The View From Asia

Leaders under the spotlight

Leadership issues are in the limelight in Asia, including Malaysia's reaction to the Chinese envoy's remarks after his Petaling Street visit, the Thai PM's search for a new policy for the rural poor and South Korea's bid to share its expertise globally. Here are excepts from newspapers in the Asia News Network.

Clarifying an ambassador's words



Did Dr Huang Huikang interfere in Malaysia's domestic affairs? Did the Malaysian government overreact?

Under Malaysia's current political climate, seemingly normal and acceptable talk and behaviour are being misinterpreted or distorted as "intervention" or "infringement".

This is particularly true in the case of Petaling Street, which has itself become a highly sensitive landmark.

In the eyes of Malay politicians and nationalists, that place is now in the forefront of their so-called struggle. The fact that Ambassador Huang went there and said certain things has been interpreted as an endorsement of confrontation against the "red shirts".

Their reaction has been very straightforward.

Before even finding out exactly what the Ambassador was trying to say, they asserted dogmatically that it was an act of intervention.

Although Wisma Putra claimed that it was normal to call in an ambassador for clarification, many have smelt something unbecoming in the gesture.

Summoning an ambassador reflects discontentment in a blatant show of counteraction. And it is even less usual to summon the Chinese Ambassador, given the fact that China has always been both a key strategic ally and an economic partner in the foreign policy of Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration.

It is extremely unusual for the Malaysian government to take the risk of jeopardising its ties with Beijing. No matter how much we loathe it, Malaysians have found themselves in increasingly confrontational ethnic politics after the recent two rallies.

To consolidate their fundamental support base, politicians and political parties have spared no effort in "heating up" seemingly harmless issues. And they are getting bolder and bolder.

A farmer working in a rice field in Khon Kaen, Thailand. The Thai government have been trying to find a new policy that gets help to the rural poor without it sounding like a populist policy. - PHOTO: REUTERS

50 shades of 'popularism'



Officially, it's not "populism" (prachaniyom). It's "pracharath". And there is no precise English translation for that. And if there is an equivalent in the Western political world, the term hasn't been popularised.

Thai politics has produced another "first"!

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Deputy Premier for Economic Affairs Somkid Jatusripitak have been trying to find a new policy that gets help to the rural poor without it sounding like a populist policy.

Renowned social activist Prawase Wasi was just the right person to fill the gap.

It so happens that Dr Somkid and Dr Prawase had formed a "Pracharath Group" long before the political turmoil emerged. Their pressure group was created as a non-partisan gathering of activists seeking solutions to the social issues facing Thailand.

"Pracha" means people. "Prachaniyom" means "popular with the people". It was supposed to be a positive term, until the Thaksin government decide to adopt it for its populist policy, which eventually wreaked havoc on the national budget.

It has since been considered taboo.

The current power-holders, however, have depicted prachaniyom as a seriously flawed policy that merely served the interests of politicians.

"Pracharat" is now the official policy pillar.

If "pracha" means "people", then "rat" refers to "the state".

The English translation of the term, as a government spokesman pointed out, would be "state of the people". A few academics, including political scientists, have admitted to being flabbergasted by the introduction of "pracharath" as a national policy - and understandably so.

The main reasons behind the coining of the new term are quite simple. The economy can be invigorated only if the agricultural sector is given a big boost and new money injected into the provinces. However, offering a special budget for the local tambons (governments) would naturally conjure up pictures of the "populist" policy that has been attacked by the current government all along.

But in the end, what's in a name? The only true distinction between prachaniyom and pracharath will depend on whether the latter can produce benefits for the rural poor via government largesse that also helps build their immunity to future political manipulation.

S. Korea's international role grows



South Korea showed its readiness to play a more vital role in the international community during the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit last month.

President Park Geun Hye pledged US$200 million (S$285.6 million) towards healthcare services and education of girls over a period of five years, starting next year.

South Korea will provide health- and education-related official development assistance to countries like Nepal, Laos and Bangladesh to close the gender gap in education and help girls reach their full potential.

Describing South Korea as "a vivid testament to all that education can do", Ms Park also pledged to bolster support for establishing vocational, polytechnic and high-tech institutes.

South Korea has also pledged to share its experience and know-how in rural development through its Saemaul Undong or New Community Movement.

As an aid-recipient country that has become a donor nation, it has valuable experience and lessons to share. The country's rise from the

ashes of war to an economic powerhouse and a vibrant democracy in just five decades is one that is inspiring for many developing countries.

What worked for South Korea may not necessarily work for other countries.

Indeed, it should guard against efforts to outright export its experience and models; rather, it should work as a partner towards humanity's common goal of improving lives.

•The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers. For more, see

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'Leaders under the spotlight '. Subscribe