Living at the edge of chaos, climate change is not fake science


 

Nature’s fury: A car dealership is covered by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters near Houston, Texas. The chaos caused by the hurricane proves that climate change is not fake science. — Reuters

THIS month, two Category 4 hurricanes hit the United States within 17 days of each other. In Asia, North Korea is threatening nuclear Armageddon, and floods and famine are putting thousands of lives at risk from Bangladesh to Yemen. How can one survive in this chaotic era?

A first step must be to make sense of the apparent chaos. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have proved that climate change is not fake science, but real threats to home and security. When hailstones the size of golf balls hit Istanbul in the middle of summer, even the agnostics accept that climate change is serious business.

The biggest uncertainty that has hit Asia recently is the shock that North Korea has not only developed possibly a hydrogen bomb, but also the missile capability to deliver it even to the United States. This has changed the geopolitical balance not only in North Asia, but globally because it is no longer possible for the United States alone to contain nuclear proliferation.

Physics teaches us that chaos is often a characteristic of transition from one order to another. Chaos is also a pattern in which there is apparently no discernible pattern.

But there is a seismic transition from a unipolar world led by the United States to a multi-polar world of competing powers and ideology, particularly after the 2007 global financial crisis. As the share of US GDP in the world declines relative to the rest, the rise of China, India and increasing assertion by Russia and non-state players like IS means that the United States’ ability to dominate militarily and ideologically is being challenged.

At the same time, increasing stresses from social inequalities and paranoia of terror, immigration and job loss have tilted the United States to become more inward looking. The Trump administration has dramatically begun to dismantle the neoliberal order of multilateral trade and finance that shaped US foreign policy since the end of the Second World War.

There is a raw open division within the United States in outlook and values. The Democratic Left believes in maintaining the old order of moral leadership on human rights, democracy and multilateral global stability and prosperity. The Republican Right questions these beliefs and prefers America First, negotiating bilaterally to achieve that premier status.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon asked the Rand Corporation to conduct a review on “Alternative Options for US Policy toward the International Order”. The key questions for the New Global Order are: Who sets the rules and how binding are the rules?

The study breaks the future order into two camps of rule-makers – the US and its allies or a concert of great powers. Under such a division, there are two conditions where rules are binding – one dominated by the US camp to enforce rules and the other where the great powers agree to a global constitutional order enforced by institutions. The other two conditions where rules are not binding involve a coalition of states aligned to counteract against revisionism and a new concert of great powers.

The immediate problem with the Rand categorisation of New Order Visions is that the existing liberal, rules-based order is not being challenged by others, but by the US itself.

First, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comment earlier this year that Europe must begin to look after its own interests, it is no longer clear that America’s traditional allies are going to follow the US leadership when there are serious disagreements on trade, climate change and immigration. It is no coincidence that the largest trade imbalances are no longer between China or oil producers with the US, but between Europe and the United States. Germany alone is running a current account surplus equivalent to around 8% of GDP.

Second, within the Middle East, alliances are shifting almost by the day. The quarrel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has riven the Gulf Cooperation Council, while Turkey is playing an increasingly pivotal role within the shifting alliances.

Third, North Korea’s bid for nuclear power membership, despite being a small state, means that Great Powers may have to accommodate new players whether they like it or not.

Fourth, climate change in the form of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma demonstrate that nature can impose larger and larger economic losses on nations and regions, which will require global public goods that the current order is neither willing to fund, nor able to agree on how to address. The economic losses from Harvey alone is estimated at US$180bil, equivalent to the annual GDP of a middle-income economy. The existing multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank are facing serious resource shortages relative to these new global demands.

The bottom line is that the current order has neither the resources nor the collective will to enforce rules when the human population growth puts increasing competition for scarce water, food and territorial spaces. Chaos arises from the breakdown of rules and borderlines.

In short, globalisation of trade, information and human migration has meant that traditional borders in many regions are becoming non-enforceable. For example, it is 101 years since the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement divided up the collapsing Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of interest and eventual control. These borders were drawn and enforced by the Great Powers through their military superiority.

Seen from the long lens of history, with the Great Powers being unwilling to put troops on the ground to enforce borders drawn up under the colonial era, these artificial borders are failing.

A hallmark of the times is that even the best of think tanks cannot map out how to navigate through this era of disruptive technology, unpredictable climate and shifting alliances and interests. What history teaches us is that the fault lines will be at the borderlands, at the confluence of emerging forces and stresses.

We should therefore be prepared for not only disruption at the borderlands of physical space, but within the realms of cyberspace.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

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Rail link a huge economic boost, big news for small towns in Malaysia


 
Boom time is here for railway towns, little places that dot the route of the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link from Port Klang to Kota Baru. Not only will the link shorten travel time between the west and the underdeveloped east of the peninsula, it will also unlock huge economic potential, create thousands of jobs and bring down the country’s carbon footprint. And it could all happen sooner than expected.

KUANTAN: Exciting days are ahead for the many small towns that dot the route of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) from Port Klang to the Kota Baru.

A host of towns including Bentong, Mentakab, Maran, Kuantan, Cherating, Chukai, Dungun, Kuala Terengganu and Tok Bali and Kota Baru, all of which are designated as ECRL stations, are looking at boom times ahead.

The ECRL will also benefit freight transport as it will link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

With its slogan of “Connecting Lives, Accelerating Growth”, Najib said the project sets the tone for an economic spin-off effect and positive social impact for the east coast states.

“The ECRL is a high impact project that will provide easy access from the Klang Valley to Pahang, Terengganu and Kelan­tan.

“The 688km rail link will be a catalyst for economic equality between the west coast and east coast as it will stimulate investments, spur commercial activity, create ample jobs, facilitate quality education and boost tourism in the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan,” he said at the ground-breaking ceremony here yesterday.

Najib also urged local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize the opportunity to take part in the project.

“We have together with our Chinese counterpart agreed that Malaysian contractors will be involved in at least 30% of this high impact project,” Najib said.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by the year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

“Comparatively, revenue from the operation of the ECRL project is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.”

Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsula had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and woefully inadequate rail lines.

Najib also urged local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize the opportunity to take part in the project.

“We have together with our Chinese counterpart agreed that Malaysian contractors will be involved in at least 30% of this high impact project,” Najib said.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by the year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

“Comparatively, revenue from the operation of the ECRL project is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.”

Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsula had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and woefully inadequate rail lines.

The railway line, with 12 passenger-only stations, three freight stations and seven combined passenger-freight stations, is expected to increase the gross domestic product of the east coast states by 1.5%.

China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company has been appointed for the construction of the RM55bil project.

Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd is the special purpose vehicle under the Minister of Finance Incorporated tasked as the project owner.

Rail link a huge economic boost – ECRL project set to create over 80,000 jobs and promote businesses along its route

KUANTAN: The economic impact of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is huge and critics who say it is not feasible are wrong.

“There will be a multiplier effect. When there are more business people, we can get more taxes and government revenue will increase,” Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) chairman Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said.

He said critics must also look at the development that would take place alongside the ECRL in the long run.

China Communications Construction Group chairman Liu Qitao said the ECRL project was of great economic significance.

“It will promote social development and improve the living standards of those along the railway line, especially in the east coast,” he said.

Liu said that the rail link was also expected to generate more than 80,000 jobs for Malay­sians during its construction period.

Another 6,000 jobs will be created during the rail’s operation and the Chinese government will also train more than 3,000 Malaysian students.

A total of 3,600 graduates will be trained in rail technology through the ECRL Industrial Skills Training (PLKI-ECRL) programme.

Its chief coordinator Prof Dr Rizalman Mamat said about 1,000 applications had already been received as of yesterday.

“The first intake of 50 participants will begin in September with the next intake of 250 scheduled in December.

The next batch of 700 trainees will be in April next year.

“The programme will be focused specifically on the socio-economic development of the east coast but this does not mean those in the west coast cannot take part.

Dr Rizalman said the training was open to graduates who majored in civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

He added that Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) had been appointed as the focal university for the implementation of the programme, with cooperation from Beijing Jiaotong University and Southwest Jiaotong University and other institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.

He said railway technology was developing rapidly and the programme was a stepping stone for UMP to develop rail engineering in the future.

The training under the programme will take four to six months, said Dr Rizalman.

China state councillor Wang Yong said ECRL was a landmark project for China and Malaysia.

“The team from our two sides have had productive cooperation. This is a full demonstration of the friendship between China and Malaysia and its efficiency,” said Wang.

MRL project director Yew Yow Boo said the railway would have 88.8km of viaducts mostly in Kelantan and Terengganu to bypass flood-prone areas.

Yew said the first phase would have a total length of 49km of tunnels at 19 locations with the longest being 17.9km connecting Bukit Tinggi and Gombak.

Source: The Star/ANN

Liow: Do not politicise the ECRL

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5537464019001
KAJANG: The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is created for the people and country, and should not be politicised or turned into a racial or language issue, says Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.

“I would like to emphasise that the ECRL is one of the most important projects for the nation.

“It’s a game changer for the east coast. It is for the country’s economic development and to help us reach greater heights.

“The theme is very clear, we’re pushing for connecting lines and accelerating growth,” he said after attending Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 15th anniversary celebration at its Sungai Long campus here yesterday.

The RM55bil ECRL from Port Klang to Kota Baru, which is 534.58km long, is estimated to be completed in 2024.

Liow cautioned actions that could harm good bilateral ties between Malaysia and China were counter-productive.

 

Varsity pillars: (Standing from left to right) Utar founding president Tan Sri Dr Ng Lay Swee, MCA vice president Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung, Dr Chuah, Dr Ling, Liow, Dr Ting, Chong and Utar Board of Trustees chairman Tan Sri Dr Sak Cheng Lum cutting Utar’s anniversary cake. 

“We must explain to the people that the ECRL is for them and the nation. They should not be misled by those out to create a controversy,” he said.

The ECRL was launched in Kuantan on Wednesday.

Certain groups had criticised the rail link launch, claiming that it was “too Chinese”.

Liow described the launch as a successful event, adding that the project was set to bring many benefits to Malaysians.

“We have received a lot of support for the project. We are looking forward to its completion,” he added.
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China holds parade in celebration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) 90th Birthday



Viewhttps://youtu.be/2fhP6IcIiv4

What message did China’s military parade send?

China holds ceremony to mark 90th anniversary of PLA founding

Chinese President Xi celebrates military in speech  focused on peace, future – CGTN America

BEIJING — President Xi Jinping said Tuesday that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is moving rapidly toward “strong” informationized armed forces.

Xi said the PLA has transformed from a “millet plus rifles” single-service force to one that has fully-fledged services and has basically completed mechanization.

He said that the PLA must be bold in reform and adept in innovation while staying away from rigidity and stagnation at any time and under any circumstances.

Xi reaffirmed the Communist Party of China (CPC)’s absolute leadership over the PLA.

“To build a strong military, [we] must unswervingly adhere to the Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces, and make sure that the people’s army always follow the Party,” he said.

Xi called for a new generation of “capable, brave and virtuous” army “with souls” in order to build a strong military.

Calling political work the “lifeline” of the PLA, Xi said troops must have ironclad faith, beliefs, disciplines and responsibilities, and retain their nature and tenet as the people’s army.

Xi has urged the country’s armed forces to bear in mind the sacred duty of fighting for the people.

The PLA is deeply rooted in the people and the strength comes from the people, said Xi.

Xi called on the PLA to maintain its close relationship with the people and “go through thick and thin” with them.

The PLA should also actively contribute to the economic and social development in stationed areas to benefit the people with actions, said Xi.

Xi urged boosting integrated military and civilian development amid efforts to build a strong military.

China must build a national strategic system and capacity of military-civilian integration, he said.

The CPC has established its thoughts on building a strong military in a new phase, Xi said.

The Party has put forward a series of new ideas and requirements concerning national defense and military building in the past five years since the 18th CPC National Congress, which together constitute the CPC’s thoughts on building a strong army in the new phase, Xi said.

The Party’s military strengthening theories should be constantly enriched and developed to cope with new challenges and solve new problems under new circumstances, he said.

He stressed “coordinated, balanced and inclusive development” of economic and national defense construction.

China will never compromise on its sovereignty, security or development interests, Xi said.

“The Chinese people love peace. We will never seek aggression or expansion, but we have the confidence to defeat all invasions. We will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory out of the country at any time, in any form,” Xi said.

“No one should expect us to swallow the bitter fruit that is harmful to our sovereignty, security or development interests,” he said.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks while addressing a grand gathering in celebration of the PLA’s 90th founding anniversary.

Source: China Daily/Asian News Network

PLA ready to guard sovereignty 

 

Standing ready: Chinese paramilitary policemen stand in formation at Tiananmen Square after attending a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. — AFP

BEIJING: The Chinese army will step up its pace of improving its joint combat capabilities and “stand ready to fight and win at any time”, State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan said.

Speaking about the cross-Straits situation, Chang said yesterday the People’s Liberation Army is “confident, capable and fully prepared to resolutely safeguard State sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Chang made the remarks during a speech at a grand reception marking the 90th anniversary of the founding of the PLA, which fell yester­day.

President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee as well as chairman of the Central Military Commission, attended the reception along with other party and state leaders.

The PLA has come a long way since its birth during the armed uprising in the city of Nanchang on Aug 1, 1927, when it had only 20,000 soldiers.

Xi oversaw and addressed a grand military parade on Sunday marking the 90th anniversary at the Zhurihe Training Base in North China’s Inner Mongolia region.

Yesterday morning, Xi attended a grand ceremony in Beijing commemorating the 90th anniversary and delivered a speech.

Led by Xi, the PLA has been advancing reform, technological upgrades, boosting training and combat readiness, Chang said.

Through this, it has achieved thorough restructuring and greatly enhanced its combat effectiveness, he added.

The military will press ahead with reforms and staunchly focus on winning in combat and training for readiness, Chang said.

Speaking of the cross-Straits situation, Chang said adherence to the 1992 Consensus and opposition to Taiwan independence constitute the political foundation of peace and development of cross-Straits relations.

Any form of secessionist attempt by anyone at any time would surely be opposed by the whole Chinese people and nation, he added.

Noting the Chinese military’s role as a contributor to world peace, he said the PLA facilitates global development and supports international order.

As of June, the Chinese military had participated in 24 UN peacekeeping missions, sending 31,000 personnel, 13 of whom lost their lives on duty. — China Daily/Asia News Network

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India’s misperceptions have dangerous implications


Over a month ago, Indian troops crossed into China at the Sikkim section of the border between the two countries, instigating a standoff with Chinese troops. This is arguably the biggest crisis facing the two countries since the 1962 border war, since there is still no sign of the Indian troops ending their trespass into Chinese territory.

The Sikkim section of the China-India boundary was delimited in 1890 with the Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet, and the boundary demarcation is recognized by both China and India.

However, India claims that a road being legitimately constructed by Chinese troops in Chinese territory has “serious” security implications for India. It fears it will lead to the cutting of the so-called chicken’s neck — the corridor, 20 kilometers wide, that links the Indian mainland to its northeastern states. As a result, New Delhi decided to make a”preemptive” move.

Knowing the Chinese border troops will refrain from “firing the first bullet”, Indian soldiers have time and again employed such shady tricks in disputed areas. But this time, New Delhi has sent troops into China’s Donglang area, which is not disputed, and which is nowhere near the trilateral junction that separates China, India and Bhutan.

India has harbored the belief that Beijing would compromise due to the upcoming ninth BRICS Summit in Xiamen, Fujian province. And because of this misperception, New Delhi has been emboldened to “dig in”.

India’s border provocation constitutes a diplomatic and military challenge to China, carries strategic implications for it.

With its troops trespassing in Chinese territory, New Delhi has taken a dangerous step by inciting confrontation. So far, China has exercised restraint, but its patience will not last forever.

China has repeatedly stated that it will defend its core interests, which include its territorial integrity. China does not have any strategic ambition to manipulate South Asian or Indochinese Peninsula affairs, but that does not mean it will allow its own territory to be encroached upon.

It seeks to handle border issues in line with international laws and documented evidence, but it does not fear a clash on its borders with a neighbor, if that is what is necessary to defend its territory. It has abundant resources to keep the risks controllable should a showdown occur. The 1962 border war between China and India is history. China can now force illegal intruders back across the border more easily than it could 55 years ago.

While continuing to be engaged in diplomatic efforts to persuade India to withdraw its troops from Chinese territory, China should be prepared for military action should that prove to be its only recourse.

As China has repeatedly emphasized, although the diplomatic channels are unimpeded, the withdrawal of the Indian border troops who have illegally crossed into China’s territory is the prerequisite for any meaningful dialogue between the two sides.

Although the crisis is fundamentally an outcome of India’s perception of its geopolitical role and worries about the rise of China, playing up the idea of an all-out geopolitical clash between the two countries is uncalled for.

After all, China and India are close neighbors and a healthy bilateral relationship meets the need of both for a favorable environment for development. The two countries should seek to reconcile their border issues and jointly strive to maintain regional stability.

Source: By Ang Gang, China Daily/Asia News Network

The author is a senior researcher at the Pangoal Institution, a think tank.

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China’s powerful drone ready for global market


 

China is ready to mass-produce the CH-5 reconnaissance/combat drone, the nation’s latest offering to the international military drone market.

The first mass-production CH-5 made its debut flight, in which it was airborne for more than 20 minutes, at an airport in Hebei province on Friday afternoon.

Ou Zhongming, project manager of the Caihong, or Rainbow, series of drones at the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, said after the test that several nations, including current users of other CH models and new clients, are in talks with the academy on procurement of the CH-5, which is believed to be one of the best unmanned military aircraft in the world.

“Today’s flight means the CH-5’s design has been finalized and we are ready to mass-produce it,” he said, refusing to name potential buyers.

The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics is the country’s largest military drone exporter by the number of products sold overseas. Its CH-series drones have been sold to militaries in more than 10 countries, making it the largest drone family the country has exported, according to statistics from the academy.

Shi Wen, chief designer of the CH series, said the CH-5 outperforms all of its Chinese-made counterparts when it comes to operational endurance and payload capacity. The plane is as good as the US-made General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer drone often deemed by Western analysts as the best of its kind, he added.

The prototype CH-5 was first flown in August 2015. The drone is made of composite materials and has a wingspan of 21 meters. Twice as big as its predecessors in the CH family, the drone can stay in the air for 60 hours, almost three times that of other Chinese models. Its maximum operational range is designed at 10,000 kilometers, according to Shi.

The drone’s 1-metric-ton payload capacity enables it to bring as many as 24 missiles on a single mission, strong enough to take out a convoy of armored vehicles.

The unmanned aircraft is also able to carry an airborne early warning system to act as a platform for regional surveillance and battlefield command and control. It also can carry electronic warfare instruments to collect electronic intelligence and to jam enemy communications or radar.

Moreover, the CH-5 can detect underwater targets such as submarines when mounted with certain devices, Shi said.

The CH-5 can also use high-resolution cameras, radar and radio transmitters to serve a wide range of civilian and public sectors.

Source: (China Daily)

China’s Baidu taps Partners for Driverless Car Project


Growth strategy: A fleet of vehicles equipped with Baidu’s autonomous driving technologies conduct road testing in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province. Widely considered the Google of China, Baidu is hoping research into artificial intelligence will create a new generation of products to help revive revenue growth.

https://www.bloomberg.com/api/embed/iframe?id=bf6ae8a1-432c-4499-a8aa-47932c408ae0

  • Partners include Bosch, Continental, Chinese automakers
    Company also showed off a voice-activated speaker device
  • Partners include Bosch, Continental, Chinese automakers
    Company also showed off a voice-activated speaker device

Baidu Inc has enlisted more than 50 partners for its Apollo driverless project, signing up major players in areas from mapping and ride-sharing to automaking to aid the Chinese search giant’s foray into AI-powered vehicles.

The program aims to open up part of Baidu’s autonomous car software in the same way that Google released its Android operating system for smartphones. By encouraging more companies to build products using them, Baidu hopes to fine-tune its nascent systems and overtake rival research efforts by the likes of Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo.

Baidu listed four Chinese carmakers, suppliers Robert Bosch GmbH and Continental AG and technology companies including Microsoft Corp. as part of the Apollo alliance. Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant Grab and mapping systems company TomTom NV are also joining the program, which aims to get fully autonomous vehicles on city streets as early as in 2018.

Widely considered the Google of China, Baidu is hoping research into artificial intelligence will create a new generation of products to help revive revenue growth. It has a stated goal of releasing a driverless car by 2018 with mass production to begin by 2021, but some analysts believe its technology still lags that of competitors like Waymo. At a Baidu conference Wednesday, developers showed off the Chinese search provider’s personal assistant, DuerOS.

Baidu’s shares traded in New York rose 2.7 percent to $184.76 at 10:14 a.m. The stock has risen 12 percent so far this year.

The raft of Apollo agreements unveiled Wednesday at Baidu Create cover virtually every automotive field. Dutch company TomTom said in a statement it will help Baidu with high-definition mapping in the U.S. and Western Europe. Several of Apollo’s members already have separate cooperation agreements in place with Waymo and other driverless car providers.

“As we and our partners contribute to the platform in our areas of specialty, we all gain more, with the results far greater than just our own,” Baidu group president Qi Lu said in a statement.

— Bloomberg News With assistance by David Ramli

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The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later




East Asian Economies Remain Diverse

 

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation.

Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.

These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies. The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors.

However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare?

These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

But we will have to consider them in another article.

By Martin Khor Global Trend

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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