Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Greece edges towards the precipice

 Jun 30, 2015


THE Greek government's decision to call a referendum on the terms of the country's bailout prolongs politically what essentially is an economic battle drawing to an end. The initiative undertaken by the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seeks to legitimise its opposition to creditors' demands by registering the degree of popular angst over the austerity policies that his citizens are living with.

Greeks have endured five years of recession, total output has shrunk by 25 per cent and the country's standard of living has been eroded to the point where departure from the euro zone and even the European Union is not the unimaginable catastrophe that it would have been in normal times.

Why we need more light, less heat on sexuality issues


JUNE 30, 2015

The past debates on the rights of LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender) individuals and their implication on public policy in Singapore have generated much heat. These debates have also almost exclusively centred on the arguments of religion versus rights.

Though these two perspectives matter, they leave out other fields of studies, from science to philosophy, that ought to be considered. Additionally, the narrow focus means that those in the middle ground, who may not be well informed on LGBT issues, remain unaware of other perspectives.

Defence of Singapore

[Two articles, one from 2000, and one from 2006 on Singapore's Defence. May be out of date. Or not.]

Unusual trouble brewing ahead?

Jun 28, 2015

Enough signs to warn us that the economy has to break out of its slow growth trajectory

By Han Fook Kwang Editor At Large

These days the news on the economic front is usually so bad it often doesn't seem like anything new is happening.

Same old, same old: the Greek crisis, China's slowdown and its impact on the Asean countries, Japan's stagnating economy, and other equally depressing developments.

In Singapore, the message for some time has been that the country is entering a period of slow growth, it's the new normal and everyone ought to get used to it.

I hope this won't lull people into thinking that bad news is so normal nothing needs to be done about it.

Not especially when it comes one after another, as it did the past two weeks: Four in a row, even in these difficult times, seems like unusual trouble brewing ahead.

First came the news that the total number of workers in Singapore had fallen in the first quarter of this year for the first time in six years.

Not since the global financial crisis of 2008 had the job market performed so poorly, with every sector of the economy shedding jobs.

Economists interviewed said it was too early to be alarmed, that it was expected given the slowdown in the economy; others speculated it could be because firms were moving towards less labour-intensive methods.

Then, last Tuesday, it was announced that inflation in May had remained in negative territory for the seventh straight month.

Defining the Singapore Identity

25 June 2015

SINGAPORE — For a young nation with limited natural resources and whose greatest asset is its people, the character and development of its people is imperative to its future.

According to the Future50 (F50) report by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), the Singaporean we know today is largely the product of the country’s phenomenal speed of development in the last 50 years.

The aggressive focus on economic progress, so crucial in the country’s early years, may have inadvertently bred a mindset that prioritises performance and prosperity over compassion and kindness.

While Singaporeans are generally perceived as hardworking, efficient, well-educated and technologically savvy, we may also have become materialistic. Our endeavours appear to be largely directed at progressing our careers, accumulating wealth, and improving our standards of living.

The Government, too, has consistently emphasised on meeting basic needs by focusing policy on providing jobs, adequate housing and related amenities. A strong consumerist culture exists, demonstrated by the number of shopping malls in our small city-state.

The focus on material well-being may have led to other intangible aspects being overlooked, such as compassion for the less fortunate and tolerance. We need to consider exploring a wider raft of pathways that are not defined by monetary success alone.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Racial integration: What the US can learn from S'pore

Jun 29, 2015

By Fareed Zakaria

IN THINKING about the United States' enduring racial divide, I found myself intrigued by lessons from an unlikely source: Singapore.

To help prepare for a trip there this week - as a guest of the National University of Singapore - I asked the country's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam what he regarded as the country's biggest success.

I imagined he would talk about economics, since the city-state's per capita gross domestic product now outstrips that of the US, Japan and Hong Kong. He spoke, instead, about social harmony.

"We were a nation that was not meant to be," Mr Tharman said. The swamp-ridden island, expelled from Malaysia in 1965, had a polyglot population of migrants, with myriad religions, cultures and belief systems.

"What's interesting and unique about Singapore, more than economics, are our social strategies. We respected peoples' differences yet melded a nation, and made an advantage out of diversity," he said in an interview, echoing remarks he made at the St Gallen Symposium last month in Switzerland.

How did Singapore do it?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Opposition MP J.B. Jeyaretnam asked about Phey Yew Kok again and again

Jun 28, 2015

Opposition MP sought inquiry, Mr Lee accused him of smear attempt
By Tee Zhuo

It was March 3, 1982, and Parliament was in session. Barely minutes into the first item on the agenda, one of the legendary exchanges between the sole opposition MP J.B. Jeyaretnam and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was already under way.

The lawyer and MP for Anson had called for the appointment of a commission to look into the details surrounding the disappearance of Phey Yew Kok, the powerful unionist and People's Action Party (PAP) MP who had absconded after being charged with criminal breach of trust.

Mr Lee shot down the idea, saying any such inquiry would be prejudicial to the charges Phey was facing and that Mr Jeyaretnam's intention was "really to create a smear that there has been a cover-up".

China defends ‘indisputable’ right to reclaim isles

By Albert Wai

June 1 2015

SINGAPORE — Coming at the end of a week where China’s assertion of sovereignty in disputed waters of the South China Sea has drawn much concern and debate in the region, a top Chinese military official yesterday defended Beijing’s “indisputable” right to undertake massive reclamation work there, saying the move is to meet its defence needs and is part of China’s “international public service” to boost maritime safety and security.

“China has always kept in mind the larger interest of maritime security despite sufficient historical, legal evidence and its indisputable claim of right and interest,” said Admiral Sun Jianguo, vice-chief of staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who added that Beijing has exercised “enormous restraint” to keep tensions in check. “China strives to play a constructive role in international affairs with an objective and impartial position, and will never depend on or subjugate itself to any external forces,” Adm Sun said at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

China's Defence White Paper

May 28, 2015
China's Defence White Paper: Clarity in 2 critical areas

On Tuesday, China released China's Military Strategy, a White Paper on its defence strategy. Below are views from a China Daily USA commentator and a New York Times analysis on what's significant about the report.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fey! You cock!

Jun 24, 2015

Ex-NTUC president and MP Phey Yew Kok charged after 35 years on the run: 5 things about the case

SINGAPORE - After more than three decades on the run, former NTUC president and Member of Parliament Phey Yew Kok was back in court on Wednesday (June 24) to face charges first read to him in 1979.

Phey, 81, had jumped bail and fled Singapore on Dec 31, 1979, to escape charges for misuse of union funds.

He turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday (June 22). Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau officers escorted him back to Singapore on Tuesday night (June 23).
Here are five things the case:

Uber - legal issues of

[Two stories on the legality of Uber-like "Taxi" services.]

Ex-NTUC president and MP Phey Yew Kok charged after 35 years on the run: All about the case

June 24 2015

SINGAPORE - Former NTUC president and Member of Parliament Phey Yew Kok finally returned to Singapore, after 35 years on the run.

Phey, 81, had jumped bail on Dec 31, 1979, to escape charges for misuse of union funds. Having turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok on Monday (June 22), he was then escorted back home by Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau officers the following night.

Trace how the case unfolded through stories from The Straits Times archives:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Private home prices to fall 10% more over 2 years: BNP

Angela Teng

June 22, 2015

SINGAPORE — Private home prices in Singapore may decline another 10 per cent from current levels in the next two years, BNP Paribas warned in a research report today (June 22), saying that the Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework would continue to curb purchasing power and is unlikely to be removed by the Government.

Why America is rethinking ties with China

Geoff Dyer

 June 23, 2015

The satellite images of bright strips of sand rising from turquoise waters and surrounded by an intricate network of support ships struck a nerve around the globe. The man-made islands vividly showed Beijing’s slow-motion efforts to assert more control in the South China Sea but, more than that, they represented a direct challenge to the United States which has long policed a waterway crucial to the global economy.

The images, released in April by the Washington-based think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), have contributed to a distinctive shift in the American debate about China. Washington is starting to sound rattled.

Not only is the US alarmed by Beijing’s ambitious foreign policy, whether in the South China Sea or the launch of its own international banks, there is also a creeping fear that America is no longer sure about how to cope with Beijing’s growing influence.
“The consensus of 35 years and five administrations about how to deal with China is fraying so severely that we have lost confidence in the fundamental underpinnings of US-China policy,” says Mr Frank Jannuzi, former Asia adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry and now head of the Mansfield Foundation, a Washington think-tank.

“So, people are beginning to look for a new approach.”

HK, China, Democracy Vote

Jun 23, 2015

[An editorial on the aftermath of the HK vote on their constitution, and the reactions of Asia's richest man in HK.]

Paleo diet? Science has moved on since the stone age

Tim Spector

June 24, 2015

“Our ancestors didn’t eat like this, so we shouldn’t.” This is the main ethos of many modern diets which advise us to exclude a number of recent additions to our plates because they were not part of our distant predecessors diet. There are many different variations on the theme – from all-encompassing “palaeolithic-style” diets to grain-free or gluten-free regimes – which are all generating a massive boom in specialised shops, products and even restaurants.

The general idea is that for most of our millions of years of evolution we were not exposed to grains, milk, yogurt or cheese, refined carbs, legumes, coffee or alcohol. As they only came into existence with farming around 10,000 years ago, our finely-tuned bodies have not been designed to deal with them efficiently.

The belief is that human evolution via survival of the fittest and natural selection is a very slow process and our genes classically take tens of thousands of years to change. This means that these “modern” foods cause various degrees of intolerance or allergic reactions, resulting not only in the modern epidemic of allergies, but also that the toxins lead to inflammation and obesity. So follow our Palaeolithic ancestors we are told, cut out these foods – and your problems are over.

This may sound imminently sensible but as it turns out, the facts on which this idea is based are rubbish.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

170 years in Headlines

Govt not liable for judicial decisions, says apex court

Making state answerable for rulings would hurt judicial independence: Court of Appeal

Kelly Ng

June 24, 2015

SINGAPORE — Should a disgruntled litigant aggrieved by court decisions be entitled to sue the Government for damages?

This question was put before the Court of Appeal in a rare case of a man involved in two civil suits against the Government, which came before the apex court after it was earlier dismissed by the High Court.

The appeals were dismissed, with the court ruling that the state should not be liable for judicial acts, over which it has no control or influence.

In the grounds of decision released today (June 24), the Court of Three Judges — comprising Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang, and Justice Tay Yong Kwang — reiterated the principles of immunity of judges and the state.

Judicial independence is one of the foundational pillars of Singapore’s Constitution and “must not be shaken”.

“Proper functioning of the judicial system demands that the judiciary is not harassed by frivolous claims, and that finality in the judicial process is not undermined by collateral attacks against the judiciary,” the judges wrote. Rendering the state liable in judicial decisions would undermine the judiciary’s independence as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What will happen when Greece defaults

The economic impact will pale in comparison with the political backlash.

Jun 22, 2015

By Jonathan Eyal

Europe Correspondent In London

 IT IS not only the fate of Greece, but also that of an entire continent which hangs in the balance, as heads of state and governments from the European Union get together today for a special summit in order to avert the country's bankruptcy.

A last-minute deal which averts Greece's eviction from the euro currency zone is still possible. But there is no doubt in the minds of all European leaders that the margin of error which separates a durable financial deal from a catastrophic financial crisis remains painfully thin. Europe is facing its biggest political test in decades.

The behaviour of financial markets resembles the psychology of crowds: it's prone to bouts of panic attacks. So, there is no fail-safe way of calculating how Europe and global financial markets will respond to Greece's potential bankruptcy; fear of the unknown is the key reason European governments have tried to avoid the prospect of a Greek default for years.

Nevertheless, it's clear that if no deal is done, the country won't leave the euro zone out of its own free will; the Greek government will simply default on its debt repayments but still insist that it remains inside Europe's single currency area. By taking this stance, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will not only be shifting the blame for the crisis on the rest of Europe - a tactic he has pursued since he came to power at the start of this year - but he will also be preparing for the political battles which await him at home.

Monday, June 22, 2015

42 years, 500 million TEU containers, one PSA

Jun 22, 2015

Tan Chong Meng, For the Straits Times

HAVE you ever wondered why the container is measured in Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), while the ships that carry them are measured in metres?

You are right if you guessed it was an American invention. When Malcom McLean first invented the container in the 1950s, he could not have anticipated that it would become one of the most powerful forces of change in the world. The first shipment, on a vessel named the Ideal X, carried only 58 containers from Newark to Houston in April 1956. The gains in labour, space and speed were huge and immediate.

Today, the largest ships plying the oceans have a capacity of approximately 20,000 TEUs, roughly 300 times that of Ideal X. If we were to line up one mega-vessel's full load of containers end-to-end, the resulting line would stretch over 120km!

China’s rise and the lessons of history

Kung Chien Wen

 June 22, 2015

Arguments about China’s rise to global pre-eminence draw extensively on how we understand its past. Does China’s complex, 4,000-year history mean its ascendancy will be peaceful? Many pundits in Singapore seem to think so. Former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, for example, believes that China’s vision for a New Silk Road is grounded in the same principles of “fair exchange and mutual benefit” that characterised the old Silk Road.

Historian Wang Gungwu, another astute China watcher, argued in a commentary early this month that China’s history and cultural heritage will incline the People’s Republic towards “economic wealth and technological brilliance”, rather than military expansion and aggression.

Arguments such as these are based on assumptions about how China’s history shapes its policymaking and on an understanding of that history as fundamentally benign.

To make better predictions about China’s future and to think more critically about the South China Sea and other China-related foreign policy issues, we need to question how closely a country’s past and present are linked. We also need diverse historical examples that do not necessarily fit with our hopes for a peaceful China.

Can we harvest icebergs for fresh water yet?

June 19, 2015

Dear Cecil:
My lawn slowly dies as we here in southern California suffer another drought and our water agencies reduce deliveries to a slow dribble. Is it technically and economically feasible to harvest icebergs as a fresh-water source? Answer soon, as we're tired of Navy showers and unflushed toilets!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trust the people, share govt data

Jun 13, 2015
By invitation

Expose the body politic to stress by being open with data to spark robust debates on Singapore's future.

ONE of my recent big regrets is that I was unable to attend a single one of the five S R Nathan lectures delivered by Ho Kwon Ping as the first S R Nathan Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). His lectures were brilliant. I wish I could have been there. I also wish that he will now compile them and produce a book. In this article, I would like to develop one of the suggestions he made.

As Singapore moves into a new era, it is clear that we have to prepare for new possibilities. It would be unwise to assume that the next 50 years will all be smooth sailing. Most normal countries have ups and downs. Singapore will also have ups and downs. So far, we have prepared well for the ups. The big question is whether we are prepared for the downs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

India chooses real growth over asset bubbles

Jun 16, 2015

INDIA'S Mr Raghuram Rajan is an outlier in Asia. While other central bankers in the region are pumping ever-more air into asset bubbles - New Zealand and South Korea further reduced interest rates last week, and Australia may be next - Mr Rajan has taken a go-slow approach. It's to his credit, and India's benefit, that he has shown such discipline.
The Reserve Bank of India governor has done his share of easing this year, most recently on June 2.

But he hasn't tried to keep up with his peers in the region.

Short-term rates in India are still 7.25 per cent compared with 5.1 per cent in China, 3.25 per cent in New Zealand and less than zero in Japan. Nor has Mr Rajan followed others in tweaking bank reserve requirements and margin-lending rules to drive up stock prices.

It's no coincidence that Mumbai shares are down 5 per cent this year, while Shanghai's are up 60 per cent.

Let's not wait another 22 years to host SEA Games

Jun 17, 2015

By Marc Lim Sports Editor

THE defining moments of the Singapore SEA Games were not the record-breaking feats in the swimming pool or on the running track.

They were the occasions of national pride and togetherness that the athletes inspired at the 28th Games, which drew to a close last night. And the moments were all the more special for being unplanned and unexpected.

Who would have thought that a broken PA system during the playing of Majulah Singapura at the victory ceremony for the women's 4x200m freestyle relay would result in the SEA Games becoming the hottest item on social media?

The video of spectators at a packed OCBC Aquatic Centre picking up where the faulty system left off and singing the national anthem with gusto touched the hearts of both swimmers and thousands of others.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

No need to fear the death of technocracy

Nazry Bahrawi

June 15

Liberal arts education is failing in Singapore. This is the snap judgment made on some social media posts following the news last week that about 3 per cent of Yale-NUS College students have chosen to drop out of the country’s first liberal arts college, apparently because some of them felt the courses covered a broad range of subjects without going into their preferred level of depth.

Considering that all new setups experience teething issues, the online reaction against liberal arts education is nothing short of a knee-jerk response.

This specific reaction masks something deeper at play — a latent fear of the death of technocracy.

Technocracy is the idea that a nation is best managed by well-educated experts, preferably those who excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The assumption is that such individuals are able to look at issues logically and work through them systemically.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

China's world view, in 6 parts

Jun 12, 2015 

By Merriden Varrall

I remember being in a takeaway food shop queue in China. The foreign woman in front of me asked for vegetables and rice, in English. The Chinese woman behind the counter didn't understand, so the foreign woman helpfully said the same thing, but louder. Not being deaf, this didn't help the woman behind the counter. So the foreign woman shouted in a slow, loud voice, 'I WAAAAAANT VEEEEGETAAAABLES AAAAND RIIIIIIICE'. It was painfully embarrassing to watch, and fortunately, eventually a bilingual person provided some interpretation, and vegetables and rice ensued.

I tell this story as an illustrative parable. There has been much talk of late about the US (and Australia) pushing back more strongly against China's behaviour in the South China Sea, because what's been done so far hasn't worked. My point is that rather than saying the same thing more loudly and hoping for a different response, deeper cultural understanding is necessary.

Kinabalu nudists: Don't cover up good sense

Jun 13, 2015

By Fui K. Soong

CRISIS often brings out emotions that rule over rationality because fear of the unfamiliar is an unknown.

A flurry of chats among my relatives pertaining to the recent earthquake in Sabah sparked an interesting point for us to ponder upon the many ideals we hang on to.

When an unknown fear eclipses our senses, do we believe it or continue to follow rational thinking?

A cousin of mine living in Canada lamented the way local media deliberately twisted news of the remand of "some happy tourists" in Sabah to suggest the archaic parochialism so often stereotyped by narrow-minded right-wing writers.

Right away, words like "strictly conservative Muslim country" and other associated words conveniently come into play. Their contradiction is both blinding and glaring at the same time.

Is the concept of individual liberalism justified over the control of society?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Weaning Singaporeans off their cars

Joy Fang
June 11

The German city of Leipzig has a youthful and carefree vibe with beautiful archaic architecture. With an area of only about 297 sq km and housing 550,000 inhabitants, it is also surprisingly nimble and diverse in its public transport offerings.

Trams are the city’s main transport arteries, supplemented by the S-bahn train system, buses and ride-sharing services that connect key spots along the tram lines. Many people cycle too, as the city has dedicated cycling lanes and bicycle-sharing services.

Tram usage in Leipzig takes up 30 per cent of the total transport mode pie, while cars and bicycles take up 40 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. S-bahn accounts for the remaining 10 per cent. The city aims to lower personal car usage to 30 per cent and increase tram use to 35 per cent in the next 10 years, Mayor Burkhard Jung told me in a recent interview in this city about 150km south of Berlin.

How does this compact and vibrant city plan to wean its people off cars? And what lessons in transport planning can Leipzig offer Singapore?

Keep calm — the health label could be wrong

Henry I Miller

June 11, 2015

Increasing numbers of supposedly health-conscious consumers are choosing products with “free from” labels, from “BPA-free” plastics to “non-GMO” foods. But such labels do not increase public safety. On the contrary, not only are many of the scary-sounding ingredients safe, but manufacturers, in their haste to meet consumer demand, sometimes substitute inferior, or even harmful, ingredients or processes.

The blame for this situation lies mainly with activists and the media for fanning unwarranted public fears. But a recent study demonstrates how manufacturers, by drawing attention to what they are omitting, perpetuate spurious concerns that actually drive consumers to take greater health risks.

The study explores, mainly through the lens of product labelling, how people evaluate the risks of Bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical that is commonly used to harden plastics and prevent the growth of bacteria in food cans — compared with its alternatives. It found that “people evaluate a situation in which scientific evidence is tempered by controversy similarly to a situation in which there is no scientific evidence at all”.

In other words, because there have been questions about the safety of BPA, people disregard the scientific evidence. Concerns about BPA should have been put to rest long ago.

China often misunderstood by others: George Yeo

Neo Chai Chin -

June 4

SINGAPORE — The historical basis of the Silk Road was fair exchange and mutual benefit, and China’s intentions for its New Silk Road vision are no different, said Singapore’s former Foreign Minister George Yeo yesterday (June 3) at a public forum.

China does not intend to subordinate the economic strategies of other countries to its own and is misunderstood by others, said Mr Yeo at the forum on Asia and the middle-income trap organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Mr Yeo, who is now chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network, was responding to a question on what China intends to communicate through its New Silk Road at the forum, which was attended by over 150 members of the business and diplomatic community, as well as policy makers and academics. He was in Kazakhstan – through which the New Silk Road cuts – a fortnight ago for a forum and to look at logistics opportunities.

China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua last month published a map showing its visions of a New Silk Road and New Maritime Silk Road that eventually met in Venice in Italy.

Mr Yeo said the historical basis of the Silk Road, the trade and cultural network that linked China, the Indian continent, Persia and parts of Europe that lasted until the 15th century, was “not on the basis that we must be the same, or that my values become yours or your values become mine”. Instead, it was “on the basis that we protect trade and property and there’s a fair exchange, value is added, there’s a positive sum, we all benefit in the process”.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Asia-Pacific's bet on casino-fuelled economic growth


Billion-dollar integrated resorts are sprouting across the region. What will it mean for Singapore?

JUN 9, 2015


THE Asian gaming industry is going through a shake-out as China's corruption crackdown and slowing economic growth are scaring off its golden goose from Macau - high-stakes Chinese gamblers.

But casino operators are betting that the downturn is temporary and that the drop in VIP gaming revenues will bottom out. Across Asia, the race is on to open more integrated resorts in the region.

By 2020, analysts say the Asia-Pacific region, including Russia, could see at least 17 casino projects coming online - six in Macau, three in South Korea and at least two each in the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Russia's integrated entertainment zone.

As for Singapore, it has seen its share of VIP gamblers shrink in recent quarters, but analysts do not see this rash of new projects coming onstream as a threat to the Republic. The market is big enough, they say.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

No room for tarrying in terror threat

Jun 5, 2015 

ST Editorial

A CASE, apparently of drug trafficking gone wrong, caused a security scare hardly ever witnessed in Singapore. The failed breach of a checkpoint, lying barely 250m from the venue of the Shangri-La Dialogue in the eponymous hotel early on Sunday morning, resulted in one man being shot dead and two arrested. The dead man was the driver of a car that had crashed through security barricades, forcing the police to fire.

Heroin found on the two passengers has led to them being charged with trafficking. Evidently, the driver tried to flee a police barrier which he could have believed to have been set up to nab drug traffickers. In the process, however, he ran up against a security cordon thrown around the Shangri-La Hotel to protect it from a terrorist attack.

Much as the loss of even a single life is cause for regret, events unfolded with a logic that reflects the paramount importance of public safety and order, including the lives of the policemen manning the checkpoint. The reflexes of the policemen, tested in reacting to an emergency, reflect well on their training and mental composure. Given the proximity of the hotel where Singapore's signature security conference was being held, they were right in suspecting the worst.

A terrorist attack on the venue could have cost the lives of many international luminaries attending the conference, including United States Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and senior officials from Asia and Europe.

The timing of the incident - in the early hours of the day, when indolence born of the long quietude of the night could be expected to dull the senses - reinforces the alertness of the policemen who responded to the refusal of the driver to stop and have the car boot checked. Split-second decisions are all that are possible in such situations. The officers involved must be commended for the professionalism and speed with which they prevented what could have been a disaster had the car been carrying not drugs but explosives. This was not a case of trigger-happy policemen gunning down an innocent who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, but of the police acting quickly and decisively.

Would-be terrorists will no doubt draw lessons from the way this incident unfolded. Much of their effectiveness comes from the dastardly way they strike at unwary victims, and the lack of honed ability in the security agencies to confront an unexpected attack. Singapore's security calculus incorporates the countering of the psychological strategies of attackers who depend on guile to break through a nation's comfort zone. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has identified Singapore as a target. Being ready to respond to the terror threat will help keep Singapore safe. 

[I generally agree that this response clearly shows that SG is not taking the terror threat lightly. But I fear the editorial assumes too much.

Firstly, who shot the driver? A regular police officer or a Gurkha?

How many shots were fired? There has been no details from the Police or MHA.

From the bullet hole in the windscreen of the car, the shooter was to the front of the car. How far front? We do not know.

There was only ONE bullet hole. 

Here is the likely scenario I favour.

Because of the SLD, this is no ordinary road block. There were Gurkha officers stationed there. One of them (or more) was tasked with covering the road block. What does this mean? He had his weapon (likely a rifle, carbine or some long arm - as opposed to a handgun) drawn and trained on the driver of EVERY vehicle that was stopped. The moment the vehicle ran the road block and crashed through the barriers, he fired. 

The alternative is to believe that some police officer was able to react with sufficient speed to a vehicle running the road block to draw his sidearm, and shoot the driver within seconds. From the front of the car. 

Not likely.]

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chimps have mental skills to cook: Study

June 3, 2015

NEW YORK — They’re not likely to start barbecuing in the rainforest, but chimpanzees can understand the concept of cooking and are willing to postpone eating raw food, even carrying food some distance to cook it rather than eat immediately, scientists reported yesterday (June 2).

The findings, based on nine experiments conducted at the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in Republic of Congo and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggest that chimps have all the brainpower needed to cook, including planning, causal understanding, and ability to postpone gratification.

They do lack the ability to produce fire. But if they were given a source of heat, chimps “might be quite able to manipulate (it) to cook”, said developmental psychologist Felix Warneken of Harvard University, who conducted the study with Dr Alexandra Rosati.

Whilst the finding may seem esoteric, it lends support to the idea that cooking accelerated human evolution. Cooked food is easier to digest, spurring the growth of large brains in our australopithecine ancestors, Harvard’s Richard Wrangham proposed about a decade ago.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The mother of all security dialogues still going strong

Jun 03, 2015

By William Choong, For The Straits Times

WITH China's controversial reclamation in the South China Sea, many participants had expected this year's Shangri-La Dialogue to be a boxing ring, a reprise of last year, when China and the United States duelled sharply in the open.

In the end, both sides seemed to be part of a diplomatic gavotte. While they raised stern questions, the delivery was more deliberate and moderate. US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter called on China to stop its reclamation in the Spratlys. Even when a Chinese colonel sought to taunt him by saying China's reclamation was "legitimate, reasonable and justified", Dr Carter remained unflappable. The US position, he stressed, was that all claimants - including China - should halt reclamation, not militarise features in the South China Sea further, and pursue peaceful resolution.

His call for all Asian countries "to rise, prosper and determine their own destiny" sounded bizarrely familiar to the entreaties by Admiral Sun Jianguo, the head of the Chinese delegation, who called for "win-win" situations and cooperative security.

The geopolitics of a world awash in oil

Jun 03, 2015

More sources of supply mean energy prices are likely to stabilise at lower prices than in the last decade.

By Barry Desker, For The Straits Times

A DECADE ago, there were fears that the United States would be increasingly dependent on an unstable Middle East and a hostile Venezuela for oil imports. There were worries that US natural gas prices would be determined by the prices of imported liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Today, there is growing attention paid to the prospects of the US as an LNG exporter influencing prices in Asia and Europe. The shift occurred because of the unexpected emergence of unconventional oil and gas production in North America, especially as Saudi Arabia did not reduce its oil production to stabilise prices at relatively high levels.

This development, together with renewed supply from Iraq and Libya which had previously declined because of domestic political instability, as well as reduced demand arising from the economic slowdown in China and the recession in Europe and the US following the global financial crisis of 2008, resulted in a sharp fall in the oil price.

The liquidity time bomb



A paradox has emerged in the financial markets of the advanced economies since the 2008 global financial crisis. Unconventional monetary policies have created a massive overhang of liquidity. But a series of recent shocks suggests that macro liquidity has become linked with severe market illiquidity.

Policy interest rates are near zero (and sometimes below it) in most advanced economies, and the monetary base (money created by central banks in the form of cash and liquid commercial-bank reserves) has soared – doubling, tripling, and, in the United States, quadrupling relative to the pre-crisis period. This has kept short- and long-term interest rates low (and even negative in some cases, such as Europe and Japan), reduced the volatility of bond markets, and lifted many asset prices (including equities, real estate, and fixed-income private- and public-sector bonds).

Yet, investors have reason to be concerned. Their fears started with the “flash crash” of May 2010, when, in a matter of 30 minutes, major US stock indices fell by almost 10 per cent, before recovering rapidly.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Holding your breath in India



For weeks the breathing of my eight-year-old son, Bram, had become more laboured, his medicinal inhaler increasingly vital. And then, one terrifying night nine months after we moved to New Delhi, Bram’s inhaler stopped working and his gasping became panicked.

My wife called a friend, who recommended a private hospital a good distance away. I carried Bram to the car, while my wife brought his older brother. India’s traffic is among the world’s most chaotic and New Delhi’s streets are crammed with trucks at night, when road signs become largely ornamental. We undertook one of the most frightening journeys of our lives, with my wife in the back seat cradling Bram’s head. When we arrived, doctors infused him with steroids (and refused to provide further treatment until a US$1,000 (S$1,350) charge on my credit card went through). A week later, Bram was able to return home.


When I became a South Asia correspondent for The New York Times three years ago, my wife and I were both excited and prepared for difficulties — insistent beggars, endemic dengue and summertime temperatures that reach 50°C. But we had little inkling just how dangerous this city would be for our boys.

We gradually learnt that Delhi’s true menace came from its air, water, food and flies. These perils sicken, disable and kill millions in India annually, making for one of the worst public-health disasters in the world. Delhi, we discovered, is quietly suffering from a dire paediatric respiratory crisis, with a recent study showing that nearly half of the city’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have irreversible lung damage from the poisonous air.

Singapore's 'Chinese dilemma' as China rises

Jun 01, 2015


How will Singapore fare, as a majority Chinese society in the region, with a China expected to be more assertive in the future?
By Wang Gungwu 
For The Straits Times

THE United States talks about re-balancing to Asia; the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) wants a strategic balance between China and America. After 50 years, Singapore has maintained, like Asean, that it does not want to have to choose between America and China in the region.

But what of China? What does China want?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Save refugees from the World of Disorder

May 31, 2015

Take an interest in their plight and give them the respect they deserve
By Sunday with Lydia Lim Associate Opinion Editor

Singaporeans' favourite national song by far is a tuneful tribute called Home. Penned by Dick Lee and first sung by Kit Chan, it describes a place where people build their dreams together.

The song is emblematic of Singapore not just for what it says but also for what it does not say but assumes - that the place one calls home is peaceful, harmonious, orderly.

That may sound boring but it is no small matter to the millions of people who lack such a home. In fact, if there is a theme writ large in the news stories of recent months, it is that for a shockingly large number of people around the globe, home has become not a place where one's heart longs to be but from where one must flee - to escape death and destruction, and in search of a decent life.

Last year, the United Nations refugee agency announced that the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide had, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.

The plight of the Rohingya has brought this tragedy closer to home. It has made Singaporeans more aware of the horrors of life as a refugee - a person unwelcome in the place of one's birth and in the countries where one seeks to settle.