Singapore seems to be doing whatever it can to reduce its dependence on its traditional hinterland -- Malaysia.
It's quite obvious that Singapore leaders have been making a beeline to the Middle East lately to help develop better guangxi with the rich Arabs. Malaysia has not profiled as prominently in the Singapore agenda despite their closer geographical and historical links.
In fact, Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong revealed as much when he was cited by The Straits Times in a report dated 29 Nov 2006:
Though he had worked very hard on ties with Malaysia, Mr Goh said it was unfortunate that both were bogged down with bilateral issues.
But with the change of leadership in the two countries, he said their prime ministers could now look more to the future.
He noted that past contentious issues, such as building a new bridge to replace the Causeway and the sale of water to Singapore, were no longer on the table.
'And the other issues, we should have a look to see how to resolve them. If we can't, put them aside and look at them later. But in the meantime, (we should) look at common areas where we can work together.'
He found it ironic that he, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong were on missions 'to get Singapore companies to invest far away from Malaysia'.
Singapore PM Lee is more subtle, saying that the government will help Singapore firms venture into the Middle East at the end of his trip. Nothing terribly unusual here but he also said that Singapore could promote greater engagement with the region by encouraging Singaporeans to learn Arabic as a third language.
'Not everybody will do it, but we study French, we study German, we study Japanese, why not study Arabic? It's an important part of the world and there are opportunities here,' he said in ST today.
It sounds reasonable as Singapore forges closer links with the Middle East. But is it too much to ask Singaporeans to pick up Arabic when most of them can't even speak basic Malay, which is the lingua franca of Southeast Asia? Malay is also a much simpler language compared to Arabic. Many Singaporeans don't even know how to sing the national anthem Majulah Singapura, which is in Malay.
Singapore must diversify its economic interests but it simply cannot move away from Malaysia. Many Singaporeans, including businessmen, will continue to flock to Malaysia for pleasure and business, and vice versa. This will continue despite the inability of the two goverments to resolve their differences.
The historical links are simply too great. Malaysia and Singapore are like Siamese twins, according to a late Malaysian minister.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Singapore seems to be doing whatever it can to reduce its dependence on its traditional hinterland -- Malaysia.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Quite interesting and well done spoof of Malaysian politics and intrigues, originally from kickdefella.
The confirmed murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu has spawned all sorts of conspiracy theories in Malaysia. Please see susanloone for one of the versions.
One of the suspects is political analyst Razak Baginda (second picture), who is known to be close to Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak (last picture).
Razak Baginda, who has been charged with abetting the gruesome murder, has been released out on bail on medical grounds although murder suspects or their accomplices are rarely granted bail in Malaysia. This happened although PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (third picture) has vowed to ensure full justice in the the headline-grabbing case.
Eye-opening Israel trip evokes thoughts of home
By PETER H L LIM
The New Paper, 22/11/2006
(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited
ISRAEL is not a common destination for Singaporeans for holiday or for business. Yet many Singaporeans have been there, including those on pilgrimage. Back home after 11 days in the country - which is situated on territory that is Holy Land to the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions - the most frequently asked question was: Were you in any danger at any time?
No, the Singapore Press Club group of 30 did not face any imminent danger even though the places we visited included spots close to the Lebanese and Syrian borders, the Golan Heights being one of the highlights. Usually, I do not like being buss-ed around for sightseeing. I would much rather explore on my own, at my own pace. But the sightseeing packaged for us gave me rewarding glimpses of historical sites and contemporary attractions.
I studied the Bible when I was in a mission school and, though I have no religion, I felt a distinct sense of place when we visited locations where Jesus had been, like beside and on the Sea of Galilee. I had read and heard about the Holocaust and the millions of victims of Nazi anti-Semitism. Yet it was still a discovery of facts and feelings as I walked and paused at the Holocaust memorial. The memorial was more a shrine than a museum. It comprised gorgeous architecture, designed to bring to glorious life the old saying that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It also conveyed grim remembrance, reminding us of murderous racism and of how one people, one religion and one vision could keep the Jews alive through centuries of having no home to call their own.
Now Israel in the Middle East is their beloved home - and the Jews are hated for that by many people because of the way the nation came about and what it cost, and is still costing, countless Muslim Arabs and others. Of more interest to me than the sightseeing were the discussions about Israel and its neighbours that we had with Israeli thinkers and doers.
The discussions came very close to home for us Singaporeans when we heard statements such as these: 'Israel, like Singapore, is a small country,' said an Israeli Foreign Ministry official in defence of his country's pre-emptive strike military doctrine. 'We have no second-strike capability.' 'In Singapore, your Muslims see themselves as part of the system,' said an Israeli parliamentarian. An Israeli social activist said in another discussion: 'In Israel, there is not yet equality of treatment for both races (the Jews and the Arabs).' 'We are part of the global village, we're very high-tech,' said the director of an Israeli think-tank. 'Our people are very mobile, they move around and are in high demand in the West. Yet, whenever we have to call up our reservists, the combat units get 100 per cent response. We have a very strong sense of commitment.'
What our trip lacked was access to Arab thinkers and doers, especially those who could speak for the Palestinians. For among the Palestinians too is a very strong commitment to homeland. And so my thoughts turned to home and to hopes for the same strength of commitment from my fellow citizens.
When sworn enemies rock 'n' roll together
By PETER H L LIM
The New Paper, 15/11/2006
(C) Singapore Press Holdings Limited
She was one against 12 in a group of 33 teenagers from as many countries. She was a Jewish Israeli, representing Israel. The 12 were from Arab or Islamic countries, or Muslims from other nations. When they first met in New York in the winter of 1956/57, she tried to make friends with the 12. They refused to even acknowledge her greetings. But she had no problems making friends with the others attending the New York Herald Tribune youth forum. I was the delegate from Singapore.
I watched as the lanky Daphna took the rejection from the 12 in her stride. Even though she understood the reasons for their hostility, it was clear that she was hurt. The main reason, which persists to this day, is that the Arabs are angry that their Palestinian brothers and sisters have been driven from much of their motherland by the post-World War II creation of the state of Israel. Non-Arab Muslims share in the pain of the dispossessed, refugees in their own territory or in other peoples', victims of big-power politics. The Jewish Israelis feel that they are the true victims, dispersed and persecuted for thousands of years in many countries, who have finally come home. And they are not safe at home because of constant attacks by enemies who want to delete Israel from the world map.
As an 18-year-old from colonial Singapore , I was shocked by the depth of the animosity between the Jews and the Arabs, and by the unconditional support given to the Arabs by the other Muslims in the group. Then, over the three months of the youth forum when the delegates stayed together or separately with American families, I learnt an abiding lesson in human relations: Even the worst of enemies can become friends when they see each other as fellow human beings.
Before the end of the forum, Daphna was treated as a friendly delegate by all of the 12 who had spurned her.
The most heartwarming sight: Moroccan delegate Mohd Amine, who is much shorter than Daphna, dancing the rock 'n' roll with her and repeatedly swinging her over his shoulder! In Israel during the last two weeks, from what I saw and heard as a first-timer in the country, I came to the sad conclusion that there is probably no solution to the Israel-Palestine problem for so long as both states want to exist.
To so many of the protagonists on both sides, co-existence itself is a no-go word. I was one of 30 members of the Singapore Press Club on a 'sightseeing and seek understanding' visit facilitated by the Israeli Foreign Ministry but paid for by club members themselves.
It was heart-wrenching hearing the Holocaust stories again and seeing the memorials and the museums of a people who not only survived their diaspora, but who have also hung on to their identity and thrived to the extent that many others feel threatened or, at best, envious. What was heartwarming, though, was to hear a few Jewish Israelis telling us that it was time for the Jews to drop their victim syndrome and help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians, their fellow human beings.
The writer is the former editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspapers Division.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad may have bagged some foreign honours recently but he's still not treated like a statesman back in his own country.
He made it to the cover of the October 30 issue of Time Magazine. The cover story gave him the platform for him to voice his grouses against successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. But the article also criticised Dr M for his past excesses as the country's longest-serving premier.
And on Nov 19, Dr M became the first Malaysian to receive the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice, according to The Star. Mukhriz received the award on behalf of his father, who is still recuperating from a mild heart attack. Dr Mahathir’s personal assistant Adzlin Azhar reportedly said the award was given in recognition of Dr Mahathir’s efforts in pushing through national unity in a multiracial and multireligious country.
But Dr M was not garlanded.
Instead of analysing some of the points raised by Dr M, delegates at the recent general assembly of United Malays National Organisation simply ignored the old man.
Can't blame them completely because Badawi has postponed the party election until after the national elections. So, anyone who doesn't toe the line faces the danger of being dropped from the line-up in the general elections, which are not due until 2009.
Everyone has to toe the line even though many people feel there is merit in some of Dr M's arguments. And many probably feel that the country can do better under the current regime.
By Uncle C
The fiasco in Iraq progresses from bad to worse. I just watched a terrifying film made by an Iraqi doctor about life in a Baghdad hospital. The physical conditions of the hospital were like a bad nightmare. Mutilated patients torn apart by bombs and gunfire screamed as the hard-pressed doctors struggled to cope.
It is a horrible irony that at a time when Iraq so desperately needs doctors, those same doctors are fleeing abroad; it is estimated that 80 percent of the nation’s doctors have gone overseas. The same goes for blood supplies, which are in unprecedented demand. Terrorists have been targeting blood donors, gunning them down as they leave the hospital. Even the hospital’s head of security was shot dead by insurgents.
No doubt you will recall the televised scenes of jubilation a few years ago as American tanks pulled statues of the dictator Saddam Hussein off their plinths. Huge crowds of Iraqis cheered in delight. They stamped on the statues and removed their shoes, using them to beat Saddam's face — the ultimate humiliation for an Iraqi. We even saw Iraqi men gleefully urinating on posters of Saddam.
Well, I have to tell you that in another irony of the war, those same Iraqis are now saying life was better under Saddam. I watched in disbelief as Iraqi after Iraqi shouted at the camera that they want Saddam back. ‘Let Saddam out of his prison! Put him back in charge! At least Iraq was peaceful under him. Life under Saddam was paradise compared to this mad house!’ So the complaints carried on.
I could not help sympathising with those distraught Iraqis. Saddam Hussein may have been a brutal dictator who thought nothing of murdering his enemies but at least Iraq was a peaceful functioning country. The electricity supply was reliable; today it works for about four hours a day. Under Saddam Iraq was a secular nation, Islam had no place in political life; today rival religious extremists are tearing the country apart. The hospitals had medicines and plenty of doctors, healthcare was among the best in the Middle East; today it is a shambles. Iraqi women used to be free to work and did not feel compelled to wear face veils; today women who do not veil themselves are liable to be murdered by extremists. The ironies of this war are as endless as they are pitiful.
Perhaps the most supreme irony of all was that the job of war President fell on the shoulders of a man so supremely unqualified — George Bush. Being a leader when calamity strikes requires very special and rare qualities. That 9/11 should have happened under President Bush, and so early in his presidency, was the saddest and ultimate irony for America, Iraq and the world.
In fact, my worry extends to the Bush family. Did you see the interview — I think on Larry King Live — with the present President Bush’s father, who when U.S. President had refused to continue the Gulf War to Bagdad. When asked what advice he had given his son about Iraq, the elder statesman and former President Bush replied ‘I did not give George any advice. Like any father I do not interfere. I let him get on with the job’. ‘But you are a former President. This is more than a father and son relationship,’ continued the interviewer. I was amazed that Bush senior apparently could not appreciate that as a former war President with direct knowledge of Iraq, he almost had a duty to give advice even to a President who is his son.
Perhaps there we have the biggest irony of all. Father and son, both Presidents of the world superpower, who do not communicate with each other about events that really matter. I fear that their wealth clouds their judgement.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The causeway continues to be clogged with monster traffic. Mom and dad went to the border city of Johor Baru for an emergency following the sudden hospitalisation of grandpa last week. But they were caught in a massive traffic jam at 10pm. The volume of motor cycles and cars returning to JB at the end of each of working day was simply too overwhelming.
Fortunately, immigration checks didn't take too long after a one-hour jam, which is quite a short wait compared to other days. Must thank the two governments for making life easier for residents of the two countries?
Saturday, November 18, 2006
By Uncle C
Is there something fundamentally misguided in the Hong Kong government department responsible for tackling our horrendous and worsening pollution problem? I get the impression that the government has a mindset that prefers to concentrate on what is not possible rather than what can be done. A sort of negativism pervades their utterances and policies. Take a look at the four main aspects of the pollution that blight our lives, cost the economy billions and actually kill the weak.
First, electricity generation. The government has negotiated long-term terms of control with the makers of our electricity which have left the government in a stranglehold. Measures to reduce pollution from generating stations will take time and lots of money and in the short term there is little that can be done, we are told. But isn’t this way of thinking too negative? Should not the emphasis be on large-scale solutions, alternative sources of energy, even if the cost is great? Hong Kong faces the sea, we have plenty of off-shore islands, there is plenty of untapped wind energy. Why can’t we lead the world and tap that wind energy by building huge off-shore wind farms. Of course the wind does not always blow, and sometimes it blows too fast for wind turbines, so we need back-up sources of supply. But the back-up supply could as easily be pollution-free nuclear power. It seems that the latest designs of nuclear stations are much safer and produce hardly any nasty radioactive waste. Why can’t Hong Kong negotiate with China and find sites for new nuclear power stations. But whatever happens we simply must close down mega-polluters like the Castle Peak and Lamma Island generators.
Secondly, transport pollution. The government is tied into long-term agreements with the bus companies that actually create unnecessary pollution. As everyone knows our roads are often clogged with buses carrying few passengers. Perhaps the bus companies should be penalised for every empty seat/kilometer they carry. As for cars, the government appears wedded to the ancient idea that the best answer to congestion is to build more roads. But we all know that new roads simply lead to more vehicles and yet more congestion. Again, we need to think the unthinkable. Higher taxes on the most polluting vehicles, congestion charging, variable parking charges, charges per kilometer — there are lots of ways to tackle vehicle pollution. And more can be done to encourage electric vehicles. The same applies to aviation pollution at the airport, which is a pollution blackspot. Should we not be thinking about pollution taxes on air transport?
Thirdly, urban planning. Our planners are wedded to the ultra-high-rise solution. This is mainly the result of the old colonial policy of high land prices. Our urban roads have become narrow canyons of high-rise buildings. Take a walk down Hollywood Road and between the new skyscraper blocks where the narrow street level lives in permanent shade. Heat and pollution from air-conditioners and vehicles is trapped between the buildings and cannot escape. Surely, we need a change of direction. Let’s move away from the high land price policy and design buildings so that pollution can escape. We also need rules that require buildings to create their own pollution-free power.
Finally, there is that old bugbear, pollution imported from across the border. Most of this pollution is caused by factories owned by Hong Kong businesses and I simply cannot understand why the government cannot tackle the problem. The fact that the polluters are outside the jurisdiction is not an insurmountable problem. Again, there is this govrenment mindset that says because the pollution is outside our jurisdiction, there is nothing or not much that can be done. This negativism is a principal part of our pollution problem.
Oh, I forgot to mention the big common thread that links all four pollution problems. Every solution will mean offending big business interests. Does the government have the stomach for that?
Thursday, November 16, 2006
While cost of living will rise in Singapore due to the impending rise in the Goods and Services Tax to 7 per cent from 5 per cent, the cost of living has already hit the roof in Malaysia.
The main culprit is the big jump in petrol prices, following the Malaysian government's move to cut state subsidies drastically this year to help cope with the big jump in global oil prices. Many businessmen and even traders at pasar malams (night markets) have marked up their price tags, citing higher transportation costs. Some increases could well be justified. Others simply smacked of profiteering.
The Malaysian ringgit is definitely worth a lot less nowadays following the big jump in petrol prices, based on dad's anecdotes from friends and from his casual observation. Petrol pump prices have gone up by a staggering 40 per cent in two years. Consumers have definitely felt the pinch. The official Consumer Price Index increase of 4 per cent is definitely understated.
Instead of removing subsidies overnight, the government should have heeded former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's advise to allow the currency to appreciate more following its de-pegging. It would have been a less painful option.
Prices will rise further in Malaysia. This is because the Malaysian government is set to introduce its first GST in 2007. Will there be an offset package like in Singapore to help the poor? Malaysia may well announce some form of package to offset the impact of the GST on the poor.
But implementation of government policy in Malaysia is, as usual, another story.
The conventional arguments:
1. Singapore must resort to indirect taxes as it can't afford to raise direct taxes to meet its own spending needs in the competitive global market for foreign investments and capital.
2. The government will try do more to help the lower income group cope with the increase in the consumption tax that applies to both rich and poor alike.
3. Singapore's GST or Value-Added Tax is still low, even at 7 per cent. Other countries have substantially higher VATs.
Yes, it may be an inevitable move to raise GST worldwide (including nearby places such as Malaysia and Hong Kong) although it is a regressive move -- GST affects the poor more than the rich. But the Singapore experience warrants a closer look:
1. Timing is an issue. The government is planning to jack up GST shortly after voters gave the ruling People's Action Party a clear mandate in the May election. Opposition figures had taken the government to task for not keeping the costs of living down, and pointed out during the campaign period that GST, carpark fees and other things had risen soon after the last election in 2001.
Prime Minister Lee countered it during the campaign period, according to a ST report dated 5 May 2006:
"The opposition is, as usual, rumour-mongering. It is impossible for costs never to go up. But it's also ridiculous for the Government to want to push them up deliberately just to make life difficult for people."
To be fair to the government, it never said outright that GST won't go up after the election. And the government has always maintained that its package of benefits -- such as the Economic Restructuring Shares, rebates for certain services and conservancy charges -- will more than offset the effects of higher GST for the lower income group.
2. The argument that the Singapore government may face constraints in trying to balance its annual expenditure bills based on the current taxation system neglects the fact that Singapore is sitting on massive and generally untapped reserves of more than US$100 billion. There are also myriad indirect taxes already imposed on residents of the island -- such as water conservation tax and the COE system for the purchase of cars. The government can afford to tap the reserves judiciously.
3. Other countries that have higher VATs generally provide plenty of state aid to their citizens. Singapore has given offset packages to help the poor cope with the rising cost of living. But somebody should do an in-depth study on whether such handouts are efficient in helping poor families tide over their cash-flow woes arising from higher GST.
While the debate continues, cost of living will rise in Singapore as all businesses -- even hawkers or kopi tiams that are exempt from the GST net -- will take the opportunity to jack up their prices.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Singapore commentators and bloggers have had a field day debating on the proposed changes to the Penal Code -- the first major revamp of the entire code since 1984.
As expected, most of them focused on proposed changes to laws governing sex, illegal assembly and blogs. A sample argument is available on popular blog Yawning Bread, run by Au Waipang, who is openly gay.
Some of the proposed changes of the Penal Code are:
8. For “unlawful assembly” (s.141), the provision has also been amended to make it clear that an assembly of 5 or more people whose common object is to commit ~ offence, and not just those relating to public tranquility, would also constitute an “unlawful assembly”. This clarifies the definition of “unlawful assembly” to make it clear that the offence need not be an offence involving public tranquility and is in line with Court pronouncements.
9. Arising from the case of the racist bloggers who were charged under the Sedition Act, we propose amending the Penal Code to provide another option to the Sedition Act, to charge such offenders in future cases. Hence, MHA recommends expanding the scope of s.298 on “Uttering words, etc with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person” to cover the wounding of racial feelings as well. For future such cases, where appropriate, prosecution can have the option to proceed under the Penal Code or the Sedition Act.
10. Currently, s.377 criminalises all forms of carnal intercourse against the order of nature, other than vaginal intercourse, between a man, woman, or an animal, regardless of whether consent was obtained or if the act was performed in a public or private place. We intend to repeal s.377, re-scoping it such that anal and oral sex, if done in private between a consenting adult heterosexual couple aged 16 years old and above, would no longer be criminalised. As part of the rescoping, the archaic term “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” will be removed. The offence of bestiality, currently covered under s.377, will be expanded to cover the scenario where a person was compelled by another person to perform bestiality without his consent.
Laws on male and female homosexuals will remain unchanged, meaning that they will remain a crime (I think they were first introduced when bullock carts and trishaws were still roaming the streets of British colonies in the late 19th century) But there has been no enforcement of the archaic law. Singapore is probably not ready to embrace gays openly.
What's the bottomline of all the proposed changes in Singapore? Be careful when you blog or plan a public meeting, but feel free to do whatever you want in the bedroom as long as you are heterosexuals! :-)
With Dr M hospitalised, Malaysia and Singapore readers have been gripped by news of the alleged gruesome murder of beautiful Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu (top right hand corner and pix of her grieving father under her) in Malaysia. The rest of the pictures came from an unverified email, purportedly of Atlantuya when she was a model.
She was apparently gunned down and then blown to pieces with C4 plastic explosives following a love affair that turned sour.
The police have been grilling a political analyst and others in the probe. The analyst is known to be an associate and a speechwriter of a high-ranking Malaysian minister.
PS: Singapore's ST yesterday said the sexy pix circulated in the email are not that of the Mongolian model. It's in fact pix of a Korean model. Not entirely surprising that somebody is trying to capitalise on news of the Mongolian model.
According to The Star, former Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad will give the general assembly of the United Malays National Organisation on Monday a miss after recovering from his mild heart attack. The former PM and Umno president looks good in The Star picture although the report said he seemed weak during the 20-minute interview.
(Pix: The Star)
Dr M, 81, definitely needs to take it easier at his age and after his second heart attack, and choose his battle more selectively. He can still be a useful watchdog of Malaysia and the rest of the world.
In the case of Malaysia, most of his criticisms of the current administration warrant a scrutiny although some feel that the "pensioner" should stay mum. They include issues like the much abused Approved Permit car import system, the need for national carmaker Proton to get a foreign strategic partner, the need to step up and distribute more equitably government development expenditure, the need to rein in nepotism and cronyism, and the need to build a new bridge to replace the old causeway linking southern Malaysia and Singapore.
In the international arena, Dr M continues to provide a necessary Asian voice in the world dominated by Western and American agenda. For example, the US President George Bush, who ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, was quick to endorse the Iraqi court decision last week to sentence former President Saddam Hussein to death for "for crimes against humanity for the killings and torture of hundreds of Shi'ites".
Dr M's equally quick response: "A court set up by his enemies has no right to try Saddam Hussein. A court set up by an illegal occupying power has no jurisdiction whatsoever to conduct the said proceedings."
Mahathir reportedly added that if the verdict was right, then US President Bush and British PM Tony Blair should also be tried "for the unlawful invasion and occupation of Iraq, the death of over 650,000 Iraqis and the brutal torture of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay."
PS: Blair has said he opposed the death penalty for Saddam following the Iraqi court decision.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is recovering from his mild heart attack and has been moved out of the intensive care unit, according to media reports and bloggers in the country.
The Star said he's been receiving a steady stream of visitors such as Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin and former political foe Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Unfortunately, some quarters think the heart attack wasn't real, and it was just a ploy to avoid going to the general assembly of the United Malays National Organisation next week amid his bickering with successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Dad doesn't believe so. He thinks that Dr M will still love to attend the meeting although many Umno members are likely to back the Umno leader of the day blindly.
Hope he gets well soon.
By Uncle C
All my rich and famous friends must have heard of the great Chinese philosopher, teacher and moral leader Confucius. The more educated will have read his celebrated Analects. Confucius is to moral philosophy as Jesus Christ is to the Holy Bible, the prophet Mohammed is to the Koran, and Buddha is to the sutras of Buddhism. Even if less educated people have not read Confucius’s Analects they will surely they have offered their prayers at the many temples dedicated to Confucius scattered across every Chinese community in the world.
So I was intrigued to read that the leader of the Confucian Academy in Hong Kong has approached the Chief Executive and asked him to do two things. First, to build a Confucian temple and, secondly, to make the birthday of Confucius a public holiday. I am against the first proposal but am completely neutral on the second. Why you may ask should I be against a new temple.
Well, there is no doubt that Confucius was a great teacher and moral philosopher. His teaching is so firmly embedded in the Chinese mind and history that no aspect of Chinese life has not been affected by Confucius. When we speak of fidelity to our parents, ancestral worship and a system of government based only on merit, our inspiration comes from the philosopher Confucius born over 2,500 years ago (at about the same the time as Buddha was born).
All successive dynasties in Chinese history had to pay their respects, or at least pay lip service, to the ideals of Confucianism. Even today the one common ideology that binds the Mainland and Taiwan is a shared devotion to the teachings of the sage.
Confucius taught us many things concerning human life such as how men should behave, how families should behave, and how rulers should behave but he hardly, if at all, was concerned with theological and spiritual matters. In one of his classic remarks, when asked about the after-life, he is reputed to have replied that he did not claim to have any supernatural power and he never spoke about anything such as a soul or about life beyond death.
Confucius, therefore, was neither a god nor a religious leader. And it would be wrong in my view to build a temple dedicated to him. Erect a new academy plated in pure gold if you like, but not a temple that encourages people to pray and burn incense before his effigy. A crucial aspect of Confucius’s greatness was that he stuck to what he knew best, moral philosophy. He was interested in the practicalities of everyday ethics. He was a realist who offered practical solutions.
By worshipping him as a god we demean his greatness and distort his reputation. To be truthful to his teachings and wishes, we should revere Confucius as a practical philosopher and not worship him as if he had supernatural powers. There are already plenty of supernatural gods in the Chinese pantheon of gods and it is unnecessary to add another — especially Confucius who would not like the idea. Also the government should remain strictly secular and not use taxpayers’ money for any religious purpose.
But as for that extra public holiday, I do not suppose many employees will object.
Posted by Sophie at 12:07 AM
Friday, November 10, 2006
The Democrats have had a clean sweep of the Congress and the Senate in the mid-term election in the United States, dealing a major blow to lame-duck President George W. Bush and his disastrous and unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
Many press reports in the last two days have said that the vote will have major ramifications on US policies ranging from the war on terror to trade pacts.
But there is also the view that nothing much will change, especially in Iraq. According to Singapore's BT editorial, the Democrats will still not have the necessary power to force the White House to change its policies in Iraq. First, the Democrats will not have enough votes to override a presidential veto. And second, President Bush will continue to exert enormous influence on national security issues.
While the final outcome is still unknown, it's obvious that any change in US policy will have major impact on the rest of the world. In particular, will the change in the political wind in the US have any impact on Malaysia or Singapore?
In the case of Malaysia, one clear uncertainty is the draft Free Trade Agreement with the US. The two countries started negotiations this year with the view of finalising an FTA by the end of the year and submission to the US Congress before July 2007.
There are two concerns. Media reports said a Democrat-controlled Congress is not so keen on free trade pacts as they may wipe out jobs in the US. The other concern is Malaysia's own domestic politics. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's criticisms of Malaysia's trade talks with Japan and the US as lopsided appear to have gained ground.
And in the case of Singapore, there is less direct impact following the change in the Congress. Singapore sealed its FTA with the US in 2003. The countries have made great strides since then to deepen their economic and political ties.
But Singapore will face a conundrum should President Bush order a pull-out from Iraq to help appease the Democrats on other pressing domestic issues.
Unlike Malaysia and many countries, Singapore had given its full backing to the US invasion of Iraq although the invasion was morally and unequivocally wrong. Singapore had to show its commitment to its good friend.
Will Singapore then admit that its blind support of the US war in Iraq was wrong?
Posted by Sophie at 10:05 AM
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Many would have heard by now that former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 81, suffered a mild heart attack and has been hospitalised in Kuala Lumpur's National Heart Institute today.
Some may be gleeful that the fiery leader, who has earned the wrath of many leaders and countries for his bluntness, has suffered such a fate.
But dad will never write off one of the greatest Asian leaders in modern history.
Little Sophie and mom and dad will be praying for the speedy recovery of Dr M.
Posted by Sophie at 9:54 PM
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Malaysian tycoon Francis Yeoh (wikipedia pix) is still the midst of submitting his proposal for a bullet train service from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
Although details are still sketchy, earlier reports have said that the service could help cut rail travel time between the two capitals to just 90 minutes from the current 6-8 hours.
It definitely sounds like a good project to help foster closer ties between the people in the two countries, which still have deep ties despite their separation in 1965.
But can the project really take off? There are many complications:
1. Such a service will need the approval and cooperation of Singapore. It's not known if Singapore will say yes or ask for a balance of benefits.
2. The call by some Malaysian politicians to stop the train service in the southern Malaysian city of Johor Baru may render the project not viable. Why? This is because such a project will need high volume of people from Singapore, which attracted more than 8 million visitors last year. Singaporeans can also pay mah! :-)
3. Such a super fast train service from KL to Singapore will definitely call for a new link between the two countries. The old causeway, which links JB and Woodlands in Singapore, definitely has no room for a double-tracking and fast railway track. There is only a single track currently on the over-utilised causeway.
4. It's also not foreseeable for a bullet train to run along the Second Link, which connects Tuas in Singapore and Gelang Patah on the western side of Johor, as the bridge was probably not designed to carry the weight of a bullet train.
A new bridge to replace the dilapidated causeway will help solve the issue and other problems plaguing JB, as planners can leave room for a super fast train service on the side of the bridge to connect the hearts of the two countries.
Alternatively, Francis can plan for a tunnel under the Straits of Johor for the proposed train service should Singapore insist on keeping the causeway. Or maybe half a tunnel!
Monday, November 06, 2006
As expected, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has dismissed the call by the Sultan of Johor to demolish the causeway and erect an overhead bridge project (which is a component of the integrated transport hub blueprint in JB as shown in the pix) linking Malaysia and Singapore.
Badawi has had no choice but to dismiss the latest idea as he had scrapped his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamad's overhead bridge project, which would have allowed small ships to traverse the Straits of Johor. Badawi had to say no to the overhead bridge project as he could not secure the nod of the Singapore government, which demanded a "balance of benefits" to jointly build a bridge.
Badawi's decision will probably remain as status quo, as the entire Malaysian cabinet had backed the sudden decision in April to stop the project although many had agreed to Dr Mahathir's decision to replace the causeway with a more environment-friendly bridge in the first place.
In fact, many cabinet ministers, including Badawi himself, had proclaimed the need to proceed with the bridge project just days before the sudden policy U-turn.
One wild card that may revive the call for the bridge project could be the general assembly of the United Malays National Organisation next week. Although Dr Mahathir has been muzzled, others may question why Malaysia should kow-tow to Singapore and scrap the bridge project to replace the causeway.
But many practical Umno members could also back the current leadership due to the allure and power of the incumbency.
Posted by Sophie at 10:06 AM
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Almost all media reports did injustice to the call by the Sultan of Johor to demolish the causeway linking the southern Malaysian city of Johor Baru and Singapore.
Bernama, The Star, New Straits Times and Singapore's The Straits Times, which merged reports by The Star and Asia News Network, all reported the Sultan's comments without giving the context that there is a separate idea to build an overhead bridge to replace the causeway.
The idea of a replacement bridge for the 83-year-old causeway was mooted by former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad back in 1996. But the overhead bridge project -- straight or crooked -- has not taken off since then due to very complicated bilateral issues with Singapore.
As a result, all the reports give the impression that the Sultan wants to sever the main link between JB and Singapore without any alternative.
And as a result, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to issue a statement to say: "I found the remarks rather curious. I don't believe it represents the Malaysian government's position."
Well, I would find all the reported remarks curious too if the causeway is to be demolished without a replacement bridge to help facilitate the massive cross-border movement of people on both sides of the causeway.
Posted by Sophie at 8:45 PM
Malaysia can presumably create the two immigration-free zones in the southern city of Johor Baru, as mentioned in an earlier posting, but how will the move affect Singapore?
Should Singapore endorse the Malaysian plan or should it protect its self interests first?
Assuming that the JB zones can be created with or without Singapore's cooperation or endorsement, will it lead to an influx of businesses and residents to JB from Singapore? Should Singapore then block on its end the flow of residents or businesses to the southern tip of Malaysia although the biggest Singapore FDI is already in Johor? (An example of what the Singapore government did to prevent Singaporeans from going to JB to buy cheaper petrol is the three-quarter tank rule.)
At the macro level, it will definitely be a good thing for both countries if there is real economic union between Malaysia and Singapore atlhough they split in 1965.
The two countries can be a stronger economic entity in the global arena if they can cooperate on many fronts, instead of resorting to a zero-sum competition. For example, Singapore's PSA Corporation should cooperate with Port of Tanjung Pelepas in Johor to create a bigger port player in the region instead of undercuting each other. There are many other instances.
Singapore should perhaps look at the new opportunities in JB as an enlargement of its hinterland in Malaysia. Having a bigger chunk in Malaysia could be cheaper than reclaiming land to enlarge the physical island!
Posted by Sophie at 5:08 PM
I generally don't think much of what Malaysian Sultans say, especially the Sultan of Johor due to his chequered past.
But I have to agree with him on his call yesterday to scrap the 83-year-old causeway. According to Malaysiakini and The Star, he said the causeway was undermining the state's economy and was a vestige of colonialism. He said the causeway, which blocks the natural flow of water in the Straits of Johor, must go and allow ships to go through.
Finally, someone prominent has come out to support former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's idea of a new bridge to replace the causeway. Ironically, the Sultan had earlier said Dr Mahathir should shut up after his retirement!
Anyway, it won't be easy for Malaysia to do away with the causeway as it will need the blessing of Singapore, which owns half of the land-based causeway. KL's cancellation of the bridge project following disagreements with Singapore was the proverbial last straw for Dr Mahathir, who then launched his tirade against his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
It's not too late for Malaysia and Singapore to go back to the negotiating table!
Posted by Sophie at 11:36 AM
Malaysia will set aside two zones in Johor that visitors from Singapore can enter freely without passports as part of the grand plan to help the southern state gain from its close proximity to its rich neighbour.
According to Singapore's BT, one zone of about 40 hectares will stretch from the Causeway (pix) to Stulang Laut, while the other will run from Gelang Patah's Second Link to the Port of Tanjung Pelepas.
There will be no immigration and customs check for entry into these zones which will be guarded by surveillance systems and barriers. There would be no restriction on length of stay, with foreigners allowed to move freely between the zones and Singapore. According to other reports, visitors who want to travel outside the zones will need a passport.
In the pipeline are other projects such as a RM1 billion new state administrative centre; a RM1.8 billion industrial park of high-tech, logistics and agro-based industries; a RM1.5 billion waterfront city; and a RM2 billion education hub, an international resort covering almost 1,000 ha, anchored by two international theme parks, a water park, hotels and other amenities.
As usual, the blueprint sounds wonderful but implementation is always fraught with difficulties in Malaysia.
For a start, there are many issues that the state government and the federal government just could not agree, namely land issues. And all the big projects in the state have generally failed to materialise due to poor planning and other reasons.
Examples include the bridge project to replace the causeway linking the two countries, JB Waterfront City next to the causeway, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Agarta Universe (by former UN sec-gen Javier Perez de Cuellar and friends) and the mega project at Desaru in the 1980s.
Malaysia should get the basics right and overhaul Johor Baru first, starting with the bridge project to replace the ageing causeway. This means getting Singapore's blessing for a joint project. Earlier postings related to the issue -- Johor's woes, Malu Malaysia, Singapore's hinterland and Dinner talk.
Revamp the entire road network in the city, clean up all the dirty rivers flowing into the Straits of Johor, and prevent future flooding in the city.
In other words, Malaysia and Johor must work with Singapore to facilitate the massive cross-border movement of people.
Otherwise, the new free access zones in Johor will be no more than cheap areas for Singaporeans to drink duty-free beer.
Posted by Sophie at 11:33 AM
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Dad went to an event today, and heard the rendition of one of Jacky Cheung's songs. He said it was damn good although he didn't quite understand the meaning of the song. He's still looking for the video on youtube but he still could not find it.
In the meantime, we have re-posted something just as good by Jacky. Enjoy the song even if you don't quite understand the lyrics.
Posted by Sophie at 2:06 AM
Friday, November 03, 2006
The father-in-law and the husband of Temasek Holdings' chief Ho Ching have defended the Singapore government investment arm's disastrous purchase of Shin Corporation from former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew -- the father-in-law of Ho Ching, who is married to Kuan Yew's son Hsien Loong, who is the current premier -- said the Shin deal was "above board' tonight.
SINGAPORE'S Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has said that an investment led by investment agency Temasek in Thailand's Shin Corp was 'above board' and would withstand scrutiny.
Temasek Holdings bought a controlling stake in the Thai telecoms firm from former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family in January, and later increased its stake in a tender offer.
The deal sparked demonstrations in Bangkok against both Singapore and Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in September, and led to investigations into whether Temasek had broken Thailand's foreign ownership laws.
'We're completely above board and we can withstand any investigation,' MM Lee said in response to questions following an address on Friday.
Speaking to an audience of university students in Singapore, he said Temasek's purchase of Shin was also carried out in accordance with Temasek's strict internal rules. -- REUTERS
According to earlier media reports, interim Thai PM Surayud Chulanont had told Hsien Loong that he did not see the Shin Corp deal affecting relations between the two countries. The Thai general also reportedly said bilateral relations remained 'excellent' in an earlier posting.
Posted by Sophie at 11:50 PM
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
The Malaysian state of Johor just can't get its act together.
According to New Straits Times today, an half-hour rain yesterday was enough to turn the Jalan Tampoi stretch at Kampung Ungku Mohsin into a river. This is just the tip of the iceberg on problems in the southern Malaysian state bordering the affluent Singapore.
The federal government has not been able to resolve two main problems plaguing Johor and Singapore -- the sale of Johor water to Singapore and the construction of a bridge to replace the dam-like causeway linking the two countries.
As a result of the inability of the two governments to come to terms on water pricing, Johor continues to sell raw water to Singapore at 3 Malaysian sen per thousand gallons until 2011 and 2061 under two agreements. Singapore sells back a small portion of treated water to Johor at subsidised rates.
And instead of trying to secure Singapore's blessing to jointly build a bridge, Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called off the bridge project completely. The reason? Badawi's cabinet could not agree with Singapore's requests for the so-called "balance of benefits" -- the right to use Malaysian airspace and buy Malaysian sand for Singapore's reclamation purpose -- despite better bilateral relations after the departure of Malaysian premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
While Malaysia should have planned the bridge project better, Singapore's position is not so admirable either. This sentiment was well captured in famous Singapore A-level student Gayle Goh's blog, in which she basically criticised Singapore's selfishness in its foreign policy.
In particular, she also cited her school's dialogue session with Singapore's Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan, who was asked by a student as to why Singapore was unwilling to help to build the bridge between Malaysia and Singapore as a gesture of goodwill between neighbours. His reply: "You want to build a bridge? Sure. But make it worth my while."
Gayle's enlightened response to the episode:
This mentality of self-interest -- which, let's call a spade a spade, is really selfishness -- sounds well and good until we begin to consider a few things. Firstly, I'm quite concerned that Singapore's selfish tendencies may just come round to bite us in the behind at some point. Our reluctance to do anything about Burma means that ASEAN is weakened from within, and our reputation as a region tarnished overseas. Our small-mindedness about the matter of goodwill and ties between Malaysia is not only downright obnoxious, but spells out ill omens for diplomatic and trading ties between the nations in the future. And let's not even talk about what will happen when the water agreement expires. With regards to Iraq? Our insensitivity to our neighbours' needs and our willingness to 'suck up to the US', which he essentially conceded, is hardly going to endear ourselves to Islamic radicals in the region.
The two bilateral problems alone will remain unresolved for some time to come. As a result, Malaysia continues to lose out on water revenue. And without the integrated bridge and transportation hub blueprint, Johor will never be able to resolve all its traffic problems.
In the meantime, the state continues to be plagued by other problems -- crime, traffic snarl, corruption, poor city planning, a narrow channel of water with one of highest toxic levels in the world, highest inflation in the country due to massive inflow of the stronger Singapore dollar, and a whole colony of underground industries to cater to Singaporeans and others (DVD piracy and prostitution).
Posted by Sophie at 10:22 PM