Thursday, November 27, 2014

Barking up the wrong tree !!


Malaysia's problem isn't Bahasa Malaysia but English, and it is incredible that so many of us have refused to acknowledge this or even want to address it.

THERE have been so many silly remarks and statements by some Malaysian politicians and one-man show non-governmental organisations that it is becoming impossible to keep track of their comedy acts.

There is a saying: “There are people who are only good at making the news but cannot make a difference to the wellbeing of society.”

Well, in Malaysia, there are certainly many of them.

Last week, Johor state assemblyman Datuk Dr Shahruddin Salleh suggested that students who fail to master the national language be stripped of their citizen­ship. Yes, revoke, lucut, tarik balik, batal!

The Barisan Nasional representative for Jorak alleged that many students were not able to master the language, and this was even prevalent among the Malays. He didn’t say how many. Like one, 10, 20, hundreds or thousands, but was quoted as saying “many”.

“Even my own neighbour, whose father and mother are Malays, but because their child goes to international school, the child is unable to converse in Malay,” he said, adding that students were now more interested in mastering English and do not take the learning of Malay seriously.

The situation was prevalent in the vernacular schools, he added, because the use of Mandarin and Tamil made the students weak in the Malay language, which was further compounded by the fact that many of the teachers there are also not well-versed in Malay.

We’d like to think that Dr Shahruddin has a sense of humour but, seriously, what does he really mean when he said students who do not master the Malay language should be stripped of their citizenship?

How does one define mastery at the school level? Is it by the grades they score at the public examinations, like the UPSR, PMR or SPM? We know that these are just examination grades. A student can score a distinction or even fail miserably, but that in itself does not reflect his language proficiency in the real world.

To take an extreme example, some foreign workers who are in the country for just a few months can speak like a Malay, but do you think they will be able to pass the BM paper at SPM level? Or that they should therefore be accorded citizenship because they have mastered our national language?

We are not sure if Dr Shahruddin is having a bad patch with his neighbours because I do not think that his neighbours, who would have read his remarks by now, would be amused.

The reality is that there are many Malay households where English is prominently used because of a variety of reasons.

The children of diplomats, for example, because they are schooled in international schools, will definitely be more comfortable in English.

What about the children of politicians, especially those who send their children for better education overseas and then make a lot of noise about our local education system?

The assemblyman may want to project his nationalistic credentials ahead of his party general assembly, and he has conveniently used his whip at English and, of course, vernacular schools, the current flavour of the month.

There are enough statistics to show that many of our students and teachers are struggling with English in schools, especially those in the rural areas. Just Google.

The Malaysian Employers Federation secretary Datuk Shamsudin Bardan reportedly said that a survey a few years ago among its members found that 60% of them identified low English proficiency as the main problem with young recruits.

A similar survey in September last year by online recruitment agency

JobStreet.com found that 55% of senior managers and companies considered poor command of the English language among graduates to be the main reason for their difficulty in finding employment.

Sabah Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun had said that 70% of Malaysian graduates are having a hard time finding jobs in the private sector due to poor command of English.

Citing his past work experience with a multinational company in peninsular Malaysia, Masidi said 70% of those interviewed did not make it through to the second round as they could not converse well in English.

Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh had said that about two-thirds of English Language teachers in the country have been classified as “incapable” or “unfit” to teach the subject in schools. These teachers, he said, have been sent for courses to improve their proficiency in the language.

It has also been reported that about 70% of the 60,000 English Language teachers who sat for the English Language Cambridge Placement Test performed poorly.

Granted that there are students who fare badly in Bahasa Malaysia, but we do not think the numbers are big. Instead of making such a generalisation, we expect the Jorak assemblyman to back up his claim with more substantial findings and figures.

Neither has he been able to support this pathetic claim that “the use of Mandarin and Tamil by teachers in vernacular schools is another reason for students being weak in Malay, adding that the teachers are also not well-versed in Malay.”

Our real problem isn’t Bahasa Malaysia but English. It is incredible that so many of us have refused to acknowledge this problem or even want to address it, lacking the political will, unfortunately.

There is no point in deceiving ourselves by allowing our children to easily pass the English tests in schools and in public examinations.

There may be a huge number of students scoring distinctions in English at the SPM level but their real ability is revealed when they enter tertiary education and, later, the working world.

The MEF’s Shamsudin told a news portal in April that there are those with As and Bs in English at the SPM level who cannot even hold a conversation in English.

“Which is why we were excited when the government decided to teach Mathematics and Science in English (PPSMI), as we felt this could boost their command of English. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after seven years when we should have allowed it to continue for 14 to 15 years to see the results.

“The inability to converse and understand English (among young school-leavers) is a constant complaint among our members,” said Shamsudin. The MEF has 4,800 direct members and 21 affiliated trade associations.

In the end, it will be the rural students who will suffer the most. These are the very people that our elected representatives claim to represent and fight for their rights and interests.

Do we need to check how many of our Honourable Members are sending their children to private and international schools even as they wax eloquence about the importance of the national schools?

Actually, we should all be concerned about proficiency in English, an issue that has also been recently taken up by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who can see the value of the English language without undermining the stature of the national language.

As Dr Mahathir rightly pointed out, the rich go to private schools while the poor go to national schools at home, adding that “I must confess that although my children all went to national schools, my grandchildren all go to private schools in the country and abroad. They do speak the national language but their kind of schooling widens the gap between races as well as between the rich and the poor.”

Well, it looks like the only thing that we have fared consistently well in is the comic relief provided by some of our politicians. And we can be sure the curtains will never come down on these comedians as they continue to seek out non-issues to put themselves in the spotlight.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

By Wong Chun Wai on the beat focus

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


Malaysian Chinese National-type Schools

DON’T bark up the wrong tree. That is the message many would like to convey to Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Razali Ibrahim who has opposed the approval for building new Chinese national-type schools (SJKC).

The deputy minister was quoted as saying, “As long as approval is given, the relationship between the different races shall be further deteriorate, and shall be like throwing a spanner into the works of nurturing national harmony.”

This is clearly a statement made without having researched the functions of SJKCs in fostering mutual understanding between the races. For the record, Chinese national-type primary schools (SRJK) have more non-Chinese students than boarding schools and religious schools have non-Malay students.

There are at present approximately 80,000 Malay students in the so-called “unity-harming” SJKCs. Thus, I humbly ask Datuk Razali if the opinions of parents of these Malay students have been sought.

These parents appear to be sending their children to Chinese national-type schools not to “de-Malaysian-ise” them but to Malaysian-ise them.

In Malaysia, it common knowledge that most Malays are fluent in just two languages, namely English and Bahasa Malaysia while, most Chinese and Indians know at least three languages. Knowing one more language certainly gives children a cutting edge.

There is also, at present, growing pessimism over the way education in national schools is handled. Teaching science and mathematics in English which reverted to the teaching science and mathematics in Bahasa Malaysia as well as the ever-changing format of national level examinations are just a few areas of concern.

There is also the perception that certain races are favoured by the national school system. It is due to this perception that many, who want a level-playing field, choose the Chinese national-type school system.

Furthermore, perhaps China’s emergence as a world political and economic power has persuaded pragmatic Malay and Indian parents to try to get their children to learn Mandarin, the second most widely spoken language in the world after English.

How exactly do Chinese national-type schools affect national unity?

Children in Chinese schools still sing Negaraku. Bahasa Malaysia is still being taught there. There is no difference in syllabus taught in national schools. In fact, all children in Chinese schools are taught to love and respect Malaysia.

So Datuk Razali, I humbly ask just what are the problems which affect national unity?

SJKCs schools have been around for decades, so why is the question of unity being brought up?

In my opinion, educators who use words like “pendatang” and tell students to “balik Cina” and “balik India’ are the real threats racial harmony.

I believe that racial harmony has actually been disrupted due to political figures who’ve made use of race as propaganda to score political points and win votes. The exaggeration of petty issues and the manipulation of these issues via social media have made these politicians heroes in the eyes of supporters. However, what it has really done is instil hatred among the races.

If, and it’s a big if, Chinese national-type schools do contribute to disharmony, the better option would be for the Education Ministry to form a special taskforce, and conduct periodic audits of the schools and their syllabuses. That would be better than denying parents an option with regard where they wish to educate their children.


 Eye of the Tiger by by mike chong yew chuan

Mike Chong Yew Chuan is Press Secretary to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department YB Datuk Dr. Ir. Wee Ka Siong. He is also currently MCA National Youth BN Youth Affairs Bureau Deputy Chairman.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Startup's components of a support system, govt incentives, market access - part 5, 6, 7

How components of a support system nurture nascent companies - part 5

Geared up: A participants in the 1337 Accelerator programme demonstrating a gaming app, Agent RX — a single player top down stealth game. The app can be used on a desktop and be enhanced with the Oculus.

Difference between Accelerator and Incubators: Infographic:  https://infogr.am/infographic-79580 via @infogram

Over the course of grooming startups, the industry has perhaps grown familiar with the terms “incubator” and more recently, “accelerator”.

These organisations, part of the modern support system for new entrepreneurs, have helped startups take shape in their early stages.

In almost all cases, participation in an incubator or accelerator programme has enabled entrepreneurs gain access to resources beyond their own to scale their business. Services such as regulatory and strategic expertise that otherwise may not be available to independent startups become more readily available.

And because of their seemingly similar functions and involvement with early-stage startups, incubators and accelerators are often mistaken to mean the same thing. But they are not.

An incubator is essentially a physical work space that hosts a new business with many other startup companies. Startups are usually allowed to stay in the space as long as they need to and mentorship is typically provided by the incubator or through peers at the facility.

An accelerator programme, on the other hand, is limited to a three- to four-month period intended to accelerate a startups’ business and the kick them out of the nest. Accelerators often make investments in the companies they support and provide a strong network of mentorship. These programmes typically culminate in a “pitch day” for startups to raise more funds from venture capitals.

In Malaysia, both private and government funded incubators have been set up in the Klang Valley over the past few years as the government pushes for the growth of more local entrepreneurs and startups.

But it may come as a surprise to some that there is only one proper accelerator model in Malaysia, known as 1337 Accelerator.

1337, pronounced “leet”, started in March last year with an initial government funding of RM5mil to invest in startups. The programme has two intakes a year where budding tech-entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to join the programme to develop their ideas and take them to market.

“We invest in the best minds in the country. The teams here have to earn their way into the programme. They have to go through a stringent panel to see if they have an investor-worthy idea and can contribute back to the ecosystem,” said Bikesh Lakhmichand, chief executive officer of 1337 Ventures Sdn Bhd.

He explained that accelerators are more mentor-driven and are directly involved with the development of the startup.

According to Bikesh, accelerators are the way of the future for startups, noting that the trend is growing globally to create a more vibrant startup community.

However, incubators, too, have their appeal.

As incubators do not invest in startups, entrepreneurs are able to maintain full ownership and control of their companies while tapping onto facilities provided by the incubators.

Among incubators in Malaysia, many would probably be familiar with Technology Park Malaysia (TPM) and MAD Incubator.

TPM spans some 650 acres of land in Bukit Jalil with total lettable business and incubation space of 725,000sq ft.

Its president and chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Azman Shahidin said the number of companies at TPM has grown to more than 200.

Companies that have been selected for TPM’s incubation programme will be guided through a hand-holding and business coaching programme over a duration of six to 18 months. Here, they will be equipped with knowledge on product development, marketing techniques, R&D and networking.

“Our main role is to accelerate the growth of small businesses. We are here to grow and be the catalyst for these companies. And we have seen some companies here that have grown to become listed companies,” Azman said.

MAD Incubator has also seen good traction with its facilities and had launched its third incubator in Malaysia in the middle of the year.

While different in nature, both incubators and accelerators play an important role in boosting early-stage venture. One model may not necessarily be better than the other. But interested startups should be clear on what they want out of these supporters to get the best out of these facilities

Govt incentives for startups - part 6

Ample opportunity: Malaysia provides many initiatives to fund startups. Recently Axiata Group Bhd launched Axiata Digital Innovation Fund, a RM100mil venture capital fund, with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap). Its group president and group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim (right) is seen here exchanging document with Mavcap chief executive officer Jamaludin Bujang (left). Looking on are Khazanah Nasional Bhd managing director Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.

Silicon Valley has long been known as a hub for high-tech innovation. The southern part of the Bay Area is home to many of the world’s largest companies and thousands of startups including Facebook, Google and eBay.

But Silicon Valley was not an overnight success story. It took decades of government funding and support to make it the vibrant tech cluster it is today.

Policymakers play an important role in supporting the growth of a startup ecosystem. Be it in funding research and technologies or in building infrastructure, government help create ideal conditions for innovation and commercialisation.

In Malaysia, the government has announced various initiatives, including financial allocations, over the years to groom entrepreneurship and support the startup ecosystem.

In the Budget 2015 speech, the Prime Minister noted the government’s aspiration to position Malaysia as a choice location for startups in the region.

And among its efforts to achieve this target is the establishment of Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC) to create a more conducive ecosystem for startups.

Financial assistance

One of the most crucial ingredients for the development of startups is funding and several government agencies have been established to dispense pre-seed and seed funding to enable startups to transform ideas into commercially viable products and ventures.

These agencies include not-for-profit organisation Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd and venture capital company Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (MAVCAP), both under the purview of the Finance Ministry.

As a VC, Mavcap makes direct investments with fund size ranging from RM1mil to RM20mil and participates actively in the management and operations of these companies.

Mavcap also invests through its Outsource Partners Programmes, whereby it allocates capital to other VC fund management companies to invest in high-growth businesses.

Cradle offers a maximum seed funding of up to RM500,000 to help technology companies attain commercialisation.

Tax incentives

The government has also introduced tax breaks to encourage private investments in startups as well as promote the setting up of high-tech companies in Malaysia.

For example, the Angel Tax Incentive allows angel investors who have invested in early-stage startups to qualify for tax exemption. This would indirectly see more fund flows to startups and also encourage eligible angels to participate in the ecosystem.

There are incentives for ventures that have obtained MSC Status including a 100% investment tax allowance and duty-free importation of multimedia equipment.

Building skills

Various programmes have also been initiated to build entrepreneurial and technical skills as well as encourage interest among the local community to venture into the startup scene.

MaGIC recently launched its partnership with Stanford University, which, among its programmes, would send entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley for a two-week immersion programme.

The partnership will also see an exchange programme whereby local entrepreneurs will be able to learn from the Stamford faculty on marketing and commercialising their ideas.

Another significant component of the partnership is the “Faculty Train Faculty” Programme where faculty members from 14 local universities will be sent to Stanford over the next three years to help them develop impactful and creative entrepreneurship programs in their respective universities.

Early this year, MDeC announced its MSC Malaysia Startup Accelerator Lite programme to help early-stage ICT startups map out and accelerate their goals.

MDeC is also working with partners such as JFDI Asia, a regional startup accelerator, to help mature and globalise the local startup community.

Government agencies are actively seeking partnerships with startup communities and small and medium companies in other countries to provide local startups with an opportunity to learn from and potentially partner with startups abroad as well as explore other markets.

Market access can be as important as funding for startups - part 7

Sealing the deal: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd Ceo Jamaludin Bujang (left) and Axiata chief executive officer Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim at the event announcing the RM100mil Axiata Digital Innovation Fund recently. The fund will focus on helping startups gain access to markets. — Bernamapic

BEYOND just starting a business, a startup company’s main purpose for being is to offer a product or innovation that addresses a problem.

As one investor puts it, a truly innovative product will solve a customer’s problem that has not been solved before.

But one of the challenges of introducing a new product or innovation is that it has not been tried or tested. Naturally, the market may be slow in embracing such an innovation.

Additionally, startups rarely have the capacity or network to tap into new markets to bring their products out.

As such, investing partners, with their strong networks and deep pockets, play an important role in the startup ecosystem by providing the kind of market access needed by startups to reach potential customers.

Corporations, investors and even the government are increasingly recognising this need and are providing platforms for startups to tap into, beyond just early and growth-stage funding.

For example, early last year, Telekom Malaysia, the Multimedia Development Corporation and StartupMalaysia.org collaborated on an accelerator programme focusing on getting startups to market quickly.

More recently, telco giant Axiata Group Bhd and Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) recently signed an agreement to establish a RM100mil venture capital fund, the Axiata Digital Innovation Fund (ADIF), to help companies with innovative products in the digital-services space markettheir offerings.

ADIF will focus on revenue-generating companies that may still require support to grow in terms of funding, know-how and market access.

Axiata noted that digital-services entrepreneurs will have unprecedented access to regional partnership opportunities among other things, thanks to its extensive market reach of over 13 million customers in Malaysia and over 250 million across Asia.

Given Axiata’s many years of operations in the region, these startups are also able to leverage the telco’s in-depth knowledge of the regional market.

Likewise, Alliance Bank’s SME Innovation Challenge 2014 programme provides participating startups with an opportunity to be coached by corporate titans, a platform to network through, and access to markets.

When new products are launched, startups and their investors concentrate the bulk of their initial efforts on educating the market about what the products offer.

But entrepreneurs understand that having an innovation with little visibility and access to markets does no good.

Startups are now seeing the need for opportunities to tap into existing networks and markets, coaching, exposure and resources, offered by incubation and accelerator programmes.

In other markets where the startup ecosystems are more mature, the private sector and governments have introduced programmes to tackle market-access issues for startups.

These include the US Market Validation Program run by Silicon Valley-based tech accelerator, US Market Access Center, and the Market Access Grant administered by the Irish government to incentivise companies to develop viable and sustainable market entry strategies for new products and markets.

While such efforts have yet to become well established here, different players in the local ecosystem are becoming more aware of the need to provide startups with market access to ensure better chances of success.

By Joy Lee The Star/Asia News Network

■ This is the seventh instalment of MetroBiz’s tie-up with Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to explore startup ecosystems.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

House buyers, learn your rights


I RECENTLY moved into our new house in Sungai Ramal Dalam. I bought the property back in 2012 and we received the vacant possession in January this year.

The journey towards moving into this property has not been a smooth one and I thought I should share some of the lessons.

When I first visited the site in 2012, only the show house was available for viewing. All the other units were blocked off because they were still under construction.

So the purchase was under the “sell-then-build” scheme. The developer sells a property that is not yet built, and the buyer pays for something depicted by the show unit, but in reality you don’t really know what you will get. The developer advertised it as a gated and guarded community of just 26 houses, and the show unit was quite decent.

We liked the concept and decided to go ahead anyway, despite a friend expressing doubts about the reliability of the developer because they are just a small company.

Skip forward to January this year: a letter arrived saying that the time had come for me to take the keys, or in jargon-speak, to take over the vacant possession. When I went to the developer’s office in Hulu Kelang, I was told to sign a letter confirming that I agreed to accept the property.

They also told me that the Certificate of Completion and Compliance (formerly called the CF) should be ready within two weeks and I should not do any renovation or move in before receiving it.

It was soon after this that problems started to occur. When I inspected the property more thoroughly, I discovered that the property was not yet satisfactorily completed.

Taps and doorknobs were missing. Some tiles were not properly fitted. The window frames were of different shades. Electrical sockets were not installed. The back garden slopes with a gradient that renders the area more or less unusable.

And the developer has not even applied for permission to build a gated and guarded community, despite advertising it in their sales brochure.

To make matters worse, the CCC did not arrive within the promised two weeks. I only received it last June. Throughout all this, I sent notice after notice to the developer asking them to rectify the defects.

They were extremely slow to respond. It was only then that I realised I should not have accepted the vacant possession without the CCC.

I then found the National House Buyers Association, and met with their secretary-general Chang Kim Loong who happens to be a fellow columnist in this newspaper. I learnt a tremendous amount from him and let me share some of the lessons here. If you are planning to buy a property and you don’t want to face the problems that I am having now, I suggest you read on.

Firstly when you buy a property, you should get the Sale and Purchase Agreement (S&P) checked by someone with proper knowledge, or appoint your own lawyer.

The two lawyers you deal with at the early stages represent your bank and the developer. They don’t represent you and they don’t have your interest at heart. You need your own lawyer.

Secondly, read the S&P yourself, carefully. With the benefit of hindsight, I am amazed at how I simply signed on the dotted line without reading the papers carefully first.

The document contains important information about your rights. And you should read it in greater detail if the developer says to you that the S&P is “just a formality”.

Thirdly, learn your rights as well as the procedures in the purchase.

If only I had taken some time to learn the ropes, I would have known that I should be extremely worried if a developer hands over vacant possession without a CCC (and promises you he will get it done within two weeks). Even more so when they start saying things like “we are all Malays and we should help each other”. Fourth, the sell-then-build scheme benefits mainly the developers and not necessarily the consumers. You are being asked to pay for something that is not even built yet and you never really know what you will eventually get. If the developer is rogue, then what you pay for is not necessarily what you will get.

In my case, the show unit has a concrete wall in the backyard, but my unit has just wire fencing. When I asked the developer, he responded that the S&P does not compel him to build a unit that is exactly the same as the show unit. Since it was a sell-then-build scheme, there is not much that I can do.

Recently Urban Wellbeing, Hou­sing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan an­­­nounced that he wants to allow developers to choose between sell-then-build and build-then-sell. He is effectively doing a U-turn because the previous minister wanted to make build-then-sell compulsory.

Of course, developers love the sell-then-build scheme because they get the cash in advance. Risks are transferred to buyers.

Fifth, despite the U-turn policy, the Housing Ministry is actually quite effective in dealing with consumer complaints. I have had a very good experience in dealing with the National Housing Department and the Tribunal for Homebuyer’s Claims (TTPR). The processes to submit a claim through the TTPR are simple enough to understand even for a layperson like me. The TTPR is also very transparent.

My case hearing was conducted in public and if you go to the tribunal’s website, you can find information about the claim that I filed. This transparency allows everyone to learn from the experience of others.

Let me end by saying that buying a house is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. You really should learn your rights.

If you find yourself dealing with a situation like I am in now, then you must not let the developer off the hook. Get advice from the brilliant team at the National House Buyers’ Association. Take the developer to the TTPR. And report them to the National Housing Department.

You should not despair because there are mechanisms to help protect you, including those instituted by the Government, as long as you are willing to take the initiative.

Think Liberally by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Financial planning is all about investing


LOTS of people shy away from financial planning because they think they may be pressured into investing. And when you think investing, what comes to mind are horror stories of people who lost their life savings during the Asian financial crisis and Dot Com Bubble.

We hear tales of greed and chasing the hottest sexiest investment themes that has led them down the path of poverty and for some great debt due to leverage.

Admittedly, in the wealth management business, investments do form a large part of conversations that happen between ourselves and our clients.

For the most part, people speak to financial planners or wealth managers about how to make their money grow faster so they can meet their goals.

How much return can I get? What can I get if I invest in equities? How about properties? How can I start investing in currencies?

When people engage in a conversation about investments, inevitably, we get seduced by the quest to find the highest yielding asset. We steer into instruments we are not familiar with, drawn by the allure of high headline returns.

Think dotcoms. Think gold investments. Think land investments. Think bitcoin. Not necessarily bad investments but the basic concept of risk and diversification fall by the wayside as we chase returns.

But, step back for a moment.

Are you asking the right question? Is financial planning only about finding the next best investment?

While investing will likely play a key role in your financial plan, there are a lot more questions that need to be answered before you can choose the right investment, or if you even need to invest aggressively.

First question, how much do you need? Second question, when will you need it? Third question, how much have you set aside or are prepared to set aside? Last question, what returns are you going to get?

So say, I would like to buy a property in five years, of which I plan to make a downpayment of RM50,000. I have currently set aside RM10,000. I can currently save RM500 monthly.

Let’s assume I have no experience investing and decide to place it in fixed deposit at 3% per annum. Doing my maths, after five years, with interest compounded, all this adds up to only RM43,000. You are RM7,000 short.

In such an example, most people approach an adviser to find out what could yield them higher returns. In the above example, any misadventures in your investments could possibly set you back in your acquisition of your next property.

What if this was your children’s education? You may not want to risk your child entering university two years late. These are things your adviser needs to know as there other alternatives.

Financial management is very much about balancing between these four requirements. While getting higher returns so you can meet your goal is one way, it’s not the only way! You have other options. So, let’s go back to the four questions.

Firstly, you could buy a cheaper property with RM43,000. Alternatively, you could wait another year to purchase that property, giving you more time to save up. Or, you could increase your monthly savings to RM600 at 3% per annum. Lastly, consider investing in something that yields you 7% per annum. So, really, out of four options, only one is about investing.

For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed.

By Ong Shi Jie
For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed, says Ong.

Ong Shi Jie (CJ) is head of wealth management, OCBC Bank (M) Bhd.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's not news if it's good, the Western news


The success story of regional integration in Latin America today is seldom heard elsewhere in the world, even as people there experience it daily.

LATIN America has been experiencing a progressive, historic but silent revolution for 10 years now. However, few people in the rest of the world seem aware of it.

The silence is not because these countries had sought to avoid world attention. Rather, the international media dominated by Western news agencies seem to have other priorities.

Often enough significant events and key issues are neglected, bypassed by the saucy, the sensational and the scandalous – all that glitters is not gold, much that matters may never be told.

Without exception, Western news agencies have doggedly promoted the so-called Arab Spring to the point of tedium.

The standard bogeymen of Western storytelling – Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad – are going or gone, so jubilation in Occidental newsrooms may be expected. But there should be limits and other (news) priorities too.

Elsewhere, countries that succeed outside Western norms, dictates and development models may seem unimportant or “politically incorrect”. So they are routinely ignored or underrated.

Worse, the changes said to be wrought by “Arab Spring” uprisings are said to be positive when the exact opposite is happening.

In virtually all these countries, living conditions have deteriorated rather than improved.

But the nine countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that came together in 2004 as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alba) have been making great strides in every critical area of national development.

Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela have raised standards of living for their people in social, economic and political terms.

Standards in housing, health care, education and employment have risen. These countries have also scored a high 0.721 in the UN Human Development Index, which measures national achievements beyond economic growth and material development.

On Dec 14, 2004, Venezuela and Cuba signed the joint declaration for the establishment of Alba. The alliance is based on humanist principles that place the citizen rather than the state or the corporation at the centre of national policymaking.

This people-centred alliance soon attracted the interest of other countries. Next to join were Bolivia, then Nicaragua, and Dominica, with Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda as well as St Vincent and the Grenadines joining together – followed by St Lucia.

Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis will be the next members. Other countries attending Alba summits as Participants are Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, St Kitts and Nevis, and Uruguay.

With a proud record of a decade’s achievements under its belt, Alba marked the passage of its first decade at a forum in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Ambassador Lourdes Puma Puma of Ecuador explained Alba’s background and objectives, including the use of the Sucre (Unified System for Regional Compensation) as a virtual currency in trade among member nations.

There is also a Bank of Alba with regional integration as its core purpose. The bank encourages and offers financial support for projects that promote the social development of all the peoples of the continent regardless of race, religion, politics or other background.

The areas that Alba covers in promoting regional integration are comprehensive and ambitious. There are medical schools and a health sciences university with scholarships, and a pharmaceutical company and a drugs regulatory centre with free access to medication.

There are plans for a new financial architecture and an emphasis on science and technology, without neglecting the arts.

There are also awards and scholarships for literature, culture, research and cinematography.

Alba is also working with the People’s Trade Agreement that lobbies for the social, cultural and environmental rights of the region’s peoples. It also works with Petrocaribe, an alliance of nations over oil purchases, as well as Mercosur, a regional customs union for advancing free trade and the movement of goods, people and currency.

The guest speaker at the Kuala Lumpur forum was Dr Chandra Muzaffar, president of the Interna­tional Movement for a Just World.

Dr Chandra identified the significant distinction between Alba and other regional organisations in the way it places priority on the human being, the individual person, in public policymaking.

This humanist aspect of a caring regional society that Alba seeks to build is widely cherished by the national leaders of its member countries. And despite a priority on economic development, Alba is also conscious of environmental needs and emphasises sustainable development.

In pursuing technology, Alba also seeks independence of telecommunications content in programming. Telecoms and broadcasting community services will also be provided to rural and other marginal areas.

Despite their achievements, Alba countries are still developing nations with much to do to achieve full development status. In the meantime basic needs have not been forgotten, with a food fund that has cut malnourishment to under 5% in four Alba countries and eliminated illiteracy in five countries.

More broadly, Alba seeks a more multipolar world that avoids war as a matter of policy. It much prefers human development that addresses the real needs of real people, particularly the most disadvantaged members of society.

Alba is named after the great 18th-19th century Venezuelan leader and liberator Simon Bolivar, hailed as a Latin American independence hero and a regional beacon of progress and development.

Bolivar is the only person in history to have two countries named after him: Bolivia, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Bolivar’s goals for Venezuela and its neighbouring countries labouring under the Spanish colonial yoke may be summed up in four basic priorities: a popular and participatory democracy for the people, economic independence for real development, fairer wealth distribution and elimination of corruption.

In the Latin America of his time, Bolivar led territories that included Bolivia, Colombia (then including Panama), Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. As a political and military leader he fought many private and public battles against slavery and for the liberation of his people.

Bolivar died in 1830 at the age of 47. He had paved the way for democracy in many countries in Latin America, but much else remains to be done.

After an era of cruel dictatorships, Latin America is again ready to embrace its history of decency and human achievement. But obstacles remain in the way of Alba countries, particularly when they seek their own way to development.

They prefer a more direct way that impacts positively on the people, particularly the most vulnerable in society such as the poor and the weak. Thus they avoid the customary assistance from powerful transnational institutions that comes with strings, cables and levers attached.

And yet when the UN established the Bretton Woods aid organisations the World Bank and the IMF, they were also supposed to help the poorest without encumbering them. But a problem with institutions is that their practices become institutionalised and worse.

Alba has been established with much goodwill and its achievements have been impressive.

Alba countries deserve support and admiration for their record so far, and encouragement on their promise.

Alba emerged from Venezuela’s rejection of the proposed Free Trade Area for the Americas, which would heighten inequality by enhancing the power of transnational corporations at the expense of the poor.

Neither the World Bank nor the IMF may want to call Alba’s achievements a “miracle”, but they are miraculous nonetheless.

Holding court: Chinese President Xi Jinping's (centre, right) meeting with members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Some have argued that anxieties about China's dominance of the new bank would be dispelled with more founding members. - EPARelated article:

Sound policies require maturity - The Star Online

Oct 26, 2014 - When major international policies are based on short-sighted self-interests and emotive impulses, problems are never far away.
Behind The Headlines By Bunn Narara

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Crude oil prices fall: subsidy needless, ringgit weaken, fiscal health affected

Malaysia's iconic Twin Towers are seen in the background of the Malaysian oil and gas company Petronas logo at a petrol station in Kuala Lumpur

DESPITE the geopolitical uncertainties in recent months – Islamic State of Iraq terrorism, Russian-Ukraine tension,Israel-Gaza conflict – Brent crude oil price has fallen to a new four-year low on Nov 13 at US$77.9 per barrel.

This is a significant drop from the average price of US$112 per barrel in June 2014. The floor price support is still not yet in sight and the downward spiral of prices seems likely to persist into 2015.

The key factors contributing to the recent drop in prices are large crude oil supply from American shale oil production, weakening demand from a subdued global economic growth outlook and also a stronger US dollar in the recent months.

Malaysia’s economy is very much dependent on the oil and gas sector. From the federal government budget revenue to the country’s exports of crude oil and petroleum products, the issue of falling crude oil prices warrants a closer inspection.

Government estimates gone awry

The Government’s projection of its fiscal position and overall economy in Budget 2015 is based on the assumption that the average Brent crude oil price would be US$105 per barrel in 2014 and US$100 per barrel in 2015. Given the substantial differences from the current market prices, the Government’s projections may no longer be in sync with the economic reality.

Budget net loss from oil prices downtrend

One notable impact of falling crude oil prices is on the government’s budget finances. On one hand, the oil and gas sector has been contributing a third to the government’s budget revenue since 2005. At the same time, the Government spends a substantial amount of its operating expenditure on fuel subsidies – an estimated of 8.5% of budget operating expenditure in 2014. Therefore, sliding crude oil prices is a double-edge sword to the country’s fiscal health.

To put the issue in perspective, the estimated budget revenue contribution from the oil and gas sector is around 6% of gross domestic product (GDP)in recent years while fuel subsidy costs the government around 1.7% of GDP in 2014. As such, the impact of lower budget revenue will outweigh expenditure savings from lower fuel subsidy cost.

Therefore, if the current blanket fuel subsidy mechanism is left status quo in light of falling crude oil prices, the circumstances would risk our nation’s fiscal deficit targets. Keep in mind that the government has committed to reduce the current fiscal deficit to GDP estimate of 3.5% in 2014 to 3% in 2015 and ultimately achieve a balanced budget by 2020.

Timely goods and services tax

No doubt the heavy dependency on the volatile oil and gas sector for budget revenue is beginning to show signs of cracks. The issue is even more pressing now that budget revenue is squeezed from falling crude oil prices.

Therefore, the broad-based goods and services tax (GST), which will enhance tax revenue collection, is considered timely at this juncture. However, the implementation of GST is only part of the long term solution to fiscal sustainability. The government must also look into the expenditure side of the budget finance to manage its fiscal prudence.

New subsidy mechanism or market prices?

Based on the current crude oil prices, the government is only subsidising RM0.13 per litre for RON95 and RM0.12 per litre for diesel in November, compared to RM0.47 per litre subsidy for RON95 and RM0.59 per litre subsidy for diesel in September – before the October RM0.20 per litre fuel price hike.

According to the Finance Ministry, if global crude oil prices fall to a low of between US$70 and US$75 per barrel, the Government would not be providing any subsidy for fuel at the current fixed price of RM2.30 per litre for RON95 and RM2.20 per litre for diesel.

Since the market pump prices are approaching a level that would require no subsidy at all, there is an urgent concern to review the sustainability of the current blanket fuel subsidy approach.Although the government has proposed to initiate a new targeted fuel subsidy rationalisation programme based on individual income thresholds, the circumstances demand a review of subsidy provisions.

Ultimately, fuel subsidy is not sustainable in the long run. Whether the government initiates a tiered fuel subsidy provision or not, the reality is that fuel subsidy should not be entrenched indefinitely.

To plan ahead for fiscal prudence, the government’s initiative to move towards a managed float pump prices is appropriate at this juncture.

When global crude oil prices are depressed, consumers would certainly rejoice. However, when there is a reversal of crude oil prices, the government could then step in to provide targeted assistance to the low-income households. As the government would be sensitive to the impact of rising cost to the low-income group, savings from fuel subsidy expenditure could be channelled to the targeted needy households.

The Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) provisions for eligible households and single individuals amount to around RM4.9bil in 2015, benefitting around 7 million recipients. Therefore, the low-income group has already been identified through the BR1M database. The government can consider to top up on BR1M with a supplementary monetary provisions equivalent to a cost of living allowance to compensate for the upside volatility of market fuel prices.

If the government would consider providing an additional RM250 to its BR1M provision for each eligible households and single individuals as the supplementary allowance, total BR1M payment for eligible recipients in 2015 would amount to around RM6.7bil.

Therefore, from the perspective of fiscal management, doing away with fuel subsidies would greatly assist the government to meet its fiscal objectives. From Budget 2015, the Government has allocated around RM37.7bil for subsidy expenditures. Based on historical trend, around 55% of total subsidy allocated is for fuel subsidies.

If the government considers abolishing subsidies for fuel in 2015, it could save up to RM20.7bil from the operating expenditure. Given that the projected fiscal deficit is around RM35.7bil for 2015, the savings from fuel subsidy will assist the government to meet its fiscal deficit targets. Furthermore, the government can also save billions of ringgit for money not spent on upgrading petrol pumps to accommodate the proposed tiered fuel subsidy mechanism.

As long as the provision for the additional supplementary allowance to BR1M does not exceed the savings from fuel subsidy expenditure, subsidies would be channelled to the targeted group while narrowing the fiscal deficit along the way.The cost of living allowance can be claimed through the BR1M distribution channel. This will assist the government to meet its fiscal deficit to GDP targets.

One way or another, it is still monetary subsidy provisions by the government. However, a more targeted approach to distributing provisions and also doing away with the heavy dependency on subsidies are the right approach moving forward not only for the fiscal health but also to the fundamental competitiveness of the economy.

By Manokaran Mottain, chief economist at Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd.

Ringgit Falls for Sixth Week in Longest Stretch This Year on Oil

Malaysia’s ringgit fell for a sixth week, the longest losing streak this year, as a slump in crude oil prices threatens to crimp government revenue in a nation that’s a net exporter of the fuel.

The ringgit is Southeast Asia’s worst-performing currency in the second half as Brent crude lost 29 percent since the end of June. Oil-related industries account for 30 percent of government revenue. While a weaker exchange rate helps lower export prices it makes imports more expensive. A report today showed inflation quickened to 2.8 percent in October from a year earlier, compared with 2.6 percent the previous month.

“The drop in commodity prices, especially crude oil, is to be blamed for the ringgit weakness,” said Wong Chee Seng, a foreign-exchange strategist at AmBank Group in Kuala Lumpur. “The fact that the ringgit is a high-beta currency also didn’t help,” he said, referring to a measure of volatility.

The ringgit depreciated 0.3 percent from Nov. 14 to 3.3555 per dollar in Kuala Lumpur, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It touched 3.3681 yesterday, the weakest level since March 2010, and has lost 4.3 percent since June 30.

One-month implied volatility, a measure of expected moves in the exchange rate used to price options and a gauge of risk, increased 16 basis points, or 0.16 percentage point, to 7.15 percent this week.

Subsidy Announcement

The ringgit led gains among Asian currencies today, rising 0.3 percent, after the government said in a statement that it will remove subsidies for fuel and diesel from Dec. 1 and as Brent rebounded.

“The ringgit strengthened today because of the increase in crude oil prices,” said Saktiandi Supaat, the Singapore-based head of foreign-exchange research at Malayan Banking Bhd. “The announcement on the subsidy removal gave further support.”

Malaysia’s 10-year government notes fell for a second week. The yield on the 4.181 percent securities maturing in July 2024 rose three basis points to 3.9 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield dropped three basis points today. - Bloomberg

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Xiangshan Defence Forum: Regional military chiefs hail Beijing's security proposal

Photo taken on Nov. 21, 2014 shows the scene of the plenary meeting of the 5th Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, capital of China. The two-day Xiangshan Forum focuses on security in the Asia-Pacific region. The biennial event, organized by China Society of Military Sciences, has been held since 2006. It will be held annually starting this year. (Xinhua/Shen Dongdong) 





 Regional military chiefs hail Beijing's security proposal

Regional military chiefs hail Beijing's security proposal
Chinese military academic delegate Wang Yisheng talks to British delegate John Kingwell (center) and Observer Simon Levey during the Xiangshan Forum attended by senior officials and academics from Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific region in Beijing on Friday. PETAR KUJUNDZIC / REUTERS

At a glance
• Xiangshan Forum, first held in 2006, and initially staged every two years. Upgraded to an annual event this year.
• About 300 delegates from 47 countries and four international organizations attending this year.
• This year's theme is "Cooperation and Win-Win Build an Asian Community of Common Destiny".
• Held from Thursday to Saturday, the forum discusses regional and maritime security and anti-terrorism cooperation.
China proposed on Friday that disputes in the Asia-Pacific region be tackled by an efficient crisis management and control mechanisms.

The proposal, put forward at a major defense policy forum in Beijing, won widespread acclaim from military chiefs and leading defense specialists in the region.

They said a liaison system has yet to be established to help the economically dynamic region tackle looming geopolitical concerns, and the proposal will help to resolve this.

In an address to the fifth Xiangshan Forum, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan said that China held 2,000 talks or meetings last year with neighbors on border issues.

China seeks to further enhance dispute management procedures, boost defense cooperation and "strengthen the regional security architecture", Chang said in a three-point proposal.

Singapore's Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen endorsed Chang's proposal and underscored the need to build an Asian security framework to set up meetings and cool any potential tension.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also backed Chang's proposal.

Yin Zhuo, director of the PLA navy's Expert Consultation Committee, said Asia-Pacific is "the only region in the world that still suffers from the wounds of the Cold War", and a security mechanism, like that established in Europe, has yet to be set up.

The forum provides a platform that "transcends different ideologies and involves all regional stakeholders", Yin added.

Some Western analysts have speculated that the China-led forum was upgraded from an event held every two years to an annual one earlier this year to steal the thunder from the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore.

Singaporean Defense Minister Ng told Friday's plenary session that more opportunities for dialogue should be given to high-ranking military officials in the region, and meetings such as the Xiangshan Forum help to keep areas of tension from spiraling out of control.

Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Department of Research at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, said China is a major player in the region, and "such platforms do not conflict with each other because they are working in concert to shape a safer region".

Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said changing mindsets is important, adding that, "It may take quite a long time to shape a strong and popular belief of win-win cooperation."

Chang dismissed any connection between China's "justified" defense budget growth and allegations of "growing assertiveness" by China.

Military modernization "serves China's practical need to secure its own borders" Chang said.

He told the forum, "To defend our own security is a most direct contribution to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

Andrei Kokoshin, director of the Institute for International Security Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences and former secretary of the Russian Security Council, said the modernization of the People's Liberation Army is playing a positive role in boosting regional security and stability.

By Zhangyunbi China Daily, News Network

 Chinese DM addresses Fifth Xiangshan Forum

Gen. Chang Wanquan, state councilor and minister of national defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is delivering a speech on the topic of China’s armed forces and Asia-Pacific security at the Fifth Xiangshan Forum in Beijing on the morning of November 21, 2014. (Chinamil.com.cn/Sun Xiaoxu)

Keynote Speech at the Fifth Xiangshan Forum
by General Chang Wanquan, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense, 21st November 21, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, good morning! I am very glad to meet all of you here at Xiangshan. Let me begin by welcoming you all to the Fifth Xiangshan Forum on behalf of China’s Ministry of National Defense and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). I wish to take this opportunity to share with you my views on this topic—China’s armed forces and Asia-Pacific security.

  The remarkable growth of China’s comprehensive national power, and the continued progress in national defense modernization, have become a focus of international attention in recent years. First of all, I would like to explain, from both historical and contemporary perspectives, why China has accelerated the modernization drive of its national defense and armed forces.

  First, China has learned a bitter lesson from its wretched modern history. The Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world. As we entered the modern era, however, Chinese people suffered grievously in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society because of the corruption and incompetence of their feudal rulers, coupled with unrelenting aggressions of foreign powers. Our people did not become masters of their own destiny until a century later, after a protracted struggle. When it comes to national sovereignty and security, the Chinese give great credence to the adage, “We should not rely on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.” Therefore, China is firmly determined to promote the modernization of its national defense and armed forces and effectively safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests.

  Second, military modernization serves China’s practical need to secure its own territory. China has a vast territory and a large population. Its land borders, mainland and island coastlines are very long indeed. In particular, China has not yet fully realized national reunification. These are all factors which place the Chinese military under heavy pressure in securing the country and its border areas. There is therefore a pressing need for China to strengthen its national defense and armed forces. It should also be noted that to defend our own security is a most direct contribution to the security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

  Third, China has to adapt to the revolution in military affairs. As the revolution in military affairs gains momentum worldwide, every country is dedicating efforts to modernizing its armed forces or conducting various degrees of military reforms. At present, the Chinese military has yet to become fully mechanized and its application of information technology is still at an early stage. It lags far behind those advanced military forces elsewhere in the world. A decision to strengthen the reform of China’s national defense and armed forces was adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Mindful of the goal of building a strong military, we are now exerting ourselves to develop a system of modern military force with Chinese characteristics. This is a sure choice that China has made in keeping with the times.

  Fourth, military modernization serves the overall interests of China’s reform, opening up and development. China initiated the historic process of reform and opening up in the late 1970s. The Chinese military, committed to serving the larger goals of reform and development, has made a unique contribution to China’s economic takeoff. Since the beginning of the new century, China’s armed forces have benefited from the country’s economic growth and stepped up their efforts to pursue modernization. The move is mainly intended to ensure the balanced development of national defense and the economy, and provide a more effective safeguard to China’s economic and social development as well as its expanding overseas interests. It should be noted that China has not changed the basic state policy of taking economic development as the central task. Its military growth has always been kept at a reasonable level.

  Fifth, China is under an obligation to work together with other countries to cope with non-traditional security threats. In recent years, the threats of terrorism, separatism and extremism have mounted, in addition to frequent and major natural disasters and new challenges to the security of sea lines of communication. Such non-traditional security issues have become the common concern of all countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Against this backdrop, we have attached greater importance to the employment of armed forces in peacetime. It has shouldered increasing international obligations in areas such as UN peacekeeping, international anti-terrorism, commercial vessel protection, international disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance. Accelerating the modernization of national defense and armed forces will also enable China to come up with a better response to the various security challenges in collaboration with other countries and live up to its role as a responsible major country.

  Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, the world today is undergoing major developments, changes and adjustments. The global trends toward multipolarity and economic globalization are deepening. Cultural diversity is increasing, and an information-based society is fast emerging. The security landscape in the Asia-Pacific region is largely stable. As they depend on each other for security and development, countries in the region have formed a community of common destiny in which they will prosper or decline together.

  Last May, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward an Asian security concept that calls for common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. While expressing hope that Asian countries advance common security in the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation, he welcomed the participation of other countries concerned. The concept offered a new vision for Asia-Pacific countries to cope jointly with security challenges. The Chinese military will uphold this concept as a participant and promoter of international security cooperation. It is willing to develop an approach to Asian security alongside the armed forces of other countries that features joint efforts, shared benefits and win-win results.

  First, for the sake of common security, China has dealt with sensitive disputes in an appropriate fashion. It is to be expected that disputes will arise between nations. The key is to strengthen management and effectively prevent and resolve crises. Along its land borders, the Chinese military has set up 64 border defense force meeting venues, where in 2013 alone more than 2,000 meetings were held with neighboring countries. China and India have jointly implemented their Border Defense Cooperation Agreement to maintain border peace and stability. As far as naval cooperation is concerned, the Chinese Navy has conducted 16 joint patrols in the Beibu Gulf with the Vietnamese Navy. China is also exploring the possibility of opening a defense hotline with the ASEAN countries. Only recently, China’s Ministry of National Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense signed two memorandums of understanding on Notification of Major Military Activities Confidence-building Measures Mechanism and The Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters. With these practical moves and more, we have contributed to regional peace and stability and done our utmost to create a positive environment for the development of all countries in the region.

  Second, China has engaged in regional security dialogue to promote cooperative security. We are committed to candid and in-depth talks with other parties in a bid to expand the common ground for Asia-Pacific defense and security cooperation. To date, China has established defense and security consultation and dialogue mechanisms with 26 countries. In recent years, China has held more than 80 joint military exercises and training sessions focusing on areas such as anti-terrorism and disaster relief with more than 50 countries. China’s defense authorities and armed forces have taken an active part in regional multilateral security cooperation. They have played an important role in multilateral security mechanisms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. This Xiangshan Forum where we are gathered is an example of the efforts of the Chinese military to promote security dialogue and cooperation.

  Third, China has been active in providing public security goods in pursuit of comprehensive security. As security challenges become increasingly interconnected, transnational and comprehensive, there has been a rising demand for public goods in the global security filed. Since 2002, the Chinese military has carried out 39 international emergency humanitarian assistance operations. It has shipped more than 1.3 billion yuan ($212 million) in aid materials to 30 disaster-ridden countries. Since the end of 2008, China has dispatched 18 naval task forces to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. These have provided an escort to almost 6,000 Chinese and foreign ships. China has contributed more peacekeeping troops than any other permanent member of the UN Security Council - a total of more than 27,000. Currently, 2, 027 Chinese peacekeepers are working with nine UN peacekeeping missions. In order to cope with the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, the Chinese military has sent almost 300 doctors and nurses to epidemic-affected areas. It has built an Ebola holding-center in Sierra Leone and will soon complete the construction of a 100-bed Ebola treatment center in Liberia. This represents a humble contribution to the fight against the deadly virus.

  Fourth, China has reinforced results-oriented defense cooperation to boost sustainable security. The armed forces constitute the cornerstone of national security. Whether a country is secure and whether its security is sustainable hinge on its ability to protect itself. The Chinese military has, to the best of its abilities, helped other countries, especially developing countries, to strengthen their armed forces. While taking into account the long-term development of these countries’ armed forces, it focuses on improving their overall capability to safeguard national security. Since 2003, China has trained more than 30,000 military personnel for over 130 countries. It also assists other developing countries every year by providing military aid with no political strings attached. Much of this material is used for the construction of such infrastructure as military academies and hospitals.

  Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, while Asia-Pacific security cooperation looks promising, we still have a long way to go to secure our region. All countries should work in concert for its peace, stability and enduring prosperity.

  We call for further strengthening of dispute management procedures to improve our ability to cope with crises. We believe that peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region should be put at the top of the agenda. Disputes should be resolved through negotiations with full respect to historical facts and the international law. The parties concerned should establish accessible and efficient dispute management and control mechanisms, refine their capacity to deal with crises, and prevent disputes from escalating. The Chinese military stands ready to seek appropriate solutions to relevant issues in collaboration with other parties by sharing information in a timely manner through a variety of liaison mechanisms at different levels.

  We call for further strengthening of defense exchanges and cooperation to bolster strategic mutual trust. All countries should promote regular, open and inclusive contacts between their respective defense authorities and armed forces. They should put in place regular defense and security consultation mechanisms, reinforce bilateral and multilateral exchanges, forge a growing consensus, and enhance strategic mutual trust. We are willing to work together with other parties to promote the growth of positive military-to-military relations in the Asia-Pacific region by strengthening wide-ranging, multi-tiered and all-round cooperation.

  We call for further strengthening of the regional security architecture to foster a stronger sense of belonging to a community of common destiny. We advocate that countries should transcend Cold War thinking and base their decisions on the reality of the Asia-Pacific region. They should take all parties’ security concerns into consideration. They should also accommodate each other’s comfort levels as they build an open, transparent, equal and inclusive Asia-Pacific security architecture.

  Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, President Xi Jinping said at a recent APEC event, “Those who share the same ideal and follow the same path can be partner. Those who seek common ground while shelving differences can also be partners. More friends, more opportunities.” Let us commit ourselves to the goal of forging an Asia-Pacific partnership featuring mutual trust, inclusiveness, cooperation and win-win results, and join hands to create a bright future for our region.

  Thank you!

Editor :  Zhang Tao   

Friday, November 21, 2014

China's revival of 600-year-old links in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas

 Malaysia and China have great plans for a 21st century version of an ancient trade route from China that reached as far as Europe and the Americas

Maritime trade between China and other countries dates back to the Qin and Han dynasties.

Merchant ships that departed from China sailed into the South China Sea carrying silk, porcelain ware, tea and other commodities.

The ancient trade route reached as far as Europe and the Americas, forging friendships and exchanges.

Today, China has a grand vision: to revive a 21st century version of this ancient maritime corridor by inviting countries from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe to come on board the present-day route.

According to an article in the Asia Weekly of China Daily, an English-language newspaper, the proposed 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) begins in Quanzhou in Fujian province, moves on to Guangzhou in Guangdong province and Beihai in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and then heads south to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Continuing south to Kuala Lumpur on the Strait of Malacca, the MSR joins Jakarta, Indonesia, crosses the Indian Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, and then links with Colombo, Sri Lanka and Male, the Maldives.

China has taken many initiatives to promote the 21st century MSR since its president Xi Jinping first brought up the idea during his visit to Indonesia in October last year.

One of the most recent efforts was the Guangdong 21st Century Maritime Silk Road International Expo, which brought together more than 40 countries and regions to seek cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, tourism and culture.

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, during the opening ­ceremony of the expo in Dongguan, touted the 21st century MSR as a road of peace and friendship that brings about mutual cooperation and benefits.

He said Guangdong is a convenient transportation hub linking China with countries along the MSR.

“The inland provinces join the MSR and venture out to the world through Guangdong, while Guangdong is also the entry point for resources to come into China from the outside world,” he said of the strategic location of Guangdong.

In the past, Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province, was a major stop on the ancient trade route. Records show that close to 90 per cent of the merchant ships from the West docked at its Huangpu Port from 1685 to 1757.

The glory remains today, with Guangdong ranking first among all provinces in China in terms of economic output, trade volume and population.

Last year, both its gross domestic product and total imports and exports exceeded US$1 trillion.

Trade between Guangdong and Malaysia, China’s largest trading partner in Asean, stood at US$26.81 billion.

Tourism Malaysia chairman Dr Ng Yen Yen said Malaysia’s participation at the expo, the ­largest among all countries, reflected our readiness for greater collaboration and cooperation with countries along the MSR.

In her speech at a forum held ­during the expo, she said ties between both countries can be traced back to 600 years ago when Admiral Cheng Ho visited Malacca during his seven naval expeditions to the Western Ocean.

On the tourism front, Dr Ng proposed a multiple-destination cruise route along the 21st-MSR that will provide vast opportunities for multi­lateral economic cooperation.

Meanwhile, an Institute of Maritime Silk Road Tourism and Culture was established during the expo.

A collaboration between the Guangdong Tourism Board and the South China Normal University, the institute will be a platform for academic research and exchange on topics related to the Maritime Silk Road, such as tourism, culture, education and regional development.

By Tho XIn Yi The Star/Asia News Network

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 Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road 

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