Tuesday, July 28, 2015

American FBI's China accusation spurred by finance, not a good idea to spy on friends!


On Thursday last week, the FBI released a film entitled The Company Man: Protecting America's Secrets, which targets economic espionage. The 35-minute film features two Chinese economic spies who try to bribe a US employee with money, attempting to acquire insulation technology from the latter's company. The two were later prosecuted and caught in the net of justice. According to media reports, the video has already been shown nearly 1,300 times at US enterprises.

An FBI official publicly voiced that "China is the most dominant threat we face from economic espionage … The Chinese government plays a significant role."

The official also declared that economic espionage has caused losses of hundreds billions of dollars annually to the US economy.

How much is "hundreds of billions of dollars?" Say $300 billion, about 2 percent of US annual GDP.

Since the FBI believes that there has been a 53 percent surge in economic espionage in the US, and 95 percent of US companies suspect that China is the main culprit, does it infer that China has stolen 2 percent of US GDP?

Some people may ponder that given the Cold War is over, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were eradicated and the war on terror is seemingly not that urgent for the moment, and in light of US federal budget constraints, the FBI needs to find new strategic reasons for more funds. Therefore, the "position" of "Chinese economic spies" has been greatly elevated.

What the FBI has done is bound to injure Sino-US relations. But it is US society that will suffer the most. Many Americans will hence think that their economy is fine, their companies have no problems at all and the only issue is the threat from Chinese economic espionage.

It looks to them like Chinese intelligence services and civilian business spies are much more powerful than the FBI, CIA and other non-governmental intelligence forces combined. China is not capable in every category except for spy technology. This is the logic of the FBI.

If we take a good look at China's overall development in this changing world, you will see that one-third of global new technical patents are now created by Chinese companies every year. Innovation has also become China's national slogan. China will eventually be able to challenge the West's dominance in high technology.

China is well aware that it should learn from the West, especially the US, in terms of technology. But this is not stealing.

US universities are also attracting students from all over the world, yet this brings more benefits than losses to the nation due to the dissemination of knowledge.

Someone who always claims that his house was robbed and feels free to suspect his friend or neighbor is the thief is very annoying, and that is what the US is doing right now. The whole world knows that US intelligent agencies are the most notorious regarding this issue.

We hope that the often-silent Chinese intelligence services could expose some hard evidence of espionage by US spies, and make a spy movie featuring US espionage, providing it with a mirror to look at itself.- Global Times

Not a good idea to spy on friends

THERE's been so much dramatic news these days – from Greece's miseries to Iran, China from blowhard Donald Trump – that the shocking story of how America's National Security Agency has been spying on German and French leadership has gone almost unnoticed.

Last year, it was revealed that the NSA had intercepted Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone. She is supposed to be one of Washington's most important allies and the key power in Europe. There was quiet outrage in always subservient Germany, but no serious punitive action.

Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, was also bugged by American intelligence. Her predecessor, Luiz Lula da Silva, was also apparently bugged.

This year, came revelations that NSA and perhaps CIA had tapped the phones of France's president, Francois Hollande, and his two predecessors, Nicholas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. Hollande ate humble pie and could only summon some faint peeps of protest to Washington. Luckily for the US, Charles de Gaulle was not around. After the US tried to strong-arm France, "le Grand Charles" kicked the US and Nato out of France.

Last week, WikiLeaks revealed that the NSA had bugged the phone of Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for over a decade. Imagine the uproar and cries "the Gestapo is back" if it were revealed that German intelligence had bugged the phones of President Barack Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

A lot of Germans were really angry that their nation was being treated by the Americans as a northern banana republic. Many recalled that in the bad old days of East Germany its intelligence agency, Stasi, monitored everyone's communications under the direct supervision of KGB big brother at Moscow Centre.

The National Security Agency and CIA claim their electronic spying is only aimed at thwarting attacks by anti-American groups (aka "terrorism"). This claim, as shown by recent events, is untrue. One supposes the rational must be a twist on the old adage "keep your enemies close, but your friends even closer".

Ironically, the political leaders listed above – save perhaps Brazil's da Silva – are all notably pro-American and responsive to Washington's demands.

Why would the US risk alienating and humiliating some of its closet allies?

One suspects the reason is sheer arrogance … and because US intelligence could do it. But must US intelligence really know what Mr Merkel is making Mrs Merkel for dinner?

Until WikiLeaks blew the whistle, some European leaders may have known they were being spied upon but chose to close their eyes and avoid making an issue. Raising a fuss would have forced them to take action against the mighty US.

Besides, British, Italian and French intelligence are widely believed to have bugged most communications since the 1950's. But not, of course, the White House or Pentagon. The only nation believed to have gotten away with bugging the White House was Israel during the Clinton years. The Pentagon was bugged by a number of foreign nations, including Israel, China and Russia.

Humiliating Europe's leaders in this fashion is a gift to the growing numbers of Europeans who believe their nations are being treated by the US as vassal states.

There is widespread belief in Western Europe that US strategic policy aims at preventing deeper integration of the EU and thwarting a common foreign policy or a powerful European military. Britain serves as a Trojan horse for America's strategic interests in Europe.

Way back in the 1960's, then German defence minister Franz Josef Strauss, an ardent proponent of a truly united Europe, thundered that Europeans would not play spearmen to America's atomic knights. But, of course, that's just what happened.

The US still runs and finances Nato in the same way the Soviet Union commanded the Warsaw Pact. Washington calls on Europe for troop contingents in its Middle East and south Asian colonial wars in the same way that the Persian Empire summoned its vassals to war.

Many Germans and French, both right and left, would like their leaders to react more forcefully to NSA's ham-handed spying. However, Merkel and Hollande are both political jellyfish eager to evade any confrontation with Big Brother in Washington. Maybe he has too much dirt on them.

But a confrontation is inevitable one day if Europe is to regain its true independence that was lost after World War II.

By Eric S. Margolis who is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ageing together: it takes a nation, family; more children if you can afford to

THE Government cannot face the challenges of an ageing nation alone, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun says.

The problem requires a joint effort involving the Government, local councils, developers, insurance companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals, she says.

“Everybody must be responsible and do their part,” she insists.

Giving an example, she says developers should plan townships for senior citizens to grow old within the community “like one big family”.

She says local councils also play a very important role in ensuring that the roads and buildings are accessible to the elderly.

To encourage collaborations between the NGOs, the Government gives incentives to corporations to run corporate social responsibility projects, she says.

She says individuals have to plan for old age by keeping healthy and active and saving for their future needs.

On plans to build more homes to accommodate the growing number of seniors, she says the ministry hopes to de-institutionalise homes because a family environment is always better.

However, legislation forcing grown children to care for their parents, is “not the way”, she stressed.

She says cultivating values like filial piety by stressing on the importance of family bonds through education, is preferable.

“We have nine (registered) old folks homes nationwide with a total of 1,590 residents.

“And, there are an additional two homes housing more than 200 bedridden residents, 70% of whom are above age 60.

“If we accept residents too easily, some will just send them to us because it’s convenient,” she says, adding that five activity centres for seniors will be built in addition to the existing 45 nationwide. The number will be increased steadily.

She says ‘caring complexes’ housing both seniors and orphans are in the pipeline.

“The idea is for kids to cheer up the seniors while learning from their elders,” she says.

She says better health services have led to Malaysians living longer with couples now having to care for their children, parents and grandparents.

Acknowledging that it’s a huge financial burden, she says the ministry is trying to educate young couples on how to better plan for their family.

Explaining that family planning isn’t just about birth control, she says it entails managing family finances.

“We’re not asking couples to give birth blindly but if you can afford to, you should have more children,” she says.

On June 14, Sunday Star front paged how urban parents can expect to pay as much as the combined price of a luxury car and a semi-detached house to raise a child up to degree level. The report followed a remark by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim urging Malaysians to have more kids to address the projected shrinking population.

National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh is “very disappointed” that the country’s seniors were left out of both the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plan, lamenting that the elderly are a neglected lot.

“There is no social security for the old,” he points out.

Calling for a national forum to be held fast, he cautions that the country may reach aged nation status even before 2030.

“Everyone will grow old. The only question is when.

“We must tackle these challenges together but the Government has to spearhead the solution with a detailed development plan.”

While supportive of the Government’s call for couples to have more kids, he feels that it won’t solve the problem.

Suggesting a private pension fund be set up, he says it will ease the financial burden on families caring for their old parents while giving the seniors a sense of independence.

Seniors who are poor and without family must be cared for by the Government, he insists.

“There aren’t enough government old folk homes nationwide,” he says.

“We need at least 90 but we don’t even have one per state.”

Those who can afford private nursing homes are also suffering, he says.

He estimates there are some 4,000 private centres nationwide but only slightly more than 200 are regulated.

“Some pay between RM500 and RM600 to live in very poor conditions where seniors are hosed down instead of getting a proper bath.

“These unlicensed homes are stinky and the living conditions very undignified,” he says.

He feels that country’s healthcare system also needs to be improved.

“The waiting time is too long and there are not many geriatric doctors.

“The seniors will be dead by the time they get treatment,” he says, only half-in-jest.

But, he stresses, the seniors themselves must grow old with dignity by keeping active.

Soon’s deputy, Susan Suah, says there’s a need for aged-friendly housing.

The interior designer is working to come up with building guidelines. Some problems in current housing include the lack of bathrooms on the ground floor, switches that are too high up and poor lighting, she says.

“We have rooms for maids but not for old parents?,”she says adding that aged-friendly homes must be made mandatory.

Universiti Sains Malaysia (School of Social Sciences) associate professor Dr Saidatulakmal Mohd notes that while some supermarkets and shopping centres have started becoming aged-friendly, none of the new housing developments are.It’s worse when residential houses are converted into nursing homes for the elderly as it has been proven to be non-conducive to their wellbeing.

“We don’t need to wait until Malaysia becomes an aged society. Many of the elderly are already being abandoned and abused, she says.

“While it’s easy to point to the Government for a solution, it’s important to note that welfare aid for seniors has risen over the years.”

To cover rising public healthcare costs, she anticipates higher taxes for the future generation.

But unlike their parents, youngsters today don’t expect their children to care for them in their old age.

“This is because they are facing financial hardship providing for their family while supporting their aged parents and don’t want their children to go through the same thing,” she explains.

She calls on the Ministry of Women, Family and Community to bring back the ‘elderly in the community’ initiative to promote active ageing.

To be a developed nation by 2020, we need active seniors who can contribute to the nation but this is only possible if aged-friendly infrastructure is ready and the elderly are financially supported.

“In the UK, I saw seniors shopping for groceries, paying their own bills and eating out - which is rare here.

“In Malaysia, seniors are seen as ‘abandoned’ if they do these things themselves.

“The perception needs to change.” - The Star/Asian News Network

Related:

Image for the news result
Not ready to age

Friday, July 24, 2015

Japan security bills, Abe fans anti-China flames with defense paper

By Li Feng

Abe fans anti-China flames with defense paper

People hold placards during a rally against Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration and his security-related legislation in front of the parliament building in Tokyo July 15, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

The Japanese Cabinet on Tuesday approved its annual defense white paper, in which it accuses China of raising regional tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea. China's Ministry of Defense expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition toward the 429-page document later the same day, saying it "tarnishes the image of China's military" and deliberately plays up the "China threat" theory. Comments:

By defaming China as a regional security threat in its defense white paper, the Japanese administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is clearly aiming to add necessity and legitimacy to the new security bills, which breach Japan's pacifist Constitution, and complicate Asia-Pacific security issues such as the South China Sea disputes. It will be unfortunate for both Japan and East Asia if Abe remains adamant on challenging China.

Xinhua News Agency, July 21

Japan's defense white paper for 2015 is not conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in East Asia. The so-called threat is not from China but Japan itself.

Kamakura Takao, an emeritus professor of Saitama University, Japan, July 21

Two new implications in Japan's latest defense white paper should be noted. First, the document is in line with the new security bills that Abe is trying to muscle through, offering excuses for the country's overseas military deployment. Second, as a non-stakeholder in the South China Sea issues, Tokyo may propose to participate in the US patrols in the area to expand its regional presence, and, of course, conduct more overseas military operations. It is a dangerous move that other regional powers should pay close attention to.

Qian Feng, vice-president of Asia Times, July 22

In the past, Japan used to see the Soviet Union and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as the top threats. Now China has become the No 1 "threat". Confronted with the "unexpected" opposition to his security bills in Japan, Abe has resorted to the defense white paper to defuse public rage and convince peace-loving Japanese that the bills' passage is necessary.

Ny Huang Dahui, director of the East Asia Research Center of Renmin University of China, July 21

Source: Asia News Network/China Daily

Related post:

Sophisticated diplomacy needed to tackle challenges in South China Sea Philippine President Benigno Aquino II...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Challenges in South China Sea, sophisticated diplomacy needed

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Sophisticated diplomacy needed to tackle challenges in South China Sea

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will seek the congressional approval of the proposed national budget for 2016 next week. In the budget proposal, the defense budget is $552 million, less than one 200th of China's military spending for 2015. The size of the Philippine defense budget may surprise many Chinese.

The defense spending of Vietnam is much higher than that of the Philippines. It reached $4 billion in 2014, but is still incomparable to China's. The GDP of Vietnam is less than $200 billion, much less than that of China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region which borders Vietnam. This will definitely constrain its overall scale of defense budget.

Though judging from the military spending of the Philippines and Vietnam, we can perhaps understand that the two countries won't pose a serious military threat to China in the South China Sea. But they are very likely to make a fuss and lean to external actors to intrude China's sovereignty and interests in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, facing a China with expanding maritime strength, feels anxious. But it is still greedy in its territorial claims. It holds a complex and sensitive mentality toward China.

Propaganda that China bullies small South China Sea claimants can spread easily, especially when Washington and Tokyo meddle backstage. China needs to do a lot of work to convince people of historical facts such as the origin of the nine-dashed line and that China holds sovereignty over the Nansha Islands. However, it is much easier to frame China as attempting to exert "hegemony" in the South China Sea.

China has to deal with the Philippines and Vietnam with enough patience and at the same time respond to distorted interpretations from the US and Japan about China's reef-building. The troubles are mostly caused by Manila and Hanoi, while strategic pressure mainly comes from the US.

The US and Japan have teamed up with the Philippines. China is not only facing several vessels and coast guard ships of the Philippines. Rather, China has been striving to figure out how to deal with the above issues and its own stakes in such a complicated scenario.

Obviously, China does not want to bear such reputations as "bullying small countries" or "seeking hegemony in the South China Sea." An impression of a peacefully rising China fits the country's global strategy. But if the Philippines and Vietnam, instigated by the US and Japan, cause a nuisance and step over China's red line, China will not remain restrained.

The Philippines and Vietnam are well aware of this. With China's increasing capabilities in the South China Sea, they will behave more cautiously.

The rivalry in the South China Sea is a highly technical diplomatic game and strategic contest. The public opinion should lend support, and Chinese decision-makers must be specialized diplomatic and strategic institutions. The Chinese public needs to know the real pattern of strength in the South China Sea and acknowledge that China has ample room to maneuver over the Philippines and Vietnam.

The strategy of the Philippines is to whine to the world about China's "bullying" so as to hinder China's global strategy. Hence it has formed an accord with Washington and Tokyo.

China has succeeded in its land reclamation projects on the Nansha Islands. This is an outcome of China's diplomatic specialization. It is reasonable and legitimate. The US and the Philippines can do nothing about it despite voicing objections.

The South China Sea should be an area where Chinese society can find confidence after experiencing long-time sufferings and setbacks. A big country not only owns its strength, but also has a broad mindset and wisdom to count its losses and gains.

Daniel Russel’s S.China Sea remarks absurd

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel Tuesday criticized China's policy on the South China Sea in Washington. These comments may sound reasonable to nonprofessionals but are not even worth refuting by legal experts.

Russel claimed that China misunderstood US neutrality and stressed that Washington only maintains neutrality with regard to the competing claims in the area. But when it comes to "adhering to international law," the US will not be neutral and will "come down forcefully." The US backs the Philippines' lawsuit to the international maritime tribunal and said the arbitration will be binding for both China and the Philippines.

It is necessary for the US to elaborate what article of international law that China's land reclamation activities in the Nansha Islands have violated and what forceful coercion China's engineering ships have done to neighboring countries.

By claiming both China and the Philippines need to accept the decision of the arbitral tribunal, Russel has deliberately misguided public opinion. Despite joining the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, China submitted a declaration in 2006, stating that China does not accept any of the procedures provided for in Section 2 of Part XV of the Convention with respect to all the categories of disputes referred to in Article 298 of the Convention, which includes territorial disputes. Thirty-six countries, including South Korea, have made similar statements.

It's perfectly legal for China not to accept the arbitral tribunal's decision; in fact, forcing China to accept or abide by the arbitration result is illegal. Russel claimed the South China Sea issue has caused serious conflict between China and the US. But it needs to be pointed out that the conflict is at China's door, which is 12 time zones away from Washington. The conflict is actually imposed by Washington on us.

There are numerous claimants to the Nansha Islands. It's impossible for China to give up its sovereign claim; however, it didn't attempt to militarily expel Manila and Hanoi from the islands they illegally occupy. The Philippines deliberately stranded an old navy ship in China's Ren'ai Reef in 1999. It initially pledged to salvage the ship, but later on rascally reneged on this by reinforcing the ship. China has exercised restraint over the years. But Washington openly supports Manila's occupation of Ren'ai Reef. Where is the justice?

Chinese people never actually bank on Washington's neutrality, which doesn't exist at all. The US's South China Sea strategy serves its geopolitical purpose. Through lending support to Manila and Hanoi, it can realize its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. South China Sea claimants have maintained the peace despite conflicts. The future situation will depend on how Sino-US competition develops, especially what intentions the US has in the South China Sea. As long as Washington doesn't want the tension to escalate, there will be hope for peace.

Swift’s South China Sea flight can only fool Manila

During his visit to the Philippines Saturday, Scott Swift, newly appointed US commander of the Pacific Fleet, joined a surveillance mission on board a P-8A Poseidon plane to observe the aircraft's full range of capabilities in the South China Sea. The US Navy released photos of Swift taking a bird's eye view of the South China Sea, but did not mention if the aircraft had flown over disputed areas.

The Philippine side soon welcomed Swift's move, believing it was a gesture from its US ally to aid its claims to the disputed territories with China.

Swift must have felt that he was the overlord of the South China Sea, as he merely flew over the area but the flight got various interpretations from the Philippine side and regional observers. Washington is an external player that can only exert limited influence to strike a balance over the South China Sea issue. That the US could extend its authority by "inspecting" the South China Sea would only be the illusion of a small number of Americans and Filipinos.

We have noticed that the US Navy has kept much lower key than two months ago when it released details that its reconnaissance plane had approached the Chinese islands under construction. It is estimated that the US will not behave inappropriately in the South China Sea before the meeting of the US and Chinese heads of states in September. But in the long run, its competition with China in the area is unavoidable.

China is accustomed to the frequent petty actions of the US in the South China Sea and is getting itself ready for the troubles stirred up by the US there. China is also improving its abilities in coping with the issue as well.

Most observers hold that while the US wants to strengthen the allies' trust, it does not have the excuse and determination to square off with China. Hence the contradictory and chaotic messages it conveys. Most importantly, Washington does not admit the facts. China has exercised much restraint in the South China Sea and its land reclamation does not violate international law, leaving others no excuse to prevent the move. But the US puts on a posture of involvement while it can unlikely take any substantial action, putting itself in an awkward position.

Manila is even worse. How can it be possible that the Philippines' disputes with China are resolved by the US? Does Manila think that China would acknowledge its unreasonable territorial claims after Swift's flight or if the US sends more navy ships? It would be overly simplistic if Manila thinks this way.

Recently a fictional post circulating on Chinese social media reflects the mentality of the Chinese public that China will not start up conflicts with the Philippines. But if Manila oversteps the red line for any reason, Beijing will strike back regardless of Washington's attitude.

It is understandable that the US hopes to maintain its clout in the area and the Philippines wants to counter China by roping in the US. But they need to mind the boundaries. The Philippines needs to be cautious in the area, as China has been.

Sources: Global Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Penang property in steady demand, will the housing market facing a glut?

Investment-friendly: A file picture shows visitors at the recent Star Property Fair in Penang. Affin Hwang believes that property developers with land bank and established presence in Penang will benefit from rising property demand.

PETALING JAYA: An increasing population in Penang coupled withlong-term property demand will be supported by major projects driven by public-private partnerships (PPPs), according to Affin Hwang Capital Research.

Among the PPP projects, the largest being the RM27bil Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), could be awarded by September. Singapore’s Temasek Holdings also has a proposed joint venture with Penang Development Corp (PDC) to develop an RM11.3bil business process outsourcing centre and an international technology park.

The research house said in a report that its top stock picks for infrastructure and property exposure to Penang were Gamuda Bhd, IJM Corp Bhd, and Eastern & Oriental Bhd (E&O).

It said the Penang government had pushed for the economy to move up the value chain by encouraging knowledge-intensive and innovation-led manufacturing and services.

“Property development companies such as E&O, Eco World Development Group Bhd and Ewein Bhd are embarking on new large-scale mixed development projects in the state with total gross development value (GDV) of RM60bil,” it added.

E&O has the highest exposure to Penang with property development projects in the state comprising 77% of GDV totalling RM34bil. The multi-billion ringgit PTMP has seen keen interest, with six consortiums submitting bids to be the project delivery partner (PDP) while Affin Hwang Capital understands that discussions for the joint venture with PDC were in the final stages.

“The joint development agreement is expected to be inked in July or August. Work on the BPO Prime is expected to start in the first quarter of 2016.” The entry of Temasek would also attract more Singapore companies and other foreign investors to Penang.

“We believe Gamuda will likely be appointed the PDP for the project. Also, being one of the largest contractors in Penang, IJM Corp is expected to win a substantial portion of construction work for the PTMP,” it said.

“The Penang government also managed to convince Hewlett-Packard to choose Penang as the location to set up its new RM1bil manufacturing facility instead of Iskandar Malaysia.”

The plant would produce high-speed inkjet printer heads for the global market.

A ready pool of skilled workers out of a total workforce of 797,700, developed infrastructure, established information technology eco-system, and consistent and investment-friendly state government policies could be the reasons why Penang continue to be attractive compared with Iskandar Malaysia.

The island’s popularity with tourists, diverse culture, historical attractions, beautiful coasts and famous cuisine were added attractions.

“We believe property developers with land bank and established presence in Penang will benefit from rising property demand in the long run.

“Job creation from rising investments in industrial and service sectors should support population growth from organic expansion and inbound migration,” said Affin Hwang Capital Research.- The Star/Asian News Network

The housing market in Penang today

With an abundance of newly built high-rise condominiums, is Penang facing a property glut?


Malaysia’s population crossed the 30 million mark in February 2014. According to the Population and Housing Census 2010, about three in 10 people fall in the 20-40 years old age group – the one most likely to be firsttime home buyers. By 2020, that group is projected to grow to 11.3 million. In Penang, the current estimate for this age group is at 0.6 million, or 36% of the state population. The average property price in Penang currently stands at RM336,521. Even with the 50% stamp duty cut, middle-income earners with two dependents can only afford houses priced at RM300,000 and below [1], and looking at the current national average price for all types of properties, RM300,000 is well below the average (Figure 1).

Besides increasing prices, public concern is on whether or not the property market is overheated; many suspect that currently there is an oversupply of properties, especially in Penang. The current existing stock of residential properties can house more than six people per household (Table 1), and as smaller households are the global trend for developed and developing countries, statistics indicate that there is still a growing demand for housing.


Source: The Malaysian House Price Index Q1-Q2 2014, National Property Information Centre (NAPIC).

To meet market demands and expectations, a steady addition of incoming and planned supply to the existing property stock in Penang is still expected in the near future. Based on the population projection given by the Department of Statistics for Penang (1.75 million in year 2020), Malaysia Property Incorporated found that there is an oversupply of about 45,000 units this year and 22,000 units by 2020 [2], assuming that the average household size stays at 3.98 people and housing supply stops after 2015.

A growing demand for housing with a potential oversupply of properties sounds contradictory enough, begging the question: will the potential glut be for a certain type of residential property, and are the right kinds of properties being built in the right areas?

Whither the low-medium cost housing?

On Penang Island, the most densely populated district is in the north-east; the area encompassing George Town, Jelutong, Air Itam, Gelugor, Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah still remains one of the most sought-after places for property. Despite limited land spaces, incoming and planned unit supply to this district has seen no sign of abating.

However, in recent years, the south-west of the island, where the airport and the industrial area are located, has become the hottest investment spot for bigname developers. The highest growth of property supply on the island is expected to be in this area, with the likely addition of 17,518 incoming units (33.3%) and 17,058 planned units (32.4%).


Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation.

On the mainland, the more populated central Seberang Perai (SP) is expected to see more new housing units in coming years, compared to north and south SP. The opening of the Second Penang Bridge and the announcement of a series of development projects in Batu Kawan, including IKEA and branch campuses of University of Hull and KDU University College, certainly give south SP a huge appeal for future housing development. So far, the housing demand there has not jumped markedly. However, as a prelude, following the announcement of the projects, land prices in south SP skyrocketed to between RM50 and RM60 per sqft, compared to previous prices of RM8 to RM9 per sqft [3].

Within the high-rise category, there is a trend of developers preferring to build higher value condominiums (Table 3). In coming years, especially on Penang Island, a higher proportion of new highrise units will come from condominiums. Although the construction of low cost flats is emphasised by both the federal government and the Penang state government, the supply of such units is slow and short in coming – at just half the number of the future supply for condominiums. The future supply of medium cost flats also cannot catch up with the supply rate and units of condominium, indicating that condominium sales seem more profitable for developers and that there may be an oversupply of higher value high-rise units in the near future.

Probably as the result of an influx of affluent local or foreign buyers, the supply for bungalows (detached) units has increased significantly. Service apartments have also become a new niche in the property market; the number of service apartment units is expected to double.
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation
Source: Property Market Report First Half 2014, NAPIC and own calculation.

The island factor

Penang Island’s attractiveness as a place to invest or settle in can be seen from its property prices; one condominium unit on the island normally costs more than twice or thrice that on the mainland. The same goes for the price of landed properties (Table 3).

Although this tendency is likely to persist for some time, the number of residential property transactions slowed down on the island for the first three quarters of last year whereas property sales in SP were generally unaffected (Table 4). Due to market-cooling measures – i.e. the introduction of more stringent real property gains tax (RPGT) and maximum loan-to-value ratio for individual and non-individual borrowers – laid by the federal government and Bank Negara to curb property speculating, the upward price index trend for both landed properties and high-rise units slowed down significantly for the first half of 2014. Given that the number of sales was also at a lower level in the third quarter compared to the previous year, property prices on the island for the latter half of 2014 were probably stagnant.

Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC
Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC.

With the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) on April 1, firsttime home buyers may rush to make property purchases in the first quarter of 2015 to avoid paying the incremental cost. Although residential properties fall under the “Exempt Rated” basket of goods, property prices look set to increase due to the inflation cost of construction materials. According to a market survey, developers are facing ever higher compliance costs. Therefore, it is unlikely that house prices will drop this year when higher inflation is expected. Meanwhile, the “Youth Housing Scheme” announced in Budget 2015 may encourage young families from lower and middle income groups to make their first home purchase. Under the scheme, those who qualify and are selected will be given RM200 monthly financial assistance by the federal government to pay the loan instalments, 50% stamp duty exemption on loan and transfer agreements as well as 100% loan financing.

Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC
Source: Residential Property Stock Table Q2 2014, NAPIC.

Old is gold

Interest from investors in George Town’s pre-war heritage properties has never been greater since the city was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008. Under the draft of the George Town Special Area Plan, there is a total of 4,665 buildings located within the core (50.2%) and buffer (49.8%) zones. Given the immense potential for capital appreciation or gain from investments, these heritage properties are in red-hot demand. With the booming tourism in George Town, many investors have transformed old, neglected heritage shop houses into boutique hotels or commercial premises.

Before the repeal of the Rent Control Act in 1999, there were very few transactions and the price index did not move much for properties situated within the conservation zones. Since then, the compound annual growth rate for such properties from 1999 to 2013 was at 12.7% [4]. For the first half of last year, the average price for pre-war properties in George Town registered a new highest record at RM1,300 per sqft.

Source: Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) and NAPIC
Source: Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) and NAPIC.

Similarly, the number of pre-war property transactions also soared especially after 2008 (Figure 2). However, despite the new highest record of average transaction price, there were fewer property transactions last year; the Penang Real Estate Market Research Report on pre-war properties published by Henry Butcher Malaysia (Penang) [5] suggests that the prewar heritage property market has more buyers than it has sellers due to a limited supply of good listings. Because of this, the pre-war property market price could be very much distorted. For example, in March 2012, a 2,000sqft shop house along Lebuh Pantai (considered a prime heritage area) was sold at RM4mil (or RM2,000 per sqft) [6] – an isolated case but way above the average market price nonetheless.

Since the number of pre-war heritage buildings in the historic George Town is fixed and more than a thousand of such properties were transacted since 2008, the proportion of “sellable” properties in the market will shrink by year while market demand for such properties remains high. Hence, it is reasonably expected to see even steeper transaction prices and fewer transacted pre-war property units in years to come.

 By Lim Chee Han
Lim Chee Han received his PhD in Infection Biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany. He is a senior analyst in the economics section of Penang Institute.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Illegal estate agents on the rise



The Board of Valuers, Appraisers and Estate Agents Malaysia (BOVAEA) is concerned that the number of cases involving illegal real estate brokers will increase if the problem is not addressed soon.

To curb the problem, the board will be working with the relevant government agencies in order to trace and bring these criminals to justice.

In a statement, BOVAEA revealed around 50,000 illegal real estate brokers are duping innocent Malaysians into parting with their hard earned money.

To earn quick cash, these unscrupulous characters impersonate developers’ representatives, property investors, unregistered salespersons, community leaders, foreigners and even housewives.

Last week, a certified negotiator discovered his photograph was printed on name cards under different companies which were being distributed to unsuspecting shop lot owners, who were duped into paying the necessary sales and rental deposits.

“We are afraid the number of cases will increase with desperate property owners trying to cope with the slowdown in the property market,” said BOVAEA Estate Agency Practice Committee (EAPC) chairman Eric Lim Chin Heng.

Lim said they were shocked at property owners’ apathy on determining the authenticity of the people representing them. BOVAEA underscored that estate agency practice is regulated by law.

“Anyone who is not a registered estate agent or is not a certified real estate negotiator is breaking the law. More importantly anyone using the services of anyone who claim to be agents without the authority to practice is not protected by law,” he explained.

To avoid being at the losing end, Lim urges potential property sellers and buyers to check the tags instead of relying on the name cards alone.

“There is a Quick Response (QR) code on each tag so customers can scan the code with their smartphones to find out the background of the agent, the firm they represent, their REN No and their identity.”

Under the Valuers, Appraisers and Estate Agents Act, those caught abetting an illegal agent can also be fined RM300,000 or face three years imprisonment or both, said Lim.

Farah Wahida, Editor of PropertyGuru, wrote this story. To contact her about this or other stories email farahwahida@propertyguru.com.my

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Harness STEM for engineering


http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KcdfYcJYtB4/VVWGS3IFvCI/AAAAAAAAJSg/lijSLKMfkOM/s1600/IEM1.jpgDATUK IR. LIM CHOW HOCK President The Institution of Engineers, Malaysia

AS Malaysia gears up to developed nation status by 2020, there is still much to do to get there.

One of the most direct ways to arrive at the vision is to ensure a sufficient and growing number of engineers.

Increase in the number of engineering students is paramount to meet the nation’s need for engineers who would implement and maintain the many economic development projects.

During his visit to the International Bureau of Education (IBE) in Geneva in April, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin spoke of the need for Malaysia to harness skills and knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Muhyiddin also pointed out that the countries which started on the same level as Malaysia had moved much further ahead, crediting it to their wisdom in making full use of STEM to boost their country’s fortunes.

As such, he emphasised the need for human capital development in STEM, which he considers vital in the national transformation process.

To achieve this, a strategy comprising a series of actionable plans must be able to support the production rates needed for generating skilled STEM human capital at two levels, namely secondary schools and tertiary institutions, to reach the target of 500,000 STEM graduates by 2020, according to Muhyiddin.

Although the solution is apparent, its execution remains challenging.

One of the factors hindering this step to greater national development is getting students to love science, or science classes. Science and mathematics as school subjects must be made interesting, easy to understand, as well as more hands-on and exploratory. This is in line with the Government’s aim for 60% science and technology-based education by 2020.

For the engineering profession, interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in school will result in more qualified students who are eligible to pursue engineering courses in universities.

Through the increase in engineering students, the nation’s need for engineers would be met. This would translate into greater implementation and maintenance of the country’s economic development projects.

The Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM) lauds the Government’s effort to promote interest among students to study science in schools.

Without the large number of science students, there will surely be a corresponding limitation in the ability of universities to produce the number of engineers needed.

As a national association with the nation’s interests at heart, IEM has been actively involved in conducting school career awareness talks, arranging competitions and exhibiting interesting projects on engineering to school children to promote interest in engineering. IEM has also set up IEM Student to encourage students to choose sections in various universities in Malaysia.

Engineering students are also encouraged to join IEM as Student Members which will enable them to access IEM resources and activities such as talks and networking. IEM is one of the supporting members (together with AAET, MiGHT, Utar and NSC) for the Kuala Lumpur Engineering Science Fair, an annual programme to promote interest in STEM among primary and secondary school pupils.

We believe that career prospects will be a major factor in the students’ decision in their studies and career options.

Prospects for engineers include top level positions, attractive remuneration as well as status recognition, which will be a great motivation for students to take up STEM Education and thus pursue a career in engineering.

Students must be made aware that job prospects for engineering graduates remain bright as Government allocation for infrastructure development has supported the demand for engineers.

National development towards an industrial nation has also spurred the demand for engineers.

Students, and parents too, must realise that a career in engineering is not only limited to the five traditional branches of engineering, namely Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronic and Chemical Engineering. Through the years, engineering has expanded into many new disciplines such as Aeronautical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Maritime Engineering, Mining Engineering, Oil and Gas Engineering, among many others, which would be exciting career options for students.

The Government being the largest employer should provide equal opportunity and create a structured pathway for all science-based professionals, in particular engineers, to take up high positions in the civil service.

Recognition of the contribution of engineering success and seeing it as a pathway to top positions in the civil service will be a great motivator for students to pursue STEM education in Malaysia.


Related posts:

 
15 May 2015
However, in 2009, IEM further amended the constitution to allow only graduate members and corporate members, who are not professional engineers, to use the title “Engr” before their names. This will ... In so far as the approving authorities are concerned, the title “Engr” does not pose any confusion because all submission of plans need to have the stamp of a professional engineer (P.Eng.) with the title “Ir” as required by the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM).

 
It is necessary for the nation to embrace Stem education in order to reach new heights. IT is imperative that schools and educational …

IN our previous article (Stem education for life to reach new heights) we talked about the engineering feats of the 20th century, what STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) stands for and some ways to...

Stem education for life to reach new heights

 Success factors: higher education, right skills and knowledge 

Friday, July 17, 2015

The great technology transformation

AFTER a week in the Silicon Valley, California last month, I came to the conclusion that I am a dinosaur. The speed of change from technology has been so fast and so profound that we are lost in transition, translation and transformation.

The digital revolution is already upon us, but the baby boomer generation, to which I belong, is having difficulty understanding this because we still upload (read) on paper, whereas the millenials (those born between 1980 and 2000) upload information mostly on mobile phones, video and communicate through social media.

Demographics say a lot. At the turn of the 21st century, the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) were half the work force, but today in the United States, millenials and Gen X (born 1965-1979) are roughly one-third each. The baby boomers may own most of the retirement funds and wealth, but the new wealth is being created rapidly by the younger generations.

A simple set of statistics says it all. The Forbes top five US companies by revenue are Walmart, Exxon, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple. Walmart employs over 2.1 million people, with revenue just under US$485bil, but profits of US$16bil with market capitalisation of US$265bil. Apple, with only 80,000 employees, had double Walmart profits of US$39bil and a market capitalisation of US$725bil, larger than Walmart and Exxon put together. Twitter, with only 3,638 employees or less than 0.2% of Walmart workforce, is valued at 9.2% of Walmart. Facebook, with only 9,200 employees but 1.44 billion users, is valued at 86% of Walmart.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that Silicon Valley is booming in terms of wealth creation, California would be suffering from the economic effects of the worst drought in years. But at US$2.3 trillion, California is growing at 2.8% per annum, faster than US real gross domestic product growth of 2.2% in 2014. The Western Pacific states of Oregon and Washington are growing faster at 3.6% and 3% respectively, thanks to growing trade and services from the boom in technology.

Two things that stand out in the Digital Disruption – speed and scale. The speed and scale of the digital transformation is so fast and so wide and deep that we are all having problems valuing what it means – which is why we have a tech bubble in the making.

It is quite normal for us to accept that the Silicon Valley is the world leader in digital change, but what was eye-opening as I dug into the data is that the next waves are already happening in China and India. This has mind-boggling implications on a geo-political basis, especially for smaller economies, such as Malaysia, Hong Kong or Thailand.

What struck me from delving into the pattern of growth in the Internet Revolution is the speed and scale of change in China and India. Who would have expected even five years ago that four out of the top 15 global public Internet companies, ranked by market capitalisation would be Chinese (Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com) with a combined value of US$542bil or 22.4% of the total market valuation of US$2.4 trillion of these 15 companies as of May, 2105.


Scale and speed

The reason for this valuation is scale and speed of the Chinese transformation, already overtaking the world leader, the United States. The rate of Internet penetration is over 80% for the United States, only 40+% in China and 20+% in India. But China already has more Internet users (618 million), double the US population and its growth in smartphones is double (21%) that of the United States (9%).

Although incomes in China and India are far lower than the United States, Chinese and Indian millenials (for that matter, millenials in all emerging markets) are beginning to spend more time on their smartphones than the advanced countries.

There are two implications from this broad trend, which the Chinese Internet platforms like Alibaba and Tencent are beginning to exploit.

The first is the ease and convenience of buying, selling and paying using the smartphone – an all service tool. Partly because of regulation, the US leaders such as eBay, Amazon and Facebook are still in their core areas of strength, but Alibaba and WeChat (part of Tencent) have developed eco-systems that are simultaneously social networks, chatrooms, trading and investing platforms combined.

When I lost my Blackberry, MacBook and camera recently in Latin America, I was staggered that using WeChat on iPhone, I could go on video and instant chat with friends across half the world for free. My only constraint was the battery on my iPhone and that I had not set up to get funds transfer in case of need.

The second implication is that traditional service providers are way behind in this technology. My credit card companies are still on outdated phone-banking, which meant that in order to report lost cards, I was frantically trying to Press one, Press two and Press self-destruct! These companies are at least two generations behind in customer service technology.

Internet Revolution

My conclusion from this survey of the Internet Revolution is that the disruption from technology on conventional businesses is yet incomplete. In the 1990s, the Internet changed the music, photography, book sales and video rental business. Today, we book airline and hotel travel on the web.

But with the arrival of the iPad and iPhone, healthcare, finance, investing, education and social communications are being combined into one gadget (the mobile phone) to do what we have to.

This disruption is happening very fast in China and India, because these late-comers have no pre-conceived legacy ideas on what cannot be done with technology.

If China is currently going through its tech bubble, watch out for the next tech bubble in India.

Those who think only in terms of risks think that bubbles are to be feared. I have come to realise that the animal spirits in us change the game through excesses. But those who learn from their mistakes will create the new.

Silicon Valley is not a place but a mindset – nothing ventured, nothing gained. That mindset is truly the New Digital Transformation.

Watch this space in Asia.

Andrew Sheng comments on global trends from an Asian angle

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