Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Global growth: Still made in China


AUGUST 31, 2016

Despite all the hand-wringing over the vaunted China slowdown, the Chinese economy remains the single largest contributor to world GDP growth. For a global economy limping along at stall speed — and most likely unable to withstand a significant shock without toppling into renewed recession — that contribution is all the more important.

A few numbers bear this out. If Chinese GDP growth reaches 6.7 per cent year — in line with the government’s official target and only slightly above the International Monetary Fund’s latest prediction (6.6 per cent) — China would account for 1.2 percentage points of world GDP growth.

With the IMF currently expecting only 3.1 per cent global growth this year, China would contribute nearly 39 per cent of the total.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beijing gave up South China Sea rights after signing UN treaty, Chuck Hagel says

Huileng Tan
Nyshka Chandran

Tuesday, 12 Jul 2016

Beijing gave up its rights to the South China Sea after signing up to a United Nations convention, a former U.S. Defense Secretary said Wednesday, a day after an international tribunal ruled that China's claims of historical rights over the disputed waters were not founded on evidence.

A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, decided on Tuesday that China's claims to the disputed waters were counter to international law.

The Philippines had contested China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Manila contended were invalid under international law.

China, however, said its historic rights predated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and were not at odds with the provisions of the treaty , to which both countries were signatories.

But the East Asian giant relinquished those rights when it signed the UNCLOS, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

South China Sea ruling: About the arbitral tribunal

Goh Sui Noi

East Asia Editor

Jul 17, 2016

The ruling on the South China Sea dispute has had critics questioning the authority of the tribunal, its source of legitimacy and the strength of its ruling. East Asia Editor Goh Sui Noi examines the processes that led to the findings and legal standing of the arbitration panel.

Millennials aren’t buying homes. Good for them.

By Catherine Rampell
Opinion writer

August 22, 2016

Washington Post

Millennial homeownership rates are way, way down. And believe it or not, that’s probably a good thing.

Across all age groups, the U.S. homeownership rate — at 62.9 percent — has now fallen to its lowest level in more than five decades. Among younger Americans only, things look especially paltry.

Homeownership rates among Americans under age 35 are barely more than half the national number, at just 34.1 percent. This too is a record low and about a fifth below its peak from the go-go years of the mid-2000s.

Young people, it seems, are finding themselves falling further and further away from the American dream of homeownership. As you’ve surely heard by now, not only are they not buying their own houses, but they’re also increasingly not even renting their own places. Instead, they’re returning to — or perhaps, never leaving — the nest.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The great powers and the rule of law

Tommy Koh

The Straits Times,
22 July 2016

PROFESSOR Graham Allison is a brilliant scholar. He is currently the director of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Harvard University. He had served previously as the dean of the Kennedy School. On July 16, this newspaper published an article by him entitled "Heresy to say great powers don't bow to international courts'"

He concluded that: "It is hard to disagree with the realists' claims that the Law of the Sea tribunals, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court are only for small powers. Great powers do not recognise the jurisdiction of these courts - except in particular cases where they believe it is in their interest to do so."

Prof Allison also quoted, with approval, Thucydides' summary of the Melian mantra - "The strong do as they will; the weak suffer as they must..."

Friday, August 19, 2016

China’s empty oceans

[Why Chinese Fishing Boats are encroaching on other countries' water.]


AUGUST 19, 2016

On Wednesday, Indonesia celebrated its Independence Day with a bang — blowing up several Chinese boats that had been caught fishing illegally in its waters and impounded.

China does not dispute Indonesia’s territorial claims, but Chinese fishermen have more pressing concerns. According to reports in Chinese state media this week, overfishing and pollution have so depleted China’s own fishery resources that in some places — including the East China Sea —there are virtually no fish left.

That is a frightening prospect for an increasingly hungry country: China accounted for 35 per cent of the world’s seafood consumption in 2015. Seeking catches further afield — including in Indonesian waters — is not really a solution; fish stocks in the disputed South China Sea have themselves fallen by as much as 95 per cent from 1950s levels.

If China does not want the rest of Asia’s fisheries to suffer the same fate as its own, it is going to have to think much more ambitiously about how to create a sustainable food supply for the region.

Organic Food, GM Food, and their potential to feed the World

[Three articles. First a bold claim that Organic Farming can feed 10 billion people. Spoiler: Everyone will have to be vegan or vegetarian. Presumably land used for rearing beef and other meat as well as land used to grow animal feed will be converted to farms for human food. 

Second a list of myths about organic farming.

And third, an update on the dangers of GM Food. Spoiler: 50 years of studies found no dangers.]

Bacillus thuringiensis - Organic farming tool, or GMO food toxin?

Two articles.

The first is a pro-Organic food article from GMWatch which explains why it is ok to use Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt in Organic farming, but it becomes an abomination in GM foods.

The second is a rebuttal to the first, and explains that GM Watch (and the pro-organic/Anti-GM/Anti-science lobby) has no case.]

Bt in organic farming and GM crops - the difference

One of the favourite arguments of the pro-GM lobby in support of Bt-toxin GM crops is that the Bt toxin has been safely used for decades by organic farmers.

Many thanks to Susan Pusztai for the following information which precisely delineates the very considerable differences between the use of Bt in organic farming and the use of the Bt toxin as a transgene in GM crops.

This should be read in conjunction with Arpad Pusztai's recent comments, posted to the ngin list, on the gut lesions which have been found in several animal feeding studies on GM crops.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Keep calm and carry on commenting responsibly

Selina Lum

Aug 18 2016
The Straits Times

A new law on contempt of court gives more leeway to order a publisher to take down an article. It also reduces the threshold in scandalising contempt. Despite critics' misgivings, the changes need not stifle responsible debate.

Parliament on Monday approved a law on contempt of court. But throughout the seven-hour debate, Law Minister K. Shanmugam kept pointing out that, in fact, little had changed with the new law.

Yet many MPs expressed reservations about parts of the new law. The nine Workers' Party MPs all voted against it.

So what, if anything, has changed with the passing of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Lessons for Singapore from Schooling's win

David Chan
Director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute and Professor of Psychology at SMU

!6 Aug 2016

Joseph Schooling's gold medal win at the Rio Olympics over the weekend highlights the achievements of human potential and the indomitable spirit of human nature

Singaporeans shared a common experience as they went through emotions of anticipation, excitement and then jubilation on the Saturday morning of Aug 13 as they watched the final race of the 100m butterfly event, telecast live from the Rio Olympics.

Continuous "bings" from anticipatory mobile messages among friends went silent for 50.39 seconds - the new record time that Joseph Schooling swam to clinch Singapore's first-ever Olympic gold medal. Ecstasy erupted among Singaporeans, paused only momentarily as solemnity overcame Singaporeans as Majulah Singapura was played for the first time in Olympic history.

Like many Singaporeans, emotions welled up in me as I watched the Singapore flag being raised together with - and then above - the flags from three countries. Three because the silver medal was (for the first time) awarded to three world-class swimmers - the United States' Michael Phelps, South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, who all clocked the same time in the race to finish second behind Schooling.

Empty, the power of Democracy is

[On Democracy, Politics, Intransigence, and futility of opposing reality.]

Brexit and King Canute

LONDON – The legend of King Canute describes how an early Anglo-Saxon King showed his subjects the limits of royal power. Canute set his throne by the sea and commanded the rising tide to turn back. When the sea rose as usual and soaked Canute, he told his courtiers: “Now let all men know how empty is the power of kings.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose motto is “Brexit means Brexit,” seems to believe that Canute’s message was about democracy, not astronomy: he should have held a referendum. Though May opposed the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, she now has a new mantra: “We will make Brexit a success because people voted for it.”

This is nonsense. If Britain becomes the only European country apart from Russia to exclude itself from the EU single market, it will not succeed economically, regardless of how people vote. Democracy would not have prevented the ocean tides, driven by gravity, from drowning Canute if he had stayed on his throne, and a referendum will not turn back the economic tides driven by globalization.

Monday, August 15, 2016

2016 Singapore Budget will have surplus of $3.45 billion[

MAR 24, 2016

Ann Williams

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Government will be spending $5 billion more in this year's budget but will still achieve a $3.45 billion surplus - thanks to a run of high COE prices and the inclusion for the first time of investment returns from Temasek Holdings.

Just don't expect this to last, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat warned in his Budget announcement on Thursday (March 24).

The Government's total spending for fiscal 2016 will go up by $5 billion or 7.3 per cent, to $73.4 billion from $68.4 billion a year ago.

But this will be more than offset by two things - Temasek's contribution and the Government's operating revenue rising by $4.28 billion, or 6.7 per cent, to $68.4 billion.

GIC sees lower returns, warns of tougher times

Rumi Hardasmalani

July 28, 2016

SINGAPORE — GIC warned that it could see low returns for up to 20 years partly because of an uncertain global economic and earnings environment, as the Republic’s sovereign wealth fund manager posted its weakest performance since 2013.

GIC, which manages well over US$100 billion (S$136 billion) in assets, produced a rolling annualised 20-year real rate of return — calculated after taking into account global inflation — of 4 per cent for the fiscal year ended March, down from 4.9 per cent previously.

In nominal US dollar terms, the return was 5.7 per cent over the same period, down from 6.1 per cent previously.

Understanding America's Electoral College

Elizabeth Drew

Aug 15 2016

WASHINGTON • Anyone watching the United States' presidential race needs to understand that national opinion polls do not provide an accurate picture of how the election might turn out. Thanks to America's Electoral College, it's not who wins the most votes nationwide that matters in the end, but who wins in which states.

Each state is awarded a certain number of votes in the Electoral College, depending on the size of its population. The candidate who crosses the threshold of 270 electoral votes wins the presidency.

In almost every state, a candidate who wins 50.1 per cent of the popular vote is awarded 100 per cent of its electoral votes. (Only Maine and Nebraska don't follow the winner-takes-all rule; they divide the Electoral College vote by congressional district.) As a result, the votes of millions of people who cast their ballot end up not counting. If you're a Republican in New York or California, which are dominated by the Democrats, or a Democrat in Wyoming or Mississippi, which are reliably Republican, you can forget about your vote for president mattering.

Think Amazon’s drone delivery idea is a gimmick? Think again


August 11, 2016

NEW YORK — Amazon is the most obscure large company in the tech industry.

It isn’t just secretive, the way Apple is, but in a deeper sense, Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce and cloud-storage giant is opaque. Amazon rarely explains either its near-term tactical aims or its long-term strategic vision. It values surprise.

To understand Amazon, then, is necessarily to engage in a kind of Kremlinology. That’s especially true of the story behind one of its most important business areas: The logistics by which it ships orders to its customers.

Over the last few years, Amazon has left a trail of clues that suggests it is radically altering how it delivers goods. Among other moves, it has set up its own fleet of trucks; introduced an Uber-like crowdsourced delivery service; built many robot-powered warehouses; and continued to invest in a far-out plan to use drones for delivery. It made another splash last week, when it showed off an Amazon-branded Boeing 767 aeroplane, one of more than 40 in its planned fleet.

These moves have fuelled speculation that Amazon is trying to replace the third-party shipping companies it now relies on — including UPS, FedEx and the US Postal Service — with its homegrown delivery service. Its logistics investments have also fed the general theory that Amazon has become essentially unbeatable in American e-commerce — no doubt one reason Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, felt the need this week to acquire an audacious Amazon rival,, for US$3.3 billion (S$4.43 billion).

Avoid Malaysian property, especially Iskandar

Ku Swee Yong

August 12, 2016


Singapore and Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on July 19 to build the High Speed Rail (HSR) linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, a long-awaited update on the project that also revealed a more reasonable completion target of 2026.

In my most recent book, Weathering a Property Downturn, I had hazarded a guess that the earliest date for the HSR to begin operations would be the year 2025. Inter-city and international railway projects are never simple and deadlines get postponed all the time. Acquiring land across four Malaysian states, resettling affected families and businesses and, most importantly, the raising of funds for the entire project, will require a few more years, especially if local issues and politics disrupt the timeline.

The project has been repeatedly hailed by both governments as a “game changer” for our economies. Investment advisers are already spouting the economic benefits of the HSR and recommending various types of investments all over Peninsular Malaysia. However, to think that the HSR will change the game for the whole of Peninsular Malaysia, outside of Kuala Lumpur, we have to look deeper.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Reality check needed for S’poreans with unrealistic expectations

AUGUST 12, 2016

Class is back.

Between the end of World War II and the late 1960s, leftist politics flourished, particularly among labour unionists, and high school and university students. Inspired by Marx and Mao, the language of class resonated here, especially its association with colonialism and exploitation, and jostled among competing visions of the future in the emerging independent polity of Singapore.

Gradually, as the People’s Action Party (PAP) government triumphed over leftist political parties as well as trade union and student organisations, the language of class took a backseat, though it never completely disappeared.

In its place was the language of meritocracy and equal opportunity. This was based on the PAP’s “democratic socialist” vision of Singapore, one that carried the promise of freedom from poverty and the prospect of social mobility in a vibrant, but not unbridled, capitalist economy for its people, many of whom were migrants who left China or India in search of a better life.

As is familiar history by now, a strong PAP government has delivered on its promise to provide jobs, healthcare, housing and education over its long, unbroken tenure. Singapore enjoyed sterling economic growth in the 1970s and early 1980s, home ownership grew and education expanded.

Singapore delaying decision on F-35 fighter purchase: Report

AUG 11, 2016

Adrian Lim

Singapore is reportedly holding off a decision to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 jet, a multi-role stealthy warplane that is touted as the world's most advanced fighter.

A Bloomberg article published on Tuesday said the Republic's Permanent Secretary of Defence Development - who was not named in the story - informed the United States in mid-June that Singapore would be delaying the final steps of the purchasing process.

The report added that Singapore had intended to acquire four F-35s by around 2022, with the option to purchase another eight more, citing information from the Pentagon's programme office.

While several sources had earlier told The Straits Times that a decision on the F-35 could be made as early as next year, the latest news suggests that the multi-billion-dollar deal will be put on hold for now.

Instant hit: Singapore's first vending machine cafe draws queues

By Diane Leow,
Channel NewsAsia
12 Aug 2016

SINGAPORE: It's 7pm and Ms Abery Tay has been waiting in line for about 20 minutes for her dinner at VendCafe, the newly opened vending machine cafe at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive in Sengkang - and there are at least five people ahead of her in the queue.

Ms Tay, 25, headed there after work in the hope of trying its claypot chicken rice, one of the dishes on offer at the cafe, as she said it seemed unique.

"Usually in convenience stores, you see dishes like spaghetti, but not claypot rice," she said, adding that she expects it would taste "similar but not as fantastic" as those at hawker centres.

Long queues were seen at VendCafe when Channel NewsAsia visited on Thursday evening (Aug 11), with a steady stream of people purchasing food since about 5pm. Some waited more than an hour, while others decided to head off after waiting a while.

Singapore’s economic miracle uncovered

Ferdinando Giugliano

Mar 24 2015

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.
Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

For some it was the result of inspiration – the ability to import the best technologies from around the world thanks to an enlightened economic model. For others, it was the consequence of perspiration – the sheer accumulation of factors of production such as labour and capital, accompanied by little technological growth.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vietnam moves rocket launchers into disputed South China Sea: Sources


11 Aug 2016

HONG KONG: Vietnam has discreetly fortified several of its islands in the disputed South China Sea with new mobile rocket launchers capable of striking China's runways and military installations across the vital trade route, according to Western officials.

Diplomats and military officers told Reuters that intelligence shows Hanoi has shipped the launchers from Vietnam into position on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months, a move likely to raise tensions with Beijing.

The launchers have been hidden from aerial surveillance and they have yet to be armed, but could be made operational with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days, according to the three sources.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry said the information was "inaccurate", without elaborating.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why facts don’t matter to Trump’s supporters

By David Ignatius
Opinion writer 
August 4, 2016

How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination, despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout the campaign? Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgments despite strong contrary evidence.

Trump is a vivid and, to his critics, a frightening present-day illustration of this perception problem. But it has been studied carefully by researchers for more than 30 years. Basically, the studies show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.

Friday, August 5, 2016

CPF review: 7 things to know about the proposed CPF Life Plan

AUG 3, 2016,

Rachel Au-Yong

SINGAPORE - The CPF Advisory Panel is proposing to introduce a new CPF Life Plan, one that will see rising levels of payments that will help keep pace with inflation.

The plan with escalating payouts starts with a lower monthly payout than under the current default option by about 20 per cent. But payments will increase by 2 per cent per year.

The two existing plans offer only fixed payouts till a member's death.

One is the default Standard plan, which offers higher monthly payouts, leaving less to beneficiaries after a member's death. The other is the Basic plan, which offers lower monthly payouts at a fixed rate, leaving more to beneficiaries after death.

The CPF Advisory Panel is proposing to introduce a new CPF Life Plan that will feature monthly payments that increase by 2 per cent every year.

‘More than one investment option needed’ to protect against inflation



AUGUST 5, 2016

SINGAPORE — The payouts that increase over time under a proposed Central Provident Fund (CPF) Life annuity scheme are aimed at protecting members’ savings against inflation to some degree, but if members want to grow their retirement nest egg for an even stronger buffer against such cost of living hikes, they will need to turn to other options, said experts.

An advisory panel looking into enhancements to the CPF system had recommended a new CPF Life option that would see “escalating” payouts at a fixed rate of 2 per cent every year for the rest of a CPF member’s life.

This is unlike the two existing plans — the CPF Life Standard and the CPF Life Basic — that give flat payouts. But the starting payouts under this new plan would also be about 20 per cent lower than the Standard plan.

Professor Euston Quah, Nanyang Technological University’s economics department head, told TODAY that “nothing really is guaranteed against inflation”.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bumps along a driverless road

Christopher Tan
Senior Transport Correspondent

Aug 4 2016

Challenges lie not with technology but with public willingness to accept autonomous cars

The challenges facing autonomous vehicles lie not with the readiness of technology. As demonstrated in ample trials in Europe and the US, cars are quite capable of getting along fairly well without a driver in many situations. In time, they will be able to do so in every situation.

Rather, the challenges lie with public willingness to embrace this new and alien concept. It is one thing to pronounce something as safe (and superior), and quite another to convince the general population that it is.

Would you board a pilotless plane if Boeing made one, even if experts said there are fewer variables in the sky than on the road? Now, imagine booking a cab, and one appears without a driver. Would your granny, for that matter your mum, get on board - even if it was not the Seventh Month? Would you?

Early lifts had human operators on board who controlled them with a lever. With technology, lift operators became redundant. But not overnight. Many building owners still employed them for years to help or put older users at ease.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Canada rejects refugee protection bid by S'porean exempted from NS

Aug 2, 2016

K.C. Vijayan
Senior Law Correspondent

A Canadian judge has turned down a Singaporean's bid for refugee protection in Vancouver, finding his claims of alleged potential persecution in Singapore to be unfounded.

Jedidiah Ian Tan, 23, who was exempted from national service on medical grounds after serving two months, had claimed the exemption was revocable and that he had no redress in Singapore except military justice.

"A refugee claimant must adduce clear and convincing evidence that is both relevant and reliable, and sufficient to convince the tribunal that state protection is inadequate," said Justice Cecily Y. Strickland in decision grounds last week.

The Canadian Federal Court judge noted that the Singapore authorities had "acted reasonably and expeditiously" in exempting Mr Tan from national service.

" The documentary evidence indicated that the safety of conscripts is taken seriously and failures to do so often receive considerable public scrutiny," she said.

"Additionally, evidence concerning similarly situated persons demonstrated that Singapore has measures in place to deal with physical and mental incapacity of national service members and their mistreatment by others in the military."

Trump and Brexit feed off the same anger

Gideon Rachman

Aug 3 2016

At the Democratic convention last week, I experienced an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu. Emblazoned across the arena was the rallying cry of the Hillary Clinton campaign - "Stronger Together". It was a depressing reminder of "Stronger In", the slogan of the losing Remain campaign in Britain's referendum on European Union (EU) membership.

This similarity is more than an unfortunate coincidence. I would point to three parallels between Brexit and the Donald Trump phenomenon that should worry the Clinton campaign. The first is the potency of immigration as an issue. The second is the way in which the Trump and Brexit campaigns have become vehicles for protest votes about economic insecurity. The third is the chasm between elite opinion and that of the white working class.

Both the Trump and Brexit campaigns have put the promise to control immigration at the centre of their operations. In Britain, the Brexiters' demand to "take back control" was understood to mean, above all, a promise to stop the flow of immigrants from Europe. Mr Trump's most famous campaign pledge is to "build the wall" and stop illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.