Monday, January 31, 2011

A Singapore lesson for US politics

Jan 31, 2011

By Thomas L. Friedman

I AM in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighbourhood of Singapore, and the principal, Aw Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class.

All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them.

Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a 'crime scene' and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered.

The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the pupils into little Crime Scene Investigation detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.

I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade.

When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said 'no'.

She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her pupils in the same direction early.

A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent - but impressed.

This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between 'What world am I living in', 'Where is my country trying to go in that world' and, therefore, 'What should I teach in fifth-grade science'.

I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in United States politics today.

Republicans favour deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defence budget.

Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation's priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.

President Barack Obama just laid out a smart and compelling vision of where our priorities should be. But he did not spell out how and where we will have to both cut and invest - really intelligently and at a large scale - to deliver on his vision.

Singapore is tiny and by no means a US-style democracy.

Yet, like America, it has a multi-ethnic population - Chinese, Indian and Malay - with a big working class.

It has no natural resources and even has to import sand for building.

But today its per capita income is just below US levels, built with high-end manufacturing, services and exports.

The country's economy grew last year at 14.7 per cent, led by biomedical exports.


If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive?

'We're like someone living in a hut without any insulation,' explained Mr Tan Kong Yam, an economist. 'We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt.

'You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don't have to be so responsive.'

And we have not been.

Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn't believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance.

But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly - because they can't on their own - and it subsidises home-ownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant.

Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 per cent go to universities.

Others are tracked to polytechnics or vocational institutes, so the vast majority graduate with the skills to get a job, whether it be as a plumber or a scientist.

Explained Mr Ravi Menon, the Permanent Secretary of Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry: 'The two 'isms' that perhaps best describe Singapore's approach are: pragmatism - an emphasis on what works in practice rather than abstract theory; and eclecticism - a willingness to adapt to the local context best practices from around the world.'

It is a sophisticated mix of radical free market and nanny state that requires sophisticated policymakers to implement, which is why politics here is not treated as sports or entertainment.

Top bureaucrats and Cabinet ministers have their pay linked to top private sector wages, so most make well over US$1 million (S$1.3 million) a year, and their bonuses are tied to the country's annual GDP growth rate. It means the Government can attract high-quality professionals and corruption is low.

America never would or should copy Singapore's less-than-free politics. But Singapore has something to teach us about 'attitude' - about taking governing seriously and thinking strategically.

We used to do that and must again because our little brick house with central heating is not going to be resistant to the storms much longer.

'There is real puzzlement here about America today,' said Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 'because we learnt all about what it takes to build a well-functioning society from you.

'Many of our top officials are graduates of the Kennedy School at Harvard. They just came back home and applied its lessons vigorously.'


When money keeps the stork at bay

Jan 30, 2011

Young Japanese women outearning their male peers, so it's hard to find a match
By Susan Long

As Singapore frets over its rising rate of singles and a birth rate so low that many demographers fear it may never recover, it is worth looking at just how much worse it can get.

And most instructive on just how these dire statistics, coupled with rapid ageing, will play out is Japan, which has seen its population shrinking since 2005.

Its fast declining marriage rate and rising rate of singlehood, which is about 47 per cent among men aged 30 to 34 and 32 per cent among women in the same age group, lead the pack in Asia today. The latest corresponding rate of singlehood among Singapore citizens is 43 per cent for men and 31 per cent for women.

Even if few Asian countries now subscribe to the 'flying geese' economic model of development, where wild geese fly in formation like aircraft in an inverse V, led by Japan (the first Asian country to industrialise), they are fearfully watching the flight of the head geese into the depopulation abyss.

And they are taking copious notes. For a declining population has become a dreaded demographic destiny shared by post-industrialised Asian societies where men and women are still bound by traditional gender roles.

As they watch Japan's prime ministerial musical chairs continue to play out, amid a sputtering economy and futile stabs at fixing labour market rigidities like seniority-based wages, what is becoming increasingly clear to onlookers is that if nothing gets done, things don't stay bad, they get worse.

Of late, the winds of change have been storming the traditional, patriarchal ramparts of Japanese society. Socio-economic changes are sweeping across Japan, with the latest news that young Japanese women now outearn their male peers.

Income for single women under 30 hit an average of 218,156 yen (S$3,380) a month in 2009, inching past the 215,515 yen of their male counterparts for the first time, according to a recent Japanese internal affairs ministry survey.

The change, which saw women's incomes surge 11.4 per cent and men's incomes fall 7 per cent from the previous survey five years ago, was driven by the global economic plunge and entrenched labour trends.

For one thing, many more men work in manufacturing than women in Japan's export-dependent economy, and the sector was hard-hit by the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse,whereas women tend to work in services, medicine and nursing care, which are booming with Japan's ageing population.

Economists have cautioned that these figures may just be a one-off blip and it is too early to call it a trend. But what is clear is that sweeping change is imminent, no matter the preparedness of policymakers.

With the prospects of Japanese men dimming in a society where men are widely expected to be the family's breadwinner, many just don't feel 'qualified' to marry any more, or even be in a relationship.

The result: They don't even bother to try.

Prominent Japanese sociologist Masahiro Yamada of Chuo University noted that most young Japanese women still yearn to be housewives, but struggle to find a husband who earns enough to support them. As a result, half of all young Japanese of prime marrying age - 20 to 34 - still live with their parents, either in hope or resignation.

Professor Yamada's research showed that two out of five Japanese women hope to marry a man who earns more than six million yen a year but the 'supply of such men is limited', he remarked wryly, as they make up only 3.5 per cent of the eligible population.

The reality for Japanese men is that with salaries down more than 12 per cent over the last decade and the dismantling of lifetime employment, marriage has become a luxury good few can afford.

This is exacerbated by the fact that about a third of the Japanese workforce - many of them young men - are now irregular workers, who toil endlessly in low-paying part-time, contract or temporary jobs they can be fired from any time.

There is also a growing number of 'freeters', mostly youngsters who skip from one part-time job to another, never laying down enough savings to make long-term plans.

Of late, Japan has been panicking about the rise of soushoku-danshi (translated to 'herbivore, or grass-eating, males'). Surveys show up to three quarters of Japanese men under the age of 30 identify themselves as herbivores.

Named for their lack of interest in sex and their preference for quiet uncompetitive lives, herbivores have sparked a national debate on how decades of economic stagnation has rewired the Japanese male psyche.

Because of their fear of rejection, herbivores shun women and sex. They prefer nursing a Starbucks latte after work, pottering around the home pursuing quaint hobbies or taking long walks.

They avoid the fast lane in life, they don't aspire to own a Ferrari, and don't go out drinking with the boys. Their anaemic consumption is in turn affecting the sales of automobiles, electronics and consumer goods. And Japanese brewers are desperately introducing weaker beers to hold up flagging sales of alcoholic beverages.

Their risk aversion and lack of ambition - on both the professional and personal front - are also sapping the economy of vitality, making it harder to rekindle growth and end deflation.

The epic singlehood rate of young disenchanted Japanese men, who struggle with age-old expectations of being the breadwinner like their fathers, amid growing economic uncertainty and the rising earning power of female peers, holds several cautionary tales for Singapore.

If self-worth or marriageability is defined in economic terms in a society, and financial stability constantly pitched as a prerequisite to marriage, many perils lurk.

For one thing, it further entrenches the cost-benefit framework of looking at marriage and family size, one which the state - even those in a fiscal position to afford the most generous pro-family subsidies - cannot rationally hope to win.

For another, whenever the economy goes into a tail spin, the inevitable conclusion would be: 'Not now'. 'Not now', before long, becomes 'not ever'.

Putting less stock in the male 'provider' role will help too, as well as steering girls' aspirations away from snaring a well-to-do husband towards being a co-breadwinner themselves.

Otherwise, going forward in an increasingly volatile economy, as the Japan example has shown, few males will dare to even contemplate tying the knot, or for starters, even dare to chase a girl.

But mostly, Japan's predicament magnifies that the falling marriage and fertility rate is a problem to solve when money - and relative youth - is on your side.

Because even though Japanese policymakers know full well what the solutions are, from rolling out more creches to increasing child allowances and funding, time - and their young men - are no longer on their side.

Vocal fans hinder Li Na's historic Grand Slam run

Jan 30, 2011

Li's loss ended her outstanding run, having become the first Asian player to reach a Grand Slam singles final. Hailed as a hero back in China, she has been given blanket media coverage, but she complained that enthusiastic Chinese spectators among the 15,000 at the Rod Laver Arena did not help her cause.

She was so frustrated after being broken in the second set that she appealed to the umpire to ask her vocal fans to keep quiet. She also complained about the flash from cameras.

'The (Chinese) fans, they wanted me to win this match, but they coached me how to play tennis on the court,' the 28-year-old said. 'They can talk, but not during the point, you know. Maybe they were excited.'

The 27-year-old Clijsters, who claimed her fourth Grand Slam win (she has three US Open titles) welcomed the rise of Asia on the world tennis scene.


[So it will be when more Chinese are on the world stage that the Chinese audience will learn that there is enthusiastic support and there is rowdy support and there is "support" that is inappropriate. And then maybe they will learn how to turn off their camera's flash. For now, many of them behave like a kid in a candy store. Somehow, a "bull in a China shop" sounds like a bad pun.]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Muslims in Singapore

Jan 30, 2011
'Muslims can be both religious and patriotic'
MM's views are worst-case scenario, see them in perspective: Yaacob
By Zakir Hussain and Amresh Gunasingham

The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs yesterday said Singapore Muslims can be both religious and patriotic at the same time, and indeed have been working with their fellow Singaporeans to integrate and help in the nation-building process.

Making his first public remarks on views expressed by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew about Muslims and their integration in Singapore society, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said: 'Muslims and non-Muslims alike know that identity is not a zero-sum game. We can be both religious and patriotic at the same time.'

Saying that he disagreed with MM Lee's views, he noted that the reality in Singapore consists of Muslims and non-Muslims 'working together side by side, in the unions, in schools, in political leadership, in constituencies'.

While observing that Mr Lee's remarks had caused some unhappiness among Muslims, he also urged them to see the remarks in perspective, as a 'worst-case scenario'.

Mr Lee, he said, based his views on his experiences, and his concern for the long-term future of Singapore.

Dr Yaacob was speaking to reporters while at Mendaki, the Muslim self-help organisation, to present cheques for a range of community projects. A total of $370,000 was given out to 39 organisations to fund programmes to help less privileged Malay-Muslim families.

Mr Lee's remarks on Muslims are in the new book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going. In the book, Mr Lee himself noted that Dr Yaacob disagreed with his view that greater piety on the part of Muslims had led to a desire for exclusivity.

A number of Muslim organisations have expressed regret over Mr Lee's views and called on the Government to clarify whether it shared those views. These included the Association of Muslim Professionals, the Association of Adult Religious Students (Perdaus), and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).

Mr Lee's remarks came about in response to a question on how he assessed the state of multiracialism in Singapore.

Among other things, he said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.

'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, inter-marriages and so on - than Muslims. That's the result of the surge from the Arab states... I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races, except Islam.'

He also said: 'Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'

Asked what Muslims could do to integrate, he said: 'Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, 'Okay, I'll eat with you.''

Yesterday, Dr Yaacob suggested that Singaporeans should appreciate where Mr Lee was coming from in making those remarks.

He said: 'MM sees this from a wider perspective, of his own personal experiences. So he wants to warn us. Let us take this as a warning and let us not take things for granted in Singapore.'

He also gave the assurance that the Government would continue to protect and preserve the right of all groups, including Muslims, to practise their faith. 'This will not change; it is fundamental to what we are as a nation,' he said.

Dr Yaacob added, however, that the strong reactions from some Muslims were to be expected: 'When you tell me I cannot be a Muslim and at the same time be a Singaporean, I would be upset.'

'But let's look at this rationally, read the book, understand where he is coming from. And don't just read one book. View MM through his whole lifespan, the struggle he has gone through.

'At the end of the day, he has a certain perspective. That perspective may not be accurate now. Maybe 40 years ago. So that's where I disagree with what he mentioned in the book.'

Asked how the episode would affect Malay/Muslim votes at the general election, which must be held by February next year, Dr Yaacob said he could not tell.

He added: 'As far as government policy is concerned, we want to integrate everybody, irrespective of race or religion.. Let's focus on that.'


'There are different kinds of Muslims'
This is an extract from Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, in which MM Lee underscores how a small minority can upset inter-racial harmony.

Q This veil between Muslims and non-Muslims that you speak of, I think most Muslims I know have lived with the conviction that they can be fully Singaporean and fully Muslim and they somehow believe in the Singapore that you have imagined for your citizens. And now to hear you say that there's a veil between Muslims and non-Muslims, my question to you is, have the Muslims been deluding themselves, that they will be accepted?

A No, there are different kinds of Muslims. When the Association of Muslim Professionals started, they were opposed to Muis (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), opposed to our PAP Malay leadership. They came out in opposition to it. They believed they could do better for the Malays. So we gave them the financial support. Then they found that they couldn't do more than Mendaki or Muis. They slowly came around because Mendaki and Muis were rendering good service.

We are not saying the position is hopeless. There is that small few who're under the influence of the Arab jihadists. One or two can spoil the whole relationship. One big bomb, and we cannot stop the reactions. I mean the day after a big bomb, say in Ang Mo Kio or Tanjong Pagar, where there are very few Muslims, or even if there are Muslims, say in Raffles City, Muslim and non-Muslim relationships will change fundamentally, as they did in Britain.

The British had confidence-building councils. But British intelligence announced that there were 2,000 would-be jihadists they are monitoring. 2,000. Where do they find so many security officers to monitor 2,000? They do it by Internet and technical surveillance.

We haven't got to that stage. But a lone jihadist can cross over from Batam, with a bomb belt. We have to be careful. We cannot guarantee that somebody will not slip through, go into the underground station and blow himself up, or worse, go into the tunnel and blow himself up. Then, you have a tremendously difficult rescue operation, with fire in the tunnel, not just at a station where there are fire hoses. So our Home Team is learning how to deal with such situations. It is a contingency but if it happens and in a train with 1,000 passengers, we can't just leave them there to be incinerated. Even if you can rescue only a part of them, you have to try your best.

It's not a joke. We are faced with a new situation, never faced before in the history of civilisation. We have a group of people willing to destroy themselves to inflict damage on others. The only ones before them were the Tamil Tigers. But they were fighting for a tangible cause, for a homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is fighting for Islam, different cause springing from a religious conviction.

From their skewed point of view, any good Muslim cooperating with an infidel government is a bad Muslim, full stop. If we do not make this distinction, we'll have no Malays in the government or in the civil service or in all the security branches. You must make that distinction because we have completely different groups. But one poisonous group can destroy inter-racial, inter-religious harmony.

We sent a team to study what they did in London. They have different kinds of Muslims who cannot unite. Because of their free speech laws, they've allowed all kinds of rabid preachers to purvey highly inflammatory sermons in Britain's mosques. Now, they're banning the rabid ones. They get Muslim counsel, go to the High Court and on appeal over their human rights and liberty of speech. In the end the judges have allowed the government to push them out. If we had accepted Saudi money for mosques, we will get Saudi preachers. Luckily we have pre-empted that by having the Mosque Building Fund so we don't need their money.

[Concurs with analysis by others.]

Q But do you fear that your views may be misinterpreted by a younger generation of leaders, who may not have gone through what you have gone through? You are familiar with the Muslims and the Malays and you may know how to handle or manage them, whereas out of fear, might there be an overreaction among the younger leaders?

A No, I don't think so. I mean, they've worked with me. Goh Chok Tong worked with me for 15 years before he took over and he sat in all my meetings with the Malay leaders and so on. Hsien Loong has mixed with many Malay friends, learnt Malay, he understands them. He's gone around constituencies with me as a growing boy. He understands their sensibilities. Whoever takes over from him, sitting in Parliament, intermingling with the constituents, will understand, and will adapt.

I do not see intolerance. Every Singaporean knows the first ingredient, the first attribute we must have to be a successful multiracial, cosmopolitan society, is a high degree of tolerance. It's our way of life - Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Taoists, whatever. See our prayer blessings for the SAF. Every religion is included. It's your faith and gives you comfort in battle. If you die, well it's for a good cause.

Q How would you describe the level of trust that you have towards Singapore Muslims?

A I would say those who are more English-speaking, this is a rough rule of thumb, the more English-speaking they are, the less they are prone to this. Their first language now is English. So when they go on the Internet, they're reading English. We do these surveys in Primary 1 admissions. More Malay children are beginning to speak English at home. Once the children speak English at that age, we know that the parents are well-educated, want their children to succeed in our society. It's moving that way. We have switched to English and opened up a wider world for them.

Q So looking at the developments in the Muslim community in Singapore, the pervasiveness of English within the community, the motivation in the community towards these things, surely there must be some sense of satisfaction, from your point of view?

A That group will grow over time, but the minority of jihadists, we cannot make them disappear. However small that minority, they can damage our whole inter-racial harmony.

[The excerpts of the Q&A with LKY depict the worst case scenario, but reading LKY carefully, it is clear that even without the worst case scenario, there are practices that erects barriers rather than tear them down, than separates rather than integrates. Sure this is also true of say the Sikhs with their turbans, but in modern SG, the trend is for the Sikhs to modernise. There are fewer "strict" Sikhs who adhere to the full prescription of their tradition/culture.

Perhaps LKY's observation (and dismay?) is that the Malays were modern, liberal, and integrate-able in the past, but the "surge of Arab Islam" reversed that. It would seem to be a step backwards, rather than forward and to one who is pragmatic, the influence and practice of "Desert Islam" (or petrol-Islam?) is impractical and unrealistic. But because it is rooted in religion, it is difficult to comment without being seen as intolerant; to critique without being seen as offensive.]

Vertical farm produces 5 times more vegetables

Jan 29, 2011

Novel device could help land-scarce S'pore meet food production targets

THERE is now a new way to farm vegetables in land-scarce Singapore: farm skywards.

A private engineering company, D.J. Engineering, has teamed up with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to come up with a device that can grow at least five times as many vegetables as conventional farming methods are able to given the same land area.

The device is 6m tall with tiers of planting troughs which rotate around an aluminium frame to provide the plants with uniform sunlight.

A water-pulley system, using rainwater collected in overhead reservoirs, rotates the troughs.

Harvests - of leafy vegetables like xiao bai cai and bayam - have already been made at a prototype 1,000 sq m vertical farm set up a year ago at AVA's Sembawang Research Centre. The farm employs 19 of these structures.

None of the vegetables is sold at supermarkets or restaurants here yet but will be at year end, if all goes as planned.

The project is budgeted to cost about $1 million, an amount borne entirely by D.J. Engineering, which set up a company, Sky Greens, to produce the vegetables commercially and market the vertical farming system.

With the turbulence in food supply and prices in recent years exposing the island state's vulnerability, such moves should mitigate supply shortages and hoarding in the long term.

'We cannot depend totally on imports. We are a land-scarce country and therefore we need to be able to maximise use of our land in the area of food production,' said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan at the launch of the prototype farm yesterday, adding that local production acts as a buffer against severe disruptions in food supply.

'Farming leafy vegetables tends to be very land-intensive so innovative systems like this can improve the productivity of local farms,' the minister said.

Such projects, he said, would also help the Republic meet its targets for local food production.

The target is for the local supply of leafy vegetables - produced by 37 vegetable farms here - to hit 10 per cent of local consumption in three years, from about 7 per cent currently. Local production stood at 9,800 tonnes in 2009.

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food from suppliers from over 30 countries.

Mr Jack Ng, the owner of D.J. Engineering, said he has been sending samples of the leafy vegetables to restaurants and supermarkets. Feedback, he said, has been positive.

'They say the vegetables are crunchier,' he said, adding that plans are under way to start a 3.5ha vertical farm in Lim Chu Kang and to sell the structures to other farmers and individuals.

The 48-year-old, who also designs buildings, is in the process of patenting his invention. The father of two, who dropped out of school after Secondary 4, came up with the idea during the financial crunch in 2009.

'Food prices were going up because of supply disruptions overseas, so I had the idea of growing more food here,' he said, adding that he was also friends with some farmers who helped him to develop the idea. It took him two years.

The vertically farmed vegetables, he said, would be priced at the same levels as those grown at conventional farms due to increased productivity and low operational costs.

Operational costs include raw materials like soil and seed and electricity to pump the water driving the structures. But electricity costs will come to only $3.50 per month per structure, he said.

The owner of restaurant Da Pao in Amoy Street serving home-grown food, Ms Christina Crane, 39, said she was hooked once she tried a sample of the vegetables: 'I looked at it and the vegetables looked really green. The taste is beautiful and it doesn't wilt in sauce.'

Others, like vegetable farmer Wong Kok Fah, 49, are excited too. The owner of an 8ha farm in Chua Chu Kang growing cai xin and xiao bai cai said he has appealed to the Government numerous times for more land to expand.

'We are always looking for more land, and we will definitely consider anything that can increase our productivity,' he said, adding that his farm is operating at maximum capacity.

A scaled down but more implementable "Vertical farm".

Friday, January 28, 2011

Islam: Integrating Muslims

Jan 28, 2011

Islam no barrier to integration: Muis

Council responds to queries from Muslims over MM Lee's remarks

By Rachel Chang

THE highest authority on Muslim affairs said yesterday that the teachings of Islam do not hinder Muslims from integrating fully into Singapore society.
In fact, the true teachings of Islam obligate believers to live harmoniously in a multi-religious and multi-racial society, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said.
The statement on its website was in response to questions from the public about whether Islamic practices were a barrier to the integration of Muslims in Singapore's plural society.
These questions were prompted by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's comments in the book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, that Muslims in Singapore tend to be 'distinct and separate'.
Muis said the Muslim community here is deeply aware that Islam's teachings exhort believers to live together harmoniously in a plural society like Singapore's.
'An ethos in the Singapore Muslim identity elucidates clearly that a good Muslim who is true to his religion, is also one who is a good citizen,' it said.
Mr Lee's comments have drawn reactions from Muslims here and overseas.
In the book, Mr Lee, when asked to assess the progress of multi-racialism in Singapore, said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.
'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, intermarriages and so on, Indians with Chinese, Chinese with Indians - than Muslims. That's the result of the surge from the Arab states.'
He added: 'I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam.' He also said: 'I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'
His remarks have been criticised by some leaders, officials and readers in Malaysia and Indonesia after they were reported in local newspapers.
Muslims and other Singaporeans have also written to The Straits Times Forum page on the issue.
Muis said yesterday the Muslim community has always played a role in national development:
'The integration process is readily accepted by the Muslim community as an integral part of the nation's development and progress, which is a shared aspiration of every Singaporean.
'This can be seen through the active participation of Muslims in mainstream society and also through the various multi-racial and multi-religious activities, be they at the individual or at the institution levels.'
Muis said that Muslim Singaporeans' commitment to integration is motivated by two factors:
First, by the aspiration to live up to the country's tenets, as laid out in the pledge to live 'as one united people, regardless of language, race and religion'.
Second, by the teachings of Islam, which obligate Muslims to live harmoniously with those of other races and religions.
'This is reaffirmed by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad through the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) and his life journey,' the statement said.
It recalled that in 2005, Muis launched the Singapore Muslim Identity project to bring home the point that Muslims can stay true to their religion comfortably while being active citizens in a secular, multi-racial state.
'The fact is, this set of ethos has been an integral part and practice of the Singapore Muslim community for many years. It has been well-received by the Singapore Muslim community because it is not a new construct in the Islamic faith. It is in fact derived from the tenets of the religion.'
Muis added that it was confident that this better understanding of the true teachings of Islam has led Singaporean Muslims to take a progressive outlook and become very much part of the mainstream.

Jan 28, 2011
We have no problem integrating, says young Muslim

MOST of my peers and I practise different religions but our faiths have never been a barrier to our ability to socialise and integrate ('MM's remarks on integration draw flak'; Wednesday) .
We eat at the same table although our dietary content might differ according to our religious strictures or preference. We have no difficulty respecting one another's faiths and beliefs.
Indeed, recent inter-religious dialogues conducted by various religious student societies on university campuses helped us understand more of one another's practices, and respect one another's faiths.
As a young Muslim Singaporean, I dare say we are well-integrated without sacrificing one another's belief even as we interact in the common space provided by school, national service, workplace and the neighbourhood.
One should not pre-judge a faith based on how one practises it, as Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew did when he compared the strictness with which Muslims practise their religion now with the situation as it existed when he was the prime minister.
Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions are distinct and separate but this is because we hold different beliefs.
As long as one does not hurt another in the course of interaction and interact meaningfully in a common social space where all faiths are respected, integration is possible.
Muhammad Yusuf Osman

[It is heartening to hear from the Muslim community that Islam is no barrier to integration. But if I may read MM Lee's comments more precisely, his comments were addressed to the Surge of Arab "Islamism". Until Arab (desert) Islamism came to this region, Muslims here practiced a more progressive, inclusive, and "integrate-able" Islam.

In several countries, law-makers have taken the position (rightly or wrongly) that the Arab-style Islamic dressing for women are too distinctive and raises barrier to social interaction and integration. They may have a point.

How did the Malays move from kebaya to abaya? Why have the Malays subordinated their culture to the Arab culture? And there is even debate as to when this Arab culture even came about.

Thomas Friedman and other writers suggests that this repressive form of Islam came about with the discovery of oil.
Excerpt from link above:
Contrary to widespread Western beliefs about the trajectory of the Middle East as a hesitant but inevitable climb to liberal democracy, the region is actually going the other way – fast. Academics call this "Islamicisation", the spread of radical Shi'a and Wahhabi beliefs and practices throughout the region. Because of this trend, the Middle East one sees nowadays is nothing like it was, say, fifty years ago. Around the 1950s, about the time oil was being discovered in the Gulf, many Muslim nations were relatively liberal by today's standards. Alcohol flowed freely, women went uncovered and there was lively public debate about "Ataturk's way", the separation of Islam and state, modernisation, and dialogue with the West. The Middle East seemed to be going in the right direction.

Saudi oil changed all that.

Oil meant that the Saudis now had the means to change the world to more resemble them. The mountain would come to Mohammed. Their mission... was to change the world to be like them... Many educated Arabs secretly bemoan the fact that Mecca is situated in a place of such ignorance and extremism. Why not Oman? ask some. Neighbouring Oman, has a much more gentle brand of indigenous Islam known as Ibadhism, which preaches tolerance as a key Muslim virtue. Why not Oman, indeed.

But Saudi it was. God had willed it, as the Saudis still claim today. Saudi Arabia soon started flexing its economic and theological muscle – vastly expanding the number of mosques and madrases in its mainland, and exporting its... puritanism abroad. It did this by funding mosques, madrases and "payments for conversion" throughout the region and beyond, to North Africa, Central Asia and South East Asia, notably Indonesia. Many of these countries were poor and welcomed the "grants" and status projects afforded by the Saudis. The great "Islamic revival" had started.

Unfortunately, as Mecca is in Saudi Arabia, it gives the Saudis a lot of influence over the direction of Islam. Unfortunate. It makes it harder for Muslims to consider if a less repressive, more modern, more open, more liberal Islam is as valid and authentic.

Below, damage control by SG govt.]

MM Lee was describing "worst-case scenario": Dr Yaacob
By Hoe Yeen Nie | Posted: 29 January 2011 1700 hrs

SINGAPORE: The Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was describing a "worst-case scenario" when he recently spoke about the Malay Muslim community.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, who was at a cheque presentation ceremony at Yayasan Mendaki, was responding to media queries regarding Mr Lee's comments in his latest book, titled "Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going".

Mr Lee had said that multi-racialism in Singapore was "progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came".

Dr Yaacob said the rise in religiosity in almost all faith communities has been described as a reaction to modernisation and noted that Mr Lee believed these reactions can be divisive and saw it as his responsibility to warn Singaporeans about the possible risks in society.

Dr Yaacob added that Singapore is a secular country that respects and protects the rights of Muslims to practise their own religion, and this is fundamental to Singapore's identity.

"Many Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore have commented on MM's remarks about Muslims...They have told me, and told us, that the scenario painted by MM is not the reality that they face in the day-to-day lives that they experience here in Singapore.

"To me, that is a very good sign. I would be personally very worried if Singaporeans agree with the scenario that MM has painted, because it means that for us to be a committed Muslim or of any other faith, is incompatible with being a loyal citizen."

Dr Yaacob urged Muslims to take Mr Lee's comments in perspective.

"Let's look at this rationally, read the book and understand where he's coming from. And don't just read one book, see MM in his whole lifespan and the struggles he has gone through.

"At the end of the day, he has a certain perspective. That perspective may not be accurate now, maybe 40 years ago. So that's where I disagree with him, as I mentioned, in the book. That the reality on the ground is people are working together side by side."

Dr Yaacob declined to speculate on the impact the issue might have during the general election, but said: "At the end of the day, as far as the government policy is concerned, we want to integrate everybody, irrespective of your race and let's put this in perspective."


The final word, after debate in Parliament.

Mar 8, 2011

MM on Malay-Muslim integration: 'I stand corrected'

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said he 'stands corrected' on how well-integrated Malay-Muslims are in Singapore.

In a statement issued late last night, he said: ''Hard Truths' was a book based on 32 hours of interviews over a period of 2 years. I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably 2 or 3 years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date. I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future.'

In the book Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, published by the Straits Times Press in January, MM Lee said among other things that 'Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'

Asked what Muslims could do to integrate, he said: 'Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, 'Okay, I'll eat with you.''

The remarks caused a storm of protest from Malay-Muslim groups, some saying his remarks were unfounded and others calling for him to apologise.

China plans to merge nine cities to create a mega city

Jan 28 2011, 7:37 am Posted by Scott Welsh

Planners in South China laid an ambitious plan to merge the nine cities in the vicinity of the Pearl River Delta. By merging the nine cities China will create the world’s biggest mega city, creating a metropolis with a population of 42 million people.
The mega city will cover part of China’s manufacturing land and stretches from Guangzhou to Shenzhen. the scheme will create a 16,000 square mile of urban area that is roughly 26 times larger that greater London geographically speaking. The area will also include Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. The cities account for tenth of the Chinese economy.
Currently the world largest mega-city is Greater Tokyo with 34 million inhabitants. Followed by Guangzhou which is home to 25 million people, Seoul ranks third with 24 million people. A city can be considered mega when population reaches 10 million.
When these cities are merged, residents than can freely travel around and use health care and other facilities located in different areas. 150 major infrastructures projects are planned in the next six years that will incorporate together transportation, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine Chinese cities at an estimated cost of 2 trillion yuan. Ma Xiangming the senior consultant for the project said that no name have been chosen for the area, and it will not be compared to Greater London or Greater Tokyo since there are cities located in the heart of the metropolis. Definitely it will not be named after one of the existing nine cities.
An express railway system will also be constructed to connect the mega city with Hong Kong. Twenty nine more rail lines with a total of 3100 miles will be added, shortening rail journeys in the urban areas to about an hour between the different city centers. This will help spread the industry and jobs more evenly in the region, and public services is distributed more fairly. Residents will use universal rail cards to access the rail lines.
Phone bills will fall by 85 percent, hospital and school facilities will be improved. Residents can then choose where to get their service by using the internet in finding the nearest hospital that is not busy. One key problem that planners are facing id the pollution of the Pearl River Delta because of industrialization will be addressed by using a united policy. Prices for gasoline and electricity will also be unified.
The southern conglomeration hopes to wrestle back the competitive advantage from growing urban areas found around Beijing and Shanghai. China also plans to move greater numbers into cities, thus creating city zones with 50 to 100 million residents plus small city clusters of 10 to 25 million people.
The northern areas around Beijing and Tianjin will be ringed with networks of high speed railways creating a super urban area known as Bohai Economic Rim with a population of 260 million. A train link will provide an axis around a network of feeder cities and the 75 mile journey will be completed in just half an hour.
According to and estimate by the British Chambers of Commerce China’s total investment in urban infrastructure is expected to hit $1 trillion, with $480 billion to be spent in high speed rail systems and $112 billion on urban transport.

Hard truths about China

Jan 28, 2011

By William Choong, Senior Writer

LAST week, I attended an arms control conference in Beijing. Jointly organised by the United Nations Office of Disarmament and the Chinese government, the seminar proved to be an eye-opener.

On the first day, Professor Zhu Feng of Beijing University sketched out arguments for and against nuclear disarmament. He highlighted how drastic cuts in nuclear weapons would be possible, pending further military-to-military dialogue between the United States and China, and China becoming 'more transparent' in its military affairs.

The last statement piqued my curiosity. Later, I asked Prof Zhu what exactly did China mean by transparency, particularly given recent reports about Beijing's development of a stealth fighter and anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) that could sink US aircraft carriers.

Nothing prepared me for the answers that followed.

Said Prof Zhu with a tinge of irritation: 'What is China going to do with such new weapons? Come on. How to use your weapons? You want to kill the US? You want to overwhelm Asean? One day, use the ASBMs to bomb Singapore? Any imaginations this way will prove to be useless.'

China's weapons, such as its nuclear arsenal, are tools to address future uncertainties, he said. This was not 'exceptional', he said, given the 'anarchical' nature of international relations.

Later, I learnt from Asian media colleagues that Ambassador Cheng Jingye, director-general of China's Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, also had a couple of answers headed my way. (I had left earlier.)

'The question from The Straits Times correspondent... I wonder (about) his identity. This question should have come from North America or Western Europe.

'Weapons are for defensive or offensive (purposes). I don't think any country will say that its weapons are offensive. The same is true for China... I haven't heard any questions to the effect as to why China doesn't have the right to have (these weapons),' he said.

The question smacked of 'racial discrimination', he said, adding that he appreciated its frankness and welcomed an 'exchange of views'.

Speaking to other seminar participants later, we agreed that the comments were rather disturbing. First, my question had been open-ended and harmless. Countering it with hyperbole was out of order - not to mention, impolite.

Second, we agreed that my Chinese interlocutors had overreacted. Perhaps as a participant from a small state (and an ethnic Chinese at that), I had posed a question that was deemed a tad too critical.

'They were either trying to be smart, as they sought to dodge your question, or they were simply incompetent and did not know how to answer it,' a participant told me later.

More importantly, the issue about China's transparency is not merely an American or Western construct. The same sentiment is shared by many countries in Asia.

Due to China's perceived lack of military transparency, many Asian countries have resorted to self-help behaviour. In 2009, Australia's Defence White Paper virtually singled out China and called for a massive Australian naval build-up. Japan's defence forces, which for long had eyed North Korea warily, are now primed for a potential Chinese challenge.

Last year, Asean countries were spooked when China declared the disputed South China Sea as a 'core interest'. Regional countries and China are not locked in an arms race yet, but there is a palpable action-reaction dynamic building up, especially in North Asia.

Arguably, it does not take a political scientist to arrive at reasoned guesses as to what China's new military kit is for. Its ASBMs, for example, would impose a restraining effect on US aircraft carriers if there is another Taiwan Strait crisis.

That said, only China can explain the rationale behind its build-up, and the explanations would have to be more detailed than catch-all remarks about hedging against uncertainty.

The expressed desire for transparency is not anti-China; rather, it is pro-China. A China that addresses the concerns of not only the US, but also countries in Asia, would make for a more stable region for all. As a former US defence official once put it, capital is a coward that flees in the face of instability.

Admittedly, China is communicating better and using soft power to address concerns about its rise. During President Hu Jintao's recent visit to the US, it ran advertisements at New York's Times Square showcasing luminaries such as Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei.

Younger envoys such as Ambassador Cheng are also generally cosmopolitan and urbane, and keen to speak to the media. One Washington-based analyst said: 'I have attended arms control events in Geneva for years. For a long time, Chinese diplomats just came and had shouting matches with us. Now, they are more competent and effective.'

It is probable that China will improve on its public diplomacy over time. Fears about its rise will always be with us, but for the greater good, it is in Beijing's interests to dispel them.

In the recently published book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew summed up the Chinese psyche well: 'The more successful they are, the less they will think of you and the more they will treat you with condescension,' he said.

If the Chinese act like this when their gross domestic product and defence spending are, respectively, only a third and one-seventh that of America's, imagine what they would be like when they hit parity.

Obama's 'Sputnik call' a desperate distraction

Jan 28, 2011

Real issue US faces isn't threat from rising Asia, but domestic politicking

By Chua Chin Hon, US Bureau Chief

WHEN the former Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1, the world's first earth-orbiting satellite, in October 1957 and beat the Americans into space, it produced a wake-up call that many here have since dubbed the 'Sputnik moment'.
More than half a century later, President Barack Obama is hoping to rally the United States around a second 'Sputnik moment' supposedly created by the rise of new economic powerhouses in Asia.
In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, he cited the following as examples of how the US might be falling behind: South Korea has faster Internet access, India is investing more in mathematics and science education, and China has the world's largest private solar research facility and the world's fastest computer.
He added: 'The world has changed. The competition for jobs is real...This is our generation's Sputnik moment.'
It is a memorable line. The only problem is that no such moment exists.
For one thing, the successes that China, India and South Korea currently enjoy accrue from decades of steady development, and not from any singular event.
Neither have these Asian powers produced an economic or technological game changer on the same scale as the Sputnik.
The successful launch of the Soviet satellite in 1957 not only showed up the inadequacies of the American space programme at that time, but also posed a range of uncomfortable security and military questions for the US. Some worried then, for instance, that Soviet nuclear weapons might start dropping on American cities from the sky.
The solar research labs and fast computers in Asia, while impressive, simply don't pose the kind of existential threat that the Sputnik represented at the time.
This is not to say that China or India will not produce a new breakthrough at some point in the future that will change the world. But for now, it is clear that the real question surrounding the future of US leadership and the nation's competitiveness does not come from developments in Asia or elsewhere.
The real issue at hand - as evidenced by the two distinct governing philosophies offered by Mr Obama and the opposition Republicans on Tuesday night - is how the US resolves its own deepening political divide at home.
At one end of the argument we have Mr Obama calling for a new wave of investments that would allow America to 'out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world'.
In his view, the US government, as it had done through history, should take the lead in these reforms and innovations, such as by providing the seed money for scientists who might not otherwise find support in the free market.
He cited examples like the computer chip and global positioning system, inventions which started out as military or government programmes before they found widespread commercial application.
On the other end of the argument, we have the Republicans and the conservative Tea Party movement clamouring for a return to smaller government. They also believe that Washington's most urgent mission is to reduce, not increase, runaway government spending.
Republican lawmaker Paul Ryan, a rising star who was picked to deliver the official opposition response to Mr Obama's address, said on Tuesday night: 'Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness and wise consumer choices has never worked - and it won't work now.
'We need to reclaim our American system of limited government... and free enterprise (which) have helped make America the greatest nation on earth.'
The central dilemma boils down to this: Will America recover its footing best by emulating a little of what its competitors are doing in terms of state-led capitalism and strategic planning?
Or would it do better by returning to its founding principles of liberty and limited government, as Mr Ryan and most conservatives suggest, and let the free market work its magic?
The commonsensical answer would be a combination of both approaches. But as the heated political rhetoric and bitter election of the past year have shown, there is little chance the two sides can reconcile their fundamental differences any time soon.
If anything else, most Tea Party activists regard Mr Obama as a bigger 'threat' to America than foreign competition, frequently citing his ambitious agenda and governing philosophy as a roadmap to 'socialism' and financial ruin for the country.
In Tuesday's address, Mr Obama made brief references to the realities of governing in a democracy - 'we will argue about everything' - but said almost nothing about how he planned to bridge the political divide.
Will invoking the spectre of a foreign threat help coax a little more support from the opposition? Maybe, but it smacks of desperation.
More importantly perhaps, it is out of step with a leader who has spoken so eloquently about ushering in a new era of comity and cooperation in international relations.
As Mr Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution points out: 'Do we want to go back to that kind of mindless 'oh my god, the Soviets are going to beat us' (attitude)? That's an interesting framework to want to introduce in 2011.'

Having kids not just a personal choice

Jan 27, 2011

By Teo You Yenn, For The Straits Times

THE word 'choice' comes up often in feminist conversations - in emphasising that women should be able to 'choose' whether or not to marry; or have children and if so, how many; or work, and the type of work to be involved in.

Choice, however, is a problematic concept. The word conjures up images of autonomous individuals, making decisions independently of one another. However, that is not the case. Individuals make choices in particular contexts.

In the national conversation on fertility, we are too often fixated on people's choices in the individualistic mode. We imagine that people look at their individual circumstances - their careers, finances and 'lifestyles' - and then make 'cost-benefit analyses' which lead them to decide not to have children.

These factors are of course relevant. But when we frame choice this way, we imagine society as made up of auto-nomous individuals with great control over their decisions. We lament: Surely they can cut back on their careers, or spend less money on non-necessities, or alter their expectations in life, and so on.

Choice distracts us from seeing that when people think about whether or not to have children or how many to have, they are not only looking at their own lives. Instead, they are also gauging their locations within society: They are gauging what 'normal' Singaporeans do; they are imagining what being a mother or father involves; and they are considering what sort of life they can have.

To address low fertility, we have to think about the context in which people decide not to have children. We have to consider the environment in which people live, and the sorts of lives they lead or aspire to lead. The responsibilities of employed work, of caring for a household, children and the elderly are substantial and not always recognised.

When the dominant motif of society is 'work hard, make sure you're in good financial shape because society won't take care of you, your children or your parents', young people have real cause to be anxious about the future.

So to 'solve' the fertility problem, we have to rethink the sorts of support society provides for all its citizens, at various points in their lives, and not just the currently 'fertile'.

This idea is not new. The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) produced a paper, Beyond Babies: National Duty Or Personal Choice, in 2004 pointing out that 'quality of life' is the single most important reason why Singaporeans do not have more children. If society does not provide some assurance to its citizens that they will still have a place in society even if they are not economically productive, we must accept that Singaporeans will make the pragmatic decision to make their economic survival their No. 1 priority. In many cases, this means not having children or deferring the decision until they are financially secure.

The gender dimension in this problem is also key. Maternity leave policies, tax reliefs and foreign maid policies each point to women playing heavier roles than men in the actual work of the family. Women are still expected to be the primary caregiver and men the primary breadwinner. Structural conditions that hinder men from taking time off to care for their children remain.

If you are a man, your main job as a father is to provide; if you want to take time off to care for your child, you bear the costs. No one will cut you any slack.

For women, leaving the workforce, even temporarily, is fraught with in-security. There are few provisions to ensure they are treated the same as their male or childless female colleagues, though the time they need to raise young children may, in the larger scheme of things, be brief.

For low-income women, the choices are even more difficult: Good childcare services are expensive, and those for infants are rare. Moreover, the small number of people who use childcare services for children under three means parents (particularly women) who use such services face a fair number of frowning faces and laments of 'Poor kid, so young'.

Paternity leave provisions comparable to maternity leave ones, childcare services universally available to parents regardless of their marital and/or employment status, and anti-discrimination legislation would go a long way to improving the situation.

When we think about choice as an individual matter, we inevitably shy from truly social solutions. We come up with incentive schemes designed to nudge individuals' 'cost-benefit analyses' towards deciding to have children.

Only when both men and women feel they will be sufficiently supported as valued members of society, not just as baby makers and contributors to GDP, will we all have real choices.

The writer is an assistant professor in the Division of Sociology, Nanyang Technological University, and a member of Aware's board.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More Malaysian groups slam MM's remarks on Muslims

Jan 27, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR: More Muslim groups in Malaysia have hit out at remarks by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that the progress of integration in Singapore has been affected because Muslims in the Republic tend to be 'distinct and separate'.

Abim, a major Muslim youth organisation, asked MM Lee to apologise to Muslims throughout the world, while the Utusan Malaysia newspaper said in an editorial that Mr Lee had 'excessive suspicions' towards Islam.

But former Malaysian information minister Zainuddin Maidin differed in his view of Mr Lee's remarks. He said Mr Lee was merely challenging Singapore Muslims not to choose a path that would lead them to isolation, and one should not blurt out knee-jerk angry reactions.

Mr Lee's remarks, published in a new book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, were reported on Sunday by several Malaysian and Indonesian newspapers and news websites, after they were reported by a news agency.

In the book, Mr Lee, when asked to assess the progress of multiracialism in Singapore, said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.

'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, intermarriages and so on, Indians with Chinese, Chinese with Indians - than Muslims. That's the result of the surge from the Arab states.'

[MM Lee realises that the influence of the Arab states ("petro-dictators" as Thomas Friedman calls them in "Hot, Flat & Crowded") is creating perhaps an Islamic Hegemony that unbalances the traditional vibrant diversity of views and philosophy in Islam, and this undue influence is shaping the community in a way that hinders rather than foster integration.]

He added: 'I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam.'

He also said: 'I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.'

The secretary-general of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Abim), Mr Mohamad Raimi Abdul Rahim, said in a statement that Mr Lee's remarks 'have clearly hurt the sensitivities of Muslims not only in Singapore, but also throughout the region including Malaysia'.

Mr Lee should issue an 'open apology' to Muslims in Singapore and the world for what he had said, Mr Mohamad Raimi said in a statement posted on Abim's website.

Utusan in an editorial yesterday claimed that, once Singapore Muslims had backed the Singapore Government to separate from Malaysia, the Malays 'disappeared from the dictionary of Mr Lee' and the People's Action Party.

But Tan Sri Zainuddin took a different tack, saying Mr Lee only wanted the Muslim community in Singapore to be progressive and dynamic by making the remarks.

Mr Lee's views 'should be seen from a positive angle' as he does not want the Malay community in the Republic to blindly accept Islamic teachings, Utusan quoted him as saying.

[Tan Sri Zainuddin seems to recognise it as well.]

India and China gaining on US, Obama warns

Jan 27, 2011

US President urges Americans to rise to challenge in new world

By Chua Chin Hon, US Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON: Flagging the competition from new economic powerhouses like China and India as a big challenge to United States primacy, President Barack Obama yesterday called on Americans to out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world to 'win the future'.

In his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Mr Obama repeatedly cited gains that the two countries - and others - have made at the expense of the US.

To compete in this new world, 'they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on maths and science', he said.

'They're investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world's largest private solar research facility, and the world's fastest computer,' he told a joint session of Congress.

The nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system has been bested in many areas in recent years by these rising Asian countries, he said.

'Our infrastructure used to be the best - but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a 'D',' said Mr Obama.

'We have to do better.'

While the world has changed, he said, the competition should not discourage Americans, but challenge them.

'Remember, for all the hits we've taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world,' he said.

'No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We're the home to the world's best colleges and universities.'

It is now up to this generation of Americans to meet the demands of a new age.

'We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future,' Mr Obama said.

[This sounds so much like a speech our PM would give to Singaporeans.]

He plans to propose in his upcoming budget new investments in areas like biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology, he said.

He outlined some major goals:

# Enable clean energy sources to supply 80 per cent of America's electricity by 2035.

# Provide 80 per cent of Americans with access to high-speed rail within 25 years.

# Expand coverage of high-speed wireless Internet to reach nearly all Americans by 2016.

# A 'Race to the Top' school reform programme to promote science and learning.

The President did not put a price tag on the package of proposed investments, but suggested that Washington could help pay for these initiatives by eliminating tax breaks to oil companies and streamlining the government bureaucracy.

In a nod to Republican concerns about the unsustainable levels of government debt, he proposed a five-year freeze in spending on some domestic programmes that would cut spending by more than US$400 billion (S$512 billion) over the next 10 years. But he warned that the cuts should be judicious and not end up hurting long-term US competitiveness.

'Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine,' he said. 'It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.'

But the opposition Republicans poured cold water on Mr Obama's vision and proposals. Republican lawmaker Paul Ryan, tasked with delivering a formal response, called attention to the runaway fiscal deficit and the need to return to limited government.

'Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis... Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland and other nations in Europe. Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner,' he said.

The contrasting visions of the two speeches will probably become a key theme for the 2012 presidential campaign. Many regard Mr Obama's remarks as the opening speech of his re-election campaign.

Striking a centrist tone that has helped revive some of his political fortunes in recent months, the President reminded the divided Congress that the economic challenges before the country are bigger than their political differences.

'This is our generation's Sputnik moment,' he said, referring to the launch of the first Earth-orbiting satellite in 1957 by the former Soviet Union. The event shocked the US into embarking on a major wave of space research and development.

The President said relatively little about US foreign policy goals and objectives. He made perfunctory references to Iraq, Pakistan and the fighting in Afghanistan, but gave no new assessment on the progress in these key hot spots.

'Foreign policy will play second fiddle to domestic policy when the administration talks about its agenda in the year to come,' wrote Mr James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations. 'The mantra going forward will be opportunities, jobs and growth, not threats, war and diplomacy.'


Jan 25, 2011

A balancing act between two powers

By Ching Cheong

THE United States is willing to accommodate the rise of China - politically, economically and militarily - provided the process is peaceful and conducive to the US maintaining world leadership status.

This is the most salient conclusion from the White House meeting between the presidents of China and the US last week. In other words, China will continue to accept US supremacy, in exchange for a more amicable global environment for its rise.

At a joint press conference with his visiting Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao after their summit meeting, US President Barack Obama reminded China that it also has the US to thank for its rise.

'China's extraordinary economic growth... is a tribute to the Chinese people. But it's also thanks to decades of stability in Asia, made possible by America's forward presence in the region, by strong trade with America, and by an open international economic system championed by the United States of America,' he said.

By stating this at the beginning of the press conference, Mr Obama made it clear that US policies can affect China's rise.

In the US-China joint statement, the US reiterated that 'it welcomes a strong, prosperous and successful China playing a greater role in world affairs'.

Mr Obama touched on this theme twice at the joint press conference. He defined two conditions for China's rise.

First, it has to be peaceful. He said: 'We just want to make sure that the rise... occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules, and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict either in the region or around the world.'

Second, it should tie in with US foreign objectives: The kind of partnership that Washington seeks with Beijing, according to Mr Obama, is one where China is a responsible actor on the world stage - a partner that ensures weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the wrong hands; a partner that helps deal with regional hot spots or issues like climate change.

If China can accept these two conditions, the US would make life easier for its rival in every respect.

Politically, China's core interests would be observed. The joint statement did not mention the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), one of the cornerstones of Washington's One China policy. Though Mr Obama referred to it at the press conference, the TRA has obviously been relegated to a less formal position.

Similarly on human rights, a sensitive issue for China, the US is willing to accept, if not embrace, the Chinese position.

'China has a different political system than we do. China is at a different stage of development than we are. We come from very different cultures with very different histories,' Mr Obama noted.

'We believe part of human rights is people being able to make a living and having enough to eat and having shelter and having electricity,' he said.

Observers pointed out that since China published its first White Paper on Human Rights in 1991, it has cited the ability to feed and clothe its people as its top contribution to human rights. It has also given reasons why freedom and democracy, as espoused by the West, are not for China. Two decades later, the US President seems to be echoing the same Chinese view of human rights.

Economically, the US is willing to give China what it wants: recognition of its market economy, as well as a commensurate position in the world financial framework.

In the joint statement, China 'welcomed the US' commitment to work towards China's market economy status (MES) in an expeditious manner'.

Such efforts will go a long way towards removing trade impediments, and will greatly enhance the entry of Chinese products into the US market, as well as US high-tech imports into China.

If the US takes the lead in granting MES to China, other Western developed countries will be compelled to follow suit.

The joint statement also said the US 'supports China's efforts over time to promote inclusion of the renminbi in the Special Drawing Rights basket'. This satisfies China's quest to be accorded a position in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) commensurate with its economic might. China's voting rights in the IMF were raised recently.

Militarily, the US is not going to edge China out. Both countries agreed to strengthen their military-to-military relationship and enhance cooperation on nuclear security, as well as deepen exchanges in the field of space, provided both sides establish mechanisms at all levels to avoid 'misunderstanding, misperception and miscalculation'.

Bilateral relations aside, the US-China joint statement read like a laundry list of world issues, from saving the earth to space cooperation, from fighting global security threats like terrorism and nuclear proliferation to defusing regional and local disputes such as those in North-east Asia and Sudan.

All this shows that the US, after setting conditions for China's rise, is prepared psychologically to give China a greater presence on the world stage.

Viewed this way, the presidential summit represented a delicate balancing act, showing how the two powers can achieve substantial benefits through cooperation.

[Historical. Maybe in future, students of history will look to this moment as the point where US & China define their roles in the world for decades to come. ]

Both sides must dispel mistrust

By Goh Sui Noi, Senior Writer

THE summit last week between the leaders of the world's two most powerful nations, the United States and China, has been declared a modest success.

Chinese President Hu Jintao got the respect he wanted in the pomp and circumstance of a state visit, something he was denied on his last official visit to the US during the presidency of Mr George W. Bush.

US President Barack Obama made the points he wanted to make and received the right noises in response from the Chinese leader. One of these was an admission on Mr Hu's part that a lot needed to be done in China with regards to human rights. The US$45 billion (S$58 billion) in business deals, supporting 235,000 American jobs, that the Chinese inked did not hurt either.

The determined fence-mending of the leaders gave some needed momentum for the two sides to work on their differences after more than a year of acrimony. Much remains to be done to dispel the distrust between the two sides.

Part of that distrust is due to America's anxiety over the rise of China even as it faces a less than certain future if not decline. This anxiety has grown particularly since the 2008-09 global financial crisis, which the world's largest economy is slowly recovering from even as the Chinese economy has surged ahead.

In a Pew Research Centre survey conducted earlier this month, 43 per cent of Americans saw China as a serious problem, though only 20 per cent saw it as an adversary. So the American politician has found a convenient scapegoat in China, what with its undervalued currency and its huge trade surpluses with the US, not to mention a system of government that is different from the West. Thus, Senate majority leader Harry Reid called Mr Hu a 'dictator' in an interview.

With 53 per cent of Americans wanting the government to get tougher with the Chinese on trade and economic issues, it is no wonder that American lawmakers are considering a Bill that would punish China for keeping the yuan undervalued.

The Chinese, on their part, have in the past year given cause for not only Americans but also many in Asia to worry about their intentions.

Among Beijing's actions that were seen to be more assertive than usual: scuttling a deal at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change talks; threatening sanctions against US firms in response to a US arms sales deal with Taiwan; and telling American officials in closed-door meetings that China considered its claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea a 'core interest', putting it on a par with Taiwan and Tibet and spooking countries in the region.

One reason for China's new assertiveness is its sense that with its growing national strength, it need not take things lying down. Another is its insecurity about US intentions - whether the superpower will contain its rise by strengthening its alliances in the region and building new partnerships with countries like India and Indonesia.

A third reason, according to the Americans, is Chinese hubris. In the run-up to and immediately after the summit, American analysts were mainly negative about Sino-US ties. This probably stems in part from the initial optimism they felt when Mr Obama took office and the subsequent disappointment as relations deteriorated.

Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University warned in an article that appeared during Mr Hu's visit that while the visit would help improve matters, 'the relationship will remain difficult as long as the Chinese suffer from hubris based on a mistaken belief in American decline'.

An even more pessimistic Professor Aaron Friedberg of Princeton University wrote: 'Rather than signalling the start of a new interval of cooperation and stability, Mr Hu's visit may actually mark the end of an era of relatively smooth relations between the US and China.'

He based his assessment on what he saw as a view in China that it was time for it to stand up - 'to right some of the wrongs suffered when the country was relatively weak, and to reclaim its rightful role in Asia and the world'.

Such pessimistic thinking is dangerous, because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. US and Chinese policy-makers should listen to their people. They are less pessimistic.

Ms Annie Lyerly of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who sends her child to Chinese classes, told the BBC how she viewed China: 'There's a little bit of fear and a lot of awe, and also a lot of interest.'

A Chinese netizen wrote about news of Mr Hu's reception at the White House: 'Just because the Americans treat us as a great power, do we need to go wild with joy?'

Another wrote: 'Only when China is strong will the Chinese live with dignity.'

Some netizens warned against American motives, but there were several who declared: 'Long Live Sino-American friendship!'

A majority of Americans, 58 per cent in the Pew survey, want their country to build a stronger relationship with China.

Both sides must act now to dispel the mistrust between them if they are to avoid a collision in the near future.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

America's new 'Sputnik moment'

Jan 26, 2011

By Nayan Chanda
THE recent shootings at an Arizona shopping mall have ignited an impassioned debate in America about political responsibility. Did overheated Tea Party rhetoric inspire the gunman or was the carnage merely the product of a twisted individual mind?
President Barack Obama has called for calm and a return to civility in debate. However, the anger over the economic crisis that underpins much of the political blame game continues to smoulder. The fact that politicians from both parties are unwilling or unable to accept a painful overhaul to adapt to a globalised world does not, however, bode well for a return to civility.
Some figures reveal the challenges ahead. Corporations in the United States earned profits at an annual rate of US$1.659 trillion (S$2.13 trillion) in the third quarter of last year, the highest in 60 years. Most of these gains were derived from overseas operations. In addition, according to the Federal Reserve, US companies are sitting on cash reserves of nearly US$2 trillion. Despite this, about 15 million Americans remain unemployed, for corporations refuse to hire new workers for fear that there may not be a market for their products in the country.
The bitter debate between Republicans and Democrats has centred on how to kick-start the economy and create jobs. Republicans call for lowering taxes and cutting government spending, while Democrats argue for further stimulus and protectionist trade policies. That the facts defy both of these prescriptions does not seem to matter in a partisan debate over ideology. The tax cuts initiated by Republican administrations increased government debt without reducing unemployment.
Survey after survey has shown that companies have been holding back on expansion out of fear that unemployed and debt-ridden consumers will not buy their products. Even those who do expand their operations invest in machines rather than in their workers. At current rates of job creation, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke admitted it might take 'another four to five years for the job market to normalise fully'.
Democratic calls for greater government stimulus to create jobs hold appeal in the short term, but these run the risk of adding to an explosive accumulation of debt. With public debt rising to dizzying heights, wary investors will demand higher bond yields, which will force an end to the near-zero interest rate policy that has propelled the economy so far.
Calls to subsidise domestic industry will similarly produce minor short-term gains, while risking igniting a trade war. And demanding a revaluation of China's yuan is a double-edged sword: It could reduce the US trade deficit but would also eat into the profits of US corporations that use Chinese production facilities to export their goods. It will certainly end up costing American consumers more: The country's shopping malls are largely stocked with made-in-China goods.
The unpleasant fact is that over the past three decades, most manufacturing jobs have left the US for lower-cost countries. It is thus no surprise that the manufacturing sector earns most of its profits from overseas operations, and the major part of corporate profits in America is derived from the financial sector, which has global operations.
What the data shows is that while the globalisation of finance and manufacturing and the technological revolution have been a boon to nimble American corporations and individuals, most other Americans have been left behind by globalisation, facing a crumbling infrastructure and a failing education system.
With income concentrated in the top 1 per cent of the population - and the recent Supreme Court ruling giving rich corporations unprecedented power to spend on political campaigns - the debate is now focused on narrower topics like lowering taxes and cutting the deficit rather than the general direction of the US economy.
Not that ideas are lacking. In a speech last month, Mr Obama said the US cannot go back to its old ways and needs to wake up to a changed world, as it did to the Russian space challenge in 1957.
'Our generation's Sputnik moment is back,' he said. 'Once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries and jobs.'
In the growing rancour as a result of the economic crisis, big ideas have fallen by the wayside. Unless politicians wake up to the challenges of globalisation, mere civility in debate, however welcome, will not address the causes of the anger raging in America.

The writer is director of publications at the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation, and Editor of YaleGlobal Online.

Foolproof security at airports? Impossible, say experts

Jan 26, 2011

NEW YORK: It is impossible to fully secure something as big and sprawling as an international airport against a terrorist bombing like the one at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, security experts said.
Airports are, by definition, public places requiring relatively free access.
The experts have long contended that serious holes in security at airports have gone unfixed, while most of the effort and money go into looking for weapons on passengers waiting at checkpoints.
But they have also warned that a sensational incident in one place can lead to widespread overreaction and demands for quick fixes.
'It always does,' said Mr Bruce Schneier, a security technology consultant and author who has long argued that there is no such thing as perfect security, and that pretending otherwise is foolish.
Mr Douglas Laird, a former Secret Service agent and one-time head of security for Northwest Airlines, made much the same case.
'At some point, it needs to be made clear that nothing is 100 per cent secure,' said Mr Laird, who now runs an aviation security consulting firm.
'We're talking about public areas. It doesn't matter if it's an airline terminal, a train station or the front of Macy's - as long as you have free access, you're going to have these potential issues.'
One measure already in place that could address threats like the terrorist attack in Moscow is what the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) refers to as a behavioural detection officer programme.
In the programme, plainclothes officers trained in what the agency calls 'non-intrusive behaviour observation and analysis' mingle with crowds, looking for signs of potential trouble in physical behaviour.
The TSA has more than 3,000 behavioural detection officers deployed, usually near checkpoints, which see more than 1.5 million people pass through each day.
Airport terminals have two zones: the already secure areas and the public areas. As many news reports since the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have shown, there are problems even in the already secure areas, with poorly supervised access points, as well as inadequate credentialing and monitoring of some airport employees and delivery people.
In the public areas, experts said, behavioural detection could be useful as part of a protection programme that also included sophisticated intelligence-gathering.
Behavioural profiling is 'a good idea, assuming it's done right', said Mr Schneier, who nevertheless has serious reservations about how it is being done.
'You can go around looking for people who look suspicious, which works great if you actually know what suspicious looks like, rather than just deciding, this guy dresses funny and his food doesn't smell right.'
Mr Laird said the quality of training needed to be emphasised as well as the great difficulty of securing any big public place against terrorists, who could simply choose another site.
'Nothing in public is ever going to be anything near 100 per cent secure in a free society,' he said.
On the other hand, he added, 'good, well-trained cops are a little like good lifeguards. You need to have the ability, but what you look for is, what stands out.'


  • Aug 8, 2000: A bomb explodes in an underpass at Pushkinskaya Station in the centre of Moscow, killing 13 and injuring more than 90.
  • July 5, 2003: Several explosions occur one after another at a rock concert at Tushino Airport, north-west of Moscow, killing at least 16 and injuring 100.
  • Feb 6, 2004: A male suicide bomber blows himself up in a running subway train on the Zamoskvoretskaya line in Moscow, killing 41 and leaving over 100 injured.
  • Aug 31, 2004: A woman blows herself up near Rizhskaya subway station, causing more than 60 casualties.
  • Aug 21, 2006: A homemade bomb explodes at Moscow's Cherkizovsky Market, killing 11 and injuring 55.
  • Aug 13, 2007: A luxury Nevsky Express train travelling between Moscow and St Petersburg is blown up by a homemade bomb planted under the rails. At least 60 people are injured.
  • Nov 27, 2009: Four cars of the same train derail as a result of a bomb blast, killing 27 and injuring more than 100.
  • March 29, 2010: Two blasts go off in the Moscow subway stations - Lubyanka and Park Kultury - killing 40 and injuring more than over 90.


Rights group says democracies ignore abuses

Jan 25, 2011

BRUSSELS - DEMOCRACIES around the world are turning a blind eye to abuses by repressive regimes, opting for improved relations rather than condemning rights violations and curtailing aid, Human Rights Watch says.

The international watchdog decried in its annual review published on Monday the increasing use of dialogue and cooperation to urge reforms - but without any teeth to ensure that change occurs.

'Dialogue and cooperation have their place, but the burden should be on the abusive government to show a genuine willingness to improve,' Kenneth Roth, executive director of the group, said in a statement accompanying the report.

'In the absence of the demonstrated political will by abusive governments to make change, governments of good will need to apply pressure to end repression.'

But many democracies are abandoning political pressure, accepting instead the rationalisation of authoritarian governments, the report said.

It criticised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in that regard. -- AP

[Idealistic. Chauvinistic. Evangelistic. And unrealistic. The pariah nations have sanctions against them, and the effect in terms of human rights improvements are as useless. Sanctions against N. Korea hurt the people more than the leaders that are abusive. Countries are sovereign nations. Sanctions are considered hostile and offensive. If you want to make the lives of the people better, the friendly approach is better. The alternative is to be prepared to go all the way, and that includes war. Going to war for human rights?

Well, there is the Iraq war. Not strictly for human rights, but one of the intents was to bring democracy there. Great how that worked out, eh?

What sort of "teeth" do they proposed?

A remarkably unhelpful and useless observation.

See also comments at Lessons for US in Tunisian Revolt]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Jan 25, 2011

America's biggest creditor
By Chua Chin Hon, US Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON: If you tune in to the news here and notice China being mentioned, chances are the words 'America's banker' won't be far behind.

No doubt, the usual cliches about the mainland - the bicycle kingdom, the birthplace of gongfu, the home of pandas, and of late, Tiger Mums - are still prevalent.

But increasingly, American perception of China is being shaped by the dawning of a new reality: that of the Asian power's rising economic might and its status as the United States' No. 1 foreign creditor.

China holds about US$1 trillion (S$1.3 trillion) worth of US government debt, a point that news anchors, alarmist television pundits, and even comedians love to remind their audiences of.

When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Washington last week for a lavish state dinner, for instance, every late-night talk show host had a joke about the irony of holding a grand party for someone whom you owe so much money.

'We're playing this just right,' popular comedian Jon Stewart deadpanned. 'When a country owes you a billion dollars, they've got a problem. When a country owes you a trillion dollars, you've got a problem. We're too big to fail!'

The impact of this new economic reality on public opinion, however, has been no joke.

According to two recent polls by the Pew Research Centre and Allstate-National Journal, nearly one in two Americans think - incorrectly - that China is already the world's strongest economy. The US economy is in fact 21/2 times bigger than China's US$5.9 trillion gross domestic product, which has only recently overtaken Japan's as the second largest in the world.

It could take years, if not decades, before China catches up with America's US$14.6 trillion economy.

Still, 47 per cent of 1,200 Americans told the Allstate-National Journal poll late last year that they thought China had the strongest economy, while only 20 per cent picked the US.

The survey by Pew earlier this month arrived at an almost identical result: 47 per cent of the 1,503 Americans polled said China had the world's leading economy, while just 31 per cent thought the US was at the top.

The results of the Pew survey are all the more striking when compared to the responses to the same question three years ago. In January 2008, before the global financial crisis struck, 41 per cent of respondents thought the US economy was the strongest while only 30 per cent picked China.

'Public opinion in this country turns on a dime, but I think the long recession really sapped the confidence of a lot of Americans,' said Mr Joe Mandel, a retired teacher in Chicago, when asked to comment on the poll results.

'People feel as if it is no longer just a case of the grass being greener on the other side. It is sadly a case where things are withering here day by day while the Chinese just seem to keep growing and growing.'

Many US politicians are adamant, however, that China's growth is the result of its unfair currency and trade policies - a problem that they want to fix with retaliatory tariffs and duties.

During Mr Hu's visit, a group of 84 legislators from both the Democratic and Republican parties sent an open letter to US President Barack Obama urging him to take a tougher stance on the trade issue.

'America's patience is near an end,' the letter said. 'Ensuring that China abides by international trade laws is imperative for the vitality of our nation's economy and for the viability of American businesses.'

Most Americans surveyed by Pew (53 per cent) agreed with this call for tougher US action on economic and trade issues. But anyone assuming that there's broad public support for a confrontational approach towards China would be mistaken. For one thing, a higher percentage of respondents (58 per cent) said that it is 'very important' to build stronger ties with China. Most Americans also regard China as 'a serious problem, but not an adversary', according to Pew.

And while familiar criticisms about China's human rights record and environmental policies continue to cast a pall over its image in the US media, the poll found that Americans regard these problems as being less important than the economic issues.

Overall, American views of China also appear to be pretty middle-of-the-road when compared with how people of other nationalities view the Asian giant. About 36 per cent of Americans have an unfavourable view of China, compared with 69 per cent among Japanese and 61 per cent among Germans, Pew's research found.

'Sure, I sometimes see stories about human rights abuses in China, but there are so many other stories in the media about China that it doesn't affect the way I see the country,' said Mr Brad Stevens, an American video editor based in Washington DC.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal recently, Mr Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Centre, added: 'The bottom line is that Americans don't want to demonise China, but they have deep reservations about the effects of US-China trade.

'Worries notwithstanding, most Americans for now continue to hold a favourable view of the rising Asian giant.'

But many observers here also point out that China's image in the US, while relatively benign, is also a superficial one. Beyond household names like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Yao Ming, few Chinese personalities are widely known here.

The country's politics, fears, hopes, and aspirations are a complete mystery, except to the small community of China watchers. Beijing is well aware of the problem, and in response launched a major self-promotional advertisement ahead of Mr Hu's recent visit.

The ad, featuring quick snapshots of successful Chinese nationals like astronaut Yang Liwei, ran in several American cities to mixed reviews. Many questioned the wisdom of running the ad 300 times a day over four consecutive weeks in New York's busy Times Square.

Like most experts here, Dr Michael Green of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said the best thing that China can do to improve its image in the US is to carry out genuine political and economic reforms at home, and be more forthright about its military affairs. As for public relations and advertising blitzes, he noted: 'Americans can smell propaganda.'


Land of free spenders
By Grace Ng, China Correspondent

BEIJING: In a skit aired by China's state-owned CCTV last September, four children - each wearing a national flag representing China, the United States, India and Brazil - were lined up for a race.

The American child, Anthony, swore he would win 'because I always win' as he took the lead. But he soon toppled over, suffering from cramps. This prompted his Chinese competitor to cheer: 'Now is our chance to overtake him for the first time!'

'What's wrong with Anthony?' another child asked, to which the fourth kid said: 'He is overweight and flabby. He ate too many hamburgers.'

This skit, aired during the World Economic Forum, was a pointed commentary on how the Chinese viewed America, observed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He had attended the gathering, along with hundreds of top businessmen and political leaders, in China's Tianjin city.

For many Chinese, this picture of a bloated America ceding the lead to the rising dragon economy surely resonated as they witnessed their president's visit to the US last week.

President Hu Jintao brought with him US$45 billion (S$58 billion) worth of business deals that are expected to translate into 235,000 jobs for a struggling American economy.

The notion of China coming to America's rescue has prompted many Chinese to look anew at their perceptions of the US.

'When we were growing up, the US was the world's superpower that was far ahead of China,' said Ms Ding Lihua, 35, a human resource manager in Beijing. 'But watching the Americans give Mr Hu the VVIP treatment last week made me realise the US is on the decline, and China is becoming its equal,' she said.

This shift has also prompted them to reconsider what they admired and disliked about the Land of the Free.

Or rather, the land of the free spenders - which dragged China and the world into crisis - as a poll on Chinese perceptions of the US last month showed.

The US was blamed for the global economic crisis as well as the tensions in US-China ties, according to the survey of 1,400 people partly organised by the state newspaper China Daily.

Seven in 10 among those polled also saw the two countries as both allies and competitors. 'The US and China should be friends, but they cannot avoid being rivals in all spheres,' said translation company manager Michael Zhang, 43.

One area where the two may clash is foreign policy, said several Chinese nationals interviewed by The Straits Times. In their view, the Americans were 'too interventionist'.

Said corporate relations manager Wang Xingzi, 27: 'The US foreign policy is to bring democracy to countries, even those that don't necessarily want it. It said it would free people in Iraq, but it seems to have made their lives worse.'

Meanwhile, the US education system may be starting to lose its shine.

It did not escape notice that Shanghai schoolchildren recently beat those in 65 other countries in international standardised tests in mathematics, science and reading. American children came in between the 15th and 31st places in the three categories.

'I think more Chinese students are questioning if it is worthwhile to study at a not-so-good US school,' said Tsinghua graduate student Yang Jingjing, 27, who at one time studied in the US.

Still, if Chinese people were asked to name today's creative geniuses, Americans like Mr Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would first come to mind, she added. 'Silicon Valley, Harvard and Wall Street are still powerful emblems of US superiority. The huge talent and creativity there are hard to beat.'

It was its tech prowess that made the US pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai the most anticipated among the Chinese in Internet polls last year. And even though it turned out to have no futuristic gadgets and was disappointingly full of corporate sponsors' displays, one visitor, Mr Jun Caifeng, was still stirred by 'the US' branding power'.

'Americans know how to package and show the best side of themselves,' said the retiree in his 70s, citing the example of his 10-year-old grandson whose hero is National Basketball Association (NBA) star Kobe Bryant. 'I asked him why he likes an American more than Yao Ming, and he said, 'Kobe has more style and does magical dunks.' Americans really know how to impress.'

High school student Jordan Zhang, 14, echoed this: 'American culture, sports and pop music are cooler than China's.' That was why he chose to have an American college student, rather than a British researcher, teach him English. Both are volunteers at a non-profit Beijing tuition centre.

'We found most kids would rather have a Texan accent than speak the Queen's English,' said the centre's manager, who declined to be named. 'They watch too many American shows.'

Indeed, NBA games and Hollywood movies are the most-watched foreign content on CCTV as well as top video websites like

Even Vice-Premier Xi Jinping, tipped to be Mr Hu's successor, is said to be a fan of Hollywood's World War II movies such as Steven Spielberg's war epic, Saving Private Ryan.

For some, like Ms Qin Ping, a 36-year-old clothes shop owner, the values that come across, such as their quest for greater freedom and their greater participation in matters that affect their lives, are appealing.

Despite its recent setbacks, America was still ranked the 'best-liked country' in the world in a Global Times poll of 1,350 Chinese a year ago, beating France, Australia and Singapore, which was ranked fourth.

What is becoming clear to the Chinese is that one way to view the US is to see it as an ever-changing kaleidoscope, where you are as likely to find Nobel Prize winners as Wall Street crooks, Lady Gaga as well as hamburger-stuffed overweight children.

Said accountant Maggie Sun, 28: 'As Chinese people interact more with America, we are finding out that the US is too big and complex to be put into a box like what we used to do. I think Americans are learning the same about China.'

Additional reporting by Lina Miao