The life force to Koreans: hiking the fabulous Koreas’ mountains


Korea's mountainsMore spell-binding Korean landscapes are found beyond Seoul in the Seoraksan mountain range.

Mountain culture and customs are hot-wired into the lives of each Korean. What better way to get under their skin than to hike together with them?SOUTH Korea lies along a peninsula that is hugely mountainous, with a spinal ridge running for 735 km from the DMZ boundary in the north to the East China Sea down south.

This mountain range has monumental relevance to the people of Korea as it is believed to provide the life force to the nation: its arterial rivers drain seawards, bearing sustenance for the inhabitants living in the lowlands. Many historical events that occurred on these mountains have been documented whilst just as many myths and folklore have been re-told over generations.

For the tourist, hiking the mountains of the Korean peninsula would seem like a natural activity, to immerse in the culture of this dynamic country.

The terrain is not high, the tallest peak being Cheonhwangbong at 1,915m, in Jirisan National Park, at the southern tip of the range. The next highest peak is Daecheongbong, 1,708m in altitude, squatting on Seoraksan National Park diametrically to the north.

The ranges are inter-linked through a series of hiking trails, following the ridge line closely and crisscrossing valleys and rivers. Temples, villages, farms and shelters dot the hills.

Soothing: The scenic mountain ranges of Korea are rich in bio-diversity. The N Seoul Tower is a popular tourist attraction. Go early to avoid the long queues for the cable car.

Such an eco-system has made mountain hiking a national pastime that is likely to overtake taekwando in popularity as a sport. There’s also a whole line of Korean celebrity fashion wear for hikers. Unfortunately, for the tourist, not much promotional information on hiking is available from official tourism literature.

It would take a lifetime to explore the legendary mountains of Korea and we had limited time to spare before our wedding anniversary celebration back in Seoul.

Day trip to Seoraksan

We took a 3-hour bus ride to Sokcho, a tourist town on the north-eastern coast of the Korean peninsula and an entry point into Seoraksan National Park.

The park showcases the Seorak mountain range, and is loved by the locals for its natural beauty and bio-diversity. Hikers come to marvel at the uncanny ruggedness of the “Dinosaur Ridge” and soak up the fables of the mountains’ origins.

There are many trails up picturesque Seoraksan, numerous short ones requiring half-day’s effort and several longer routes that are more than 10km in distance.

A good option for tourists is to hop on the cable car, not far from the Visitor Information Office, and catch a ride up to Gwongeumseong Fortress at a height of about 900 m. This was the option we selected together with a long queue of like-minded tourists. We reached the counter at 10.30am but all tickets were sold out.

Without wasting any more time, we opened the map, picked out what looked like an easy route and headed out to Biseondae Cliff.

It was only 2.3km one-way and took us through a forested area, tracing a path beside a gushing stream. The fresh air and fine drizzle made the pace invigorating.

 Many eateries are found along the trails of the park.

We skirted a pool of crystalline water at the bottom of a huge rock face, which I took to be Biseondae Cliff, and crossed a short bridge whereupon the trail ended abruptly at a locked gate. Beyond laid wilderness that could be experienced only with a permit from the ranger’s office. We clambered up a rocky slope and joined some hikers on a break.

“Where are you from?” queried the ajeossi (middle-aged man). I told him we were from Malaysia, as I shared a chocolate bar with his 10-year old son. I remarked that the scenery here had a mystical and mysterious air.

He nodded, “Ah, as mysterious as the disappearance of your airplane”. I guess he was referring to MH370. We both nodded and sighed. They wished us a good trip and moved on. We stayed a while to admire the view of the distant peaks framed in by the hillside trees. On our way down we stopped by a tea house. Bibimbap downed with a hot bowl of miso soup tasted a lot better here than in the lowlands.

We dozed on the bus back to Seoul. That chilly night in Seoul, we captured our last “high” at the N Seoul Tower, atop Namsan. Standing 236m tall, the tower accords a night scene of the city.

We were feeling pretty tired, but fulfilled. So, I suggested we take the cable car up instead of climbing the stairs. I didn’t hear any objections.

Hiking near Seoul

THE view from Bugaksan might have been more panoramic if not for the faint haze hanging over the “ancient quarters” of Seoul that April morning.

To the south-west, we could just make out the hillock of Inwangsan and the colourful string of hikers inching up its summit trail, while afar north, the rocky peaks of Bukhansan glared in the sun.

Seoul, the 600-year old capital city of South Korea, is encircled by a fortress wall that links four surrounding hills, Bugaksan, Ingwangsan, Namsan and Naksan. Of these, Bugaksan is the tallest at 342m and is located in the neighbourhood of Samcheong-dong, majestically overlooking Cheongwadae (Blue House), the President’s official residence and office.

We had taken the northern route of the fortress wall, entering through Hyehwamun Gate, muddling through a residential area up a steep incline, and, with some orienteering instinct, located the path that followed the ancient stone wall, leading us up a hill of cherry trees.

Due to its proximity with the Blue House, this section of the trail requires foreigners (who are called “aliens” in official documents here) to sign in at Malbawi Station with their passports (or “Alien Registration Card”) and sign-out at Changuimun Station.

Guards are posted at intervals within eye-shot of hikers. One young cadet approached me to view my camera photos and requested some to be deleted. The pictures were mainly landscape shots, mostly bird’s eye views of the city, which didn’t look pretty anyway, back-lit by the morning sun.

It was a quarter past eleven when we arrived at the top of Bugaksan. The guard, more militia than forest ranger, had been monitoring the growing crowd at the plot, and sternly ushered any lingerers to move on. No picnic here, literally, just pictures.

The Koreans are actually a helpful and friendly lot. On the way up we had approached more than a few ajumma (“aunty”) for directions and they were profuse with their assistance; expressive hand gestures and finger pointing, and a continuous barrage of verbal directions, delivered in Korean.

We nodded our gamsa-hamnida (“thank you”) and they gleefully let us off. Still clueless, we were comforted to know that at least we were in hospitable country.

The descent to Changuimun was unexpectedly steep, and the high steps slowed the pace somewhat. Overall, the hike was enjoyable, requiring just three hours, which left us plenty of time to slip back downtown for another helping of sumptuous Korean spicy soup.

By Lee Meng Lai The Star/Asia News Network

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More South Koreans opt for tech startups instead of ‘chaebols’ and beyond Samsung


Korean Startup incubatorIncubator: The Yongsan startup incubator centre in Seoul. The government has poured billions into startups, in line with the president’s push to foster a ‘creative economy’ that would move beyond the traditional manufacturing base. — AFP

SEOUL: As an engineering major at Seoul’s Yonsei University, Yoon Ja-young was perfectly poised to follow the secure, lucrative and socially prized career path long-favoured by South Korea’s elite graduates.

But the idea of corporate life in an industrial giant like Samsung, however well-remunerated, simply didn’t appeal so instead Yoon joined the swelling ranks of young Koreans looking to make their mark in the volatile world of tech startups.

In her final year at college, Yoon, now 26, created a Pinterest-style image-sharing app, StyleShare, for fashion-conscious young women.

“I was always into fashion, and there were so many moments that I wanted to grab someone on the street and ask what is that pretty dress or pair of shoes she’s wearing,” Yoon said.

“All the fashion magazines only talked about expensive brand clothes, which didn’t help ordinary people like me,” she said.

The app became a hit and now has more than one million users.

Yoon said her parents initially panicked when it became clear the app was more than a fun hobby and she wasn’t going to get a “real” job. “But they soon became strong supporters,” she said.

Her father, a loyal LG employee for two decades, even offered some of his retirement savings to help kick-start the business.

For her parents’ generation nothing matched the stability and prestige that came with a job in one of the family-run conglomerates, or “chaebols”, that dominate the national economy.

The likes of Samsung, LG and Hyundai remain magnets for many of the country’s brightest graduates. But with the global economy in low gear and the smartphone era opening new doors, an increasing number like Yoon are forsaking a rigid career structure to try tech entrepreneurship.

The number of new “venture firms” – high-risk, largely tech-related enterprises – stood at 30,053 last month, according to the state-run industry tracker Venturein.

That figure was almost double the 15,401 registered in 2009 – a milestone year when the first iPhone went on sale in South Korea and brought the app-making industry with it.

Under President Park Geun-hye, the South Korean government has poured billions of dollars into startups, in line with her push to foster a “creative economy” that would move beyond the country’s traditional manufacturing base.

“There is an astounding amount of money, from both the private and state sectors, flowing around in the market right now,” said Jang Sun-hyang, investment director at Mashup Angels, a Seoul-based startup incubator.

“The word ‘startup’ didn’t even register in the public consciousness in, say, 2011. Now it’s one of the hottest buzzwords among college kids,” Jang said.

According to government data, the pool of private and public investment available to tech startups stood at 2.5 trillion won (RM8.4bil) in 2014, up 62% from a year ago.

South Korea’s hyper-wired populace also offers a fertile ground for tech businesses – most households have broadband access and 80% of people own smartphones.

More than 60% of smartphone users – the highest ratio in the world – use ultra-fast 4G service that allows users to download a feature-length film in a few minutes.

Google is set to open “Campus Seoul” this year to help train budding startup firms and facilitate their expansion, while Samsung and LG are also boosting investment in startups.

As the number of other incubator centres popping up offering office space, business advice and potential investment opportunities rise, the capital is drawing comparisons with US tech haven Palo Alto in Silicon Valley.

But challenges remain. The relatively small domestic market means successful start-ups have to look overseas if they want to keep growing.

Crossing language and cultural barriers can be daunting, even for established firms like Kakao Talk, the South’s top mobile chat app with 48 million global users which has struggled to expand into Southeast Asia.

And the consequences of failure are high in a society where experience counts for little if there is no successful outcome. — AFP

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“Super China” Boom in South Korea


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Super China_S KoreaA screen capture of South Korean documentary Super China. [Photo/Agencies]

The seven-episode documentary, Super China, won hearts and ratings over 10 percent in South Korea and is praised as the “encyclopedia” for South Koreans to know China.

The special series, which aired from Jan 15 to 24, introduces China as a whole, covering demographics, economics, resources, geography, military diplomacy and cultural soft power. The ratings surpassed 10% for Super China, while average ratings for a South Korean documentary stand at around 5%, according to Xinhua.

“The high ratings show how much South Korean audiences are interested in China, and that we aired the series at the right time,” producer Park Jin-hwan said.

Park, who worked as a journalist in China for many years, is among the three producers of Super China. The initial aim of production was to provide a “framework for deeper understanding on China,” Park said.

“There were many publications and programs that introduced China, but none of them was comprehensive enough, so we wanted to do a more complete documentary to help South Korean audiences learn about China’s past and presence,” Park said in fluent Chinese.

“China’s influence on the world is increasing as we speak. We have visited more than 20 countries, including the US, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Kenya, to give different perspectives on China from around the world,” said Park.

Multi-national politics and international relations are major highlights of the program. The program also includes experts who talk about their take on the future of Sino-South Korean relations. Among them aree Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University, who introduced the concept of “Soft Power”, and political researcher John J.Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. Views of politicians, businessmen and the public also are included.

The pubic response

According to Xinhua, many South Korean audiences think a documentary on this scale that reflects the real China is rare and regard Super China as a “encyclopedia” on understanding China.

Others believe that with China’s strengthening national power and a tighter Sino-South Korean relationship, this documentary can help South Koreans think about the future between the two nations. Some felt a sense of “crisis” after viewing, while others criticized the program as a documentary that praised China.

Across the border, Chinese audiences believe Super China is progressive, as it does not carry a tone of prejudice or contain many misunderstandings, while others think they have raised the bar too high for China. Chinese netizens believe this documentary may stir worry in South Korea.

Super China’s production team did not expect the strong feedback from Chinese audiences, as the show was aimed at South Korean viewers. Park said he is considering filming a new series to focus on the influence of China’s economics on South Korea, including the challenges and opportunities brought by China’s manufacturing and telecom industries.

( Chinaculture.org )

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Malaysia tops Job Asia Index, job ads on the rise


Robert WaltersNew job postings in Malaysia soared in Q4 2014, on the back of Putrajaya’s success in drawing in more multinational firms, according to recruitment consultancy Robert Walters. http://www.robertwalters.com.my/

Out of the six Asian markets that were surveyed in the agency’s job index for Q4 2014, Malaysia witnessed the biggest jump in the number of new jobs advertised, or an increase by 48 percent over the same period in 2013.

Titled “Asia at a glance,” the index ranked Japan second as it grew 42 percent due to improved business confidence, while China and Singapore grew at 19 percent and 23 percent respectively, owing to growth in online retail and increased regulatory requirements.

Overall, Asia witnessed an increase of 18 percent in job advertisement figures.

Sally Raj, managing director of Robert Walters Malaysia, attributed Malaysia’s status as one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing markets to Putrajaya’s success in attracting more multinational firms.

“The government’s initiatives to strengthen infrastructure and increase business operational efficiency continues to attract increasing numbers of multinationals to the country. This explains the encouraging increases in job advertising volumes we have seen across 2014,” she said.

She said firms in Malaysia have expressed concerns over the goods and services tax that will roll out this April, making 2015 an “interesting year.”

Robert Walters noted that there was a shortage of technically skilled job applicants in Malaysia, with advertising of job openings for IT candidates climbing by 75 percent, while recruitment for those in accounting and finance as well as marketing rose by 63 percent and 55 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, the 33 percent rise in job advertisements for logistics was driven by the country’s emerging status as a key regional hub for logistics and manufacturing, while the 31 percent hike in retail job postings is due to the opening up of new malls and new international brands.

With offices in 24 countries and regions, Robert Walters revealed that it compiled the Asia Job Index by monitoring advertising volumes for recruitment in leading job boards and national newspapers in the six regions.

By Farah Wahida, Editor of PropertyGuru, wrote this story. To contact her about this or other stories email farahwahida@propertyguru.com.my

Malaysian Job ads on the rise

PETALING JAYA: Job advertisements in Malaysia grew by 48% overall in the fourth quarter of last year, with experts saying this proves that Government initiatives and the stress on business operational efficiency is bearing fruit.

Recruitment consultancy Robert Walters in its Asia Job Index for Q4 2014 report said Malaysia was one of the fastest progressing markets, out of the six countries surveyed in Southeast Asia.

“The Government’s initiatives to strengthen infrastructure and increase business operational efficiency continue to attract increasing numbers of multinationals to the country.

“This explains the encouraging increase in job advertising volumes we have seen across last year,” said Robert Walters Malaysia managing director Sally Raj in the report.

She said companies were continuously trying to reach out to top talents in the market.

“In order to ensure further growth, hiring managers are producing very strong retention strategies to keep their best performers.

“This year will be an interesting year ahead as businesses have already expressed concerns around the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which will be implemented in April,” she added.

Japan came second at 42% due to improved business confidence while Singapore grew at 23% due to their Fair Consideration Framework.

The framework, which came in effect last August, obliges hiring managers to consider Singaporeans first for all vacancies. China grew 19% due to the growth in online retail.

Hong Kong trailed behind at 15% as companies seek to upskill their teams by hiring professionals with stronger skill sets and replacing underperformers.

South Korea meanwhile recorded a 3% growth due to positive policy changes by the government.

The report also revealed that IT candidates remained in demand, with the shortage of technically skilled job applicants being a key factor in the 75% rise in job advertising.

This is followed by those in accounting and finance (63%), and marketing (55%).

“Malaysia’s emerging status as a key manufacturing and logistics hub in Southeast Asia drove job advertising in logistics up 33% from 2013,” the firm noted.

Apart from that, the emergence of new shopping malls and the entrance of more international brands in Malaysia created a strong 31% increase in 2013 for retail job advertising especially within the luxury and mass label markets.

By Hemananthani Sivanandam The Star/Asia News Network

6 ways your tech is spying on you


Tech spying Valentines DayEmbedded data: Foreign tourists taking a selfie with red roses on display for Valentines Day outside a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand. Exif data in your pictures can contain a lot of information about where you have been. — EPA

Compared with what’s already happening, Samsung’s warning not to discuss sensitive issues in front of its TVs seems pretty tame. But you can fight back.

SO, your TV might be spying on you. It probably just wanted to join in with the rest of the technology in your life because, let’s face it: if you live in the 21st century you’re probably monitored by half a dozen companies from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. (And if you wear a sleep tracker, it doesn’t even stop then.)

Compared with some of the technology that keeps a beady eye fixed on you, the news that Samsung’s privacy policy warns customers not to discuss sensitive information in front of their smart TVs is actually fairly tame. The warning relates to a voice-recognition feature that has to be explicitly invoked, and which only begins transmitting data when you say the activation phrase “hi, TV.”

But other tech that spies on you might not be so genteel. The uncomfortable fact is that your personal data is just another way to pay for products and services these days.

The adage “if you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold” was coined in 2010, a lifetime ago in web terms, but it’s as true today as it always has been.

What’s changed now, though, is the number of ways companies are discovering to make sharing our data with them not something we grudgingly accept, but enthusiastically embrace.

Sure, they tell us, you can turn it off. But do you really want to?

1. Facebook’s “like” button

Even if you don’t use Facebook, you will have seen the company’s “like” button springing up in more and more places around the Internet, like a nasty case of chicken pox. If you click on it, you can like the page of a company, person or brand, all without leaving the website you’re on.

The uncomfortable fact is that your personal data is just another way to pay for products and services.

And then there’s Facebook share buttons and Facebook comments, both of which hook in to the company’s servers to provide their own features.

But it’s a two-way relationship: the price you pay for being able to interact with Facebook even without going to their website is that they can see the other websites you’re on, following you around the Internet and using that information to better target ads and content to you back on the mothership.

How to stop it: if you log out of Facebook when you’re done, the site’s ability to track your browsing is severely hampered. Of course, equally hampered is your ability to like things and comment on posts. Are you happy making that trade-off?

2. Smartphone location services

If you have an iPhone, try this: click on settings, then privacy, then location ­services, system services and frequent locations. You’ll notice a list of all the cities you’re in regularly.

Click on any specific city, and you’ll find that your phone knows all the locations you frequently visit. For me, that includes my home, local tube station and office, and also the pub I play Netrunner in, the house of one of my best friends and the comics shop I frequent.

Don’t feel smug if you use Android instead: Google keeps just as copious notes on your location and, unlike Apple, it is stored in the Cloud, where it can theoretically be subpoenaed by law enforcement or accessed by a suspicious partner who happens to know your password.

How to turn it off: both companies let you turn off location histories from the same pages you can look at yours. But if you do that, they’ll get a lot worse at giving you accurate and useful location suggestions. There’s that pesky trade-off again.

3. Uber

Perhaps it’s no surprise that a company that sells you cheap cabs through a slick app keeps data on your journeys. And that data is well-used by Uber to reassure customers that their journey is safe: the company will show you your ride history as well as information about your driver which can be crucial for solving disputes or, if the worst happens, ensuring justice.

But Uber hasn’t got the best history of using that data well. The company has had to apologise before for accessing a jour­nalist’s journey details in order to make rhetorical points, as well as remove a piece of “data journalism” looking at ride histories in aggregate to find out how many of their customers were using the service for one-night stands. They titled the post “rides of glory”.

How to turn it off: the best way would be not to use Uber. But there’s that trade-off again: old-school taxis, whether hailed from the street or called from a dispatch office, are going to end up charging you a lot more for your newly anonymous journey.

4. Mobile phone networks

Your mobile phone works by sending encrypted communications to and from masts, known as “cells”. Of course, especially in a built-up area, there’s likely to be more than one cell in range of your phone at any given time, and things would get confusing if they were all trying to run the call at the same time.

So your phone pairs with one particular cell, and “hands off” to a new one when you move around (the annoying clicks you get if you leave a phone next to an unshielded speaker is your phone checking in with a cell, to confirm it’s still alive).

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realise what this means: your mobile phone network has a record of where you’ve been, accurate to at least the range of the closest phone tower.

In practice, it’s probably quite a bit more accurate than that, as they can triangulate in using information from other towers in your area.

How to turn it off: stop using a mobile phone. Seriously, this one isn’t going away. If you’ve got a removable battery, you can try taking that out when you don’t want to be tracked, but whenever you turn your phone back on, your mobile phone network is going to know where you are.

5. Exif data in your pictures

Did you know that digital photographs contain information about the picture? Known as Exif data, the standard was ­created to hold stuff that photographers might find useful to know alongside the image, such as the focal length and aperture they used while taking it.

It’s used by professionals to embed contact information and copyright details, as well.

Of course, as with most standards, there’s been a bit of feature-­creep, and these days, Exif data can contain a whole lot more information.

In fact, if you’ve taken a picture with a smartphone, or even a modern digital ­camera, there’s a good chance that the picture records where it was taken using the built-in GPS.

That’s great for building maps of your holidays, but not so good if you’re trading snaps with strangers.

How to turn it off: most ­cameras let you disable embedding location data in the files, but the good news is that social networks are one step ahead of you – and this time, they’re on your side. Facebook and Twitter both strip the metadata from ­images uploaded to the site, causing a headache for users who need the extra information but protecting those who don’t know that they’re uploading potentially sensitive data.

6. Facial recognition

Have you ever used Facebook’s tag suggest feature? The social network can scan through your uploaded pictures to find ones with friends who haven’t been tagged, and offer you suggestions for who to add.

It’s a wonderful time-saver over doing it the manual way, even if careless use can lead to some social faux pas (try to avoid tagging someone you don’t like just because they’re in the background of another picture).

But Facebook, and Google – which offers a similar feature – can only do that because it’s been running facial-recognition software on photos uploaded to the site for years.

In September 2012, Facebook was even forced to disable the feature after the Irish data protection commissioner scolded it for doing so without permission.

How to turn it off: try to avoid being in photos or having friends. Easy! — ©Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015

By Alex Hern Sunday Star

Developers want review property rules curb sales instead of prices to go up !


REHDA_ChanRehda Penang chairman Jerry Chan (right) says developers do not foresee an increase in property volume in the state in the near future. – The Malaysian Insider pic, February 12, 2015.

Developers want review as Penang property rules curb sales instead of prices

The Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) Penang chapter wants the state government to ease cooling measures meant to curb property speculation as they have only reduced the number of sales but not brought down prices.

REHDARehda Penang chairman Datuk Jerry Chan said the state’s cooling measures, which included levies on property sold within a certain period of time, were meant to discourage property speculation that made homes expensive in the state.

However, he said the measures reduced transactions by 20% last year compared with 2013, instead of having an impact on property prices.

“They have been effective in reducing property transactions but they have not affected property prices.

“Prices are still up due to rising costs faced by developers,” he said in a press conference at Penang Rehda’s office in George Town today.

Chan said while transactions were down, other costs like charges levied by the local authorities, land, materials and labour had continued to increase.

“If you expect developers to cut property prices, it is not happening because the costs are going up.”

Even for homes in the secondary market, prices remained up although they were expected to fall, Chan said.

“So we do not expect all property prices to soften. Prices now are quite stable and we don’t foresee an increase in property volume too,” he said.

The Penang government announced in its 2014 state budget several new housing rules to protect the state from being affected by a property bubble and to ensure that public and affordable housing were bought by genuine and qualified buyers from the lower and middle-income groups.

Among the rules, which took effect in March last year, was a levy of 2% on property sold within three years from the date of the sale and purchase agreement (SPA), and a moratorium on the re-sale of “affordable” housing within five years of their acquisition, and 10 years for low-cost homes.

Owners of low- and low-medium cost homes must get state approval if they intend to sell their properties within a 10-year time period from the date of signing of the SPA.

They are also only allowed to sell their units to “listed buyers” who are registered with the state’s housing department and certified under the low-income group.

For affordable homes, classified as houses worth up to RM400,000 on the island and up to RM250,000 on the mainland, owners who signed the SPA after March 1 are not allowed to sell their property within a five-year period.

The owners must also obtain state approval and are only allowed to sell to listed buyers in the middle-income group registered with the state housing department.

Under the new rules, foreign property buyers pay a 3% levy on the units they purchase in the state.

Chan said Penang Rehda had appealed to the state government through housing exco Jagdeep Singh Deo, to be more lenient in its development charges and to give developers some leeway.

Chan also suggested that the state government ease the cooling measures for certain projects rather than make them compulsory for all projects.

“We told them when the market is slowing down, they have to ease up on all these measures and controls,” he said.

Chan said property prices would not become cheaper but developers themselves would be more realistic when setting prices for their units.

He also said now was the time to invest given that property prices had stabilised. – February 12, 2015.

By LOOI SUE-CHERN – The Malaysian Insiders


Property prices not expected to go down, says Rehda

Malaysia Property Guru-Prices-UpGEORGE TOWN: Property prices are not expected to trend downwards despite the recent slump in oil prices and a just announced electricity tariff cut.

Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (Rehda) Penang chairman Datuk Jerry Chan said compliance and labour costs were not going down.

He pointed out developers were dependent on foreign labour but the country was facing difficulty in getting a consistent supply of manpower.

“The shortage of manpower will not make things easy,” he said, but however remained upbeat over real estate activity as developers were now more realistic with pricing.

“This is a good time to get into the market,” he said at a press conference today to announce that the annual Malaysian Property Exposition (Mapex) will be held in Penang for three days from Feb 23.

He said a wide range of properties were available ranging from affordable housing units to high-end condominiums.

By Tan Ke Ming – TheSundaily

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Enter the Chinese Century: China is now the world’s No.1 economic power


Chinese century

The natural American reaction would be to “contain” China—and that would be a mistake.
SOFT POWER For America, the best response to China is to put our own house in order., © M. Garfat/MGP (Feather), © Gino’s Premium Images (Leaves), both from Alamy; © Cary Anderson (Wing), © Michael Nolan/SpecialistStock (Eagle’sHead), © Aaron Joel Santos (Bamboo Forest), all from Aurora Photos; © Getty Ellis/Globio/Minden Pictures/Corbis (Panda and Grass); Photo Illustration by Vanity Fair

Prof Joseph E StiglitzWithout fanfare—indeed, with some misgivings about its new status — China has just overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy. This is, and should be, a wake-up call—but not the kind most Americans might imagine.

by Prof Joseph E. Stiglitz – Coluimbia Business School

When the history of 2014 is written, it will take note of a large fact that has received little attention: 2014 was the last year in which the United States could claim to be the world’s largest economic power. China enters 2015 in the top position, where it will likely remain for a very long time, if not forever. In doing so, it returns to the position it held through most of human history.

Comparing the gross domestic product of different economies is very difficult. Technical committees come up with estimates, based on the best judgments possible, of what are called “purchasing-power parities,” which enable the comparison of incomes in various countries. These shouldn’t be taken as precise numbers, but they do provide a good basis for assessing the relative size of different economies. Early in 2014, the body that conducts these international assessments—the World Bank’s International Comparison Program—came out with new numbers. (The complexity of the task is such that there have been only three reports in 20 years.) The latest assessment, released last spring, was more contentious and, in some ways, more momentous than those in previous years. It was more contentious precisely because it was more momentous: the new numbers showed that China would become the world’s largest economy far sooner than anyone had expected—it was on track to do so before the end of 2014.

The source of contention would surprise many Americans, and it says a lot about the differences between China and the U.S.—and about the dangers of projecting onto the Chinese some of our own attitudes. Americans want very much to be No. 1—we enjoy having that status. In contrast, China is not so eager. According to some reports, the Chinese participants even threatened to walk out of the technical discussions. For one thing, China did not want to stick its head above the parapet—being No. 1 comes with a cost. It means paying more to support international bodies such as the United Nations. It could bring pressure to take an enlightened leadership role on issues such as climate change. It might very well prompt ordinary Chinese to wonder if more of the country’s wealth should be spent on them. (The news about China’s change in status was in fact blacked out at home.) There was one more concern, and it was a big one: China understands full well America’s psychological preoccupation with being No. 1—and was deeply worried about what our reaction would be when we no longer were.

Of course, in many ways—for instance, in terms of exports and household savings—China long ago surpassed the United States. With savings and investment making up close to 50 percent of G.D.P., the Chinese worry about having too much savings, just as Americans worry about having too little. In other areas, such as manufacturing, the Chinese overtook the U.S. only within the past several years. They still trail America when it comes to the number of patents awarded, but they are closing the gap.

The areas where the United States remains competitive with China are not always ones we’d most want to call attention to. The two countries have comparable levels of inequality. (Ours is the highest in the developed world.) China outpaces America in the number of people executed every year, but the U.S. is far ahead when it comes to the proportion of the population in prison (more than 700 per 100,000 people). China overtook the U.S. in 2007 as the world’s largest polluter, by total volume, though on a per capita basis we continue to hold the lead. The United States remains the largest military power, spending more on our armed forces than the next top 10 nations combined (not that we have always used our military power wisely). But the bedrock strength of the U.S. has always rested less on hard military power than on “soft power,” most notably its economic influence. That is an essential point to remember.

Tectonic shifts in global economic power have obviously occurred before, and as a result we know something about what happens when they do. Two hundred years ago, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain emerged as the world’s dominant power. Its empire spanned a quarter of the globe. Its currency, the pound sterling, became the global reserve currency—as sound as gold itself. Britain, sometimes working in concert with its allies, imposed its own trade rules. It could discriminate against importation of Indian textiles and force India to buy British cloth. Britain and its allies could also insist that China keep its markets open to opium, and when China, knowing the drug’s devastating effect, tried to close its borders, the allies twice went to war to maintain the free flow of this product.

Britain’s dominance was to last a hundred years and continued even after the U.S. surpassed Britain economically, in the 1870s. There’s always a lag (as there will be with the U.S. and China). The transitional event was World War I, when Britain achieved victory over Germany only with the assistance of the United States. After the war, America was as reluctant to accept its potential new responsibilities as Britain was to voluntarily give up its role. Woodrow Wilson did what he could to construct a postwar world that would make another global conflict less likely, but isolationism at home meant that the U.S. never joined the League of Nations. In the economic sphere, America insisted on going its own way—passing the Smoot-Hawley tariffs and bringing to an end an era that had seen a worldwide boom in trade. Britain maintained its empire, but gradually the pound sterling gave way to the dollar: in the end, economic realities dominate. Many American firms became global enterprises, and American culture was clearly ascendant.

World War II was the next defining event. Devastated by the conflict, Britain would soon lose virtually all of its colonies. This time the U.S. did assume the mantle of leadership. It was central in creating the United Nations and in fashioning the Bretton Woods agreements, which would underlie the new political and economic order. Even so, the record was uneven. Rather than creating a global reserve currency, which would have contributed so much to worldwide economic stability—as John Maynard Keynes had rightly argued—the U.S. put its own short-term self-interest first, foolishly thinking it would gain by having the dollar become the world’s reserve currency. The dollar’s status is a mixed blessing: it enables the U.S. to borrow at a low interest rate, as others demand dollars to put into their reserves, but at the same time the value of the dollar rises (above what it otherwise would have been), creating or exacerbating a trade deficit and weakening the economy.

For 45 years after World War II, global politics was dominated by two superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., representing two very different visions both of how to organ­ize and govern an economy and a society and of the relative importance of political and economic rights. Ultimately, the Soviet system was to fail, as much because of internal corruption, unchecked by democratic processes, as anything else. Its military power had been formidable; its soft power was increasingly a joke. The world was now dominated by a single superpower, one that continued to invest heavily in its military. That said, the U.S. was a superpower not just militarily but also economically.

The United States then made two critical mistakes. First, it inferred that its triumph meant a triumph for everything it stood for. But in much of the Third World, concerns about poverty—and the economic rights that had long been advocated by the left—remained paramount. The second mistake was to use the short period of its unilateral dominance, between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Lehman Brothers, to pursue its own narrow economic interests—or, more accurately, the economic interests of its multi-nationals, including its big banks—rather than to create a new, stable world order. The trade regime the U.S. pushed through in 1994, creating the World Trade Organization, was so unbalanced that, five years later, when another trade agreement was in the offing, the prospect led to riots in Seattle. Talking about free and fair trade, while insisting (for instance) on subsidies for its rich farmers, has cast the U.S. as hypocritical and self-serving.

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And Washington never fully grasped the consequences of so many of its shortsighted actions—intended to extend and strengthen its dominance but in fact diminishing its long-term position. During the East Asia crisis, in the 1990s, the U.S. Treasury worked hard to undermine the so-called Miyazawa Initiative, Japan’s generous offer of $100 billion to help jump-start economies that were sinking into recession and depression. The policies the U.S. pushed on these countries—austerity and high interest rates, with no bailouts for banks in trouble—were just the opposite of those that these same Treasury officials advocated for the U.S. after the meltdown of 2008. Even today, a decade and a half after the East Asia crisis, the mere mention of the U.S. role can prompt angry accusations and charges of hypocrisy in Asian capitals.

Now China is the world’s No. 1 economic power. Why should we care? On one level, we actually shouldn’t. The world economy is not a zero-sum game, where China’s growth must necessarily come at the expense of ours. In fact, its growth is complementary to ours. If it grows faster, it will buy more of our goods, and we will prosper. There has always, to be sure, been a little hype in such claims—just ask workers who have lost their manufacturing jobs to China. But that reality has as much to do with our own economic policies at home as it does with the rise of some other country.

On another level, the emergence of China into the top spot matters a great deal, and we need to be aware of the implications.

First, as noted, America’s real strength lies in its soft power—the example it provides to others and the influence of its ideas, including ideas about economic and political life. The rise of China to No. 1 brings new prominence to that country’s political and economic model—and to its own forms of soft power. The rise of China also shines a harsh spotlight on the American model. That model has not been delivering for large portions of its own population. The typical American family is worse off than it was a quarter-century ago, adjusted for inflation; the proportion of people in poverty has increased. China, too, is marked by high levels of inequality, but its economy has been doing some good for most of its citizens. China moved some 500 million people out of poverty during the same period that saw America’s middle class enter a period of stagnation. An economic model that doesn’t serve a majority of its citizens is not going to provide a role model for others to emulate. America should see the rise of China as a wake-up call to put our own house in order.

Second, if we ponder the rise of China and then take actions based on the idea that the world economy is indeed a zero-sum game—and that we therefore need to boost our share and reduce China’s—we will erode our soft power even further. This would be exactly the wrong kind of wake-up call. If we see China’s gains as coming at our expense, we will strive for “containment,” taking steps designed to limit China’s influence. These actions will ultimately prove futile, but will nonetheless undermine confidence in the U.S. and its position of leadership. U.S. foreign policy has repeatedly fallen into this trap. Consider the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement among the U.S., Japan, and several other Asian countries—which excludes China altogether. It is seen by many as a way to tighten the links between the U.S. and certain Asian countries, at the expense of links with China. There is a vast and dynamic Asia supply chain, with goods moving around the region during different stages of production; the Trans-Pacific Partnership looks like an attempt to cut China out of this supply chain.

Another example: the U.S. looks askance at China’s incipient efforts to assume global responsibility in some areas. China wants to take on a larger role in existing international institutions, but Congress says, in effect, that the old club doesn’t like active new members: they can continue taking a backseat, but they can’t have voting rights commensurate with their role in the global economy. When the other G-20 nations agree that it is time that the leadership of international economic organizations be determined on the basis of merit, not nationality, the U.S. insists that the old order is good enough—that the World Bank, for instance, should continue to be headed by an American.

Yet another example: when China, together with France and other countries—supported by an International Commission of Experts appointed by the president of the U.N., which I chaired—suggested that we finish the work that Keynes had started at Bretton Woods, by creating an international reserve currency, the U.S. blocked the effort.

And a final example: the U.S. has sought to deter China’s efforts to channel more assistance to developing countries through newly created multilateral institutions in which China would have a large, perhaps dominant role. The need for trillions of dollars of investment in infrastructure has been widely recognized—and providing that investment is well beyond the capacity of the World Bank and existing multilateral institutions. What is needed is not only a more inclusive governance regime at the World Bank but also more capital. On both scores, the U.S. Congress has said no. Meanwhile, China is trying to create an Asian Infrastructure Fund, working with a large number of other countries in the region. The U.S. is twisting arms so that those countries won’t join.

The United States is confronted with real foreign-policy challenges that will prove hard to resolve: militant Islam; the Palestine conflict, which is now in its seventh decade; an aggressive Russia, insisting on asserting its power, at least in its own neighborhood; continuing threats of nuclear proliferation. We will need the cooperation of China to address many, if not all, of these problems.

We should take this moment, as China becomes the world’s largest economy, to “pivot” our foreign policy away from containment. The economic interests of China and the U.S. are intricately intertwined. We both have an interest in seeing a stable and well-functioning global political and economic order. Given historical memories and its own sense of dignity, China won’t be able to accept the global system simply as it is, with rules that have been set by the West, to benefit the West and its corporate interests, and that reflect the West’s perspectives. We will have to cooperate, like it or not—and we should want to. In the meantime, the most important thing America can do to maintain the value of its soft power is to address its own systemic deficiencies—economic and political practices that are corrupt, to put the matter baldly, and skewed toward the rich and powerful.

A new global political and economic order is emerging, the result of new economic realities. We cannot change these economic realities. But if we respond to them in the wrong way, we risk a backlash that will result in either a dysfunctional global system or a global order that is distinctly not what we would have wanted.

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A woman walks past the headquarters of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, in Beijing, in this file picture taken …
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