Friday, December 31, 2010

If only wars were fought on clipboards

Dec 30, 2010

By David Ignatius

IF BRIEFINGS could win wars, General David Petraeus would already be finished in Afghanistan. Here's what his masterful presentation looked like in Kabul this month - and then some hard questions for him to answer.

The American general's aides come in first, carrying six wooden easels as if they're setting up an art display. Next come the charts, displaying an array of information as densely woven as a spider's web. And then into the room sweeps Gen Petraeus, greeting his audience in a manner at once genial and pugnacious.

I've seen Gen Petraeus give many briefings over the years, and it's a bit like watching a magician at work. Even though you've seen the trick before, and you know the patter, you still get mesmerised. He has the ability to make people believe the impossible might be doable, after all. He pulled it off in Iraq, and it's just possible he's on his way again in Afghanistan. But this time it will be a stretch.

The Afghanistan campaign plan, in classic Petraeus fashion, comes at the problem from every direction: It's top-down, in building the Afghan army, and bottom-up in training tribal militias known as Afghan Local Police. It's about military power, especially the deadly night raids by United States Special Operations Forces, and it's also about making governance work in this corrupt and feeble country.

The most interesting chart in Gen Petraeus' recent briefing was one called 'Village Stability Operations', which showed how Special Forces teams are securing the remote mountain valleys north of Helmand province. Over the course of this year, the US found local pockets where the village elders resented the Taleban - and sent in the Green Berets to organise local resistance.

The campaign plan is so dispersed that it's easy to miss what's happening. There's no big 'battle of Kandahar', for example. Instead, US soldiers are clearing the Taleban-infested belts around the city and establishing scores of little combat outposts with Afghan forces. The idea is to keep expanding these 'security bubbles' until the Taleban is driven from the population centres.

Like any war, this one is ultimately about willpower, and America has an advantage in Gen Petraeus, one of the strongest-willed people you could hope to meet. But this winner's psyche is not sufficient. History shows three variables are crucial in countering an insurgency - a real process of reconciliation; no safe havens for the enemy; and a competent host government. None is present in Afghanistan.

So here are a few questions for Gen Petraeus to ponder at the year end. I've collected them from strategists inside and outside the US government who hope for success, but worry that time is short:

# How can the US create more incentives for the Afghan government to take control? Is there some way to create a 'ratchet effect' so that every time the Afghans muster another 10,000 troops - and the US takes out a like number - there's a palpable benefit that Afghans can feel?

# How can the US make 'reconciliation and reintegration' move faster? Who can drive the process with the manipulative passion of a Henry Kissinger? (Gen Petraeus could fit that bill, actually.) Should the preconditions for Taleban participation be altered?

# How can the Pakistan angle be squared? Can the US involve the Pakistanis more directly in reconciliation efforts? Should it take their advice and negotiate with their friends in the Haqqani network? Can Washington divert some of the nearly US$100 billion (S$130 billion) annual budget for Afghanistan to buy peace in the tribal areas?

# How can the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) be used better? The Afghan war began as a CIA paramilitary action. Maybe it should end that way, too. Pakistani officials say they have allowed the CIA to open a new base in Quetta. Can more joint US-Pakistani covert operations be launched in Baluchistan and the tribal areas?

# How can the US deal better, behind the scenes, with the puzzle of Afghan President Hamid Karzai? Should it squeeze him? Ignore him? Dump him?

Gen Petraeus' campaign plan, to use a simple analogy, is the equivalent of mending a broken old chair - gluing it back together and holding it in place with a series of clamps. But nobody can say how long the US 'clamps' will remain in place, how long it will take the 'glue' of transition to dry, or how rotten the Afghan 'wood' is. Those are the uncertain variables that Gen Petraeus must hedge against, even as he keeps pushing for success.


'Reverse coupling' theory just wishful thinking

Dec 30, 2010
By Tan Meng Wah

MANY accolades have been sung about China's economic success over the last three decades. Along with those tributes has come the hope that China's high growth will help pull the world - especially developed economies - out of a slump, with talk of 'reverse coupling'.

That tantalising proposition, however, rests on the premise that China has sustained growth in its domestic consumption. But despite the huge and timely stimulus injected by the Chinese government at the height of the global financial crisis, domestic consumption today remains subdued.

Even if domestic consumption grows, the prospects of China becoming the engine that pulls the locomotive of world trade along are dim at best, and wishful thinking at worst.

It is too simplistic to assume that an upsurge in Chinese domestic consumption will automatically translate into a tremendous spike in its imports.

The American economy became the engine that pulled the world economy along over the past decades not only because of its unique privilege to print greenback at will. More pertinently, the gradual hollowing out of its industries also dictated that the United States had to import a good deal of what it needed.

That is far from being the case in China, which prefers to make its own goods, and where imports are not yet a game-changer for the domestic, let alone the global, economy.

Much of what China needs can be satisfied with goods and services produced domestically, without the need for imports. Even though the quality may not match that of imported goods, it will be acceptable for the relatively less-discerning Chinese consumers. Hence, expansion of domestic demand will only fuel the growth and innovative capability of Chinese enterprises, and transform them into increasingly formidable competitors in the global market.

Many foreign multinational corporations have relocated their production facilities in China to serve the domestic market. An increase in Chinese domestic demand will help churn production at these Chinese facilities, not create more job opportunities in developed countries.

In any case, many foreign small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face daunting challenges trying to sell to China. With no production facilities located in China, their ability to serve Chinese consumers is greatly constrained. They also face overwhelming obstacles in marketing and distributing their products to Chinese consumers. This is exacerbated by the aggressive competition from Chinese manufacturers who have switched to selling to domestic customers in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global recession.

Chinese distribution channels are already congested with Chinese-made products, priced favourably and with improving quality. A visit to any outlet of a major Chinese supermarket chain will reveal that imported goods are not only more expensive but also harder to come by. A rise in the yuan may help to bring down their prices - but imported goods will still face a tough battle gaining shelf space in a Chinese supermarket, which typically devotes less then 5 per cent of total floor space in each store to imported goods. More imported goods are available at speciality stores frequented by foreigners, but at prices beyond the reach of ordinary Chinese folk.

With so many producers contending for limited shelf space, supermarkets are notorious for charging exorbitant entry fees and demanding long credit periods from suppliers. These may not be terms foreign importers are prepared to accept.

In short, foreign producers wishing to sell to China face a tough prospect with many hidden rules. Foreign SMEs, in particular, with a lack of financial clout and market knowledge, will face many obstacles in navigating China's cluttered distribution maze.

Only imports in the following categories are likely to grow: commodities that China lacks; high tech and proprietary machinery and equipment in areas of technology where China is still behind; and luxury goods for the growing middle-class.

During President Hu Jintao's recent visit to France, for example, the two countries signed deals amounting to € 16 billion (S$27 billion) that involved China buying uranium, nuclear technology and more than 100 Airbus planes.

One rosy picture painted by economists is that if China buys more of developed countries' high-tech exports, then these rich countries' economies will boom once again, and consumers there will start to buy from the rest of the world again.

It will, however, take far more than Chinese demand for exports to pull the developed world out of the trenches, given mounting public debt and the growing resistance of the Western public to painful economic reforms.

Globalisation has also resulted in developed economies relinquishing a good portion of their manufacturing might to emerging economies, limiting their current and future capacity to sell to China. British Prime Minister David Cameron's recent visit to China, for instance, yielded only a single contract to sell Rolls-Royce jet engines worth just US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion).

In the case of the US, where growth has so far been elusive despite the aggressive monetary stimulus, industries are struggling to create enough new jobs. With its higher cost structure, the US will find it hard to recover manufacturing jobs lost to emerging economies. Its hopes lie in new growth areas - for example, the green energy sector - or in high-tech industries where emerging economies have yet to build their competitive advantage.

In other words, even if Chinese domestic consumption picks up, there are limits to what the US can export to China. Even in high-tech areas, China is fast closing the gap. Already, China has overtaken the US to clinch the top spot in supercomputer rankings with its Tianhe-1A which has 1.4 times the horsepower of the top US computer.

In aerospace, long a stronghold of Boeing and Airbus, China's state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp of China made headlines recently with its announcement of a 100-plane order from mostly Chinese airlines.

Given China's interminable supply of both skilled and unskilled labour, increasingly sophisticated infrastructure, and quick pace of industrial upgrading, its capacity to grow across industrial clusters will be unmatchable both in terms of scale, depth and capabilities. It appears likely that China will chomp off an increasing share of the global economic pie.

Even if the yuan appreciates substantially, Chinese exports may still be able to maintain their competitiveness due to a rise in productivity. In the coming years, Chinese firms are likely to benefit from internal economies of scale, as they continue to expand output in response to expanding domestic consumption; external economies of scale, as industrial clusters mature and deepen; productivity growth, as the relentless push for research and development bears fruit and new technologies are adopted; and new growth impetus, as structural reforms are unleashed.

Countries may find it harder to sell to China, while becoming more dependent on cheaper Chinese imports. This constitutes neither an encouraging nor a sustainable scenario for global trade - which could evolve to become more than ever a zero-sum game.

In short, though Chinese domestic consumption may pick up, the hope of reverse coupling between the Chinese and global economy may remain in the end just a figment of wishful thinking.

The writer, a Singaporean, is a PhD candidate in world economics at Nanjing University School of Business.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy


Published: November 27, 2010

SO America’s latest crisis — until it wasn’t — was airport screeners touching our junk. As this long year lurches toward its end, we all agree that something has gone wrong in America, and we’re desperately casting about for a coherent explanation for our discontent, if not a scapegoat. Alas, the national consensus that the T.S.A. and full-body scans might be the source of all evil fizzled in less than a week. Most everyone got to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving without genital distress.

The previous transient scapegoat was the Democrats. They were punished in yet another “wave” election — our third in a row — where voters threw Washington’s bums out. But most of the public remains bummed out nonetheless. In late October, the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that only 31 percent of respondents believed that America was on the right track. When the survey asked the same question after the shellacking, the percent of optimists jumped to ... 32. Regardless of party or politics, there’s a sense a broken country can’t be fixed. Few have faith that even “wave” elections are game-changers anymore.

The larger explanations for this dysfunction are well-worn by now, from the impotence of the filibuster-bound United States Senate to the intractable polarization of an electorate divided more or less 50-50 since Bush v. Gore. Such is the bipartisanship of the funk that Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck each succeeded in bringing off well attended rallies in Washington to commiserate over the country’s political and governmental stagnation — with each rally offering its competing diagnosis.

For Stewart, the hyperpartisanship of the modern news media remains the nation’s curse. “The country’s 24-hour politico pundit panic conflict-onator did not cause our problems,” he told the throngs at his rally to “restore sanity,” but it “makes solving them that much harder.” At Beck’s rally to “restore honor,” the message seemed to be that America’s principal failing is a refusal to recognize that God “is our king.” If Stewart’s antidote was more civility, Beck’s was more prayer.

Stewart’s point is indisputable as far as it goes. Beck’s, not so much: If prayer hasn’t cured this highly prayerful nation by now, it may be because our body politic has long since developed an immunity to it. But both rallies, for all the commotion they generated, have already faded to the status of quirky historical footnotes. The reason is that neither addressed the elephant in the room — or the donkey. That would be big money — the big money that dominates our political system, regardless of who’s in power. Two years after the economic meltdown, most Americans now recognize that that money has inexorably institutionalized a caste system where everyone remains (at best) mired in economic stasis except the very wealthiest sliver.

The Great Depression ended the last comparable Gilded Age, of the 1920s, and brought about major reforms in American government and business. Not so the Great Recession. Last week, as the Fed’s new growth projections downsized hope for significant decline in the unemployment rate, the Commerce Department reported that corporate profits hit a record high. Those profits aren’t trickling down into new jobs or into higher salaries for those not in the executive suites. And the prospect of serious regulation of those at the top of the top — the financial sector — is even more of a fantasy in the new Congress than it was in its predecessor.

Wall Street is already celebrating the approach of bonus season by partying like it’s 2007. In The Times’s account of this return to conspicuous consumption, we learned of a Morgan Stanley trader, since fired for unspecified reasons, who went to costly ends to try to hire a dwarf for a Miami bachelor party prank that would require the dwarf to be handcuffed to the bachelor. If this were a metaphor — if only! — Wall Street would be the bachelor, and America the dwarf, involuntarily chained to its master’s hedonistic revels and fiscal recklessness with no prospect for escape.

As John Cassidy underscored in a definitive article titled “Who Needs Wall Street?” in The New Yorker last week, the financial sector has paid little for bringing the world to near-collapse or for receiving the taxpayers’ bailout that was denied to most small-enough-to-fail Americans. The sector still rakes in more than a fourth of American business profits, up from a seventh 25 years ago. And what is its contribution to America in exchange for this quarter-century of ever-more over-the-top rewards? “During a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot and Lipitor,” Cassidy writes, the industry reaping the highest profits and compensation is one that “doesn’t design, build or sell a tangible thing.”

It’s an industry that can buy politicians as easily as it does dwarfs, which is why government has tilted the playing field ever more in its direction for three decades. Now corporations of all kinds can buy more of Washington than before, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and to the rise of outside “nonprofit groups” that can legally front for those who prefer to donate anonymously. The money laundering at the base of Tom DeLay’s conviction by a Texas jury last week — his circumventing of the state’s post-Gilded Age law forbidding corporate campaign contributions directly to candidates — is now easily and legally doable at the national level.

There are plenty of Americans who don’t endorse Stewart’s indictment of cable news; there’s even a reasonably large group that doesn’t buy Beck’s perceived shortfall in American religiosity. But seemingly everyone is aggrieved about the hijacking of the political system by anonymous special interests. The most recent Times-CBS News poll found that an extraordinary 92 percent of Americans want full disclosure of campaign contributors — far many more than, say, believe in evolution. But they will not get their wish anytime soon. “I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle,” said David Axelrod as the Democrats prepared to play catch-up to the G.O.P.’s 2010 mastery of outside groups and clandestine corporate corporations.

The story of recent corporate political donations — which we may never learn in its entirety — is just beginning to be told. Bloomberg News reported after Election Day that the United States Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Democratic war chest included a mind-boggling $86 million contribution from the insurance lobby to fight the health care bill. The Times has identified other big chamber donors as Prudential Financial, Goldman Sachs and Chevron. These are hardly the small businesses that the chamber’s G.O.P. allies claim to be championing.

Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range. In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — “a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists” makes them “one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to frolic with lobbyists dedicated to weakening the legislation.

Such is the ethos in his own party that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, complained this month that he “couldn’t even get a vote” for his proposal for a one-time windfall profits tax on Wall Street bonuses. Republicans “obviously weren’t going to vote for it,” he told Real Clear Politics, but Democrats also demurred, “saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fund-raising.”

Roughly two-thirds of the New Democrat Coalition’s House contingent won re-election on Nov. 2. Now they’ll have more Republican allies in both houses of Congress. Tea Party populists — already being betrayed by one Senate leader, Jon Kyl, on the supposed pledge against earmarks — may soon be as disillusioned as those Democrats who had hoped Barack Obama’s economic team wouldn’t look like Wall Street.

For all the McConnell-Boehner rhetorical pandering to Tea Partiers, the health care law will not be repealed by Congress — and certainly not any provisions that benefit the G.O.P. establishment’s friends in the health care industry. Over at FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s Tea-Party-organizing group, there’s much belligerent talk of retribution against corporations seen as too friendly to Obama policies — most notably General Electric. It’s all hot air: G.E.’s political action committees gave a total of $1.6 million to politicians in both parties in 2010, and one of its former high-powered lobbyists, Dan Coats, is the newly elected Republican senator from Indiana and a probable member of the Senate Finance Committee.

America needs a rally — or, better still, a leader or two or three — to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that’s not auctioned off to the highest bidder. When it was reported just days before our election that Iran was protecting its political interests in Afghanistan’s presidential palace by giving bags of money to Hamid Karzai’s closest aide, Americans could hardly bring themselves to be outraged. At least with Karzai’s government, unlike our own, we could know for certain whose cash was in the bag.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The girls are not so innocent: Readers React

Dec 29, 2010
By Lee Jia Xin

THE two girls who were aged 12 and 15 when they were involved in the case where a National Institute of Education (NIE) trainee had sex with them a few years ago, are not as innocent as they seem.

This is the overall view of readers when they reacted to the media reports on Wednesday.

Aaron Kok Chun Cheong, 23, a second-year trainee at NIE, was sentenced to 15 months' jail on Tuesday.

He committed the offences in 2007 and 2008 while serving national service.

Many argued that the girls were complicit in the act, especially the then-12-year-old girl who had multiple sexual partners.

'The (then) 12-year-old girl is not innocent because she had a few partners and even became pregnant (with one of them, and not Kok himself),' said Gladys Dee.

[Comment: So kids want to play computer games all day long. Should adults play with them? Kids wanna try alcohol, should adults let them. Kids want to have sex with you, should you? Kids are impulsive and immature. Adults have a responsibility to them. Taking advantage of them is wrong. Justifying your actions because they initiated it is just an excuse.]

Echoing her sentiments was HS Ng who felt that the girls were not gullible but fully aware of their actions, and added that sex among teenagers is so 'rampant' these days.

But others are concerned about how teachers seem to be in the news lately as evidenced from the ex-MOE scholar Jonathan Wong, who was arrested in the United Kingdom for possessing child pornography.

Another reader Jacq Oh worried that 'paedophiles are infiltrating the teaching population as a means to reach out to their prey'.

Reader Siti Nor'aini Abdul Samat joined in the call for NIE to be more stringent in their candidate selections.

A Ministry of Education spokesman said it would initiate disciplinary proceedings against Kok, with a view to terminating him from service.

She said the ministry adopted a stringent recruitment process to ensure that suitable applicants with a passion to teach are selected, apart from academic qualifications.

WikiLeaks: Neither a wiki nor a leak

Dec 29, 2010

Now an English word, but what does it mean, let alone stand for?
By Jeremy Au Yong

LAST week, WikiLeaks was declared an English word.

The Texas-based Global Language Monitor - which previously recognised Google, Twitter and vuvuzela as English words - inducted it into the language.

It said that the word had been referred to by so many that it has met the criteria of reach, depth and breadth to be considered a bona fide word.

However, they did not specify what WikiLeaks would mean. And that, it seems, is still very much up for debate.

No matter how you look at it, WikiLeaks is something of a contradiction.

It portrays itself as the defender of freedom in the world, an underdog champion of free speech victimised by evil, self-serving governments.

But to others, it is the evil, self-serving one, the epitome of an institution gone wrong, that may have begun with some noble purpose of publishing information, but has since been turned over to ego-boosting or other nefarious ends.

Even the name WikiLeaks is a misnomer. Critics point out it is neither a wiki nor a leak.

The term wiki, as popularised by online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, typically refers to a website that allows the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked Web pages. A wiki site is a community effort, and users have a direct and immediate impact on its content.

Yet, while WikiLeaks accepts - or at least used to accept - submissions from anyone, whether or not that item got published and what form it took was the decision of one man: founder Julian Assange.

As for the leaks aspect, critics decry the manner in which it allegedly got hold of the diplomatic cables that created such a brouhaha recently.

WikiLeaks considers its leaks as whistle-blowing, yet 'cablegate' is not quite a whistle-blowing case. Some or all of the 250,000 cables are suspected to have come from a United States soldier, Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have stolen the information and then made it public. That, as one blogger put it, amounts to sabotage.

If the information revealed ultimately exposes the corruption of governments and brings about reform for public good, that wrong might reasonably be said to have had some good effect.

WikiLeaks itself justifies publishing classified information this way, saying this 'improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people', they explain on their site.

They add: 'Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society's institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations.'

But this is not the case in 'cablegate'.

To be fair, WikiLeaks' early work did have some good public objective, even if it did not always have the desired impact.

Their Kenyan leak is perhaps the most oft-cited success story. In 2007, WikiLeaks disclosed a report by international risk assessment group Kroll alleging some US$3 billion (S$3.9 billion) in corruption on the part of relatives and associates of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi.

WikiLeaks claims its report swung the vote by 10 per cent and led to the forming of a more open government.

While its disclosure was an issue in the 2007 election in Kenya, it is hard to say how it influenced voters, and certainly impossible to determine that it swung 10 per cent of the votes. By many accounts, it was a troublesome poll, with incumbent President Mwai Kibaki declared the victor amid allegations of vote rigging.

It is also hard to say if WikiLeaks had any lasting impact. Ironically, a cable it published from the US Embassy in Nairobi describes the Kenyan Cabinet as the most corrupt in Africa.

That Kroll report was WikiLeaks' most straightforward success. Since then, it has been wading in muddy ethical waters.

Its release of Afghanistan and Iraq war diaries was controversial at best. It lifted the veil on those war zones, but in both cases, it was criticised for endangering the lives of US troops.

Still, it was clear what good it hoped to do: Release information and improve transparency, in the hope that this increases accountability and, ultimately, better governance and a better society.

The same cannot be said of the diplomatic cables. Precious few of those released contain news or anything remotely resembling whistle-blowing.

Instead, there are remarks about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's flab, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's voluptuous blonde nurse and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's oversized ego.

In a word: Gossip.

What public good that does is questionable. In any case, what need is there for complete transparency in diplomacy?

An opinion in The Economist magazine recently put it this way: 'It wouldn't make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.'

WikiLeaks would have been naive if it believed releasing gossip cables would improve society. One is left simply wondering why it did it. Why didn't it sieve out the important from the inane, the impactful from the reckless? Does ego have anything at all to do with this?

At one point, Mr Assange threatened to release more cables if action is taken against him or his organisation, demonstrating his own penchant for using institutional resources for very personal ends.

So, although the word is now legit, WikiLeaks remains as nebulous as ever - it remains a group difficult to oppose, difficult to support and nearly impossible to define.

As those superhero comic strip characters always say, with great power, comes great responsibility. WikiLeaks aspires to superhero status, but it has not shown enough responsibility for the amount of power it one day hopes to have.

Hard to be kind in China

Dec 28, 2010

For all of its economic might and diplomatic clout, it is lacking in the finer things of life
By Ho Ai Li

RETIREE Xiao Yusheng, 78, was on his way home after a shopping trip when he slipped and knocked his head against the floor at the lobby of his apartment block in Shenzhen two weeks ago.

A crowd gathered around him, but no one tried to help. By the time the ambulance arrived 20 minutes later, he was already dead.

The old man might have held out if someone had just lifted him up and turned him around, his family told the Southern Metropolis Daily.

In response, a security guard who was there told the paper that if he had touched Mr Xiao, he might get blamed for the old man's death.

It is hard to blame the security guard for thinking this way, for something like this did happen to a secondary school student from western Chongqing city last year.

The teenager offered his hand to an elderly woman who was lying on the street in pain, but she turned around and accused him of hurting her and took him to court instead.

China might pride itself as a li yi zhi bang, or land of manners and propriety, but it can be real hard to be kind in China.

In the Chongqing case, the teenager was proven innocent eventually, but a Nanjing man was not so lucky.

In 2006, a man named Peng Yu was fined about 45,000 yuan (S$9,000) by a court after he helped a woman in distress who was later found to have a hip fracture.

The woman accused Mr Peng of knocking her down and demanded compensation. A court found him guilty and reportedly offered this rationale: If he was not guilty, why did he help? Why didn't he wait for her relatives to take her to hospital?

Whether Mr Peng really knocked the woman down is moot, but the court's belief that an individual would not offer a hand out of pure altruism is a chilling commentary on China.

The result, in any case, is that these widely publicised cases have made many Chinese, traditionally more inclined to help people they know than strangers, even more entrenched in their habits.

As the late writer Bo Yang noted in his book The Ugly Chinaman, it is common for Americans to go up to strangers and ask: 'Can I be of service to you?'

In contrast, the Chinese tend not to volunteer help to strangers, and view those who do so as busybodies or people harbouring ulterior motives, he wrote.

Yet, it is not that the Chinese are less generous than others. Whenever people in need are highlighted in the Chinese media, many will offer aid.

Take for instance, Shandong couple Liu Wei and Wei Xiang, who could not afford surgery for their one-year-old daughter Yuhan, who was born prematurely and had an abnormally large head.

After their story was highlighted in the Beijing media this month, the working-class couple received at least 110,000 yuan from strangers for Yuhan's surgery.

Netizens have also volunteered to collect money and clothes for miners suffering from lung cancer or for poor children, among others.

In particular, the 2008 earthquake in south-western Sichuan province was a watershed for charity in the country, unleashing a tide of donations and volunteers which surprised even the Chinese themselves.

But the lack of transparency and accountability over how charity funds were used sparked worries about graft and further eroded public trust, which was already low to start with.

'Everybody is willing to do a good deed, but the problem is, does the money end up in the hands of those who really need it?' Chinese actor Jet Li asked after running into difficulties in registering his philanthropic One Foundation in China earlier this year.

Donations were transferred to the disaster areas via various hands, and there was always the chance some of the money would be siphoned off, he added.

Nor are there many incentives for people to donate to charity in China. Monetary gifts to non-governmental organisations are taxed heavily, and are tax-exempt only when given to the handful of state-sanctioned charities.

Businessman Ni Le, head of the Maoming Federation of Industry and Commerce in southern Guangdong province, found he had to pay 600,000 yuan in taxes when he donated a million yuan to help villagers in a disaster-hit area.

And for foreigners who want to offer a helping hand, restrictions abound.

Americans Casey Wilson and Courtney McColgan started non-profit microfinance group Wokai in 2007 to help provide loans to the poor in rural areas in Sichuan and Inner Mongolia. They have offers of donations from many Chinese, but cannot accept them as foreign groups are not allowed to raise funds in China.

Despite China's rapid rise and louder voice on the world stage, it has been found wanting when it comes to the little things in life, like encouraging and enabling acts of kindness.

The danger is that more Chinese will fall into the habit of not caring for others outside of their families, and look out only for themselves.

This does not bode well for the social harmony so valued by Beijing, especially as wealth disparities widen and social mobility declines in China.

Ultimately, for all of China's economic might and diplomatic clout, it is lacking in the finer things of life.

How a country's people treat the weak and needy in society and their willingness to help strangers are the things that show how big its heart is and how great a power it can be.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

China 'can't get grip on military muscle'

Dec 27, 2010

Beijing turns to Moscow for weapons systems, key arms technologies

MOSCOW: The Moscow Machine-Building Enterprise Salyut has put up a massive Soviet-style poster advertising its need for skilled workers.

The New Year's party at the Chernyshev plant featured ballet dancers twirling on the stage of its Soviet-era Palace of Culture.

The reason for the economic and seasonal cheer is that these factories produce fighter-jet engines for a wealthy and voracious customer: China. After years of trying, Chinese engineers still cannot make a reliable engine for a military plane.

The country's demand for weapons systems goes much further. Chinese officials last month told Moscow that they may resume buying major Russian weapons systems after a break of several years.

On their wish list are the Su-35 fighter, for a planned Chinese aircraft carrier; IL-476 military transport planes; IL-478 air refuelling tankers and the S-400 air defence system, according to Russian news reports and weapons experts.

This persistent dependence on Russian arms suppliers demonstrates a central truth about the Chinese military: The bluster about the emergence of a superpower is undermined by national defence industries that cannot produce much of what China needs.

Although the United States is making changes in response to China's growing military power, experts believe it will be years before the country is able to produce a much-feared ballistic missile capable of striking a warship or overcome weaknesses that keep it from projecting power far from its shores.

'They've made remarkable progress in the development of their arms industry, but this progress shouldn't be overstated,' said Mr Vasily Kashin, a Beijing- based expert on China's defence industry. 'They have a long tradition of overestimating their capabilities.'

Mr Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategic Technologies and an adviser to Russia's Ministry of Defence, predicted that China would need a decade to perfect a jet engine, among other key weapons technologies.

'China is still dependent on us and will stay that way for some time to come,' he said.

One area in which China is thought to have made the greatest advances is in its submarines, part of what is now the largest fleet of naval vessels in Asia.

China had earlier tried to buy Russian nuclear submarines but was rebuffed, so it launched a programme to make its own. Over the past two years, it has deployed at least one of a new type of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine called the Jin class.

But in a report last year, the Office of Naval Intelligence noted that the Jin is noisier than nuclear submarines built by the Soviets 30 years ago, leading experts to conclude that it would be detected as soon as it left port.

In addition, Mr Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said there is no record of a Chinese ballistic missile sub going out on patrol.

'You learn how to use your systems on patrol,' he said. 'If you don't patrol, how can you fight?'

China is also trying to fashion an anti- ship ballistic missile (ASBM) by taking a short-range rocket, the DF-21, and turning it into what could become an aircraft- carrier killing weapon.

But the challenge for China is that an ASBM is extremely hard to make. The Russians worked on one for decades and failed. The US never tried, preferring to rely on cruise missiles and attack submarines to do the job of threatening an opposing navy.

China's deployment of a naval task force to the Gulf of Aden last year as part of the international operation against pirates also provided a window into weaknesses of the People's Liberation Army, said a report by Mr Christopher Yung, a former Pentagon official.

China's lack of foreign military bases - it has insisted that it will not station troops abroad - limits its capacity to maintain its ships on long-term missions. A shortage of helicopters makes it hard for the ships to operate with one another.

China's navy, the report said, also had poor refrigeration and difficulty maintaining a fresh water supply for its sailors.

'The sailors during the first deployment had a real morale problem,' Mr Yung said, adding they were taken on a beach holiday 'to get morale back up'.

China's military relations with Russia reveal further weaknesses. Between 1992 and 2006, the total value of Russia's arms exports to China was US$26 billion (S$34 billion) - almost half of all the weapons Russia sold abroad.

But tensions arose in 2004 when Russia discovered that China, which had been licensed to produce the Su-27 fighter jet from Russian kits, had actually copied the plane. After it signed a contract for a batch of IL-76 military transport planes, Beijing was furious when it discovered that Moscow had no way to make them.

Weapons negotiations were not held for several years. When it resumed in 2008, China found the Russians were driving a harder bargain. For one thing, it was not offering to let the Chinese produce Russian fighters in China.

The Russians also said they would provide the Su-35 only if China bought 48 - enough to ensure Russian firms a profit before China's engineers attempted to copy the technology. Moscow also announced that the Russian military would buy the S-400 air defence system first and that Beijing could get in line.

'We, too, have learnt a few things,' said Mr Vladimir Portyakov, a former Russian diplomat twice posted to Beijing.


Opposition has no excuse not to do better at GE

Dec 27, 2010

In its favour: Electoral and societal changes, more qualified recruits
By Kor Kian Beng

THERE I was, seated in one corner of a hotel ballroom two weeks ago, watching six opposition leaders doing their best to prove that their parties have what it takes to do well in the next general election.

They fielded questions and presented their parties' positions on a wide range of issues, from housing prices, income inequality and national service, to civil liberties, the Internal Security Act, the role of the mainstream media and defamation laws.

They took jibes at the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) over some government policies and for not responding to an invitation to send a representative to the dialogue itself, which was organised by sociopolitical website The Online Citizen.

Most of the 350-strong audience lapped it all up. The atmosphere was much like that at an opposition rally during a general election.

At the end of the 21/2-hour event, there were smiles, handshakes, high fives, pats on the back, and words of praise for the six panellists.

When I asked opposition veteran Chiam See Tong after the event for his view on how it went, he declared: 'The winds of change are here. People are fed up with the PAP.'

Looking and sounding confident too, when approached, were his fellow opposition leaders: Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party; Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party; Mr Chia Ti Lik of the Socialist Front; Mr Goh Meng Seng of the National Solidarity Party; and Mr Gerald Giam of the Workers' Party.

There are a number of possible reasons for the sense of optimism among the opposition about its chances at the next polls - due by February 2012 but widely predicted to be held by June next year.

First, high property prices and a surge in foreigner numbers have caused dissatisfaction among Singaporeans, and are issues ripe for opposition exploitation.

Second, electoral changes in the form of more single-member constituencies and smaller group representation constituencies will lower entry barriers for the opposition in terms of campaign costs and resources.

Third, the opposition has a number of new recruits who are well-qualified professionals. They include the Reform Party's Mr Jeyaretnam, Mr Tony Tan and Ms Hazel Poa, the Singapore Democratic Party's Dr Vincent Wijeysingha, and Workers' Party's Mr Giam and postgraduate law student Pritam Singh.

Fourth, the lure of HDB upgrading as an electoral carrot has faded. When the PAP dangled this in the two opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir in 2006, the tactic backfired.

Fifth, the electorate that the opposition has to woo is arguably better-disposed towards them. Half of the 2.31 million voters next year would have been born after 1965, as opposed to one-third in 2006. Although the PAP believed that post-65ers supported it during the last general election, there are also perceptions that this generation might be more open to voting for the opposition. This is because this generation would not have experienced first-hand how the PAP Government led the country through the struggles of the 1950s and 1960s and are viewed as having less attachment and loyalty to the ruling party.

Sixth, with an increasingly more tech-savvy population, the reach of the Internet would have become more pervasive than it was during the 2006 polls. The Internet not only gives the opposition parties their own channels to reach out to voters, but also provides an avenue for Singaporeans to seek more alternative viewpoints.

Lastly, the key opposition parties appear to be more at ease in working with one another and presenting a more united front to the voters and to fight the PAP.

One telling sign was the dialogue two Thursdays ago, which saw five opposition parties, except the Workers' Party, rolling out their top leaders to attend the event, with Mr Chiam's presence making the strongest statement.

The opposition patriarch, who rarely skips his Meet-the-People sessions on Thursday evenings, not even when he was recovering from a mild stroke in early 2008, made an exception two weeks go to join his fellow opposition leaders at the dialogue, where they interacted like war comrades, posed together for photographs, and hardly disagreed with one another in their replies to the audience.

Sources say negotiations are under way to strike new alliances among the opposition parties before the next general election.

If the proposed alliance pans out and coupled with the factors above, it can mean only one thing: The opposition has no excuse not to do better at the next polls.

To some, the test would be whether the opposition snags at least one GRC, or at the very least adds more single-seat wards to the existing two in Hougang and Potong Pasir.

To be sure, the opposition may yet fail to deliver, judging from its past record. It is one thing to look promising but another to garner more than 50 per cent of the votes necessary to send a candidate into Parliament.

The opposition's chances in the coming general election are probably as good as it will get. The parties must step up candidate recruitment and produce well-researched alternative policy proposals to offer in their election manifestos.

The opposition will have only itself to blame if it fails again to deliver the goods, especially if its failure stems from infighting. There is a limit to voters' patience.

[The PAP knows that the ground wants more opposition and it is likely that more will be voted in despite the PAP's best effort. In fact, if the PAP tightens the rules and raise the bar for the opposition and they got more candidates in anyway, the question in the minds of the electorate would be, how many more might have gotten in if it were not for the PAP changing the rules?

However, if the PAP loosens the rules and opposition MP get voted in, the counter-question would be, how many would not have made it if the PAP had not relaxed the rules. Thus the PAP can steal the thunder from the opposition's achievement, and seem magnanimous at the same time.

The increased number of SMCs may see the likes of Low Thia Khiang & Sylvia Lim getting into Parliament. This would be seen as a better alternative of Sylvia Lim leading an opposition team to victory over PAP in a GRC with a Minister at stake. The increase in SMC may well defuse challenges to the GRCs. After all, if you have a high-profile opposition candidate, do you field this candidate in an SMC against a PAP backbencher, or do you try to put together a team with members of varying credentials and strength and hope to beat a PAP team anchored by a Minister?

But even if the opposition goes after GRCs, they may be more likely to target smaller GRCs where the losses to the PAP would be smaller. Opposition may find it easier to put together a small team with strong candidates than larger teams.

So the PAP is controlling fluke results that may end up with losses to the PAP of too many Ministers and too many MPs, and to steal the thunder from the opposition if they do manage a fluke result.

That said, the opposition is showing signs of self-destructing. Despite the advantages that are emerging, they may well fail to rise to the occasion. But if they do, the PAP seems to be attempting to mitigate their success.]

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Dec 21, 2010

Getting in the mix to fix problems

RECENTLY, when public policy don Robert Klitgaard talked to 60 students studying economic development, he asked them what it was they really cared about. Professor Klitgaard, 63, says: 'The secret is to find out what is something outside of yourself that you value for its own sake, not because it makes you rich or famous.'

The way he sees it, people pursue five purposes in life: one, doing whatever makes them happy; two, doing whatever makes others happy; three, pursuing science for truth; four, pursuing art for authenticity; and five, being spiritual. This expert on fighting corruption knows more than most about finding purpose, being a much sought-after adviser on reforming government in more than 30 developing countries.

The Harvard University alumnus has taught at, among others, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Yale University. He was president of Claremont Graduate School from 2005 to last year, when he stepped down to become a professor there.

The married father of four has written eight books, including Tropical Gangsters, which was among The New York Times' books of the century. He was here earlier this year as the second Li Ka Shing Professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School
of Public Policy. I asked him then why he has spent much of his life working in some of the world's most dangerous places:

  • How did you decide that testing theory by going out into the field was the best way to approach your work?

    That's a good question. I have a tendency to be pretty happy with what I'm doing wherever I am and that leads to a certain superficiality. So if I'm going to take on a really hard problem, I'm going to go suffer through it and live somewhere (where this problem exists). What that does is put me in contact with real examples. By putting yourself right in the face of these problems, you get your examples. Then you start asking: 'How could that be? Has anybody succeeded in solving it?' That's how you get going.

  • But do you know you are on the right track?

    If I were advising a Singaporean professor or a young person here to think about the problems he has, I would say it's not either/or, theory or practice. It's about identifying live examples or ways to develop theory - and it's hard to look at live examples without theoretical frameworks. But there's a cost to that.

  • Is there such a thing as a more likely solution for certain places and not others?

    It's a very profound question. My view is that the two extreme ideas (on this) are both popular and both wrong. One is that if something works in, say, France, it will work in Chad. The other is that nothing that works in France will ever work in Chad. Actually, it's a spectrum.

    How you run an airport or a brewery is all pretty standard. But when you get towards running a family-planning programme or a political campaign, you're now veering towards the idiosyncratic.

    The interesting question is: 'How can you help people be inspired by examples from other places?' There's a certain pedagogy here, which is to be very humble in the sense that nobody pretends to know more than the other person about their place. Then you bring in the telling examples and theoretical frameworks for what their problem is like. The first thing they'd say is: 'You know, Chad is not the same as France.' And you'd say: 'That's true.' Then the second thing they'd say is: 'But isn't it interesting how they defined a problem, how they looked at the alternatives, how they assessed the evidence, how they started with thisand not with that? What do you think about that?' And everybody goes: 'Yeah, I wonder how we'd solve the problem? How we'd define the sequence? What should we do first?' In other words, they get the idea that there's a problem that can be solved here, and not just lament. And then they get some strategy about the problem-solving approach, and everybody gets inspiration.

  • But how do you get them solving their own problems?

    I like to show it in two parts. Part A is where I describe the situation: You've just taken over as president of Colombia. It's 1998, the country is a mess, you've got guerillas, the highest murder rate in the world and you're No. 50 out of 52 countries ranked in corruption. What do you do? And everybody goes, 'Oh!'

    And Part B is making them work on the problem. It's Colombia, not their country, so they're all going 'Whoa, whoa!' and projecting their own country onto Colombia. Then they come back and lay out some alternatives and think about what they did and I show them what they actually did, that there were some things they did that worked.

    And then the first thing they say to that is, 'Well, it's different here (in our own country)'. And the second thing they say is, 'Well, you know, it's interesting. How could we do that (for our country)?' So (parts A and B) are a little trick to stimulate their creativity.

  • What have you found are the hardest problems to solve?

    Technical problems such as how to run a brewery are very standard production processes, and if a country hasn't picked those up yet, it's either because of ignorance or poverty. The hardest problems are where there are all kinds of pressures not to do the right things because of vested interests or ethnic, racial, religious or regional inequalities. There is a third kind of pressure that I'm really interested in and this is like the alcoholic who falls off a wagon, or the anti-malaria
    programme in Ecuador that has eradicated malaria four times - which means Ecuadorans eradicated it but they didn't persist in doing so...

    There's a paradox about human beings in that we know we shouldn't be alcoholics, we should get rid of malaria and we should be good people. And yet we continue to backslide. Studies of addiction tell us it's all about managing the cues - from elements that entice one back to addiction, such as peer pressure or conducive surroundings - to avoid backsliding.

  • But isn't backsliding just human nature?

  • If I ask in general why Country Z has quite a bit of corruption, most people would say three things. The first is that the way of life of these people is screwed up, they're basically immoral, there's too much democracy, too little democracy and a whole other bunch of macro-societal theories, and so we have this grand dialogue about political culture.

    The second view is that people are greedy. Individuals are sinful and if they'd only be good, we wouldn't have this problem. Which is true, but we don't quite know yet how to engineer people to be good.

    And the third view, which I hold, is to take this problem with as much coolness and lack of premature conclusions as we can. If I'm giving or taking a bribe, I'm thinking of risks and rewards. So what are the structures that create risks and rewards for us to reject corruption? And which ones don't? Now, when you ask that question, you get to things like: 'What's the pay scale in this country for a middle-level official? What does a minister make? What are the penalties if (the corrupt) get caught?' In many countries, the penalty is an admonition.

  • You can see the different approaches and you might say: 'You'd have to change the culture.' Another might say: 'You need a complete change of politics.' My view is: Maybe we can do some things that would open spaces for more failure, reward more for being creative, would give
    information about what's going on.

  • Eyes open for beauty

    PUBLIC policy don Robert Klitgaard wears his learning very lightly, despite having roughed it out in more than 30 developing countries to help them improve their lot. Here he is on:


    'I'm so astonished to see such a knowledge-based society. There are few places in the world where the mind is the primary emphasis of government policy and the future is seen in terms of leapfrogging other countries at the highest end of intellectual achievement.'

    Singapore as an anti-corruption model

    'Look at your people, your pay scales, your oversight systems, the ways you get information about what's going on. Once you get (such) a virtuous circle, it's self-reinforcing.'

    Whether Singaporeans are too restrained to be creative

    'Friedrich Nietzsche said the idea of romantic love did not occur until virginity was emphasised, and that the sonnet is one of the most beautiful forms of poetry because it's so constrained. So maybe it's not true that Singaporeans can't be creative because they are too shy or

    The limits of constrained creativity

    'Clearly, you can be at Guantanamo Bay and not be very creative. So you wouldn't want to take this idea too far.'

    What makes him creative

    'I go to places that make me uncomfortable - Southern Sudan has no Hyatt Hotel - and where my set of ideas don't work.'

    How he approaches a problem

    'What's it like? Is it a member of a family of problems that may not even look like it? Are there examples of success in solving it and what has that changed?'

    How he approaches life

    'I could be perfectly happy doing 12 different things.'

    What anchors him

    'If you have your eyes open for beauty and humour and your ears open for music, you can feel at home almost anywhere.'


    Church plan in hometown of Confucius draws protest

    Dec 25, 2010

    BEIJING - CHINA'S officially atheist government wants to build a Christian church in the hometown of Confucius to help foster a relationship between an ancient philosophy and the country's fastest-growing religion. But suddenly, it's not going so smoothly.

    Confucian groups and 10 well-known scholars are demanding that the Gothic-style church not be built in Qufu, saying its size threatens to overshadow the world's most famous Confucian temple and represents a foreign invasion of a sacred place.

    'If a super-large Confucius temple were built in Jerusalem, Mecca or the Vatican, overshadowing the religious buildings there, how would the people feel about it? Would the government and the people accept it?' says an open letter from the protesters that was dated on Wednesday and posted on blogs.

    Caught in the debate is the church's pastor, a 75th-generation descendant of Confucius. The church means a lot because it will be in the philosopher's hometown, a symbol of Chinese civilization, Kong Xiangling told the state-run Xinhua News Agency this month.

    After being attacked as backward during the era of Mao Zedong, Confucius is experiencing a revival. A government-backed biopic starring Chow Yun Fat was released this year, and Beijing is promoting its brand of 'soft power' under the philosopher's name overseas, with a growing number of Confucius Institutes for culture and language learning.

    Now, Chinese officials are pushing his birthplace in the eastern province of Shandong as a place where ideas on his philosophy and Christianity can be exchanged. They've said the church will include a center to host dialogues on the two civilizations. -- AP

    [Shades of the "Ground Zero Mosque". And is Confucianism a religion or a philosophy? Why are there Confucius Temple? And what does it mean that the 75th generation descendant of Confucius is a Christian and a pastor as well? Isn't that more of an affront? Should the descendant "abdicate" his heritage, or should the Confucians disavow him? Most... confusing.]

    The Singaporean identity

    Dec 25, 2010


    Racial harmony and meritocracy are defining traits
    By Ravi Shankar Buddhavarapu

    A SUCCESSFUL nation can be forged from a tiny piece of under-resourced land by an act of exceptional leadership. Singapore has demonstrated that, even its severest critics will agree.

    But nationhood is a different matter entirely.

    Because it is an idea, or an ideal, that lives in the consciousness of a nation's inhabitants, it needs to arise from within.

    As an 'India Indian' - an ethnic Indian who is a national of India, distinct from an ethnic Indian who is Singaporean - I may have trouble describing which one of the diverse aspects of my personality is more Indian than the other. Is the penchant for abstraction more Indian than my distaste for operatic music? Is my partiality for distinctness in dress more Indian than my taste for subtlety in food flavour? I don't know, but I would love to elaborate. As a man who loves to dissect the minutiae of anything, I could probably produce a mountain of arguments to support either position - this last being a very Indian quality.

    So, to be an Indian or even, say, American is to be born with a national identity forged through collective experience over time.

    If a nation can be created by an act of will, so too can the idea of what it means to be a citizen of that country. But this intellectual exercise would be as nothing without stability, or continuous existence as an entity.

    For a young country like Singapore, which drew its first breath with reluctance after a forced separation, time also helps to reinforce its 'otherness' from its close family community, the Malaysia of Tunku Abdul Rahman.

    In fact, so deeply felt was this sense of belonging to the Malaysian hinterland that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew begins his memoirs with an account of separation that thrust Independence upon Singapore, using a striking parallel to the forlorn sense of abandonment of a divorced wife.

    'Under Malay-Muslim custom, a husband, but not the wife, can declare 'Talak' (I divorce thee) and the woman is divorced,' Mr Lee writes on the second page of The Singapore Story.

    Comparing the union of Chinese-majority Singapore and Malay Muslim-majority Malaysia to marriage, he says it was marred by 'conjugal strife' over whether the merged entity should be a truly multiracial society or one dominated by the majority, in this case the Malays.

    This central cause of discord - equality of the races under the law - remained key to the self-definition of Singapore in the years to come, and today is as much a part of the Republic's identity as the primacy of nurturing merit and attracting foreign talent where necessary.

    The divorce has long been made final and both parties have gone their separate ways. Today, Singapore is a proud and resilient country with a distinct ethos.

    And two key statistics released this year suggest that the idea of Singapore, or its nationhood, has taken root, something that is of great importance to its success and indeed its survival in the future.

    The first is the less important but the more striking. It was reported last month that Singapore is set to overtake its divorced and much larger partner, in gross domestic product, which is expected to hit US$210 billion (S$273 billion). This will make this tiny island nation the third-largest economy of the region, behind Indonesia and Thailand.

    A mammoth achievement by any yardstick, and very significant in the 21st century, when economic power is putting more muscle in the hands of regional powers than military strength has ever had in the past. China, whose military strength is minuscule compared to that of the US, is negotiating on more equal terms with the sole superpower than any other country in the recent past has been able to.

    The second, and more important, figure was thrown up by a government survey, which polled students from primary school to junior college. As many as 95 per cent of these children, who were as young as six, were proud to be Singaporean.

    And what did being Singaporean mean to them? 'Our students quite openly declare their love... They cite specific things they treasure in Singapore. They believe in a society that is self-reliant, intolerant of corruption and meritocratic. They value our cultural diversity and the racial and religious harmony we enjoy in Singapore,' (italics mine) said Education Minister and Second Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen.

    This is indeed heartening. It is also reassuring for the future of Singapore that its children, who have known no other home, feel neither nostalgia nor a sense of what-might-have-been that might torment the hearts of offspring of divorced couples.

    It is no accident that these children cite meritocracy, racial and religious harmony as the defining traits of Singaporeanness, as it were. It was this concept of meritocracy and equal privilege that caused the rift bringing independence in the first place.

    But here's a question a sceptic would ask - and as many did, so my colleagues at The Straits Times where I work as a copy editor tell me, when news of the survey was published a few weeks ago: Is a six-year-old too young to imbibe such lofty concepts as equality and meritocracy? Should we look upon this finding with suspicion?

    My answer would be: A six-year-old understands equality or meritocracy - but in ways fundamentally different from you and me. To my son, who is eight and was six not too long ago, it will mean that he plays with children of every colour and skin type; Caucasian white to Chinese fair to the range of Indian and Malay hues - from light to brown to dark tan.

    Not only does he play with all these different races, but he understands with the understanding of an evident - as different from demonstrable - truth that they are all alike. And that the best among them wins - in play. And that it is right.

    May I, a God-believing Hindu 'Indian Indian' who now calls Singapore home, add this? To readers of all hues and creeds: Merry Christmas.

    [How am I a Singaporean? How is my identity Singaporean? I do not know. I only know what I am, and perhaps in some ways, what I am is common to other Singaporeans, and in a sense that makes me part of the Singaporean identity. I cannot say with certainty that I am not inclined to one ideology or the other. But I would like to think that despite whatever ideology I may hold at any given moment, I am open-minded enough to consider other views. And perhaps meritocracy of ideas is part of the pragmatism that is core to Singaporeanness.]

    Bad year for mega churches

    Dec 17, 2010

    HACKLES were raised over two church-related incidents this year.

    In February, tempers flared when tapes, uploaded to YouTube, showed Mr Rony Tan, founder of Lighthouse Evangelism, making fun of Buddhist and Taoist practices.

    The clips were actually recorded in 2008, and if not for a redesign of the church's website, they would not have made it online - and certainly not to YouTube.

    But they did and his remarks led to a warning from the Internal Security Department. He was also criticised by the Government, public and Christian leaders.

    In his first public appearance at the Woodlands church a week later, Mr Tan said the episode had left him feeling so 'unbearably terrible'.

    After a brief hiatus, he returned to the pulpit. In October, he launched a book, Armed For Triumph, recommending a 'spiritual armoury' to do God's work.

    But the sting of public censure may not have worn off just yet. This month, an anniversary dinner held by the Taoist Federation had the Taoist chief singing on stage with a deacon from New Creation Church - another megachurch whose pastor was caught insulting the Taoist faith in June.

    What might have been a trio of voices became a duet. Mr Tan was busy and could not attend, said a Lighthouse spokesman.

    In March, another church got people hot under the collar. City Harvest Church made headlines when it said it would spend $310million to become 'co-owners' of Suntec Singapore.

    In fact, the $310million paid for shares in the convention hall's holding company and included cash for rental and renovation.

    Had the church gone about its investment quietly, it might have avoided controversy. Instead, the ensuing debate led the Government to announce a 20 per cent limit on religious use in commercial properties.

    Founder Kong Hee, 47, was among a dozen or so church leaders questioned following complaints about church finances.


    Thursday, December 23, 2010

    Retire on the cheap in China? Not so easy

    Dec 23, 2010

    Soaring prices there make it tough for retirees from Hong Kong to survive on their savings
    By Lee Choo Kiong

    WHEN street hawker Ng Ching retired 13 years ago, he moved from Hong Kong to southern Guangdong province - where he thought he could stretch what little savings he had, with some help from his relatives there.

    But when he returned to Hong Kong last month, the 82-year-old was desperate and destitute, his money long gone.

    Mr Ng's dream of spending his retirement years in relatively cheap mainland China - shared by hundreds of other ordinary Hong Kongers - had been scuttled by the red-hot Chinese economy leading to soaring prices.

    He was among the 100 destitute Hong Kongers who were escorted back to the Chinese city from the mainland by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) in the first 11 months of this year.

    The spokesman for the FTU's mainland consultation services centre told The Straits Times the federation had helped arrange for 110 retirees to return last year and another 90 in 2008.

    In the four years from 2004 to 2007, there were only about 40 such cases in all.

    'Rapid development, rising standard of living and high inflation are making life difficult for some of the elderly people living on the mainland,' said the spokesman.

    According to FTU figures, most of those who returned to Hong Kong were more than 75 years old. The oldest was 102.

    'The bulk of these people are admitted into nursing homes, mainly because they have been away for a long time and no longer have property, relatives or friends in Hong Kong,' the spokesman said.

    About 40,000 elderly Hong Kongers in mainland China face the same grim prospect of outlasting their savings, Sing Tao Daily reported.

    This problem is the most serious in Shenzhen and Dongguan, the top cities for retirement in Guangdong province for Hong Kongers.

    There have been calls for the Hong Kong government to relax some of the conditions to qualify for the Old Age Allowance (OAA). Hong Kongers aged 65 and above receive a cash allowance of HK$1,000 (S$170) a month.

    But currently, they must stay in the territory for at least 90 days to qualify.

    Although the government is expected to shorten this to 60 days in February next year, critics say it should do away with the minimum residence period instead.

    They reason that some senior residents have no choice but to forgo the allowance because of ill health, which prevents them from travelling back, or because they have nowhere to stay in Hong Kong.

    Mr Albert Poon, assistant officer at the FTU's centre in Shenzhen, thinks it makes more economic sense for the Hong Kong authorities to give the money with no strings attached so the retirees can continue to live in mainland China.

    'If these old folk check into nursing homes in Hong Kong, the government would have to take full responsibility for the monthly fees ranging from HK$8,000 to HK$10,000,' he was quoted as saying in the Southern Metropolis Daily.

    Most old folks' homes on the mainland charge well under 4,000 yuan (S$790) a month.

    The Hong Kong government spent HK$6.32 billion on the OAA in 2009 to 2010, according to figures from its Labour and Welfare Bureau.

    More than 500,000 people were under the scheme at the end of September this year.

    A 2007 survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department showed that almost 40,000 OAA recipients lived on the mainland.

    Fair play a game worth playing

    Dec 23, 2010

    Schools, parents must teach balance between decency and victory

    By Rohit Brijnath

    SPORTING classiness arrived abruptly in a corridor last month. Roger Federer is walking to the dressing room in London when he collides with Rafael Nadal's family. They greet him, hug him, kiss him. It is a fine moment, for he has just beaten their boy in the ATP World Tour Finals.

    If you're a coach in Singapore, a PE teacher, a parent, an old boy, find this 30-odd second video, mail it to your kid.

    Send them a clip of a footballer extending a hand to a prostrate opponent. Or Manny Pacquiao refusing to further pummel an already battered opponent. Paste in their dressing rooms this quote from Nadal's coach, Toni, who said: 'If you ever throw a racket, we're finished.'

    Do all this because the battle for fair play, for decency on a pitch, for a cessation of on-field violence born of overcompetitiveness, is an unending struggle. Do all this because the subliminal messages school kids get from television are constant and often dark.

    Swearing at referees. Two-footed tackles. Punch-throwing teammates. Deliberate hits in American football that leave rivals concussed. Drug-taking. Brawling dads at a recent junior tennis match in Australia, where a line-call fracas led to a call for paramedics. Kids see, they learn.

    In the recent report by the Committee on Safety in School Sports, fair play wasn't forgotten. Its focus was safety, its call to schools, coaches, parents to respect rules, its inference that to go too far competitively is to lose sight of sport itself and endanger self and rival.

    We've all, as kids, limped off with torn muscle, bruised ankle, cut lip - the inevitable wounds of combat - but they can come from a natural process of play or from an unhealthy, calculated want to gain advantage.

    For sport to retain its value for kids, if its virtues of health, teamwork, sacrifice, nobility, discipline are to stay relevant, then they must be constantly addressed. In living room and dressing room. Not solely as a safety issue, but as an encompassing, admirable philosophy.

    Fair play comes partially from parent, for the son mimics the father. If he sees him casually reposition a golf ball on a Sunday round, or absolve chicanery like a Thierry Henry handball, an osmosis has already begun.

    No one need underplay competition, nor discount the allure of inter-school rivalry, for this is a fun-soaked, passion-kissed, lung-busting business, not an over-65 embroidery contest. It is just that sport exists in a framework, bound by chalk lines and also codes. Parents cannot be oblivious to this, while careful to maintain, in this amateur world, the distinction between involved and pushy.

    Are they proud only in victory, or also in effort? Do they advocate hardiness or recklessness? Do they shout 'Kill the bitch', as tennis player Mary Pierce's father did, or point to the quaint, enduring customs of rugby players lining up to shake hands after bruising encounters?

    But not every parent watches sport, and fair play essentially is the school coach's domain. He is the only one who is privy to the team as a whole, his word is their collective law, his locker room a classroom. He either teaches the idea of journeys or only of destinations. He has a choice to let fair play, like provocative sledging, be some vague unwritten law, or write them down on posters.

    He can either be US coach Gary Frederick, who was thrilled when his college softball team incredibly carried a rival player around the bases when she hit a home run but tore a ligament in her knee while trying to run. As he said: 'You're proud to be associated with these kids.'

    Or he can be the Haitian coach, at the Youth Olympic Games, who looked on mute as his team time-wasted against Singapore in a fashion too cynical for that age.

    School coaches require their own education to become adequate preachers. They must know safety, the laws of the game, how to build winners and also character. But the coach is an employee, not some freelance evangelist, he takes his cues from a higher authority - the school.

    Schools are rightly proud of sport, so are any of us who tugged on a school team shirt and got a first taste of tribalism. Part of the joy of old boy gatherings are strolls down hallways past familiar cabinets full of trophies we had a hand in.

    In time, schools forge sporting traditions, their prowess a means of attracting both interested parents and funding. We like this, the all-round school; we are not always sure if we like the school that imports foreign talent.

    It is not necessarily unfair, but when winning becomes a school's only stilted anthem, perspective is abandoned. Injured kids are played. Rough-housing is smiled at. Needling ignored. Cheating shrugged at. The very idea of why we want our children to run free gets confused.

    The lazy misconception is that fair play somehow precludes victory. It is nonsense, a fundamentalist view. It is not one or the other, it is not a choice, these are not opposing ideas but in fact complementary ones.

    Like perfection in sport, fair play is not easy to find, but we are compelled to pursue it, especially in these youthful harbours in a results-driven land.

    So we must learn, must hold seminars, institute fair play awards, paint slogans in dressing rooms, send pamphlets home. Our success lies in the filtering down of the idea that schoolboy excellence is possible with dignity, that girlish warriors can be decent folk. And that safe, honourable, fun, passionate play is worth striving for.

    Certainly Rafael Nadal must have learnt this balance at school, and at home, to say once with a telling beauty: 'Before the match, you are who you are, and after the match, you have to know who you are, too. You are the same, no?'

    [Beautiful quote. Meaningful too.]

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Footballer driving offences

    Dec 22, 2010

    S-League star jailed, fined for driving offences

    By Khushwant Singh

    S-LEAGUE football star Aliff Shafaein was yesterday shown the red card for his multiple offences on the road - a month after he crashed while driving unlicensed and uninsured on the morning of the Singapore Cup final.

    The former Tampines Rovers vice-captain was fined $4,800 over the accident and jailed for three weeks for a separate offence of driving while disqualified.

    That offence was committed four years ago, but the court was not told why it took so long to convict him.

    Aliff, 28, was also banned from driving for 18 months.

    He first had his licence suspended in 2006. Since then, he had racked up 12 more traffic offences - culminating in last month's crash.

    He was fined a total of $10,500 yesterday for these offences.

    He was also ordered to serve a further five days in jail for failing to pay $1,300 in fines for other driving violations committed in 2006.

    While waiting to go to jail, Aliff told his lawyer he hoped that his 'ardent fans' would come forward to help him settle his latest fines. He will have to spend another 48 days behind bars if he does not pay up.

    Last month, Aliff was in a crash at Lentor Avenue on the morning of the Singapore Cup final between his team and Bangkok Glass.

    The driver and passenger in the other car - both women - were treated for minor injuries. Aliff was arrested for drink driving and inconsiderate driving. He did not have a valid driving licence or accident insurance coverage, and the car had been taken without the consent of his relative who owned it.

    Instead of telling his club of his troubles, Aliff went on to captain his team in the match, which they lost 1-0.

    His other offences were committed much earlier. In July 2007, he drove an off-peak car with no supplementary licence for the day. Such cars can be used onlyfrom 7pm to 7am on weekdays unless with a licence. Officers who arrested him also found he did not have a valid driving licence or insurance.

    A month later, he was in trouble again, for parking illegally and driving without a licence.

    A charge for driving while unlicensed and another for driving across double white lines in 2007 were taken into consideration for sentencing.

    But it was not all bad news for him yesterday. Tampines Rovers said it will take him back when he is out of jail. It is also reportedly looking at ways to help him pay his fines.

    Tampines Rovers general manager Edward Silas said in a testimonial submitted to court that Aliff was a gifted player who had won many honours for the club since 2004, including the S-League Championship and Singapore Cup.

    'We understand he needs to be punished for his wrongdoings and rightfully so, but we hope he can be released as soon as possible to represent the club for the upcoming season,' he said.

    Aliff could not keep still through much of the hearing, rocking himself on the balls of his feet. He had told reporters earlier he had advised family members not to go to court as he was the only one answerable.

    For driving while disqualified, he could have been fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to three years, or both. It is not known why his licence had been suspended.

    Aliff gets 2nd chance
    Tampines will retain jailed midfielder, may help him pay $10k fine

    By Fabius Chen
    HIS football career looked like it was in tatters.

    But Aliff Shafaein was yesterday handed a life preserver by his club Tampines Rovers, just hours after receiving a three-week jail sentence.

    The 28-year-old midfielder was also fined a total of $10,500 for 12 traffic offences dating back to 2006, including drink driving and driving without a valid licence.

    Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng had earlier stated that Aliff would have no future at the club if convicted but that stance had softened considerably by the conclusion of yesterday's court hearing.

    'The club's management was pretty disappointed with him,' general manager Edward Silas admitted. 'But we don't want to be too harsh and will definitely give him a chance to return after he has served his jail time.'

    Tampines are reportedly also looking at ways to help Aliff settle his fines which, if defaulted, could see him serve another 48 days behind bars.

    'He's an old timer and we have a soft spot for players who have been here for a long time,' Silas added.

    But at least one member of the local football fraternity believes that the Stags have passed up a chance to stress an intolerance for such misdemeanours.

    'They have to set an example, otherwise the next generation of players will repeat his mistakes,' said former Tanjong Pagar United coach Tohari Paijan, who also noted that Aliff's offences are symptomatic of the indiscipline that has dogged Singapore football in the past year.

    During an Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan in March, Singapore internationals Baihakki Khaizan and Ridhuan Muhamad were each fined $750 for boarding the team bus late, while the Lions camp was hit by reports of players smoking.

    Then came the infamous foot-brawl of Sept 7, which saw three players from Beijing Guoan and four from the Young Lions receive lengthy bans.

    And, most recently, five members of Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup squad were fined $500 each for playing cards at 1am - two hours after curfew.

    'Sentiment is one thing,' added Tohari. 'When a player makes a mistake, he must pay the price, even if he has been at a club for 10 years.'

    Aliff is one of the Stags' longest-serving players, having joined the club in 2004. He was their vice-captain in the recently concluded season.

    An impressive contribution, including eight goals, earned him a spot in the Singapore Selection squad that contested the Sultan of Selangor's Cup in October.

    But it all fell apart on the morning of the Singapore Cup final on Nov 14, when he was involved in a car accident. He was found to be drink driving and driving on a suspended licence.

    He ended up producing a subdued performance that evening and was substituted in the 77th minute as the Stags fell 0-1 to Thai outfit Bangkok Glass.

    Aliff's insistence that he had been drinking the previous night - not on the morning of the final itself - has done little to placate team manager Syed Faruk.

    The former Singapore international is said to have helped the player settle approximately 50 summonses over the past two years, believed to amount to $30,000.

    'Players are not supposed to be drinking 72 hours before a match,' Faruk pointed out. 'And that was the most important game of our season, so it was a stupid thing to do.'

    Incidentally, the only other local footballer to have spent time incarcerated for non-football related offences also found a home at the Stags following his release.

    In 1999, Lee Man Hon served a five-week sentence for riding a motorcycle under a ban. He was subsequently signed by Tampines for the 2000 season and went on to captain them a year later.

    A member of the Malaysia Cup-winning side of 1994, Lee had some words of encouragement for Aliff.

    'Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for him to be more mature,' said the 36-year-old. 'He has to be strong and continue to work hard. His football career shouldn't be affected too much by this, so he still has a future in the sport.'

    [This person seems incorrigible. Licence suspended in 2006 for who knows what offences and violations. Did not pay fine. Then 12 more traffic offences while on suspension. And an accident driving while disqualified, without insurance, and without the consent of the owner of the car (yeah right. The owner has to cover his ass or be liable for the accident). Obviously suspension doesn't mean a thing to him. And now he hopes his "ardent fans" will pay his fines? The club should just let him rot in jail (it's 48 more days when we can be sure this unlicenced, uninsured menace is not on the road!). But he's not going to stop until he kills someone. Not that he is evil. Just irresponsible.]

    Dec 24, 2010

    Footballers' antics send sport here to new low

    Selfish, ill-disciplined behaviour must go for Singapore football to rise

    By Marc Lim

    THE issue of footballers behaving badly is not new. Put 20 often overpaid but underworked, testosterone-oozing athletes together and you get a recipe for disaster. Even the world's top players have been prone to misbehaviour - from taking part in orgies to stubbing out a lit cigar in a teammate's eye.

    What can one expect from young men who have had their egos artificially inflated - much like the ball they kick around?

    But what sets the recent antics of Singapore boys apart from the misbehaving men of the world game is not so much the drunken nights out or the breaking of curfews, but when and how they did it.

    Tampines Rovers midfielder Aliff Shafaein's drunken night out - and subsequent car accident - was neither during the off-season, nor was it after a game. For those who have not heard of him, he is the vice-captain of one of Singapore's most successful clubs.

    But now, he is best known for his drink-driving accident on Nov 14, just hours before his team's most important match of the season.

    There was at least one good reason why he should not have been out drinking that night: Tampines had not won a trophy all season and the Singapore Cup final against Thai side Bangkok Glass was their last chance this year.

    But the 28-year-old ignored his role as a team leader. He was found with 41mg of alcohol in every 100ml of breath, past the legal limit of 35mg, when the car he was driving collided with another car.

    It also emerged that he had a string of other offences, such as driving with a suspended licence, for which he was slapped with a three-week jail term on Tuesday.

    Aliff is not alone in his misbehaviour.

    When five members of the national football team stayed up till 1am playing cards during the recent Asean Football Federation Cup, they were not just breaking the 11pm curfew. Their decision to ignore team orders also broke almost every rule in team sport.

    Even as kids, budding footballers are taught the importance of listening to the coach, respecting teammates, and the cliched 'There is no 'I' in 'Team''.

    The card session came just hours after the Lions had barely done enough to beat Myanmar 2-1. As if an emotional, energy-sapping match was not a good enough reason to get some rest, there was a crucial match against Vietnam just 48 hours away. Falter and Singapore would be out in the tournament's group stage for the first time in a decade.

    As it turned out, Singapore did go on to lose that match 0-1 to Vietnam.

    The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) fined each of the five $500 but has refused to name them, despite calls from the public to do so.

    The Hanoi incident is even more frustrating as it comes just months after two national footballers were fined for being late for the team bus.

    That was just before a crucial Asian Cup qualifier in March. The Lions needed to hold Jordan - a team they beat in an earlier round - to a draw to qualify for next year's Asian Cup Finals in Qatar.

    Making it to Qatar would have been a big deal, as it would have been the Republic's date with the continent's big boys. The last time Singapore played in the Asian Cup Finals was in 1984 as the host.

    Despite all that hung on that crucial match, two footballers showed up late for the bus ferrying them to their date with destiny. Singapore lost 1-2.

    Successful athletes often talk about being 'in the zone' before a big match - that state of mind when you go into hyper-focus, blocking out all distractions and focusing on what needs to be done to achieve the desired result. Needless to say, neither the two latecomers nor the rest of the team, anxious about their whereabouts, can be said to have been in the zone that day.

    At a time when Singapore sport is scaling new heights - the women's table tennis team are world champions, while swimmers and shooters have also made their mark internationally - the antics of Singapore footballers this year have done nothing but sink the sport to a new low.

    It cannot be a mere coincidence that the recent events come on the back of the Lions' poor showing in the latest rankings issued by world body Fifa. Last week, the Republic occupied the 140th spot - its joint-lowest placing in history.

    Skill alone, or the lack of it, does not solely determine the Fifa rankings. Just as important is a team's ability to focus on what matters and recognise when they need to take things seriously.

    The three incidents, in isolation, may not be a big deal. But when viewed together, it is an indication that there is a culture of indiscipline breeding in the sport.

    Something must be seriously wrong when the team manager of the Singapore national football side has to resort to spot-checks at 1am to make sure his players are behaving.

    Are these players, the so-called pride and joy of the nation, so out of control that they need to be treated like kids?

    Has representing the country become so trivial that players put self-worth ahead of glory for the nation?

    Discipline is vital for teams such as the Singapore Lions, who lack the technical finesse and physical authority to battle top sides. But teams can compensate for these shortcomings to a great degree by adopting a hardened work ethic, leading an ascetic life, obeying team tactics, playing together as one taut, rigorous unit, and by doing all the small things well.

    Singapore football - from coaches and players to officials in the S-League - needs to go back to the fundamentals, back to emphasising traits like discipline, teamwork, pride, diligence and honour.

    Officials cannot condone acts like Aliff's by agreeing to bail out the recalcitrant players time and time again.

    It was preposterous that a senior player like Aliff could even think of asking his 'ardent fans' to donate their hard-earned money to pay his fines. The gall of that suggestion speaks volumes of just how self-deluded, self-centred and selfish our footballers are.

    It is not as if the sport has not tasted success. In the past decade, the Lions have been crowned Asean champions twice. On the club front, Tampines have also lifted the Asean Club Championship trophy.

    But those involved with the sport need to be reminded of the hard work they did to get there - and do it all over again.

    It cannot be done with half-hearted officials and weak leadership. But most of all, it cannot be done with players who show scant respect and dedication for the badge and flag they wear on their chests.

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    CCP & PAP

    Dec 18, 2010

    From big chill to warm ties

    Once they were political foes. Today they are learning from each other. Insight takes a look at the growing relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Action Party in a year that marks the 20th anniversary of China-Singapore diplomatic ties.

    By Cai Haoxiang

    ON A cool autumn day in September, a People's Action Party (PAP) delegation witnessed direct democracy the communist way.

    More than 100 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres in Donghua village, Hutang town, in Jiangsu province filed in in orderly fashion to deposit their votes in the ballot box under the hammer and sickle logo.

    The event was to elect one out of two candidates to be the village's party secretary.
    The solemn scene struck Hong Kah GRC MP Ang Mong Seng, who was a member of the 46-strong delegation.

    'We always thought that they appoint leadership directly. But we saw a transparent selection process, with candidates giving a short speech, asking for questions, and then the cadres voting,' he says.

    The polling also struck PAP's then head of external relations Lee Yi Shyan, who led the Jiangsu trip with PAP's first organising secretary Khaw Boon Wan.

    Says Mr Lee: 'We talked among ourselves. Should we have some form of elections for our residents' committees (RC) too?'

    But he concedes that holding elections for Singapore's grassroots leaders would be difficult as there are not enough candidates for the wholly voluntary job in Singapore. By comparison, in China, 30 graduates would compete for the paid position of RC chairman.

    Intensifying ties

    THE Jiangsu trip, which spawned these musings among PAP leaders, was significant as it marked a state of heightened relations between PAP and CCP in a year of events celebrating the 20th anniversary of bilateral relations between Singapore and China.

    The trip sought to raise PAP's interaction with CCP from government-to-government to party-to-party, says Mr Khaw in an e-mail interview.

    The Health Minister notes that PAP's key interest is to nurture and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

    'China is growing rapidly and will be a mega player in the world. We are therefore interested in CCP because CCP leaders form and run the government in China.'

    The trip came about because of a visit in April by Mr Li Yuanchao, Minister of the CCP's powerful Central Organisation Department that controls personnel appointments.

    Since it opened up in 1978, China has been studying the economic and political systems of countries around the world, including Singapore's.

    Chinese officials have routinely visited Singapore on study trips since the 1990s. But as they discovered, Singapore's civil servants could help them only up to a certain extent.

    As Mr Lee, who is Minister of State for Manpower and Trade and Industry, explains: 'The CCP was looking for its mirror image, its real counterpart.'

    Civil servants could tell them about team dynamics and economic models, but came up short when the Chinese officials asked about Singapore's overarching ideological approach in governance.

    'So Mr Li proposed that we should intensify our party-to-party meetings and have annual meetings,' says Mr Lee.

    The resulting Jiangsu trip took six days, and the PAP delegation learnt about China's political system, witnessed a village election and visited the Chinese version of Singapore's community centres.

    Marine Parade GRC MP Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, one of two minority race members on the trip, recalls being quizzed by Chinese officials on how Singapore maintains racial harmony. He told them about the Community Engagement Programme and other activities which help to bond community groups together.

    On what he took away, he says: 'I was impressed by the patriotism and nationalistic fervour of the Chinese, as well as how CCP extends its sphere of influence to all stakeholders like businesses, villages and organisations.

    'Our system is different but the trip reinforced the importance of making ourselves relevant to all our stakeholders.'

    From foes to friends

    PAP's Jiangsu trip would have been unthinkable 40 years ago, when relations were antagonistic between Singapore and China.

    Up to 1970, Singapore had no diplomatic contact with China as it was regarded as 'reactionary to the communist social order'. CCP propaganda condemned Singapore authorities for 'armed suppression of Singapore people'.

    The CCP also exported revolution to the region through its support of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which by 1960 had lost its armed insurgency in Malaya and retreated to southern Thailand, where it renewed its armed struggle until 1989.

    In 1969, China gave the MCP facilities in Hunan in southern China to set up a radio station called the Voice of Malayan Revolution.

    The MCP's propaganda broadcasts called on ethnic Chinese in the region, including Singaporean Chinese, to sustain the Chinese communist revolution and overthrow the Malaysian and Singapore governments.

    It was only in 1971 when the first contact was made through 'ping-pong diplomacy' - a 14-member Singapore table tennis contingent was invited to play a series of matches in a Beijing tournament.

    The breakthrough

    THE breakthrough in bilateral relations came in 1978 when then Chinese Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping made an official visit to Singapore.

    Then Prime Minister and current Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew raised the issue of radio broadcasts from China. To his surprise, Mr Deng listened and asked for his advice.

    China was then jostling with the Soviet Union for influence in the region, and wanted South-east Asian countries to be on its side. Vietnam had fallen into the Soviet orbit and was about to invade the Beijing-friendly Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.

    MM Lee noted that China would not receive much support from South-east Asia, because of suspicions aroused by China's radio broadcasts appealing to ethnic Chinese in the region.

    The broadcasts were making the governments of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia uneasy, MM Lee said, and he advised Mr Deng to stop the radio broadcasts.

    Mr Deng replied that he would think about it. Two years later, in 1980, the radio broadcasts stopped.

    The relationship between Singapore and China warmed up in the 1980s and 1990s, when MM Lee visited China almost every year.

    'Because we had started from antagonistic positions, we needed time and deeper interaction to develop a relationship of confidence with China,' MM Lee wrote in his memoirs From Third World To First.

    Another move by Mr Deng, who rose to be China's paramount leader, eventually led to PAP establishing ties with CCP.

    A paper by Chinese academics Jiang Shuxian and Sheng Lijun, published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, noted that at the end of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, CCP had ties only with fewer than 10 communist parties.

    But Mr Deng, they noted, made a fundamental policy shift that made the party more flexible when dealing with parties of different ideological orientations. Outreach to parties around the world followed. By 1992, CCP had established relations with more than 400 political parties in about 140 countries.

    PAP-CCP relations began in 1992, soon after the establishment of bilateral relations in 1990, according to Henan Normal University's Professor Sun Jing- feng.

    The recent intensification of party- to-party ties, he says, is the result of a combination of close bilateral relations, this year's 20th anniversary celebrations, historical and cultural similarities and the CCP policy towards other parties of 'transcending ideological differences through mutual cooperation'.

    He notes that party-to-party ties are 'more agile' and can result in broader discussions as both sides are unencumbered by operational matters of trade and culture.

    Prof Sun, who just wrote a book examining PAP's longevity in power, cites a string of visits by party officials between both countries in the last 10 years.

    In Singapore this year, Vice-President Xi Jinping's November visit capped a year of high-level exchanges between both sides. Mr Xi is the sixth highest ranking member of the CCP as secretary of the Central Secretariat and president of the Central Party School, and is tipped to be China's next president in 2012.

    A total of 22,000 Chinese officials have been in Singapore on study trips to learn PAP's technical, management and philosophical know-how in nation building and party renewal.

    Prof Sun says CCP can learn from PAP's strengths in clean government and combating corruption, noting that these values were originally in CCP's founding philosophy but fell by the wayside during its long rule.

    As for the other way round, he believes PAP can learn from CCP's strengths in theory building, party organisation and talent nurturing.

    'PAP talent is often 'dropped into battle' while CCP leaders go through a steady training process from the grassroots and have rich work experience,' the scholar says.

    Taking a long historical view, Professor Lu Yuanli of Shenzhen University's Centre for Singapore Studies notes that it was through the influence of the leftists in its early years that PAP absorbed the CCP's 'mass line' of reaching out to trade unions, students, youth and women.

    Giving an example of the PAP's 'mass line', he cited a July 2008 article published in China's Southern Daily headlined in Chinese: 'Lee: Without Getting People's Hearts, You Won't Get Votes.'

    It described how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conducted a Meet-the-People session in 'a simple and barely furnished room' in his Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC and how at one point, he had to take out a handkerchief to wipe his perspiration.

    Prof Lu says: 'We must have the spirit of doing things for the people without personal profit. Otherwise, in the absence of political competition and the lack of the rights for people to speak out, an original intention to 'recognise the people as master' degenerates into 'being the master of the people'.'

    What CCP can learn from PAP, he contends, is the combination of British parliamentary democracy, the mass line, and the idea of letting meritorious performers implement unpopular policies for the good of the country.

    But there are limits to what China can learn. Mr Xiang Huaicheng, former Chinese finance minister and former CCP Central Committee member, says bluntly: 'China is too big, Singapore is too small. You are a city state; we cannot transplant what you do wholesale to China.'
    He notes that CCP sends cadres to the US on a bigger scale than to Singapore, and its cadres receive training in Japan and England as well.

    'But the most important thing we can learn from Singapore is its strict management spirit. I think this is a necessity for our cadres to go out and see what other people are doing.

    'You can talk to the cadre for half the day when you are in China, but he doesn't get you, he doesn't believe you. When he goes to Singapore, he wakes up. We are talking about values training, not concrete training,' says Mr Xiang, who was in Singapore last month on a Nanyang Technological University-Lien Foundation fellowship.

    The ultimate value in party- to-party ties, which might not result in tangible accomplishments, lies in old-fashioned guanxi, or relationship building.

    When he went to Jiangsu province in his party capacity, says Mr Lee Yi Shyan, he met party vice-secretaries and vice-governors whom he had never met in the 15 years that he knew the Jiangsu government.

    The 'harmonisation' department, or tongzhanbu, is one such new department he met which coordinates the ideology guiding various social and business organisations.

    'I'll hesitate to say that they are pulling the strings, because if you were in China and your Constitution says the party shall lead, then it is incumbent on you to figure out how to build consensus among different groups,' he says.

    Mr Khaw says that in the Jiangsu trip, he caught up with old friends and met, for the first time, senior cadres in the Jiangsu party who do not hold formal government positions.

    'Some day, some of them will move up to Beijing to take on even more senior positions. It is always useful to have friends in senior positions,' he says.

    Meanwhile, the mutual learning goes on. During the Jiangsu trip, Dr Faishal saw how keen the Chinese were in learning from the PAP. 'But when Mr Khaw told the Chinese that the PAP is here to learn, smiles lit up the faces of Chinese officials,' he recalls.

    'PAP absent everywhere, present everywhere'

    Mr Lee Yi Shyan was head of PAP's external relations sub-committee from 2008 to this year. The committee hosts visits by foreign delegations. Here are excerpts from an interview with him.

    By Cai Haoxiang

    What is the proportion of party visits to PAP HQ from China?

    About 80 per cent of party visits come from China, the other 20 per cent from all over the world - Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, South Africa. Every year, about 50 party delegations visit the PAP HQ in Bedok.

    Why are the Chinese looking at the PAP model?

    In Minister of the Central Organisation Department Li Yuanchao's words, both CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and PAP have ruled continuously for 50 years or more.
    CCP has its own reasons for its longevity but it wants to know why PAP can 'make it' every five years when elections are called.

    We are an Asian society, a majority Chinese society, and somehow have assimilated Chinese culture with Western practices.

    They think that if we can succeed, maybe it is a road forward for them. Each time, a more senior leader comes, pointing to the strength of our organisation, our involvement with people, our understanding of the frontline issues... Mr Li is senior enough to send signals.

    What questions do the Chinese usually raise with the PAP?
    Generally the questions are about how we develop our leadership, how we spot and groom talent for renewal, how we stamp out corruption, what kind of training we conduct, how we organise ourselves, what kind of components do we have, youth wing, women's wing, and how we reach out to different groups in society.

    But I think their underlying interest is to figure out what China should do to make their party relevant so they have the legitimacy to rule the country.

    What answers did you give them?
    We share our experience and practices. For instance, they are quite impressed by the fact that we have Meet-the-People sessions and go to heartland events, have many community functions over the weekends and evenings, and ordinary residents of the constituency can tell us problems and shake hands with us.

    In their system they have many layers of government, it is very hard for central government officials to go down to the grassroots level.

    They have a system of xiang shang bao gao (reporting to the top) but we have a system of xiang shang bao gao xiang xia fu zhe (reporting to the top and being responsible for the bottom).

    What do you think the CCP takes away from the PAP's organisation and structure?
    They were very amazed that PAP is absent everywhere but present everywhere.

    In China, the Communist Party will typically have a very dominant or prominent building in every city. But in Singapore, you cannot find the party building.

    Even our party headquarters is a modest structure co-located with a childcare kindergarten. But they realise that the party's manifesto and value system are operationalised in every part of the Government and society.

    For instance, you can see this in the concept of financial prudence, in saving, no budget deficit for a sustained period, not spending more than we are earning, building up our nest egg for the future.

    What lessons did the PAP draw from the CCP during the Jiangsu visit?
    One big lesson is that we are trying to solve very similar problems in society.

    We visited their residential committee, what we call an RC (residents' committee) in the Singapore context. The party secretary was discussing concerns and requests from his residents.

    The topic was how to help the ageing population, whether they could build lifts. They said funding was an issue and discussed how to and whom they should ask for so much money.

    I think we have a different organisation, a different system. We know that we are solving the problems of a society, we're getting in touch with the grassroots, but we don't hardwire it, say that it must be the party that should do it, or via the Constitution to say that the PAP should lead the country.

    The bottom line is really that if the party is not in touch with the majority, the grassroots any more, then it will risk being irrelevant.

    To be relevant and to be able to continue to have the mandate to lead, you must be in touch with the ground and work for the interests of the majority of the people.

    The CCP faces a lot of internal challenges in the sense that while it has brought economic benefits and social progress to the country, it faces issues of uneven growth, a small part of the party abusing power, corruption, nepotism.

    In some specific locations, this had actually discredited the party, such that people start to question its authority to lead.

    What do you expect to see as a result of this heightened relationship with CCP?
    Government-to-government ties are already significant but party-to party ties symbolise a deeper level of engagement.

    It's just like friends. If I know you superficially, you won't be telling me, in my home, my brother is not studying very well, is there anything you can do to help me?

    Previously, we can talk about the Monetary Authority of Singapore in managing reserves, or the Central Provident Fund in building a social security system. This is government at the executive level.

    But now, we talk about how we decide what Singapore should be in the next two years, what's the structure... These are things that cannot be answered at the operational level.

    We don't pretend that the things that we do here will be perfectly relevant to them but the facts speak for themselves, in the sense that we have 50 years of self rule and party rule and the PAP remains relevant.

    So we ourselves want to be in touch with the ground and hope that our renewal will contribute to the sustained growth of Singapore.