Confucius Institutes – A Chinese tool for soft power or a scapegoat for the West?
Confucius Institutes have been discussed in Western media in varying degrees of intensity over the last couple of decades. They have been subject to criticism for being tools of Chinese soft power and have been labeled as a threat to academic and individual freedom in different countries. But what are Confucius Institutes exactly, and how should we address them?
The origin of traditional culture may more often than not be assumed to have a natural origin that is taken for granted. But where do they come from and how is it that these are chosen to represent the authentic within any given culture. Might our concept of the traditional be a construct made in a different time and place than that in which it represents, and are there any clear cut border to these?
Imperial succession in Japan
Japan’s imperial family currently faces issues with maintaining sufficient family numbers and ensuring stable succession. In December 2021, an expert panel published a report that suggests two potential solutions for that, but none of these open up the possibility of allowing an empress and matrilineal successions as drastic approaches.
Having the cake and eating it too – China’s balancing act following the Russian invasion of Ukraine
The consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are reverberating around the world. Sanctions are mounting and logistics chains have been disrupted. Countries are re-evaluating their security policies and diplomatic positions as they try to navigate the new reality.
The Russian invasion has put China in a serious diplomatic and economic predicament, from which it has little chance to escape without suffering a diplomatic blow.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - April 2022
Tidbits from last month's news: South Korea elects new leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate's electoral success in Timor-Leste, standstill in Russia-Japan relations, increasing conflict in Indonesia's Papua region and China's "zero-COVID" policy.
The revival of Sento culture in Japan
Japan has cultivated a unique culture of enjoying taking public baths, called sento. Facing the current sharp decline of sento throughout the country, young people are trying to rediscover its significant values and revive it in a new form that meets contemporary social needs.
Two years of opposing the system: An overview of the Thai political protests 2020-2022
Since February 2020 Thailand has seen continued protests led by Thai Youth. With demands reaching from reforms of the educational system to demanding reform of the monarchy, the protests have shooked Thailand's politics and society at its core. This article gives an overview of what has happened in the country over the last two years.
The EU-Vietnam trade agreement: Heaven or hell?￼
Trade agreements have been praised as a significant contributor to developing countries´ economies and overall national development. Foreign investments help countries acquire the needed capital and technology in order to develop the domestic industry. Hence, when the EU and Vietnam signed a trade agreement, political and economic actors celebrated it as a mutually beneficial deal. However, the trade agreement has only deepened unequal development across the world.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - March 2022
This month we look at China's position towards Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Japan's stance on nuclear weapons, human rights violations in Laos, South Korea's chaotic presidential election and the revival of nuclear power in The Philippines.
China in space: lone ranger or cooperative power?
“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry and build China into a space power is our eternal dream”. This declaration from President Xi Jinping reflects the outlines of China’s strategy in outer space. While the country shares various similarities with fellow space powers, one can wonder about China’s space strategy considering its tense situation within the international community. Are they playing the lone wolf, or are they willing to contribute to mankind’s biggest challenges?
￼Party-state Capitalism: China's way of dealing with political conflicts
Party-state capitalism has emerged as a new term to describe China's political-economic dynamics as the Chinese Communist Party expands its institutional control over the economic sector and reduces its autonomy. While Western observers criticize the growing politicization of the economy, party-state capitalism is a necessary tool to reduce conflicts arising from the transition from one development stage to another.
The peculiar hype around ‘ugly’ buildings in China
Extravagant architectural structures attract attention in many ways. They can either evoke admiration, prestige and beauty, or they can cause outrage, irritation or ridicule. While the concept of beauty in building design depends on individual taste and local context, China struggles with what is generally considered ‘ugly’ architecture - prompting discussions of vanity, regulation and the emergence of a new self-consciousness in architectural spheres.
Collection of lovely origami tutorials to try out for yourself or a significant other.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - February 2022
After a long winter break, we are finally back to deliver news on recent events. This weeks featured stories: The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, former South Korea president Park Geun-hye pardoned, the Hong Kong elections, Japan's controversial travel ban and diplomatical developments between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
Interview with the Education Divison of the Taiwan Mission in Sweden
On a bench outside of Wenner-Gren Center, I met Stacy Huang, Head of the Educational Division at Taipei Mission in Sweden. We discussed different study and work opportunities, as well as what it is like living in Taiwan for international students.
Our interview went as follows.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - December 2021
In this last month's news review, we present a double feature on two important rulings from the Thailand Constitutional Court on the monarchy, and on same-sex marriage. Also featured: Japan's Lower House election results, the new joint U.S South Korea war plan on North Korea and the passing of South Korea's former dictator, Chun Doo-hwan.
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?--Interview with the Chinese Embassy in Sweden
Topics: Cross-Strait Relations, China-Sweden relationship, China exploration, mutual understanding
Khao San Road and the historical development of one of Bangkok’s most famous streets
Thanon Khao San road may be Southeast Asia's most famous street. Known as backpackers paradise, hundreds of thousands tourists visit the street each year. While you may not be able to visit Thanon Khao San at the moment, join us on a journey to see how the street became a tourist mecca.
Interview with the Economic Division of the Taipei Mission in Sweden
In a glass office at Wenner-Gren Center, Stockholm, I had an interview with Dr. Chris Chao, director of the Economic Division at Taipei Mission in Sweden. I wished to find out just what kind of cooperation there currently is between Sweden and Taiwan, as well as what kind of opportunities there are for interested students such as myself.
Our talk went a little like this.
WILL THE TRADITION OF CHUSEOK SURVIVE?
Ask any Korean person which holiday defines their national identity the best and they’ll likely answer “Chuseok”. Yet the central role of Chuseok is now challenged among younger generations. The cultural ancestral traditions are in tension with new values in rapidly modernizing Korean society, provoking a clash of generations.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - November 2021
News in October: China's energy crisis intensifies, further tensions in the Taiwan Strait, Japan goes to the polls, South Korea's growing entertainment industry and new electoral system proposed in Myanmar.
Exploring and feeling Japan through the camera lens: interview with street photographer Marianna Berno
A place is never simply “a place”; it is a mix of optical effects and emotions that differ in every single individual that visits it. Many are the forms of art that help humans capture the subjectivity of reality, but photography definitely has that extra bit that allows the viewer to really immerse in the artist’s emotional sphere. To say that is Marianna Berno, a street photographer that explored Japan through the lens of her camera and captured the nostalgic quotidianity of its people. Ready to re-discover Japan through a new and exceptional angle?
Interview with the Ambassador of Taiwan - Ambassador Yao
Geopolitics, US-Taiwan relations under the Biden administration, the pandemic and security concerns are all topics covered in this interview with Taiwan's Ambassador Yao to Sweden by Sarah Nygård.
Women in spotlight: Japan's pop culture casualties
From losing control over life choices to excessive stalking and abuse, Japan’s idol culture has left women who participate in it incredibly vulnerable. Follow the history of Japan’s idol culture to learn how this glittering industry has lefts its stars alone. The shimmering lights of Japan’s entertainment industry have placed women in increasingly dangerous positions without any support.
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - October 2021
In September: Japan’s ruling party elects a new leader, Huawei’s Meng Wenzhou returns to China, South Korea discusses ban on dog meat, ICC launches investigation into the war on drugs in the Philippines, and missile launches from both Koreas.
Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan
One of Busan’s hottest tourist spots, Gamcheon Culture Village, is characterised by its colourful small houses layered in a labyrinth of narrow streets and stairs, as the town lies on the side of the Cheonmasan Mountain. Emblazoned with dozens of various artwork, from statues to murals, “The Machu Picchu of Busan” reminds its visitors of Latin America’s favelas. In 2019, more than three million people visited the town. Here is Gamcheon’s regeneration story.
Legalism and Rule of Law
In recent years there has been a surge of legal reform in China. The heavy promotion on “Xi Jinping’s thought on the rule of law” have reignited the discussion on China’s historical legal traditions and practices. Amidst these discussions Legalism has sometimes been deemed the “Chinese version of rule of law” by scholars such as Fu Zhengyuan. In this article I will lay out some of the similarities and differences between these two legal traditions and explain why Legalism is not rule of law but rather rule by law.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in brief
After many discussions on the fate of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan decided to open its borders to athletes, journalists, and other participants, and held a decidedly unique Olympic Games, thanks to strong anti-Covid-19 measures. The Olympics promise potential economic benefits and international glory to the country and the city organising them. This year, however, pandemic intervened. Moreover, scandals involving misogynistic comments from the (now former) head of the Japanese Olympic committee, and the indecision about holding the Games had already tainted Japan’s reputation prior to the event. Now that the Olympics have ended, what can be brought to light?
LAST MONTH IN EAST AND SOUTHEAST ASIA - SEPTEMBER 2021
This month news review, features Japans preparation for the upcoming elections, ongoing conflict in Myanmar, economic turmoil in China, a new government in Malaysia, as well as the appeal of one of the last Khmer Rouge leaders
The Subtle Humanity of Yazujiro Ozu
The East Asian movie scene is slowly gaining worldwide recognition, but there are lots of older films from the region worthy of your time too. One of the most acclaimed and important Japanese directors is Yazujirō Ozu, active mainly in the late 40’s and 50’s.
Sustainable and fair trade Indonesian chocolate
Chocolate is an irresistible treat that is well-loved around the world. As a chocolate lover, baker, and cookbook author, it became important for me to know the origins of chocolate. While doing research, I discovered that Indonesia is the world’s third-biggest exporter of cacao. Furthermore, the movement of having sustainable farming practices within the cacao industry has been gaining a lot of traction in the last decade.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia - April 2021
This month's mix: unending turmoil in Myanmar, bilateral talks in Washington and architectural discussions in China. Aaaah, and the Oscars of course! And Thailand's new bid to revitalize tourism.
A doctor turned engineer: A portrait of Tetsu Nakamura, Japan’s pride in the world
Hailing from Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island, to the arid landscapes of Afghanistan, Nakamura spent the last three decades of his life sparing no effort in improving the livelihood of rural communities across central Asia—until his life tragically ended in a December 2019 raid.
Romanticizing Mafia is not cool, not even when it gets a K-twist
The recent release of Vincenzo, the popular K-drama narrating the passionate story of an Italo-Korean mafioso navigating Seoul’s corporate corruption, has won wide praise but has sparked too few questions on the propriety of this particular crime-syndicate plot device. Soon after, however, a popular K-pop group titled a song after the Mafia—but this time, the news did not go unnoticed and an internet war broke out in K-pop Twitter, with an unexpected twist...
Minority Language Policy in China: An Extrapolation
Culture and identity are shaped and borne by language. But when language becomes a tool of political interests, that culture and identity can come under imminent threat. THE LUNAR TIMES spoke to Colin Williams of Cardiff University to explore notions of if and how the language revitalization process of Wales might give insight to the trajectory of regional languages being squeezed into a corner by the Chinese State.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- March 2021
Here comes our March round-up: violent crackdown on protesters in Myanmar, sprees of violence against Asian-American communities and military threats from the Korean peninsula. But that's not all: scepticism over the Olympics in Japan and civil activism in Singapore.
Yoshihide Suga, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Tokyo Olympic Games
At the end of last year, Yoshihide Suga went from being Shinzo Abe’s right hand man to Japan’s new prime minister. How is Suga coping as leader of the world’s third largest economy during a world pandemic—with the Tokyo Olympics right around the corner?
A Flower in the Shade: the History of Horimono
The growing arrival of tattooed tourists to Japan is profoundly influencing the way in which Japanese society perceives them. Therefore, granting horimono an opportunity to detach from the negative connotations that it has carried since the 19th century, and to be re-interpreted as an important element of Japanese cultural heritage. It is said that ‘the world is divided into two types of people: those who have tattoos, and those who are afraid of people with tattoos’. To which group do you belong?
Are you sure if it is a K-pop event?
Have you ever heard of Gangnam Style or BTS so-called K-pop? K-pop refers to mainstream music of South Korea, and it has enjoyed growing global popularity for the last decade. However, are you aware of the scary fact that K-pop is being misused for a completely different purpose? Something unwanted may approach wearing the mask of K-pop and put you in trouble! Sounds intriguing? Stay Tuned!
Let the value of chocolates define my love for you
Whilst Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in countries around the globe, White Day is only celebrated in a limited amount of countries in East Asia, including Japan. On March 14th, Japanese men will have the chance to dole out reciprocal gifts to those who gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day. These two special holidays have a strong bond with each other—the traditional Japanese Valentine’s celebration would not be complete without one of them.
Remembering Fukushima: if only radiation had color
Ten years have passed since Japan’s triple disaster: a 9.1 magnitude earthquake, 10-meter-plus high tsunami waves, and level 7 meltdowns of three nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The immediate outcome was catastrophic, and many people’s lives are still affected. Once more, art has proven its therapeutic effect by offering people a space to mourn, to cry, to revolt, and finally, to hope.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most oppressed of them all?
In the era of the Internet and neoliberal economy, gender wars are raging in South Korea. Officially begun in 2016 with the tragic Gangnam Murder, these wars are recruiting youths to confront the opposite sex on both online and offline battlefields, where social resentment and sharp words are wielded as weapons. But to have a deeper understanding of this raging hostility, a concept rising from the depths of the internet needs to be studied: that of Hell Joseon.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- February 2021
Gaffes and gender inequality in Japan, ongoing political unrest in Myanmar, Clubhouse in China. And there is more: turnover at the WTO leadership and an eminent debate on economic recession in North Korea.
China + Vietnam - The convoluted romance between manufacturing shifts and supply chain diversification
Disruptions such as trade wars and a global pandemic have disclosed the vulnerability and interdependencies along multinational production networks more than ever before. Particularly firms active in China have now started looking into more resilient manufacturing and sourcing strategies and are eyeing Vietnam. A ”China + Vietnam strategy“, however, not only offers new opportunities, but also outlines the limits and dark sides of current modes in global production.
How much is my love worth to you?
The Lunar New Year officially began two days ago—and yet another celebration is taking place today. While Lunar New Year is a holiday for family and friends, Valentine’s Day is a holiday for lovers. The style of celebration, however, differs slightly depending on where it is held. This time, let’s focus on how Valentine's Day is celebrated in Japan and what products are demanded by the Japanese market during this romantic consumption day.
Lunar New Year: The Economic Impact on China
The Lunar New Year reunites friends and family across East Asian countries. Like hardly any other festive seasons, this massive holiday carries not only a high traditional, but also a tremendous economic value for any country celebrating it. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, there are a lot of changes in the economic growth over the past year. Photo Credit: Fritz Hoffmann.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- January 2021
A military coup in Vietnam! Leadership turnover in Laos and the CCP's planning for the Lunar New Year. Indonesia's plane crash. And Tokyo Olympics: YES or NO?
The pandemic has uncovered the harsh reality of migrant workers in Singapore
In the early stages of the pandemic, Singapore stood out as a role model for its successful strategy. However, later outbreaks among the migrant community have exposed an entrenched societal division between native Singaporeans and foreign workers. Now that the country seems ready to move forward, migrants are again left behind.
What a “fika” looks like in Singapore
Like Sweden, there is a distinct coffee culture in the Southeast Asian region that begets a daily ritual in Singapore and Malaysia known as “kopitiam”. The word “kopi” is an Indonesian and Malay word for coffee. “Tiam” is the word for shop in Hokkien or Hakka Chinese dialect. The coffee is usually drunk at “kopitiam” or “kopi tiam” places with something to eat, just like a Swedish fika.
The “Family Resilience Bill” will force people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community to go through rehabilitation.
During these tough times of the pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community in Indonesia has provided a lot of help and support to the people. But have the people and the government shown much support or acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community in turn?
Chinese science fiction: The final frontier?
Space travel and technological greatness, mind-controlled sharks, grotesque images of human degeneration and excessive capitalist development, intergalactic warfare, and the limits of human morality. These are the images Chinese science-fiction has portrayed in one of the country’s most vibrant contemporary literary genres. Its continuing mission: to reflect on the new frontiers of fear and uncertainty, and boldly go where no man has gone before.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- December 2020
Laos inaugurates its first highway, while Brunei's caught up in a festive mood for its December Festival! The dark side of Asia: exploitation of couriers in South Korea and the curtailment of human rights in China and the Philippines.
That time of the year: Christmas 2020 Special
Keeping up with the Kims
The Democratic Republic of Korea is a relatively obscure country that little reveals itself to the external world. Despite that, the international community yet succeeds in finding comedy in the imaginative ideology and in the extravagant laws regulating the country, often disregarding the incredible survivability of a regime that has been withstanding for over 70 years. A question thus needs to be begged: where does lay the success of the Kim dynasty and their dictatorial state?
When disharmony creates harmony
Pleasing ancient royal courts, calming stressed minds and inspiring experimental compositions by Claude Debussy and metal bands — the list of creative uses and reuses of Indonesian gamelan music seems endless. Its versatility does not come by surprise as nearly two millennia left their traces on this ancient musical genre. What constitutes its popularity and admiration, or its unique sound, takes you on a journey of musical theory, colonial history and spiritual customs.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- November 2020
The Milk Tea Alliance: HK and Thailand united in protests. And economically: after years of negotiations, the RCEP sees the light. Rocky elections in Myanmar.
Population Ageing - A Challenge to the Japanese Welfare State
‘Population ageing’ is constituted by a shift in the population age structure towards higher ages, and is a modern global phenomenon. However, some countries are more affected than others. Case in point: Japan has the oldest population, one of the lowest fertility rates, and one of the highest consumption rates per child and elderly in the world. This has severe economic consequences, to the point where it challenges the Japanese welfare system.
Household debt in South Korea: Should it be taken seriously?
Today, South Korea has one of the highest household debt burdens in the world with regard to its economic size. With income growth lagging behind the increase in debt, the debt-to-disposable income ratio is even at its highest since it began being recorded in 2007. The Korean government is now facing growing household debt in combination with an uncertain housing market. A question thus arises: what could this mean in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic?
A Diplomatic Roller Coaster Ride
President Donald Trump’s approach to North Korea, and especially its leader Kim Jong Un, has been revolutionary. During Trump’s four-year presidency, US-North Korea relations have seen unprecedented ups and downs in what can best be described as a diplomatic roller coaster ride. We have witnessed escalating tensions during an intense war of words and two never-before-seen summits. Meanwhile, Trump and Kim’s relationship has gone from “rocket man” to “fall in love”. Even though Trump’s North Korea policy has been ground-breaking, we might just be back where we started this ride.
The double plight of suicide and sexual harassment in South Korea– a prominent case
Torn by spiking suicide rates and ever-increasing gender tensions, Korean society is facing deep-seated challenges. For many years, the Democratic Party of Korea has pledged to repair the social fabric and stand on women's side. But evidence would suggest otherwise.
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- October 2020
Back in Thailand for the ongoing protests. North Korea's showcase of nuclear might. China's swift economic recovery. Press-freedom repression in Vietnam and...a shaking food cult in Japan.
Developments in Postmodernist Chinese Art
From the 1960s onwards, China went through a series of historically important events. As history goes hand in hand with art, events such as the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square student-led protests caused changes in the creation and perception of art.
After the transition to postmodernism occurred, Chinese art was marked by a radical change from naive idealisation of Western democratic values, to a more reflexive attitude towards the West and its own self-identity.
Former Malaysian prime minister faces jail time due to political scandal
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak kept claiming his innocence for several years. He had not stolen any money, and the allegations against him were just ”vile” and ”malicious”. But in July this year the final verdict was made, Razak was found guilty and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The old prostitutes of Seoul
Once upon a time, Korean old ladies were guaranteed a serene old-age surrounded by the love and care of their families. Nowadays, Korean grandmothers are often abandoned, and only one resort is left to escape the “Big Bad Wolf” of poverty. Unfortunately, this is the happy ending–less tale of the Bacchus Ladies: old prostitutes hanging around the streets of Seoul.
Behind the East Asian ‘history wars’
Last month in East and Southeast Asia- September 2020
Vehement protests in Thailand, diplomatic tensions in Beijing and tensions in Myanmar! Ah, and a new PM in Japan and a...curious case of smuggling in Vietnam!
The dogs of Beijing
What started as a silly game among exchange students revealed a political and social issue in the city of Beijing. Since 2003 “dangerous” dog breeds and those reaching a height of more than 35 centimeters are banned from the capital’s inner districts. Interestingly, it took the city’s authorities 10 years until the law was strictly enforced. Since then regulations got more stringent. The article sums up the events and aims to incorporate the issue into the broader historical background of dog keeping in China.
“Excuse me, do you only sell ceramics here?”
Small enterprise clusters in the sub-rural areas of Vietnam surprise with their seemingly counterintuitive but lucrative business logic. Unique skills, symbiotic collaboration patterns and market dynamics have often developed over centuries. But the face of clusters such as Bát Tràng ceramics village is changing, now more than ever in the light of resource exploitation, COVID-19 and the advent of technology.
Out of sight, out of mind: where our waste really goes
The increasing amount of waste we produce daily has become one of the biggest challenges of our time. Despite rising environmental consciousness throughout the world, most people show little awareness of global plastic waste trade and its harmful consequences on the environment. But now the centre of this global network, Southeast Asia has started showing signs of repentance.
China Establishes New Law in Hong Kong
At the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress, in may this year, a preliminary decision to create and improve the legal framework and enforcement mechanism for protecting national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) was submitted for deliberation.
Don’t bite it! It’s fake food!
The Japanese culinary experience starts way before food is served. It usually starts with perfectly made food replicas that invite passers-by to stop by and give a try to those mouth-watering dishes. Creating food replicas, however, is more complicated than it seems. Hours and hours of hard work and precision lay behind what appears to be an easy task at first sight.
Beware the Kpop stans!
Passionate, internet savvy and powered by a strong political conscience: these are Kpop stans, the young fans of Korean pop music who recently made headlines for their political activism. Armed with a keyboard and backed up by a powerful network, Kpop stans are engaging with current political and social issues through a fervent online activity. But who really are these new political militants?
All quiet on the Eastern front - The North Korean Abduction Issue
Few certainties, many unknowns. Over 40 years have passed since the first abduction, but little has been accomplished. As abductees’ families inexorably age, prospects for a settlement remain grim.
The contradictions of Songdo IBD
Songdo International Business District is praised as a state-of-the art business hub and smart city project, equipped with the latest data technology and high sustainability standards. Skyrocketing buildings and aesthetically landscaped parks invite you to believe you are walking on the streets of the next urban utopia. But does Songdo really stand for a better, brighter and greener future?