In recent years, ties between South Korea and Japan have thawed somehow, but the legacy of Japan’s colonial rule continues to cast a long shadow over its relationship with its neighbor.
Such ties have been strained anew when about 90 Japanese leaders visited the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo on Oct. 18 as part of a three-day fall festival honoring Japan’s war dead.
That same day, Seoul’s foreign ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk urged Tokyo to “squarely face history, and demonstrate through action their humble reflection and sincere remorse for Japan’s past history and thus to contribute to the future-oriented development of Korea-Japan relations.”
Japanese prime ministers have avoided visiting the shrine to avoid antagonizing South Korea, which sees the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s unrepentant militarism and its refusal to fully face up to its war crimes. Incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, for example, has refrained from visiting it since he took office in 2021, and instead recently sent a ritual offering to the shrine.
However, many Japanese politicians continue to visit the shrine, and it remains a popular pilgrimage site for Japanese veterans and their families.
While many in Japan see the shrine as a symbol of nationalism and patriotism, it is particularly controversial because it also honors 14 Class-A war criminals who were convicted by an Allied tribunal after the war, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
There have been several efforts for historical reconciliation between the two countries, such as official apologies from the Japanese government and visits by their dignitaries to Korean memorial sites. But analysts believe both countries still need to focus more on the demands of wartime victims of forced labor and sexual enslavement, such as by ensuring the participation of former “comfort women” in negotiations, or improving the reparations offered to the victims.
These reconciliation efforts “have been fundamentally flawed, whether by process, content or seeming insincerity,” says the United States Institute of Peace.
“This history of ineffectual apologies and agreements has left many Koreans feeling Japan has not sufficiently atoned for its colonial actions. At the same time, some Japanese suffer ‘apology fatigue,’ which stems from issuing numerous apologies without seeing sustainable improvements in relations.
When bygones refuse to be bygones
A coalition of free speech advocates in Malaysia is campaigning for the repeal of the country’s archaic laws on sedition, which was recently used to arrest an Australian-based journalist for editing a book banned by the government.
In a joint statement led by the Centre for Independent Journalism, the group called on authorities to stop its investigation of Kean Wong, a Malaysian journalist based in Australia, who was briefly detained on Oct. 16 and remains under investigation for sedition for editing “Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope in New Malaysia.”
The book, which highlighted corruption and governance issues linked to the former ruling party Barisan Nasional, was banned in July 2020 over its cover which allegedly disrespected Malaysia’s coat-of-arms. Critics said this was another way of stifling free speech in the country, especially after the publishing company was raided by police and many of the book’s contributors were summoned by the police.
According to the coalition, Wong’s arrest three years after the ban “demonstrated the state’s concerted effort to suppress the public’s ability to both inform and speak out without fear of censorship.”
The charges against Wong are propped up by Malaysia’s 75-year-old Sedition Act, which was introduced by the British in 1948 to criminalize speech or actions with an undefined “seditious tendency.” This includes those acts that incite hatred against the government or racial discord.
In 2013, then Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged to abolish the Sedition Act and called it a “product of a bygone era” only to walk back on his promise a year later. Since then, it has been used to arrest journalists, opposition politicians, and even artists.
As such, the coalition urged the government to repeal its 75-year-old Sedition Act as well as the Printing Presses and Publication Act, both of which have been used to target political dissent and restrict press freedom. The latter in particular has been used to blacklist several books that are deemed to be “prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion.”
Last year, the Prime Minister’s legal affairs division said it would also review at least 147 outdated laws in keeping with “the latest situation and technological advancements.” Such laws include its Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, as well as the law criminalizing defamation.
Correcting an old wrong
In 2021, U.N. experts urged Sri Lanka to repeal its draconian anti-terror law and to replace it with a law that is consistent with international human rights standards.
But two years later, U.N. experts noted that its new proposed counterterrorism legislation “does not go far enough to remedy” the defects of the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act, and called on the government to draft a new law that “meets the minimum requirements of due process and human rights.”
Introduced in 1979 during the Sri Lankan Civil War, the law has been used largely to suppress its Tamil ethnic minorities suspected of being members or sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist group that fought a civil war from 1983 to 2009.
A Human Rights Watch report in 2022 said several Tamils have been detained under the PTA over the years, many of them without charge and for long periods of time. In 2021, the Sri Lankan government published a list proscribing several “terrorist organizations” and naming several hundred individuals as alleged “terrorists,” including many rights activists in the Tamil diaspora.
Among others, the new draft still has a broad and vague definition of what constitutes “acts of terrorism,” and also expands police powers beyond those already granted by the PTA, with limited judicial oversight.
For the experts, the draft is a “highly regressive step and it disregards the long-documented violations of human rights occurring in Sri Lanka for persons arrested, detained or convicted of terrorism-related offenses.”
They urged the government to heed its earlier recommendations to sharpen its definition of terrorism and to put in place preventive measures against arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.
Taming a rapidly advancing technology
As artificial intelligence (AI) gains ground in several industries across the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on the healthcare sector to exercise caution and transparency especially when using this technology to diagnose and treat patients.
On Oct. 19, the WHO published a guidance outlining six regulatory considerations to govern the use of AI systems in health, including making sure that they are safe and effective; made accessible to the most needy; and transparent about the data it collects.
“Artificial intelligence holds great promise for health, but also comes with serious challenges,” said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This new guidance will support countries to regulate AI effectively, to harness its potential, whether in treating cancer or detecting tuberculosis, while minimizing the risks.”
For now, the agency made it clear that AI systems may be used “in all aspects of health” so long as the regulatory considerations are considered. It also acknowledged AI’s potential in strengthening clinical trials and improving medical diagnosis and treatment; and adding to health care professionals’ knowledge and skills.
This technology can be especially useful in Asia “given the comparatively low doctor-to-population ratios,” said Zhang Shaoting, deputy dean of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In fact, some of the its more advanced countries are already using AI to diagnose patients, develop drugs or make hospital work easier.
Taiwan’s China Medical University Hospital, for example, has been using custom-built AI models to diagnose diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Singapore’s Ministry of Health, meanwhile, is developing a generative AI tool that could automate some healthcare tasks.
In low-income countries, AI can even bring specialized systems or knowledge to areas that don’t have a relevant medical specialist, like interpreting retinal scans, histopathology slides or radiology images, WHO said.
However, the agency also flagged certain issues with AI technology. Among others, their ability to store vast amounts of data also entails risk of exposure to data breaches and cybersecurity attacks.
Because AI systems also depend on the data they are trained to process, they are also prone to biases and inaccuracies, WHO warned. When left unregulated, their use could lead to discriminatory diagnoses or treatment recommendations.
Just recently, a Stanford University study found that four AI chatbots trained in large amounts of internet texts — including OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard — regurgitated outdated and racist medical information about Black people when asked about kidney and lung function.
With AI likely to be integrated into medicine and health care in the coming years, WHO also emphasized the importance of international collaboration in crafting standards on the responsible and equitable use of AI systems.