David Armstrong’s Asian Media this week – small step for rights

Aug 27, 2022
Gay Love Equal Love
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Singapore, Hong Kong rule out same-sex marriage

Gay rights in the region took a small step forward this week, with Singapore deciding to repeal a law banning sex between men. But there was frustration, as well: Singapore will not follow through by allowing same-sex marriage and an attempt to have overseas same-sex marriages recognised in Hong Kong was defeated in the courts.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the repeal of the gay sex ban in his National Day Rally speech on August 21. Singapore was a traditional society with conservative social values, he said. But society included gay people, who were fellow Singaporeans – colleagues, friends and family members.

The gay-sex law, called Section 377A had stayed on the books but was not enforced. The government would now repeal Section 377A and decriminalize sex between men.

But Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in an interview with The Straits Times that the government would make it clear in the constitution that it was Parliament’s prerogative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said there would be no change in laws and policies that rely on that definition, covering such areas as public housing, adoption, advertising standards, film classification and what children were taught in schools.

(The Straits Times also published an edited text of the prime minister’s speech).

In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported a human rights activist lost his appeal against a court’s refusal to recognise his New York-registered same-sex marriage.

Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit had argued same-sex couples had the same right to marriage as heterosexual couples.

But the Court of Appeal held that the country’s Basic Law (a mini-constitution) allowed access to marriage only to opposite-sex partners. The government had no obligation to recognise same-sex unions.

Sham is currently in custody facing charges of subversion.

South Korea wrestles with China links

China and South Korea, combatants in the Korean War, on Wednesday marked 30 years of diplomatic relations with the expected platitudes but also a degree of introspection.

China Daily faithfully reported President Xi Jinping’s “festive messages”, saying he set a goal for the two countries to be good neighbours, good friends and good partners.

South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol was more restrained. He said the two countries were expected to build on a spirit of mutual respect and make their ties more mature and healthy.

South Korean media echoed Yoon’s more reflective tone, in contrast to the belligerent group-think of Australia’s media.

An editorial in The Korea Herald said it was time to redesign relations with China – showing mutual respect while managing difficult issues separately. High level exchanges needed to be made more regular; social and cultural exchanges needed to be revived, urgently.

“A growing antipathy towards each other is fatal to the future of their relations,” the editorial said.

The paper also published a piece by staff commentator Jo He-rim, saying that Korea now stood at a critical juncture in deciding the fate of bilateral relations. It was caught between Sino-US rivalry and China’s rapid economic growth.

“The intensifying competition between the US and China has ramped up pressure on South Korea to take a side between its main security ally and its biggest trading partner,” Jo said.

But the article said academic researcher Chung Jae-Hung had raised concerns about the risks of taking sides between the US and China.

Congress the wild card in China-US relations

Most reporting and analysis of China-US relations focuses on the parts played by the two presidents, Xi and Biden. But there is another factor at play that means there will likely be an even more tumultuous period ahead – the role of the US Congress.

Charissa Yong, US Correspondent of The Straits Times newspaper, says Congress has a solid tradition of backing Taiwan more vocally than the White House.

Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this month highlighted one of the dynamics of the America political system: that Congress and the White House are co-equal branches of government.

“Capitol Hill’s congressional delegation visits to Taiwan and pro-Taiwan bills may send confusing signals to Beijing,” she writes in the paper’s regular Power Play column.

Yong says it would not hurt for the Biden administration to be clearer on America’s “one-China” policy.

“Otherwise, the daylight between Capitol Hill and the White House on Taiwan may lead to darker days ahead for US-China relations.

Also this week, Global Times, Beijing’s strident English-language mouthpiece, said politicians and officials from the US (and other countries) keep making or planning visits to Taiwan to further provoke China.

It said China had made a serious protest over a visit by a US delegation that included Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.

“The visits to Taiwan, as well as US arms sales to the island, [send] very wrong signals that encourage the secessionist Democratic Progressive Party to go against reunification with force and seek foreign support, so the possibility of peaceful unification is seriously shrinking,” it said.

“[This] makes the People’s Liberation Army routine training and drills for a military solution around the island increasingly necessary.”

UN, Myanmar junta still a world apart

Noeleen Heyzer, the UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, met junta leader Min Aung Hlaing this month and it was expected the details of their conversation would not be disclosed. Heyzer, however, issued a two-page statement about their talks. The junta hit back, publishing what it called a full description – a 4,954-word record of the meeting.

Bangkok Post regional affairs columnist Kavi Chongkittavorn this week published an extended account of the meeting. “It is obvious…that the regime decided to retaliate against the UN by telling its own version,” he wrote.

Kavi said the visit was portrayed as focusing on “trust and co-operation.”  But the reports showed the two were still a world apart.

“The UN wanted the SAC [junta] to stop violence and release all prisoners,” he said. “Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing had an unequivocal and clear message to the UN that the current UN credentials accorded to the previous government must change.”

This was Heyzer’s first visit to Myanmar and her predecessor, Christine Schraner Burgener, had been denied entry to the country.

“The senior general made a slip of the tongue, saying that ‘I do not have personal feelings for you’,” Kavi wrote. “In Burmese culture, it was tantamount to saying that ‘I do not care about you’.

“It is now clear his that after their first encounter his feelings have become sour and vengeful.

“Now it is doubtful if [Heyzer] will be allowed to return at all.”

G20 Summit – what do we do about Vladimir?

Convening a G20 Summit should be a time of triumph for the host nation. But as Indonesia prepares for the G20 meeting in Bali in November, the lead-up is proving a time of headaches. The big problem: what to do about Vladimir.

The Russian President has told Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo that he will be attending. But some Western nations have called on Indonesia to bar Putin – the latest being the UK, last week.

The Jakarta Post says experts have called on the Foreign Ministry to gear up with “careful negotiation skills” to keep the summit on track. The paper quotes Lina Alexandra, a senior researcher at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies, as saying it could be inferred from the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in July that Putin’s presence at the summit would generate ill-feeling and animosity.

At that meeting, the tension was so bad that some ministers even refused to walk past a corridor when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was standing. But the Foreign Ministry should be capable of learning from that experience ways of maintaining a productive decorum, she said.

The Hindu newspaper looks ahead to December, when India will assume the G20 presidency and the right to host the 2023 summit. Rajiv Bhatia, a former ambassador, says the forum is faced with an existential crisis now that the major powers have fallen out.

“The disastrous impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine, India-China border tension, EU/US-Russia hostility and deteriorating US-China relations are already visible in the run-up to the 2022 Bali summit, where all G20 leaders might not be physically sitting in the same room,” Bhatia says in an opinion piece.

More positively, he notes that four democracies on the path of becoming major economic players – Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa – would hold the G20 presidency from November 2021 to November 2025.

“This offers a rare opportunity for synergy and solidarity to advance the interests of the developing world,” he says.

Japanese edict: speak English at work

How would Australian workers cope if their bosses suddenly demanded they speak a language other than English during working hours?

The Asahi Shimbun paper in Japan reports globalisation is forcing companies to hire linguistically gifted employees, with some companies insisting English is the language to be used during working hours.

The latest company to order staff to use English for all business-related activities is Sharp Corp.

“One exasperated staffer said he had ‘never heard of that’ happening in the company,” the paper reported. Others complained that sales staff working in Japan had no need to use English day-by-day.

“The company has yet to divulge what training programs it has in mind to transform the way it does business,” the paper said.

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