Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ex-Yaohan supermart staff reunite to mark SG50

May 31, 2015

By Andrea Ng

SINGAPORE - They were simple round buns with sesame sprinkled tops and filled with red bean paste. But they were so popular, they flew off oven trays before even reaching the shelves of one-time supermarket giant Yaohan.

Quarrels and snaking queues were commonplace in many of Yaohan's branches, where customers competed for the many bargains the Japanese chain offered, recalled former staff who yesterday got together - many of them for the first time after almost 20 years - to reminisce.

Opened in 1974 in Plaza Singapura, Yaohan was the first to introduce the one-stop shopping concept to Singapore. The first week alone saw nearly a million Singaporeans flock to its three floors in the newly opened mall. By 1983, it had five branches, including in Jurong and Bukit Timah. In 1997, its parent company in Japan went bust, and its last branch in Thomson closed.

Shangri-La Dialogue 2015 Keynote Address

End vicious cycle in South China Sea: PM

By Xue Jianyue 

May 30

SINGAPORE — Amid renewed tensions between the United States and China over reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday warned regional leaders that every Asian country stands to lose if regional security and stability are threatened.

Delivering the keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Mr Lee set out what needs to be done to ensure a stable regional order, which requires consent and legitimacy in the international community and “cannot be maintained by just by superior force” in the long run. He also called on China and the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) to conclude a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea “as soon as possible, so as to break the vicious cycle and not let the disputes sour the broader relationship”.

“If all parties adhere to international law... that is the best outcome,” he said. “On the other hand, if a physical clash occurs, which escalates into wider tension or conflict, either by design or more likely by accident, that would be very bad.”

KL's Alliance leaders take aim at S'pore PM over speech

May 31, 2015
This week in 1965 | A look back at the events that shaped Singapore 50 years ago 

JUNE 3, 1965

Leaders of Malaysia's ruling Alliance coalition levelled harsh words at Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in the Malaysian Parliament, as relations between the Singapore and Central governments look to have reached the point of no return.

A Singapore legacy comes full circle

May 30, 2015

The gripping tale of South-east Asia's first natural history museum and its new lease of life. 

For the Straits Times

OUROBOROS is the name of a mythological Greek snake - a snake that consumes its own tail. It is one of the oldest mystical concepts known to man, first observed in Egypt 1,600 years before Christ. A powerful symbol of the cyclical nature of time. About coming full circle, and then starting again.

Such are the strange and interesting life and times of Singapore's museum of natural history.

From roots that trace back to 1823, when Stamford Raffles himself mooted the idea of a Singapore Institution for natural history; then 1849, when two coins donated by the Temenggong of Johor were acquired by the colonial government and the idea of a museum was seeded; to the establishment of a legal body, the Raffles Museum, in 1878.

This entity is South-east Asia's first natural history museum. But the world is an unpredictable place - many dramatic events occurred. Between 1942 and 1945, Singapore experienced a war of unprecedented cruelty and violence when the Japanese occupied the territory. Through fortune, the museum survived.

Then in 1965, Singapore was suddenly no longer part of the Federation of Malaysia but an independent country. And in these traumatic times, as a young nation grappled for survival, the Raffles Museum became the National Museum of Singapore.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

14 years of giving it a go for regional security

May 29, 2015

By William Choong 

For The Straits Times

NOT many observers of regional affairs will know that it was the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew who gave the much-needed push for the establishment of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual defence summit that will kick off its 14th edition tonight.

In 2001, Dr John Chipman, the director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), had a brainwave - compared to Europe, Asia did not have a defence forum which involved meetings of more than two defence ministers. So he sought the advice of Mr Lee. Mr Lee's curt answer: "Give it a go."

Fourteen years on, the Dialogue has come a long way. It also bears Mr Lee's imprimatur, given that the themes he espoused still resonate today.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Designer babies may soon be possible — but ethical questions abound


MAY 29, 2015

A team from China grabbed the headlines last month when it announced it had edited DNA in the nucleus of human embryos. Whatever the ethics of such research, the breakthrough raises the question of just how far we will take tampering with our genetic make-up?

The Chinese team’s work was done using a gene-editing technique called CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) and the results were not spectacular – only four of the 86 eggs injected were successfully modified.

Nonetheless, Harvard Professor George Church believes that within five to seven years it will be possible to snip out and replace stretches of DNA to genetically engineer babies.

But should this kind of research be done at all? And as parents look to guarantee a better future for their children, what should we consider acceptable?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Driving Uber Mad

MAY 23, 2015

Maureen Dowd

WASHINGTON — ON a reporting expedition to Los Angeles recently, I realized I could stop renting cars.

I would never again have to brave the L.A. freeway behind the wheel. I would never have to obsess, like the characters in the “Saturday Night Live” skit, “The Californians,” about taking the 101 to the 110 and Canyon View Drive over to San Vincente to the 10, then switching over to the 405 North and getting dumped out onto Mulholland.

I had Uber.

Even in the land of movie stars, you could feel like a movie star when your Uber chauffeur rolled up. Standing in front of the Sunset Tower Hotel, I tapped my Uber app and saw five little cars swarming around my location. But, suddenly, they scattered in the opposite direction. I stood in the driveway, perplexed. Finally, a car pulled up, and the driver waved me in.

“Do you know why no one wanted to pick you up?” he asked. “Because you have a low rating.”

(Uber drivers see your rating once they accept the request and then can cancel.)

I was shocked. Blinded by the wondrous handiness of Uber, I had missed the fact that while I got to rate them, they got to rate me back.

Singapore a 'victim of its own success': Former Blair advisor

938LIVE reports: Sir Michael Barber, former advisor to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sits down with 938LIVE's Michelle Martin to talk about his new book, and says its well-educated population now demands more of the Government.

28 May 2015

SINGAPORE: Modern-day Singapore is "a victim of its own success" said Sir Michael Barber, the ex-senior advisor to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Speaking to 938LIVE about his new book How To Run a Government So That Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don't Go Crazy, Sir Barber said the country's "fantastically well-educated population" is now demanding more of the Government and wants a bigger say in things. "They want to be in dialogue and the challenge for the political system will be to adapt and make the most of that," he said.

Part of the radio interview is reproduced below:

Red line in the South China Sea

The real issue is not territory or trade routes but whether the US or China leads in Asia.

May 27, 2015

By Hugh White, For The Straits Times

LAST week in the South China Sea, a US Navy P8 maritime patrol aircraft very deliberately flew into airspace around one of the disputed islands claimed by China. It did so to demonstrate America's displeasure at China's development of some of the islands into bases to support military operations. CNN journalists were aboard the aircraft just to make sure the world would see America openly defying China's moves to reinforce its claims to the islands.

This marks a new and more risky phase in the strategic rivalry between America and China which has been brewing for some time now. It seems that people in Washington have decided that the time has come to draw a red line around China's growing power, and that the place to do it is in the South China Sea.

But as President Barack Obama discovered in Syria not long ago, red lines can backfire badly. His administration may find that drawing them in the South China Sea proves more difficult and dangerous than it imagines, and there is a real risk that the whole idea will blow up in Washington's face.

This has nothing to do with the actual territorial disputes themselves, about which America takes no view. Nor, despite Washington's claims, is it really about freedom of navigation in a vital trade route, because there is no suggestion that commercial shipping is at risk. Instead, it is about something even bigger - about who leads in Asia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Life in the age of anxiety

Roger Cohen

May 27, 2015

There is a lot of status anxiety going about these days. People live suspended between the anxiety of being deluged in communication and the agony of receiving none.

They have always wanted to be liked, but now they must also be “liked”. They exist under the digital pressure of reciprocal judgment, a state that knows no repose.

They are either on top of things, a momentary illusion, or overwhelmed, a permanent state intermittently denied. They look around wondering how it is possible to keep up. They have access to everything and certainty about nothing. They zigzag between indulgence and denial, frenetic states and cleansing cures, their busy selves and their better selves. They have nightmares about getting a thumbs-down. They ask themselves how the Day of Judgment became day-in, day-out judgment. They make resolutions that unravel. They amass to-do lists that cannot get done. They are not sure where they stand on the ratings scales, on the lists that proliferate, on the global grading of everything and everyone.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Better Than Raising the Minimum Wage

Help Americans who need it with a major, carefully crafted expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.


May 21, 2015

The American Dream promises that a combination of education, hard work and good behavior can move any citizen from humble beginnings to at least reasonable success. And for many, that promise has been fulfilled. At the extreme, we have the Forbes 400, most of whom did not come from privileged backgrounds.

Recently, however, the economic rewards flowing to people with specialized talents have grown dramatically faster than those going to equally decent men and women possessing more commonplace skills. In 1982, the first year the Forbes 400 was compiled, those listed had a combined net worth of $93 billion. Today, the 400 possess $2.3 trillion, up 2,400% in slightly more than three decades, a period in which the median household income rose only about 180%.

Meanwhile, a huge number of their fellow citizens have been living the American Nightmare—behaving well and working hard but barely getting by. In 1982, 15% of Americans were living below the poverty level; in 2013 the proportion was nearly the same, a dismaying 14.5%. In recent decades, our country’s rising tide has not lifted the boats of the poor.

No conspiracy lies behind this depressing fact: The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich. Nor are the rich undeserving. Most of them have contributed brilliant innovations or managerial expertise to America’s well-being. We all live far better because of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton and the like.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mr Lee makes historic speech in KL

May 24, 2015
[ May 27 1965]

By Ho Ai Li

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made a landmark speech against Malay political dominance in the Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur in May 1965 which so angered Umno leaders that many felt Singapore had to leave.

Then Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman later called the speech the straw that broke the camel's back, while Singapore's former Cabinet minister Lim Kim San called it the speech that changed history.

"I had not expected my speech to play so crucial a part in the Tunku's decision to get Singapore out of Malaysia," Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs.

Before the fateful speech, tension between Mr Lee's People's Action Party (PAP) and Malaysia's ruling Alliance coalition headed by Umno had already been escalating. Mr Lee was making a good impression on the international media.

The PAP had formed the Malaysian Solidarity Convention (MSC), an opposition alliance whose members included parties from Sabah and Sarawak. This did not sit well with some Umno members.

As Mr Lee noted in his memoirs, he made his most important speech in the federal Parliament to "a hostile and tense audience, including a large number of Malay MPs fed daily with anti-PAP, anti-Lee Kuan Yew and anti-Chinese propaganda".

Mr Lee expressed regret that the King's Address at the opening of Parliament "did not reassure the nation that it would continue to progress in accordance with its democratic Constitution towards a Malaysian Malaysia".

Saturday, May 23, 2015

World city or regional backwater?


May 12, 2015

By Peter Schwartz
For The Straits Times

Singapore of 2065 could be a world capital of gleaming towers, creative talent, power, influence and wealth; the most important centre of a region of peace and prosperity; and an inspiration to those who dream of what it takes to build a better society.

Or by 2065, Singapore could be mostly faded glory, not a bad place to be, but one with a better history than future.

There is a third possibility of a slowly growing developed city - but that would still lead the city-state into a slow but inexorable decline: Think of a graceful old age with declining prospects.

Where is Singapore headed? What are the trends that will shape its possibilities? What should Singapore aspire to in the next 50 years?

As a futurist with a three- decade-long association with Singapore, I have had the rare privilege of periodic conversations with its first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, sharing perspectives on where the world is headed. Singapore's success owes greatly to his leadership, making him one of the greatest political and economic leaders of the 20th century. He died in March, and the challenge will be sustaining his legacy. I have also served on various agencies in the city-state.

I would say Singapore has been moving in the right direction, keeping itself open to talent and driving innovation. The question is whether that can be sustained.

At independence in 1965, security, stability and prosperity were the main aspirations. For the future, Singapore needs to have dreams of its future that can keep the talent coming. For those dreams to be real, they have to gel with the driving forces and the ethos that shape the times today, as they did during independence.

So what will determine if Singapore becomes a world city or declines into a backwater? What forces shape its future? Some are beyond Singapore's control, like the global balance of power and regional stability. Others - like the quality of governance or the ability to exploit new knowledge - are within Singapore's control.

Long-term forces

THERE are a few long-term, predictable forces. The population cannot grow by very much. If the country builds upwards, or downwards or even a bit outwards, it might add another million or so, mostly immigrants and mostly the young. Today's population will inevitably be older. Even if many remain healthy, vigorous and stay in the workforce much longer, many will be so old by mid-century that dependency will increase substantially. By 2065, Singapore has to be ready to manage a very old, infirm population and invite in young immigrants to help support that ageing population.

The need to adapt to climate change is also predictable. The weather will be more variable and the seas will be rising. As part of my ongoing work with the Centre for Strategic Futures in the Prime Minister's Office, I had the opportunity to study the impact of climate change on Singapore in some depth. The building of future infrastructure will need to take into account the rise in sea level, storm surges and potential for torrential rains. Planning for a system of dikes may be needed.

As for energy, I expect the fossil fuel era will be winding down by 2065, driven by the pressures of a rapidly changing climate. Unless there is a major breakthrough in renewable energy, Singapore will be an all-electric country, including electric cars, generated by nuclear power. The reactor may be offshore, underground or in a neighbouring country. Nuclear may be the only way to generate sufficient power for a modern wealthy economy without producing too much carbon dioxide.

Uncertainties ahead

WHILE a few trends are predictable, more are uncertain. The first question is whether the economy will be able to sustain economic growth and whether that growth will be fairly equitable.

Another 50 years of even slow growth will leave Singapore incredibly rich. But creating vast wealth in the hands of only a few will not be regarded as success.

For growth to be equitable, new industries need to take off that will employ large numbers of people in high-value jobs. People need to be trained to fill those jobs. There is no guarantee of success on both counts.

The old industrial economy will inevitably give way to a new economy based on ideas and skills in high technology, healthcare, finance and tourism. Singapore is well-placed to take advantage of all four arenas, is already investing appropriately in them and has a good chance to succeed.

The most important uncertainty within the control of Singapore is the continued success of the system of politics and governance. It delivered on its vision in the first half century after the nation was born. Can it continue to for the next 50 years?

Success is the worst enemy of change. Why bother to change when things are working? But that is when you have the most manoeuvring room and resources to act. How does Singapore not become a stultifying bureaucracy wedded to the status quo? Will its bureaucracy make room for the young and ambitious? How can its government move and adapt at the pace of the modern world? Will initiatives like the Smart Nation make Singapore a continuing model for future governance? Will the high performance and near complete absence of corruption sustain the legitimacy of the system with the people of Singapore?

The answers to all these questions are not predetermined and will be shaped by the choices people make, the quality of leadership and events beyond their control.

The forces that are most vital and out of Singapore's control are the politics and economics of the region. Most regional trends in recent years have been fairly positive economically and politically. Will its neighbours and partners continue to improve governments and economies, or will they devolve into incompetence, corruption, poverty and conflict - that is, take a big step into the past?

The former creates regional conditions conducive for Singa- pore's success. The latter scenario will make it very difficult for Singapore to succeed. Walling itself off from a chaotic region will not be regarded as success. Singapore will be sailing against the wind.

In the worst-case scenario, major conflict involving big countries like China, Japan, India or the United States greatly damage the prospects of the region and Singapore. On the other hand, increasing integration and coherence can feed on themselves and accelerate growth and prosperity.

The final uncertainty is what role Singapore will play in the world. It is already an example of successful development to many other cities. But if it stagnates and is trapped by its own success, its role as an exemplar will also fade.

If it uses the platform of its success to aspire to an even more important role, then it will remain a shining example of how to build on success, and continue to attract the talent it needs to excel.

5 ways to be a world capital

BY 2065, 80 per cent of the world's people will live in cities.

Cities are where ideas are born, where growth happens and where problems are addressed. Among the many huge cities on the planet, a few increasingly stand out as important capitals, even if they are not the capital cities of their nations. They include New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo. They are where the brightest talent goes and where the future is being created.

In this competition among cities, a land-scarce city-state with no hinterland and no mineral resources will not be at a disadvantage. Skyscraper to skyscraper, densely packed Singapore can compete with the best among cities. It can aspire to be among those cities that are truly world capitals. How?

Singapore can aspire to some combination of five targets for which it is well positioned. The measure of success is not how many jobs are created directly. Rather it is about attracting the talent needed to create an economic ecosystem of constantly evolving new sectors.

The best example of this today is San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Talent flows here and draws even more talent, driving one of the world's highest growth rates. That is what Singapore is already becoming and what it needs to keep building on.

A globally ageing population will want access to the best healthcare on the planet. Singapore is already a healthcare hub for the region and a rapidly growing centre for related research and development, and manufacturing. There is every reason to invest more and create the conditions to become the world's healthcare leader.

Singapore has also made substantial investments to expand its education and research capabilities. In a world economy driven by talent and new ideas, Singapore has the potential to be another Silicon Valley, generating both basic research and economically valuable ideas that create new wealth and status. It is not hard to imagine the day when Singaporeans - or people working out of Singapore - win Nobel Prizes and create the next Intel or Google.

Many of the world's great cities are home to global institutions like the United Nations or World Health Organisation. The world needs an Environmental Protection Agency. Singapore could be its home. Many environmental issues do not respect national boundaries - from climate change to plastic waste in the oceans.

When international telegraph took off, the International Telecommunication Union based in Geneva was created by nations to regulate terms of access to things like spectrum and satellite parking spaces. Evolving needs lead to new institutions. Singapore is a minimal polluter, technically sophisticated, adept at market-based regulation and completely honest. It could take the lead in creating this Environmental Protection Agency and giving it a home.

Due to its location at the equator, Singapore is an ideal location to launch rockets into earth orbit, from an orbital physics point of view. By 2065, the cost to orbit will have fallen drastically and more economic and tourist activities will rely on orbital launch. Singapore could be the planet's great spaceport, even attracting tourists just to see the launches.

Finally, Singapore has one of the best military, intelligence, police organisations in the region. From the shores of East Africa to the South China Sea to the Sea of Japan, security issues will continue to be critical to regional stability. Singapore's small size gives it the advantage of being considered unthreatening. It is recognised as being especially competent.

Singapore could lead new regional security efforts to deal with crime and interstate tensions. The worst thing that could happen to it would be a destructive regional war or a dramatic rise in crime. Its leadership in security matters could help mitigate those risks.

When you put all these forces together, it is possible to describe two very different future possibilities for Singapore, as it deals with an older population and the need for immigration, as well as adapting to climate change.

If Singapore fails to make it as the new industries' economic powerhouse, if its Government becomes sclerotic and corrupt, if the region is chaotic and violent and if it aspires to maintain only the status quo - then by 2065, Singapore will be an irrelevant backwater from which talent leaves, a nation in decline, more or less gracefully.

If, on the other hand, it makes a successful transition to the idea economy; if the vitality, competence and legitimacy of its Government are sustained; if the region is stable and prosperous, then it will be a true world capital, the city of the future into 2065.

The choice is in the hands of the Singaporean people.

Peter Schwartz is a global leader in futurist thinking and business strategy. He works with business and government leaders to develop alternative scenarios and strategies to deal with an uncertain future. His first book The Art Of The Long View was a seminal work on scenario planning. From 1982 to 1986, he was head of scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies in London. His involvement with Singapore goes back over 30 years. He is a member of Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, and an International Fellow of Centre for Strategic Futures.

Technology, Disruption, and the future of Work, Wealth-creation, and Social contracts

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

The Tao of life after politics

May 22, 2015

This is an excerpt from an introduction to a new volume of speeches titled George Yeo On Bonsai, Banyan And The Tao.

Dr Phua Kok Koo, founder and chairman of World Scientific (publishing firm), had repeatedly persuaded me to write a book about my views on politics and culture since my time in the Foreign Ministry.

I replied, repeatedly, that I was not in a frame of mind to do so. While in government, there were too many issues to grapple with. After I left the Government in 2011, my life entered a new phase and there were too many new challenges to face. I am not an academic and feel no inclination to discourse on society and government in an abstract way.

As for writing the memoirs of my years in government, that would involve combing through records in various ministries, the People's Action Party, Parliament and the constituency I served, over 23 years. Much material would still be classified.

It is also easy for my recounting to be misunderstood as self-serving. In all the roles I played, I worked as a member of a team and claiming specific responsibility for particular acts of commission or omission could be invidious. Hence, when Dr Phua suggested that my speeches be compiled instead, I thought it a good idea. They are all already in the public domain.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Splinter parties point to fragmented Opposition

Emergence of new parties not unusual in lead-up to polls, but quality still the key: Analysts


MAY 22, 2015

SINGAPORE — After the watershed 2011 General Election, the possibility of a two-party political system in Singapore started being bandied about. But four years on, the picture emerging from the ground has been very different, with new entrants contributing to a more fragmented Opposition scene.

The submission of papers last Friday by Opposition veteran Goh Meng Seng to register a new political party comes after the formation of at least one new political party since the last polls. The Democratic Progressive Party has also sprung into action again, after being dormant for years.

In the same period, the dominant Opposition party, The Workers’ Party (WP), faced off with the National Environment Agency over the cleaning of hawker centres. And more recently, it has been in the hot seat over major lapses the Auditor-General found in its running of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

The various episodes the WP has been embroiled in could have played a part in developments within the Opposition camp, political analysts say.

Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the blueprint on town council management released by the Singapore Democratic Party last Saturday indicates the eagerness to capitalise on issues that have come under the public spotlight.

“Clearly, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has noticed, and put out a paper on how they would run a town council, essentially promoting the idea of local democracy,” she said.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Safety net? More like a trampoline: DPM Tharman

MAY 20, 2015

SINGAPORE'S economic success, social policies and safety nets were some of the main issues discussed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in an interview by BBC Hardtalk presenter Stephen Sackur at the St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland earlier this month. Below is an excerpt from the session:

New bus model raises hopes for better service

MAY 21, 2015


THERE was a public uproar last year when former Public Transport Council chairman Gerard Ee said in an interview with The Straits Times that if commuters wanted better service, they should just pay for it.

But Mr Ee was right, even if what he really meant was "somebody had to pay for it".

Two weeks ago, Anglo-Austra-lian transport group Tower Transit emerged the winner in Singapore's first bus contracting tender.

Its bid of $556 million to run 26 services out of a depot in Jurong West for a five-year period starts from the second quarter of next year. It will begin with 380 buses (up from 290 plying the area today), and ramp up to 500 by the time its contract ends.

From back-of-envelope calculations based on an average annual fleet of 440 buses, Tower's bid works out to $252,727 per bus per year - assuming $556 million is split equally over the five years.

That compares with around $154,500 per bus per year under the current regime, based on the combined bus revenue of SBS Transit (financial year 2013) and SMRT (FY2014) divided by their combined fleet.

The future of Singapore’s iconic hawkers

The main problem is that Singaporeans have grown used to paying prices that the market can no longer bear. When the government moved the first generation of hawkers off the streets and into fixed locations with electricity, clean running water and regular hygiene inspections, it kept rents artificially low as an incentive. Roughly half of the 6,258 government-managed stalls pay rents as low as S$160 ($120.80) a month. The other half, however, must pay market rates, which can exceed S$4,100 a month. These stallholders must compete with each other on price. People will not pay S$8 for a bowl of fishball noodles that they can get for S$3 two stalls away.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Let children learn through play, not structured lessons

May 18, 2015

By David Kohn

TWENTY years ago, children in pre-school, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: Building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But, increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age four or five. Without this early start, the thinking goes, children risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and maths, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing stress and perhaps even souring children's desire to learn.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The security men and women who became like family

May 17, 2015

By Lee Wei Ling

Security officers (SOs) were part of my life from the time I was four years old, after my father became prime minister in 1959.

Initially, two officers were assigned to him. Protection was extended to the rest of the family around the time of Singapore's break with Malaysia in 1965 when communal tensions escalated.

My father's personal detail increased to 10 officers daily. In addition, two SOs and a woman security officer (WSO) became a part of my mother's detail. My two brothers had an SO each, while I was assigned an SO as well as a WSO, on account perhaps of my gender. I assumed the WSO doubled as a chaperone.

The SOs were police officers, picked for their fitness and shooting skills, and trained additionally for bodyguard duties. Back then, I viewed them as adult friends willing to spend their spare time playing draughts or card games with us.

U.S., China clash over disputed South China Sea

May 16

BEIJING - The United States and China clashed over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea on Saturday, as China's foreign minister asserted its sovereignty to reclaim reefs saying its determination to protect its interests is "as hard as a rock".

After a private meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi showed no sign of backing down despite Kerry urging China to take action to reduce tension in the South China Sea.

"With regard to construction on the Nansha islands and reefs, this is fully within the scope of China's sovereignty," Wang told reporters, using the Chinese name for the Spratly islands.

"I would like to reaffirm that China's determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity is as hard as a rock," he said. "It is the people's demand of the government and our legitimate right."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A novel proposal for political reform

May 15, 2015

Today's political system pits political parties against one another. Can Singapore create a system where voters pick competent candidates from different parties to form the government?

By Dinesh Senan, For The Straits Times

AS SINGAPORE marks its 50th year of independence, perhaps the greatest challenge going forward lies in maintaining the highest quality of relevant and effective political leadership, at a time when the profile and aspirations of the electorate are rapidly changing.

Today's citizens are far more empowered, with better education, greater wealth, and more far-reaching and swift influence - especially through social media - than the populace led by our founding fathers 50 years ago.

In broad terms, the political landscape continues to be largely dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP), created by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Despite Singapore's economic progress, the PAP's overall popular vote has been slipping sharply: from 75.3 per cent in the General Election of 2001, to 66.6 per cent in 2006, and 60.1 per cent in 2011.

This downward trend evidences the growing diversity of expectations of our rapidly changing populace, which today aspires to having much more than just economic growth and development.

Based on this trajectory, one could expect that increasingly more seats are likely to be won by opposition parties. And one would wonder if votes would be cast "for" the opposition's competent ability to lead the nation or, rather, "against" the dominant party.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Moody’s casts cloud over Malaysia’s credit outlook amid warning of 1MDB loan default

15 May 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Government support for troubled investment arm 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which is now at risk of defaulting on its reported RM42 billion (S$15.6 million) debt, could jeopardise Malaysia’s sovereign credit rating, Moody’s Investors Service said.

The ratings agency said it could not spell out how a loan default would directly impact Malaysia’s credit outlook, but noted that government guarantees for the firm’s borrowings ultimately derails efforts by Putrajaya to narrow the country’s fiscal shortfall.

“Given the fluidity of the situation currently surrounding 1MDB, it would be difficult to ascertain the impact of a 1MDB loan default on the government’s sovereign rating,” Moody’s vice-president and senior analyst of sovereign risk Christian de Guzman said in an email to Malay Mail Online.

“We do not consider 1MDB’s debt liabilities as obligations of the federal government, with the exception of the guarantees that have been provided for a subset of 1MDB’s borrowings.

“Having said that, the provision of government support to 1MDB that significantly derails the current trend of fiscal consolidation would be negative for the sovereign rating,” he added.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The awful choice before UK voters


No party is expected to win a majority in the May 7 general election, and coalition outcomes are uncertain and potentially divisive 

[Note: This was publish a day before the elections, which the Conservatives won a clear majority, and would form the government. Much of the speculation/projection here was based on surveys and polls, and the deviation from the survey was attributed to "shy conservatives".]

May 6, 2015

By Jonathan Eyal,


BRITAIN'S general election campaign is concluding this week with the centuries-old traditions: MPs racing about their constituencies, politicians trading barbs and people displaying their party-coloured rosettes.

And yet, an air of revolution is in the air. Everyone knows that the May 7 ballots will produce an inconclusive result, with neither the ruling Conservatives nor Labour, their main opponents, gaining an overall parliamentary majority. And every politician is equally aware that the real ballot is not about who should rule the country for the next five years but about the future unity of the British state. Seldom before has an election been so critical and its results so elusive.

The British electoral system, which operates with various modifications throughout the former British empire, including Singapore and the United States, is famous for its ruthless pursuit of a decisive outcome which magnifies the advantage of only two competing parties, makes it almost impossible for newcomers to challenge the existing order, and delivers total power to a single winner.

The result is never "fair" in a mathematical sense: A fringe party can get up to 15 per cent of the total votes cast and still have no parliamentary seats, because what matters is capturing constituencies rather than just votes.

A 'Beijing Woods' alternative

May 12, 2015


The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a welcome development, creating an Asian-focused alternative to Bretton Woods institutions to meet pressing needs in infrastructure financing.
By Grace Leong

WITH more than 50 countries signing up for founding membership to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new world economic order may well be in the making - one that showcases Asia's fast-growing role, and China's bid to increase its heft in the international monetary system.

Singapore too may be able to play a key role.

Shrugging off junior's misbehaviour is a bad move

May 11, 2015


I WAS exploring a new mall with my (almost grown) daughter and found that the lift buttons for the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh floors had all been pressed.

As the door opened on the fourth floor, I looked at the family of four sharing the lift with us - parents with two young children. No one moved. The same thing happened at the fifth and sixth floors. We all got out on the seventh.

As a mother of a teenager who often apologised for her naughty behaviour as a kid, my first thought was that these parents should have said they were sorry for letting their kids use the lift as a toy.

But, no, there was no apology. Perhaps I expect too much of today's parents. Once outside the lift, my daughter said: "I know I was very naughty when I was young, but if I ever did anything like that, you'd have killed me!"

I am not a perfect mum and I do not think there is such a thing. But as much as my kid might have screamed her lungs out at home, outside the home, I always did my best to instil a sense of respect for others while in public. She could at least be my problem, and not be one to strangers or society.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Banking on China - in the worst way

[Two news articles - one on China's economy, and one on the banking sector. Both expect China's worst year in decades]

China cuts interest rates for third time in six months as economy sputters

May 10 2015

BEIJING - China cut interest rates for the third time in six months on Sunday in a bid to lower companies' borrowing costs and stoke a sputtering economy that is headed for its worst year in a quarter of a century.

Analysts welcomed the widely-expected move, but predicted policymakers would relax reserve requirements and cut rates again in the coming months to counter the headwinds facing the world's second-largest economy.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website it was lowering its benchmark, one-year lending rate by 25 basis points to 5.1 percent from May 11. It cut the benchmark deposit rate by the same amount to 2.25 percent.

"China's economy is still facing relatively big downward pressure," the PBOC said.

"At the same time, the overall level of domestic prices remains low, and real interest rates are still higher than the historical average," it said.

Sunday's rate cut came just days after weaker-than-expected April trade and inflation data, highlighting that China's economy is under persistent pressure from soft demand at home and abroad.
While the PBOC acknowledged the difficulties facing China's economy, it said in its statement accompanying the announcement that it wants to strike a balance between supporting growth and deepening structural reforms.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A carnival of an election campaign

May 06, 2015

By Janan Ganesh

IF BRITAIN'S political class had spent the past five weeks digging a hole in the ground and filling it up again, they would have more to show for their work than they do now. Let us not be coy about this: the general election campaign has been a carnival of nonsense and futility.

At best, it has washed over the public, whose voting intention has not changed all year. The budget, the manifestos, the sensational announcements, the unforced errors, those vaunted televised debates - none of these has achieved more than an ephemeral blip in the opinion polls.

At worst, the campaign has embarrassed this country with its studious avoidance of little things such as fiscal reality and the state of the world. We have seen politicians of the left propose price interventions and politicians of the right suggest banning tax increases by law.

A country that has not balanced a budget since 2002 has developed the bravado of a country with a sovereign wealth fund, forever arguing with itself about how to use surplus revenue that does not exist. Suggest to influential people in the Labour and Conservative parties that they have spent the past few weeks knowingly peddling hogwash, and they do not try very hard to deny it.

The National Health Service (NHS), that tottering totem that outranks even the economy as voters' principal concern, has not had a serious word said about it. The Tories promise to conjure an extra £8 billion (S$16 billion) a year for its budget, but cannot say how. The distressing reality is that even this implausible sum is not enough to close the financial shortfall for long. As for the Labour Party, it has lost what ability it once had to contemplate structural reform of the NHS without turning queasy and hysterical.

Healthcare has been discussed with good sense compared with housing, the most warped sector of the British economy, where constrained supply makes millionaires of entrenched owners and fools of everyone else.
At times, politicians seem to be engaged in an in-joke to see who can suggest the most ways of taming house prices without actually expanding supply. The law on planning and land use was the one structural rigidity that prime minister Margaret Thatcher never smashed open: instead of finishing her work, the parties are fiddling with stamp duty and assisting those who already have a deposit.

The campaign has dismayed in form as well as content. A political generation reared in the 1990s cannot see beyond the methods of that era. Labour still wheels out celebrity endorsers as if anyone is surprised that actors and musicians lean left. The Tories have not weaned themselves off the ruse of ex-cathedra letters signed by businessmen.

Each party has a "grid" of planned interventions. They vie to "win the day". "Killer" dossiers are published debunking the other side's fiscal arithmetic. There is always a "health week" or an "economy day". They must know that this is all so much frenzy without effect. The routine is too familiar to too many.

The campaign has offered some small mercies.

This Parliament has been building up to a sulphurous argument about immigration in the final weeks, as mainstream parties try to emulate the UK Independence Party's vote-winning populism. In the event, it never happened. Immigration has been an eerily mute subject of late.

And the televised events have not been entirely meretricious. Last week's BBC Question Time special exposed the main party leaders to searching questions from members of the public who knew their stuff.

In the round, however, the past five weeks have been ignominious for British public life. And we do not even have the consolation of blaming politicians exclusively. Voters say they want plain speaking from their rulers. They do not mean it. If Mr David Cameron confessed that another term as prime minister would bring cuts to middle-class welfare, he would not be thanked for his candour. Were Mr Ed Miliband to elucidate the taxes that will go up under a Labour government, he would be done for.

The media is culpable, too.

Parts of the press have torn down the wall between news and comment. When party leaders debated on television last month, no question about foreign affairs was put to them.

A week earlier, Mr Miliband was pressed on his relationship with his brother and Mr Cameron was asked whether he could survive on a zero-hours contract. This is emotive and priggish; it aims to provoke a gaffe instead of soliciting an insight.

On the subject of gaffes, the closing image of the election is a giant stone monolith engraved with Labour's priorities for government. It is not serious, but then neither was this campaign.


Friday, May 8, 2015

A frosty peace beckons for the US, China

By Philip Stephens -

May 8

Asia takes the long view. I once sat in on a discussion in Beijing about the future of American power. The examination question set at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations asked where the United States would be in 2050. In a country usually shy of displaying differences within the ruling elites, it generated a strikingly animated debate.

On one side were those who were convinced that the ingredients of US power — geography, demography, resources, economic vitality, technological prowess and military might among them — would endure. On the other were those who said the US would go the way of great powers through history, laid low by political stasis, cultural decadence and economic decline. No one took a vote, but the first group had the better of the argument.

This debate took place before the global financial crash and the Beijing Olympics. My guess is that had the discussion been repeated a few years later, the pessimists (or were they optimists?) would have carried the day. The story I have heard over and again in East Asia these past few years has been one of impending American retreat. Allies as well as adversaries have doubted the US would stay the course.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Greenback joins the currency wars

By Nouriel Roubini -

May 7

In a world of weak domestic demand in many advanced economies and emerging markets, policymakers have been tempted to boost economic growth and employment by going for export led-growth. This requires a weak currency and conventional and unconventional monetary policies to bring about the required depreciation.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 20 central banks around the world have eased monetary policy, following the lead of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan (BoJ). In the eurozone, countries on the periphery needed currency weakness to reduce their external deficits and jump-start growth. But the euro weakness triggered by quantitative easing has further boosted Germany’s current-account surplus, which was already a whopping 8 per cent of gross domestic product last year. With external surpluses also rising in other countries of the eurozone core, the monetary union’s overall imbalance is large and growing.

In Japan, quantitative easing was the first “arrow” of “Abenomics”, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reform programme. Its launch has sharply weakened the yen and is now leading to rising trade surpluses.

The upward pressure on the United States dollar from the embrace of quantitative easing by the ECB and the BoJ has been sharp. The dollar has also strengthened against the currencies of advanced-country commodity exporters, such as Australia and Canada, and those of many emerging markets. For these countries, falling oil and commodity prices have triggered currency depreciations that are helping to shield growth and jobs from the effects of lower exports.

The dollar has also risen relative to currencies of emerging markets, which have economic and financial fragilities that include twin fiscal and current-account deficits, rising inflation and slowing growth, large stocks of domestic and foreign debt and political instability. Even China briefly allowed its currency to weaken against the dollar last year, and slowing output growth may tempt the government to let the yuan weaken even more. Meanwhile, the trade surplus is rising again, in part because China is dumping its excess supply of goods, such as steel, in global markets.

jitters leading to war

Until recently, US policymakers were not overly concerned about the dollar’s strength, because America’s growth prospects were stronger than those of Europe and Japan.

Indeed, at the beginning of the year, there was hope that US domestic demand would be strong enough this year to support GDP growth of close to 3 per cent despite the stronger dollar. Lower oil prices and job creation, it was thought, would boost disposable income and consumption. Capital spending (outside the energy sector) and residential investment would strengthen as growth accelerated.

But things look different today, and US officials’ exchange-rate jitters are becoming increasingly pronounced. The dollar appreciated much faster than anyone expected, and, as data for the first quarter of 2015 suggest, the impact on net exports, inflation and growth has been larger and more rapid than that implied by policymakers’ statistical models. Moreover, strong domestic demand has failed to materialise, consumption growth was weak in the first quarter, and capital spending and residential investment were even weaker.

As a result, the US has effectively joined the “currency war” to prevent further dollar appreciation. Fed officials have started to speak explicitly about the dollar as a factor that affects net exports, inflation and growth. And the US authorities have become increasingly critical of Germany and the eurozone for adopting policies that weaken the euro while avoiding those that boost domestic demand, for example temporary fiscal stimulus and faster wage growth.

Moreover, verbal intervention will be followed by policy action, because slower growth and low inflation — partly triggered by a strong dollar — will induce the Fed to exit zero policy rates later and more slowly than expected. That will reverse some of the dollar’s recent gains and shield growth and inflation from downside risks.

trade friction trouble
Currency frictions can lead eventually to trade frictions, and currency wars can lead to trade wars. And that could spell trouble for the US as it tries to conclude the mega-regional Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Uncertainty about whether the Obama administration can marshal enough votes in Congress to ratify the TPP has now been compounded by proposed legislation that would impose tariff duties on countries that engage in “currency manipulation”. If such a link between trade and currency policy were forced into the TPP, the Asian participants would refuse to join.

The world would be better off if most governments pursued policies that boosted growth through domestic demand, rather than beggar-thy-neighbour export measures. But that would require them to rely less on monetary policy and more on appropriate fiscal policies (such as higher spending on productive infrastructure). Even income policies that lift wages, and hence labour income and consumption, are a better source of domestic growth than currency depreciations (which depress real wages).

The sum of all trade balances in the world is equal to zero, which means that not all countries can be net exporters — and that currency wars end up being zero-sum games. That is why the US’ entry into the fray was only a matter of time. 



Nouriel Roubini is chairman of Roubini Global Economics and professor of economics at Stern School of Business at New York University.

China should heed Asean's concerns

May 07, 2015


CHINA'S latest rhetorical tactic related to its land reclamation in disputed parts of the South China Sea leaves much to be desired. Clearly, no one is buying the line that the facilities being developed can enhance rescue and relief operations - all the more because the offer comes with conditions and acceptance would be taken as recognition of China's claim. If its intentions were truly humanitarian, it would hand over the facilities to a neutral party to administer pending the adjudication of the disputes.

In the absence of any assurances, the sheer size of the projects - with some of the man-made islands big enough for airstrips for fighter jets - cannot but incite fear in others, particularly those who have overlapping territorial claims with the Asian power. Consequently, one could scarcely blame the world for concluding that China is determined to have its way in the South China Sea and is prepared, when push comes to shove, to keep out claimants by force.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Understanding China

China will be a different, benign power



China has shown enormous capacity for reform in the past three decades without the need to move towards a Western-style system — a point greatly underestimated by the West, said prominent China expert Martin Jacques in a wide-ranging interview with TODAY’s Celene Tan this week. Dr Jacques also said that the Chinese Communist Party does not need economic growth to legitimise its rule and he believes China will grow to be a benign power. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

The latest issue of Foreign Affairs painted a picture of China as a country facing the classic challenges of the middle phases of development. It said China’s existing institutions may not be able to manage the country’s problems in the long term and Beijing seems unlikely to adopt the reforms that could help because they would threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power. What are your views on this?

China has done extraordinarily well over the past 35 years. It has shown an enormous capacity for reform, not only economic reform, but also political reform. Because if you’re growing at roughly 10 per cent a year, your economy is doubling its size every seven years. Now, more like every 10 years with the current growth rate. It’s impossible for the institutions to cope with this level of change without being constantly reengineered and reinvented. Generally, this has been greatly underestimated in the West. Foreign Affairs is a sort of journal of the United States foreign policy establishment — generally they don’t recognise this political reform because the only political reform they recognise is that which is moving China closer to the West. So, if it’s not doing that, then it’s not acknowledged, really.

The first thing to say is China just has a very, very good track record, especially in governance. This, more than any other single factor, except for broad historical reasons, is why China has transformed itself. The government has been a brilliant leader of China’s transformation. You have to remember, this is the most remarkable economic transformation in human history. It far exceeds anything the West has managed to achieve — Britain, America, etc.

Now, it’s true that China is now approaching a new set of problems. If you’re a very poor developing country as China was, you’d face colossal problems, so it’s not new to have problems. These problems are distinctive because at each phase of your development, you have new problems, and the biggest single problem it has now is to shift the nature of its economy from one which is driven by exports and investment, to one driven by more emphasis on the domestic market, and more emphasis on value-added production and higher labour productivity. That is a difficult transition to make, but not an impossible transition.

So the question here is (whether) the institutions of governance, the Communist Party, single-party system and so on, would be able (to succeed) only if they adopt a Western-style government system. I fundamentally disagree with this. I think that we are not likely to see a major reform towards a Western-style system and I don’t think it is a precondition for China’s transformation.

On the contrary, I think that China’s government system, in some ways, increasingly is one in which the West is going to have to learn from. I don’t mean it should adopt the Chinese system, but the Chinese system does have advantages over the West, as well as some difficulties. And the advantage that it has is its sheer competence. Actually, what the Chinese government system is really good at doing is being very efficient and — as well as a capacity for reform — a lot of continuity. I think the Chinese state, especially given that it is a developing state, is hugely competent. The problem with that way of thinking is that it is the traditional Western view about China and it has been served up in many different versions over the past 30 years, and it’s always been wrong. So far, it has always been wrong.

Do you think that the Chinese Communist Party uses economic growth to legitimise its power? With its growth slowing down and heightened fears of a hard landing, do you foresee a change in how the party legitimises its rule? Will the Chinese people accept it?

In all the polls you see, like the Pew Global Attitudes surveys, China records the highest levels of satisfaction in government, of any country in the world. I think there’s a huge reservoir of goodwill in China towards the government. I don’t mean there aren’t lots of protests and grumbles — of course there are, that’s absolutely to be expected. But basically, there’s a reservoir of profound goodwill towards the government in China. If it really had a serious hard landing, if it did what Japan did at the end of the bubble, then it would obviously affect public support. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think it’s going to have a reduced growth rate because of where it has reached economically, but it’s not going to be anything like what happened to Japan.

The other thing is, the high level of satisfaction in China with the government is, of course, related to its economic success. But I don’t think that it’s only about economic success. I think what we have to do is understand what China is, where it’s worked, the nature of its culture and so on. The Chinese state is an extremely important institution in China. It’s much more important even than the government here (in Singapore), and the government here is important because you’re a predominantly Chinese society, you have certain Confucian traditions in Singapore as well. But, of course, in China they’re a lot stronger.

The way in which government is regarded in China or in Confucian societies is different from Western societies. Western societies have a very kind of instrumentalist, utilitarian view of what they expect from government. That’s not true in China. The government in society is a much more deeply-rooted phenomenon; people view it not in a utilitarian-instrumentalist way, but more in a familial way, like a parent — it’s true here as well. And so, these are also extremely important sources of the legitimacy of the Chinese government. In fact, if you ask me, in the long run, I think they’re more important than economic success actually. China is not like the West, never has been, isn’t now, and never will be. And the reason Westerners, in particular, have got China so wrong, so often, is because they think it should be.

Seeing as China is so different from the West, and you mentioned earlier that it can even learn from the Chinese system, what can the West learn from China?

China is a developing country, the most successful and powerful developing country. So what China offers the world at the moment is, first and foremost, (lessons for) the developing world, not the developed world. But this is very important because, remember, 85 per cent of the world’s population live in developing countries. And in the developing world, as you can see, whether you’re in Africa, or East Asia, or Central Asia, or Latin America, China is seen as an example of what can be achieved. Therefore they ask a question: “What can we learn from China?”

A lot of the reason for the success of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is China has a proven track record, it understands development because it’s a developing country and it understands the centrality of infrastructure to development, in a way that, for example, the Americans don’t. So, China’s influence in the developing world, and the respect for it, is very high.

Now, in the developed world, I’d say that it’s a different paradigm, because China is not a developed country, therefore what it offers developed countries is a work in progress, rather than the finished article. But over time, I think China is going to be very rich in the developed world as well, assuming that it keeps successful development, which I expect it to do.

The initiatives such as the AIIB and the One Road, One Belt, demonstrate China’s eagerness to project its influence in the region and beyond. Will China grow to be a benign power?

Well, I think it’s going to be a very different kind of power from the US and Britain. I think that if you look at these countries, their global influence has had a great deal to do with military and political power. I mean, America rings the world with military bases and relies hugely on military force. And if you talk about European powers, they colonised large parts of the world.

The Chinese tradition has been very different. The Chinese never had a colonial empire, they had this tributary system, but that was very different, by and large, it didn’t involve military force — there were wars, but it wasn’t that China had conquered countries. It didn’t take territories, it, by and large, didn’t replace rulers. Its history was very different from Western history.

Historically, China has been very preoccupied with itself and I think this is always the priority with China. It is so challenging to govern, inevitably, its priority is domestic. I don’t think for historical reasons and for cultural reasons, that China will develop along Western lines as a global power. I think this also will be true of what China will be like as a great power.

I think one of its two main forms of influence in the world would be economic because it’s going to be so large — already even though its living standards are only one-fifth of America’s, it has an economy of the same size, and it’s projected by 2030 the Chinese economy will probably account for one-third of global gross domestic product, and will be twice the size of the American economy. So China’s going to be vast economically, it’s going to have a huge market, it’s going to have very big companies, it’s going to have very technologically advanced companies because it has such a huge market it’s going to probably in effect set the standards in lots of different products and technologies. Not now, it’s beginning to now, but in the longer run, in the next 20 years, we’ll see a big change.

The other (form of influence) is cultural. I think, historically, what was important for China in its heyday was that it took great pride in its culture. “The land under heaven”, “the Middle Kingdom” — it saw itself as the most advanced culture in the world, with very advanced forms of governance, statecraft and so on.

It has always had a kind of moral order, if you like, in Confucianism about how to behave and what is acceptable behaviour. Its emphasis in the importance of education is very different from the West. The Chinese, historically, have for 2,000 years recognised the centrality of education. So I think China will also exercise — not so obvious now — but over time, as it becomes more developed, a big cultural influence.

Will it be a benign power? On the whole, yes, I think it will be a benign power.

China has been trying to, to use Western terminology, “challenge the status quo” in other ways, and assert itself in the region and beyond, would you agree with that?

I would avoid the use of the term “assert”; I mean, we should try to find another word because China has 20 per cent of the world’s population, it has grown to the size of the US economy; inevitably, the ramifications of China’s rise are being felt beyond its borders. The whole phenomenon of the Asian miracle, the Asian tigers, was about being successful in the international market. So China, in that sense, is not very different from the other Asian tigers, except that it is written on a huge scale because it has such a large population.

The standard American criticism of China has been, “You’re a free-rider, and when you do things, you do things on your own; why don’t you take responsibility in a more multi-lateral sense as an actor on the global stage?” So China did it. President Xi Jinping in 2013 came up with the idea of the AIIB and it is China’s first-ever initiative of this kind, and what happens? The Americans oppose it. And the great majority of countries in East Asia, South Asia and Central Asia sign up for it. Not only that, but even the Europeans signed up for it. So it was a hugely positive response.

In the developing world in Asia, the big problem is infrastructure. That is the biggest constraint to growth. And we need very large amounts of money, huge resources, to be able to fund this. So this bank is designed to do that.

It’s obviously a good thing and that’s why countries have been voting for it and the Americans are sulking because all their friends have deserted them. Well, not all their friends, but a lot of them, except Japan.


Dr Martin Jacques is visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and author of When China Rules The World.


This is the first of a two-part series. Look out for Part Two tomorrow, as Dr Jacques talks about Hong Kong, Taiwan and China’s anti-corruption campaign.

China going through reforms ‘but not the way the West wants’


SINGAPORE — China’s rise has to be viewed with the right lens and many in the West fail to understand the Asian power because of a lack of knowledge of the country’s unique history and culture, said prominent China expert Dr Martin Jacques.

In an interview with TODAY, the British-born author said it is a mistake for the West to think that Beijing is unwilling to implement political reforms in its institutions simply because the reforms China has taken do not move towards a Western-style system.

Instead, China’s vast economic transformation in a mere few decades means that institutions in the country have been constantly re-engineered and reinvented to cope with the level of change, said Dr Jacques, whose book When China Rules The World has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide. “Generally, this has been greatly underestimated in the West — they don’t recognise this political reform (in China) because the only political reform they recognise is that which is moving China closer to the West,” he said.

Many observers also forget that China is a developing nation that is home to 20 per cent of the world’s population, putting any government to a formidable test of statecraft, added Dr Jacques. Yet the Chinese government has clearly demonstrated its competence in steering China through astronomic growth and economic transformation, he said.

“The government has been a brilliant leader of China’s transformation. You’ve got to remember, this is the most remarkable economic transformation in human history. It far exceeds anything the West has managed to achieve.”

While the country’s economic success has helped to legitimise the Communist Party’s rule among the people, Dr Jacques says that support for the ruling party stems primarily from a longstanding historical and cultural respect for government. This is why he does not think that the party’s legitimacy will be threatened by China’s recent economic slowdown.

“The government in (Chinese) society is a much more deeply-rooted phenomenon; people view it in a familial way, like a parent,” he said.

There is also a reservoir of profound goodwill towards the government, he added, citing high levels of satisfaction with the Chinese government in the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Survey.

China’s unique history and culture will also chart a very different path for its rise compared with the United States and some European countries, whose past and present global influence have had a great deal to do with military and political power. Instead, Dr Jacques sees China’s rising as a benign global power through gaining global economic and cultural influence.

“Because it has such a huge market, it’s going to probably set the standards in lots of different products and technologies,” said Dr Jacques.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that China’s going to develop some really formidable companies. And they’ve got some formidable companies now, like Lenovo, Huawei, Xiaomi, and then you’ve got to take the Internet world. Baidu is a very effective search engine, and the reason I think Google pulled out of China is because Baidu gave them a competitive beating.”

He added that China would have a big cultural influence as it becomes more developed, because it takes great pride in its culture, having dubbed itself as the “Middle Kingdom” and the “Land under Heaven”.

Dr Jacques said China faces three key challenges in the near term. The first is the need to shift the economy from one based on cheap production for export to one that hires more skilled labour in higher value-adding production. The second challenge is that China has to be more heavily involved in global affairs before it has fully completed its economic take-off.

China’s third challenge is governance. “The Chinese governance will have to keep changing, keep performing, because if they don’t, they will get out of sync, out of kilter … (and) there will be serious political consequences,” he said.

Dr Jacques believes the Chinese government will live up to this challenge. “Chinese governance is very impressive; it’s the oldest statecraft in the world. I think this is the probably the greatest tradition of statecraft in the world,” he said.

“But just saying that doesn’t solve the problem. The government system is going to have to be more accountable, more representative, more transparent, more institutionally innovative, less top-down — that’s a big challenge.”

Dr Jacques is in Singapore for two months as a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Yesterday, he spoke on the global impact of the imminent rise of China in a student forum organised by Business China.

Beijing faces challenge of keeping up good governance

The unhappiness with China among segments of Hong Kong society stems from the city’s failure to understand its privileged relationship with Beijing, prominent China expert Dr Martin Jacques said. In a wide-ranging interview with Celene Tan, the British-born author added that China has learnt from the past and will be patient in drawing Taiwan closer to the mainland. He also spoke about China’s territorial claims and President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Below is an excerpt of the interview, the first part of which was published yesterday.

By Celene Tan

May 1

As China takes on more global responsibilities, it is faltering in its effort to pull Hong Kong and Taiwan closer to the mainland. Why are the people in these two territories so resistant to China? How can they be swayed by Beijing?
Hong Kong had been under British rule for 155 years. The whole of Hong Kong’s modern experience was under British colonial rule, so it grew up, in a sense, deprived of its birthright, which was China, because it was cut off from China. It was brought up with a kind of adopted birthright, which was Britain, and looked West.

One-hundred-and-fifty-five years is a long time — many, many generations — so it’s left deep roots in the way in which Hongkongers see the world. They were very ignorant, by the end of British rule, about the country to their north. They were Chinese, but they knew very little about China. On the other hand, they were very knowledgeable, in many ways, about the world to their west, particularly Britain and, to a lesser extent, other countries in Europe and, of course, the United States.

Then you have the handover, and the Chinese recognised that this was going to be problematic, because they were inheriting a country that was, in many ways, very distant — the people were very distant from them and didn’t identify with them, except in certain, very few aspects. So they came up with the solution “one country, two systems”, which was a very novel solution, a very Chinese solution, a very un-Western type of solution that would enable Hong Kong to maintain some of the things that were very important to them — which was out of respect for them — while at the same time being part of China.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the events last year in Hong Kong, because I’d say (the territory) has its growing pains. I think Hong Kongers are finding it very difficult — though not all of Hong Kong, because the opinion is very divided, but (the protesters) are more privileged because they’re students — to accept their new situation. And their new situation is more complicated than it’s been presented.

Hong Kong got lucky because when Deng Xiaoping opened up China in 1978, it didn’t allow Western and foreign companies to easily settle in China. That part happened later in the 1990s. So for 20 years, Hong Kong was the gateway to China, and it enjoyed an arbitrage advantage. Foreign companies put their Chinese headquarters in Hong Kong. That period was bound to come to an end. It was a transient period, but Hong Kong was like: “Ah, we’re very smart.” They became very arrogant, thinking: “Aren’t we clever.” No, they weren’t clever, they just got lucky for a period, and now, the truth is that Hong Kong matters much less to China than it did at the time of the handover. Its portion of the Chinese economy has gone down, from roughly — and these figures aren’t exact — just under a fifth to something like 5 or 6 per cent. So from walking tall and thinking they were extremely important and that they also had a special line of contact with Britain and the West, Hong Kong is finding itself having to accept a very different position in the world.

Now, it is still very privileged, because it has a privileged relationship with China. Where would it be if it didn’t have access to the Chinese economy? It is almost totally dependent on it.

So Hong Kong is finding it very difficult to come to terms. And I don’t have much sympathy for it, to be honest. Because it did get lucky, and now, Hongkongers are still privileged compared with Chinese mainlanders. They’ve still got much higher standards of living. I think, over time, they’ll get used to it. I think they will adjust.

The other thing to point out, which I do find irritating, is that they’re complaining about the new electoral arrangements. But the British ruled Hong Kong for 155 years and never granted the Hong Kong population universal suffrage. What a load of hypocrites! The British or whatever criticise China for doing it in the wrong way. But why did they never (grant Hong Kong universal sufferage)? Because it was a colony.

So they need to have some context to understand all this. But of course, you need patience. You can’t expect that in a period of 18 years that everything could change. These things will take decades.

And Taiwan is different. Taiwan is much closer to China than it has been at any stage since 1949, so the gravitational pull of China is very clear. The Taiwanese economy is very dependent on the Chinese economy, which is natural, because they have an affinity, because China is so huge and because the West, including America, is in such economic decline in this region. But Taiwan has also grown up in a separate context from China; they’re Chinese, but they have grown up separated from China. They are on an island, they have an idea of their own distinctive identity, so they think of themselves as Chinese.

I think China been very patient. There was a period in the 1990s when it wasn’t, but it has learnt patience and it is not going to mess it up. China will be patient.

What will happen in the long run? I think there will be some type of constitutional setting, similar to that in Hong Kong, but which grants Taiwan more autonomy, because it’s much bigger — about 20 million people — and it’s an island separate from the mainland. But I think we’re talking about a long time.

Where do you see Mr Xi’s anti-corruption campaign going?
I think no one expected the ferocity and scale (of the campaign). That probably tells us two things. One, the corruption problem was very serious and far too ubiquitous at all levels of the Communist Party. And secondly, it tells us that Mr Xi is determined, as far as he can, to root it out.
I don’t think he’ll succeed. The red envelope is a symbol of Chinese culture and Chinese corruption. But he has obviously made a big impression. You can see it in the fall in the consumption of luxury goods and the behaviour of the rich as the wealthiest become a lot more cautious. Sales of moutai, an extremely expensive spirit, have gone into negative territory and they are still not recovered by a long way.

So I think (the anti-corruption drive) is for real and it’s big, and I think it will carry on. Because in truth, most people — probably the great majority — who have engaged in major corruption have not been caught.

What do you think are other serious challenges that China faces today?
I think the first is shifting the nature of the economy, from one based on cheap production for export markets towards one based on moving up the value-added production scale, becoming more sophisticated in terms of the products it makes, being based on much more skilled labour. We know that is not an easy shift to make.

The second problem is that China is clearly going to become involved heavily in global affairs, which is, in a way, bad luck for China. Britain finished its industrial revolution before it became a major global power. America didn’t become a major player globally until after World War I, when it had finished its industrial revolution. But half of China’s population still live in the countryside, so China has not, by any means, finished its industrial revolution or economic take-off. It’s still in the midst of it, but because of its size — the reason that it’s the biggest economy in the world — it’s going to get drawn into being an international or global player before it’s ready.

China’s got to think, “What is our foreign policy?”, and so on. Because China is different, it will have a very distinctive policy. It can’t just look at America; it’s a very different culture with a very different set of values. So it is going to have to work out what its distinctive foreign policy is going to be. Managing its rise, managing its relationships with the rest of the world and with the United States, its most important relationship, are going to be very consuming.

Third, it’s about governance. The Chinese government will have to keep changing, keep performing, because if it doesn’t, it will get out of sync, out of kilter. It is going to have an asymmetrical relationship with society, and that will store up big problems. What it has done so well so far, it has to keep doing well, otherwise there would be serious political consequences — it would grow out of touch with the people.

I think the government can do it. I think Chinese governance is very impressive. It’s the oldest statecraft in the world. I think it is probably the greatest tradition of statecraft in the world, so the government is very competent. It has a lot of historical resources. But just saying that doesn’t solve the problem. The government system is going to have to be more accountable, more representative, more transparent, more institutionally innovative, less top-down — and those are big challenges.

But I am confident that China can be successful, and I think it is going to. I’m not expecting a hard landing, I’m not saying it’s impossible. I do expect it to make this economic transition we’re talking about and maintain a growth rate of about 5 to 7 per cent probably over a couple of decades. By then, it will be a very different economy.

I do think that, with China’s government tradition so strong and its achievements so powerful, it will be able to sustain this kind of dynamic of reform with very Chinese characteristics, not Western. The signs are positive, but you never know the future, you never know what’s going to happen.

Beijing has been carrying out land reclamations in the South China Sea, something with which the other countries that have rival claims to the waters are not very happy. Looking at China’s foreign policy in this aspect, is it really benign?

The other countries have carried out land reclamations too. China is not the first. Vietnam and the Philippines have also done that, and they also have airstrips on their land features.

Certainly, the other claimants, mainly Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, in varying degrees are disgruntled with what the Chinese are doing. Malaysia has maintained a good relationship with China, despite the differences over their claims on the Spratlys. I interviewed Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, last Wednesday, and he was very positive about China. He thinks China is a benign force as well. He says that if China is treated properly, it will be a benign force.

Now, Vietnam and the Philippines are in different situations. Vietnam is a long-standing adversary of China; it’s had to live next to China forever.

And for the past thousand years, they’ve had a problematic relationship. So, this is a piece of history that is going to be played out.

I think the Philippines is playing the American game. The Americans have decided to have a big role in the Philippines.

What’s going to happen? There’s not going to be a war, there’s not going to be any military exchanges. There will be a settlement, but it will take time and it will be in the long run and on Chinese terms, because China is so powerful.

But you see, for the Chinese, I don’t think it’s about the resources (in the South China Sea). I think it’s mainly about security and also their historical view, which is that this was a Chinese sea, or a Chinese lake.

I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. I listen to the Chinese claim, because you have to listen to where they’re coming from. And it is coming from a different history and position and point of view from other countries or the recent post-1945 maritime law. China’s going to be a big player in the world; ultimately, it will be the dominant player. All international law now is Western law. And China’s going to be more and more a shaper of global law. It is bothered about American military presence in the South China Sea. The Americans have a much bigger military presence in the South China Sea than the Chinese.

But I agree that it’s a problem for countries in this region. The Chinese and the Vietnamese could carry on arguing. It might boil over, because they’re used to getting on with each other as well as falling out with each other. The Philippines is all about the US. Malaysia will make a settlement when it has a chance and Brunei will make a settlement. And none of the other Association of South-east Asian Nations countries are claimants — of the 10, only four have claims to the waters. The majority are not. Singapore is not, so it has remained steadfastly neutral.

China lags behind America in innovation. How and when can we see the Chinese equivalent of Apple, Nike, IBM and so on?
What you’ve got to remember is that a catch-up society, a catch-up economy, is not an innovative economy. I mean, it’s innovative in its capacity to copy, so we shouldn’t think of it as simply sort of inert and dead. There is innovation in copying, but it’s still basically copying. They are not your own inventions, innovations, resources or research and development. All poor countries start off essentially as catch-up economies, and that’s why they can grow very quickly, because they’re closing the gap. And all the economies in this region — or most of them — have gone through that process.

Japan was the first, and it used to make copycat goods. It used to be a relatively poor society, and then Japan became a byword for lots of very impressive products. Korea has gone through the same journey, roughly the same time that Singapore went through it, and has some cracking companies like Samsung and Hyundai. China would just be following in those tracks, and I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that it’s going to develop some really formidable companies.

It’s got some formidable companies now, like Lenovo, Huawei, Xiaomi. On the Internet, Baidu is a very effective search engine, and I think the reason that Google pulled out of China is that Baidu gave it a competitive beating. And then you’ve got Alibaba and Tencent. China has some very good firms already.

In fact, it looks as if China’s been able to develop firms like these of a very high capacity and quality in cyberspace, in a way that it’s found much more difficult to with consumer products. It has, so far, not really been able to develop a successful domestic car firm. There are lots of firms, like Geely and Chery, but they’ve not made a big international impact.

Over time, the Chinese will develop in these areas. Maybe not as fast as they should be, but in the areas they have, they’ve been brilliantly successful, like with Alibaba, which had the biggest IPO offering on the New York Stock Exchange.

China military says army yet to fully embrace rule of law

5 May 2015

BEIJING - China's armed forces, the largest in the world, have yet to become a military which fully follows the law, its official newspaper said on Tuesday, underscoring the problem of rooting out deeply-seated corruption.

Weeding out graft in the military is a top goal of President Xi Jinping, chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls China's 2.3 million-strong armed forces.

Serving and retired Chinese military officers have said military graft is so pervasive it could undermine China's ability to wage war, and dozens of senior officers have been taken down.

CASE urges review of foreign property ads

Ng Jing Yng

Matthias Tay

May 4, 2015

SINGAPORE — Some were lured into buying an overseas property with promises of high returns but have since lost contact with the property investment company. One buyer had believed that his property was sited in a prime area but found out later this was not true.

In the light of some consumers losing more than S$100,000, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) is urging the authorities to review how foreign property developers disclose information to buyers, particularly in advertisements.

At the same time, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has announced that by year end, it will implement new guidelines for advertisements pertaining to investments in financial instruments and property, including foreign properties.

CASE has received 13 complaints — seven last year and six in 2013 — from consumers regarding their purchases of foreign properties in Malaysia, the Philippines, India, New Zealand and Canada. A similar number of complaints were made in previous years.

“(Foreign developers) should commit to truthful and honest claims and not make misleading or false representations to investors in order to sell their properties,” said CASE president Lim Biow Chuan, who noted a “recent proliferation” of adverts for foreign property.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Singapore wants kids to skip university: good luck with that

NEW YORK — Singaporean Carmen Kok regrets that she never made it to university. She’s not letting her daughter make the same mistake, even if she has to send her abroad to get a place.

“You can’t rise up in Singapore without a degree,” said Ms Kok, 47, who plans to spend three times what she makes in a year as a hairdresser to send her daughter to college in South Korea. “She may be able to get a job if she doesn’t go to university, but she can get a higher salary if she goes.”

Singapore’s Tiger mums are becoming a headache for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is trying to persuade the population that they don’t need to go to university to have a good career. After a clampdown on immigration and a slowdown in the economy, he needs fewer graduates and more workers to fill the shipyards, factory floors and hotel desks that keep the country going.

Mr Lee, who graduated from Cambridge University in England with top honours, is leading a campaign that includes speeches and roadshows to persuade more youths to join the workforce under a system modelled on Germany’s apprenticeship system. The “earn and learn” program would place graduates from technical schools into jobs, while giving them the chance to continue part-time education.


Mr Lee is the latest Asian leader with an A-starred education system to try to put the brakes on, as universities turn out more and more graduates who aren’t matched to the jobs available. A few years ago, South Korea said it may close some higher-education institutes amid what then-President Lee Myung Bak called “reckless university enrolment”.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Professor Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Yet, many still see it as a “secondary choice”, especially in Asia, where parents tend to believe that “higher education would be the only key to prosperity and success”.

Six out of 10 Singaporeans between 25 and 29 years old completed tertiary education, the highest proportion in the world and just ahead of South Korea, according to the latest World Bank figures from 2010.


In a televised address last August, Singapore’s Mr Lee celebrated two employees at Keppel Corporation, the world’s biggest builder of offshore oil rigs, who had risen through the ranks without a graduate diploma.

“They may not have degrees, but they are working hard and trying to improve themselves,” Mr Lee said. “So long as you work hard, you can always hope for a brighter future here in Singapore.”

The Straits Times has run profiles of Singaporeans who achieved career success after eschewing or postponing college. An October survey by the paper showed readers equally divided over whether it is possible to succeed in the country without a degree.
“The success of this campaign is crucial for Singapore going forward, as it reshapes its labour market,” said Mr Vishnu Varathan, a Singapore-based economist at Mizuho Bank. “It’s a hard sell for Singaporeans who see college as the route to a good salary.”

Lifetime earnings for a typical US bachelor’s degree holder is twice that of someone with a high-school diploma, according to a study by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project released in September. In Singapore, the median starting salary for graduates with a four-year electrical engineering degree was S$3,135 in 2013, compared with S$1,750 for those who studied the same subject at a technical institute, according to data from the Ministry of Manpower.


The South-east Asian nation’s education system is regularly ranked among the best in the world. Students aged 15 from Singapore and South Korea topped those in 44 countries in problem solving, according to a report last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

South Korea is now encouraging companies to hire young people and is pushing for a job-sharing wage system to reduce youth unemployment.

Singapore already has a system that sorts children into different subject-based bands at school after testing starting at age 10. They’re later placed into junior colleges or technical institutes based on exams at 16 or 17. Those going to junior college have a higher chance of entry into a local university.

Under Singapore’s earn-and-learn program, technical school leavers would receive on-the-job training while they study for an industry qualification, according to the government’s budget for this fiscal year. Each Singaporean who is placed in the program will receive a S$5,000 bonus. A pilot plan next year will place some graduates from the technical institutes in apprenticeships in sectors including aerospace, logistics and information technology.

“We can’t become a Germany, but what we can do is adapt some of the very strong points for certain sectors and certain types of skills,” Mr S Iswaran, second minister for trade, said in an interview on Feb 24.


Germany’s Dual Vocational Training System allows school-leavers at 18 to apply to a private company for a contract that mixes on-the-job learning with a broader education at a publicly funded vocational school.

Persuading Singaporeans to go down the same route will be an uphill task after decades of extolling the importance of education. Singapore households spent S$1.1 billion on tutors outside school in the year ended September 2013, according to the most-recent survey by the statistics department.

Every member of the cabinet has a degree, and the civil service continues to offer students full scholarships to top colleges overseas as a form of recruitment.

Two of Mr Lee’s sons went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while his deputies Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Teo Chee Hean have sons who went to Cambridge University in England and Brown University in Rhode Island on government scholarships.

Singapore subsidises the bulk of tuition fees at local universities for its citizens, making the cost about S$7,950 a year for an arts and social sciences degree at the National University of Singapore. That compares with about S$60,000 a year at Harvard University without financial aid for a full-time student.

Many Singaporeans who don’t get into a local college go abroad. Four in 10 graduates in the resident labour force last year got their degrees overseas.

“The government shouldn’t tell people not to go to university unless they can promise the same job opportunities as graduates,” said Mr Kenneth Chen, 26, whose parents spent more than S$170,000 on a sports science degree in Brisbane, Australia, after he graduated with a biotechnology diploma in Singapore. “But obviously that’s not going to happen.”