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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Get set for Malaysian politics of the young!

Get set for a generational political shift


The UKEC’s Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) shows how much young people can achieve without the straitjacket of thought control. Open debate events like the PAN will do Malaysia a world of good.

I’M in London and it’s late at night. Having arrived from Davos only yesterday I’m also exhausted but I can’t sleep. I’m too excited.

In fact, I’ve just returned to my hotel from the United Kingdom & Eire Council of Malaysian Students (UKEC) Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) conference and I feel as if I’ve seen – if not participated – in the future.

Whilst the World Economic Forum was an overwhelming event, the PAN conference was altogether more enthralling and meaningful for me - as a Malaysian.

What can I say? A small if well-organised group of Malaysian students in Britain – full of enthusiasm and determination – has set out to bring the best Malaysian minds and voices together.

In short, they succeeded and in doing so have shamed their nervous, narrow-minded elders back home in Kuala Lumpur – those who mumble that Malaysians aren’t ready for or need democracy and/or debate.

Instead, and with great confidence, they have proved that Malaysians are ready for change and that dialogue – open, frank and at times, heated – is well within our capacity.

Whilst I wasn’t much of an expert in the topic of my session (religion, of all things), I was glad and grateful to have contributed to the PAN along with my fellow panellists: Dr Carool Kersten, Zainah Anwar and PAS’ Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Nonetheless, the highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the debate on public policy between PKR’s Rafizi Ramli and Umno’s Khairy Jamaluddin.

The anticipation in the lead-up was almost unbearable.

Taking a front row seat and sitting alongside fellow columnist Marina Mahathir, I prepared myself for the encounter. Behind me, the room was seething with activity.

Would the session degenerate into a nasty, partisan session between the two prominent young lions? Both men are renowned as passionate voices for their party’s causes and Rafizi has recently assumed a very high national profile with his attacks on Government mismanagement (especially the NFC).

What we got, however, was a total surprise. The session was gracious and very statesman-like as two very smart young men squared off.

Both of them explained their respective political positions. Rafizi argued for political change whilst Khairy called for the status quo (plus reform).

When I thought about their responses later, I had to acknowledge that they held remarkably similar positions.

Calm and reasonable, the two men discussed a wide range of issues: from media access to freedom of assembly, race relations and Government tax policy.

Throughout the hour-and-half debate, the two men eschewed personal attacks. Neither was crude or vulgar: their points were well-argued and professional.

Moreover, instead of trying to score personal political points, they remained above the mere partisan.

The organisers had obviously spent time thinking through the format of the session to achieve the maximum impact and I congratulate them on the dramatic US Presidential-style format.

As I looked on, it struck me that I was a witness to a critical generational shift in Malaysian politics – as leaders stepped forward to discuss their differences openly in a manner that rose above mere political pettiness.

Glancing at my Twitter feed throughout the conference, another thing I noted was how many people shared my contention – which was published a few weeks ago – that it was a real tragedy that such an event like the PAN could not take place in Malaysia.

Many people have claimed that such debates are not part of the “Malaysian culture”.

Well, the historic exchange between Rafizi and Khairy showed how wrong they are.

The UKEC shows how much our young people can achieve without the straightjacket of thought control.

Open debate events like the PAN will do Malaysia a world of good and I call on all Malaysians to go online and watch the debate.

As Rafizi so pointedly said in his debate: “It doesn’t matter which side you get involved with. The important thing is that you go home – go home and make a difference.” One can only hope that they take his advice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Western war on Iran soon?

Rising risk of Western war on Iran


The new year is witnessing an escalation of a Western economic blockade against Iran while it has been claimed that Israel is preparing for a military strike. Can a war against Iran be avoided? 

THE risk of the world being engulfed in a new and dangerous war is increasing. In recent weeks, Iran has come under greater pressure over its nuclear programme, and the chances of this leading to military conflict have escalated.

A recent article in New York Times magazine revealed that senior Israeli leaders were preparing for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2012.

The United States has intensified its initiative on trade and financial sanctions on Iran.

Republican candidates for the Presidency have been using high anti-Iran rhetoric.

And there is the possibility in a Presidential election year that the incumbent President may start a war to gain popularity.

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama said he would take no option off the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Europe recently announced an embargo on Iranian oil. The European Union foreign ministers decided there would be no further oil contracts between its member states and Iran, and that existing oil delivery deals would be allowed to run only until July.

These actions are purportedly aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But Iran has insisted its research programme is for developing nuclear power, not weapons.

And there is no evidence that it is in fact developing, or intending to develop, weapons.

There is a danger of dramatic escalation of the present conflict through one of various scenarios, such as an Israeli attack on Iran (with or without United States assistance or approval) or an incident in the Persian Gulf involving Western and Iranian ships.

The US has doubled the number of aircraft carriers near the Persian Gulf, while French and British warships recently accompanied the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln into the Gulf.

These developments are creating the conditions for a slide into a catastrophic war.

On Jan 25, the New York Times carried an article – “Will Israel attack Iran?”– by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, an analyst who interviewed Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak, vice-premier Moshe Ya’alon and others.

“After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012,” wrote Bergman.

This determination to strike comes despite many difficulties, listed by Bergman.

Iran has dispersed its nuclear installations throughout its vast territory, and Israel has limited air power and no aircraft carrier.

Even if an attack were successful, Iran would be able to rebuild the damaged or wrecked sites. And Iran had declared that it would strike back if attacked.

There is of course irony and double standards in this situation.

While Israel and the West decry the consequences if Iran obtains nuclear weapons capability, it is well known that Israel itself owns many nuclear weapons.

And while Iran is often accused by the same countries of sponsoring terrorism, Iran itself has been the victim of terrorist attacks and economic and technological sabotage.

Bergman’s article provides many details of many of the covert actions taken by Israel against Iran.

The Israeli secret service Mossad was given “virtually unlimited funds and powers” to stop the Iranian bomb through a five-front strategy that involved “political pressure, covert measures, counter-proliferation, sanctions and re­­gime change”.

The moves against Iran include boycotting of financial institutions, the use of computer viruses to disrupt the operations of the nuclear project, tampering with components and the supply of faulty parts and raw materials, explosions at various facilities, and the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists.

The article implies that Israel has been involved in, or approves of, these actions, although it does not explicitly admit to them.

Meanwhile, Iran insists it is not intending to develop nuclear weapons, and there has been no evidence that it is doing so.

Iran’s enemies are fearful it will develop a technical capability for developing weapons as it pursues its nuclear energy programme.

Nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt, a former Fellow in the Committee on International Security and Arms Control at the US National Academy of Sciences, and scientific consultant for the Federation of American Scientists, has said Iran was not doing anything that violated its legal right to develop nuclear technology.

Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is not illegal for a member state to have a nuclear weapons capability or option.

If a nation has a fully developed civilian nuclear sector, it, by default, already has a fairly solid nuclear weapons capability, and several countries that do not have weapons, do have this capability.

Meanwhile, Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service reported that several influential foreign policy figures in the US (who used to be Iraq war hawks) were speaking up against military action on Iran.

“We’re doing this terrible thing all over again,” wrote Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and previously a Iraq-war hawk.

Kenneth Pollack, whose 2002 book on Iraq was cited frequently by hawks before the Iraq invasion, argued not only against any further escalation, but also suggested that the US-EU sanctions were proving counterproductive.

Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter argued that the West and Iran were playing a “dangerous game of chicken” and that the West’s current course “leaves Iran’s government no alternative between publicly backing down, which it will not do, and escalating its provocations”.

“The more publicly the West threatens Iran, the more easily Iranian leaders can portray America as the Great Satan,” wrote Slaughter, formerly director of policy planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It remains to be seen if cooler heads will indeed prevail so that a new war against Iran is avoided.

Corporate Malaysia history needs Muck


Here are some important reminders of our business history

IT'S clear of late that Malaysia has an awkward relationship with its past. Controversy after controversy have shown that it's hard for us to agree on the facts and interpretation that form a widely accepted version of our history, or indeed, on what separates historical facts from mere stories.

This is troubling. George Santayana was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist, but if he is to be universally noted for just one thing, it should perhaps be for the fact that he wrote this: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Try arguing against that.

What's more worrying is that there's no collective effort by corporate Malaysia to enrich what we know about the pivotal developments in the country's business landscape. Key documents, publications and other forms of information from companies should be aggregated, organised and presented to a broad audience.

In other words, we should have a Museum of Corporate Knowledge. As a bonus, it has an easy-to-remember acronym Muck.

Of course, it ought to have features you would find in any other top-notch museum, such as objects of great significance, dioramas, interactive displays, and narratives.

Considering that corporate Malaysia is well over a century old the Companies Commission of Malaysia's origins go back to the late 19th century a major challenge is to select the people and events that deserve to be showcased in Muck.

And after that task has been completed, there's the equally difficult job of designing exhibits that best tell the story behind each choice. Some suggestions:

The power of no power

The story: Lightning struck a transmission facility on Sept 29, 1992, causing a blackout throughout Peninsular Malaysia. It took 48 hours to fully restore electricity supply. The incident prompted the Government to allow others to enter the business of generating power, until then the monopoly of Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).

This paved the way for the birth of the independent power producers (IPPs).

Six months after the blackout, TNB signed a 21-year power purchase agreement (PPAs) with YTL Corp Bhd. Four more PPAs were inked in 1993. These early PPAs are highly lucrative, to the point that they were regarded as lopsided in favour of the IPPs.

The terms of subsequent PPAs were less generous, but the structure of the IPP programme has proven to be less than ideal because of the strain on TNB. Attempts to renegotiate the first-generation PPAs have failed.

The exhibit: The TNB equipment damaged by the September 1992 lightning strike. This serves to remind us of how an act of God can have far-reaching consequences.

AirAsia's transformation

The story: On Sept 5, 2001, DRB-Hicom Bhd agreed to sell its 99.25% stake in AirAsia Sdn Bhd to Tune Air Sdn Bhd for RM1 cash and the assumption of half of AirAsia's liabilities. Back then, AirAsia was making losses and was weighed downs by debts. The transaction was completed three months later.

Founded by Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, Datuk Aziz Bakar and Datuk Pahamin Ab Rajab, Tune Air relaunched AirAsia as a low-fare carrier. Now listed on Bursa Malaysia, the airline has famously changed the region's aviation and travel industries.

The exhibit: If Tune Air had paid for the acquisition with a RM1 banknote, let's hope somebody has kept it as a souvenir and is willing to donate it to Muck. Framed and displayed prominently, it makes a great symbol of entrepreneurial vision and drive.

Kenmark scandal

The story: Furniture manufacturer Kenmark Industrial Co (M) Bhd announced on May 31, 2010, that its quarterly results were delayed because, among other things, managing director James Hwang had gone missing. At the same time, the company was classified a PN17 stock because of loan default by a subsidiary.

The next day, businessman Datuk Ishak Ismail emerged as a substantial shareholder, and new directors of Kenmark were appointed. It was also around that time that the company released a letter and a press statement purportedly from Hwang, explaining his absence (supposedly due to illness) and promising that he would return to Malaysia. The share price rebounded strongly.

A week later, Ishak started selling his shares and soon ceased to be a substantial shareholder. The stock plunged again and this time, there was no reversal.

Kenmark was delisted on Dec 31, 2010. It appears that Hwang has not come back to Malaysia until today. The Securities Commission (SC) has initiated civil action against Ishak for insider trading and for making false or misleading statements.

The exhibit: Hwang's letter and press statement dated June 2, 2010, that were emailed to Kenmark's independent directors. These were instrumental in convincing people that it wouldn't be long before the company's woes were over.

Transmile fraud

The story: When Transmile Group Bhd was delisted in May last year, it marked the conclusion to a spectacular corporate flop. The air cargo company was once considered a top stock pick, mainly because it was part of Robert Kuok's empire and was poised to grow rapidly in tandem with Asia's trade boom.

The first sign of trouble surfaced in April 2007, when it missed the deadline for submitting its audited 2006 accounts. A special audit commissioned by the board of directors uncovered shocking irregularities. The company's revenue from 2004 to 2006 was overstated by hundreds of millions of ringgit. The audited shareholders' fund as at December 2006 was 55% less than the unaudited figure announced earlier.

Transmile took too long to get out of PN17 status and was booted out by the stock exchange.

In July 2007, the SC charged three Transmile senior executives, including CEO Gan Boon Aun, for abetting the company in making misleading statements. I

n November the same year, two former independent directors and audit committee members were charged for authorising the furnishing of a misleading statement to Bursa Malaysia.

The two ex-independent directors were found guilty in October last year and were jailed and fined. Gan's trial is ongoing.

The exhibit: Altimeter from one of the Transmile planes. The instrument for measuring altitude is a great representation of the ups and downs in the stock market. At its height, the Transmile share price reached RM14.40. It had been trading at less than 10 sen before its suspension and subsequent delisting.

Executive editor Errol Oh believes that when we know our follies may be put on public display, we're likely to be more careful and responsible.

Related post:
Malaysian History & Legend; facts & fallacies; myths, heroes or zeroes? 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Malaysian History & Legend; facts & fallacies; myths, heroes or zeroes?

Let Hang Tuah legend live on

On The Beat By Wong Chun Wai, The Star

Like Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes in England, Hang Tuah could be cleverly promoted as a tourist attraction in Malacca

THE current debate over whether the legendary warrior Hang Tuah actually existed or is merely a figment of imagination should be taken positively. At least there is a renewed interest in history, a subject many Malaysians regard as boring.

Our students have bad memories of studying History, which will be a compulsory subject in schools, because of unimaginative and uninspiring teachers who turned their classes into tedious note-taking exercises.

They did not inspire their students with stories of how we could learn from the past and how relevant history is to us. History is not about forcing students to just memorise dates and signing of treaties.

History is about his story, and teachers should respond with lively accounts, even personal trivia, of the personalities involved to spice up their classes.

With a short remark, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim restarted a debate on the existence of Hang Tuah, who is said to have lived during the reign of Sultan Mansur Shah in 15th century Malacca. Hang Tuah is believed to be the greatest of all of the sultan’s admirals and was described as a ferocious fighter.

a lot about our history that we don’t know about
Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim says there’s a lot about our history that we don’t know about.

Certainly, he has been and is still held in the highest regard in Malaysian Malay culture, and so when our eminent historian said he did not exist, many Malaysians felt let down, even cheated.

Many remember learning in school that Hang Tuah was a hero with a steadfast sense of loyalty who readily sacrificed his friendship with his best friend Hang Jebat after the latter rebelled against the Sultan.

Furthermore, we are also being told that Princess Hang Li Po, who was supposedly married to Sultan Mansur Shah, is probably fictitious as well.

But to be fair to Prof Khoo, he is not the first historian to dispute the existence of Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po. It has long been the subject of conjecture at university level. At school level, however, students seemed to be just happy to swallow what their teachers taught them.

The conventional method of teaching history could be the reason for this, but lack of critical thinking in our education system is another factor. Most students rely entirely on notes given to them and they don’t do their own research on the subject.

Teachers could address this shortcoming by, for example, stating specifically that Hang Tuah is a subject of myth and legend at the start of lessons. Students should also be informed that the location of his tomb, if it exists, remains in dispute.

In the case of Hang Li Po, her existence has long been disputed since she was never recorded in the chronicles of the ruling Ming dynasty. Others say that if she ever existed, she was probably a very beautiful maid in the imperial house who was picked to assume the role of a princess, which is said to be a common practice.

But we should not let the legend of Hang Tuah be forgotten. He should remain a symbol of morality, loyalty, bravery and humility – principles that are enduring.

In fact, Hang Tuah has not even been promoted or marketed as well as other figures of fiction like Sherlock Holmes, the detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The London-based “consulting detective” has now made it into several movies, including two contemporary versions, besides being in the books and TV productions.

Holmes’ fictional home address, 221B, Baker Street, has been turned into a museum under government protection for its “historical and architectural” importance. Never mind if he’s not real; Sherlock Holmes is being so well marketed that there is even a statue of him outside the Baker Street tube station.

Most of us would also know of the legendary Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, what with the penchant among film and TV producers to feature heroes, be they real or fictional. In English folklore, Robin Hood, known for “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor”, was described as living in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, a county in England.

Cashing in on Robin Hood’s heroism, Nottinghamshire has aggressively promoted Sherwood Forest as a tourist attraction and there is even a Robin Hood airport and the Robin Hood statue.

So what if Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and the Loch Ness monster are all not real? The locals are certainly benefiting tremendously from tourist money earned from spinning tales of these legends.

In Malacca, however, it is easier to get a T-shirt printed with Che Guevera’s iconic face than one with Hang Tuah’s. Never mind if the face of Hang Tuah resembles M. Nasir or P. Ramlee. Where can tourists buy replicas of the magical Taming Sari, the keris used by Hang Tuah? And where is the path that tourists can take to the Hang Li Po trail up Bukit Cina, a site supposedly given to the entourage who accompanied her from China?

There should be a statue of Hang Tuah where tourists can pose for photographs which they can take home to remind them of the legend. There should even be a museum in Malacca to pay tribute to him, and where re-runs of the Hang Tuah movies could be screened.

So, instead of just whining and feeling depressed over Prof Khoo’s thesis, we should ask ourselves why we have not cleverly promoted Hang Tuah and the other legendary figures in Malacca. Keep the legend alive.

Don’t twist history facts

STPM History reference books should be scrutinised by relevant history experts to ensure that facts are correct.

Our STPM Tamadun Islam reference books touch on Islamic history in China but some of the facts in the books must not be accepted at face value for some of the statements have been made without quoting any credible source.

There are some writers who have quoted non-Malaysian authors from the 20th century who had little knowledge about China’s history but merely based it on their fantasised ideas and twisted facts derived perhaps from their own assumptions.

The writers who touched on the topic have been an embarrassment to those in the academic fraternity as they had based their facts from what they had obtained from the old authors. For instance, the STPM books claim that the Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang (old spelling Chu Yuan-chang) was a Muslim, when in fact, he was not.

Historical evidence proves that Zhu Yuanzhang (also known as Ming Taizu, or the Emperor Hongwu) was once a Buddhist monk before he founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368.

When the tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang’s father (located in present Fengyang, Anhui Province, China) was upgraded, a tablet was erected, and on it the emperor had written about certain events and his reasons for becoming a Buddhist monk.

On a manuscript written personally by him titled Red Dream, Zhu Yuanzhang had described how he sought Buddha’s guidance on his next move when the Huangjue Monastery was set on fire by corrupt troops during the war-torn period. The Buddhist monks had also risked execution by the troops.

Zhu Yuanzhang’s personal writings found in a mosque in Nanjing praising Islam showed the Chinese emperor’s religious tolerance. This should not be interpreted to mean that he was a Muslim.

It must be remembered that Zhu Yuanzhang had, on no less than 30 written accounts, personally heaped praises on Buddhism and Taoism.

Other primary sources linking Zhu Yuanzhang to Buddhism can be found in Ming Taizu Shilu, Juan 1, which was the first part of Ming Shilu (Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty). The documents were actually compiled facts from contemporary records in Zhu Yuanzhang’s reign, a year after his death in 1398.

The final version of Ming Taizu Shilu was completed in 1418 and sanctioned by Zhu Yuanzhang’s son Zhu Di (Emperor Yongle).

For the sake of keeping history as it is, it is important that STPM history book writers quote facts based on primary and secondary sources who are reliable, otherwise such facts may be seen to be twisted and biased.

Via e-mail

Don't ignore real heroes of history

 New Straits Times 

Tan Sri Prof Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim provoked a storm of controversy when he said that there was no evidence that legendary warrior Hang Tuah ever existed. Malaysian Archaeologists Association president Datuk Prof Emeritus Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman has refuted this claim, saying the tomb of Hang Tuah in Malacca proves the legendary warrior’s existence. Literary figure Dr Kassim Ahmad, who compiled the Hikayat Hang Tuah, also stressed that Hang Tuah was a real person. So did he exist or not? Arman Ahmad sits down with Khoo to find out

Question:  Can you tell us how this issue first came about?

Answer: During a talk at a local university, I posed a question to the audience.

I asked why in our country today we tend to play up mythical figures instead of people who really contributed a lot to our country.

Very often, when I ask people who was the first Malay to be absorbed into the civil service, they will say they don't know.

Nobody remembers who was the first Malay doctor, too, for example. Many of these real role models are forgotten.

Western society remembers its historical figures and separates legend and history. Unfortunately, the same can't be said here.

Question:  There has been tremendous hue and cry from the public after you said that Hang Tuah may have been a myth. Many people disagree with you. How do you feel about this? What caused you to speak up?

Answer: Hang Tuah was made popular through the Bangsawan theatre during the pre-war era. There is no doubt that he was very popular. But at the end of the day, what do you want to learn about in school as part of history? Myth or fact?

It is a bit upsetting that around Kuala Lumpur, you can find streets named after Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah but not named after real historical figures of the past.

There is a street name Jalan Maharajalela, but was it named after the man accused of murdering J.W.W. Birch?  That man's name was Maharajalela Pandak Lam. Maharajalela was just an honorific title.

 We all know Jalan Raja Chulan, but do we know who Raja Chulan was?

The whole point is there is a lot of history that people don't know about.

Question:  You are an academic, but you now have to deal with a very politically charged topic. How are you handling all this?

Answer:  Times have changed. Once, our society was very particular about the truth, and whenever people make statements, they have to be able to back up their statement with facts. Today, you can say anything you like in public. You can read the writing  of bloggers online and they say anything they like.

In the academic field, you are not allowed to do that . When someone writes a thesis, he is not allowed to say anything he likes. He has to back up his statement with facts. Unfortunately, some people have begun to attack me.

I even learnt that someone asked (Malay rights group) Perkasa to report to the police that I insulted royalty, which is rather absurd really.

The great tradition underlying the Malay monarchy was how they could trace their lineage back to Iskandar Dzulkarnain (Alexander the Great). Hang Tuah was just a "Laksamana" and had nothing to do with royalty.

This is also the first time I'm being attacked by Dr Syed Husin Ali, but he is not a historian . He was never trained in history.

Question: The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), which is the primary record of history during the Malacca Sultanate, did mention Hang Tuah. How accurate is it in recording history?

Answer: The Sejarah Melayu is not precise historiography.

It is a historical document if you want to know how people used to think in those days. But we cannot confirm how much of it is fact, and how much of it is pure fable. It does not record dates, and has characters that we cannot confirm existed.

For example, it does not tell us when Malacca was first founded or when a ruler ascended the throne or passed away. We have no knowledge when Hang Jebat died. History cannot be like that. It has to be very precise.

On the other hand, Ming records from China are very precise. They recorded the names of the first ruler, second ruler of Malacca, along with the dates of their reign. These facts were recorded at that particular time, and not some time after the incident.

We know from these records that in 1414, Megat Iskandar Shah came to China to report the death of his father, Parameswara. China had close ties and protected Malacca at the time. It is recorded that their first envoy to Malacca left in 1403 and arrived there in 1404.

Ming Dynasty records are the best documents on history.

Question:  In Ming records, was Hang Li Po ever mentioned?

Answer:  Hang Li Po was not mentioned in the Ming records. Sejarah Melayu is not considered historiography. It is a literary text. Hang Tuah was never mentioned in the Ming records.

Question:  What does Hang -- as in Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po  -- signify? Is it an honorary title?

Answer:  This still can't be concluded from our current body of knowledge.

Question:  Could Hang Tuah and his band of men have been Chinese like some people claim?

Answer:  How can we justify that Kasturi is a Chinese name when it's a common Indian name?

Question:  If Hang Tuah did not exist, then why is there a tomb that supposedly holds his body in Malacca?  Malacca state recognises this as Hang Tuah's tomb.

Answer:  How come there is a tomb  when he did not come back from the mountain (Gunung Ledang)? How come they accept part of the story and not accept the other part?

Question:  Malacca State Museums Department director Datuk Khamis Abas said Hang Tuah was a legendary Malay warrior and this was proven in the research. What do you have to say about this?

Answer:  He used the word "legendary", right?

Question:  Heroes like Hang Tuah, King Arthur, Robin Hood or even Braveheart, despite doubts over their historical integrity, have a tremendous impact in uplifting a nation's spirit. Do you feel bad about deconstructing a national hero?

Answer:   From the time I started studying history seriously in 1956, we never talked about legends.

We were always trying our best to find primary sources to write the history of Malaya.

Today, we have great bodies of knowledge at our disposal. There are hundreds of theses written by university students. Most of them are unpublished and in our libraries. Good articles can also be found in contemporary newspapers.

You have to be diligent in going through these sources. We do not encourage historians to sit on a comfortable chair and imagine things. If you are a man of letters, then you can do as you like.

Question:  What other historical figures or facts in Malaysia are myths as well?

Answer:  Not many. But at one time there was a big controversy about whether Mat Kilau was still living.

We have British contemporary records that showed he died a long time ago. Then I heard stories, which could not be confirmed, that said this man was actually a Bangsawan actor from Singapore.

Question:  What direction will the new history curriculum take after this?

Answer:  It's not ready yet. They are still discussing it. They have actually dropped him from the school textbooks for some time.

 In the last four, five years, we have not seen him in school textbooks.

Question:  What other heroes have we forgotten but could be part of the school syllabus?

Answer:  Panglima Awang. He was taken to Portugal from Malacca and actually sailed with Ferdinand Magellan's fleet. When they came back to Malacca, he had completed the journey around the world. He was the first man to sail around the world.

This is a real hero and his story is proven and recorded in history. It's worthwhile to bring this back to the school syllabus.

Another example is the first Malay doctor, Dr Abdul Latiff Abdul Razak,  from Selangor. In the old P. Ramlee films, you might notice that the doctor is always named Dr Latiff.

Question: As a work of literature, do you think Hang Tuah the hero was a good role model?

Answer:  When Tuah lost his weapon, Jebat allowed him to pick it up again. When Jebat lost his weapon, Tuah took advantage.

If you want to teach nilai murni (good values),  who is the real hero?

But, at the end of the day, it is up to society to decide, not me.

Of course, for the Malay Muslims,  the Quran will give you the right answer for every situation.

Still, Hang Tuah had his good values. But while praising him, it is important that we don't neglect the real Malaysian heroes of history.

If you have a hero, then a hero must be able to cope with any kind of questions society may ask.

Surely, the younger generation, with a scientific mind, must ask many things. You cannot tell them, don't worry about whether he is real, just accept these values that we put across to you.

Question:  Our people have been very poor recorders of history in the past. Do you think something drastic needs to be done so that we not only record history but correctly interpret it in the future?

Answer:  History in this country has been so neglected. Our history is a jumble   that has not been properly verified by professional and well- trained historians.

Our schools must educate the children properly about history. Children must know about their own society as well as country.

Malay history tends to be mixed together with fables. English and even Chinese history had tendencies to build up epics as well.

But once they entered the modern age, science and technology became important. It is crucial that young people looked logically and critically at things. A lot of questions need to be answered.

You cannot give answers based on fables. The young people, when they lose confidence, won't respect their own society.

Question:  How do we verify the facts of history?

Answer:  We always have to rely on empirical evidence. You can speculate whatever you like, but at the end of the day, you have to admit that it is purely speculation.

In the past, they did not make a distinction between legend and myth when they recorded history. You also have to consider the fact that these hikayat were discovered very much later.

 They were not available to the public in those days. One of the first people to collect Malay manuscripts was Sir Stamford Raffles when he came to Singapore in 1819.

 If you take Sejarah Melayu, there are no less than about 20 versions.

Question:  Dr Kassim Ahmad said that Hang Tuah must have been based on some real person. What is your opinion on this?

Answer:  We have no evidence of any kind. That's the whole trouble. The modern study of history is almost considered a science -- you must have proof -- without proof how do you draw the conclusions?

Question:  As a historian since the 1950s, do you think Malaysians appreciate history?

Answer:  It is only beginning to be taught in the universities. Universiti Malaya was founded in 1949. The history department was very strong and very concerned about writing history from a Malayan perspective.

Before that, our history concentrated on what British officials did, and neglected the locals. The department of history began to write the first Malayan-centric history.

Question:  There are some people who don't care whether Hang Tuah existed or not. They just want someone who represents their value sets and aspirations. What would you say to them?

Answer:  If we are concerned about studying the values of that period, then it's a different discipline.

For example, it is very important that Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah be part of Malay classical literature because they teach the value sets, but we should not confuse them with history.

Sources of history

ALLOW me to comment on Dr Firdaus Hanafiah’s remarks on the importance of oral sources in the writing of history.

It is strange that he does not realise that he is entering a domain which may not be very clear to him if he is not a trained historian.

It has always been the tradition in the past to explain to young first-year history students the difference between oral sources and written sources.

Where written documentary evidence is available, oral sources must be used sparingly and, more important still, critically.

But if written sources are not available, then oral sources can be used with caution.

Dr Firdaus seems to have the impression that the existence of the kerajaan in the history of Peninsular Malaysia is dependent on the veracity of the Hang Tuah-Hang Jebat fable.

He is obviously unaware that long ago, the importance of the kerajaan (meaning “monarchy” rather than “government”) was fully acknowledged by the British; and the Malays were, at the same time, acknowledged as “the subjects of the Rulers”, hence, they occupied a special position in the country.

Other residents of the Malay Peninsula were not eligible to become citizens until the establishment of the Federation of Malaya in 1948.

When the British first decided to intervene in the administration of the Malay monarchies in order mainly to protect the interests of “British subjects” (most of them Straits Chinese) who had large-scale commercial interests in the Malay states, they did not annex the Malay kingdoms but signed treaties with the Rulers and they promised to protect the Malay states.

W. Ormsby-Gore of the Colonial Office visited the Malay states in 1927. In his report the following year, he said, when referring to the Malay states: “They were, they are, and they must remain Malay states. These states were, when our co-operation in government was first invited, Mohamedan monarchies and such they are today.

“We have neither the right nor the desire to vary the system of government.”

The British reiterated their stand at the 1931 Durbar (Conference of Rulers) held at Sri Menanti in 1931.

Following the Durbar, the slogan “Malaya for the Malays” was popularised.

As mentioned earlier, from the British point of view, the existence of the Peninsula
Malay civilisation was based on the existence of the kerajaan.

They never spoke of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat; and no Malay kerajaan existing today falls back on the Hang Tuah-Hang Jebat fable as the foundation of its daulat.

What has been emphasised, since the beginning, was that when the two earliest kingdoms (Kedah and Malacca) were founded, the daulat (legitimacy) in each case was derived from Alexander the Great. This has been the Great Tradition.

Reliable written (indeed contemporary sources) for the history of the Malay Peninsula are still available, though not necessarily within the country.

The most important are probably the Ming Records, still preserved in China. They are contemporary records and go back to the days when Malacca had close relations with China, which sent its first envoy (Ying Ching) to Malacca in 1403.

Even if one wants to know what Parameswara ate when he visited China a few years later, the menu is available.

Then there are also Portuguese sources and, possibly Thai sources too since Thailand or Siam once had a great deal of influence on the Malay Peninsula.

But the Thai sources have been neglected. What we really need today are diligent scholars (not people with powerful imagination) who will plough through reliable sources to obtain correct information about our history.

People who have not done first-hand research should not argue with those who have.

History is based on empirical evidence. If the evidence is inadequate, a historian may speculate but he has to admit that it is speculation and not logical conclusion.

As an example, the British officials, at one time, liked to refer to the Malay chieftains as “pirates”.

Can Dr Firdaus answer them based on oral sources?

Indeed, the proper way to answer them is not to scold them but to prove them wrong by referring to the British legal definition of “piracy” at that time. The answer is there in British records.

However, my main concern is not whether the kerajaan of Malacca was real or not. Given the huge amount of documentary evidence available, it would be a waste of time to turn that into an issue for debate.

But does the average Malaysian know what written sources are available for the history of the Malay Peninsula between the 16th and the 19th centuries?

PROF KHOO KAY KIM, Kuala Lumpur.

Related posts:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Yuan or not to Yuan? Yuan way to new monetary order

  A 'grown-up' yuan means a more stable world economy


CHINESE New Year has come and will soon go. The eurozone debt crisis is well past two years. Yet uncertainty persists. The World Bank's January 2012 Global Economic Prospects reports:

World economy has entered a very difficult phase characterised by significant downside risks and fragility and as a result, forecasts have been significantly downgraded. However, even achieving these much weaker outturns is very uncertain Overall, global economic conditions are fragile.”

This week's IMF World Economic Outlook says more of the same: “The global recovery is threatened by intensifying strains in the euro area and fragilities elsewhere.” China, India, South Africa and Brazil have entered a slowing phase.

No country and no region can escape the consequences of a serious downturn. Nevertheless, growth in the East Asia and Pacific region (excluding Japan) is expected to slowdown to about 7.8% in 2012 (8.4% in 2011) and stabilise in 2013.

This reflects continuing strong domestic demand (evident in third quarter or 3Q 2011 GDP) while exports will slow to about 2% due to Europe heading towards recession and sluggish rich “Organisation For Economic Coercion And Direction (OECD)” demand.

The middle-income nations are, I think, in a good position to weather the global slowdown, with significant space available for fiscal relaxation, adequate room for interest rate easing, ample high reserves and rather strong underpinning for domestic demand to rise.

I see the modest easing in China's growth being counterbalanced by a pick-up in GDP gains in 2013 over the rest of the region. Outside China, growth has slackened sharply to 4.8% in 2011 (6.9% in 2010), but is expected to strengthen in 2012, reaching 5.8% in 2013.


GDP growth in China, which accounts for 80% of the region, had eased to about 9.1% in 2011 (10.4% in 2010) and is expected to slacken further to a still robust 8.2%-8.4% in 2012.

The World Bank projections point to growth moderating at 8.3% in 2013, in line with its longer-term potential GDP. Expansion is expected to emanate from domestic demand, with private spending and fixed capital outlays contributing most of the growth in 2012.

For China, the health of the global economy and high-income Europe in particular, represents the key risk at this time. Domestic risks include property overheating, local government indebtedness, and bloating bank balance sheets.

The 4Q 2011 growth of 8.9% annoy investors who are looking for indications either weak enough to justify further policy easing or strong enough to allay fears of a hard landing. Bear in mind the forecast growth for 2012 will be the weakest in a decade, and may cool further as exports slump.

The Chinese economy is buffeted by two very different forces: (i) slow global growth will hurt Chinese exports (especially to its largest trading partner, European Union) which rose by 7% in December, and exporters foresee more trouble ahead; however, (ii) analysts point to strong retail sales (up 18% in December) reflecting rising wages and domestic spending which represented about 52% of GDP in the first quarter, higher than in 2009-11.

China is counting on its massive effort to build low-income “social housing” to provide enough demand to keep the real-estate market from collapsing.

It is unclear whether China can accelerate this program to build 36 million subsidised housing by 2015enough to house all of Germany's households. But financial markets are anticipating worse news ahead. After all, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 21% in 2011. As the adage goes, stock analysts did forecast 10 of the past 3 recessions!

The yuan

Appreciation of the yuan (renmimbiRMB) against the US dollar in 2012 is expected to slow to about 3%, from +4.7% in 2011. The yuan closed at 6.3190 at end 2011, up about 8% compared with June 10 (when China effectively ended its 2-year long peg to the US dollar and has gained 30% since mid-2005 when it was last revalued.

The slowdown reflects growing demand for the US dollar amid uncertainty, lower growth, diminishing trade surplus, and growing US military presence in Asia, according to China's Centre for Forecasting Science (of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) which reports directly to the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Much of it will be in the latter year as China is likely to keep the yuan relatively stable in the first half to allow time to assess the impact of goings-on in the euro-zone. Dollars are pumped in via state banks, providing markets with a clear signal it will not allow the yuan to depreciate, while not in a hurry to let it appreciate either. The yuan has since moved sideways.

Off-shore yuan

To make the yuan a true reserve currency, China begun to liberalise currency controls and encourage an offshore yuan market in Hong Kong, creating an outlet for moving the currency across borders. However, foreign investors in China have been slow in using the yuan.

In practice, it is still difficult to buy & sell yuan because of paperwork & bureaucracy. It is still easier to settle in US dollar as it is the universal practice. Its convenience outweighs the potential costs of any unfavourable move in the US dollar-yuan rate. Nonetheless, China is encouraging more businesses to use the yuan and more US banks to step-up their yuan-settlement business.

This market will grow as China diligently moves to internationalise its currency. Encouraged by the authorities, a vibrant offshore yuan market has blossomed in Hong Kong. Beijing still controls the currency and how the yuan bought in Hong Kong can be brought back to China.

Yuan deposits in Hong Kong rose more than 4 times to 622.2b yuan (nearly US$100bil) at end September 2011 from a year earlier according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and now account for 10.4% of bank deposits.

Growth in offshore yuan stalled in late 2011 as China slowed its currency appreciation against the dollar. Given Beijing's gradualist approach to reform, the market will soon revive.

An audience poll at the recent 2012 Asian Financial Forum in London indicated 63% believes full yuan convertibility is more than 5-years away.

The very fact that London wants to be a yuan-trading centre now says a lot. Only 10% of China's international trade is settled in yuan, rising to 15% in 2012. It's still a small market in the global context.

The yuan is used for just 0.29% of all global payments in November 2011 according to financial messaging network Swift. By comparison, the euro's share is about 40%.

Dim-sum bonds

A booming business in dim-sum bonds (offshore yuan denominated bonds) followed, with companies including Caterpillar and McDonalds issuing such bonds. In September 2011, a spurt of capital flight towards “safe haven” assets in the US tied to the worsening debt crisis in Europe caused currencies of emerging nations to depreciate against the US dollar.

In East Asia, modest declines were recorded compared with South Africa (the rand fell 22%) and Brazil (the real dropped 18%). Only the Indonesia rupiah (down 5.8%) and the Malaysia ringgit (fell 5.4%) come under some pressure.

This event slowed the appreciation of the yuan and with it, trading in dim-sum bonds eased as investors were no longer in a hurry to invest. Over the medium-term, most analysts expect this yuan market to grow in the face of its massive US$3.18 trillion in reserves, as China moves to build its international status.

When dim-sum bonds started to hit the market in 2010, investors were enthusiastic, bidding up prices and driving down yields. But in the second half of 2011, the average price of investment grade dim-sum bonds fell 3.3%, amid a broad flight towards quality spooked by euro-zone turmoil and Chinese accounting scandals.

Bankers hope new entrants (private banks, commercial banks, mutual funds & life insurers) will give the market more stability this year. They would add depth & breath to the market, which tripled to 185b yuan (US$30bil) in dim-sum bonds issued in 2011. Expectations are for such bond issuance to reach 240 billion yuan this year, as new issuers (including more foreign companies) join early adopters such as government entities & state run banks.

This offshore bond market has developed well over the past year. Investor diversification in both types & geographics is still evolving, which is key to the healthy growth of the market. Equally important, investors look to the continuing appreciation of the yuan.

In addition, its average yield has risen to 3.8% (from 2.35% since mid 2011) and most now trade at higher yields than comparable US dollar bonds.

This rise in yields reflects expectation for (i) slower yuan appreciation; (ii) increase in supply; and (iii) investors desire for a higher liquidity premium during market downturns. Overall, the dim-sum market is turning into a buyer's market.

Bilateral arrangements

China is forging ahead in laying the groundwork to internationalise the yuan via bilateral arrangements with foreign companies, nations & financial centers, particularly Hong Kong (mainly because it can fully control the terms of the market). More mainland-based financial institutions will be able to issue yuan denominated bonds in Hong Kong.

This is part of a broader effort, first started in July 2009 when it encouraged enterprises in Shanghai & Guangzhou province to use the yuan when settling trade with Hong Kong, Macau and some foreign companies (see my column “China: RMB Flexibility Not Enough” of July 3, 2010).

The post-X'mas direct yuan-yen trade deal forms part of a wide-ranging currency arrangement between China & Japan to give the use of the yuan a big boost. After all, China is Japan's largest trading partner with 26.5 trillion yen in 2-way transactions last year. Encouraging direct settlement in bypassing the US dollar would reduce currency risks and trading costs. Also, Japan will buy up to US$10bil in yuan bonds for its reserves even though it represents no more than 1% of Japan's US$1.3 trillion reserves. And, it is now easier for companies to convert Chinese and Japanese funds directly into each other without an intermediate conversion to US dollar. About 60% of China-Japan trade is settled in US dollar, a well-established practice.

The package allows Japan backed institutions to sell yuan bonds in the mainland (instead of Hong Kong) helping to open China's capital market.

In recent weeks, China has taken new steps to promote the use of yuan overseas, including allowing foreign firms to invest yuan accumulated overseas in mainland China; widening the People's Bank of China (its central bank) network of currency swaps with other central banks to enable their banks to supply yuan to their customers, including with Thailand, South Korea and New Zealand totalling 1.2 trillion yuan.

It already has completed arrangements with the big Asean counterparts. Berry Eichengreen (University of California at Berkeley) observed: “Japan appears to be acknowledging implicitly that there will be a single dominant Asian currency in the future and it won't be the yen.”

But Harvard's Jeffrey Frankel is more down to earth: “This hastens a multicurrency world, but this is just one of 100 steps along the way.”

China still has a way to go in: (i) getting the yuan fully convertible (ii) reducing exchange rate interventions (iii) liberalising interest rates, and (iv) reforming the banking system. In all, so the yuan can really trade freely.

What to do?

The China-Japan deal points the way, nudging the yuan towards the inevitable becoming a reserve currency alongside now discredited US dollar and the euro. This is to be welcomed by all.

China must realise a fully internationalised yuan should be free to float (and to appreciate) part of its overall reform. Over the longer term, though, avoiding huge imbalances is good for everyone, not least China. While it is understandable for its Prime Minister to label China today as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable,” opportunities to take advantage of new openings don't come often.

Alexander Gerschenkron, my professor at Harvard (in my view, the best economic historian of his time) points to economies like China as having “advantages in backwardness,” including China's ability to weather shocks: high reserves, robust fiscal situation and comfortable external position.

Shakespeare's Hamlet sums it up best: “If it be not now, yet it will come - the readiness is all.” A grown-up yuan is good for China's welfare.

It also means a more stable world economy which benefits the United States. For China, there will never be enough cushion. Politicians need to seize the moment and act boldly.

Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who now spends time writing, teaching & promoting the public interest. Feedback is most welcome; email:

To Yuan or not to Yuan, that is the question

The government of Zimbabwe is considering using China's Yuan as their national currency.

China has reportedly been offered mining rights by Mugabe, despite protests [EPA]
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe - From downtown shops that stock cheap clothing and shoes that fall apart after one wear, to mining concessions in platinum, gold and diamonds - the Chinese finger is now in virtually every Zimbabwean pie.

From city sidewalks to low-income suburbs, the Chinese have become part of the local population, and if some senior government bureaucrats have their way, the country could soon find itself adopting the Chinese Yuan as its official currency.

For some influential monetary policy czars, the massive assailing of the Zimbabwean economy by the Chinese now only requires the Yuan to strengthen these economic reconstruction efforts.

Invited by President Robert Mugabe as part of his infamous 2004 "Look East" policy to help drive the economy and employment creation, after relations with former traditional investment partners the European Union and United States soured, China has been able to create its own little sphere of influence and establish an ubiquitous presence in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe looks to China for economic revival
This is despite being unpopular with Zimbabwe's industrial and commercial players - and general members of the public who accuse the Chinese of poor labour practices and shoddy goods and services.

Late in 2011, Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, seen by many as a close ally of Mugabe, announced he was in favour of having the Chinese Yuan as the country's official currency. After the Zimbabwean dollar was suspended in 2008, the country has been using a multi-currency regime, which includes the use of the US dollar, the South African rand and the Botswana pula.

According to Gono, the Chinese Yuan would be introduced alongside the Zimbabwean dollar. Mugabe's political supporters have been calling for currency reforms to bring back the Zimbabwean dollar.

"With the continuous firming of the Chinese Yuan, the US dollar is fast ceasing to be the world's reserve currency and the eurozone debt crisis has made things even worse," Gono told state media in November.
"As a country, we still have the opportunity to avoid being caught napping, by adopting the Chinese Yuan as part of consolidating the country's 'Look East' policy.

"It's only recently when we had the startling revelations, with Angola offering to bail out her former colonial master Portugal from her debt crisis. This can also happen with Zimbabwe if we choose the right path," Gono added.

He continued: "If we continue with our 'Look East' policy, it will not be long [until] we will also be volunteering to bail out Britain from her debt crisis, and I will not wait for my creator's day before this happens. There is no doubt that the Yuan, with its ascendancy, will be the 21st century's world reserve currency."

'Handing over' the country?

Officials from Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front see huge potential in using the Yuan, citing the growth of the Chinese economy under BRICS, which brings together emerging global economic powerhouses Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

But not everyone is as upbeat about such prospects.

There are concerns that this could mean "handing over" the country to the Chinese, who already have been offered huge mining rights by Mugabe - despite protests from his coalition government partners. The country's finance minister, Tendai Biti, has said that Mugabe was forfeiting state resources to China, whom critics are calling "Africa's new coloniser".

Economist Eric Bloch said "it is not practical" for Zimbabwe to adopt the Chinese Yuan.

"Zimbabwe won't have any interaction with international markets, as the US dollar remains the standard currency in international trade," Bloch explained.

With China increasingly being touted to overtake the US as the world's largest economy, the temptation to embrace all things Chinese has proven too much to resist for poor economies across the globe, contends Tafara Zivanayi, an economics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

"There has been false hope given to Chinese economic growth, with many African countries imagining they can transfer this growth to their own economies," Zivanayi said.

"Such decisions (to adopt a foreign currency) as usually based on international trade indices and monetary policies of the country where the currency is domiciled. Even if there have been projections that the Chinese economy will surpass the US economy, this won't happen overnight," Zivanayi said.

"There are still concerns about Chinese penetration of international, especially low income, markets and creating wealth for itself and not host countries," Zivanayi said.

Even traders who have long ridiculed cheap Chinese products and have no grasp of international trade intricacies find themselves offering opinions about the prospects of adopting the Chinese Yuan.

"As long as things have worked fine for us using the American dollar, why change that formula?" asked Thabani Moyo, a commuter omnibus driver. His colleagues, who are struggling to handle giving change in the basket of currencies they receive, nodded in agreement.

Gono and other opponents of US currency cited this lack of change in coins as a reason why Zimbabwe needed to adopt a single currency or revert to its own, previously useless, dollar.

However, during the presentation of the national budget for the 2012 fiscal year, Biti told parliament that Zimbabwe would continue using US currency until the economy stabilised.

Not everyone supports the introduction of the Chinese Yuan. "We want real money, not zhing-zhong," taxi driver Jourbet Buthelezi said, referring to the pejorative term Zimbabweans use for sub-standard Chinese goods.

A version of this article was first published on Inter Press Service.