Prospering with Belt and Road to reap the benefits of China’s initiative


Malaysia is one of 64 countries to reap the benefits of China’s initiative.

CAN money grow on fruit trees?

Yes, that is as far as Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek is concerned.

After witnessing the signing of a deal worth US$1.53bil (RM6.65bil) between Malaysia’s AgroFresh International and China’s Dashang Group for the export of local Cavendish bananas and tropical fruits to China, he said:

“Money does grow on fruit trees if our agriculture products could open up China’s market.”

The deal was part of the nine memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and agreements, with value totalling more than US$7.22bil (RM31.26bil), which were signed between Malaysian and Chinese companies on May 14.

But Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan, International Trade and Industry Minister II, sees more money flooding in once Malaysia is linked up with other Asean nations, China and Europe via rail connection under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, now termed as the New Silk Road project.

“Our trade figures can jump by three to four folds once Malaysia can export and import goods to our major trade partners (such as China, Europe and Middle East) overland via rail systems,” he tells Sunday Star.

Both ministers are among Cabinet members in the Malaysian delegation led by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing from May 14 to 15.

Malaysia is one of the 64 countries outside China that have benefited from the Belt and Road Initiative, propounded by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013.

One project to be launched soon will be the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link. Examples of existing projects include Xiamen University and the deepening of Kuantan Port.

At the opening ceremony of the forum, Xi injected fresh impetus to his pet project by announcing hundreds of billions in new funds for infrastructure investment in Belt and Road countries that span Asia, Middle East and Europe.

According to some estimates, Chinese funds allocated for investing in Belt and Road countries – which include several exiting funds announced since 2013 – total around US$900bil (about RM4 trillion) now.

“Model of regional cooperation”

From Mongolia to Malaysia, Thailand to Pakistan and Laos to Uzbekistan, many projects, including high-speed railways, bridges, ports, industrial parks, oil pipelines and power grids, are being built, Xi said.

Since 2013, Chinese private businesses have invested more than US$60bil (RM260bil) in countries along the Belt and Road, in addition to the US$50bil invested by the Chinese government.

Xi’s speech also reveals that China will expand China-Europe railway cargo services, which are stirring up excitement in European nations – particularly Britain.

Belt-road: Ong signing Belt and Road MoU with Vice Chairman of National Development and Reform Commission of China Zhong Yong on May 13, 2017. Witnessing are Najib and China’s Premier Li Keqiang.

Calling his brand of globalisation as “project of the century” to achieve a win-win situation for all, Xi has committed to importing US$2 trillion (RM8.7bil) of goods from the 64 Belt and Road countries – many of which are under-developed and impoverished nations hungry for infrastructure and industrial investments.

The Chinese leader’s pledge of “non-interference” with the domestic politics of other countries is comforting, given that there are concerns that China could aim to be a hegemony with its economic and military might.

“What we hope is to create a big family where we can co-exist harmoniously,” Xi said last Sunday in his speech that also focused on connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people.

The forum is by far the most important and largest meeting on the Belt and Road Initiative since 2013.

About 130 countries were represented at the forum and they accounted for two thirds of the world’s population. Their combined gross domestic product accounts for 90% of the world’s total, according to Xinhua.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, regards the Belt and Road Initiative as “a shining model for regional collaboration, development and growth”.

“This initiative respects the differences between countries and their various paths for development, not imposing a specific plan or ideological framework, but seeking to create common ground for cooperation and mutual benefit,” Schwab told Xinhua.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, also told Xinhua: “China will play a very important role in multi-lateralism with the Belt and Road. The initiative reflects a new model of international cooperation and interaction with mutually beneficial cooperation through the connection of policies and development strategies.”

And Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group, shared: “The initiative goes far beyond the economic strategy of any single country or region. Its mission is to make the world more innovative, dynamic, and equal.”

Big step: Fernandes is excited that China has allowed AirAsia to be the first low-cost carrier to set up shop in the Middle Kingdom.

AirAsia deal – another first in China

On the sideline of the forum, Malaysian and Chinese leaders took the opportunity to clinch more agreements that brought bilateral ties to another new high.

While the deals signed last November were far more than this round and higher in total value, the Chinese Government continued to grant “first” to Malaysia. This was reflected in a project given to Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, group chief executive officer and founder of AirAsia Bhd. Soon, the sky will see AirAsia China.

“It is the first time a foreign airline is given permission to establish and operate a low-cost carrier in China. We are the first country to be granted such licence,” Najib told reporters at the conclusion of his visit to China.

AirAsia is establishing a joint venture with China Everbright Group, with an initial stake of 22%. However, AirAsia may raise its stake in future.

China Everbright is a government-owned financial services conglomerate, which is a major shareholder in China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings Ltd and the Henan Government Working Group.

The plan is to set up AirAsia China to be based in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, to ply domestic and international flights.

“Tony Fernandes was very excited because he was able to meet the top transport and aviation officials, whom he could not secure appointments with previously. He has been working on this project for years,” a minister told Sunday Star.

Other Cabinet ministers are also upbeat after attending the Belt and Road Forum.

“I have witnessed the fruits of the close diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China, and between Najib and Xi Jinping during this trip,” says Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who signed a MoU on infrastructure cooperation with China.

“In China, economic developments are influenced by government policies. Now that our leaders have good ties with China, it is very timely for Malaysian businessmen to enter China, and vice versa,” he tells Sunday Star.

Important talks: Liow (second from left) leading a Malaysian delegation at a meeting with his Chinese counterpart at China’s Transport Ministry in Beijing on May 12 morning. From left are Transport Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Chua Kok Ching, MCA vice president Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung and Fernandes.

“We have to promote economic growth fast enough so that we can harvest the fruits of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“The opportunities for Malaysia to develop the infrastructure and boost economic growth would not be available if not for the Belt and Road Initiative pushed forward by China,” he adds.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong observes: “There are quite a number of business-to-business MoUs signed during this trip, in addition to the nine witnessed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“I was also invited to attend many discussions and meetings, sometimes I had to have many meals a day! (as discussions were held over meals).”

Wee, whose ministerial portfolio covers development of Chinese small and medium enterprises (SMEs), has personally requested Ma to reduce charges for Malaysian SMEs when they use Alibaba’s platform to sell products.

Ma, an e-commerce wizard and China’s second richest man, is expected to give consideration to the proposal as he has pledged to help Malaysia develop its digital economy. Ma will set up the Asean data centre in Malaysia before the end of the year.

Analysing Belt and Road Initiative, Shabery Cheek says: “Belt and Road is a different form of cooperation from other pacts, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and World Trade Organisation (WTO). Those emphasised on what goods were tax-free and what were not, which sectors to open up and which could not. Essentially, they focused on how to protect the self-interests of individual countries.

“However, the Belt and Road talks about infrastructure networking, which is very important. They take the cue from the ancient Silk Road, which was not only a channel to transport goods, but also to spread Islam and Buddhism. That is a great thing.”

Source: Sunday Star by Ho Wah FoonTho Xin Yi

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Arrest decline in productivity and competitiveness in Malaysia


COINCIDENTLY, two major reports were released on June 1 on the decline of our national productivity and competitiveness. The first was our own Productivity Report 2016/2017, which was launched by Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad (pic) and the second one was the World Competitiveness Yearbook WCY issued by the Institute for Management Development.

This coincidence in decline is understandable since both productivity and competitiveness are closely inter-related. Lower productivity leads to lower international competitiveness.

Productivity

Our labour productivity fell short of our 11th Plan target of 3.7% growth by 0.2% to 3.5% last year. This is a small decline and has been rightly explained with confidence by the Minister of Trade in positive terms when he said that Malaysia was “on track”.

I think he will agree that we must be concerned enough to ask what are the causes and whether this is just a mere slip or could it be the beginning of a trend.

We have to take this fall as a wake up call, in case this decline happens again next year and later on. We have to review many recurrent and uncomfortable issues like brain drain and unemployed graduates – who could number over 200,000 – also reflect the low productivity of many graduates who are newly employed. The lower productivity can be attributed to our low use of automation, high employment of unskilled foreign and cheap labour and the new challenges of the digital economy.

The Minister’s proposal for the Government and private sector to “join forces to embark on initiatives” to improve productivity in nine sectors “of lower productivity”, is most welcome. The private sector has to make profit unlike the Government. Hence it has a greater sense of urgency in wanting to improve not only labour productivity but productivity from all factors of production, including good governance and integrity and quality services to the public. Thus it will be very interesting for the public to be made fully aware of the productivity improvements that should materialise not only in the private sector, but for the Government as well. For instance government departments can learn from the private sector how to provide better or excellent services in the fields of health and education and counter services at police stations, Customs, Immigration, etc .

Productivity in both the private sector and the government machinery should improve to raise our total national productivity. Only then will our nation be able to compete much more efficiently and effectively in the global economy.

We can have the best Productivity Blueprint like that which was launched on May 8 but our productivity can continue to slip and even slide, if we do not ensure that the blueprint is fully implemented and its progress diligently monitored and improved along the way. One way to seriously pursue our goal to raise productivity would be to increase the small sum of only RM200mil for a new Automation Fund. Modern machinery and equipment are expensive but the returns in terms of higher productivity can be very significant. So let’s go for higher productivity with greater automation and not approach the challenge on an ad hoc and piecemeal basis. The Treasury would need to support the Productivity Blueprint much more productively!

Competitiveness

Malaysia registered its lowest ranking in five years in the WCY.

This reflects our decline in productivity as competitiveness is the other side of the coin. However, I am surprised that the relationship is so sensitive. Just a drop of 0.2% in productivity can cause a drop in our international competitiveness ranking from 19th place to the 24th!

What this could show is that while we are sluggish in our productivity, other countries are much more aggressive in improving both their productivity and competitiveness.

There is thus no point in taking pride that we scored better in our ranking compared to the industrial countries like Austria (25th) Japan (26th) and Korea (29th). They are highly developed countries which enjoy much higher standards of living and a better quality of life that we do. They have reached the top of Mount Fuji and other mountains, while we are still climbing up from a lower economic base.

The drop in our competitiveness is significant and we have to take this decline very seriously. Malaysia slipped in all four sectors, that is, economic performance, business efficiency, government efficiency and infrastructure. That is why it is essential to investigate in depth into all these major falls in performance and tell the public what is being done to improve our rankings and ratings.

It is appreciated that Malaysia Productivity Corp’s Director General Datuk Mohd Razali Hussain has established Nine Working Cluster Groups to examine these poor indicators and report on improvements that must be made expeditiously.


Conclusion

It is good that we have these reports on productivity and international competitiveness to benchmark our national performance against them. We have to take advantage of these annual indicators and ensure that we keep improving rather than falling in productivity and competitiveness .

Our efforts to improve will be watched closely by our domestic and particularly international investors and international competitors .

We can only hope that these declines are not just coincidental but are also not developing declining trends. This could spell pessimism and falling confidence in our socio-economic management.

Instead we should take these set backs as warning signals and rededicate ourselves to a greater commitment to higher competition, more meritocracy and building a better socio-economic and political environment in Malaysia.

TAN SRI RAMON NAVARATNAM

Chairman Asli’s Centre of Public Policy Studies


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Huge Civil Service Size, Attractive Emoluments and Benefits are costing Malaysia !


Prized job: While long-term security like the pension scheme free healthcare and easy loans have been among the perks of joining the public service, many job seekers now want to become civil servants because it pays well. — Bernama

The attractive emoluments and benefits in the public sector are costing the country, say experts.

THE civil service had never been *Sofea Mohd’s dream job but in the current competi­tive job market, the final year Economics student at a local public university is seriously weighing the option. Especially since she was offered a temporary position at a ministry where she had just completed an internship.

“My seniors advised me to take the offer – one said she had to wait years before she got a job, another said he had to work in a fastfood restaurant and sell pens and children’s books on the street, so I thought I should listen to them and just take it.

“They say my chances of being hired permanently will be higher then,” says the 22-year-old.

The main reason she decided to accept the offer, however, is the pay, she tells, “It’s not as low as people say. I will get a daily wage but I can earn at least RM2,000 a month. The pay for permanent staff is of course better.”

Her friend *Azman Jailani dreams of starting his own business but is also planning to join the public sector after graduation.

“That’s what my parents want me to do. They say there is more security in the civil service. I can start my business later if I want,” says the final year business studies student.

With the academic year coming to a close at most tertiary institution in the country, many graduating students are preparing for the next chapter in their life. And like these two, many are looking at the civil service for a job guarantee.

It was reported recently that the Public Service Commission received 1.56 million applications last year to fill 25,046 job vacancies in the public sector. In 2015, the PSC received 1.63 million applications for 24,606 vacancies.

While the attraction of a government job is well-noted – long-term security; a pension scheme; cheap, if not free, healthcare; easy loans – many job seekers are now drawn to the public sector because of its pay.

Shamsuddin: ‘Duplications impact the private sector. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays.’

The pay for the public sector, especially for entry-level jobs, is on par with the private sector, says Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan.

“It has to be noted that public sector wages have risen, in some cases outstripping the wages in the private sector. And that is only the basic pay. When you add the different allowances and bonuses, the public sector’s salaries – perhaps except for those at senior management level – could be more attractive than that of the private sector.

“Then there are also many benefits for civil servants such as house loans and healthcare benefits for them and family that continue even after they retire.

“In the private sector, the health insurance coverage ends when you leave a company’s employment or retire,” he says.

But the attractive emolument and benefits in the public sector have come at a price for the country, say economists, one that Malaysia will not be able to afford in the future. In fact, some believe it is already hurting Malaysia’s economy – it has been reported that it will now cost the nation more than 40% of government revenue to maintain the public sector.

Experts have pointed to its sheer size as a reason for the burgeoning bill of the civil service.

In February, Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani told a local Chinese daily in an interview that it is a growing challenge for the Government to run the public sector due to the rising costs.

“One of the issues that we have to address is the ever-increasing government operating costs and expenses.

“For example, we have about 1.6 million civil servants, which is one of the world’s largest proportion of civil service,” Johari was quoted as saying.

With a population of 31 million, this means Malaysia has a ratio of one civil servant to 19 people, said the news report, which cited corresponding ratios for other countries in comparison: Singapore (1 to 71 people), Indonesia (1:110), China (1:108) and Britain (1:118).

The reported size of the civil service caused a stir, with the Public Service Department director-general Datuk Seri Zainal Rahim Seman refuting criticisms that the civil service is oversized by reiterating Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa’s statement that the size of the civil service is a matter of definition under the Federal Constitution, which includes the police, the armed forces, and healthcare and education personnel.

 

As Zainal Rahim told the press, the actual size of the civil service would only be 682,790 should Malaysia adopt the same calculation used by other countries. This would make the ratio of civil servant to population as 1 to 44, instead of 1:19, he said.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, meanwhile, put  Malaysia’s employment in the public sector as only 10.8% of the total labour force in 2013.

But as Johari highlighted, the fact is, emoluments make up the biggest portion of the Government’s operating expenditure, and that cost has been and will keep expanding.

“In 2003, the pay of public servants totalled RM22bil but it increased to RM74bil by 2016. In 2003, the pension of civil servants was RM5.9bil and in 2016 the amount soared to RM19bil.”

This year, some RM77.4bil have been allocated in the 2017 Budget for public servants’ pay and some RM21bil for the pension and gratuity payments of retirees, which is about 45% of the allocated operating expenditure of the country.

The challenge to cover the spiking cost is intensified by the declining Government reve­nue, the vernacular newspaper reported Johari as saying.

“In particular, revenues from the palm oil and natural gas industries, which generated profits of about RM65bil in 2014, fell sharply to RM30bil in 2016,” he was quoted.

Concurring, economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng says the rising operating expenditure is also a concern due to its impact on the country’s development.

“Over the last decade or so, we are seeing the operating expenditure in the government budget expand to the extent that we are not able to expand the development expenditure,” says Dr Yeah, who is an economics professor at Sunway Business School.

Some RM214.8bil was allocated for operating expenditure in the 2017 Budget while only RM46bil was allocated for development.

“By right, the development expenditure should be half of the budget if we want a dynamic economy as we see in many countries, especially in the developed countries,” he adds.

“But in Malaysia, the development expenditure has shrunk to as low as 20% of the budget. This will have a multiplier effect on our economy.”

He argues we should be spending more on our development, both in increasing the quantum of development expenditure and at the same time focusing the development expenditure on the right sectors – not just hard infrastructure but also soft infrastructure like social and human capital development.

“This is important in improving the quality of our workforce and their skills, in terms of boosting the talent development that can push the frontiers of growth in the country, especially in science and technology and other emerging knowledge and industries.

“The Government needs to attract investments in these new sectors, so that is why development expenditure is one of the key contributions to spark growth in those sectors and accelerate the growth of the economy towards becoming high end, high value.”

He points out, various studies have shown that the country’s civil service is big, with a low productivity rate.

“Regardless of how we calculate the total, we definitely have more people in the public sector than necessary, and studies have shown that labour productivity is quite low for the public sector.”

Rightsizing the civil service is the way to go, he asserts, but it should be treated as part of the continuous effort of improving the efficiency of its delivery service.

“The key is to be able to provide the services required by the people optimally, which is at the smallest number and lowest cost possible without sacrificing the quality of service,” he says, stressing that the underlying note is that “we should be getting bigger banks for our bucks, that is the taxpayers’ money.”

Crucially, Dr Yeah adds, while rightsizing the civil service is important to sustain growth, it is important that we rightsize without disrupting economic growth in terms of the employment situation in the country.

“We have to ensure meaningful employment for all while sustaining a low unemployment rate so that we can maintain the domestic economic growth momentum.”

Any prudent government would seize the opportunity to rightsize and enhance the public sector efficiency, Dr Yeah says.

“It is important to rightsize gradually and incrementally at a pace that does not disrupt the economy.

“Because the risk is that if we are hit by a downturn and the government is forced to undertake the pending cuts then that would be more painful and damaging to the economy. There would be a loss of productive capital when we face that kind of situation,” he says.

Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, immediate past president of the Malaysian Economic Association (MEA) also believes it is time for Malaysia to rightsize the civil service due to the huge sum of civil servants’ salaries and pensions in the government expenditure.

As he had told the “Economic Governance: Public Sector Governance” forum in February, it could be a problem for Malaysia if it runs into a financial crisis and rightsizing is “better sooner than later” if Malaysia wanted to avoid falling into a Greece-like crisis, where the European country had to cut salaries and state pensions for its civil service.

“It is worthwhile to do it now while we can still afford it.

“I think we should do it gradually. It is kinder to do it now with incentives than to suddenly cut their salaries and pensions at a time when they can least afford it,” he was reported as saying.

Mohd Sheriff, who is also the former Finance Ministry secretary-general and Economic Planning Unit director-general, points out that there are ways of rightsizing in a humane and caring manner including providing free courses on skills development that will make people employable in the right sector like ICT, English, basic accounting, corporate law and others.

He says with the right skills, many would even leave the service on their own accord to improve their lives.

Dr Yeah agrees.

“While their pay is comparable to the private sector, many of the second layer and support jobs in the civil service have low long-term prospect,” he says.

“If their skills are improved, they and their families could get better prospects for the future. And if they are forced to look at other opportunities in the private sector or in entrepreneurship, in the end they could be better off,” he says, pointing to some of the initiatives already taken to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency, especially under Pemandu.

Dr Lee Hwok Aun, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says the Government should explore different ways to raise more revenue, such as by introducing a capital gains tax.

As a former lecturer at a Malaysian public university, Dr Lee says he can appreciate the enormous difficulty of rightsizing the civil service.

“The projected increasing burden of civil service salaries and proven continuous increase of operational expenditures in overall federal government spending, at the expense of investment, are major causes for concern. And the size of the civil service matters, but the long-term issues are even more complex,” he says.

For the civil service to be effective, nimble and efficient, it will need to attract and retain talent in certain sectors – which means paying higher salaries, especially for key positions such as teachers, he says.

As he sees it, the main problem is over-bureaucratisation.

“There are various unnecessary administrative posts, which add cost and tend to perpetuate procedures and heavy paperwork. I can attest to this from my experience working in a public university. An overhaul of administrative strategy and operations is probably necessary in many departments, before making any staff reductions. If not, when staff retire or relocate, the same amount of tedious work becomes distributed among fewer people, causing service and morale to decline,” he says, adding there will also be resistance from civil servants who stand to lose their pension if they leave.

“We should be understanding and merciful about this situation. Forms of compensation, or the option to convert from public sector pension to an EPF lump sum, could be explored.”

MEF’s Shamsuddin concurs, pointing out that there are also a lot of duplications of service and work at the federal level and state level and so on.

“A good example is tourism where there is a tourism agency at the federal level while the state has its own tourism Exco and office.

Duplications impact the private sector as it is a problem to deal with different government agencies to get something done. When there are too many agencies, that will bound to cause delays,” says Shamsuddin.

Dr Yeah says it is imperative for the Government to enhance the efficiency of the delivery service and effectiveness of the public sector across the board, such as putting them to work in priority areas and where they will have the highest impact.

“Crucially, when we focus on improving productivity through redeployment, retraining and re-skilling, quite naturally, we will be rightsizing.”

It can even be a win-win situation for the public servants as a smaller number of employees that commensurate with a higher productivity will mean an increase in profit, so the civil servants can receive higher wages, he notes.

Still, Dr Yeah feels the public sector’s emolument bill should be capped.

“We need to ensure that the public sector wages do not exceed the workers’ productivity or rate of inflation, as that itself will lead to a productivity decline.

“We should cascade it so that the wages in private sector could rise in tandem with thepublic sector,” he says, adding that at the same time the size of the civil service needs to be reduced. “If we don’t rightsize and instead create more civil service jobs, it will be a downward spiral.”

The Government also needs to enhance Malaysia’s investment climate and attract more foreign investments, he adds, “The strategy of the country should be to push for private sector growth, especially in new and emerging areas which would boost demand for highly skilled labour.”

Ultimately, says Dr Yeah, the public service sector should not be the job reserve or employer of the last resort in the country.

To achieve this, we need to stop the disproportionate interest in the public sector which is not healthy for the economy, he says.

“We should be steering the workforce towards the private sector or they should become entrepreneurs so that they can raise their income opportunities and create jobs.”

The tightening of the job market can lead to higher investment, higher productivity and higher wages, Dr Yeah notes, “This is the virtuous cycle we need to kickstart to sustain an economic growth for the country at a higher level.”

*not real name

Next: Some of the initiatives already taken by the Government to rightsize the civil service and improve its productivity and efficiency.

Source: The Star/ANN by Hariati Azizan

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America vs China: odds narrowing


Leaders meet: A file picture showing Trump welcoming Xi to the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida during the latter’s visit to the US recently. Xi has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic. – AFP

THE contrast could not be greater. While United States president Donald Trump raves and rants – and belts this or that person – China’s president Xi Jinping looks measured and assured as he offers a global future to the world.

Xi is no angel of course, as his political opponents would know, but his system conserves and protects him, as Trump’s would not. If only Trump were the leader in a centrally controlled political order – but even then his temperament would blow it apart.

Leadership, like politics, is the art of managing the possible. Trump does not understand this, and does not know how. Xi does, knows why, and knows how.

He has a growing economy too behind him, whatever the hiccups. Trump only promises one, without any clarity or logic.

His plan to boost the American economy, based primarily on slashing corporate tax from 35 to 15%, is likely to flounder in an American Congress seriously concerned about its causing the fiscal deficit to balloon.

Already Trump has had to climb down from trying to secure funds from Congress for his dreaded border wall with Mexico in order to avoid budgetary shutdown in September.

The stock market has fallen back from the boost to the price of banks and industrial products following his election. Interest now has returned to what might be termed “American ingenuity stocks” such as Google, Apple and Microsoft on Nasdaq – a proxy for much that is great about America, which Trump’s immigration and closed-door policies threaten to destroy.

Meanwhile Xi has been rolling out his “Belt and Road” plans – something he first envisaged at the end of 2013 – for greater world connectivity and development, committing funds from China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and engaging global financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Malaysia, for instance, will be an actual beneficiary with additional projects thrown in. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner. But the US has not been a laggard, being Malaysia’s fourth largest trading partner. And indeed the US remains the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, both new investments and total stock.

A staggering statistic not often recognised is that total American investment in Asean is more than its investment in China, Japan and India COMBINED!

The point, however, is that this position is being eroded. Trump’s policies are hastening this process. Abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) means there is no American strategic peaceful challenge to the Chinese economic juggernaut in Asia-Pacific.

Balance is important to afford choice. Absence of choice means serious exposure to risk. Price, quality and after-service standards are affected, not to mention a new geostrategic economic underlining.

Over-dominance by China in the region is a price not only countries in the region will pay, something that most probably is on Trump’s mind. It is a price that America too will sooner or later have to pay.

China’s Belt and Road proposition is not without its challenges, of course. India is deeply suspicious of the connectivity with Pakistan which cuts across India-claimed Azad Kashmir, about 3000km of it.

The link to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in southwest Baluchistan on the shores of the Arabian Sea, is seen by India as a Chinese presence at the entrance to the Indian Ocean and a hawk eye on the Indian sub-continent. With the Chinese also in Sri Lanka, India is circumspect on China’s Belt and Road initiative.

There have also been commentaries on some uneconomic linkages which extend right across the English Channel.

All these reservations, however, do not take into account the benefit of connectivity to economies, the time it often takes to get those economic benefits and, most of all, the patience, persistence and long view of history of China and its leaders.

One of the most striking things about the Belt and Road map is that America is not there. Of course, Xi Jinping does not preclude America just as much as the US did not say that China was not permanently excluded from the TPP. And of course, in the Old Silk Routes and shipping lanes, the New World – America – had not been discovered.

But in their revival, led by now rising and then ancient China after 150 years of national humiliation to the present time, there is the irony that the last three quarters of a century of America world dominance is on course to be marginalised, if not supplanted, by the old Eurasian world centred in an ancient civilisation.

Trump does not seem to understand history. The art of the deal is purely transactional. Short-tempered and short-term gratification does not a strategy constitute.

So we have leader, system and economic promise distinguishing the two leaders – and the two countries.

Instead of America first, what we are seeing is Trump hurrying America’s decline relative to a rising China.

We are not seeing a world changed from people wanting to be like a kind of American to being people wanting to be a kind of Chinese. Actually, the Chinese people themselves want to be like a kind of American, with all that wealth, influence and power.

What we are seeing is China – not America – leading the way to that desired, if not always desirable, end. It is China that is driving the next phase in the evolution of world economic development.

Under Xi Jinping, China appears to be heroically moving towards an epochal point in its Peaceful Rise. With Donald Trump, America is being led backwards and inwards, with all the problems of its governance now all coming out. It is in grave danger of losing in the peaceful competition.

Not knowing how to play that game – certainly under its current President – there remains the danger of the status quo power lashing out against the rising one.

The Greek historian Thucydides observed: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

A Harvard professor has studied what is now called the Thucydides Trap and found in 12 out of 16 cases in which this occurred in the last 500 years, the outcome was war.

There are many potential flash points against the background of China’s rise – the North Korean Peninsula and the placement of THAAD missiles in the south, the South China Sea – where Trump may temperamentally find cause to lash out. This is the trapdoor he might take the world down because of failure to compete peacefully.

By munir majid – crux The Star

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.
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One Belt One Road paving the way to success


In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Countries along the Belt and Road have their own resource advantages, and their economies are mutually complementary. This means there is a great potential and space for cooperation.

Connecting facilities is a priority in implementing the initiative. On the basis of respecting each other’s sovereignty and security concerns, countries along the Belt and Road are improving the connectivity of their infrastructure construction plans and technical standard systems, jointly pushing forward the construction of international passageways, and forming an infrastructure network connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe and Africa.

At the same time, China and countries along the way are making efforts to promote green and low-carbon infrastructure construction and operation management, taking into full account the impact of climate change on any construction.

With regard to transport infrastructure construction, they are focusing on key passageways, junctions and projects, and giving priority to linking up unconnected road sections, removing transport bottlenecks, advancing road safety facilities and traffic management facilities and equipment, and improving road network connectivity.

Countries along the Belt and Road are building a unified coordination mechanism for whole-course transportation, increasing connectivity in customs clearance, reloading and multimodal transport, and gradually formulating compatible and standard transport rules, in order to facilitate international transport.

China suggests pushing forward port infrastructure construction, building smooth land-water transportation channels, and advancing port cooperation, increasing sea routes and the number of voyages, and enhancing information technology cooperation in maritime logistics. We should expand and build platforms and mechanisms for comprehensive civil aviation cooperation, and quicken our pace in improving aviation infrastructure.

In this episode, we will see how Belt and Road helps close the distance between people around the world.

The Belt and Road:

http://watchthis.chinadaily.com.cn/video/column/belt-and-road/

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Belt-road changes world order


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May 14-15 summit and forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What lies ahead in 2017?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belt road implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: by Ho Wah Foon The Star/ANN

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Xi’s governance of China book a hot seller


 

After its debut in Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan, Xi Jinping: The Governance of China has become a top seller and been well-received among local officials and scholars, with many hailing the value of the book for both its language and its outreach.

The book, which outlines the political ideas of the top leadership in China, has been released in Thai, Khmer and Urdu versions in the respective capitals of the three countries in the past two weeks.

A Thai publisher sold more than 2,000 copies of the book in a single day after its launch in Bangkok on April 7, with many readers inquiring on social media about ways to purchase the book, reported Xinhua news agency.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who had read the book, said it was written in beautiful language, even though it was not in the form of a novel or essays.

“I believe that to be a great leader, one has to be a good reader, good thinker, good speaker, good writer and good doer, and I found President Xi has achieved all of them after I finished reading this book,” he said.

In Phnom Penh, more than 700 officials, scholars and entrepreneurs, including Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen and five deputy prime ministers, attended the launching ceremony for the book on April 11.

Chea Munyrith, director of the Confucius Institute of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said publishing a Khmer version will enable the Cambodian people to better learn about China and Xi himself.

Chea, who assisted in the translation of the book into Khmer, said it offers insights for government officials and scholars on how to properly manage a country.

“That is why it is important for the officials, students and scholars in Cambodia to read through the book,” he said.

At the launching ceremony of the Urdu edition of the book in Islamabad on Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the book is as much about the contemporary world as it is about China.

“What has touched me most is that this book is not just about high-level politics, but also about moving stories of common people, their lives and inspirations about hard work and family values,” he said.

“This book is as much about the “Chinese Dream” as it is about the global dream to have a peaceful, harmonious and connected world,” he added.

Building a community of shared destiny is an important concept embodied in Xi’s thoughts on governance of the nation, said Jiang Jianguo, deputy head of the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and minister of the State Council Information Office.

“And this concept has been included in the resolutions passed by United Nations organisations,” Jiang said in Islamabad.

Source: China Daily/Asia News Network

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