Singing and dancing to world domination


 

 

This year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala shows off China’s power, both soft and hard.


China now intends to lead the world in just about everything.”

BY the end of the show, there was no doubt left in my mind that China is ready for world domination.

This was the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, an immensely popular national event by China Central Television that is telecast live on the eve of Chinese New Year. I watched a day later on YouTube.

The gala, which started in 1983, has all the elements of a variety show with lots of singing, dancing, acrobatics and comedy skits. This year’s edition followed the same mix and ran for more than five hours.

Thanks to livestreaming, for the first time, it hit an all-time high worldwide viewership of a billion people, according to China Global Television Network (CGTN), CCTV’s international arm.

The gala is therefore an extremely important platform for China to present itself at its best. Clearly, a great deal of planning, with no expenses spared, went into the production that showcased Chinese creativity and culture, as well as the country’s military might and technological advancements.

The result: an awesome spectacle that would have put the 2008 Beijing Games opening ceremony in the shade.

Most of the action was in CCTV’s auditorium in Beijing supported by performances staged in four provinces: Guizhou, Guangdong, Shandong and Hainan.

These four stages were outdoor and unique. Guizhou, one of China’s most diverse provinces, showed off its minority groups like the Miao and Hmong in their elaborate traditional costumes in a hi-tech setting.

The Guangdong show took place on a section of the magnificent Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge that is slated for opening the middle of this year.

Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius and Taoism, chose a citadel-like building as its backdrop. Finally, Hainan, famed for hosting several Miss World pageants, presented itself as a balmy tropical paradise.

Apart from the skits, which seemed very 1970s but obviously still very popular with the audience, the other acts were extremely elaborate and performed by what seemed like a million people, who danced in perfect precision, sang in total harmony, aided by dazzling use of LED screens and special effects.

In keeping with the joyous occasion, the venues were so brightly multi-coloured and busy, it was almost eye-watering. There was never a dull moment.

I couldn’t help comparing the show to the dance and acrobatic performances from the 1980s. That was when China started opening up and sending out performing troupes in cheap tracksuits and canvas shoes who excelled in contortions, twirling plates and bowls, balancing on ladders and chairs, and creating formations on a single bicycle in motion.

The performers were certainly well-trained and competent, but they hardly smiled and came across as rather soulless and robotic.

Well, how things have changed. The Chinese people are no longer poor, suppressed and grim. That’s long gone.

When it comes to national pride, the Chinese are beating out the Americans, who made flag and country a Hollywood staple.

When you have the likes of Jackie Chan singing a patriotic song about Chung-kuo, backed by a whole pride of stylishly clad smiling young people and footage of gorgeous scenery, modern cities and wind tur­bines, it sure does make the heart beat faster.

Over the Guangdong bridge, drones and acrobatic planes weaved magic in the night sky, while off Hainan, a flotilla of boats lit up the waters.

And when it comes to culture and heritage, China has it in spades, from Chinese opera to kung fu and wushu to traditional dances and songs.

A jaw-dropping performance featured a huge ensemble of women dressed as bodhisattvas moving in unison so fluidly they were like one body; their entire performance made more mesmerising by the play of lighting that changed their costumes from yellow, to white to fuchsia.

One of my favourite acts was singer Jay Chou performing with a blend of virtual reality magic that was beautifully choreographed and synchronised with his movements.

I was also happy that among the foreign guest artistes was my dear boy from Kazakhstan, singer extraordinaire Dimash, whom I wrote about in my April 19, 2017, column which brought me the most number of e-mails from around the world.

What I liked about this year’s gala was its restrained presentation of China’s armed forces. Usually, the stage is filled with uniformed military personnel doing formations or singing a martial song.

This time, it was a more arty performance and China’s military might subtly conveyed by a strongman doing incredible handstands.

As with previous galas, the meaning of Chinese New Year was beautifully conveyed in a heart-tugging video of people returning for and preparing for the reunion dinner that brought home the importance of family and traditions.

Except for one misstep – a dreadful segment that tried to showcase Sino-African relations that critics have savaged as “a racist blackface” skit – CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 was a truly spectacular show that fuelled nationalistic pride among China’s citizens and left the rest of the world gobsmacked. It paid homage to the nation’s rich past, revelled in a confident present and announced an ambitious future.

I shut down my PC at almost 4am and as I lay me down to sleep, I recalled what I wrote in a commentary in June 2016 in which I described China as a shy superpower that actually tried to pretend it wasn’t one.

Not anymore. On Oct 18 last year, President Xi Jinping announced at the 19th National Communist Party Congress that China now intends to lead the world in just about everything, be it military presence, economic and development policies like the Road and Belt, technological innovations and artificial intelligence or even sports and entertainment.

Don’t believe me? Consider this then: China is the world leader in applications for inventions with 1.36 million patents and it has been the leader for seven consecutive years.

When it comes to investing in research and development, it ranked second in the world last year.

It’s all part of China’s blueprint for world domination. And that’s no song and dance!

So aunty, so what? June H.L. Wong

Aunty wished she could highlight more of the five-plus hour-long gala. If you haven’t watched it, you should check it out on YouTube. Feedback: aunty@thestar.com.my

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Bitcoin: Utter pipedream


No intrinsic value: Unlike enterprises, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows and no balance sheet. — AFP

I JUST returned from a meeting of the Asian Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee in Bangkok.

The group comprises Asian academic experts on economics and finance. Their role is to monitor the state of the world economy and the workings of its financial markets in the light of existing and prospective policies; and draw lessons and give advice on vital public policy issues of current interest to regulators and market practitioners to make the world a better place.

The group comprises 23 professors from 14 countries, coming from a diverse group of universities and think-tanks, including the universities of Sydney and Monash, and of Fudan, Hong Kong and Sun-Yat-Sen in China, Universitas Indonesia, universities of Tokyo and Hitotsubashi, Yonsei and Korea universities, Sunway University, Massey University in New Zealand, University of the Philippines, Singapore Management University, National Taiwan University, Chulalongkorn University and NIDA Business School, University of Hawaii and University of California at Davis, University of Vietnam, and Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

They examined key issues surrounding the theme: “Cryptocurrencies: Quo Vadis?” focusing on the role and activities of the flavour of the month, bitcoin. At the end of it all, they issued the following statement:

“Cryptocurrencies in general, and bitcoin, in particular, have been receiving considerable press of late, driven mainly by wide swings in value in the cryptocurrency exchanges. There are now in excess of 2,500 products considered to be cryptocurrencies and in the last three weeks alone their combined market value has plummeted from US$830bil to US$545bil as of today, of which US$215bil is attributed to bitcoin and bitcoin cash.

To keep this in perspective, however, Apple Inc has a market value of US$880bil as of today. Market value measures the equity value of a business – or what investors are willing to pay for its future profits. Unlike enterprises, however, bitcoin has no business, no intrinsic value, no cash flows, no profit and loss statement, and no balance sheet. It is a speculative instrument.

Cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, are not considered currency today because they are not a universal means of payment, nor a stable store of value, nor a reliable unit of account. Buyers purchase on the basis that these cryptocurrencies would rise in value. While market value has been the main focus of the current interest, the more important issues are around the role of cryptocurrencies both as financial assets, and the role they can play in transaction settlements, and their implications, if any, on financial stability.

While there is much interest in cryptocurrencies, especially bitcoin, the volume of transactions remains very small currently. For example, total US dollars (cash) in circulation amount to US$1.6 trillion as of today. M3 (broad money) is valued by the Federal Reserve at US$14 trillion. Total US economy assets in 2016 were valued at US$220 trillion. So why the fascination with cryptocurrencies? Supporters of Bitcoin claim it to be a superior store of value to fiat money issued by central banks because its supply is limited by design and therefore cannot be debased. In addition, the technology behind bitcoin, called the Blockchain, provides anonymity to its players. That is why it is a favourite with money launderers, tax evaders, terrorists, drug smuggler, hackers, and anyone who wants to evade the rule of law. Many people who use cryptocurrencies assert that they pay minimal transaction costs mainly because it avoids the cost of financial intermediation.

Still, there is large potential for capital gains because of the wide volatility of its price movement. This is the main driving force behind the popularity of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. However, there are high risks involved including extreme volatility and opaque, unregulated exchanges that are prone to cyberattacks.

Authorities and regulators worry about bitcoin because they fear it is a bubble. In the event of a bust, investors in bitcoin – they are many, spread over various continents and countries – will be hurt; and they exert pressure on governments to regulate this business in order to protect investors.

In addition, they worry about the impact – in the event that cryptocurrency trading becomes a significant element in maintaining financial stability – in terms of the impact on the transmission of monetary policy and on its effects on the banking system, and most of all, on systemic risk, if any.

Authorities have responded in different way. In South Korea, new regulations today require banks and exchanges to identify who their customers are, imposing greater transparency in the conduct of the cryptocurrency business. On the other hand, Japanese authorities are more liberal. They only require the registration of companies engaged in this business at this time.

Many other authorities, including those in the US, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude while studying the issues, recognising that there may be a role for them to introduce some regulatory measures in the event that the volume and price volatility of cryptocurrency transactions become more and more significant.

In the meantime, government and tax authorities feel uneasy about the impact on revenue collection. Other regulators are worried about crowdfunding through ICOs (initial coin offers). Authorities in a number of countries, including the US, have introduced measures to regulate the issue of new ICOs to ensure that investors are provided with the necessary information before making such investments.

At the same time, central banks in many countries are looking into the desirability and possibility of issuing their own digital currencies, including to counter privately-issued cryptocurrencies.

Recommendations:

1. Bitcoin came into prominence because of an apparent lack of confidence in fiat currency. It is imperative that governments and central banks continue to give priority to (i) protecting the integrity of their currencies; (ii) designing policies to contain inflation to prevent it from debasing the currency; and (iii) strengthening their mandate to promote financial stability over financial development, if needed (including ensure fintech development does not undermine confidence). Also, in cases where authorities do not have the power to regulate the cryptocurrency business, they should actively seek such authority where appropriate.

2. Monetary authorities should be open to creating digital currencies rather than confining their money supply to notes, coins and deposits. But they should do so in a transparent manner and only after careful consultation and study.

3. It is the role of government to warn their citizens and investors about the high risk involved, and ensure transparency in bitcoin activity, and not to unduly introduce more and more regulations that will stifle innovative initiatives. Blockchain technology, for example, does have other useful applications apart from the issue of its use in the creation of digital currency.

Investor protection

As we see today, bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies are not currencies. Mostly, they reflect speculative activity. Hence, investing and transacting in them involve high risks. It is imperative that investors realise this and approach investing in cryptocurrencies with great caution and with as much information as is available to help them manage these risks.

Investors must fully understand that cryptocurrency prices need not necessarily always rise, particularly because they have no intrinsic value, they could just as easily fall. So investors beware: Caveat emptor.”

Update

The following developments are noteworthy:

> Columbia’s Prof N. Roubini (Dr Doom) claims bitcoin is not a currency. Few price anything in bitcoin. Not many retailers accept it (even bitcoin conferences don’t accept it as payment). And it’s a poor store of value because its price can fluctuate 20%-30% a day. Worse, he labelled it “the mother of all bubbles” because its claim of a steady-state supply is “fraudulent”.

It has already created thee similar currencies: Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin and Bitcoin Gold. Together with the hundreds of such other currencies invented daily, this creation of money supply is debasing the currency at a much faster pace than any major central banks ever did. Furthermore, bitcoin’s claimed advantage is also its Achilles’s heel – for, even if it actually did have a steady supply of 21 million units, it is not a viable currency because the supply won’t track potential nominal GDP growth; hence, prices will become deflationary – the kind of phenomenon that economist Irving Fisher believed caused the Great Depression.

Indeed, the head of the European Central Bank had since declared to the European Parliament that cryptocurrencies are unregulated and “very risky assets. Their price is entirely speculative”. That’s not what we want or need. It’s a pity the FOMO (fear of missing out) of many retail investors will end them in a wild goose ride!

> Over its nine-year history, bitcoin has had five-peak-to-trough falls of more than 70% each. The recent decline offers a dose of reality to new investors – bitcoin dropped to a low US$7,850 on Feb 2 for the first time since November 2017 – crashing 60% from the high of nearly US$20,000 in mid-December. Sentiment has shifted dramatically this year.

On Feb 5, it fell another 4% to US$7,524. Also, the fledging market has taken a number of blows: Facebook has since banned advertisements on it (for being misleading); US Securities and Exchange Commission has accused some latest ICOs as “outright scams”; US and UK largest banks have put up “road-blocks” to financing bitcoins; and the recent Japanese hack theft of 523 million crypto-XEM (worth US$500mil) brought back memories of Mt Gox, which collapsed after a similar hack in 2014.

> Arbitrage traders (buying where it’s cheap and reselling where it is dear) have been active – taking advantage of price differentials in multiple places and different times. They call it “capturing the arb”. Hedge funds, high frequency traders and even amateur enthusiasts are giving it a shot. Price divergences can be due to glitches or network traffic jams. In South Korea, exchanges quote abnormally wide prices reflecting high investors’ demand for bitcoin in the face of strict capital controls – giving rise to a “Kimchi premium” (of as high as 50% above US price; now down to 5% as price disparities are swiftly traded away).

> Concern over cryptocurrency activity is spreading beyond China, Japan, South Korea and India. This prompted the governor of the Bank of England, who also chairs the Global Financial Stability Board, to voice his unease over the anonymity embedded in blockchain technology underlying their use, especially for illicit activity (including money laundering). He disclosed that it would be on the agenda at the next G20 meeting. Tax authorities have also expressed concern over the under-reporting of capital gains tax.

> Bitcoin futures trading on Chicago’s CME and CBoE exchanges have been slow to catch fire – at the pace of a “slow walk”.

What then, are we to do

Reality check: Bitcoin is proving that cryptocurrencies can erase wealth as fast as they create it. In January 2018 alone, it wiped off US$45bil from its US$200bil in market value generated in all of 2017 – the biggest one-month loss in US dollar terms in its short history. Since then, more value is being lost. For most economists and finance experts, they don’t represent an investable asset – there are liquidity issues, safety issues, exchange issues; most of all, they have no intrinsic value.

Can’t realistically put a fix on their fair value. They are for speculators who are prepared to lose everything. Of course, its something else for those who use them for illicit activity (home to criminals and terrorists), including money laundering. Anonymity means you are potentially closing a chain, while at somewhere along it had some illicit activity that cannot see the light of day.

Fair enough, these concern regulators. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the huge range of opportunities presented by the underlying technology – a view shared by many in relation to raising the efficiency of payment systems. Regulators are right to want to regulate crypto but also, continue to encourage innovation on blockchain. As I see it, so far in 2018, bitcoin has been a total dud. The list of factors driving its decline is growing, especially rising regulatory clampdown occurring around the world.

So, the cryptocurrency market has fallen on tougher times. For sure, Bitcoin has been highly profitable for many investors. Indeed, there continues to be strong interest among millennials.

Bottom line: the year so far has been terrible for bitcoin. But the fundamental positive story for crypto appears to remain intact. Protecting consumers should make it harder for charlatans to sell digital dust. There is a point where it goes from “buying on the dip” to “catching a falling knife”. Only time will tell. So, beware!

NB: Following global regulatory crackdown, bitcoin’s price has on Feb 6 fallen to a low of US$5,947, wiping out over US$200bil so far this year. Bitcoin’s market cap is now US$109bil, about one-third of the total crypto market (that’s down from 85% this time last year). The Bank for International Settlements (banker to central banks) has now condemned bitcoin as “a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster” (refers to huge amounts of electricity used to create it) and warns it can even become a “threat to financial stability”.

By Lin See-yan – what are we to do?

Former banker Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) and Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017). Feedback is most welcome.

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Jack Ma’s Alibaba to take on Kuala Lumpur’s traffic Artificial Intellligence project


Alibaba Cloud, which set up a datacentre in Malaysia last year, is considering a second one to further develop a local ecosystem, its president Simon Hu said. — Reuters

 

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KUALA LUMPUR: Alibaba Group will set up a traffic control system harnessing artificial intelligence for Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, its first such service outside China, as the e-commerce giant pushes to grow its cloud computing business.

Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group, said on Monday it plans to make live traffic predictions and recommendations to increase traffic efficiency in Kuala Lumpur by crunching data gathered from video footage, traffic bureaus, public transportation systems and mapping apps.

It is partnering with state agency Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and the Kuala Lumpur city council to roll out the technology, which would be localised and integrated with 500 inner city cameras by May.

The partnership comes after Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak launched an “e-hub” facility last year, part of an initiative aimed at removing trade barriers for smaller firms and emerging nations.

Alibaba Cloud, which set up a data centre in Malaysia last year, is considering a second one to further develop a local ecosystem, its president Simon Hu said on Jan 29.

He declined to elaborate on the company’s total investments made and planned for in Malaysia, but said it was “no small amount” and that the investments would continue if there was demand for cloud computing technologies.

MDEC’s chief executive officer Yasmin Mahmood said there was no estimate of City Brain’s impact on traffic in Kuala Lumpur yet. The traffic management system in the Chinese city of Hangzhou had resulted in reports of traffic violations with up to 92% accuracy, emergency vehicles reaching their destinations in half the time and overall increase in traffic speed by 15%.

Najib has forged close ties with China in recent years. Last year, the Malaysian leader announced a slew of infrastructure projects, many funded by China, as he worked up momentum towards a general election he must call by the middle of this year. — Reuters

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Malaysia to end cronyism?


https://youtu.be/vmqElJnDURI

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5717349859001

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government has vowed to end “crony capitalists” whose wealth came at the cost of ordinary Malaysians, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said lessons had been learnt from past mistakes in planning Malaysia’s economic transformation, after confronting many “legacy issues” along the way.

“Some of the country’s development under a former leader came with an unnecessary price tag, in the form of a class of crony capitalists,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 yesterday.

Citing public transport as an example, Najib said massive overhauls had to be done to rectify the issue.

“For decades, public transport was neglected. It was incoherent, with different owners, different systems and certainly no integration

“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car – which is now being turned around under international joint ownership – led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system.

“This was a serious obstacle to achieve high-income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world-class capital,” he said.

Although no name was mentioned throughout his speech, it was an apparent dig at former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib also said that during this time, the Government had signed independent power producer concessions that were lopsided.

“Consumers had to pay far more for energy than they should have, even for energy they were not using.

“This was a real burden to the people, so we renegotiated these concessions – and determined that in the future, we would not allow private companies to earn excessively at the expense of ordinary Malaysians,” he said.

Najib also pointed out that the ringgit had been pegged against the US dollar for “far too long”.

“Investors and global markets lost confidence in us, and it took a long time to win that back. That was a very heavy cost to the country,” he said, stressing that the Government would never repeat that measure.

He also spoke on the challenges at state-owned institutions, such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), which were amplified and used as a tool to suggest that Malaysia’s economy was collapsing.

“I’m not going to brush over this issue. There were indeed failings at the company, there were lapses of governance. There was a valid cause for concern.

“This is why I ordered one of the most comprehensive and detailed investigations in Malaysia’s corporate history, one that involved multiple lawful authorities, including a bipartisan parliamentary body.

“Their findings were taken on board and the company’s board was dissolved, its management team changed and its operations reviewed,” he said.

On another note, Najib rubbished claims that Malaysia was welcoming foreign direct investments (FDIs) by selling out the nation’s sovereignty.

“My Government will never sacrifice an inch of our sovereignty,” he said, adding that while RM63bil in FDI stock came from China and Hong Kong, there was more from Japan at RM70bil.

“You don’t hear anyone warning that we are selling our country to the Japanese.

“Of course not. They are most welcome here. So are investors from Africa, the Americas, China, the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia and around the world,” he said.

Malaysia continues to improve in three key areas

Moving forward: Najib attending the Invest Malaysia 2018 launch together with (from left) Bursa Malaysia Bhd CEO Datuk Seri Tajuddin Atan, Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Chief Secretary Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, Bursa Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Amirsham Abdul Aziz and Malayan Banking Bhd chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will continue to develop three key areas – transparency, accountability and efficiency – to attract more investments, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister observed that the country’s excellent economic and financial fundamentals had greatly benefitted local and foreign investors, providing them with stability, strength and certainty.

“We will continue to make our country even more business- and market-friendly, which means we are always working to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency.

“The Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry have continuously introduced and supported measures to increase the dynamism of our capital market.

“Towards this objective, I can assure you that we can expect further measures in the near future,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 here yesterday.

The two-day annual event is jointly organised by Bursa Malaysia Bhd and Maybank. A total of 61 local companies, with a combined market capitalisation of RM767.6bil were featured in the event.

The Prime Minister also cited figures that justified the confidence in Malaysia shown by investors and global institutions.

“Our total trade grew strongly by 20.8% between January and November last year, while in November alone, gross exports reached double-digit growth of 14.4%, with the highest receipts ever recorded, at RM83.5bil.

“Last year, foreign net fund inflow recorded a positive RM10.8bil, the highest since 2012, while corporate bond and new sukuk issuance reached RM111.2bil for 11 months of the year, close to 30% higher than the whole of 2016,” he said.

Najib also observed that Malaysia has enjoyed years of strong growth, with figures that most developed economies “could only dream of”, even during times of economic uncertainty.

“In fact, last year Malaysia exceeded all expectations, with the World Bank having to revise its estimate for our growth upwards not once, not twice, but three times – to 5.8%,” he said.

Najib added the World Economic Global Competitiveness index for 2017 and 2018 rate Malaysia very highly out of 137 countries.

The country is ranked third for Strength of Investor Protection, fifth for Pay and Productivity, fifth for the low Burden of Government Regulation and 14th for the Quality of Education System.

“The International Monetary Fund has also praised our sound macroeconomic policy responses in the face of significant headwinds and risks.

“The World Bank also recently confirmed that it believes Malaysia is on track, and that we are expected to achieve high-income status in the next few years,” he said.

Source: The Staronline

 

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Goodbye, Silicon Valley


Greener pastures: Wang at his company’s headquarters in Shanghai. The successful Silicon Valley alumni was lured
back to China by the promise of a brighter future.

Chinese-born talents are abandoning California for riches back home with the rise of China’s new titans.

A FEW years ago, Wang Yi was living the American dream. He had graduated from Princeton, landed a job at Google and bought a spacious condo in Silicon Valley.

But one day in 2011, he sat his wife down at the kitchen table and told her he wanted to move back to China. He was bored working as a product manager for the search giant and felt the pull of starting his own company in their homeland.

It wasn’t easy persuading her to abandon balmy California for smog-choked Shanghai.

“We’d just discovered she was pregnant,” said Wang, now 37, recalling hours spent pacing their apartment. “It was a very uneasy few weeks before we made our decision, but in the end she came around.”

His bet paid off: his popular English teaching app Liulishuo or LingoChamp raised US$100mil (RM397mil) in July, putting him in the growing ranks of successful Silicon Valley alumni lured back to China by the promise of a brighter future. His decision is emblematic of an unprecedented trend with disquieting implications for Valley stalwarts from Facebook Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Google.

US-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies’ global expansion and the country’s efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate towards career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research.

“More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area,” said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice.

“This is only the beginning.” Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there’s a term for them – “sea turtles”. But while a job at a US tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies – from giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao – are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc – a search giant little-known outside of China – convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s coming-out party was a catalyst. The e-commerce giant pulled off the world’s largest initial public offering in 2014 – a record that stands – to drive home the scale and inventiveness of the country’s corporations.

Alibaba and Tencent now count among the 10 most valuable companies in the world, in the ranks of Amazon.com Inc and Facebook.

Chinese venture capital rivals the United States: three of the world’s five most valuable startups are based in Beijing, not California.

Tech has supplanted finance as the biggest draw for overseas Chinese returnees, accounting for 15.5% of all who go home, according to a 2017 survey of 1,821 people conducted by think-tank Centre for China & Globalisation and jobs site Zhaopin.com. That’s up 10% from their last poll, in 2015.

Not all choose to abandon the Valley. Of the more than 850,000 AI engineers across America, 7.9% are Chinese, according to a 2017 report from LinkedIn.

That naturally includes plenty of ethnic Chinese without strong ties to the mainland or any interest in working there. However, there are more AI engineers of Chinese descent in the United States than there are in China, even though they make up less than 1.6% of the American population.

Yet the search for returnees has spurred a thriving cottage industry.

In WeChat and Facebook cliques, headhunters and engineers from the diaspora exchange banter and animated gifs.

Qi watches for certain markers: if you’ve scored permanent residency, are childless or the kids are prepping for college, expect a knock on your digital door.

Jay Wu has poached over 100 engineers for Chinese companies over the past three years. The co-founder of Global Career Path ran online communities for students before turning it into a career. The San Francisco resident now trawls more than a dozen WeChat groups for leads.

“WeChat is a good channel to keep tabs on what’s going on in the circle and also broadcast our offline events,” he said.

Ditching Cupertino or Mountain View for Beijing can be a tough sell when China’s undergoing its harshest Internet crackdown in history. But its tech giants hold three drawcards: faster growth in salaries, opportunity and a sense of home.

China’s Internet space is enjoying bubbly times, with compensation sometimes exceeding American peers’. One startup was said to have hired an AI engineer for cash and shares worth as much as US$30mil (RM119mil) over four years.

For engineers reluctant to relinquish American comforts, Chinese companies are going to them. Alibaba, Tencent, Uber-slayer Didi Chuxing and Baidu are among those who have built or are expanding labs in Silicon Valley.

Career opportunities, however, are regarded as more abundant back home. While Chinese engineers are well represented in the Valley, the perception is that comparatively fewer advance to the top rungs, a phenomenon labelled the “Bamboo Ceiling”.

“More and more Chinese engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time end up finding it’s much more lucrative for them career-wise to join a fast-rising Chinese company,”

says Hans Tung, a managing partner at venture firm GGV who’s organised events to poach talent.

“At Google, at LinkedIn, at Uber, at AirBnB, they all have Chinese engineers who are trying to figure out ‘should I stay, or should I go back’.”

More interesting than prospects for some may be the sheer volume of intimate data available and leeway to experiment in China.

Tencent’s WeChat, built by a small team in months, has become a poster-child for in-house creative licence.

Modern computing is driven by crunching enormous amounts of data, and generations of state surveillance has conditioned the public to be less concerned about sharing information than Westerners.

Local startup SenseTime for instance has teamed with dozens of police departments to track everything from visages to races, helping the country develop one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance machines.

China’s 751 million Internet users have thus become a massive petri dish.

Big money and bigger data can be irresistible to those itching to turn theory into reality.

Xu Wanhong left Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science PhD programme in 2010 to work on Facebook’s news feed.

A chance meeting with a visiting team from Chinese startup UCAR Technology led to online friendships and in 2015, an offer to jump ship. Today he works at Kuaishou, a video service said to be valued at more than US$3bil (RM12bil), and commutes from 20km outside Beijing. It’s a far cry from the breakfast bar and lush spaces of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“I didn’t go to the US for a big house. I went for the interesting problems,” he said.

Then there are those for whom it’s about human connection: no amount of tech can erase the fact that Shanghai and San Francisco are separated by an 11-hour flight and an even wider cultural chasm.

Chongqing native Yang Shuishi grew up deifying the West, adopting the name Seth and landing a dream job as a software engineer on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

But suburban America didn’t suit a single man whose hometown has about 40 times Seattle’s population.

While he climbed the ranks during subsequent stints at Google and Facebook, life in America remained a lonely experience and he landed back in China.

“You’re just working as a cog in the huge machine and you never get to see the big picture.

“My friends back in China were thinking about the economy and vast social trends,” he said.

“Even if I get killed by the air and live shorter for 10 years, it’ll still be better.” – Bloomberg

Related Link:

Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley – Bloomberg

Chinese workers abandon Silicon Valley for riches back home …

Only the brave teach


Show of solidarity: Fellow teachers and
unionists gathering at the Seremban magistrate court last month in
support of Cikgu Azizan (centre in white).

 

ONE tight slap – I still vividly remember that hard, stinging smack across my cheek as my teacher flew into a fit of rage after I did something naughty as a primary school pupil at St Xavier’s Institution in Penang.

I can’t recall which teacher hit me, but there must have been more than one. They pinched my stomach and even my nipples. Many of my classmates can attest to that, even 40 years on.

There was also the occasional caning, which I felt was an act of gross injustice and, perhaps, even one of perversion on the part of our disciplinary teacher. To me, back then, he was an unfair individual, and my opinion still stands. To this day, I have no idea why I was caned and not given the chance to defend myself.

But, bless his soul, because he has passed on. Most students from back then would have forgiven him by now, for he probably knew not what he was doing.

However, one thing is certain – as far as I know, none of us returned home and complained about this disciplinary action to our parents.

Comedian Harith Iskandar always reminds his audience that if one complained to their parents, they can expect to get another tight slap that “would burn your face and send an electrifying chilling effect to all parts of your body,” and consequently, leave a lifetime’s reminder.

So, the smartest thing to do, as most older Malaysians can testify, was to keep quiet. Of course, we also warned our classmates, some of whom were our neighbors, to swear to keep things under wraps and not tell their parents about the drama at school.

The caning and slaps, by disciplinary standards, were the “final” punishments. We surely remember the use of rulers, feather dusters, belts, black board dusters and in my case, even a shoe that flew in my direction.

And I wasn’t even in the naughty boys’ category. I didn’t get into fights or was caught loitering with the bad hats after school.

As one writer, Adrian Lee Yuen Beng, wrote in Aliran: “The teachers were our ad hoc parents who taught with joy and passion, and like their predecessors, never demanded any recognition. They customarily stood at the back of the class, silently rejoicing as the students celebrated their exam success.

“We received an education steeped in tradition as mission schoolteachers took teaching seriously; it was not a mere job, but a vocation, nay, a calling.

“Our teachers were proud of their lessons and believed in their form of education. They shaped us into intellectuals, sportspersons, politicians, educators, religionists, physicians and other important societal figures.”

Fast forward to today – and it’s the total reverse. The guilty party – the student – runs home to complain to his parents.

Now, the father and mother fly into a rage and decide to confront the teacher at school the following day. What unnecessary drama!

Adding insult to injury, the parents then seek the help of a politician, who has likely been deprived of the media’s glare for a while. Then, all three confront the teacher.

Lodging a police report is, of course, the next thing they do, and to embarrass the teacher and school further, they call for a press conference.

This is modern Malaysia. Perhaps, today’s family is smaller. There are only one or two children in a family, and they are, invariably, pampered.

During my time, there were at least four or five siblings and even so, we were still regarded a small family. Dad was always too busy earning a living, trying to put food on the table, so, he was thankful that the teacher played surrogate father, at least during school hours. The lesser-educated father would have been equally respectful of teachers. After all, it’s accepted that teachers mould the character, calibre and prospects of their students.

However, the modern-day father thinks he’s smarter and earns more than the teacher, his condescending and confrontational attitude not boding well for the situation.

He probably thinks the teacher has a dead-end job or is too busy distributing business cards to pupils for after-school tuition.

But, for an old-school type like me, I find it difficult to accept news of teachers being hauled to court for purportedly hurting their students.

Honestly, don’t the police and prosecutors have better things to do than to charge these teachers who were merely trying to discipline the children – responsibilities which may have been neglected by their caregivers?

In December, a teacher facing the charge of hurting his student, was given a discharge not amounting to acquittal by the magistrate’s court.

Magistrate Mohd Zaki Abdul Rahim delivered judgement after the prosecution told the court that they wished to withdraw the case.

Azizan Manap, also known as Cikgu Azizan, claimed trial to the charge of slapping an 11-year-old male student on the left cheek in April for indiscipline, the misdemeanour including sniffing glue, bullying and playing truant.

He was charged under Section 323 of the Penal Code for voluntarily causing hurt and was left facing a jail term of up to a year, a fine of RM,2000, or both, upon conviction.

Leading up to his discharge, several hundred people, including fellow teachers, gathered at the court in a show of solidarity for Cikgu Azizan.

By all means, go ahead and Google it: there are numerous reports of teachers threatened or roughed up in schools, and surprisingly, we seldom hear of offensive parents charged in court for criminal intimidation or causing bodily harm.

We have now been made to understand that the old ways don’t work anymore. The children need counselling and their hair needs to be stroked to motivate them. Have these methods worked better? That remains to be conclusively proven.

One thing’s for sure, though, the tight slap was unbeatable in my time in instilling discipline. Now, when I enter a lift, the millennials are too busy looking at their handphones, so don’t expect them to address you as “sir” or even greet you.

You’d be lucky if they called you “bro” and gave you an enthusiastic high-five, instead.

Would the proverbial one tight slap work today in curing disciplinary ills? Hardly likely.

By Wong Chun Wai

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.

In the digital dumps: technology triggers teen depression


Teenagers are unable to disconnect from their
smartphones, causing them undue anxiety and distress. But according to experts, saying no to smartphones is not the solution.

Teenagers feel if they’re not on social media all the time, they’re missing something important, or will miss out on a  funny conversation, or someone might say something about them, according to Nolan. — 123rf.com
Technology is how teenagers maintain relationships so Nolan advises parents to discuss and find healthy ways to use it. — dpa
“We know that people rely on smartphones. A recent study shows we touch them about 2,500 times a day on average ”

Brian Bolan, guidance director at Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois.

“Nobody likes to feel a loss of control. So work with them to arrive at a
mutually agreed upon reasonable amount of time to spend on the phone.
Haveitbea discussion, a collaboration. That will probably yield better
results than just saying, ‘No phones’.”
– The Daily Southtown/ Tribune
News Service

Parents have to help teenagers turn off in a world that’s always on.

The problem with teens and ­smartphones, experts say, is “they’re always on”.

Both of them.

And that can take a toll on their mental health. A new study links anxiety, severe depression, suicide attempts and suicide with the rise in use of smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Parents are urged to help their children foster real ­relationships, the ones that involve making eye contact and ­interpreting body ­language. Local mental health experts encourage teens and ­parents to establish a routine that fosters a balance between real and virtual communication, even as many adolescents will no doubt have found gifts of technology under the tree last holiday.

For as smart as phones may be these days, they simply don’t know when to quit. To protect their kids’ mental health, parents must ­develop methods for outsmarting them, experts say, and often that involves simply turning them off.

Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University and a graduate of the University of Chicago, has written extensively on youth and mental health. She has released a study that shows a ­correlation between the rise of the smartphone and increasing rates of depression, suicide attempts and suicide itself among teens.

According to news reports, the finding is based on CDC data and teen-issued surveys that revealed that feelings of hopelessness and suicidal contemplation had gone up by 12% during the time period and that nearly half of the teens who indicated they spend five or more hours a day on a ­smartphone, laptop or tablet said they had contemplated, planned or attempted suicide at least once – compared with 28% of those who said they spend less than an hour a day on a device.

Local school counselors and social workers as well as clinical mental health experts at local ­hospitals in the United States ­confirm they are seeing an uptick in signs of depression and/or ­anxiety among teens. But, they also say, there are things parents and professionals can do to help curb the risks.

Too much, too often

“I just came from a South Side guidance directors conference where we heard from a couple of hospitals in the area that treat ­students for depression or suicidal tendencies or high anxiety. They’re telling us they’ve seen quite an uptick, that they’re hiring staff, they’ve got longer waiting times, they’re running more programmes just to keep up with the need they’re seeing among high school kids and even younger kids,” said Brian Nolan, guidance director at Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois.

Nolan said, “My belief is that today’s technology never allows children to truly disengage from their social lives. When we were kids we could hang out with our friends during the day and then at night, we’d have down time with the family or we might go shoot hoops or play Legos away from friends, so we could gain some kind of balance.”

But the smartphone’s ability to connect us all immediately doesn’t allow that social interaction to ever be turned off, he said. Some of the allure is the desire to be included, and some of it is defensive, he said.

“They feel like if they’re not on it all the time, they’re missing ­something important, or will miss out on a funny conversation, or someone might say something about them. There’s a lot of worry and concern and stress about what’s going on in social media at a time when it would be nice for a child to step away from it and not care,” Nolan said.

“We know that people rely on smartphones. A recent study shows we touch them about 2,500 times a day on average,” he said. “I use food as a metaphor. If a student is overeating or eating a bunch of junk food, you probably as a parent would have a conversation about better eating habits, the importance of exercise, moderation, things like that.”

“Cellphones are exactly the same. To tell a student you can’t use it, is the same as saying you can’t eat. That may sound extreme but that’s the ­reality. (Technology) is how they maintain ­relationships. So, it’s ­probably better to discuss healthy ways to use it,” he said.

Questions to ask your teen, he said, might include: Do you feel addicted to it? Are you checking it ­constantly? Can you set it down for awhile?

When students only ­interact via technology, Nolan said, “they’re much more likely to withdraw from healthier interactions and are more likely to be hypersensitive to what’s being posted. If they aren’t included they can feel lonely. If they are included, they can feel pressure to keep up”.

“I think parents feel bad (about this). It’s hard to attack a thing we don’t fully understand ourselves, because we didn’t grow up with it,” he added.

But, Nolan added, “modeling is a big piece of this. We as adults sometimes stop conversations with our own children because we have a text message coming in. Or we’ll text at the dinner table or while driving. So, we’re teaching our children that what comes through the phone is immediate and important and that it should take precedence over what we are currently doing”.

Equal access to good and bad

In her 17 years as a social worker at Argo High School in Summit, Illinois, Allison Bean said she’s had “a front row seat to the shift from a time where kids couldn’t wait to leave the house to hang out with their peers to the present day digital age where our kids are reluctant to leave the couch”.

“Many of my students may not have adequate clothing, food or even running water in their homes; but they have phones,” she said.

Teens, she said, “are (physically) isolating themselves more and more from their real support ­systems during a period of their lives that, even under the best ­circumstances, is very turbulent and stressful”.

Exacerbating the situation, Bean said, is that the very device that can cause depression is also giving fragile teens access to websites that can encourage them to engage in self-harming behaviours.

To complicate matters, she said, mental health experts are warning about the dangers of technology at a time when more schools are going paperless and issuing tablets to students.

“While there may be an upside to going paperless, one thing is ­certain: Our kids will be spending countless numbers of hours in front of some type of screen during the duration of their education. Headaches, tired eyes, and ­insomnia are bad for everyone. For students that are already prone to mental health issues, this too often results in truancy, low test scores, poor homework habits and ­depression,” she said.

“They are depriving themselves of the opportunity to exercise their social skills; skills that are critical for life. This is obviously dangerous in numerous ways. Not only does it dissuade students from ­leaving the confines of their rooms to engage with peers in a ­developmentally appropriate way, there are many predators online who are able to find young people who are vulnerable, isolated and desperately seeking attention,” she said.

“There’s no question mental health crises are on the rise, and at the high school level, depression and anxiety are the primary ­diagnoses that I see in our ­community,” she said.

Signs of trouble?

It’s not just technology that is causing the trouble, said Rian Rowles, chairman of psychiatric services at Advocate Christ Medical Center. In his 12 years at the Oak Lawn, Illinois hospital, the ­psychiatrist has seen the number of patients referred to the ­adolescent programme rise by more than half.

“It’s also social media. It’s very clear to me that the advent of social media has exacerbated stressors. Not just depression, but anxiety as well,” he said.

“There are stressors that go along with adolescence but you used to be able to leave the interpersonal stuff at school. Bullying used to be a school phenomenon.”

Social media, he said, can make it a 24/7 thing.

“When you’re writing and ­posting things, there’s a phenomenon in which you don’t have the same filter you might when talking on the phone or in person. I think that lends itself to more abrasive statements,” he said. “So not only is it constantly there for these kids, it’s more intense.”

Rowles said adolescents can have the same symptoms as adults when it comes to depression and anxiety: abrupt changes in sleep ability, appetite changes (usually significantly less food), social ­isolation marked by less ­communicating with friends and less participation in social or school events, and drastic or ­significant personality change, say from calm to irritable or angry.

Parents can help by reducing the amount of time a teen spends on social media, he said. Professional help typically involves teaching kids ways to develop new coping mechanisms.

Something that might surprise adults, Rowles said, is that ­overusing technology can have a detrimental affect on them, as well.

“Not as drastic, because of what kids have to deal with at school. The phenomenon I see in adults is someone who is already in my care for anxiety or depression and then they get on Facebook,” he said. “People will sort of put on Facebook things that make their life seem very wonderful and it may not be the reality but other people see that and it can ­contribute to their depression. (Facebook) makes it seem like everybody has a better life.”

Widening the lens

Technology may not be the lone culprit, and it is not necessarily bad, said Nadjeh Awadallah, licensed clinical professional ­therapist at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

The current increase in ­depression and anxiety among teens might be attributed to a ­higher frequency of smartphone use and the fact there’s less stigma about mental health issues, Awadallah said.

“Kids are more prone to ­speaking about mental health issues than maybe they were before,” he said.

A lot of adolescents, he said, would argue that the relationships they have with people online are real relationships. “If they’re ­interacting at a high level of ­frequency, either talking with friends or playing videogames, they’re actually interacting with them,” he said.

And a phone can be a kind of “digital security blanket” in that it enables a person who is dealing with anxiety to look at their phone instead of at other people.

“It’s kind of protective if you want to be left alone,” he said.

Nevertheless, Awadallah added, there is “a great deal of benefit to interacting with somebody face to face because so much of communication has to do with nonverbal communication and giving feedback. When you’re just texting you have to imagine how the person’s voice sounds. It’s hard to deduce if someone is being ­genuine, or sarcastic. So whatever the person transplants onto the thing that they’re reading can impact their mood.

“There’s a high correlation between people withdrawing from person-to-person interaction and depression because that’s what people tend to do when they’re depressed,” he said. “So it’s kind of like a chicken and egg relationship where you don’t know if they’re depressed because they’re on ­electronic media or if they’re on electronic media because they’re depressed.”

Smartphone addiction is a form of process addiction, he said. “It’s a non-chemical addiction where ­people compulsively use the Internet or phone in lieu of self-care actions likes eating or ­sleeping,” he said.

Signs there might be a deep-­seated issue: problems at school, such as concentration, lack of ­energy, poor attendance or a drop in grades; substance abuse or superficial self-harm (such as cutting as an emotional release); and a significant decline in self-esteem.

What can parents do? Awadallah said, “Institute a routine. Make sure kids aren’t using phones or devices when supposed to be ­sleeping because exposing ­themselves to unnatural blue light that’s going to be overly ­stimulating and not let them sleep well. If they’re more invested with ­interacting online than with people in person, you need to talk.

“Nobody likes to feel a loss of control. So work with them to arrive at a mutually agreed upon reasonable amount of time to spend on the phone. Have it be a ­discussion, a collaboration. That will ­probably yield better results than just saying, ‘No phones’.”

— The Daily Southtown/Tribune News Service

How can parents help their teens?

● Encourage downtime

● Be a good role model

● Teach your child to develop coping skills

● Institute a routine

● Mutually agree on time limits for devices and social media

By donna vickroy, The Star

Related Links:

Going big on social media – Nation | The Star Online

PressReader – The Star Malaysia: 2018-01-09

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