Medicare were seen as milking cows for bureaucrats, in collusion with unscrupulous doctors and hospitals. Covid-19 was a wake-up call. The lack of universal healthcare and other social safety nets like unemployment insurance made us so much more vulnerable to the pandemic’s adverse effects. We need a better normal for our social services. We need a public-health system – one that covers the preventive, curative, rehabilitative and promotive aspects of healthcare – supported by well managed funds, and one to which committed and competent health professionals would be drawn to serve.


Turkey’s Erdogan and India’s Modi: Using Religion as a Cover-up
Monday, August 24, 2020
Turkey’s Erdogan and India’s Modi: Using Religion as a Cover-up

Faizul Islam, Treasurer, Bangladesh Development Initiative, in bdnews24.com (August 18, 2020)

Summary by Alejandro Reyes (Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office)

Turkey’s Erdogan and India’s Modi: Using Religion as a Cover-up

Two headlines – “Erdogan joins thousands in first prayers at Hagia Sophia” and “Modi lays foundation stone for Ram temple in Ayodhya” – have captured international media attention. History is replete with instances of political leaders using their faith to conceal their weaknesses and failures as well as promote their own personal agenda. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and India’s Narendra Modi join that growing list.

On Ju 24, Erdogan took part along with tens of thousands in Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia, seated on the first row, reciting the Quran in fluent Arabic in a melodious voice. Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537. The church was converted into a mosque after the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. The founding leader of the secular Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, converted the mosque into a museum in 1934.

In July, ignoring criticism from around the world, Erdogan issued a decree restoring the iconic building as a mosque, soon after a Turkish high court ruled that the Hagia Sophia had been illegally made into a museum more than 80 years ago.

A similar scenario just took place in India. On Aug 5, Modi offered prayers and laid a ceremonial foundation stone for a grand Hindu temple at the site believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram in Uttar Pradesh’s river city of Ayodhya. Hindus believe Muslims built a mosque – the Babri Mosque – over the temple in the 16th century.

In essence, the Hagia Sophia or the Ayodhya Hindu temple as religious edifices demonstrate that political leaders will use their religion to change the narrative of the time and engage in cultural wars to promote their self-interest.