The ugly side of the digital economy


ALMOST everybody is addicted to the digital world of connectivity. Only a handful can dare say that they are not dependent on the Internet or the connectivity that comes with the digital age.

To those not convinced that they are addicted to technology and the Internet, they should try asking themselves a few questions.

When was the last time they accessed the computer to search for something through Google? When was the last time they accessed Facebook or Whatsapp to stay connected? How long have they gone without getting “an anxiety attack” without having their handphones with them?

If an uneasy feeling creeps into them without having their computers or mobile phones with them, then the chances of them being reliant on the digital world is high. If they are lost at work without “Mr Google” and feel handicapped, then they are hooked on the digital world.

From the hundreds of people I know, only two do not carry a mobile phone with them. One is a seasoned lawyer while the other is a retired factory manager. They are exceptions to the norm.

The digital age is here to stay and grow. The advantages of digital connectivity in terms of accessing instant information and staying in touch with others seamlessly are just too great to be without.

These days, even people in their late 50s and 60s are active users of Facebook, which they see as critical touch points of their lives with others. The instant response to their postings is a gratification of sorts.

These are new touch points that they would normally not be able to enjoy without digital connectivity. However, there is a downside to this digital addiction in both the social and economic sense.

There is a book going into the details of how more people are depressed without digital connectivity, how people have gone berserk without having access to Internet connectivity. This is one of the many social downsides of the digital age.

However, more shocking is the unconventional work ethics, sexual harassment and culture of idolising individuals that have become rampant with the rise of the digital economy.

Last week, the former chief executive of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), Cheryl Yeoh, revealed that she was a victim of sexual assault by a venture capitalist, Dave McClure, three years ago.

The revelation only came after The New York Times reported that McClure had stepped down from 500 Startups following allegations of sexual harassment against him.

500 Startups is a Silicon Valley-based early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator. Generally, the principals of venture funds tend to exert their influence over those seeking their money.

It is rampant in the world of the new economy where funding from banks is not easily available. Banks would want to see profits and a strong balance sheet before they lend money to start-ups. Start-ups in the digital economy rarely have both financial elements.

Yeoh said that she did not come public with the incident earlier fearing that many would not believe her. She also did not want to jeopardise the business venture between MaGIC and 500 Startups.

McClure is not the only venture capitalist who has faced the brunt of unethical work practices. Travis Kalanick, the founder and prime force behind ride-hailing app company Uber, has also been forced out by shareholders after a series of scandals in the company.

Among those who complained against the work culture of Uber was software engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti, who in her blog posting stated that the company’s work environment was hostile towards women, leading to many of them leaving.

The hostility went beyond sexual harassment. It was even to the point of the women not getting leather jackets as their numbers were small compared to the men who had received theirs from the company.

Because the number of women working in Uber was small, the company, which is touted as the most valuable unlisted new economy entity, could not get the discounts required and hence did not order the leather jackets.

In a company engaged in the old economy of brick-and-mortar businesses, such reasoning would not have been tolerated. But it has happened in Uber, where Kalanick held a position so strong that the way he managed the company was not questioned.

Hero-worshipping the founders is quite common in new-economy companies. Whatever the founders decide is not questioned. It has come to the point where even when deals are concluded at lofty valuations, hardly any murmurs are raised.

No questions asked: Jeff Bezos of Amazon purchased a grocery chain, Whole Foods Market, for US14bil two weeks ago and nobody batted an eyelid or raised any questions. – AFP

Jeff Bezos of Amazon purchased a grocery chain, Whole Foods Market, for US$14bil two weeks ago.

Nobody batted an eyelid or raised any questions as to why a new-economy heavyweight was buying into a matured company in an industry that was facing huge challenges because of Amazon.

Amazon, with its online shopping platform for anything from books to groceries and even movies, has disrupted the retail industry. The likes of Wal-Mart and Tesco are reeling from the growing dominance of Amazon.

So, why is Amazon buying into a grocery chain operating in the industry that it is destroying?

Nobody knows the answer. They only rely on the faith that Bezos can do no wrong. Blind faith is the biggest downside to the digital economy.

Digital economy companies tend not to give dividends and spend a lot on research and development under the excuse that the business is still growing and needs all the financial resources.

Investors believing that mantra follow blindly. They are encouraged by the rising share prices even though there are little fundamentals.

One day, such blind faith will lose its lustre and the price will fall. Only then will investors realise that the old-fashioned way of valuing companies is still way better.

The alternative view by M.Shanmugam

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Goodbye Motorola! How Chicago’s greatest tech company fell to earth?


Under the Galvin family, Motorola had soaring achievements. This was the
company, remember, that invented the cellphone. Those days are over.
What went wrong?  
Click below and Scroll or arrow down to keep reading.

Earn your money the right way: no quick buck, get paid only for honest, hard work



Get-rich quick schemes drawing the interest of those who want to make a quick buck but really, there is no substitute in getting paid for honest, hard work

AS a Penangite, I am always asked by my colleagues and friends in the Klang Valley why is it that most get-rich-quick schemes are located in the island state and the investors mostly its citizens.

I have asked that same question myself, since I’ve heard enough stories of relatives and friends who have been entangled in this web of financial crookery.

It’s not something new. It used to be called the pyramid scheme and Ponzi but, like most, it is just another scam. The new term is ‘money game’ and it’s probably called this to warn new participants that there will be winners and losers, like in any other game.

However, no one is listening because most people are merely interested in the quick returns from their investments.

There are some reasons why Penang lang (Hokkein for people) have warmed up to these quick-rich con jobs.

Penang is a predominantly Chinese state and rightly or wrongly, the appetite for risk there is higher. Some may dismiss risk as a euphemism for gambling, but the bottom line is, many of its denizens are prepared to roll the dice.

Given that there are so few police reports lodged against operators, despite the huge number of investors, indicates the readiness of these players to try their luck.

They clearly are aware of the element of risk involved when they lay their money down, but the huge returns override any rational thinking. No risk, no gain, they probably tell themselves.

Making police reports against operators also runs the risk of “investors” getting their money stuck if the accounts of the scammers are frozen.

Risk-taking is nothing new to many Penangites. This is a state with a horse-racing course and plenty of gaming outlets. Is it any surprise then that a spat is currently playing out between politicians over allegations that illegal gaming outlets are thriving there?

One politician believes the state government does not have the authority to issue gambling licences and “to single out Penang also ignores the fact that gambling is under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction. We don’t issue such licences.”

It’s bizarre because no one issues permits to illegal gaming outlets. That’s why they are called illegal.

But there are some fundamental sociological explanations to this fixation on earning extra money in the northern state.

The cost of living has gone up there … and everywhere, too. For the urban middle class, it is a monthly struggle managing the wages – after the deductions – settling the housing and car loans, and accounting for household items such as food, petrol, utility and tuition for the children.

The cost of living in Penang may be lower than that in the Klang Valley, but it is not cheap either. Any local will tell you that the portion of char koay teow has shrunk, although the price remains the same.

But unlike the Klang Valley, where career development and opportunities are greater, the same cannot be said of the island state.

Many of us who were born and brought up in Penang, moved to Kuala Lumpur because we were aware of the shortage of employment opportunities there.

We readily sacrificed so much, moving away from our parents and friends, relinquishing the relaxed way of life and the good food for a “harder” life in the Klang Valley. We paid the price for wanting a better life.

Job advancement means better salaries, but in Penang, where employers have a smaller base, they are unable to match the kind of pay packages offered in KL.

So, an extra few hundred ringgit from such investments does make a lot of difference to the average wage earner.

It is not unusual for many in the federal capital to take a second job to ensure they can balance their finances.

I don’t think many Penangites expect to be millionaires, at least not that quickly, although JJPTR has become a household acronym since hitting the market in the last two years. As most Malaysians by now know, it stands for JJ Poor-to-Rich, the name resonating well with middle class families.

Its founder, Johnson Lee, with his squeaky clean, boyish looks, assured over 400,000 people of his 20% monthly pay-outs and even more incredibly, convinced many that billions of ringgit vanished due to a hacking job.

Then came Richway Global Venture, Change Your Life (CYL) and BTC I-system, among others. And almost like clockwork, Penang has now earned the dubious reputation of being the base for get-rich-quick schemes.

Having written this article while in Penang, I found out this issue continues to be the hottest topic in town, despite the recent crackdowns by the authorities.

My colleague Tan Sin Chow recently reported in the northern edition of The Star that “money games are on the minds of many Penangites.”

On chat groups with friends and former schoolmates, it has certainly remained very much alive.

Tan wrote: “Another friend, Robert, had a jolt when, a doctor he knew, told patients to put their money into such a scheme. A doctor!

“From the cleaners at his office to the hawkers and professionals he met, everyone, it seems, was convinced. None questioned how the high returns could come to fruition in such a short time.”

We can be sure that these get-rich-quick scheme operators will lie low for a while, but the racket will surface again, in a different form and under a different name.

There is no substitute for honest, hard work. Money doesn’t fall from the sky, after all.

BY Wong Chun Wai The Star

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.

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Bitcoin, digital currencies rally, caution prevails; virtual currency in property


Bitcoins As Digital Currency's Rally Crushed Every Other Currency in 2016
A collection of bitcoin tokens. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Digital currencies rally, but caution prevails

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework.

THIS week, the rally in crypto currencies is at its all-time high.

Bitcoin, the pioneer in digital currency, surged to over US$1,700 per coin in
anticipation of a reversal in United States financial regulators’ ruling to allow for an exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin and other factors.

Bitcoin was trading at US$935 on March 24. It rose 82%, pushing its market capitalisation to over US$28bil.

Ether, another such currency, surged from US$8 on Jan 1 to US$90 this week, gaining 1,125% in five months.

The market capitalisation of the 700-over currencies is over US$50bil. The promoters believe it is the currency of the future, hence the rise, but the naysayers believe it is entering a speculative bubble.

But there are some who are ditching gold to mine Bitcoins.

It is a fact that crypto currencies are gaining traction from their inception in 2009. Now, at least 150 organisations including Apple, Walmart, Sears, eBay, Overstock.com,  Microsoft, Steam, Expedia and even Subway accept them in exchange for goods.

So, what is Bitcoin then?

It is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically, not blocked by any nation or government, not printed like dollars and ringgit but produced by people. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that use encryption to secure transactions and control how new coins are made.

You and I can get Bitcoins by “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions using software to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. If you solve it first, you are rewarded with new Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is the mother of all crypto currencies – also known as virtual currencies, digital currencies and private currencies.

Other than Bitcoin and Ether, there is also Dogecoin, Augur, Chinacoin, Litecon, Dash, Waves and Zcash. There are over 40 exchanges globally to trade in Bitcoins.

All this came about because of fintech, the financial services technology that is  disrupting the financial services sector with faster, cheaper and so-called “reliable”
transactions for money transfers, bank exchange rates and other money-related transactions. The average clearance is a 12-hour period, which apparently the banks cannot match.

In Brazil, people use Zcash to pay for their taxes, electricity bills and purchases.

This week, Australia said there would be no double taxation for crypto currencies and to treat it just like other currencies from July 1, paving the way for greater usage.

Many are betting on crypto currencies because of the lure that they are the currency of the future. Would you?

Since 2009, there have been gainers and losers, so you decide.

All these digital currencies came about because of the Internet and data.  The value of data and digital services is becoming more apparent, and in the digital era, data is the new currency.

Amid all this is blockchain, which is simply a digital ledger that keeps track of Bitcoin transactions and transfers it globally. It boasts of instantaneous transactions, transparent and cheaper than the traditional ways. This is why banks are hurriedly getting their acts together in the area of fintech so as to not miss the boat.

There is a growing number of mergers and acquisitions and crowdfunding for blockchains. Last month, music-podcast-video streaming service Spotify  bought over blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help reward  online content owners with royalty payments.

Other telcos and IT firms are getting into blockchain because they don’t want to miss out on anything. Other payment companies are getting into the act too. There is just too much interest in this new wave of doing things.

The journey of crypto currencies, however, is not without hurdles, and there are plenty out there that cannot be ignored. Even blockchain’s growth cannot be ignored, especially since it is being positioned by those championing it as the de facto technology of the future.

But will it really be all that or will it just add another layer to the overall cost?

All these transfers do not need regulation as yet, something that central bankers don’t like. In fact, Bank Negara is already in the thick of things where fintech is concerned.

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best
strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework, as there is also the other side of Bitcoin – fake websites, fake online gaming sites, trading, etc.

I bet you would know of someone who has lost money mining Bitcoin or Ether. You honestly wouldn’t want to be put in a spot like those caught up in the recent forex scam and the earlier gold scam.

It would be good too to bear in mind that the sweet spot of crypto currencies has been linked to terrorism financing, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

Trust and transparency have been the bedrock of financial institutions all these years. Ensure your bedrock is solid, but at the same time, remember what the former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had said in a letter to US senators about virtual currencies, that they “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system”.

Do you think blockchain will bring trust and transparency to the world of crypto currency? Share your thoughts with me at bksidhu@thestar

Source: The Star by b.k. sidhu

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Property in a digital era

WITH digital technology all the rage and taking the world by storm, we look at how science and automation has managed to change and revolutionise the way we do things, in this section, property.

While the internet has changed the way we receive information and connect with others and the smart phone transformed the whole concept of a phone, we now look at the evolution of finance and how purchasing items, including a house, is going through reform with the introduction of bitcoin.

Introducing bitcoin

When people hear terms like “bitcoin” and “blockchain”, many are vague while some may not even be familiar with these words. But for the technology industry adept, bitcoin and blockchain is common as these new-age technology concepts and modus operandi have been around, perhaps less widely known in Southeast Asia as it is in the West and China.

For the uninformed and in the dark, bitcoin is a technology that has established a new electronic payment method using “digitised money” made with digital cryptography, otherwise known as cryptocurrency.

This system of payment is carried out when a user uses “bitcoin currency” (or cryptocurrency) to pay for goods by transferring the currency to another user (seller) within the bitcoin community.

Each transaction is recorded in a public data ledger known as “blockchain” and it is here where all the transactions that have taken place within the bitcoin community are stored.

The amazing thing about this system is that anyone in the bitcoin community is able to validate transactions that take place without the need of an intermediary.

Sound too good to be true and a little risky? Well, the reason there is no intermediate party necessary is due to the network bitcoin technology is regulated on.


Modus operandi and more

The bitcoin network is founded on a “peer-to-peer network system (P2P network)” which is explained as “a network of computers/ mobile configured to allow certain files and folders to be shared with everyone or with selected users”.

As a result, the “participants” are in control of their transactions, making everyone equal within the bitcoin community, which is also transparent.

It is said that bitcoin technology was first created in 2008 by a person or a group of persons under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in a research paper. The research stated that there was need for a new electronic payment method, one using digitised money. The analysis also included the future of bitcoin, its benefits, capabilities and potential.

The system was implemented on Jan 3, 2009. And after just a few years, bitcoin grew to become a whopping US$12 billion (RM52.7 billion) globalised economy.

Bitcoin attributes

While not much has been said about bitcoin in this part of the region, the system has been around, slowly developing and growing. Like many things that are cloudy and not often talked about, people are weary hence, there will be sceptics who dissuade others about the system they themselves are unclear about.

With that, theSun’s Brian Chung shares what he learnt of this new method of transaction and currency when he attended a talk by renowned entrepreneur, author and expert on bitcoin Andreas M. Antonopoulos.

Below, Antonopolous shares important information on bitcoin.

1) Bitcoin is an open system of payment: It is a system that anyone can access, participate and innovate, and does not require permission. Bitcoin allows anyone to join in and use the system, validate the transaction and create different kinds of cryptocurrency.

2) Bitcoin is borderless: Like the internet, bitcoin is not restricted to a country’s rules and regulations as it has its own protocol with no distinction across countries.

3) Bitcoin is neutral: Bitcoin does not take the identity of the participant into any consideration. It only validates the transaction that takes place between participants. This attribute also allows participants to remain anonymous.

4) Bitcoin is censorship resistant: Every transaction in the bitcoin network cannot be frozen, censored or canceled. Like the internet, the bitcoin system is a global digital economy with one currency.

5) Bitcoin is a decentralised system: The bitcoin network has no central institution or centre point of control. This trait ensures that there is no one major target for hackers to concentrate their attacks on. Instead, hackers have to create attacks on every single participant’s software with different forms of virus and codes to hack into one computer.

6) Bitcoin is scarce and limited: Bitcoin is a system of value like gold but in digital form. This makes it a system that is not based on credit and debit. It also makes bitcoin a singular global currency with no exchange rate between countries.

7) Every bitcoin transaction is permanent and immutable: The transaction of everyone in the community is verified by everyone in the system. Once it is verified, the transaction will be permanently recorded in the blockchain.

8) Bitcoin is a constantly innovative technology: The open source nature of the bitcoin technology allows other people to further improve on it. There are many other cryptocurrencies based on the bitcoin technology. Moreover, the bitcoin technology is dependent on the internet, which makes improvement and innovation necessary.

Bitcoin transactions can be done via smart phones and computers by downloading the application and software. Users do not need to register themselves to be part of the bitcoin network as all “participants” are referred to by codes and “signature of one’s device”.

However, iPhone users need to remember their iTunes password to download the application. In addition, the device that one has downloaded the bitcoin software on must remain connected to the internet in order for one to use the bitcoin method of payment.

Follow our column next week on the application of bitcoin in property.

[Note: All charts courtesy of Bitcoin Malaysia.]

 

The application of bitcoin in property

 

WHILE last week, we introduced the term bitcoin to those oblivious of this new age cryptocurrency and system of payment, this week, we share bitcoin whiz Andreas M. Antonopoulus’ insights on how this technology is applied in property. Here is what he had to say:

Permanent records

“One very common application is the registration of assets or ownership of tangible and
non-tangible things like the registration of title over land and the ownership of assets
like homes.

When you record something on blockchain, it cannot be modified … it is immutable. Once recorded on the blockchain, the system of trust prevents anyone from reversing or overwriting it. That makes a record on blockchain permanent, an immutable record which is really important in real estate transaction as it allows one to pass the title of a piece of land from person to person independently with no one being able to falsify the record or steal land through paper,” Antonopoulos said.

Moreover, he mentioned that this technology can benefit the industry tremendously as it is able to resolve a huge problem in real estate and property transactions – the falsification of strata titles and property documents.

His view is further enhanced with the emergence of another bitcoin-based system, ethereum. Like bitcoin, ethereum has its own cryptocurrency known as ether. However, ethereum adopts a different technology that is based on the blockchain public ledger system known as Smart Contract.

According to Antonopoulos, a smart contract is an electronic contract with all the contractual obligations of the buyer and seller. The contract is written and coded into an application, which will ensure both parties fulfill their obligations.

Like blockchain technology that is built on trust and verification, these contracts are encoded in a public ledger in the ethereum community. If anyone tries to forge the contract, the ledger will reject it. As such, this smart contract cannot be rewritten and altered as it is a permanent and immutable contract.


Direct transactions

Besides the use of a contract, the technology will make transactions direct, fast and secure.

Antonopoulos also shared about the removal of third parties and its altered role. He said, “Another example relevant to real estate application is the function of escrow. In order to do make transactions for real estate today, people have to use a third party agent, an escrow agent. This escrow agent charges a significant amount of money in most countries. During the process, that agent holds custody of the entire fund, which is dangerous. This means that the escrow agent has to be carefully vetted and have foresight.

Bitcoin can replace all of this by using multi-signature, which allows the seller and buyer to transact escrow programmatically, with the third party acting as mediator only in the case of a dispute.

Buyer and seller will be able to execute a transaction on their own without the need of an escrow agent and without any of the parties having custody of the entire fund. Through bitcoin, you do not need to spend that additional one percent of the sale of the house – the escrow agent is no longer necessary.

It can also change the speed of escrow by doing it in hours instead of a month and changes the security because no one of the three parties can run away with the money. It is faster, cheaper and secure. It can be done in other industries related to real estates like purchasing assets, corporation, mergers and acquisitions.

International property purchase

With the use of decentralised digital currency, one can assume that purchasing items and properties is a little easier, and it is.

The chance of purchasing international property is further reinforced by the fact that bitcoin is not controlled by anyone, not even political and banking institutions. This attribute of bitcoin makes it easier for people buying property from another country. Although each country has its regulations, the use of bitcoin to purchase property abroad saves time and money as one does not need to change currency.

The Australia Real Estate website has stated that there are properties in the United States and Latin America being sold using bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2014 regarding a Lake Tahoe property, which was sold for US$1 million in bitcoin.

Follow our column next week for more interesting information on bitcoin, its challenges and how stable a cryptocurrency it is.

By rian Chung

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The Death of the iPhone


 

When I first predicted the “death of the iPhone” in January 2016, most people just laughed.

But when Apple reported its first-ever decline in iPhone sales just three months later, many began to quiet down and listen.

Now, even Tim Cook is recognizing the slowdown, after posting a surprise sales decline in second-quarter earnings this week.

According to Apple’s own CEO:

“We’re seeing what we believe to be a pause in purchases on iPhone.”

Cook has his own theories, but he’s missing the bigger picture. Apple has failed to innovate, and it’s costing the company a fortune.

Many are banking on the iPhone 8, but the truth is even it won’t stand up to what’s coming next::

Simply put, the age of the iPhone is coming to an end…

And the age of augmented and virtual reality is just around the corner.

For investors, that means a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you don’t want to miss.

 

Good Investing,
Stutman sig

Belt-road changes world order


Illuminated boards highlighting Xi’s signature One Belt- One Road foreign policy plan in Beijing. Leaders of 28 countries are set to attend the summit in the Chinese capital next month to discuss the infrastructure investment programme to stitch together the Eurasian continent. — AP‘Win-win development will lie at the core of the forum. The Belt and Road has become the most important public good China has provided to the world. It was first proposed by China, but now it is for all countries to enjoy.’ – Wang Yi.  ‘Belt and Road has the power and prestige of President Xi Jinping behind it. It is the centre of his vision for China, and of his ambition to transform China’s place in the world during his time as its leader … And already it is starting to change the geoeconomic and the geopolical landscape.’ – Huge White

 

China’s ambitious economic plan is set to draw up a new global paradigm with countries seeking to engage the Middle Kingdom.

WHEN the ambitious Belt and Road initiative – with projects reportedly worth US$1 trillion – was first announced by President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013, many were sceptical of this Chinese move aimed at building up economic connectivity of 65 nations (China plus 64) along its ancient silk road and maritime routes.

For China, this New Silk Road would also serve to redirect the country’s domestic overcapacity and capital for regional infrastructure development to improve trade and ties with Asean, Central Asian and European countries.

Unprecedented in terms of China’s financial commitment, many Western critics have viewed this strategy as a grandiose foreign policy to expand Beijing’s influence to poor nations hungry for economic and infrastructure development.

The initiative was mooted at a time when the United States and the West excluded China from regional trading blocs. Hence, Beijing’s new development vision has been read as a strategy for asserting its leadership role in Asia and beyond.

But after nearly four years of promoting the concept and implementing projects, this initiative – dubbed as a modern-day Marshall Plan – is gaining traction.

It is seen by some Western academics as posing a threat to the US-centric world trade order and economic model.

Without a doubt, China is heading towards achieving its regional economic and diplomatic objectives. And the internationalisation of the renminbi is being boosted.

“We expect the One Belt-One Road (OBOR) to support long-term growth of development in the economies involved, particularly in some of the least developed parts of the world… We also expect it to help boost China’s global influence,” says a report dated April 27 by Oxford Economics.

While the idea of enhancing connectivity has drawn interest, the worry on China’s potential hegemonic ambitions has prevailed among regional rivals India and Japan, as well as the United States.

Despite this, nations that correctly read China’s economic strategy and Xi’s resolve were quick to announce their support for this China-led inclusiveness. And Malaysia had become one of the earliest participants and is now a gainer.

The Belt and Road initiative is largely assessed as having progressed well despite some setbacks.

Many countries are at ease to engage with China, particularly after Xi declared the “Three Nos”: no interference in the internal affairs of other nations; no intention to increase the so-called “sphere of influence”; and no motive to strive for hegemony.

Recipient nations are enjoying higher economic, trade and business activities, as well as a tourism boom helped by the influx of tourists from China – the world’s second largest economy and biggest consumer market.

The impact of the Chinese strategy is particularly conspicuous in the least developed nations in Africa and West Asia, as well as Asean nations such as Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and Malaysia.

“Many belt-road countries have for many years been neglected by the West and Western investors, so even though there are concerns, some countries see China as offering once-in-a-lifetime chance to get out of poverty and under-development,” observes Dr Ngeow Chow Bing, deputy director of Institute of China Studies, Universiti Malaya.

China says it has invested more than US$50bil (RM220bil) on belt-road projects over the past three years, and signed project contracts worth US$926bil (RM4.16 trillion) covering mainly railway networks, highways and ports.

But China and its construction companies have also benefited from these endeavours. Its economy has been stimulated by exports from industries with overcapacity such as steel, cement and aluminium. Its GDP growth of 6.9% in the first quarter of 2017 was higher than expected.

Significantly, China’s state-owned construction conglomerates have successfully ventured out into belt-road nations. With these giants leading the build-transfer-operate schemes, smaller private enterprises have followed suit.

With China’s infrastructure projects and industrial investments extended to over 60 nations, the belt-road strategy is challenging the US-led world order and a new economic paradigm is definitely emerging, according to analysts.

Teoh: ‘OBOR will reshape the world’s economic dynamics
  “OBOR will significantly reshape the world’s economic dynamics. It will sharply increase accessibility and trades, across over 65% of the world’s population and 25% of global trade and services,” says Teoh Kok Lin, founder and chief investment officer of Singular Asset Management, a Kuala Lumpur-based regional asset investment company.

“Emerging economies, in particular, will benefit most from the increased global trades and services as well as improved infrastructure. OBOR will expand trade globalisation at a time when the world is worried about the Trump administration push towards the Buy America policy,” adds Teoh.

Closer economic relations with Beijing has helped reduce regional tension and friction, as seen in the case of the South China Sea where the Philippines under its current president saw economic cooperation with China as more practical.

Despite concerns over China’s rapid reclamation of reefs in South China Sea, in which Manila and several Asean nations have contesting territorial claims with China, the Asean Summit is unlikely to kick up a storm.

According to Reuters, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday “it is pointless” discussing Beijing’s contentious activities in the South China Sea at this summit, and “no one dared to pressure China anyway.”

Referring to the Belt and Road initiative as “a brilliant plan”, CLSA in its report remarks: “Xi Jinping’s ambitious strategic initiative – an adaptation of the historical Silk Road – marks the beginning of a new geopolitical era.”


May 14-15 summit and forum

The major achievements of the belt and road initiative are expected to be further highlighted at the coming two-day Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which will be opened by President Xi on May 14 in Beijing.

This summit could be the most important diplomatic event this year to discuss what is expected to be the largest global economic programme.

“Amid challenges and the perceived fear of China’s influence of regional geopolitical landscape, China’s OBOR initiative has achieved commendable progress since 2013,” says Datuk Ter Leong Yap, president of the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia.

“China has made significant headway by kick-starting infrastructure and connectivity projects to facilitate trade and investment, promote financial cooperation as well as deepening cross border flow,” he adds.

Since 2013, China’s businessmen have built 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in belt-road countries, generating nearly US$1.1bil (RM4.7bil) in tax revenue and creating 180,000 jobs, according to Xinhua.

Large-scale infrastructure projects – along with funding – have led to a boom of economic activity in countries like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, and Poland.

And in Asean, rail and ports projects are either being constructed or planned. These include the China-Laos Railway, Jakarta–Bandung High Speed Rail, Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link and a high-speed rail project in Thailand.

And Eurasia, the vast landmass from China to Europe, is being interconnected into a massive market via high-speed China-Europe, trans-Eurasian direct trains.

These modern freight rail systems, which have replaced the silk-laden camels of the Han Dynasty, could transport goods at lower costs and more efficiently from China to European cities (and vise versa), compared to shipping.

In sum, China’s overland belt-road projects have achieved the objective of building a trans-national network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, and promoting economic development in participating countries.

And it looks like the current objective and scope will be widened to embrace nations outside the belt-road routes.

“China is upbeat about the initiative in boosting mutual development and is willing to channel more energy into it,” declared Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 21, when he briefed the media on the coming summit and forum.

“Win-win development will lie at the core of the forum. The Belt and Road has become the most important public good China has provided to the world. It was first proposed by China, but now it is for all countries to enjoy,” Wang said.

A total of 28 heads of state and government – including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak – have confirmed they will be attending the May 15 summit.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde will also be present.

Over 80 leaders from international organisations, 100 ministerial-level officials, as well as 1,200 delegates from various countries will be there, too.

President Xi will deliver a keynote speech, as well as host a roundtable meeting to brainstorm on policy and strategic development and interconnected development in the world.

There will be another high-level meeting to discuss infrastructure, trade and economic cooperation, energy resources, financial cooperation, eco-environment, and people-to-people exchanges.

According to Wang, China expects to sign agreements with around 20 countries and 20 organisations at the event to turn the grand blueprint into a workable road map, and to push for the delivery of joint projects under earlier MOUs.

He clarified that China has no intention of drawing geographical boundaries to areas covered by the initiative.

“As long as the spirit of the Belt and Road is recognised… everyone can enjoy its opportunities,” he said.

Japan sprang a surprise last week when Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said he would attend the New Silk Road summit.

“Given the international situation starting with North Korea, mutual understanding between Japan and China is vital,” he was quoted by Jiji News Agency as saying.

What lies ahead in 2017?

Over the past two years, China had generated huge momentum for its New Silk Road initiative by signing many MOUs on infrastructure projects with belt-road countries.

Chinese firms, mainly state-owned or controlled, had reportedly signed investment deals worth US$171bil (RM742bil). Among these was the US$46bil (RM200bil) China-Pakistan economic corridor.

The government of Xi is expected to start making good on these projects this year and help facilitate their financing and implementation.

Nearer home, the financing and construction of Malaysia’s RM55bil East Coast Rail Link is expected to start this year. The rail project is set to spur economic activities in the east coast states of the peninsula.

Wake Shepard, a China watcher and writer, expects increased economic participation from Europe.

“Beyond the further development of key trans-Eurasian logistics hubs on the Poland/Belarus border and a port in Greece, look for more high-end European products going overland by rail to China,” he wrote on Forbes.com.

Many Europe-based logistics giants have been promoting Europe-China rail transport in 2016, and in 2017 they should see results from these efforts, he added.

“European freight forwarders, manufacturers and policy makers are now waking up to the fact that these newly enhanced trade corridors are providing ample opportunity to get more of their high-value products to the booming markets of China and the rest of Asia,” says Shepard.

For China, the forum may be a good platform for it to listen to views on why some ventures did not progress well, such as its port-city investment in Sri Lanka.

Complaints that Chinese firms have posed unhealthy competition and threaten to wipe out small businesses of belt-road countries could also be on the table for deliberation.

The Middle Kingdom may also have to assess whether it is worthwhile to take risks in countries clouded by security issues, political instability and racial conflicts.

Belt road implications

The importance China has attached to the Belt and Road summit and forum goes to show how vital this international economic inclusive programme is to China and Xi.

It is imperative for Xi, who took over the presidency in late 2012, to show his ability to transform China into a global, influential leader.

After three decades of rapid growth, China needs to seek new investment and trade opportunities beyond its borders and the belt-road initiative mooted by Xi is addressing this predicament.

The infrastructure projects China build in belt-road countries will help absorb a significant portion of the country’s overcapacity, and counter its economic slowdown.

As western China has often been troubled by tension between the financially-weak Uighur Muslims and China’s Han majority in Xinjiang Province, economic development in this old silk road region may pacify the Uighurs and reduce ethnic conflicts.

But Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, sees China as having much bigger ambitions.

“China wants to consolidate its position at the centre of the global supply and manufacturing networks which will be the key to the global economy over the coming decades,” he wrote in a recent comment.

The initiative will also help China to realise its ambition to become a middle-income country and reinforce its parallel ambition to take the lead over the coming decades in developing key technologies and setting global standards – including for high-speed rail and data networks, he added.

He opined the Belt and Road Initiative could not be dismissed as a mere dream.

“It has the power and prestige of President Xi Jinping behind it. It is at the centre of his vision for China, and of his ambition to transform China’s place in the world during his time as its leader. And already it is starting to change the geo-economic and geopolitical landscape.”

“If America and its allies are determined to resist China’s challenge to the old US-led liberal global order, they have to counter Beijing’s powerful vision. And to do that they need an equally powerful and ambitious global economic vision.”

Source: by Ho Wah Foon The Star/ANN

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Get-rich-quick schemes thriving in Penang: many losers in the money game!


CALL them pyramid, Ponzi or get-rich-quick schemes and people might shy away. But call them money games, and suddenly they are just games, is that right?

What can be so diabolical about that?

Penang lang (people) are very much into money games. That’s what Ben, a Penangite who now lives in Australia, found out when he came back for a holiday three weeks ago.

Ben’s friends and relatives tried to rope him into money games. They themselves had “invested” in a few “games”.

He was astounded by their obsession. It does seem as if money games are on the minds of many Penangites now.

I hear about them at the coffee shops and watering holes. And yes, many of my buddies are into them too.

You will likely be the odd one out if you are not into such schemes these days.

JJPTR is a now household acronym after almost two years in the market. It stands for JJ Poor-to-Rich and the very name resonated well with middle-class families.

Its 20% monthly payouts were always on time, until the recent hacking job.

Then came Richway Global Venture, Change Your Life (CYL) and BTC I-system, but they too are said to be in troubled waters these days.

Attempts by many journalists to contact them have been unsuccessful.

The money game list is quite long, and Penang has the dubious honour of being the home base for many.

Another friend, Robert, had a jolt when a doctor he knew told patients to put their money into such a scheme. A doctor!

From the cleaners at his office to the hawkers and professionals he met, everyone, it seems, was convinced. None questioned how the high returns could come to fruition in such a short time.

But Robert is a harsh critic of these games and would not go anywhere near them. He didn’t believe in their economic “principles”.

He even got into a big fight with his father, who put money into JJPTR.

And now, Robert has been proven right. Fortunately, his father was one of the lucky ones because he managed to recoup his principal sum, on top of the thousands more he had received over the past few months.

Billy, a man well-versed in such operations, said operators would always use forex trading or investment in foreign projects as cover stories to woo new members.

They paint vivid pictures of those joining becoming part of big-time developments in Third World countries like Cambodia and Vietnam.

Once you get closer to them, they will tell you outright it is a money game and that you are among the pioneers, sure to make a profit before the scheme bursts.

Things tend to be smooth sailing for the first few months. You see money coming back in and pride yourself in taking the risk.

But soon the saturation point is reached as new members to the pyramid slow to a trickle.

Then you can expect the scheme to collapse.

Billy pointed out that the higher the return on investment, the faster the scheme bursts.

That’s because the operator cannot get enough new members to keep the scheme sustainable. At the same time, he has to deal with huge monthly payouts.

Some in Penang may remember the chance to invest in a cafe chain known as Island Red Cafe around 10 years ago. Then there was that company that sold gold bars and coins. There was also a Swiss cash scheme which took the country by storm.

As long as there is greed, such schemes will always re-emerge. As they say, a fool and his money are soon parted.

Honestly, the quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

Please bless the money game

Still very much alive: Investors of Mama Captain are allowed to continue trading their virtual money at any outlet displaying the ‘Barrel2U’ banner.

GEORGE TOWN: Some investors are seeking “divine intervention” for money games to last.

A 10-second video clip of a man praying aloud before a temple shrine is fast circula­ting on social media and phone chat groups.

His prayer goes: “Datuk Gong (deity), I pray to you. Please bless money games. Please help them stay afloat for a few more months.”

His prayer is in Penang Hokkien and he mentions “money game” in English.

It is believed to be a satirical meme on money games, and there are several more spreading.

Memes on the Penang-based JJPTR, or Jie Jiu Pu Tong Ren in Mandarin (salvation for the common people), have also gone viral online.

One of them, titled “Life without JJ” in Chinese, is accompanied by a picture of a plate of plain rice topped with a few strands of fried vegetable.

Another similarly titled meme shows grubby, tattered underwear and is captioned: “Don’t ask me how my life is lately. The underwear explains everything!”

Meanwhile, a man known as Bingyen has cynically adapted the lyrics of a popular Mandarin song Zui Jin Bi Jiao Fan (Troubled Recently) to relate to JJPTR.

Interestingly, the Chinese name of JJPTR founder Johnson Lee rhymes with one of the song’s singers, veteran Taiwanese musician Jonathan Lee. Both their names are similar in pinyin – Li Zong Sheng.

Bingyen, in his lyrics, also advised the people to stay away from money games.

According to speculation online and media reports, JJPTR investors, said to number in the tens of thousands locally and internationally, including Canada, the United States and China, stand to lose RM500mil.

Lee, who has blamed the company’s losses on hackers, however, put the figure at US$400mil (RM1.75bil) in a widely-circulated video recording later.

The 28-year-old founder, in a video posted on the JJPTR Malaysia Facebook page last week, made a promise to repay its members by May 20. Also on the same day, the company is supposed to hold a dinner gathering at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur.

The forex trading company, along with its associate entities JJ Poor to Rich and JJ Global Network under http://www.jjptr.com, is among the 288 entities and individuals listed on Bank Negara’s Financial Con­sumer Alert as of Feb 24.

Source: Pinang points by Tan Sin Chow

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