Thursday, December 31, 2015

Exporting the Chinese model

Francis Fukuyama

30 Dec 2015

STANFORD • As 2016 begins, a historic contest is under way over competing development models - that is, strategies to promote economic growth - between China, on the one hand, and the United States and other Western countries on the other. Although this contest has been largely hidden from public view, the outcome will determine the fate of much of Eurasia for decades to come.

Most Westerners are aware that growth has slowed substantially in China, from over 10 per cent a year in recent decades to below 7 per cent today (and possibly lower). The country's leaders have not been sitting still in response, seeking to accelerate the shift from an export-oriented, environmentally damaging growth model based on heavy manufacturing to one based on domestic consumption and services.

But there is a large external dimension to China's plans as well. In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced a massive initiative called "One Belt, One Road", which would transform the economic core of Eurasia. The One Belt component consists of rail links from western China through Central Asia and thence to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The strangely named One Road component consists of ports and facilities to increase seaborne traffic from East Asia and connect these countries to the One Belt, giving them a way to move their goods overland, rather than across two oceans, as they currently do.

Moral Dispute or Cultural Difference?



NOVEMBER 23, 2015

The word “relativism” tends to generate strong reactions. This is odd, given that the word is not generally used with a clear and agreed upon meaning. I want to offer a specific proposal about what it means, with a view to navigating the following “real-world” problem, discussed by Alex Rosenberg here at The Stone in July: What should we do when we face what are often described as irresolvable moral disagreements?

It’s possible for two people to live in different moral worlds, in which different moral truths hold.
In a disagreement, two parties affirm and deny the same thing; because the parties contradict each other, they cannot both be right; because they cannot both be right, there is something to be resolved between them by figuring out which of them is mistaken; a disagreement remains unresolved so long as both parties continue to think the other is mistaken; it is irresolvable when there is no method by which to resolve it.

Are there any such irresolvable disagreements?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Falling oil prices and Saudi Arabia

Saudi posts record US$98 billion deficit in 2015: Ministry

Revenues were estimated at US$162 billion, well below projections and 2014 income. 

28 Dec 2015

RIYADH: OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia posted a record $98 billion budget deficit in 2015 due to the sharp fall in oil prices, the finance ministry said on Monday (Dec 28).

Revenues were estimated at 608 billion riyals (US$162 billion), well below projections and 2014 income, while spending came in at 975 billion riyals (US$260 billion), ministry officials announced at a press conference in Riyadh.

Future Trends 2065: Whither Singapore?

[Some of these may have been saved previously, but this is a thematic collection of the essays.]

JUN 14, 2015

Chua Mui Hoong
Opinion Editor

What do you get when a bunch of thinkers - some sombre, some out-of-the-box, all specialists in their fields - are tasked to put on their horizon-scanning caps to imagine the future?

A cornucopia of ideas, that's what.

The Straits Times has been running a series of essays on Mondays in the Opinion pages from leading thinkers, titled SG+50: Future Trends 2065.

Their brief: Write about trends that will affect Singapore in the next five decades.

We have published five so far; and have another 15 to go. The series is supported by Singapore's port operator PSA.

As the editor in charge of commissioning and shaping this series, I've been having an exhilarating journey reading the essays as they land in my mailbox.

Tips for First-Time Buyers [New York City housing situation]

With the median price for a Manhattan apartment nearing the $1 million mark, buying your first home can be a daunting task. And don’t forget to add in the fees.


After renting a one-bedroom for seven years, Catherine and Peter Bertazzoni had saved enough for a down payment and were ready to buy their first apartment together. They knew it would be a challenge to find a move-in-ready two-bedroom on the Upper West Side within their $1.5 million budget, but with a baby on the way, they needed more space.

It wasn’t until they made their first offer, about $1.3 million for a two-bedroom one-bath listed for $1.25 million, that they realized just what they were up against.

“We came in at what we thought was significantly above ask and ended up sixth out of 11 bids,” said Mrs. Bertazzoni, 31, a tax manager at an asset management company. “It was a real wake-up call.”

Monday, December 28, 2015

When gun violence felt like a disease, a US city turned to the CDC

 DECEMBER 25, 2015

WILMINGTON (Delaware) — When epidemiologists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came to this city, they were not here to track an outbreak of meningitis or study the effectiveness of a particular vaccine.

They were here to examine gun violence.

This city of about 70,000 had a 45 per cent jump in shootings from 2011 to 2013, and the violence has remained stubbornly high; 25 shooting deaths have been reported this year, slightly more than last year, according to the mayor’s office.

A city councillor, Dr Hanifa G N Shabazz, said the violence felt like an illness, so city and state leaders turned to the nation’s best-known disease specialists for help investigating it.

“Just like any other epidemic,” Dr Shabazz said, “we need to be quarantined, categorised by severity, infused with nutrients, healthy substance, programmes and healed.”

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dying art? A recipe to save Hong Kong’s handmade dim sum

December 25, 2015

HONG KONG — For the past 60 years, Mr Chui Hoi has risen in the early hours of the morning to prepare bite-size steamed morsels for his small but popular dim sum restaurant in Hong Kong.

Sun Hing opens its doors at 3am, seven days a week, with a loyal clientele from students to the elderly filling the 60-seat restaurant in the western district of Kennedy Town.

At 85 years old, Mr Chui is committed to handmaking his dim sum — parcels of meat, seafood and sweet fillings served in stacks of bamboo baskets — saying that freshness is key to their success.

But many in the industry fear the traditional art of making dim sum is dying as restaurants choose factory-made versions to save money and meet demand.

“Fresh handmade foods are beautiful after they are steamed, but many are made in factories now,” says Mr Chui.

Younger chefs are less interested in the hard graft it takes to prepare dim sum, he adds — it is usually eaten in the morning, so cooks must get up in the night to prepare.

“Young people think being in this industry means no freedom because you have to get up early and the hours are long,” he said.

At Maxim’s Palace in the harbourfront City Hall building — a favourite with locals and tourists — chandeliers sparkle over dim sum diners in the buzzing banqueting hall.

But, like Mr Chui, Maxim’s supervising chef Tang Leung-hung says there is a dearth of young talent to produce its handmade fare.

“The problem with the industry is the manpower. Young people are not willing to join us,” he told AFP.

“Many of them have turned to hotels’ western restaurants and sushi restaurants for jobs instead of Chinese ones,” says Mr Tang, with younger people seeing them as more fashionable and with better hours.


Dim sum — which means “touching the heart” — is a Cantonese-style cuisine from southern China, often served with pots of tea.

Typical dishes vary from parcels of ground pork and shrimp “siu mai” to sweet treats including custard buns and “ma lai go” steamed sponge cake.

Once mainly part of a leisurely weekend ritual which could take hours, many dim sum joints in Hong Kong now have a quickfire approach, including take-away kiosks inside subway stations.

With demand growing and rental costs high, mass-produced buns and dumplings imported from mainland China are a way to up the volume and cut costs.

But there are those who are actively seeking to prevent a culinary art from dying out.

In the kitchen of Hong Kong’s famous five-star Peninsula hotel, teenagers don chefs’ whites to knead dough and fill intricate parcels as part of a cooking contest.

“We need to attract youngsters to join this trade. Craftsmanship is what is needed,” says Mr Frankie Tang, executive chef of the Peninsula’s Spring Moon Restaurant and organiser of the contest.

Of the five finalists making dim sum from scratch, 17-year-old Wu Cheng-long won after making dishes including crunchy lotus-seed pastry and a spring roll filled with fruit.

“We should make people not forget (how to make) dim sum. We should continue to develop this tradition,” said Mr Wu, who won HK$25,000 (S$4,528) cash and a one-year apprenticeship at the hotel.


There is also hope among the city’s food experts, who say dim sum’s enduring popularity at home and increasing appeal abroad will inspire young chefs.

Several of the city’s local dim sum restaurants have received international accolades, including Michelin stars.

“The tradition (of eating dim sum) is still thriving... On Father’s Day, for example, you don’t go to a western fast food restaurant, you go to ‘yum cha’,” says Hong Kong food blogger KC Koo.

“Yum cha” — Cantonese for “drink tea” — is the name for the meal during which dim sum are eaten, washed down by hot tea.

Mr Koo adds that it is important to preserve the handmade tradition as it is a key facet of Cantonese culture.

“I have confidence that there will be new blood as the market is there,” he said.

Back at Sun Hing, the elder Chui’s 48-year-old son Chui Kwok-hing is following in his father’s footsteps.

“I come in at 1.30 am. Sometimes I feel like I have migrated to another country as the hours are upside down,” he says of the exhausting routine.

But he sees a reason for waking up in the dark.

“People like to have dim sum in the morning, to be energised with some tea before going to work,” he told AFP.

“I feel happy when people think the food is delicious.”

He adds that he wants to preserve the restaurant’s hard-won reputation.

“My dad is already 85-years-old but he still works here — as the young generation, we should try to be even better.” AFP

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thucydides Trap? Prospects better than they look

Chan Heng Chee
Chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities,
Singapore University of Technology

Dec 19, 2015

Are the United States and China headed on an inevitable collision course that will lead to war? Not when shared threats and opportunities can guide leaders to an escape from the "Thucydides Trap", which predicts war between a rising and the incumbent superpower.

What sort of a world are we facing going forward? Will the United States and China go to war?

Globally, there is a sense of great unease as we see and palpably feel the strategic shifts unfolding before us. A recent meeting in Singapore organised by the Asia Society and the S. Rajaratnam Endowment gathered a number of distinguished current and former office-holders, diplomats, strategic intellectuals and business leaders from the Asia-Pacific to discuss the dynamics of "Asia Rising" and its impact in the region and the world.

Professor Graham Allison from the Harvard Kennedy School published a provocative article just before Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the US which set Washington abuzz.

In the article titled "The Thucydides Trap: Are the US and China headed for war?", Prof Allison argues that in his study of 16 cases of the rise of a new power in history, 12 ended up in war. "It was the rise of Athens and the fear of Sparta that made war inevitable."

He concludes that in the case of the US and China ,while war is not inevitable, it is very likely. He warned: "A risk associated with the Thucydides Trap is that business as usual - not just an unexpected, extraordinary event -can trigger large-scale conflict."

His presentation in Singapore was more nuanced and he argued that wise leadership in the US and China could help avoid the conflict.

In fact, the meeting quickly recognised that the entire global scene needed careful tending. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his keynote address reminded everyone that the world was seeing several fragilities coming together, and this was not a passing phase.

In the economic realm, we see the growing insecurity of the middle class in the US and advanced countries. The world is also affected by China's slowdown and its shift to higher- value manufacturing, which means it produces what it previously imported.

In the political realm, the centre is weakening, with extreme views capturing a larger segment of society than at any time in the post-World War II period. Finally, terrorism will be a continuing global reality. It would take a long time to resolve conflicts within Islam, geopolitical fights in the Middle East and the social legacies of segregated immigrant communities in some advanced economies.

DPM Tharman noted that "geoeconomics unlike geopolitics allows us to look at the world not as a zero-sum game".

Geopolitics for the major powers sees power shifting to one at the expense of the other. Geoeconomics is not zero-sum because everyone benefits from growth and enhanced interdependence. "It mitigates the inevitable tensions as the geopolitics shifts." But he also noted that there is now a growing disjunct between the central influence on global financial flows, which is the US, and the centre of global economic flows, which is increasingly China. The disjunct was a source of instability, especially for Asia's emerging economies, and it would take a long time to rebalance global finance.

It was China's rise that consumed the discussions. I came away with the distinct impression that while the participants heard war between the US and China was very likely, they thought more in terms of possibility, no one showed imminent anxiety.

Everyone recognised that China was not just another rising power. Size matters. Size changes everything, even when intentions are good. China is the elephant entering the swimming pool and whether the elephant jumps in or slides into the pool, it displaces the same amount of water. So to ask if China would be disruptive or play along with the established order is perhaps asking the wrong question.


There was no disagreement that there is no settled world order any more. Rather, rising insecurity among nations and within nations describes the state of nations and economic interdependence does not preclude strategic competition.

Ascendant nationalism in India, China and Japan will add to the unpredictability of the direction and outcomes of the strategic challenges as these countries work out territorial and boundary disputes.

One speaker claimed he remained optimistic about the strategic shifts because, based on their history, the Asia-Pacific countries are not motivated to re-create the world order. They are about restoring the old order. None of the new powers are missionary and want to convert others to their values. There is absent the "city on the hill" ideal which inspired America to actively promote its values abroad.

But China has just begun to discuss world order internally. China is asking itself what sort of order it wants. Chinese strategic intellectuals never fail to remind others that the world order was designed by the US for the Western world, and that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union was excluded from it. They see the world order today led by the US consisting of primarily three orders - one, the international economic system of which China is a member; second, the creation of a value system against which China is judged to be politically incorrect; and, three, a military alignment left from the Cold War which it has tolerated.

We are told China has asked itself what it should do. Should they "open it (the order) up"?

Before one jumps to the conclusion that there lie the seeds of conflict, China has reiterated in many forums that it is not fundamentally challenging the US.

I think it means it.

In fact, China has done well by the present order. The breathtaking growth of China as an economic power took place under the American-led world order. But China wants its new reality and status acknowledged. Finding that new balance is the challenge of the times.

Dr Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, has described this task as "working for a transition which recognises the arrival of the new power and preserves America's integral role in Asia".

The rivalry seems to be centred on the South China Sea where several states have overlapping claims. So far, neither the US nor China is prepared to step over the line to end in conflict and rules of engagement have been put in place.

China needs to work out the disputes with the four Asean claimant states. Disputes over sovereignty and territory are a matter between the disputants. Freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea is a concern of all countries. But big power tends to suffer from "big power myopia" and do not grasp how small nations feel.


So can the US and China escape the Thucydides Trap?

Prof Allison himself offered clues for the escape. He highlighted "shared threats and shared opportunities" that could bring both powers to work together.

The possession of nuclear power and the nightmarish potential of the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, climate concerns, mega terrorism and fear of chaos would head the list of shared threats.

It was no surprise that of the four cases of no war accompanying the emergence of rising powers, all occurred at a time when the US, the Soviet Union, Britain, China and France possessed nuclear power.

During the Cold War in the 1950s to 1980s, when the Soviet Union was the rising power, the superpowers never went to war. They fought proxy wars instead. And we have seen the US and China work together on climate change for the Paris agreement.

The fear of chaos in international financial and monetary markets would be another instance when both the US and China would want to put their heads together.

On shared opportunities, Prof Allison spoke of the flip side of shared threats and gains in trade.

It is the emphasis on the economy and mutual assured economic development, and integrated supply chains, that would build interdependence. With the

"One Belt, One Road" initiative generating much interest, it was even suggested that understanding the enormous need for infrastructure throughout Asia, US participation in the project should not be discounted further down the road.

Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has written that one of his greatest concerns in the US-China relationship is that the United States and China underestimate each other.

The recent forum provided a platform for all the regional players to discuss the Thucydides Trap fully because, as one participant said, to define the trap is to stop falling into it. Taking everything into account, the prospects are better than they look.

Professor Chan Heng Chee chairs the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities in the Singapore University of Technology and Design. She is also director of S. Rajaratnam Endowment and Trustee, Asia Society.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Inching towards uncertain times

Dec 19, 2015

ST Editorial

The US Federal Reserve's decision to nudge up the key interest rate by a quarter-percentage point ends an era of unprecedented cheap money that was put in place to tackle the global financial crisis, which was sparked by the bursting of the housing bubble and which spread through the US system to emerge as the worst crisis since the 1930s Depression, and thereafter roiled every Western market. Intimated months ago, the rate hike is a cautious endorsement of the health of the world's largest economy, which has emerged from its stupor to expand steadily, even if not spectacularly. As the recovery progresses, the Fed has signalled that it intends to lift rates by a quarter-percentage point every three months until next December. President Barack Obama, who assumed office when the crisis was at its most severe, can look back with satisfaction that he is bequeathing a robust enough economy to his successor, unlike the situation he inherited.

["Cautious Endorsement" or "Optimistic hope"?]

Friday, December 18, 2015

Humans are slamming into driverless cars and exposing a key flaw

DECEMBER 18, 2015

SOUTHFIELD (Michigan) — The self-driving car, that cutting-edge creation that’s supposed to lead to a world without accidents, is achieving the exact opposite right now: The vehicles have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers.

The glitch?

They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well. As the accidents have piled up — all minor scrape-ups for now — the arguments among programmers at places like Google Inc and Carnegie Mellon University are heating up: Should they teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?

“It’s a constant debate inside our group,”said Mr Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab in Pittsburgh. “And we have basically decided to stick to the speed limit. But when you go out and drive the speed limit on the highway, pretty much everybody on the road is just zipping past you. And I would be one of those people.”



Nov 29, 2015


It was an unusual invite from a foreign government that got people here talking in November.

Emigrate, said the New Zealand government, and enjoy a better quality of life in a less crowded country.

On its website, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) compares the lifestyles of the two countries, saying New Zealand isn't as densely populated as Singapore.

It was a repeat of a call first made in 2010 and, yes, it appears that some Singaporeans have accepted the invitation.

Since that year, 20,775 permanent resident visas have been granted to Singaporeans although not all of them have moved there, INZ tells The New Paper on Sunday.

Why Singaporeans?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New grant, second HDB loan, two-room flexi flats possible for Fresh Start Housing Scheme

Dec 15 2015

Janice Heng

SINGAPORE - A new scheme to help public rental households own a home again could allow these second-timers to receive another Housing Board (HDB) concessionary loan. It could also give them the option of buying two-room flexi flats on shorter leases, which is now possible only for elderly buyers.

And while this Fresh Start Housing Scheme will include a new grant, this might be disbursed gradually over time, subject to conditions, as a way of motivating the new homeowners.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong shared these latest ideas for the upcoming Fresh Start Housing Scheme in a blog post on Tuesday (Dec 15). The MND and the HDB are now gathering views on the scheme through public dialogues.

One group consulted comprised former flat owners who are now living in public rental flats. Said Mr Wong: "Most said they wanted to own a flat again for their children to grow up in, but were unable to get mortgage loans. Some also said it was difficult to pay the resale levy in cash."

The Fresh Start Housing Scheme will help them with a Fresh Start Housing Grant, to reduce the amount they need to pay for their new flat, he said.

On Data Sharing by the Singapore Govt - A critique, a rebuttal, and a rejoinder

[First the Rebuttal and the Rejoinder... and then the original critique.]

Govt more open in sharing data

Dec 15 2015

The commentary last Friday ("S'pore can afford to be more open in sharing data") cited data from the Global Open Data Index, which attempts to benchmark openness of data internationally.

In the latest 2015 rankings, Singapore ranks a joint 23rd out of 122 places, and not 63rd, ahead of places such as Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong. In the government spending category, Singapore scored the same as countries such as Australia, Denmark and the United States.

On Interest Rates, Housing and Property, Oil Prices, Employment and the Economy

[This is a collection of news article that paints an interesting economic picture. And by "interesting" I mean "depressing" and "pessimistic". 

Interest rates may be returning to the "old normal" of tracking inflation rates (which is currently low).]

Climate deal may be terminal for coal, but death will be lingering

DECEMBER 15, 2015

It is tempting to take the champagne-fuelled view that the historic global climate agreement reached in Paris signals the death of coal, but even if the dirty fuel is terminal, it will be a long, lingering demise before the final hacking cough.

This is simply because coal is, and will remain for decades, the main fuel in the world’s top and third-biggest emitters, China and India.

While China has changed direction on coal fairly dramatically in the past two years, its pledge at the climate summit that ended last weekend in the French capital is only that its emissions will peak by 2030.

That means the Chinese are allowing themselves 14 more years of increasing emissions, despite their commitment to lower the share of coal in their energy mix to below 60 per cent.

NDP saga raises bigger questions

Marc Lim
Sports Editor

15 Dec 2015

The sandy field issue at the National Stadium was down to unforeseen problems, said the Singapore Sports Hub. Give us time and it will be fixed. The same mantra was repeated with the leaky roof.

But when there is a question mark hanging over the staging of the National Day Parade (NDP) at the very venue built in part to showcase the nation's annual extravaganza, alarm bells must ring. For unlike a substandard pitch or leaky roof, the inability of the hub's bigwigs and the Government to see eye to eye on a national project that was always on the cards goes beyond aesthetics.

It hints at problems that go much deeper, perhaps of a disconnect between the two sides over how the project's public-private partnership (PPP) should be working out, or even how it is being managed.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Paris has created a gigantic carbon 'take-back scheme'

Myles Allen

14 Dec 2015

I wonder how many of the delegates in Paris realise that they have just created the mother of all "take-back schemes".

As a consumer, you may have already come across this sort of deal: if you don't want to dispose of the packaging of your new sofa, you can take it back to Ikea and it's their problem. In many places, you can even take back the sofa itself when your kids have wrecked it.

For the Paris climate deal to succeed, something similar will have to happen, where companies that rely on fossil fuels will be obliged to "take back" their emissions.

The agreement reaffirms a commitment to stabilising temperature rises well below 2 deg C, and even retains the option of limiting warming to 1.5 deg C, if possible. But it also confirms national targets that do little more than stabilise global emissions between now and 2030.

Given those emissions, sticking to within 2 deg will require us to take lots of carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the ground. The parties to the agreement are, in effect, saying "we're going to sell this stuff, and we're going to dispose of it later".

How do I know? Well, peak warming is overwhelmingly determined by cumulative carbon dioxide emissions.

Global supermarkets selling shrimp peeled by slaves

DECEMBER 14, 2015

SAMUT SAKHON (Thailand) — Every morning at 2am, they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.

After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants. Children worked alongside them, including a girl so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some had been there for months, even years, getting little or no pay. Always, someone was watching.

No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Mr Tin Nyo Win was No 31.

Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world’s biggest shrimp providers. Despite repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country’s US$7 billion (S$9.9 billion) seafood export industry, an Associated Press investigation has found shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves is reaching the US, Europe and Asia.

The problem is fuelled by corruption and complicity among police and authorities. Arrests and prosecutions are rare. Raids can end up sending migrants without proper paperwork to jail, while owners go unpunished.

As China and Europe Age, Path to More Children Lies Beyond Bedroom


NOV. 9, 2015

New York Times

LONDON — China’s decision to allow more families to have a second child is an effort to confront a problem that is facing much of Europe, too — aging populations and not enough babies. But reversing a demographic slide involves a complicated set of incentives that have more to do with social mores than with government policies, experts say.

Studies indicate that countries with healthy demographic trends are not those that promote birth, but those with higher levels of gender equality, of trust within society and of immigration.

So even for authoritarian China, raising the fertility rate will not be simple.

Examples of countries that recover from low fertility rates are rare, scholars and experts say. Immigration can play a positive role — not because immigrants have many more children than natives, but because they tend to be of childbearing age and have their children in their new countries.

Unusual factors in SGH hepatitis C outbreak

Paul Ananth Tambyah For The Straits Times

DEC 12, 2015

An infectious diseases expert assesses the independent review committee's report to highlight what was done well, and the need to empower healthcare workers to do their job better

The independent review committee (IRC) report on the recent outbreak of hepatitis C at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has 81 pages of detailed facts, figures, assertions and conclusions. It would be good, first of all, to review what we know about hepatitis C viral outbreaks globally.

Unlike hepatitis A and E, which are spread by contaminated food and water, hepatitis B and C are spread exclusively by blood and body fluids. Hepatitis B is being brought under control globally with successful vaccination programmes in which Singapore was a leader and pioneer. Hepatitis C has no licensed vaccine but, in recent years, there have been a number of drugs which have been remarkably successful in curing the disease. However, these drugs are very expensive and can cost in excess of US$80,000 (S$112,400) for a three-month course.

Patients with acute hepatitis C usually do not have any symptoms at all, although occasionally patients will have jaundice (yellowing of the skin) and other signs of liver disease. As a result, most outbreaks, even in major academic medical centres internationally, were not detected for months.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Keep bird's-eye view of airspace issues

10 Dec 2015

Misperceptions of flight turbulence are exemplified by the common synonym "air pockets", which is misleading because pockets or spaces without air do not exist in nature; the bumps are in reality the result of varying airflow. In a somewhat similar way, there is misunderstanding of the airspaces managed by a country, called flight information regions (FIR). Such management is not a form of control that undermines the sovereignty of another nation. It is in fact the provision of services by a designated country - a flight information service and an alerting service.

Aircraft could scarcely travel efficiently and safely without the presence of seamless, standardised and technically sound services within the different flight regions that every bit of the atmosphere has been divided into. This was brought about by global agreement, facilitated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Moving Asia beyond GDP-ism

Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Dec 8 2015

The planet is adrift and in a mess.

Today, as this year comes to a close, this would seem a pretty incontestable statement.

For one thing, humanity appears increasingly less human - whether in terms of how we treat one another as human beings, or the way we treat nature. There is too much inhumanity.

While considerable progress has been made in recent decades in poverty reduction, there remains a great deal of poverty and misery, the eradication of which demands growth. A lot of growth, however, has been neither inclusive nor sustainable. Inequality and injustice rise, while conditions of living (or, in many cases, dying) due to pollution remain dismal.

As the climate change talks in Paris are likely to produce - at best - a mouse, surely there is an urgent need to ponder the question: Where are we going and what legacy will we leave our children?

There is obviously no easy fix-it, but I shall argue here that while growth may be required, the obsession political leaders and policymakers have had with gross domestic product (GDP) has been harmful.

Crafting responsive housing policies

Dec 8 2015

Public views are being sought on the Fresh Start Housing Scheme to be aimed at struggling families with children, living in public rental flats. At first glance, some might frown at those who've squandered public housing ownership benefits obtained earlier, wound up in rental homes again, and are now back in line for another flat offered cheaply by the state to the low-income. Indeed, the received wisdom, that has made the nation a crucible of self responsibility, is built on the notion that it's both need and the motivation to move forward on one's own steam that justifies wide social support given to those who are down. If such individuals seek to simply cash out subsidised assets, that would be ruinous for both them and society as a whole over time.

However, a changing ethos has led to policymakers seeing the issues affecting low-wage families through the multiple lenses of sociology, economics, culture and psychology. Dysfunctionality can arise for a variety of reasons, like unstable relationships, money woes, unemployment, a family member's addiction or imprisonment, and illness. To implement housing rules strictly could further hobble such families, while lax regulation of benefits might not bring about positive change.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism

Although IS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century.

27 Nov 2015


As the so-called Islamic State demolishes nation states set up by the Europeans almost a century ago, IS’s obscene savagery seems to epitomise the violence that many believe to be inherent in religion in general and Islam in particular. It also suggests that the neoconservative ideology that inspired the Iraq war was delusory, since it assumed that the liberal nation state was an inevitable outcome of modernity and that, once Saddam’s dictatorship had gone, Iraq could not fail to become a western-style democracy. Instead, IS, which was born in the Iraq war and is intent on restoring the premodern autocracy of the caliphate, seems to be reverting to barbarism. On 16 November, the militants released a video showing that they had beheaded a fifth western hostage, the American aid worker Peter Kassig, as well as several captured Syrian soldiers. Some will see the group’s ferocious irredentism as proof of Islam’s chronic inability to embrace modern values.

Malaysia moving towards ‘apartheid’ tendencies, NUS academic warns

DECEMBER 6, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is on a slippery slope towards authoritarian nationalism with “apartheid” tendencies, a professor from the National University of Singapore (NUS) said today (Dec 6).

Dr Syed Farid Alatas, a Malaysian who teaches at NUS, highlighted as examples the proposed supermarket trolleys for non-halal food, a school’s plan for separate classrooms for non-Muslim students, and a Bumiputera-only gadget mall that is set to open this month.

“The lack of a multicultural approach, whether it’s towards Shiites, Sufis, anti-Christianity...we’re on the slippery slope towards very strong authoritarian nationalism with, I would add, apartheid tendencies,” Dr Syed Farid told a forum organised by G25, a group of retired Malay senior civil servants, here on Islam and democracy.

“Next thing that will come is — some Muslims will say I feel offended seeing the non-halal section in supermarkets. ‘When I peep into the section, I can see pork and alcohol’. They’ll say, ‘let’s have separate supermarkets’,” the associate professor of sociology added.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Criminal Law Act is useful — but handle with care


DECEMBER 3, 2015

In a significant decision last week, Singapore’s highest court ruled that alleged global football match-fixer Dan Tan Seet Eng’s preventive detention was unlawful. His detention went beyond the scope of discretionary power vested in the Minister for Home Affairs under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA). The court’s ruling drew criticisms from a former Interpol chief and, ironically, FIFA, football’s graft-ridden governing body.

Based on the grounds for the detention put up by the Minister, the Court of Appeal determined that Tan’s activities were not of a sufficiently serious criminal nature to threaten or undermine “public safety, peace or good order in Singapore”, the raison d’etre of the CLTPA.

The court noted that Tan’s alleged match-fixing syndicate activities took place outside Singapore. Furthermore, Tan’s criminal acts had ceased almost two-and-a-half years before he was served with a detention order. Neither was there any suggestion that witnesses were intimidated and unwilling to testify against Tan.

China's dilemma: Populists could hijack policy response

China and South China Sea

Jiang Zongqiang and Hu Xin For The Straits Times

3 Dec 2015

US assertiveness in disputed region has stoked nationalism in China and risks increasingly aggressive responses by Beijing

[A summary of the issues in the South China Sea. China has made vague claims and have left the exact nature of their claims ambiguous to allow them flexibility in their response. However, the popular opinion of the people is jingoistic and wants China to make them proud... apparently by taking military action and possibly precipitating a war. And that is why government should not be left in the hands of the people. Strangely, Communist, centrally-planned China seems as vulnerable to populism as democratic USA.] 

At the Halifax International Security Forum on Nov 21, Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the United States Pacific Command, confirmed that "the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows and that the South China Sea is not, and will not be, an exception".

However, such actions can make it seem that the US is intent on demonstrating its predominance in the South China Sea. As such, there is no denying that these activities have worked to undermine China-US military trust and aggravate regional tensions by disregarding Chinese concerns on sovereignty and security interests in the area.

It has also stirred up a wave of populism among Chinese policymakers, scholars and netizens.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Singapore's entrepreneurship X factor

Ike Lee

2 Dec 2015

It should not aim to become like Silicon Valley but exploit geography and cultural mix to become a world-class launch pad
I'll confess, I am a late adopter of Singapore. Although originally from Asia, I had not set foot here until April last year, when I was invited to speak at NUS Enterprise's Innovfest conference for entrepreneurs. Since that first visit, I have been back eight times and, each time, I notice something special; something that gets my heart racing.

It's the same feeling I got when I first arrived in Silicon Valley in the late 1980s - a buzz that comes about when a place has achieved a particular critical mass of physical, human and intellectual infrastructure. Like a chain reaction coming alive, this magical formula is the X factor that powers entrepreneurship and innovation. It's what has made Silicon Valley the global ground zero of the tech industry.

Foreign touch in national healthcare

2 Dec 2015

Singapore is hardly the only country facing a shortage of medical professionals, including doctors. With its population ageing at a rapid clip, a shortfall will remain a challenge in the years to come. Considering the global contest for healthcare support, it is a boon for Singapore that many physicians from abroad have found this an attractive place to work and live. Still, figures showing that the share of foreign doctors in the public sector has now risen to more than a quarter do pose implications worth pondering.

The foreign component of healthcare teams is a welcome addition as it would not do to have a shortfall as the nation ramps up its healthcare infrastructure. However, the large number raises the issue of whether the conservative approach in training local doctors ought to have been reined in earlier. The numbers are now being boosted in local medical schools but it is a game of catch-up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

China’s Twin Challenges

Nov 30 2015

LONDON – This month’s monetary-policy statement from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) contained a striking statement: “If endogenous momentum is inadequate and returns on investment low, growth must rely on debt to a great extent.” Those words highlight the twin challenges – real and financial – that the Chinese economy now confronts.

On the real side, China needs to achieve a transition away from unsustainable investment-led growth. Even before the 2008 crisis, China’s investment rate of 41% of GDP was extraordinarily high. But by 2010-2011, it had soared to 47%, as the authorities unleashed a real estate- and infrastructure-construction boom aimed at offsetting the threat to exports and employment arising from advanced-country deleveraging.