June 25, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

LUXURIATING in his favourite place, Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump decides to make a long-distance phone call. He knows it will be a historic moment, hence the gawkers in his playground watching the President do his thing.

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Trump: Hiyah Kim, old buddy, how’s the famine coming along? I mean, family.

Kim: Bzzzccckrracccc

Trump: I can’t hear you. The Chinese… they’re wiretapping you huh? Well, the Russians are listening in to mine. Plus the CIA, NSA, FBI and a whole lot of fellas.

Kim: Brzzzcckkk… hell…. oh… brrccsssk

Trump: I’m just calling to tell you that Carl Vinson is going to your part of town. The boat, not the congressman. Michigan as well. The boat, not the state. Just me trying to tell you not to play with your nukes…Okay, buddy?

Kim: Brrrzzzccckk… reta… ccckkk… ate… brrrcsssk live… brrcsk miss…

Trump: You ate what? Missed me? Aw shucks. I’ll come over if you like, but you seriously have got to calm down. You’re making Seoul so nervous. The Japs are jumpy too. We’re all coming to get you.

Kim: Brrzzzccck….Beijing…bbrrzzz military..brrrzzzccckkkkk

Trump: Your buddy Beijing? Hey, they’re just making noises. They don’t even want your coal. And they’ve already said they don’t mind a surgical strike. So I’m thinking of doing a Syria on you.

Kim: Brrzzccchhh…doing sixth missile test. You don’t frighten me, Mr Trump. Pyongyang will not succumb to threats by the hegemonic United States.

Trump: You must be using an iPhone… I can hear you perfectly well. Made-in-America? Anyway, I don’t mean to frighten you. I’m not a frightening person. I just sack people, evict them, defame them, insult them and put up walls to keep them outside. I don’t kill people. You, on the other hand…

Kim: It is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to protect itself against outside threats. Our nuclear missiles are not offensive weapons even though they have weird names. They are also meant for decorative purposes at military parades, of which I have many.

Trump: Hmm… I hear you’re even aiming them at Darwin in Australia. What have you got against kangaroos and sheep?

Kim: Who is a sheep? I am Kim Jong Un, all-powerful leader of the hermit kingdom. I am prepared for all-out war. My people are hungry but my military is strong. We have good missiles which sizzle even when they fizzle. We are now putting up a live-firing display to welcome your boats.

Trump: If you’ve got missiles…why are you detaining US citizens? That’s not playing fair. You’re not going to poison them like you did with your half-brother at the KL airport right?

Kim: They are alive. I need hostages who can act as my shield. Also, I would like some US currency and an iPhone or two.

Trump: You wanna do a deal? I can throw in a free trip to Disneyland for you and you can stay at one of my hotels. Okay?

Kim: Tha….BOOMMMMZZZZ…KAPOW

Trump: Kim? Is that one of my guys hitting a bullseye?

Kim: No. One of my guys. Misfired.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Uplifting news?

IF YOU’RE living in a Housing Development Board (HDB) block, go take a look at whether your lift is a Sigma lift. The company has been banned from future lift projects because its lifts, including those in new estates, have been breaking down too often. There are some 3,500 Sigma-installed lifts out of the 24,000 HDB lifts here. According to The Straits Times (ST) which broke the news, half the major reported cases of lift incidents in 2015 and last year involved Sigma as manufacturer or maintenance contractor.

Last year, a Sigma lift in Petir Road shot up and down between floors, injuring a 59-year-old resident. Sigma is a subsidiary of Otis Elevator Company, an American company which also makes lifts for HDB under its own brand. Nothing’s been said about Otis lifts. Presumably, the parent company has higher standards.

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Ban lifted

You can bet that fresh food, especially fish, is going up in price even as you read this, given that Chinese New Year is around the corner. Chinese silver pomfret sold for $45 per kg last week at the wet market at 4A Eunos Crescent, reported Lianhe Wanbao. Last month, it cost more than $30 per kg and could go up to between $60 and $80 per kg in the next two weeks, the newspaper said.

Now take into account the ban on fish sales from 12 fish farms in the wake of an oil spill that occurred off Pasir Gudang Port in Johor on Jan 3. Less supply, heightened demand equals to even higher price. The good news is that two fish farms have had their suspensions lifted after they cleaned up the oil spill. Prices will still be high… but maybe not that high?

 

Lifting Trump’s veil?

US-President elect Donald Trump’s nominees have been surprising people who thought they would turn out to be belligerent as their boss. But the men who are now going through a Senate grilling for top positions in the State and Defence departments, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency seem to be breaking ranks with Mr Trump with their own views on Russia, wall-building and water-boarding, which Mr Trump wants resurrected. So while Mr Trump can carry on tweeting whatever he likes, his Cabinet doesn’t seem so half-cocked and scary. Is this a Trump “good cop, bad cop” strategy?

Chinese media, however, are unhappy with Mr Rex Tillerson, who was nominated for Secretary of State which would make him the country’s chief diplomat. They are up in arms over his comments that China’s actions in the disputed South China Sea can be compared to Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Said Global Times: “Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent China access to the islands will be foolish. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories.”

 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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North Korea missile test, Kim Jong Un

by Aishah Tamiri

WHAT’S getting North Korea spooked? It spells T-H-A-A-D.

Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, is a high power missile-defence system created by the United States military. It has a precision that is reportedly unmatched and can defend against short and medium ranged ballistic missiles.

The US and South Korea have been in talks about deploying THAAD in the region and the final decision was made in July to deploy the missile-defence system in South Korea by end-2017. This has resulted in North Korea threatening a “physical response” against the THAAD decision. Already this year, North Korea has completed five nuclear tests, with preparations for a sixth one underway.

THAAD was created by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA). It makes use of a “hit-to-kill” technology that uses kinetic energy to destroy incoming warheads. By intercepting incoming enemy missiles at high-altitudes, THAAD missiles mitigate the effect of the weapon before it reaches ground.

Here’s how a “hit-to-kill” missile works:

Firstly, the ground-based defence system detects the threat through a giant radar (the size of a bus) that is able to scan areas the size of entire countries. The missile launcher then estimates an intercept point, and launches the interceptor missile. Once near the threat, the onboard radar-seeker on the interceptor missile will search and lock on to the threat.

The radar-seeker provides a highly accurate location of the threat through searching, scanning and processing the location data enroute to the threat. To achieve body-to-body impact, the radar-seeker measures critical target information that is then used by the missile guidance system to pinpoint the exact location to hit the target. For example, if THAAD is deployed in South Korea, depending on the location, nearly all incoming missiles from the North could be eliminated due to the accuracy of the missile.

 

Objections from China

Naturally, China, an ally of North Korea, is not pleased with the decision to place THAAD in South Korea. While China is committed to de-nuclearising the Korean peninsula, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “China opposes the deployment of the missile-defence system. The deployment will not help to in achieving the objective of denuclearisation, maintaining stability and peace in the region.”

Is there another reason? Well, China could be unhappy with what it assumes are THAAD’s tracking and surveillance capabilities. It is concerned that THAAD’s radar might be able to offer tracking data for the US.

 

Health risks

Well, THAAD does not come without risks. Concerns such as health issues, death and damages to property were the main concerns of the deployment of THAAD in South Korea. Citing the operational manual of the THAAD radar system, Defense Minister Han Min-koo claimed that the radar “will be absolutely harmless” if people stay at least 100m away from it. This is to reduce the effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). The health effects due to prolonged exposure to EMR are unknown and may not manifest until months or years later.

Citing a 2015 US environmental assessment report on a THAAD battery permanently stationed in Guam to emphasise the safety of THAAD, Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said, “The report shows there will be no problem if people live outside the 100m radius of [the] THAAD radar, presuming that it is raised five degrees upward from the ground.”

However, the THAAD battery stationed in Guam is considered safe only because the battery is located in an isolated area. Areas under consideration to host the THHAD battery in South Korea includes Daegu, Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province, Wonju in Gangwon Province and Gunsan in the North Jeolla Province. Most of these areas are highly populated and not army bases. For example, Pyeongtaek is a major port city for South Korea and Daegu is home to 460,000 people.

Many countries are interested in buying THAAD. However, the United Arab Emirates is the sole foreign buyer after signing a deal with the US Department of Defense. The missile-defence system was delivered in late 2015. With increasing threats and uncertainty around the world, THAAD could be a norm in many countries.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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If you’re not worried that North Korea is playing with bombs, you should. It’s ready for yet another nuclear launch, its sixth, said neighbouring South Korea. But it seems China wants to sit on its hands, saying that the matter was between the country and the United States. Yes, it condemned the fifth launch on Friday but it doesn’t seem inclined to impose fresh sanctions.

In the meantime, the Washington Post said Pyongyang is getting around embargoes on its exports of goods by exporting its people to earn hard currency which are then sent home. Some countries have started expelling their North Korean guest workers. A jittery Seoul is asking for the US nuclear umbrella, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system, to be brought forward from its deployment date next year.

But while Seoul is casting about for foreign support, the Philippines wants the American Special Forces out of Mindanao, saying their presence was stirring resentment among Muslims who had been fighting a decades-long secessionist war. Nope, President Duterte didn’t call anyone any names this time. In fact, he wanted to raise it at last week’s Asean summit in Laos but he didn’t do so “out of respect”.

Here in Singapore, Minister of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and the Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram used the occasion of Hari Raya Haji to call on Muslims to reject extremist and exclusivist ideas that paint some Muslims as “deviant” for not adhering to certain strands of Islam.

The mufti was concerned that some Muslims were judging other Muslims over matters that were still being debated by Islamic scholars and those who “selectively choose and search for opinions which are more antagonistic towards non-Muslims”, even though such schools of thought came about during times of conflict and tension for Muslims, TODAY reported him as saying.

Here’s something to think about: US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was taken ill at a Sept 11 memorial in New York. She was suffering from pneumonia. She is 68 while her rival, Mr Donald Trump is 70. The episode led to calls for them to disclose their state of health to assure voters of their physical fitness for the highest office in the land.

Question: Shouldn’t a clean bill of health also be a necessary qualification for those aspiring for presidential office here? Or an age limit?

 

Featured image from TMG file. 

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North Korea missile test, Kim Jong Un

by Andrea Wang and Sean Chong

HE’S at it again.

North Korea has had a long history of threatening the region with its pursuit of its nuclear and missile capabilities. When leader Kim Jong Un took power in 2011, he accelerated its missile and nuclear bomb testing, launching over 30 ballistic missiles. It is likely that in this show of prowess, North Korea is aiming to show the world that it is a force to be reckoned with.

Earlier this month (Aug 3), North Korea launched its most successful ballistic missile of this year, which came within 240km of Japan’s Akita prefecture, travelling 1,000km. Japanese PM Mr Shinzo Abe called it a “grave threat” to his country.

But North Korea wasn’t done flexing its military might. Last Wednesday (Aug 24), it fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, which flew about 500km and landed in the Sea of Japan.

Here’s a look at what North Korea has been up to, and what other countries have had to say about its exploits:

North Korea Nuclear Test, missile test
Diagram 01: Significant North Korea nuclear tests and what countries have said over the years.

 

North korea missile tests 2016
Diagram 02: North Korea flexes its military and technological muscle and conducts intensive missile tests in 2016.

 

Featured image and illustration by Sean Chong. 

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GOOD morning!

Taiwan has voted its first woman president into power – opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen – with 56.12 per cent of the vote. The chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Ms Tsai beat Kuomintang’s Eric Chu (31.04 per cent of the vote) and People First Party’s James Soong (12.84 per cent), winning unprecedented control of the Legislative Yuan in the process (68 of the 113 parliamentary seats). The DPP has advocated formal independence for a self-governing island, and in her victory speech and Ms Tsai said that Taiwan “will build consistent, predictable and sustainable cross-strait relationship,” and emphasised that “both sides of the strait have a responsibility to find mutually acceptable means of interaction that are based on dignity and reciprocity.”

An apology made by a 16-year-old Taiwanese K-pop singer Chou Tzu-yu on the eve of elections in response to the election results for holding a Republic of China (ROC) flag, the official name of Taiwan, in an online broadcast infuriated many Taiwanese voters. Chinese netizens denounced the singer as an advocate for Taiwanese independence, while Ms Tsai added – after casting her vote – that “An ROC citizen holding her national flag should not be suppressed from doing so.”

In response, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said that Taiwan independence activities will be opposed, and China is determined to protect its territory and sovereignty. As reported in Zaobao, reference was also made to the 1992 consensus – on which Ms Tsai and the DPP have not stated their stance – which recognises one China with differing interpretations. Likewise in its statement, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated Ms Tsai, that “As a longstanding friend, Singapore looks forward to maintaining our close relations and cooperation with Taiwan based on our consistent ‘One China’ policy.”

Warmer relations are expected between Iran and the United States, as the latter lifts Congressional economic sanctions as part of its side of the Iran nuclear deal. This follows verification from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has implemented its required commitments to slash its uranium centrifuges, to reduce its stockpile of uranium – necessary to make fissile material for a nuclear bomb – as well as to remove the core of the Arak reactor which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium. While the main parties to the Iran deal have hailed these achievements, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and American President Barack Obama’s Republican opponents have argued that the deal does not do enough to deter Iran.

And closer to home, parliamentarians are expected to speak on improvements to the political system in Singapore – following President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s address that reforms will be studied – so as to assure Singaporeans “of clean, effective, and accountable government over the long term.”

From the political to the security front, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin stressed the emergency preparedness of Singaporeans, knowing not just “how to react in an emergency situation”, but also “to stand against the pressures that could be placed on the country’s social fabric.” The minister was speaking at the “My Community, My Responsibility” exhibition organised by the People’s Association Community Emergency and Engagement Executive Council.

Finally on the social and community front, social workers ST spoke to revealed that they are seeing more senior citizens cheated or financially abused by their children. Many cases are not reported, and these social workers emphasised the need for greater awareness.

 

Featured image by Chong Yew. 

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execution

by Ryan Ong

WE ARE barely into the new year and already, 2016 makes me want to not get out of bed. As if China’s financial markets wasn’t causing enough chaos, Iran and Saudi Arabia have decided to duke it out on the Middle East. Whatever happens next is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably going to be bad for all of us. Here’s why:

 

What is going on between Iran and Saudi Arabia anyway?

Last Saturday, Saudi Arabia announced the execution of 47 religious extremists. Most of these were Sunni Jihadists or Al-Qaeda fighters (well according to Saudi Arabia they were). That in itself isn’t noteworthy, given the current situation in the Middle East.

The problem was one of the names among the executed: Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Sheikh Nimr was a religious leader of Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia Muslims, and a long time problem for the Saudi government.

Sheikh Nimr encouraged direct opposition to the Saudi government. What worried Saudi Arabia most was his courting Iran – Iran has a Shia majority, and is Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the Middle East. In fact, much of the conflict in Syria is fought by proxies of either Saudi Arabia or Iran.

In 2012, Saudi Arabia arrested Sheikh Nimr on charges of inciting unrest. They also accused him of firing on police who were sent to arrest him. In 2014, Saudi Arabia sentenced Sheikh Nimr to death.

Few people actually thought Saudi Arabia would act on this. It was hoped the death sentence was a political show: Saudi Arabia would use it to scare dissenters into silence, and Shiekh Nimr would eventually be pardoned or just kept locked up.

When Saudi Arabia announced it had actually carried out the sentence, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia exploded. The Saudi embassy in Tehran was sacked by Shia protesters, and Saudi Arabia contends that Iranian authorities did nothing to stop it.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have deteriorated, and Saudi Arabia has stopped all flights to Iran. The situation now threatens to polarise the Middle East, with different states choosing to side with Iran or Saudi Arabia. It also complicates the ongoing battle against terrorist groups like ISIL, as it will be harder to unite Middle Eastern states against them as a common enemy.

 

What impact will it have on us?

As the situation is still unfolding, it is difficult to predict the exact impact. But some of the key fears include:

1. Disruption to the oil supply in the event of a physical strike
2. Addition to the existing oil glut
3. An added headache for an already burdened China

 

1. Disruption to the oil supply in the event of a physical strike

While Shia Muslims are a minority in Saudi Arabia, they also populate the places where most of the oil is located. This is why Saudi Arabia is so paranoid about Shia unrest: not only can their oil production be easily targeted by dissidents, there is also a chance the Saudi Shia population will defect and ally with Iran.

Oil prices briefly spiked after tensions first flared, and gradually settled when it was apparent the supply wasn’t threatened. Yet. But if open hostilities occur between Saudi Arabia and its Shia minority, its main oil production centres will be extremely vulnerable. Physical strikes (read: bombs) from dissidents can disrupt oil supply and drive oil prices up.


2. Addition to the existing oil glut

Of course, if no one bombs the oil production facilities then… well, something bad still could happen.

The current low oil prices are due to an oversupply in the market. Saudi Arabia is churning out more oil than is necessary, in the hopes that cheap oil will crush competitors like shale oil companies in the United States.

Of course, this also costs Saudi Arabia money. Saudi Arabia has gone from a budget surplus of seven per cent in 2013, to a deficit of 16 per cent by 2015.

With sanctions lifted from Iran in recent nuclear talks, things are set to get worse for the Saudis. Iran will also begin producing oil, and add to the ongoing oil glut. But Iran has considerably less money than Saudi Arabia does, and one tactic the Saudis may use is to ramp up (or even just maintain) oil production to keep Iran broke.

If oil remains cheap, Iran can’t make much money from oil.

This flood of cheap oil is not entirely positive. It is wreaking economic havoc in countries that depend on oil revenues, such as Venezuela. In developing countries, this can result in political unrest that will affect various Emerging Market (EM) assets. You know, like the ones you may have in your insurance sub-funds.


3. An added headache for an already burdened China

China is already dealing with a manufacturing slowdown, and a stock market that crashes more often than Windows 8. Now in the past 10 years or so, China has increased trade with the Middle East (including both Saudi Arabia and Iran) by around 600 per cent.

China is currently one of the world’s biggest consumers of crude oil, and almost half of it is imported from the Middle East. Disruptions to the region can threaten China’s energy security.

Also, China’s “Silk Road” policy, announced by Xi Jinping in 2013, aims at rebuilding ancient trade routes between China and the Middle East. Not only does China depend on the Middle East for oil, it wants to develop a market for Chinese products in the region. The emerging conflict does nothing to help this Chinese economic interest.

China is also being reluctantly drawn toward conflicts in the Middle East, and Beijing has dispatched military advisors in the region. China has an eye on Uighur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, and has an interest in preventing spillover extremism.

While it’s still early to worry, none of this is good news for Singaporean investors with exposure to China.


Well, we’re off to a good start for the year.

Since this is week one of 2016, I expect I’ll be writing from inside a bomb shelter by next Christmas. Hopefully the world is just working out its various frustrations early – the events of the next few weeks will set the tone not only for the rest of the year, but maybe for 2017 and 2018 as well.

 

Featured image Axe execution equipment by Flickr user Der VollstreckerCC BY-SA 2.0.

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