June 28, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

IT DIDN’T escape notice that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wasn’t at the biggest diplomatic event held in China over the weekend. The guest list was filled with luminaries including his counterparts in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. There were in all 29 heads of state or government. Singapore was represented instead by Minister Lawrence Wong.

Asked why the PM Lee wasn’t there, he said that the invitation was decided by the Chinese.

So on Sunday, PM Lee was giving out flowers to his Ang Mo Kio constituents on the occasion of Mother’s Day, rather than hobnobbing with other leaders over what seemed to be the most ambitious economic project in recent time.

His absence in Beijing is intriguing and only serves to raise questions about whether Singapore and China had papered over their differences since the seizure of Singapore Armed Forces vehicles by Hong Kong authorities in November last year. Or are the Chinese still pissed off at Singapore’s lack of empathy over its position on the South China Sea?

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You wonder if the invitation was extended to a Deputy Prime Minister or a senior co-ordinating minister like Mr Khaw Boon Wan. After all, Mr Wong, in charge of national development, told the media himself that Singapore didn’t have any infrastructure projects under the One Belt, One Road initiative. In fact, he spoke more about “brokering’’ opportunities for Singapore banking and city planners.

Even as it seemed that the PM had been snubbed by the Chinese, we’re told that a Chinese delegation is in Singapore to discuss leadership development. The Singapore side was led by Mr Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service. The Chinese were headed by Mr Zhao Leji, Communist Party of China (CPC) Politburo member and Central Committee Organisation Department Minister.

Is this a meeting of political equals? Or should we be glad that a Chinese delegation has deigned to visit Singapore even as China chose not to invite its PM over for its biggest shindig? And we’ve been asserting that Singapore is its “all-weather friend’’ – who also wants to be a friend to all. In other words, we don’t want to take sides. The question then is the definition of an “all-weather friend’’.

All this illustrates the rather prickly situation of the little red dot. Obviously, the Chinese want Singapore firmly in its camp, and might even be wondering why a Chinese majority country isn’t behaving like Muslim-dominated Malaysia and Indonesia or a Catholic country like the Philippines.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung tried to explain this in TODAY : “In Singapore, we have a majority Chinese population. But other than the Chinese traditional culture, what is very deeply rooted in Singapore is a collective awareness that there is also the tradition and wisdom of the Malay and Indian cultures. We are small, and we are open. We have been very much affected by Western cultures, but basically, we are still an Oriental* society.” Presumably he means Oriental as Asian opposed to Occidental or Western, rather than the perception that Oriental means Chinese.

To business people here, the chief concern is probably whether the political atmosphere would affect the economic environment and their chance of exploiting the massive One Belt, One Road project.

It doesn’t help to read about the deals inked by Asean counterparts with China, even though most of them are for infrastructural projects which aren’t relevant to Singapore.

Is the initiative a boon or a bane for Singapore?

There is the question of whether the plans for rail links cutting through Europe, Asia and Africa would affect Singapore’s premier port status. Maybe not, as the One Belt initiative includes a maritime route which cuts through Singapore and it’s still cheaper to go by sea.

Then again, there is the other question of whether ships will skip Singapore since the Chinese are helping different countries build their ports and industrial parks along the route. “With the Belt and Road (initiative), new infrastructure will be built all around us… Trade routes will be adjusted as these new roads and ports get built and developed,” noted Mr Wong.

That’s why Singapore is going full-speed to expand its port and airport facilities to gear up for the competition, he said.

The competition looks daunting. We’ll need to make and save money, if we don’t want to ask for Chinese money. And even if we do, there will be an insistence that significant projects must remain in Singapore hands rather than those of foreign (Chinese) companies.

It’s interesting that after Chinese leader Mr Zhao met PM Lee at the Istana, a statement was released which affirmed the “strong and substantial relationship’’ between the two countries. (Of course, nothing was said about the snub)

The statement also harked back to the old days: “The two leaders noted that bilateral relations dated back to 1976, when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew first visited China, and 1978, when then-PRC (People’s Republic of China) Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore. Mr Lee and Mr Deng provided a strong foundation for the friendship and cooperation that the two countries now enjoy.’’

That was a long, long time ago. Circumstances are different now and China is a mighty power with the ability to project its military and economic might. Singapore is its biggest investor and it is Singapore’s biggest trading partner. How do we proceed from here and on what basis so as to secure our own independence and prosperity? Despite exhortations about strong ties, everything still looks pretty murky.

*According to the Mandarin speech delivered by Mr Ong, the appropriate word is Asian.

 

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?

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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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IF YOU’VE been too busy saying goodbye to the old year and ushering in the new over the long weekend, you really haven’t missed all that much. The world didn’t change – the taking of innocent lives continues followed by an almost ritualised bout of mourning, condemnations over the world and a message claiming responsibility from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Is this the new normal? Ms Zeynep Ozman, whose brother, Ali, was wounded in the nightclub attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve said what was “I don’t want to say anything political but this can’t be accepted as the new norm.”

Turkey continues to search for the gunman who brandished what looked like a Kalashnikov for 20 minutes at an upscale nightclub patronised by well-heeled Turks and tourists. He killed 39 people and wounded 65.

While terrorists didn’t rest over the holidays, the rest of the world seemed to be mulling over what to make of 2016 and predicting what is to come. In Singapore, The Straits Times (ST) did a poll on the word that best describes the year. We have a column on this later.

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But what of the future? MSM is busy putting together what Singaporeans can expect, such as the Presidential election due by August, changes to Eldershield and new regulations governing town councils. On the economic front, the Prime Minister thinks Singapore will grow by 1 to 2 per cent this year. Last year’s economic figures aren’t out yet, but it will fall between 1 and 1.5 per cent.

Over the long weekend, there were the usual car crashes and accidents, the most recent involving a driver in his 80s who rammed into a two-storey shophouse in Chinatown yesterday morning. No one was hurt, thankfully, although the same cannot be said for a 60-year-old woman who is now in a coma after a vehicle, said to be a lorry, knocked into her at Bukit Panjang on Friday evening (Dec 30). Her family is appealing for eye-witnesses.

The most interesting look-forward column is penned by Professor Tommy Koh and published in ST today, headlined 2017: Three great expectations. He is taking an optimistic look at three milestone events that will happen this year: the inauguration of Mr Donald Trump as United States president on Jan 20, the 50th anniversary of Asean and reserved election for Singapore’s President due by August.

As we said, he chose an optimistic take.

Here’s the short version:

While everybody wonders if Mr Trump will show his isolationist and protectionist tendencies once he takes the hot seat, Prof Koh trained his sights on two Trump nominees: General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as defence secretary and Mr Rex Tillerson, as secretary of state. Prof Koh describes General Mattis as a “tough minded military commander” and Mr Tillerson, who leads ExxonMobil as a free trader who supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership and who is in favour of the US acceding to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. “He is not an ideologue but a pragmatist.”

While everyone wonders if Asean can continue to remain a united force given the recent divisions over China’s sabre-rattling in the South China Sea, Prof Koh looks at how Asean has defied all predictions on its demise in the part and enumerates its achievements.

Then he spoke of the elected presidency which will be reserved for a Malay candidate this time round. He said his Malay friends did not like the idea of having such an election as it went against the principle of meritocracy. He himself liked the old system of Parliament electing the president.

“We have two competing principles at play: the principle of meritocracy and the principle of inclusiveness.

“In most situations, the principle of meritocracy should prevail over the principle of inclusiveness. However, in this case, I would like the principle of inclusiveness to prevail over the principle of meritocracy. I therefore look forward to voting for an eminently qualified Malay candidate next year to be our eighth president.”

Pity he’s not eligible.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

SAY you have investments in China. And your Chinese partners start weighing in on how Singapore should be more supportive of China because any tension will affect business, what should you say to them? Singaporeans here have raised such concerns, said PM Lee during the National Day Rally speech last night (Aug 21), especially in the wake of the South China Sea (SCS) squabble.

The SCS squabble (read about it here) is about who owns what part of the sea.  Singapore is not a claimant state like its Asean neighbours: Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. But the SCS issue matters to Singapore because it’s also about resolving international disputes anchored in a rules-based international order. In this case, the rules underpinned by the UN Convention is on the Law of the Sea (Unclos). The Hague tribunal issued a ruling last month (July 12), based on Unclos, on the SCS dispute between China and the Philippines. The ruling favoured the Philippines. China had refused to be a part of the tribunal when the case was brought against them three years back. And on July this year, it rejected the ruling as “null and void”.

PM Lee did not say so in his rally speech, but basically what it means is that China is not playing ball on the issue. They’re not the first country to do this and won’t be the last.

Singapore is currently on the “warm seat” said PM Lee. As the country coordinator for Asean-China dialogue relations, every party wants Singapore to side with it a bit more but it’s “not possible to side with everyone at the same time,” he added. So it is doing its best to be “an honest broker, dealing straight with all parties,” said PM Lee.

To be clear, Singapore’s relationship with China extends beyond the SCS issue. For one, its friendship with China has “lasted for decades” said PM Lee. Second, there are three major G to G projects: The Suzhou industrial park, Tianjin Eco-city, and more recently the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) to support China’s Western Region Development Strategy. Third, Singapore engages with many different provinces and cities, exploring infrastructure issues, connectivity, financial services, urban planning and clean tech. Fourth, it is working with China on their “One Belt, One Road” strategy. Fifth, it’s participating in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which was started by China.

An unstable and backward China “will cause Asia great trouble, as happened in 1950s and 60s,” said PM Lee. But China’s prosperity and stability is good for Singapore. So Singapore is “happy to see China grow strong and influential, in a constructive and peaceful way,” he added. In short, it’s in Singapore’s interest for business and collaboration between the two countries to flourish.

However, on the SCS issue, Singapore has to take a national point of view and its own stand lies in three important principles: rules-based international order, freedom of navigation, and Asean unity.

For a small country, upholding international law is “a vital issue” said PM Lee. Disputes are settled through international courts and arbitration. Sometimes, Singapore wins as was the case with Pedra Branca against Malaysia in 2008. Other times it loses, as was the case with the development charge issue in the points of agreement on railway land, against Malaysia as well in 2014. Both times, the two parties “accepted” the ruling and “moved on” said PM Lee.

Big powers like China however, may not comply with international rulings, working instead on the basis that might is right. But Singapore cannot afford to have the rules-based approach bypassed. If might is right, then small states like Singapore “have no chance of survival” said PM Lee.

The second principle is the freedom of navigation. The straits of Malacca and the SCS link Singapore to the rest of the world. If either passageways are blocked, Singapore “will be choked off”, said PM Lee. So it’s important that SCS disputes do not result in both the maritime routes and airways being cutoff.

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 8.39.46 PM
PM Lee shows the two passageways (in red) linking Singapore to the rest of the world. Image is a screenshot from the National Day Rally live stream on YouTube.

 

Finally, Asean unity and effectiveness is important to Singapore. Small and alone, Singapore has limited ability to influence. Combined with the rest of Asean, which has a collective population of 600 million people, Singapore’s voice can be amplified. Provided of course that Asean is able to have a coherent collective voice.

But that is proving to be a challenge. The SCS squabble has made it harder for Asean to band together due to different interests among member states. Laos and Cambodia for example are close to China. Thailand and Philippines are treaty allies of the United States (US), China’s global competitor. And of course some are claimant states while some are not. And then there’s the issue of countries like Myanmar whose coastline is not even on the SCS.

The consequences are not good. PM said: “If Asean cannot deal with a major issue at its doorstep directly affecting its members, in the long run, nobody will take Asean seriously. That will be very bad for all members of Asean and Singapore too.”

So in sum, Singapore needs to stick to its three principles on the SCS matter. It has to choose its stand, with its own “independent, carefully thought-out stand” and cannot “succumb to pressure” said PM Lee. In fact that’s what makes Singapore “credible, consistent, reliable and valuable” to other Asean members and powers like the US and China he added. So there is a “reputation to protect”, PM Lee said.

In short, the low down is this: Singapore may not be a claimant state but it has to stick to its guns with regards to the principles of rules-based international order, freedom of navigation and Asean unity. The principles are a matter of survival.

As for neighbours closer to home? The “abang [big brother] attitude towards” Singapore has not changed, as shown by the Indonesian minister who recently “declared that he was not afraid of Singapore” because it was a small country, said PM Lee. Nonetheless, relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are “on the whole” good. For example, PM said that besides the High Speed rail memorandum of understanding signed between Singapore and Malaysia, he recently settled the points on Agreement on Railway land with Malaysian PM Najib Rajak.

All in all, Singapore wants “good relations with other countries, if at all possible” said PM Lee. But it must be “prepared for ups and downs from time to time” as it needs to stick to its principles and maintain the reputation it has for consistency and credibility, he added. That’s how Singapore survives in a big, big world.

 

Featured image a screenshot of the National Day Rally live stream from Toggle

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A small boy's survival technique

by Bertha Henson

AH SING was cornered. The bigger boy loomed over him, blowing cigarette smoke into his face. Ah Sing knew Indra wanted him to hand over his pocket money – willingly. Ah Sing waved the smoke from his face. He was asthmatic and had left his inhaler in the classroom. He made a mental note not to be so careless next time.

Indra bellowed: “So little boy, want to give me your money or not!’’ deliberately, he exhaled through his mouth. Ah Sing quietly cursed the wind direction. Why wouldn’t it just rain, he thought.

The expected shoving came. Ah Sing stood upright. Two years of training in the kids’ gym had made him slightly more muscled, even if still small-sized. He blamed his genes; his whole family was smallish. Ah Sing, as is in his nature, kept silent. He had learnt the art of walking softly while carrying a big stick, although he didn’t have a stick with him. Or was it a carrot or stick? But he had no carrots either.

Indra rifled through the small boy’s pockets and pulled out a $2 note. He couldn’t believe that the geeky kid in glasses who lived in a three-story bungalow had only $2 on him. “Where’s the rest?’’.

No response from Ah Sing, who pulled the note back.

Inwardly, Ah Sing cheered. What a brainwave to lock the other $8 in a secret compartment in his school bag. Indra would need the form teacher to open the lock. But it seemed that Indra had found his precious football cards.

Ah Sing shouted: “Give them back!’’

Indra replied coolly: “But you stole this from me. So it’s actually mine.’’

Ah Sing contemplated making a fuss but decided not to. Let him have them if it would buy a few days of trouble-free recess, he thought.

Indra wasn’t satisfied. He needed to cajole or shame Ah Sing.

So, at first, he said that Ah Sing should be more generous and be a better friend to a friend in need. After all, Ah Sing owned expensive designer track shoes.

Then, he made fun of Ah Sing’s small family, which only had Pa, Ma, Ah Girl, Ah Ma, Mary the maid and Timmy the dog.

Finally, he pointed out that he had siblings and cousins by the dozen who could drown him simply be peeing on him.

Ah Sing had heard this many times before. He had looked up the word “envy’’ on Wikipedia. He wished his father wouldn’t drive him to school in his Merc but Pa didn’t believe in going car-lite. Then Ma wouldn’t let him take the MRT because it might make him late for school. He suggested cycling to school, but Ah Ma got into a fit talking about how dangerous pedestrians on pavements could be.

Ah Sing sighed. He was the top boy in the class but it didn’t make him popular. He was especially good in mathematics and spent plenty of time in front of the computer without parental guidance, so that he could learn everything he could about the world. He realised what a dangerous place the world is, especially to the small-sized.

This was why he tried to make a lot of friends; you don’t know when you might need their help. This was why he liked rules. Rules are meant to be obeyed and to protect both big and small. But there was no teacher around to watch him being shaken down by Indra – or to catch Indra smoking.

Indra was getting tired of haranguing Ah Sing, whom he had described to his relatives as a smug, sneaky and self-righteous piece of s***. He disliked the small boy who always seemed to be one up on him. Those designer track shoes should have been his, Indra thought. Somehow Ah Sing had managed to get them by some sort of bomoh magic, he thought.

He was thinking of letting Ah Sing go when the other boys came up.

Indra sighed. He knew the lecture that was coming, about how as the biggest boy in the class, he was expected to be nice to everyone, especially little ones.

He saw Ah Sing looking hopefully at Amal. He knew that Ah Sing and Amal had decided to pool their pocket money to buy a really fancy toy train set. Doubtless, Ah Sing was expecting Amal’s support. But, Indra knew that Amal had his own troubles and was in danger of getting kicked out of his own home because of money problems.

Ah Sing knew this too. No help from that quarter, he thought.

He caught sight of Camby, standing outside the circle with arms akimbo. Camby can’t be relied on, Ah Sing thought. Camby only does what that even bigger boy in the upper class wants. That big fellow wasn’t afraid of anyone, not even the school principal.

The circle of boys, all 10 of them, usually played together at recess time. But increasingly, those times were getting more and more infrequent. Ah Sing wanted them all to be part of a community, even if it was impossible to be best friends forever. It was what he had learnt from Pa and the family. When you are rich, but small, you need to be part of something bigger or at least have friends who are also rich but big.

He thought of his family and how his Pa had rigged up a new security system for the house. Pa was even rearing carrier pigeons for emergency use in case the Internet broke down. That had led to a law suit from the neighbour who said his pigeons were a nuisance and an environmental hazard.

Ah Sing looked around him. He knew that it was best to depend on no one but himself.

He farted.

All the boys looked at him and laughed.

Tragedy averted for the day.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

AFTER Brexit, what about a Cambrexit?

It’s a term coined by a commentator in TODAY who is wondering what Asean should do about its recalcitrant member, Cambodia, which looks like it will sabotage yet another Asean meeting. Asean Foreign Ministers meeting in Vientiane, Laos looks like they will be stumbling over the South China Sea again as China’s key ally, Cambodia, is against any mention of the disputed area, which a Hague tribunal had slammed China over.

Asean’s consensual mode of operations appears to be a handicap. If Cambodia disagrees on a mention of the South China Sea or to a strong statement on China’s claims vis-a-vis Asean member, the Philippines, you’ll have no statement or a watered-down statement – at a time when the world is waiting to see how the 10-member grouping will react to the Hague ruling. Cambodia had already de-railed one such meeting in Phnom Penh in 2012. If not Cambrexit, what about an Asean minus X mode of decision making? You can read the article here.

Another term you might not be familiar with: chargeback

It’s about clawing back money already committed to pre-paid packages on your credit card. We’re referring to the quandary faced by members of the shuttered California Fitness gyms, who want some of their money back because they’re not able to use the gym. Go look closely at what Visa, Mastercard and American Express say about “chargeback”. But it might be best to call the credit card bank because as usual, there are terms and conditions. OCBC, DBS and Citibank are three banks which said they would facilitate this, according to TODAY. A lawyer gave another reason banks should help out – some banks had tie-ups with the gym and had offered promotional discounts. So they “can’t have their cake and eat it”, he said. We’re pretty sure affected gym members who signed up with the banks will agree.

A third term you probably know: Pokemon Go

Will it come here or will it go? ST seems to be making an issue of this by publishing letters from nay-sayers who think it should be banned for security reasons or the G should come up with some way to hold the manufacturers responsible for mishaps due to the hunt for virtual monsters. It made one letter-writer chortle because by extension, knife manufacturers should be made responsible for stabbings. But what does the G have to say? Here’s the word from Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim:

“We will monitor the situation, how this particular game is being played and… its impact on society. And if it’s really something which we should be concerned about, I think MDA (the Media Development Authority) will definitely decide on what are the things we can do best, if the game is really needed here, how… we can do it in such a way that it becomes a win-win situation.”

In other words, “we see how lah”.

Here are bits of news about that favourite topic transport.
a. Air travel: Misbehave on any airplane and you will have the law down on you, and that’s not only for Singapore Airline flights or Singapore carriers, according to ST.

b. Motor travel: Allow your car to be plastered with advertisements and get paid rental. Just like a taxi. Local ad agency told ST that 1,000 car owners have already signed up. It’s $50 a month for renting rear bumper space.

c. Bus travel: Five bus stops here now have electric fans which commuters can switch on to cool themselves. They will run for 15 minutes. The Land Transport Authority is trying them out for six months before deciding if more bus stops should be fitted with them.

There are two other stories in MSM today that you might want to read. One is about a tuition survey reported in ST. Except that we already reported the results. You can read them here.  Another has to do with the Town Council Act being revised. We’ll have our own report on this up shortly. Wait for it.

 

Featured image from CY Kong.

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by Bertha Henson

AFTER the Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, held from Monday to Tuesday (June 13 to June 14),  Asean released a statement addressing China’s claims to the South China Sea. Hours later, the statement was withdrawn by a Malaysian ministry spokeswoman, who said that “urgent amendments” needed to be made. This sparked a tussle between Asean members – akin to a kindergarten spat. Here, we re-imagine Asean countries as children in the playground.

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Black clock showing 8.30.

“OH NO!” cried a doctor in Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s TB Control Unit. “We have a TB cluster in Ang Mo Kio!” Quick as a flash, medical professionals, including Dr Koh Poh Koon, who happened to be the MP, descended on Block 203, knocking on doors and telling people to go for health screening. Six people in the block had come down with multi-drug resistant TB. Three had recovered and three are recuperating. But it seems that though they lived in the same block, they had no interaction with each other. So, is it the dratted lift? Can’t be. You need prolonged exposure and nobody stays in a lift for hours on end… Medical sleuths are on the prowl. In 2013, a cluster of six cases were traced to three LAN gaming centres in Parklane. So how is the virus being spread? Medical sleuths are on the prowl…

Stay tuned for the next chapter of The medical mystery in Ang Mo Kio. A local production sponsored by Big Pharma.

“Arrgghhh! Retract! Retract!” cried a Malaysian Foreign ministry official after an Asean foreign ministers statement on the South China Sea had gone out to the media. “It’s just a draft! It’s not ready!”

Immediately, accusing eyes turned to China. Did it pressure Laos and Cambodia to say something different? Of course not, said China. Who can tell Asean what to do? Yeah, right. Anyway, what was so offensive about the statement about the meeting between the foreign ministers and their Chinese counterpart Wang Yi?

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and on-going developments which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

The trouble with an Asean “consensus” is this: No consensus means no statement. Or will there still be one?

Stay tuned for The mystery of the disappearing consensus. Starring Asean and guest starring China.

“He’s opened his mouth again,” said the frustrated Singapore official in charge of monitoring the haze. He was referring to Indonesia vice-premier Mr Jusuf Kalla, who got everyone’s back up a couple of years ago for talking about Indonesia’s generosity in dispensing 11 months of clean air every year. This time he’s backing Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar’s sniffy retort that Singapore could not “tread on the realm of law that was under Indonesia”. All Singapore wanted to do was to question that Indonesian director who was in town about burning activities under the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act which “adds to the collective efforts to hold errant companies accountable for their irresponsible actions”.

“Indonesia should welcome this additional tool to curtail irresponsible activities that have affected the health, social and economic well-being of Indonesians and people in the region,” thought the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources official. Yup! That’s what he would say to the media. He added a note to self: Make point that it’s not an issue of “sovereignty and national dignity”. Satisfied, he thought about Indonesia’s next move and braced himself for yet another round of “disrespect”. He didn’t know if he should be excited or worried. His heart was beating too fast.

Stay tuned for the continuing episode of The Haze, a drama serial brought to you by Fire-starters Inc.

 

Featured image from TMG File.

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Black clock showing 8.30

IT SEEMS that the gods of rail reliability are punishing SMRT today as a blackout hit not one, not two, but three MRT lines plus Bukit Panjang LRT yesterday at 7.53pm. The East-West Line from Buona Vista to Joo Koon and the North-South Line from Jurong East to Kranji were down for just over half an hour. The Circle Line from Caldecott to HarbourFront came back online at 9.32pm and Bukit Panjang LRT service was restored only at 10.12pm.

Then at 6.31am this morning, a traction power fault pulled the plug on North-South Line services between Kranji and Woodlands. SMRT got trains moving again at 6.49am and announced that everything was back to normal at 7.29am.

SMRT had, earlier yesterday, announced the findings of their Accident Review Panel on the deaths of two staff who were hit by a train while carrying out track maintenance. The panel is made up of the SMRT Board Risk Committee plus experts from Keppel Corporation, Transport for London, and a former employee of Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation. The panel emphasised that existing protection mechanisms were “adequate” but were not followed in this incident. SMRT did not mention why staff were not following safety measures.

Something else that needs a task force – Singapore’s rat problems. National Environmental Agency (NEA) is piloting four areas: Redhill Close, Bedok Central, Clementi Ave 3, and Bangkit Road for what is calls a “holistic and coordinated effort” with town councils, eateries, and mall operators. Rat infestations in town council areas will also attract fines of $150 or $200. Seems a small amount for a large problem. What does this task force mean, really? As far as we can tell, the only difference is that all parties will coordinate their rat control plans. If we are only just figuring this out, then no wonder we are being overrun by rodents.

Who else is trying some overrunning? China has been in the spotlight for its attempt to divide Asean by getting Brunei, Laos, and Cambodia to agree unilaterally that South China Sea disputes were not between China and Asean as a whole. Laos and Cambodia don’t even have claims in the South China Sea. Three senior diplomats spoke against China’s move, including Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong and advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan.

Finally, some good news! Saiyidah Aisyah has became the first ever Singaporean rower to qualify for the Olympics. Her first-place finish in the 2,000m single sculls B Final earned her a seventh overall finish in the Fisa Asia and Oceania Continental Olympic Qualification Regatta. The SEA Games gold medalist now needs the endorsement of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) and Singapore Rowing Association (SRA) to clear her path to Rio de Janeiro.

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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Bilahari Lecture

by Hamzah Omar Yaacob

EVEN as China muscles its way into the South China Sea, a war is unlikely to break out. Ever so often, the US and China engage in hard talk, with Asean member states minding their own business.

That was the essence of what Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan said yesterday (March 30) at the third installment of a lecture series by the Institute of Policy Studies.

Even though some pundits say China is adamant about controlling the South China Sea because of resources, Mr Kausikan disagreed. The heart of the dispute, he argued, is jingoism, rooted in China’s desire to lay claim to lost territories. China claims it once controlled the Spratly and Paracels islands – islands in the South China Sea – in ancient times. Other areas China once controlled such as Siberia and Mongolia are “beyond recoverable”. Ultimately, he said: “Beijing wants to reclaim something of its historical centrality in East Asia.”

But the US is not going to be pushed out. It, too, wants to remain an East Asian power.

China has ratcheted up tensions in recent years by reclaiming land, building airfields and requiring those who pass through to identify with Chinese authorities. The US has responded by sailing its ships and flying its aircraft close to Chinese military installations.

But being a purveyor of noble ideas like Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea, the antithesis of China, plays into US interests in the region, he said. Mr Kausikan pointed out the irony in the US not being a party to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS), that amongst many things basically tells countries how they can control the seas around them.

He said: “There may be less differences between the Chinese and American positions on Freedom of Navigation than immediately meets the eye.”

Hold on, does that mean the US and China could one day see eye-to-eye?

It could be possible, he said, but cautioned that such a situation may not be good for Asean: “Dealing with US-China competition is difficult but at least leaves open the possibility of manoeuvre.”

But he felt that Asean was not navigating the waters of the complex US-China relationship well, by tiptoeing around the South China Sea dispute and doing nothing substantive in a bid to avoid irritating China.

He pointed out the recent example of Malaysia’s muddled response in March this year to fishing vessels spotted off the coast of Sarawak, escorted by Chinese coast guard ships. Originally, Malaysia said the vessels were in its waters before it was contradicted by another statement a week later saying that they were not.

Mr Kausikan said this did not have to be the case, but acknowledged that some Asean countries have been caught in a bind between cozying up to China for economic reasons and engaging the US as a security buffer. After all, China is an important economic partner. Trade between China and Asean was worth US$480 billion (S$648 billion) in 2014 according to the Asean-China Centre.

That said, pandering to the US or China should not be treated as a “dilemma” because doing so would mean succumbing to Chinese diplomacy in Asean that “seeks to impose on the region and foreclose options”, he added.

The diplomat said “the most important of these mind-games relate to US presence in the South China Sea”. Asean is just not in control of these games. Despite all the engagement between the Asean and the US and China, “the person in the driver’s seat (Asean) is sometimes only the chauffeur,” he added.

Countries in Southeast Asia will ultimately have to deal with China because of geography, but when it comes to the US,  “American porridge is always going to be too hot or too cold”.

“Unfortunately, China understands Asean better than the US and knows far better how to work with Asean, which is a polite way of saying (they know how to) manipulate our weaknesses,” he added.

 

Featured Image by Sean Chong.

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