January 21, 2017

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by Ryan Ong

HARD or soft, how would you like your country’s implosion? That was pretty much the final “vote” Britian was left with since they have decided on Brexit. And with it choosing the former, the pound has taken another, well, pounding of late. It has fallen 19 per cent against the US dollar, largely because the UK needs the EU more than the other way around. But perhaps new British Prime Minister Theresa May hasn’t got much of a choice either way:

AS USUAL, protests dominated the news.  They include concerns about removing the identity of a community and where the residents will live after being chased out. Here’s what’s happening around the world:

 

1. Melbourne, Australia – crowdfund campaign raises at least A$100,000 

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Image a screenshot from Google maps.

In light of the upcoming Australia Day (Jan 26), a picture of two Muslim girls in hijab was put up on the Melbourne freeway billboard. But the billboard wasn’t put up for long as members of the public started sending threats to the billboard company. They accused the digital image of being “propaganda” and said that the two girls don’t represent the Australian culture. In response to this, Ms Dee Madigan, creative director at Campaign Edge, started a crowdfunding campaign to show that “most Australians are not horrible racists”. So far the campaign has raised over A$100,000 in donations. This is also done to ensure that images of the two Muslim girls will be up again on the billboard; not just one but “multiple billboards across Australia”.

 

2. Chennai, India – protest against bullfighting ban

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Image a screenshot from Google maps.

The police in Chennai had to detain hundreds of people, over last week, for allegedly defying a court ban on the practice of a local tradition. The protests have remained peaceful so far but the police is struggling to rein in the political parties, college students and cultural groups that are refusing to leave.

Since Tuesday night (Jan 17), about 4,000 Indian residents have been camping at the Marina beach of Chennai for a protest against a ban on bullfighting. This traditional bull-taming contest, known as Jallikattu, has been popular in the state for centuries. It’s usually celebrated during the winter harvest festival of Pongal in January. Men will go around chasing after bulls to grab prizes that are tied to the bull’s horn. The Supreme Court banned it in 2014 but has only confirmed the ban last year.

According to BBC Tamil, Indian residents have taken the issue to social media, asking others to join in on the protest as well. Even Tamil actors Vijay, GV Prakash Kumar and Suriya support this movement. Mr Suriya said that Peta may have cast Jallikattu as an act of “cruelty to the bulls” but do not understand that by banning the practice, they are aiding in the extinction of a rare cattle breed. Since then, the protest has spread across different states.

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3. Cancun, Mexico – gangsters unhappy about the crackdown on organised crime

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Image a screenshot from Google maps.

The Quintana Roo state attorney’s office at the Mexico beach resort of Cancun was attacked by gunmen on Tuesday (Jan 17). Police immediately intervened when the gunmen opened fire. This scenario created chaos on the streets and in a shopping centre, where everyone was evacuated by security forces. This gunfire has killed four lives – a policeman and three suspected attackers. A total of five suspects were arrested. Governor Carlos Joaquin said that this could be the gangsters’ reaction towards his crackdown on organised crime.

Another attack in the nearby resort city of Playa del Carmen happened just a day before and it killed five people in a club. It’s still not known if the two attacks are related and how many gunmen were involved in the Quintana Roo’s attack.

 

4. Umm al-Hiran, Israel – clashes over demolition of homes

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Image a screenshot from Google maps.

In the 1950s, the army moved Bedouins from their original state to Umm al-Hiran a few years after the State of Israel was created. But now they have been told to leave the place and live elsewhere. It’s now mainly a Jewish town but a local Bedouin tribe claimed that this land belonged to them. However, the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected this argument. The government was in the process of demolishing illegally built homes and this caused a fight to breakout.

During the confrontation between the police and Bedouin villagers, two people were killed. One of the officers Sgt Maj Erez Levi, 34, was killed in a car-ramming attack while the Israeli Arab driver Yaakub Abu al-Qiyan was shot dead by the police. The police alleged that the driver was active in an Islamist group but locals said he just lost control of his car after being shot. More police officers were wounded since the day of the accident as more clashes happened.

 

5. Abruzzo, Italy – four big quakes above magnitude five 

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Image a screenshot from Google maps.

Central Italy experienced four big quakes above magnitude five struck within a day. The president of the Marche region, Luca Ceriscioli, has described this as a “catastrophe”. In Abruzzo, a 83-year old man was found dead in the debris of his barn which had collapsed. Meanwhile, another man was swept away by an avalanche.

The first big quake happened in the morning at 10:25 with a magnitude of 5.3; the second at 11:14 with 5.4; the third at about 11:25 with 5.3; and the fourth in the afternoon at 14:33 with 5.1.

Due to the earthquake and snow, landslides are caused. Thousands of families suffered from power cuts while some villages were left isolated. Mr Ceriscioli called for “maximum mobilisation” and for the other parts of Italy to send help to clear the roads and restore power. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has pledged EU solidarity with Italy after the quake happened.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

WHILE you were sleeping, the United States’ 45th President was sworn in. Did President Donald Trump live up to his campaign promises and style? In rhetoric, more or less. His slogan, besides Make America Great Again, is America First. His economic motto is Hire American, Buy American.

MSM everywhere are describing his inaugural speech as populist with plenty of appeals to patriotism. He shot down the Washington elite, who were in his audience and was scornful of the American political party system. This was said, while past Presidents, Clinton, Bush and Jimmy Carter, were listening to him and with his own Republican party holding both both houses of congress.

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.

“Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”

The power, he said, belonged to the people.

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He didn’t refer specifically to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the North America Free Trade Agreement but he said this:

“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.”

He didn’t refer to Russia or China or the Islamic State by name, but he said this:

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.”

He didn’t talk about the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or military alliances but he said this:

“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.”

Oh. The speech was shorter than past inaugurations, the crowd was smaller and First Lady Melania Trump wore a blue Ralph Lauren outfit.

While America ushers in a new President, here, in Singapore, people want to know about the next Prime Minister. But PM Lee Hsien Loong didn’t say anything more than that it is progressing. He has his own choice pick but the decision on who will don the mantle will ultimately be left to the next generation of ministers. And if anyone thought he would start giving out report cards on front-runners like his father did, he told a forum that he wouldn’t do that. Mr Lee has said he would hand over the baton after the next general election due by 2021.

He also dwelt quite a bit on the “settled” mindset in Singapore where comfort and conformity are drags on innovation and initiative. A “maverick mindset” is needed in the public sector. Ministers and permanent secretaries should support officer if they try new things with good judgment and the best of intentions, even if things do not turn out well.

“Very often in such situations, we have an outcry. The officers in question are berated, disciplined, hung, drawn and quartered – I only exaggerate slightly.”

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

WHEN you think about the SAF Terrex issue, what comes to mind? Perhaps, these points:

a. China must be really angry with Singapore to instruct Hong Kong to seize the vehicles. In other words, nobody believes that this is a Hong Kong administrative measure, no matter how the politicians spin it.

b. China doesn’t like Singapore training in Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province, but then again, we’ve been doing so since 1974… So what gives?

c. China bullies or bribes whatever countries it can and we happened to be on the bullying end.

A fourth point that has been ignored but should be part of the discussion is this: The annual Singapore- China Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting did not take place last year. Why?

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This council meeting, which started in 2003 and usually takes place in October, is co-chaired by Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli and Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. It’s a pity that the question of why it didn’t happen wasn’t asked in Parliament when the SAF Terrex issue came up. Has it been cancelled or postponed and was the decision made pre- or post-Terrex?

A commentator said that cancellation of the meeting was the “biggest indication of Singapore-China relations falling to freezing point”. Mr William Zheng Wei, a Chinese national who became a Singaporean in 2003, posted a column on his WeChat account, which was translated into English and published in The Straits Times (ST) on Saturday. He used to be the editor of the online edition of Singaporean Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao and then chief editor of scmp.com and scmpchinese.com, the online editions of the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post.

He said: “By holding the armoured vehicles as a trump card, China chose to postpone the JCBC meeting and thereby not give Singapore a chance to raise the issue face to face, knowing full well Singapore would try to do so.”

Mr Zheng didn’t pussyfoot around whether China is responsible for the seizure. He said China was “smart” to have vehicles seized in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

It’s playing weiqi or the Chinese chess game of Go, employing strategies that are indirect rather than confrontational to achieve an objective. 

Thus, the issue of the seizure is between the Hong Kong authorities and Singapore, with China hovering in the background like a shadow.

Singapore seems content to keep it that way. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong didn’t raise the matter with anyone in Beijing; he wrote to Hong Kong chief executive C Y Leung. In fact, Singapore has actually gone a notch up – or down. The problem should be sorted out between the shipper, APL, and Hong Kong customs. As far as Singapore was concerned, the nine vehicles are Singapore sovereign property and should be returned “immediately”.

“Immediately” is a demand that is usually accompanied by “or else”, but not in this case. That would be too confrontational. In any case, what leverage does Singapore have over Hong Kong or big brother China? To take a softer stance, however, would mean open season for any pirate (sovereign or otherwise) to seize Singapore’s property while it’s en route to some place. How do you tell someone to return your property when you’ve allowed someone else to keep the booty in the past?

 

A strategic game

Mr Zheng said that the Chinese move to make it Hong Kong’s problem means the seizure can be strung out using the excuse of delayed paperwork. It also means there is no reason for China and Singapore to “talk” about the issue since it isn’t really a “bilateral” one. Singapore and China can remain cordial and civil, giving both sides “room to manoeuvre without losing face”.

Is this happening?

Definitely, since Hong Kong hasn’t even said anything about why the vehicles were seized in the first place. Singapore officials have been running back and forth to discuss the status of the vehicles – and with nothing to show.

No dialogue has been opened between the two countries either.

It’s likely that a lot of back channels are being used among the triangle of Singapore, Hong Kong and China officials to get to the nub of the matter. And it’s not likely we’ll know what’s happening behind closed doors. Plus, the code word is “don’t speculate” – lest it jeopardise whatever is happening or not happening out of the public eye.

So let’s refrain from speculating and ask some questions instead. Does China want something from us in return for the Terrexes? (Read: blackmail). Maybe a more accommodating position on the South China Sea which China insists is its property even though an international tribunal say no? Or is this about Singapore’s relations with Taiwan?

 

Who rather than what

After all, when Singapore established diplomatic ties with China in 1990, Chinese Premier Li Peng had said Beijing would not be “too disturbed” by its continued use of military training facilities in Taiwan. “We sympathise with Singapore’s position and understand its need to build a strong defence force. On this matter, suitable arrangements will be made,” he said.

On this point, Mr Zheng offered a fresh perspective. It has to do with who is in charge of Taiwan.

He noted that the military co-operation between Singapore and Taiwan dated from the Kuomintang days.

“In China’s eyes, Singapore’s partnership with KMT was, of course, not so much of a problem, because KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have a consensus on ‘one China, two interpretations’.”

Mr Zheng noted that the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited Taiwan regularly without protest from China for 20 years from 1973. But between 1995 and 2000, Mr Lee stopped the regular visits, and after 2000, he never visited Taiwan again.

The year 2000 was when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party led by Mr Chen Shui-Bian dislodged the KMT from power. The KMT, however, bounced back in 2008 under the leadership of Mr Ma Ying-jeou. Under Mr Ma’s presidency which lasted till May last year, “cross-strait ties were peaceful and stable, the possibility of war was extremely low, hence Singapore-Taiwan military exchanges were not a big issue,” said Mr Zheng. He might have added that Singapore even hosted a historic meeting between Mr Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2015, the first meeting of leaders in 66 years.

Now, however, Taiwan has gone back to DPP rule under Ms Tsai Ing-wen, who rather infamously created waves when US President-elect Donald Trump took a congratulatory phone call from her.

Mr Zheng offered this advice: That Singapore distinguishes between the pro-independence and pro-unification camps in Taiwan.

He doesn’t say how. But it’s a neat idea, as it involves only re-calibrating Singapore’s relationship with Taiwan to demonstrate its commitment to the One China principle. It’s neat because it doesn’t involve Singapore compromising its position on other issues that have to do with China, such as over the South China Sea, and having to follow China’s lead all the time.

Then again, how do you do this?

And if done, will we get our Terrexes back?

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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That’s what a new World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness report now says. Singapore used to be second, behind Switzerland. What happened? The WEF has included a new component in its indices: social inclusion.

ST reported that this was part  of “the WEF’s call to governments to shift their economic policy priorities to respond more effectively to the insecurity and inequality that accompany technological change and globalisation.

“This means countries that prioritise widespread enjoyment of the fruits of economic growth rank higher than under the old gross domestic product-prioritising competitiveness model.”

Singapore was actually unplaced in this new report because of “missing data”. But the WEF said average scores put it about eighth place.

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The report gives ammunition to those who think Singapore is gunning for growth at the expense of spreading the rewards around. But what was the data that was not available? The ST report didn’t say. The areas where Singapore scored near the bottom among the 30 advanced countries surveyed are access to education and skills, how concentrated wealth is and social welfare.

Access to education and skills? Policymakers are probably scratching their heads over this given the amount of attention paid to opening the education door to all children, right from pre-school level. Then what of SkillsFuture and SkillsFuture credits which gives citizens $500 in credits to spend?

In the area of fiscal transfers, Singapore was placed 29th; that is, second to last, in a sub-category known as social protection. How does this square with the amount of “transfers” that go to the lower income classes here, which the G is quick to enumerate when it is attacked for not helping the lower income group enough?

The G has always touted the rankings as evidence that Singapore is doing well. It will be interesting to see its response to this latest report, especially with the Budget announcements due next month. Can it be that steps to make Singapore more inclusive doesn’t go as far as those implemented in the Nordic countries which hog the top slots? Or that inclusiveness and economic output don’t go together? If so, it’s worth noting that Switzerland, which was No. 1 in the old ranking method fell to just No.3 now, which isn’t too bad at all.

What’s nice to know is that Singapore is No. 2 in basic services and infrastructure and the top scorer in health services.

Is this nice or not nice to know? In ST ‘s continuing coverage of the taxi industry, it reported that the total taxi fleet has shrunk: from 28,300 in 2015 to 27,500 now, with the average rate of unhired taxis going up from 4.2 per cent in 2015 to 5.9 per cent at the end of last year. It’s not good for the cab companies which have to decrease its rents to keep cabbies, but the increased numbers of Grab and Uber cars might well give plenty of part-time and flexible work opportunities to others. But what of those who drive for a living? Will they make enough money?

What’s not reported might be good news too. We’re talking about the haze, which is NOT here. It seems that after alerts were sent out about hot spots in Sumatra and the Riau islands last week, the Indonesians have gotten the fires under control. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

Malaysian motorcyclists

EVERYBODY is taking aim at somebody these days.

Who’s up first? Malaysian motorcyclists. They have been targeted in recent comments on biker safety here.

Data, which Khoo Teck Puat Hospital shared with The Sunday Times, show that overall, 42 per cent of seriously injured riders it saw between 2011 and 2015 were Malaysians. Malaysian work permit holders, who come in daily from Johor, made up the majority of this group.

Riding speeds has been identified as an issue as many riders might go faster to make up for time lost in jams.

Mr Bernard Tay, chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said: “If you anticipate a jam, start your journey early.

“Malaysian riders need to understand that the terrain is different because Singapore is a city and not a small town.”

(But one Malaysian worker said he already wakes up at 4.30am daily to skip the heavy traffic…)

And Mr Ong Kim Hua, president of the Singapore Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club, takes aim at the riders’ basic training and riding culture.

The 50-year-old said: “These are not young Malaysian riders. The need to be first in line, the first to reach the checkpoints, the first to get home is a culture that needs to be replaced with safety in mind. But bad riding habits become entrenched if you do not address them early.”

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Najib… again

Speaking of Malaysians, ex-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamed has taken aim at Prime Minister Najib Razak for allowing “foreigners” to own, build on and develop large tracts of land that would be occupied by them.

While not naming specific countries during his speech at the launch of his political party, Dr Mahathir has spoken and blogged before about his concern that Mr Najib is allowing mainland Chinese companies to buy huge areas of land, particularly in Johor.

Dr Mahathir said: “Singapore was our territory but not now. If we think a little bit, this is happening again.

“Our heritage is being sold, our grandchildren won’t have anything in the future.”


 

Trump… again

And another world leader on the someone’s target board? No surprise here – Donald Trump, and this time, he’s got himself right in China’s crosshairs.

China’s foreign ministry has come out to state on its website that the “One China” principle was non-negotiable. It urged “relevant parties” in the United States to acknowledge the sensitivity of issues surrounding Taiwan.

These comments were a direct response to remarks by the US President-elect – he had said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that there was room for negotiations regarding the “One China” policy.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has had stopovers in US cities in the last week, as part of her week-long trip to Central America. She had also sparked a diplomatic row when she rang Trump to congratulate him after his Nov 8 victory.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Glenn Ong

THE plight of the Rohingyas – a Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State – has captured the attention of many in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak attended a rally in Kuala Lumpur last month (Dec 4), where thousands gathered to protest the treatment of the Rohingyas. Mr Najib said: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place”.

He also called the crisis “an insult to Islam“. In Indonesia, 300 protesters gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta last November, holding large banners which read “Save Rohingya Muslim from Slaughter” and “Stop Rohingya Genocide”.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place.”

– Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak

These protests are not surprising, given that many Muslims in the region interpret the refugee crisis as a persecution of the Muslim minority in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

 

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What is the Rohingya crisis?

little-hope-for-rohingya-idps

Image Myanmar/Burma: Little hope for Rohingya IDPs by Flickr user European Commission DG ECHO(CC BY-ND 2.0)

Denied citizenship by the government in Yangon, the Rohingyas are stateless partly due to a 1982 law requiring all minority groups to prove that their residence in Myanmar predates the first Anglo-Burmese War of 1824. The Rohingyas, who are Sunni Muslims, speak a dialect similar to that of people in Chittagong, Bangladesh. This has led other ethnic groups to regard the Rohingyas as Bengali illegal immigrants, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Since 2012, however, more than 120,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar amid increasing military crackdowns. This has exacerbated the refugee crisis, with many pouring into neighbouring Bangladesh, and embarking on perilous sea journeys to Thailand and Malaysia. The refugee flows have also complicated efforts by governments to crack down on human trafficking.

 

What’s been said and done in Singapore?

As of last month (Dec 2016), Singaporeans have raised more than S$350,000 for victims of the refugee crisis in Myanmar, and also for earthquake victims in Aceh, Indonesia. In addition, the G has contributed US$200,000 (S$267,000) to a “trust fund to support emergency humanitarian and relief efforts in the event of refugee flows”, administered by the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Secretariat.

The refugee crisis was also discussed in Parliament on Monday (Jan 9), when Members of Parliament (MPs) Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) posed parliamentary questions about Singapore’s role in response to the humanitarian crisis.

In his reply, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said: “From Singapore’s perspective, we have emphasised that every government must ensure the safety and protection of all its people regardless of race or religion, and that all people must enjoy the same basic rights.”

He also said that the funds will be “channelled through Myanmar-based organisations to assist all affected communities, regardless of ethnicity and/or religion.”

He added: “At the same time, it is also the right and the responsibility of every state to secure its borders and to maintain internal security.” This basically means that aside from humanitarian aid, Singapore would be abiding by Asean’s principle of non-interference with the domestic affairs of member countries.

This echoes what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in June 2015. In an interview with foreign journalists, PM Lee said Asean “cannot solve all problems, and cannot compel any member to act in a certain way”.

 

Myanmar’s perspective

TMG asked Associate Professor Maitrii Aung-Thwin, a historian from the National University of Singapore, on what he thinks are the difficulties faced by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – Myanmar’s de facto leader – regarding the crisis. In response, Prof Aung-Thwin said that her government faces two main challenges.

“The first concerns the difficulty of the government in presenting its position on what is essentially an ongoing immigration-socio-economic crisis,” he said. “Decades of transnational movement along the western border with Bangladesh, the borderlands of north-eastern India, and other coastlines in Asean has been simplified as a domestic political issue originating in Myanmar,” said Prof Aung-Thwin, adding that this misrepresentation has constrained the ability of the government to act decisively.

“Decades of transnational movement has been simplified as a domestic political issue…”

– Assoc Prof Maitrii Aung-Thwin, National University of Singapore

The second challenge concerns a lack of capacity by previous and current administrations to “address the needs of peripheral areas, such as Rakhine State and other borderland zones”. Prof Aung-Thwin said that this is due to Myanmar and Bangladesh’s complicated post-colonial history, which has “left both countries struggling to deal with internal divisions, civil war, and sectarian violence rather than economic development”.

Last month (Dec 2016), Ms Suu Kyi paid a state visit to Singapore, where she addressed questions regarding the Rohingya crisis in an interview with Channel NewsAsia:

She said she doesn’t think the refugee issue is out of control, but acknowledged that it was a substantial problem. “It’s not just Muslims who are nervous and worried. The Rakhine are worried too, they are worried about the fact that they are shrinking as a Rakhine population percentage-wise,” she said.

She added that “we cannot ignore the fact that the relationship between the two communities has not been good and we want to try to make it better”.

 

How has the issue affected relations within Asean?

When asked about how the crisis has influenced dynamics within Asean, Prof Aung-Thwin said that the issue is one of several others that non-governmental organisations (NGOs), transnational advocacy networks (TANs), and mainstream media have used to “portray Myanmar as a pariah state, part of a larger discourse that was employed to render Myanmar’s military government as illegitimate”.

However, such a move has created a paradox of sorts. “These issues challenged and strained Asean’s ability to defend its member while maintaining its own credibility as a regional body,” he added.

On what Singapore can do to improve the situation, Prof Aung-Thwin said: “Singapore and the local media can help complicate the oversimplified representation of the issue”. In addition, Singapore can also provide a “neutral ground” for discussions and negotiations.

 

Featured image Myanmar/Burma: Still suffering from the impact of Cyclone Komen by Flickr user European Commission DG ECHO(CC BY-ND 2.0)

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by Glenn Ong

EVER since winning the US presidential elections on Nov 8 last year, Donald Trump just hasn’t been able to catch a break – and not always for the right reasons.

His electoral college victory – confirmed on Dec 19 – will see him inaugurated on Jan 20 as the 45th President of the United States. However, this hasn’t been sitting well with many of his detractors, and Trump continues to be the subject of jokes, parodies, and yes – insults.

Trump, however, is not one to take things lying down. The celebrity businessman-turned-President seems intent on sharing – or hogging – the spotlight. In a country where it is common for celebrities and politicians to become the butt of jokes, Trump’s frequent expressions of indignation have been described as impetuous and thin-skinned.

Here are some of the people he’s clashed with so far:

 

1. Meryl Streep

festival-internazionale-del-film-di-roma-09

Image FESTIVAL INTERNAZIONALE DEL FILM DI ROMA ’09 by Flickr user Vincent Luigi Molino(CC BY-ND 2.0)

The most recent celebrity to be embroiled in a conflict with Donald Trump is Hollywood actress and 19-time Academy Award nominee Meryl Streep.

In her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, she called Trump out for ridiculing a disabled New York Times reporter, and for inciting a culture of hate and intolerance, though she stopped short of naming him:

In her six-minute speech for the lifetime achievement award, Streep addressed the circumstances surrounding Trump’s rise to office, saying:

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

The President-elect did not take kindly to Streep’s speech, retaliating in a series of tweets calling her “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood”:

Trump’s labelling of Streep as “over-rated” is a reversal of his previous opinion of the actress. When asked to name his favourite actresses in 2015, Trump said, “Meryl Streep is excellent; she’s a fine person, too.”

In her speech, Streep – who has won at least 157 awards in her career – also called for greater press freedom and more support for the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). As of yesterday (Jan 9), just a day after her speech, the CPJ reported a spike in donations totalling US$80,000 (S$114,900).

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2. Alec Baldwin

alec-baldwin-2008-peta-new-york-city-by-david-shankbone

Image Alec Baldwin 2008 PETA New York City by David Shankbone by Flickr user David Shankbone(CC BY 2.0)

Alec Baldwin’s unflattering impersonation of Donald Trump on American variety show Saturday Night Live (SNL) has earned him much praise from SNL’s viewers, but also plenty of scorn from Trump and his supporters.

In another tweet, Trump called SNL a “totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all”. Yet, SNL’s parodies of Trump remain popular. While many SNL videos cannot be viewed in Singapore, one of its sketches – of the town hall debate – garnered more than 20 million views and over 135,000 ‘likes’ on YouTube.

Below is a full video of SNL’s town hall debate parody, uploaded by another user:

 

The President-elect, who had difficulties getting celebrities to agree to perform at his inauguration, even received a sarcastic offer by Baldwin to show up – provided Trump allowed him to perform the song “Highway to Hell” by rock band AC/DC.

However, not all of Baldwin’s retorts have been caustic.

In a series of tweets, Baldwin told Trump what he would do if he were President: “I’d be focused on how to improve the lives of AS MANY AMERICANS AS POSSIBLE… I’d be focused on improving our reputation abroad, including actually fighting for freedom and not just oil.”

“I would make appointments that encouraged people, not generate fear and doubt,” he added. He concluded with, “I could go on. You want more advice, call me. I’ll be at SNL.”

 

3. Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Image Arnold Schwarzenegger by Flickr user Eva Rinaldi(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Trump allegedly picked a fight with former Republican Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger over the ratings of the reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice”, which Schwarzenegger now hosts. In a tweet last Friday (Jan 6), The Donald ridiculed Schwarzenegger for failing to match the ratings of Trump’s previous hit series, “The Apprentice”.

“The Celebrity Apprentice”, which premiered last Monday (Jan 2) with 4.9 million viewers, is a new iteration of Trump’s iconic reality show, which garnered 18.5 million viewers when it premiered in 2004. Calling himself the “ratings machine”, Trump said he “swamped (or destroyed)” Schwarzenegger.

Mr Schwarzenegger hit back at Trump, tweeting: “I wish you the best of luck and I hope you’ll work for ALL of the American people as aggressively as you worked for your ratings.”

Calling Schwarzenegger out for the show’s poor ratings might have been an odd move, since Trump is himself the official executive producer of the show. However, Trump’s hostility towards Schwarzenegger is not surprising, since the latter stated last October that he would not vote for Trump.

 

4. Joe Biden

After the tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault was leaked last year, US Vice-President Joe Biden was among the many who publicly expressed outrage, saying on Oct 21 that he wished he could “take Trump behind the gym”, a euphemism for settling their differences with a fight.

 

Trump responded less than a week later (Oct 25), saying he’d be more than willing to take on the Vice-President’s challenge, whom he described as “creepy“.

 

While the two have yet to fight out their differences, the verbal squabble hasn’t ended.

Just last Friday (Jan 6), Mr Biden was asked by PBS NewsHour, an American news program, on what his thoughts were on Trump’s tweets, to which the Vice-President responded: “Grow up, Donald. Grow up. Time to be an adult.”

He added: “You’re president. You’ve got to do something. Show us what you have. You’re going to propose legislation. We’re going to get to debate it. Let the public decide. Let them vote in Congress. Let’s see what happens.”

 

5. Charlie Brotman

brotman

Image _MG_9498 by Flickr user David(CC BY 2.0)

Not all of Donald Trump’s snubs are hostile and confrontational.

While he’s probably unknown to people outside America, 89-year-old Charlie Brotman has been the parade announcer for every presidential inauguration since Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President, was sworn in for his second term in 1957. Brotman also made a name as the stadium announcer for the Washington Senators baseball team.

On Sunday (Jan 8), however, the Trump campaign broke with tradition and announced that they would be dropping Brotman from the inauguration. Instead, the campaign has appointed Steve Ray, a 58-year-old freelance announcer.

Upon receiving the notice, Brotman said, “I looked at my email, then I got the shock of my life”, and that “I felt like Muhammad Ali had hit me in the stomach.”

The Trump transition team spokesman, Boris Epshteyn, said that in recognition of his services, Brotman would be honoured as “announcer chairman emeritus”. While Brotman isn’t sure why he was dropped, he said it is likely because Ray is being rewarded for expressing support for the Trump campaign.

While he is “heartbroken” and “destroyed”, Brotman wished his successor well, telling reporters, “I want [Ray] to do good“.

 

6. Mark Cuban

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Image 509306865DH00026_TechCrunch by Flickr user TechCrunch(CC BY 2.0)

Perhaps one of the most well-known public feuds Donald Trump has is with billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban. A vocal critic of the President-elect, Cuban has been dubbed a “Trump troll” for his comical and sometimes absurd taunts. In 2012, Cuban offered Trump US$1 million (S$1.43 million) to a charity of his choice if he agreed to shave his head. Both continued to exchange blows online, with Trump tweeting:

However, they weren’t constant enemies. When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, Cuban had said that he would consider being his running mate.

Cuban changed his position in the following months, launching scathing criticisms against Trump and publicly endorsing Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton. Defending his reversal, Cuban said in an interview, “I liked Trump’s honesty because it was different and had a chance to change the business of politics”.  He added: “What I didn’t realize he was missing at the time was a complete and utter lack of preparation, knowledge, and common sense.”

Last September, when Trump suggested that Cuban wasn’t intelligent enough to understand his policies, the latter issued a dare, tweeting: “$10 [million] to the charity of YOUR choice if you let ME interview you for 4 hrs on YOUR policies and their substance.”

When Donald Trump’s victory was confirmed, however, Cuban took to Twitter to call for optimism:

 

Covering all bases

But just to make sure he didn’t miss out anyone, The Donald made sure to end last year right by sending out a greeting on New Year’s Eve to anyone who has ever crossed him:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Black clock showing 8.30

IT LOOKS like former Member of Parliament Yaw Shin Leong has made a new life for himself in Myanmar. He’s calling himself Amos Rao, said ST, who managed to reach him in Yangon where he works for an education provider. The expelled Workers’ Party member, who triggered a by-election in Hougang in 2012 after he fled the country amid a sexual scandal, had worked in China before moving to Myanmar about four years ago.

It’s thanks to social media that Mr Yaw was “found” – through his Facebook account and LinkedIn profile among other things. Rao is the hanyu pinyin spelling of his surname.

No, there’s no clue on why he goes by Amos.

So while Mr Yaw is in Myanmar, Singapore’s Terrexes are still stuck in Hong Kong although Singapore seems to have hit on a way to get the nine vehicles back. You can read our report here. It has to do with how Hong Kong can’t detain the vehicles since it’s the property of the Singapore G. Put another way, a country cannot anyhow keep another country’s property under sovereignty immunity principles established in international law.

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But Hong Kong’s not a country, you say? It’s a Special Administration Region of China. Constitutional law expert Eugene Tan has weighed in in ST to point out that China too abides by the principle of absolute sovereign immunity and there have been past cases where Hong Kong has followed the line. So it seems that Singapore should get its vehicles back, and whatever problem the Hong Kong courts have should be with the shipping line APL for, supposedly, lack of proper documentation.  “Supposedly” because there’s still no official word from Hong Kong on why the vehicles were impounded in the first place beyond usual statements that investigations were going on. Surely, that’s not acceptable police or customs work?

There’s some good news for older folk. Your employers can’t cut your pay when you hit 60.

We will have a new law to say so and which also allows you to work till 67. That’s the new re-hiring age, up from 65. Now, remember that this is the re-hiring age, not retirement age which is still 62. What it means is that your employer should let you keep your job or offer you a new one at age 65, even at another subsidiary of the company. If he can’t, he should give you what is known as Employment Assistance Payment which should go up from the current recommended range of S$4,500 to S$10,000, to S$5,500 to S$13,000, or 3.5 months’ salary. This isn’t part of the law, by the way, its a guideline set by a tripartite group involving Manpower Ministry, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Wan Ting Koh

THE questions were asked in Parliament earlier today with Members of Parliament (MPs) using some pretty strong words. Cut to the chase of the 40-minute discussion over the detention of the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex vehicles by Hong Kong authorities in November and the issue is really whether China had anything to do with it. And, of course, the other critical question: When will Singapore get them back?

The answer to second question: Don’t know, but they should be returned at some point or other. That is, they cannot be confiscated or forfeited because of “sovereign immunity“. 

It’s a new term thrown up in the Terrex affair by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. Since the vehicles and equipment were the Singapore G’s property, they are protected “by sovereign immunity, even though they were being shipped by commercial carriers”, he said.

“This means that they are immune from any measures of constraint abroad. They cannot legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.” It is a legal principle that is “well-established” under international law and the law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), added Dr Ng.

Hong Kong has been told that the equipment “belong to the Government of Singapore and are therefore immune from any measures of constraint”, said Mr Ng.

That the G has made clear its sovereign rights over the seized equipment is new information. The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) had only previously said that it had conveyed its formal position to the Hong Kong SAR counterpart on the detention of the armoured vehicles.

What isn’t new information: That Hong Kong authorities responded that the ongoing investigation would need time and the matter would be handled in accordance with Hong Kong’s laws.

This was the answer Mr Ng gave in response to some very pointed questions asked by Members of Parliament (MP).  Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang had asked if Hong Kong had “imposed conditions” for the return of the vehicles while Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan wanted to know whether Hong Kong Customs had “openly stated problems of import declaration” with the Terrexes.

The shipment of nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and associated equipment were impounded while in transit in Hong Kong late last November. The vehicles were en route to Singapore following an SAF military exercise in Taiwan.

According to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Customs had said it impounded the shipment because shipping company APL had failed to provide appropriate permits for the vehicles.

But despite attempts to recover the Terrexes on the G’s part, the SAF vehicles remain stuck in Hong Kong. No estimate or timeline was given for the vehicles’ return in Parliament.

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The issue had drawn the attention of China which, in late November, said that it was opposed to “any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, including military exchanges and cooperation”. Its foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Singapore should “stick to the One China principle“. China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949.

China’s involvement was mentioned by MP Zaqy Mohamad, who asked what the state of the Singapore-China relationship was in view of the seizure. Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong also asked on what grounds the G had made the assumption that China had not weighed in with the Hong Kong authorities. 

To this, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that he didn’t want to “engage in conspiracy theory” and that both China and Hong Kong had said the situation would or should be handled in accordance to Hong Kong’s laws. He added that the G has always been adhering to the One China policy and would continue to do so in the future.

He also said that there was no need to engage in”megaphone diplomacy“. Chinese media and commentaries have been critical of Singapore, suggesting that Singapore should give up its military training in Taiwan or compromise its relationship with China.

Mr Low asked if China’s progress as a superpower had made it “arrogant, aggressive, and to become a big bully?”

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said that China’s rise brought “enormous benefits”. He said:

We have to focus on the opportunities, whilst at the same time, recognising that there will be issues to resolve from time to time. Now, this is where we have to learn to take things in our stride.”

It is not the first time Hong Kong Customs has seized military equipment belonging to other states, said Mr Ng in response to a question by MP Sun Xueling about Singapore’s experience with Hong Kong authorities. In 2010, it detained a K21 light tank and armoured military carrier belonging to South Korea, apparently due to a missing Customs document.

According to ST, the vehicles were returned to South Korea through China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs two months later. 

So if it only took two months in South Korea’s case, is it about time the nine Terrexes were returned to Singapore?

Update:

Following Mr Ng’s address in Parliament, China has said that all parties should be “cautious with their words and actions”. In response to a reporter’s question during a regular briefing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Lu Kang said: “It is hoped that all relevant countries, including Singapore, can earnestly respect the one-China policy, which is the fundamental prerequisite for China to develop ties with other countries.”

“Second, we hope the Singaporean side can respect the laws established by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR),” he said, adding that the Hong Kong SAR is handling the issue in accordance to relevant laws.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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