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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

LETTERS AND COMMENT

"To report accurately and fairly the affairs of Asia
in all spheres of human activity,
To see the world from an Asian perspective,
to be Asia's voice in the world"
Mission Statement, 1975


Want to reach Asiaweek?

IN THE HISTORY OF Philippine elections, the poor always are the victims. Comprising some 60% of the country's population [according to the World Bank], they ought to be the driving force in the electoral process. But their very being, compromised by economic woes and lack of proper education, is undermined by the "mind shapers" employed by various political parties.

These "mind shapers" are worse than the "spin doctors" in the sense that they go beyond the media. In Philippine politics, money is more than gold. If I am a poor mother caring for a sick child, I couldn't care less if Vice President Joseph Estrada is a womanizer or an alcoholic, or ignorant on economic policies. All I need is my "Robin Hood" who can save my family from its miseries, just like in the movies. This is what Estrada's "mind shapers" are feeding into.

Alvin Tagle
New York City


Pondering "Spiritual Civilization"

LAURENCE J. BRAHM'S EXPLANATION of the Chinese government's notion of "spiritual civilization" is the clearest exposition I have seen so far of this nebulous concept ["Reformist Ideology," VIEWPOINT, Jan. 17]. Insofar as it is possible to sympathize with the Chinese government at all, one must sympathize with its struggle to hammer out a synthesis of Marxism and capitalism that provides a coherent ideological framework for economic experiments.

Unfortunately, we are never given a clear definition of exactly what "spiritual civilization" is. We are told that it includes socialist ethics -- love the people, love the country, love labor, etc. Is that it? Or is there more? We are told that China is trying to develop a moral ideology. But morality is always based on metaphysical assumptions. What metaphysical assumptions is "spiritual civilization" based on?

We need to have a clear understanding of what the Chinese mean by the words "spiritual" and "civilization."

Both are emotionally freighted words that have different meanings in different cultures. (In Thailand, for instance, "civilization" is considered synonymous with technological development.) In the West, "spiritual" is very close in meaning to "religious." But in view of its attitude toward religion, I have a feeling that this isn't what Beijing has in mind.

If "spiritual civilization" is not just another buzzword, and if we are intended to take it seriously, the Chinese government needs to tell us what it means. I think we may assume from the government's actions that it has nothing to do with human rights, religious freedom, or aspirations of ethnic minorities for autonomy. In that case many in the West would wonder how the concept can claim to be civilized at all.

Paramananda Pahari
Bangkok


WE HAVE LEARNED THAT Beijing has a new translation of "spiritual civilization": social and ethical progress.


Don't Downsize Korea

IN YOUR EDITORIAL ON Korea's industrial problems, "Bitter Medicine" [Jan. 17], labor is treated like a pawn. A saleable commodity that can be hired or fired at will. Yet it is this "labor" that has made Korea an economic success. The re-engineering and downsizing you advocate is a failure. Workers that remain after such an exercise are truculent and inclined not to give their best to a company that sees them as little more than expendable.

In the U.S. some common sense is emerging. Gurus of downsizing are having second thoughts because a company that has worker loyalty will produce the goods. Korea and Japan have known this for years. Their economic empires have been built on this sound philosophy. Reversing this can only weaken, not strengthen an economy. Lowering tariffs because of the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development or the dictates of the World Trade Organization only benefits one cartel: the multinational. And we all know where the bulk of the world's multinational companies are based.

Ken Cotterill
Mareeba, Queensland
Australia


Race and Gender, Hong Kong-Style

PHIL CHOW OF CANADA [LETTERS & COMMENT, Jan. 24] should spend more time in Hong Kong. It would gladden his heart. Everywhere we are surrounded by ads showing the sophisticated Asian male with a Caucasian woman in tow. The opposite is not to be found in Hong Kong, the adpersons evidently feeling that the suggestion of any form of liaison between a Caucasian male and a Chinese woman might outrage public morals.

Frank Simons
Hong Kong


Soka Gakkai's Complaint

I WISH TO CORRECT the statement that "in 1994 Soka Gakkai disbanded Komeito and split it into two groups" [Komeito, THE ASIAN LANGUAGE, Jan. 10]. Soka Gakkai formally severed financial, management and administrative ties with Komeito in 1970. The 1994 move to disband Komeito was entirely decided by Komeito. Your statement that Komeito originally called "for the purification of politics along religious lines" may lead some readers to conclude that Komeito was a religious fundamentalist party. It was not. Komeito consistently fought to protect religious freedom in Japan and not once over 30 years did it introduce legislation giving special treatment to the Soka Gakkai. Moreover, its raison d'etre was the election of ethical politicians who resisted the entrenched, well-documented corruptive influences of postwar Japanese government. That continues to be the mission of the new Komeito party today.

Ric Tsumura
Soka Gakkai International
Tokyo


OUR UNDERSTANDING IS THAT Komeito, then and now, is very much under Soka Gakkai's influence. It is widely known that Komeito was disbanded and split into two groups with Soka Gakkai's approval. And that Soka Gakkai, dishonored by its own temple authority years back, has been trying hard to improve its image at home and abroad.


Disenfranchised in Mindanao

"A YEAR OF ELECTIONS" [EDITORIALS, Dec 27-Jan. 3] documented the democratic process shaped by the different Asian peoples during the past year. One cannot help wondering, however, why there was no mention of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections in September that established the Southern Philippine Council for Peace & Development (SPCPD). And perhaps rightly so. While the Ramos Administration heralds the SPCPD as the end of the armed struggle in Mindanao and the beginning of peace and development in the region, not a few question how he has achieved this remarkable feat. For in establishing the SPCPD, President Ramos has clearly disenfranchised those who did not wish to be part of it by failing to consult them and consider their views. Had your Editorial focused on how governments hampered the democratic process/elections, the Ramos Administration might just have made it.

Ed Campion
Metro Manila


CORRECTION THE PULP & paper plant pictured in "No Pulp Fiction in Jakarta" [Stocks To Watch, Jan. 24] was not an Inti Indorayon plant.


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