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:

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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A Casio digital watch showing 8:30 by Shawn Danker
A Casio digital watch showing 8:30

THE Labour Movement has outlined its recommendations for Budget 2017, with a focus on getting workers, employers and the G to adapt more quickly to the changing economy.

For workers:

  • More modular courses (for constant skills upgrading)
  • “Returnship” programmes for women re-entering the workforce (like internships, where workers get to try out the job before deciding to train/retrain)
  • Special Employment Credits for older workers and returning women
  • More legal protection, CPF help for freelancers

For employers:

  • Support hiring that is skills-based instead of academic qualification-based (because that’s what gets the job done)
  • Improved apprenticeship programmes (the best way to learn job-related skills is to do the job)
  • Targeted productivity funding (tailored for each sector’s needs)
  • Funds for SMEs to improve workplace safety and health

For the G:

  • Paid training leave for SkillsFuture courses (because $500 doesn’t buy you time off from work)
  • Skills and salary data from the Jobs Bank (to know what’s in demand and prepare for it)
  • Amend procurement law to allow vendor contract renegotiations (in situations where productivity/technology improves, for example)

Will NTUC’s wishes come true? We’ll find out on Feb 20 when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers the Budget speech.

It’ll be a hard Brexit. Another widely-watched list is UK PM Theresa May’s speech that underscored her administration’s “Brexit means Brexit” stance. Markets rallied when she pledged that Parliament will have to agree to the deal.

A hard Brexit means that the UK will not want any half measures like staying partially in the EU single market. It will then negotiate trade, immigration and other international agreements as an independent nation.

She warned her EU counterparts against trying to punish the UK with a raw deal, saying that she would rather Brexit with no agreement from the EU than accept a “bad deal”.

The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest Singapore-China forum, will be held next month, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting is co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

Observers had noted that the annual meeting failed to take place last year and with the Terrex seizure issue straining bilateral ties, speculation was that the missed meeting was another sign of deteriorating relations.

Both foreign ministries are upbeat about relations but mum on what is on the agenda. Everyone is guessing: Taiwan? Terrexes? Territorial disputes?

 

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 Wan Ting Koh

MORE signs showing where you can use your e-bikes and personal mobility devices (PMDs) will soon dot road and path-sides, but what compensation can you really get if you are hit by these devices?

This was a question asked by Members of Parliament (MPs) during yesterday’s second reading of the Active Mobility Bill. Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said that with the Bill, there would be clearer rules governing the use of transport devices, including the classification of paths for pedestrian use and shared use.

Related: Word of the Day: Car-lite

In case you didn’t know, there are four different kinds of paths which will be demarcated soon. First, there is the footpath where you can ride your bicycles and PMDs. E-bikes are banned from this type of path. Then there is the cycling and shared path, where bicycles, e-bikes and PMDs are allowed. There is the pedestrian-only path. And finally, roads, where only bicycles and e-bikes are allowed.

The penalty for devices that go where they shouldn’t: a maximum fine of $1,000, or a three-months jail term, or both, for first-time offenders. This applies to PMD riding on pedestrian-only paths and e-bikes that go on footpaths. The same penalty goes for speeding on public paths.

For PMDs that go on the roads, however, users will be fined a maximum of $2,000, or a three-month jail term, or both, for first-time offenders.

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The heavy penalties come on the back of several high-profile accidents involving PMDs and e-bikes in the recent months. In September last year, 53-year-old Madam Ang Liu Kiow went into a coma after being hit by an e-scooter. She underwent two brain operations.

More than 700 cyclists and PMD users were caught for reckless riding since May last year, while Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said last March that the number of e-bike accidents increased from six in 2013 to 27 in 2015.

NMP Randolph Tan pointed out that too many signs might have its own problems.

Said Assoc Prof Tan: “If incidents increase and arguments about right of way become more prevalent, will we be seeing a call for more directional signs on pedestrians pathways?… A proliferation of signages will only spawn a new set of challenges. Right of way where pathways intersect with driveways could also lead to increase chances of disputes and accidents.”

What will also be more visible apart from signs: registration plates for e-bikes. Mrs Teo said that e-bikes will have to be registered to an owner, especially since these devices are more prone to illegal modification.

However MPs seemed to be more concerned about what recourse pedestrians could get if they are involved in accidents with these devices.

Some pointed out that PMD users, who aren’t required to be registered, won’t be identifiable in cases of hit-and-run accident.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, Mr Melvin Yong and Mr Zainal Sapari renewed the call for mandatory third-party insurance, which was, last year, rejected by Mrs Teo as “too onerous and costly” for the vast majority of PMD users who were responsible.

She said in the Oct 10 session of Parliament last year that pedestrians injured in accidents involving these devices can get compensation through civil lawsuits or private settlements.

However Mr Sitoh disagreed yesterday, saying that civil lawsuits would be expensive and that victims in hit-and-run accidents with PMDs would have no recourse if the users could not be identified. He added that the effort and cost to get insurance “should not be an impediment” to implementing mandatory insurance.

The same concern about unidentifiable PMD users was echoed by other MPs, such as Ms Joan Pereira, who suggested that devices be “sold with packaged personal accident insurance” She also asked that the insurance be “tagged to the equipment and kept updated as long as they are in use”. This is so victims can be assured of compensation, she added.

To these suggestions, Mrs Teo replied that while third-party insurance was encouraged, it was not mandatory due to the “broad range of users” who use the devices, including those who use them only occasionally, or those who are less well-off.

“Insurance comes at some cost, and it is not an insignificant amount… it is not clear who should be targeted for mandatory insurance,” said Mrs Teo. She added that where cyclists and PMD users are at fault, they may be prosecuted and the court will consider compensation.

Currently, only NTUC income offers third-party insurance for users of PMDs, e-bikes and bicycles, among other devices.

 

Other issues raised by MPs:

Apart from signs and third-party insurance, MPs gave other suggestions in Parliament, including having PMD users sit for theory tests and having them don mandatory safety gear. Mr Yong, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal proposed that PMD users take a basic safety course.

Mr Ang also added that while one can travel with foldable bicycles and PMDs with greater ease, there remained a lack of parking and storage spaces in public places and buildings. He was also an advocate for protective gear to be made compulsory for PMD users.

Other MPs, such as Ms Chan and Mr Dennis Tan said that familiarity with road etiquette should be inculcated when riders first start riding, with particular attention given to the young and those still schooling.

Foreign workers using bicycles were also a topic with some of the MPs, with Mr Pritam Singh saying that a key challenge would be to “educate a large and transient foreign worker community” of cycling norms. Mr Tan added that the huge influx of foreign workers in the 2000s resulted in a huge increase in the number of people using bicycles. “Many also followed the cycling culture: ignored the road safety rules because of lax enforcement,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Henry Kwek and Dr Teo Ho Pin suggested means of educating the public and for enforcing the new rules. Dr Teo said a 24-hour hotline for complaints could be set up, for instance, on top of installing CCTVs. Mr Kwek suggested that advertisements of desired behaviours could be shown in cinemas and websites such as SGAG and Mothership.

 

Additional reporting by Lim Qiu Ping.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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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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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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Morning Call, 0830, clock

SOME people think so and there’s a column in ST which argues the case. An Australian with a Phd for research in corporate governance in China says that Singapore should “move away from Uncle Sam’s embrace” as the headline put it. Mr Michael Tan Ngee Tiong thinks Singapore should follow the lead set by the Philippines which has said publicly (but not quite done it yet) that it would sever its military links with the US and prefers to have China as its new best friend.

“Singapore’s journey away from the embrace of Uncle Sam should be gradual and graceful. It will not be easy but it must be done – for the sake of future generations of Singaporeans who must live in a new world,” he wrote.

“Singapore’s concerns over Malay/Islamic chauvinism will recede as Asean plays a more integral role in security considerations and China becomes the new superpower that the Asean neighbourhood must learn to live with.”

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Before you get all riled up because you simply can’t envisage Singapore leaders doing a rude Duterte and giving the finger to the US, let’s hear/read what he had to say.

Here’s the short version: It was right for Singapore to be close to the US in the past because it was supremo uno. But that role is gradually being played by China, and the Chinese can do a small country like Singapore much damage if it wants to. Don’t forget that the Chinese are backing the building of the new port in Malacca and this could mean the presence of the Chinese navy as well as a diversion of Chinese commercial shipping from Singapore.

“Already Thailand and the Philippines, both staunch military allies of the US, have recalibrated their foreign policies to be closer to China, while Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar want closer economic integration with China and view the South China Sea dispute as a distraction. Malaysia, meanwhile, is cosying up to China, which is prepared to invest large sums of money in the country as a quid pro quo.”

The writer views the scoldings that the Chinese and its media have meted out to Singapore as “measured and low key”. This, even as he rolls out a list including the Hong Kong’s seizure of the Singapore Armed Forces Terrexes. In his opinion, China will be a “benign superpower as evidenced by its largesse not only to various Asean nations but also to many countries in Africa and Latin America”.

What Mr Tan wrote runs against the grain of mainstream thinking in Singapore, although it would be welcomed by those with business links in China. Singapore has always been allergic to being seen as a Chinese country given that it is situated in a Malay sea. Have things changed because Malaysia is costing up to China? And should Singapore shut up even if China’s actions, such as its rejection of a tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea, threatens its the international framework for law and order which small countries depend greatly on for its survival?

ST clearly believes that his column deserves a counterpoint and local academic William Choong has done the job. In his piece also published today, he said: “Some commentators also propose that Singapore recalibrate its position to seek to be more accommodating of China, and to distance itself from America. Such a new approach is, however, unwarranted.”

It is a rather more hard-hitting piece in which he paints China as a possible hegemon attempting to encircle the region and handing out carrots (presumably this is the largesse that Mr Tan was referring to). “Amid such hubris, some countries have already succumbed to the temptation of bagging all the economic carrots that China has to offer, in exchange for a softer stance on the South China Sea.”

Now, both writers are talking about “balance” – not ditching one side or the other. Mr Tan says that Singapore should pull away from the US and get closer to China for “balance”. Mr Choong thinks that Singapore’s current position is already a “balance” although it would be difficult to hold.

Maybe we’ll hear something more about Singapore-China ties in Parliament on Monday. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen is supposed to talk about Singapore’s stucked Terrexes. Was this is a Hong Kong move? Or one directed by Beijing? How far are we going to test ties?

 

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by Bertha Henson

IT’S not who made it into the People’s Action Party (PAP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) that is interesting, but who didn’t.

The PAP elected 12 members for its CEC on Dec 4, last year. Here’s the list and their designations:

  1. Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Secretary-general
  2. Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Chairman
  3. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Vice Chairman
  4. Mr Teo Chee Hean, First assistant secretary-general
  5. Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Second assistant secretary-general
  6. Mr Lim Swee Say, Treasurer
  7. Mr K Shanmugam, Assistant treasurer
  8. Mr Chan Chun Sing, Organising secretary
  9. Mr Gan Kim Yong, Organising secretary
  10. Ms Grace Fu
  11. Mr Heng Swee Keat
  12. Madam Halimah Yacob

Then it co-opted another two, assumed to be the top ballot winners among the list presented to cadres. They are Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, both Cabinet ministers.

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According to the PAP Constitution, the CEC can bring in four more members into the fold. It’s decided to bring on board two Ministers, Masagos Zulkifli and Ong Ye Kung.

Then it also decided to give a nod of appreciation to Mr Sitoh Yih Pin who soldiered on in Potong Pasir despite losing two elections and wrested it from long-time veteran politician Chiam See Tong in 2011.

The newest addition to Parliament, Mr Murali Pillai, who took on Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan in a straight fight in the last by-election was also invited in. They are the only two backbenchers on the CEC.

Mr Ong stepped into the shoes of Dr Ng Eng Hen, a PAP organising secretary who didn’t put his name up for the election. This means Mr Ong joins Mr Chan and Mr Gan as organising secretaries, which is seen as a pretty big deal since they link the CEC to the party branches.

So who’s not in?

Among the Cabinet ministers, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Lawrence Wong aren’t in the CEC. They’ve been touted as being among those in the running for Prime Minister. Could they have been roped in for other jobs to help the CEC? Well, Ministers of State Teo Ser Luck and Sam Tan have been designated as assistant organising secretaries and Dr Janil Puthucheary will be heading Young PAP.

Mr Wong was co-opted into the last CEC – but not this time.

As for Mr Ng, he entered politics at the same time as Mr Ong.

Doubtless, people will be re-reading the tea leaves again.

 

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