South China Sea Conflicts won’t affect Asean Cooperation


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Challenges we face are temporary

TIANJIN: China is confident that the conflicts at the South China Sea will not affect cooperation with Asean, says Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.

He said China had been insisting on negotiation and consultation with the countries that also claim sovereignty in the disputed waters, and emphasising on working with Asean to uphold safety and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

“The challenges we are facing now are only temporary. There are broad prospects in the cooperation between China and Asean,” he said.

Liu was speaking to reporters together with Thai Foreign Ministry deputy permanent secretary Noppadon Theppitak after co-chairing the China-Asean senior officials’ meeting on the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) here.

China and several countries in South-East Asia, including Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam, assert overlapping claims on the resource-rich South China Sea.

Disputes have erupted with the claimants blaming each other for building military and civil facilities on the contested reefs.

Anti-China riots broke out in Vietnam last year when China deployed an oil rig in a section of the South China Sea claimed by both countries.

The Philippines has sought international arbitration to resolve the dispute, a move criticised by China as a betrayal to the commitment to solve the issue through dialogue and negotiations.

As tension continued to flare over the disputed waters, China has openly warned Japan and the United States against meddling in the conflicts.

On Tuesday, China carried out a live-fire drill in the South China Sea to “improve its maritime combat ability”, Chinese national news agency Xinhua reported.

Citing navy sources, Xinhua said dozens of missiles and torpedoes, as well as thousands of shells and bombs, were fired during the drill.

Expressing confidence that the conflicts in the South China Sea were “manageable”, Liu said there was no need to worry.

Without naming any countries in particular, he reminded third parties not to intervene and condemn China on the issue.

“The South China Sea is not an issue between China and Asean, but China and some countries in the grouping.

“Over the years, through the formulation of the DoC and the efforts to draw up a Code of Conduct (CoC), China and Asean have worked together to maintain peace and stability as well as to uphold freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea.

“China is confident and determined to work with Asean to jointly manage the issue,” he said.

Meanwhile, Noppadon said China and Asean had agreed to begin a new phase of consultations on the CoC and work towards its early conclusion.

He added that Thailand would submit a draft possible outline of the CoC for the consideration of the next joint working group, which would meet in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in October.

The meeting yesterday also witnessed the agreement to establish hotline communications between the Asean and Chinese foreign ministries to respond to emergencies at sea.

Malaysia was represented by Wisma Putra secretary-general Datuk Othman Hashim and three other officers in the meeting.

When approached, Othman said the meeting was peaceful and constructive.

“We discussed extensively on what we have achieved so far, and what has to be done for the future.

“We are working together with other Asean members for the implementation of the DoC and the development of the CoC,” he said.

Malaysia, which is the chair of Asean this year, will host a series of meetings, including the Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and Asean Plus Three Foreign Ministers Meeting, from Aug 1 to 6.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has confirmed his attendance.

BY THO XIN YI The Star/Asia News Network

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Japan security bills, Abe fans anti-China flames with defense paper


By Li Feng

Abe fans anti-China flames with defense paper

People hold placards during a rally against Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration and his security-related legislation in front of the parliament building in Tokyo July 15, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

The Japanese Cabinet on Tuesday approved its annual defense white paper, in which it accuses China of raising regional tensions in the East China Sea and South China Sea. China’s Ministry of Defense expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition toward the 429-page document later the same day, saying it “tarnishes the image of China’s military” and deliberately plays up the “China threat” theory. Comments:

By defaming China as a regional security threat in its defense white paper, the Japanese administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is clearly aiming to add necessity and legitimacy to the new security bills, which breach Japan’s pacifist Constitution, and complicate Asia-Pacific security issues such as the South China Sea disputes. It will be unfortunate for both Japan and East Asia if Abe remains adamant on challenging China.

Xinhua News Agency, July 21

Japan’s defense white paper for 2015 is not conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in East Asia. The so-called threat is not from China but Japan itself.

Kamakura Takao, an emeritus professor of Saitama University, Japan, July 21

Two new implications in Japan’s latest defense white paper should be noted. First, the document is in line with the new security bills that Abe is trying to muscle through, offering excuses for the country’s overseas military deployment. Second, as a non-stakeholder in the South China Sea issues, Tokyo may propose to participate in the US patrols in the area to expand its regional presence, and, of course, conduct more overseas military operations. It is a dangerous move that other regional powers should pay close attention to.

Qian Feng, vice-president of Asia Times, July 22

In the past, Japan used to see the Soviet Union and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as the top threats. Now China has become the No 1 “threat”. Confronted with the “unexpected” opposition to his security bills in Japan, Abe has resorted to the defense white paper to defuse public rage and convince peace-loving Japanese that the bills’ passage is necessary.

Ny Huang Dahui, director of the East Asia Research Center of Renmin University of China, July 21

Source: Asia News Network/China Daily

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1MDB probe gains momentum, a sensitive time for PM and Umno


PETALING JAYA: The probe into claims that funds  were channelled into the personal accounts of Prime Minister Datuk Seri
Najib Tun Razak heated up when the task force investigating the matter froze six bank accounts and said it was looking into 17 others.The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) meanwhile revealed documents that it claimed were the basis of its controversial story.

The freeze on the six accounts was issued on Monday, according to a statement issued jointly by Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission chief commissioner Tan Sri Abu Kassim
Mohamed.

“Several documents over the issue of non-compliance with Bank Negara’s rules and procedures have also been seized,” it read.

“As the investigations are still under way, we appeal to all parties to give their fullest cooperation to complete the probe.”

It is learnt that the 17 accounts belonged to various companies and individuals.

While neither the banks involved nor the holders of the accounts were named, several portals claimed they had received confirmation that three of the accounts belonged to Najib.

Hours after the statement was released, WSJ uploaded nine documents on its claim that US$700mil (RM2.6bil) were channelled into three personal accounts of Najib.

The nine documents comprised three flow charts, three remittance forms, two credit transfer notices and a letter of authorisation by Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, the former chief investment officer of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

However, Najib’s name appeared only in the flow charts. It was not in any of the banking documents in which the last few digits of the account numbers were blanked out.

A banker said it was normal that entire bank account numbers were not made public for fear that the accounts could be hacked.

“What is important is the codes in the documents are correct,” said the banker.

The charts detail funds flowing from SRC International Sdn Bhd, a company that used to be under 1MDB but was subsequently taken over by the Finance Ministry in 2012, into personal accounts supposedly belonging to Najib.

According to the charts, the funds flowed into AmPrivate Banking in AmBank Islamic and the beneficiary, it claimed, was Najib.

Based on one chart, the funds flowed out of SRC International’s account in AmBank Islamic into Gandingan Mentari Sdn Bhd, also in Ambank
Islamic.

Subsequently, the money was transferred to Ihsan Perdana Sdn Bhd, whose account is in Affin Bank. From there, the funds were moved to AmPrivate Banking in AmBank Islamic.

There were three accounts under AmPrivate Banking in AmBank Islamic supposedly belonging to Najib. The last few digits of the accounts were blanked out.

The Prime Minister’s name was not to be found in any remittance transfer forms from Affin Bank to AmBank Islamic.

The total amount transferred from Affin Bank to AmBank Islamic was RM42mil and the transactions were done in three tranches.

There were two transactions on Dec 26, 2014 and one on Feb 9, 2015. The reasons for the transfer of funds by Ihsan Perdana to the AmPrivate Banking account were stated as CSR programmes.

Najib’s name is also not visible in the two credit transfer notices from Wells Fargo Bank in the United States to the AmPrivate Banking account under AmBank Islamic.

But a banker said it was normal for the beneficiary’s name to be left out of remittance forms or credit transfer notices.

“The identity of the beneficiary does not need to appear if it is a familiar name. The banks only need the necessary codes and account numbers,” said the banker.

The funds from Well Fargo amounted to US$681mil and were transferred in two tranches, on March 21 and March 25, 2013, according to the documents.

The transaction order came from Tanore Finance Corp in British Virgin Island. The funds were transferred to AmPrivate Banking account in AmBank                                                Islamic under the Swift Output Code of Single Customer Credit Transfer.

“A Single Customer Credit Transfer means the account is held by an individual,” said the banker. – The Star

Sensitive time for PM and Umno

DATUK Seri Najib Tun Razak has been out and about every day since the start of the fasting month.

He has been seen at a number of Ramadan bazaars, he has been the VIP guest at various buka puasa functions and he has joined the congregation for evening prayers after the breaking of fast.

The fasting month is a test for all Muslims and even more so for the Prime Minister given the issues surrounding him.

The 1MDB issue has snowballed into a political monster for his administration and he is fighting what could be the biggest battle of his political career.

Allegations in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that billions of ringgit went into what is believed to be his personal bank account are still reverberating among the financial and political circles.

Najib has responded to the report, calling it wild allegations and insisting that he has never taken funds for personal gain. It was not quite the explanation or answer that people were expecting and it has raised more questions than provided answers.

But many in Umno are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt even though they are unsure what to make of it.

Najib has a lot of support in his party and up until the recent allegations, he was said to have won over some 75% of the 191 Umno division heads.

They want to rally around him but they need clear answers in order to defend him.

Najib has made it very clear that he intends to sue WSJ and his lawyers are preparing a case to be filed soon against Dow Jones, the publisher of WSJ, in the United States. That is the way to go to clear his name.

The pressure mounted yesterday when four of the country’s top regulators and law enforcers issued a joint statement, saying that the special task force probing 1MDB had frozen six bank accounts related to the case.

The affected bank accounts were not identified but the signatories comprised the Attorney-General, Bank Negara Governor, Inspector-General of Police and the MACC chief.

It was unprecedented and it was a sign that the investigations had become more serious and complicated. The snowball has grown bigger.

Najib’s deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has added to the pressure. He had asked the authorities to look into the WSJ allegations and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has joined in.

Their move confirms the political divide in the party that the Umno crowd has been talking about.

Umno politicians also noticed that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been rather restrained after months of relentless attacks and it could mean two things.

One, he feels that he has achieved his desired objective – he has got Najib up against the wall.

Two, Dr Mahathir might have realised that in his determination to remove the head of the house, the entire house may come down too.

His campaign against Pak Lah contributed to the 2008 political tsunami and his attacks against Najib has damaged Umno even more.

A group of Umno supreme council members met Najib at his official residence on Sunday night. It was very hush-hush and none of those who attended picked up or returned the calls of reporters, let alone spoke about what transpired.

The speculation is that the meeting was probably not about declaring support for the boss, otherwise they would not be so secretive.

The group was there to seek answers about what Najib plans to do and where he intends to go from here. This is a very sensitive time for Umno and especially for Muhyiddin. He played a leading role in Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s exit and he is again in the spotlight.

It is doubly sensitive for Muhyiddin this time around because he is an interested party.

Muhyiddin is being extra cautious because he understands the powers of incumbency and is aware of what the Prime Minister could do to those who are not with him.

Moreover, Najib’s tentacles in the party go back a long way and whoever wants to take him on has to consider the repercussions from his hardcore supporters.


By Joceline  Tan Analysis The Star

Related stories:

Go out and explain 1MDB issue, Umno leaders told

Umno lawyers preparing lawsuit against WSJ

Call to probe how WSJ obtained private banking documents

Opposition Members of Parliament call for snap polls
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China committed to upholding peace, stability in S. China Sea island-building, rejects US criticism to isolate China in Asia


Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) addresses the fourth plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, May 31, 2015. Sun Jianguo elaborated on China’s foreign and defense policies. (Xinhua/Bao Xuelin)

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China must insist on island-building

During the just-concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, military representatives from China and the US did not engage in the bitter brawling predicted by the media. Both sides have reaffirmed their own stance. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter asked all claimants, especially China, to cease island-building in the South China Sea, and by cautiously skirting around the question of how the US will respond if China continues its construction activities, Carter didn’t issue further threats against China.

But the US is still able to launch more provocations in this region, perhaps by sending surveillance planes and warships to the periphery of 12 nautical miles from China-controlled islands.

No matter how disturbing the US can be, China must not stop its construction, which is in line with China’s sovereign integrity. If Beijing backs off due to Washington’s threats and some Western countries’ protests, this will create a horrific precedent, which will embolden US-led forces to set tougher positions against China. China should try its best to inject prosperity into the South China Sea, promoting regional economic development and enhancing its disaster resistance ability. Only in this way will the ongoing quarrels calm down.

If China can play its cards right, these expanded islands will not only prevent the South China Sea situation from becoming intensified, but initiate a new constructive thinking for regional development. China’s construction activities will offer an opportunity to break the vicious circle that has been haunting the South China Sea for decades.

These expanded islands will allow China to acquire more initiative to carry out its South China Sea policies. For now, it is China that values regional peace more than any other state, because the stability of the South China Sea is a prerequisite for China to make use of this important period of strategic opportunities.

As of now, military confrontation is still the last choice for all stakeholders in the South China Sea. However, different desires and expectations have caused the complexity in the South China Sea issues. When China can set a firm foothold in the area, it will bring along more elements that can drive peace and stability.

China needs to make broad plans including countermeasures against more US intrusions. Beijing should be fully prepared, both mentally and physically, for possible military conflicts with the US. China needs to clearly express its unwillingness as well as fearlessness to fight. The more prepared China can be, the lower the possibility of military conflict.

This round of contest in the South China Sea is more like a strategic dialogue, through which China and the US can come up with a set of models and principles under which they can show mutual respect around China’s offshore areas.

If China insists on its island construction, publicizes its peaceful purposes, and avoids making these expanded islands a focal point of Sino-US military competition, we believe it will be eventually accepted by the widest number of parties concerned. – Global Times

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China’s plan to lead the globe?


Globe As tensions in the South China Sea between the US and China continue to rise, the US Navy and Air Force are quietly gearing up to fight a war in the disputed region.

If necessary, that is. Both sides say they don’t want any military confrontation on China’s extensive coastal waters, but both are acting as if a military conflict is increasingly likely.

Optimists say that a peaceful resolution of China’s rise as a great power is achievable. The economies of the two powers are so enmeshed that a war sounds unthinkable.

Such is theChina_Prof Gen Liu Mingfu thesis of an important new book just out, “The China Dream,’ by Professor General Liu Mingfu (px), a leading Chinese military thinker and commentator who speaks with the voice of China’s military.

US-China trade accounted for $579 billion last year. Beijing holds $1.2 trillion of US Treasury securities, thus financing a big part of America’s massive trade deficit. China claims its low-cost exports to the US saved American consumers $600 billion in recent years.

China only wants its place in the sun, say its strategists, using the same words as German strategists did before World War I. It’s time for a multi-polar world. The age of American world empire is over, writes Liu Mingfu, words that will not endear him to Republican hawks and neoconservatives.China's Dream_Prof Jen Liu Mingfu

Pessimists retort that Britain and Germany fought two world wars even though they were major trading partners. History is replete with examples of rising powers eventually going to war with the status quo powers resisting their rival’s economic and military growth. The Franco-British-Russian alliance against Germany prior to World War I is a perfect example.

One need not be a swami to see that China’s surging power will soon clash with that of the American hegemon. The battle lines are already drawn: China’s aggressive claims to the South China Sea – viewed by the US Navy as an American lake. Taiwan. Tensions over Burma. Korea. China’s access to the open seas.

According to Prof. General Liu, the days of America’s world domination, or hegemony, as he terms it, are just about over. By 2030, China will be the world’s largest economy in absolute terms (today it rivals the US in purchasing power parity), regaining the geopolitical primacy it formerly enjoyed until the 1500’s when it was the world’s leading economic power.

The US must find a way to accommodate China’s growing power, a point also made for many years by this writer. A policy of containment is not likely to work unless India becomes a principal participant. My first book “War at the Top of the World” deals with the scenario of a future India-China war in the Himalayas, Karakoram and Burma. India has been very cautious in joining any American-sponsored alliance against China.

Liu writes that America must quietly cede some of its power to China in the same manner that the British Empire did to the United States after 1900. The United States and China must share power and jointly rule the world as benign hegemons.

He insists that China has no territorial ambitions and never will. “China suffered 470 foreign invasions within 65 years from 1840 to 1905,” asserts Liu, though incursions would be a more accurate term. During this period, China was raped and pillaged by the western colonial powers and Japan. Hatred of Japan seethes throughout Liu’s book, as it does among most Chinese.

One could argue that China’s annexation or ‘reunification’ of Tibet and Sinkiang were aggressions. China considers them part of historical China, along with truant province Taiwan.

Liu points out that China never invaded or seized its smaller neighbors Korea, Burma, Thailand, or Laos.

Instead, China’s emperors always preferred to dominate without aggression so that its smaller neighbors respected the will of China and acted respectfully – rather as the United States in the 20th century with Latin America. China, writes Liu, wants peace and prosperity in order to keep growing its economy. China remains an inward-looking colossus, content to be the Middle Kingdom.

America, according to the undiplomatic Liu, is a paranoid giant, afraid of the outside world and addicted to the need for enemies abroad. “Americans feel lost without any enemy.” Washington’s occupation and despoliation of so many countries, notably in the Muslim world, generates endless enemies and a war psychosis. America, he claims, is a half-democracy: democratic at home but promoting dictatorships abroad. He seems to believe that China is as democratic at home as the US – a claim that defies reality.

Liu asserts that China is devoted to peaceful relations, non-interference in other nations, and the desire to help build world prosperity, not just its own power or political system. What’s more, Liu modestly asserts, China should lead world development since Chinese are more intelligent and cultured than any other people and heirs to a 5,000-year history!

Interestingly, Liu depicts the 1950 Korean War as a major victory for China because it showed that an Asian nation could fight off the world’s greatest military power. He claims that the US did not invade North Vietnam out of fear of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army after its bloody experience in Korea.

Will Washington back off and allow China to be the master of Asia? It seems highly doubtful. But unless some kind of modus vivendi is found, a military confrontation is likely to follow, one that the US might very well loose. China would be fighting virtually at home or just off its coast. The US, by contrast, would fight thousands of miles across the Pacific from its distant bases. The US might even win, but China would undoubtedly come back for more.

The “China Dream” thesis has been actively taken up by China’s communist leadership. But two things might derail China’s rise to world domination. First, China’s history is replete with example of internal strife, civil wars, and regionalism. This “Chinese curse” could come back to haunt Beijing.

Second, as I read Liu’s panegyric to Chinese greatness and peaceful humanism, I kept recalling Lord Acton’s wise maxim about absolute power corrupting absolutely. It happened in Washington, and there’s no reason why it might not occur in Beijing.

By Eric S. Margolis who is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia. http://ericmargolis.com/

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The Malaysian Education: bleak and bright side, a wake-up call


PISA-banner

The bleak and bright side of Malaysian Education

Malaysia may be getting dismal marks for education but there are dedicated people making a difference to improve scores.

IT’S probably the best definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The famous quote is often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein but whoever said that, it makes sense, especially in the context of the Malaysian education system.

It’s madness to continue spending billions on education without seeing any improvements in quality.

The Education Ministry has been allocated RM56bil this year, RM1.4bil more than what it received last year.

Our expenditure on basic education is more than double that of other Asean countries and also South Korea and Japan.

Yet Malaysia remains stuck at the bottom third of the global schools league, as confirmed by the results from recent assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 study, based on test scores in mathematics and science among 15-year-olds in 76 countries, shows that Malaysia is languishing at 52nd, way below top-ranked Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Our students were out-performed by Vietnam (12), Thailand (47), Kazakhstan and Iran (51). In Asean, Malaysia only ranked higher than Indonesia (69).

In March, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said he was shocked by Malaysia’s poor results in international education assessments and admitted that the standards were not good enough.

He said the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (Preschool to Secondary) and the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) were designed to improve the system, stressing that time was needed to see the changes.

The truth is, we don’t have the luxury of time and patience is wearing thin.

We inherited a solid education system after independence, just as Singapore did. But over the past three decades, successive ministers of education have made a mess of tinkering with the system, mostly for political motives.

Earlier this month, Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar suggested that Malaysia emulate Singapore’s education system with English as the sole medium of instruction.

Urging the people to be open-minded about the proposal, he said Singapore’s single-stream education system had not only helped to foster unity in the republic but also created a prosperous society.

It is still not too late to bring back the era of racial harmony and unity experienced by people of my generation, who are products of English schools during the 60s and 70s.

As the Johor Sultan has pointed out, there would always be a gap between the races in the country if our education system continues to be based on race and language, not to mention the increasing influence of religion.

But in spite of the weaknesses in the system, it is heartening to see committed parent-teacher associations and non-governmental organisations pushing fervently to get situations improved.

Last Saturday, I was at Sunway University where groups of eager teenagers were taking part in a Young Inventor Challenge, organised by the Association of Science, Technology and Innovation (ASTI), an NGO of volunteers who have been mentoring and encouraging students to excel in science.

ASTI is led by the unassuming Dr Mohamed Yunus Mohamed Yasin, who is credited with bringing about change in the attitude towards science and maths in Tamil schools across the country.

I wouldn’t have known about the quiet science revolution if not for blogger Syed Akbar Ali’s recent post about what Dr Yunus and his group of dedicated friends have been doing over the past 12 years.

As a result of participating in ASTI’s Science Fair for Young Children, Tamil schools are scoring top grades for science and maths in the UPSR.

Last year, SRJK (Tamil) Taman Tun Aminah, Johor Baru, emerged as the top school for the UPSR with 43 pupils scoring straight 7As while others scored 7Bs.

They are making headlines abroad too. In March, three students of SJK(T) Ramakrishna, Penang, beat 300 contestants from all over the world to win first prize at the 35th Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition.

Durgashini Srijayan, Kumurthashri Ponniah and Sugheson Ganeson won the gold medal under the Excellent Youth Science Creation category of the contest for their invention of an eco-friendly thermo container.

In October last year, SJK (T) Kulim’s R. Prevena, V Susheetha and former student R. Rasyikash won the Double Gold Award at the British Invention Show in London for their energy-saving drinks-dispensing machine.

Building on the successes of the science fairs, ASTI started the Young Inventors Challenge, which is open to all secondary schools, three years ago. From the initial 19, the number of schools has since increased to almost 200, including a team from Singapore.

ASTI also organises Creative and Critical Thinking Camps designed for primary schools up to tertiary level, and the ASTI Innovation Community Award to recognise the contributions of individuals or groups using science and technology for beneficial projects.

It also works with Germany’s Goethe Institute in organising the annual Science Film Fest to produce documentaries and teaching films about science.

And it has been doing all these with an annual budget of RM800,000, raised largely from well-wishers, including its 400 volunteers.

Dr Yunus’ philosophy is simple: “Stop complaining, get involved. As patriots, we can help the country do well too.”

By Veera Pandiyan

> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes William Butler Yeat’s definition of education: it is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.

Take OECD education report as a wake-up call
The Star Says

ITS does not feel good to know that a new report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development places us at 52nd among 76 countries in terms of our students’ grasp of basic skills.

Singapore takes the top spot, thus reinforcing the recent call by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Iskandar that we emulate the island nation’s single-stream education system, which uses English as the medium of instruction.

He said having schools in only one stream would unite Malay­sians and boost their competitiveness.

These developments tell us that our education system can be a lot better. Then again, we all know that.

The fact that Malaysia has two education blueprints – one focusing on preschool education and primary and secondary schools, and the other on higher education – shows that the Government is already taking steps to transform our education system.

The blueprints’ plans stretch until 2025, which means we should not hope for many overnight improvements.

Meanwhile, it is wise for us to keep enhancing our understan­ding of exactly how our shared prosperity is built on education.

New ideas and insights in this area are valuable because they help us to shape and refine policies and practices relating to the education system. At the very least, they encourage us to see things in a different light.

It is clichéd to say education is the cornerstone of development, but what if somebody comes up with projections of how much economies can benefit if school enrolment and education quality go up?

In fact, the OECD has done just that in a report titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”. Published on Wednesday, it is the same report that has Malaysia in the bottom third of the class based on our teenagers’ mathematics and science scores in international tests.

Let us not get hung up on these rankings. The report is 116 pages long and has a lot more to offer than bragging rights and naming-and-shaming opportunities.

For instance, it makes abundantly clear that an underperforming education sector costs a country dearly. The OECD warns that poor education policies and practices will result in a loss of economic output amounting to a permanent state of economic recession.

The organisation also points out that high-income status does not automatically eliminate shortco­mings in education.

It is also interesting that the OECD argues that when there is universal achievement of basic skills in a country, its economic growth will be more inclusive.

The report suggests that there is still much to learn about how we can strengthen our education policies. We should be open to fresh thinking and approaches.

At the same time, we must not waver from the commitment and noble intentions reflected in the blueprints.

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Malaysia, US, UK and Australia lag in global education rankings as China and Asian countries rise to the top. Chapter 1. What is PISA? Malaysia students score below global average.

Big homegrown successes in India from Sillicon Valley’s returning ‘fail fast’ engineers


India Startups

Taking failure as a norm would be a major cultural shift in India, where high-achieving children are expected to take steady jobs at recognised job

India learns to ‘fail fast’ with startups

Families that expect children to have respectable jobs may be beginning to accept failure as the tech industry starts to come of age.

After ping pong tables, motivational posters and casual dress codes, India’s tech startups are following Silicon Valley’s lead and embracing the “fail fast” culture credited with fuelling creativity and success in the United States.

Taking failure as a norm is a major cultural shift in India, where high-achieving children are typically expected to take steady jobs at recognised firms. A failed venture hurts family status and even marriage prospects.

But that nascent acceptance, fuelled by returning engineers and billions of dollars in venture fund investment, is for many observers a sign that India’s US$150bil tech industry is coming of age, moving from a back-office powerhouse to a creative force.

“There is obviously increased acceptance,” said Raghunandan G, co-founder of TaxiForSure, which was sold to rival Ola this year. He is now investing in other early stage ventures.

“My co-founder Aprameya (Radhakrishna) used to have lines of prospective brides to meet … the moment we started our own company, all those prospective alliances disappeared. No one wanted their daughters to marry a startup guy.”

Srikanth Chunduri returned to India after studying at Duke University in the US, and is now working on his second venture. “I think what’s encouraging is that acceptance of failure is increasing despite the very deep-rooted Asian culture where failure is a big no,” he said.

IT’S OK TO FAIL

The shift has come about, executives say, as engineers began returning from Silicon Valley to cash in on India’s own boom, as hundreds of millions of Indians go online.

“Investors too want to find the next Flipkart, and most of them come from Silicon Valley backgrounds, so they bring that culture,” said Stewart Noakes, co-founder of TechHub, a global community and workspace for tech entrepreneurs. “That’s changing the Indian norms. It’s becoming ok to fail and try again.”

Big names like Flipkart can also mean the prospect of a lucrative exit for investors, covering a multitude of failures. To be sure, the pace of change is slow in altering a culture that has produced top software engineers for decades, but – as yet – no Google, Apple or Twitter.

Cheap engineering talent keeps startups afloat far longer than in Silicon Valley, where companies last less than two years on average. And the freedom to fail remains restricted to a small portion of India’s corporate fabric, booming tech cities like Bengaluru or Gurgaon outside New Delhi.

There is also still no revolving door with big corporates, whom one senior Bengaluru headhunter described as beating down salaries of executives who dared to risk – but then came back.

ROLE MODELS

India Startups_Flipkart

India learns to ‘fail fast’ as tech startup culture takes root

But big homegrown successes like e-tailers Flipkart and Snapdeal or mobile advertising firm InMobi, as well as the multi-billion dollar firms set up by former executives from the likes of Amazon.com, Microsoft and Google, have created role models, encouraging graduates to take risks.

“With success stories, people accept it as a legitimate exercise,” said Ryan Valles, former CEO of coupon site DealsandYou and a former executive at Accel Partners, now working on a new project.

Meanwhile, billions in investor funding have fed the sector. External cash – as opposed to more traditional bank loans tied to individuals, or family savings – makes a difference. Failing there can involve walking away Silicon Valley-style, not years of court proceedings in a country with no formal bankruptcy law.

There has also been, to date, no major collapse.

“What’s happening is healthy: people recognising that some things will fail, that it’s largely a failure-based industry, in the same way that movies, music or pharmaceuticals are,” said Shikhar Ghosh, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.

An estimated 70-90% of start-ups fail.

But the biggest test may be the first bust after the boom.

“That will be the test: whether people come back into the market and how they treat the people who lost their money,” said Ghosh. – Reuters

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