Singapore ‘warns’ US on China bashing

Realism as S’pore ‘warns’ US

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

The city state has begun to adjust to emerging regional realities while pivoting on its pragmatic impulses, as always, while steering a steady course between China and the US.SINGAPORE’S political positions are nothing if not coolly calculated and calibrated. They are specially so when expressed in formal statements at high-level meetings.

In Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam’s keynote address to the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) gathering in Washington recently, US media reported him as “warning” the US against China-bashing rhetoric.

Words about containing China, particularly in the populist mood of a US election year, would he said cause a “new and intended reality for the region.” It was not the first time Shanmugam had said so, having previously cautioned against the futility of containing a rising China.

However, these statements do mark a shift from previous Singapore policies on the US and China. As a small country overwhelmingly dependent on international trade, finance and therefore regional stability, an unwritten rule for Singapore has long been to avoid making waves while sidling up to the largest kid on the block.

Neither the region’s pecking order nor Singapore’s guiding principles have changed, only the emerging realities on the ground. The wherewithal for continued US pre-eminence has largely flattened out without having yet declined, while China’s stature and substance continue to rise.

The Obama administration has lately pledged to boost the US regional presence, but the extent, duration and consistency of doing so are unclear. China, meanwhile, has no need to risk overstretching itself in East Asia because it is in the region’s centre.

At one level, Singapore’s latest statement confirms a shift from former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s pro-US slant following his retirement last May. For half a century, Lee had championed an alliance with the US over other powers like China, lately much of it because of a rising China.

At a more substantive level, Shanmugam’s statement well indicates Singapore’s new and belated efforts to woo an ascendant China. In seeming different now, Singapore is merely reaffirming its standard pragmatism based on an acute sense of self-preservation.

For the region, Singapore’s new tack may be surprising at first but not unwelcome. It simply expressed the obvious when that needed expressing, even if in doing so it made Singapore look more pro-active than its neighbours in acknowledging China’s burgeoning gravitas.

Singapore’s advice to Washington also came on the eve of Chinese vice-president (and prospective president) Xi Jinping’s state visit. The timing had apparently turned up the volume of Shanmugam’s statement to US lawmakers and their constituents.

Like everyone else, the US had long perceived Singapore as a feisty independent state averse to China’s dominance, following its early struggle against ethnic Chinese leftists and then its break-up with Malaysia, while retaining a largely ethnic Chinese population.

Today, Singapore’s “new look” policy is effectively not only for Washington’s benefit or just to showcase a contemporary Singapore to China. It also serves as an oblique reminder to Beijing that any hostile US rhetoric now would be mere campaign posturing and therefore undeserving of a like reaction.

After all, China is also getting set for a leadership change, a time when new directions may be set in ways likely to appease the populace. Its decade-long leadership is more than twice as enduring as a US presidential term and its policy direction could be several times as significant as the US equivalent.

Still, news reports implying how tiny Singapore had “warned” the world’s sole superpower might have seemed strong, if not strange. It is a measure of Singapore’s new posture that far from denying such reports, Shanmugam proceeded to expand on his comments.

He noted with approval how Chinese media widely reported his comments approvingly. Singapore media were also not shy in lingering over the issue.

The Straits Times noted that “a power transition is under way” in the region. Singapore-based Channel News Asia noted how well Shanmugam’s remarks had played in China.

Nonetheless, many US Netizens were not as hospitable to the comments. Among the more common responses was the defensive argument that US rhetoric against China was free speech and so warranted no warning or censure.

Another common reaction was to despise China and its unfolding development even more. A zero-sum mentality prevailed on US-China relations, aggravated by a pervasive sense of a declining US economy in free fall.

The third common reaction among Americans commenting online was to attack the messenger. Thus Shanmugam was criticised for acknowledging China’s success and daring to warn the US over it.

Singapore’s revised articulation of regional realities does not surprise any serious onlooker in Asia. Its concerns are self-evident, its priorities apparent, and its assessment of the region timely.

A contrast comes with the Philippines, where rival claims with China over offshore territory has come to define their relationship. This amounts to allowing marginal interests to determine larger substantive ones: yet again, pragmatism distinguishes Singapore’s policies from the Philippines’.

Even so, Singapore’s recent assessment of regional realities sums up Asean’s understanding of them. What Washington will make of it, if anything, is anybody’s guess.

Republicans are particularly anxious to parade their conservative values, such as by defending US prerogatives, paramountcy and exceptionalism. This has encouraged emotive responses from Americans “in America’s interest.”

Democrats can only respond defensively by trying to match or pre-empt the Republicans’ US-centric aggressiveness. However much the Obama White House may prefer a more mature and measured response, it must also know that is far less likely to “sell”.

Thus Shanmugam’s counsel to Washington comes full circle. He spoke as he did because of the circumstances of the time, and it is those circumstances that now make him an easy target in the US.

As Americans brace for a presidential election in November, all parties can be just as prickly over any foreign reminders that the US needs to behave better. And it is practically a given that enraged US Netizens disconnected from reality will be given a better hearing in Washington than even the most thoughtful of allies in Asia.

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What is a banker really worth?

Barclays made a serious error over the pay of John Varley, the bank’s former chief executive, who stepped down in 2010 with a ‘goodbye package’ of nearly £4m – it wasn’t enough!

What is a banker really worth?

Sir Philip Hampton, RBS chairman, warns that the vilification of Fred Goodwin, RBS’s former boss, has morphed into the persecution of his replacement, Stephen Hester. Photo: PA. By Jeff Randall – Telegraph

So says Sir Nigel Rudd, Barclays’ former deputy chairman, who led its remuneration committee.

As Britain’s state-controlled banks, RBS and Lloyds, prepare to unveil results and bonuses later this week, Sir Nigel’s comments in my television documentary (Sky News 7pm, Wednesday) will enrage critics who believe that bankers remain detached from public anger over jackpot salaries.

Sir Nigel, however, is adamant that Mr Varley made a “huge difference” to Barclays during the credit crunch, when rival banks fell apart. By raising funds privately, Barclays was able to survive without a bail-out from UK taxpayers.

“John Varley was underpaid. Because what he did [for Barclays] during the crisis was phenomenal,” Sir Nigel says. In his last year, Mr Varley received a salary of £1.1m, a bonus of £2..2m and a performance cash incentive of £550,000.

Sir Nigel, who is now chairman of BAA, the airports operator, offers advice to ministers wrestling with demands for a pay clampdown while trying to maximise value in the state’s bank shareholdings: “If I was the Prime Minister, I’d ban the use of fairness as a word, because I don’t think you can be fair.”

Sir Philip Hampton, RBS’s current chairman, warns that understandable anger about the banks’ past failings is becoming destructive. In particular, the vilification of Fred Goodwin, RBS’s former boss, has morphed into the persecution of his replacement, Stephen Hester.

“We do lynch mobs better than most, but I think the opprobrium is directed now at the wrong people – the people that are fixing the problems rather than the people that are causing the problems,” Sir Philip says.

He believes the main flaw with bank bonuses is that they were linked to profits which turned out to be “illusory”. The banks did not understand the risks they were embracing, but it took a while for profits to collapse, by which time the bankers had pocketed the cash.

Alistair Darling, who was chancellor when the financial turmoil erupted, says that many highly paid bankers were in denial and remain so. “One or two to this day still don’t realise they did anything wrong, which most people find just flabbergasting.”

In a reference to Mr Goodwin and his top team, Mr Darling says: “They didn’t know what they were doing and we, not them, to a large extent are paying the price for that.”

Mr Goodwin’s old adversary, Sir Peter Burt, who led Bank of Scotland when it was outbid by RBS in a takeover battle for National Westminster in 2000 , doesn’t hide his dislike of the disgraced banker but deplores the nationwide “witch-hunt” against him: “Perhaps Fred should count himself lucky there weren’t any lamp-posts low enough from which to hang him.”

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RBS, biggest British stated-owned bank losses of £3.5bn !

Bailed out: Royal Bank of Scotland is set to announce losses of £3.5bn on Friday. It is worth £26bn - and the Government paid £45.5bn

Bailed out: Royal Bank of Scotland is set to announce losses of £3.5bn on Friday. It is worth £26bn – and the Government paid £45.5bn

(Bloomberg) — Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Britain’s biggest government-owned lender, posted a wider full- year loss than analysts estimated after writing down Greek debt and compensating customers who were improperly sold insurance.

The net loss for 2011 was 2 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) compared with 1.1 billion pounds a year earlier, the U.K.’s second-largest bank by assets said in a statement today. That was worse than the 1.1 billion-pound median estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The government was forced to rescue RBS at the height of the financial crisis, injecting 45.5 billion pounds of taxpayer money into the lender, making it the costliest bailout of any bank. Chief Executive Officer Stephen Hester, 51, has shrunk the bank’s assets by more than 600 billion pounds to 1.66 billion pounds and cut more than 35,000 jobs since he took over from Fred Goodwin in 2007. Hester said earlier this month that restructuring RBS was equivalent to defusing “the biggest time bomb in history.”

The company took a sovereign-debt impairment of 1.1 billion pounds, writing off Greek government debt as part of a European Union agreement.

RBS’s loss would have been narrower if it hadn’t had to set aside 950 million pounds to compensate U.K. customers who were improperly sold personal-loan insurance.

RBS’s results were also affected by rising borrowing costs as the bank weans itself off low-interest government loans and takes on costlier funding in wholesale markets. The bank opted in December to go the European Central Bank for an emergency 5 billion euro loan as its own costs of borrowing reached an unsustainable level, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The government was forced to rescue RBS at the height of the financial crisis, injecting 45.5 billion pounds of taxpayer money into the lender, making it the costliest bailout of any bank in the world.

–Editors: Keith Campbell, Francis Harris.

Read more:

Mature debates awakening policy makers!

Mature debate the way to go


Younger, more mature Malaysians have moved on and would like to see more debates, particularly on substantial issues which in the long term can feed the policy makingprocess.

YOUTH and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is not a bad squash player, and I partially attribute my two wins over him to home ground advantage — we were playing at the Royal Sungei Ujong Club which once served as Seremban’s Istana Hinggap — and also to the fact that he was already rather tired, having already played two sets with the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (of which the outcome for the minister was similar).

It is said that he is the most approachable among the Cabinet ministers, and I can see why.

His name is also nearly uttered in the same breath as Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Datuk Shahrir Samad, Khairy Jamaluddin and, of late, Datuk Seri Nazri “Valentine’s Day” Aziz as Umno politicians who have been condemned within their party for being too liberal or independent-minded.

Round one: Dr Chua and Lim speaking to the press after their debate last Saturday.>>

(Two of these individuals listed mostly the same names when I asked who else in their party broadly agrees with them — even if they don’t enjoy particularly close relationships with one another.)

Among veterans, there’s Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, recently joined by Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, in being critical of the party.

Back in 2008, as Information Minister, Shabery Cheek had the courage to face Anwar Ibrahim in a televised debate after the latter’s release from prison.

This was touted as the debate of the century, but now similar superlatives are being applied to the one last weekend between Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Lim Guan Eng.

I have been told that the available translations are poor, so I won’t judge the content, but what struck me was the eagerness in presenting this debate as one concerning only ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, rather than a debate to discuss issues pertinent to all Malaysians.

It is as if one’s ethnic background constrains the subject matter — but I am sure people of all ethnic backgrounds have a view about cars being towed in the late evenings.

Still, the fact that the debate happened at all has been widely appreciated. Of course, such debates for the benefit of Malaysian students abroad have been happening for some time.

The recent one between Khairy and Rafizi Ramli in London has been making the rounds online, but I remember such debates taking place when I was an undergraduate there myself.

Some say such debates are a waste of time, because Malaysians are supposedly too immature.

Well, immature politicians of whatever age can wallow in their own ignorance: younger, more mature Malaysians have moved on and we would like to see more debates, and on substantial issues which in the long term can feed the policy making process.

This change in attitude must have something to do with the active culture of debating in our varsities.

Not too long ago I was a judge at one of these debating events, and if these ladies and gentlemen become parliamentarians in the future there may yet be hope for our Dewan Rakyat to return to the civilised, august chamber that it once was.

The cultivation of public speaking begins at a young age.

Last week, I was at SMK Tuanku Muhammad to close a public speaking competition for schools in Kuala Pilah, and the 15-year-old girl who won spoke as eloquently as the local MP.

In my own speech I mentioned that aptitude in both Malay and English is not only crucial to our nation’s future success, but also in understanding our past; from the time of Tuanku Muhammad, English was widely used in government, business and social circles: a far cry from the termination of the English national-type schools, the PPSMI debate and ministry websites that “poke eyes”.

In a school named for Tuanku Muhammad’s niece, Tunku Kurshiah, the wind orchestra was rehearsing for its Konsert DiRaja on Sunday. Starting out as a marching band in the 1970s, the orchestra now routinely wins competitions against other schools.

It had invited me to accompany them on the piano, and it was a privilege to play One Republic’s Apologise and the Blues Gang’s Apo Nak Dikato with an orchestra carrying the first Raja Permaisuri Agong’s name in the presence of many of her family members, including the Yang di-Pertuan Besar and the Tunku Panglima Besar of Kedah (herself a TKCian).

I hope in due course the extraordinary commitment to co-curricular activities can be expanded to squash, too.

Preliminary research suggests that Shabery Cheek is the only person in the Cabinet or among senior Opposition figures (there is still, lamentably, and so close to the rumoured general election, no Shadow Cabinet) who plays this game of strategy, stamina, and flexibility.

> Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is president of IDEAS.

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Malaysian Politics: Chua-Lim Debate Sets New Standard

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