Washington’s unsustainable deficit hangs over global economy


With the widening US budget gap, it is no longer a secret that such a high level of federal spending is unsustainable and the resulting debt burden has become a worry for the global economy.

According to data from the US Treasury Department, the federal budget deficit went on the rise in 2019, hitting $1.02 trillion and marking the first calendar year the deficit has exceeded $1 trillion since 2012. Given the country’s tax revenues, government spending is obviously on an unsustainable path. While total government receipts grew 5 percent in 2019, federal spending increased at a faster pace of 7.5 percent.

More worryingly, as the economy slows amid headwinds, it is basically impossible for the US government to make ends meet by raising tax revenues. So based on the current trend, it will probably become a norm for the annual federal deficit to top $1 trillion in the future.

Undoubtedly, massive fiscal deficits will prompt a steady rise in public debt. According to data released by the Treasury Department on November 1, the US national debt surpassed $23 trillion for the first time in history. The figure is equivalent to about 110 percent of the country’s GDP.

Of course, it should be acknowledged that US Treasury bonds are still considered safe-haven assets in the current uncertain global markets as they are seen as secure due to their strong ratings. Treasury securities held by foreign holders amounted to $6.78 trillion as of the end of October 2019, up $580 billion compared with a year earlier, according to Treasury data issued on December 16, 2019.

In the meantime, however, the share of US debt held by foreign holders has fallen from a peak of 34.1 percent in July 2012 to about 29 percent today. The decline also reflects the accelerated expansion of US debt issuance.

So far there is no sign of any sort of sustained plan for narrowing the US deficit to at least rein in its debt expansion. Nor does the government show any sign of urgency on this issue. Maybe the only response from the Trump administration is to pressure the Federal Reserve to cut rates, a move that could help lower its interest payments on debt and devalue its currency to ease the debt burden.

Such surge in irresponsibility could be attributed to two factors – its high creditworthiness and the financial supremacy of the US dollar. Since a collapse of the US economy may cause an economic disaster around the world, the US government could be better off counting on the world to pay the bill.

Sadly, there is no way out under the current circumstances, and the only hope now is that Americans will take some concrete measures to reverse the trend before a debt crisis truly breaks out.

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US-Iran tensions, who are terrorists?


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Iran blacklists Pentagon, U.S. forces as ‘terrorists’

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Iran designates all US forces ‘terrorists’


 

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States believes there have been potentially multiple attacks on locations in Iraq, including the al Asad airbase that hosts U.S. forces, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, without providing additional information.It was unclear what other sites may have been attacked. Tensions have mounted with Iran following a U.S. drone strike on Friday that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had confirmed to Reuters earlier that a rocket attack had taken place against al Asad airbase, but did not confirm other sites.

U.S. President Donald Trump visited the base in his December 2018 trip to Iraq.

 

Iran’s parliament designates all US forces as ‘terrorists’

The Iranian parliament approved bill on Tuesday that designates United States military forces as terrorists, days after American airstrikes killed top Iranian military leader General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. The bill is similar to the action the U.S. took last year when the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

Members of parliament passed the bill declaring the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist entities, according to Iranian state media. Under the bill, the Iranian government will also provide $220 million to the IRGC to “reinforce its defense power in vengeance for General Soleimani’s assassination,” the news agency reported, as tensions between the U.S. and Iran rise.
Iranian parliament voted to designated the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist organizations

 Iranian parliament voted to designated the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist organizations

This handout picture shows Iranian lawmakers raising their hands to vote during a parliamentary session in Tehran. Iran’s parliament passed a bill designating all U.S. forces “terrorists” over the killing of a top Iranian military commander in an airstrike last week. Icana News Agency

A senior U.S. official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a direct attack on American interests in retaliation for the airstrike that killed Soleimani, his top military commander and friend. The official said the U.S. military was “extremely concerned” that the retaliation could come quickly.

When asked by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on Tuesday when the Iranian response would come, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would only say that his country would retaliate at the time of its choosing. While a senior Iranian commander threatened at Soleimani’s funeral to “set ablaze” America’s supporters in the region, Zarif told CBS News the response would be “proportionate” and “against legitimate targets.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued leading the Trump administration’s defense of the targeted missile strike that killed Soleimani. He insisted that President Trump was right to order the killing and dismissed Iran’s claim that Soleimani was in Iraq for diplomatic purposes.

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Time for real change for Malaysian education as glory stuck in the past and the delusion of Vision 2020


New decade, new Malaysian education: For the sake of our children and our future, Mazlee’s replacement should be a qualified and capable Malaysian – irrespective of race or religion.

Dr Maszlee forced to resign for failing to heed Cabinet orders

We need a new Education Minister with the right qualifications, a scientific mindset and a technocratic iron will to implement the critical changes.

I HAVE been a big critic of and objector to Maszlee Malik as Education Minister from day one.

I took no pleasure in it then nor do I take pleasure in it now. It just is. The wrong person must go and the right person must come in.

Education is far too important for a nation to be entrusted to those not competent in moulding the minds of our most precious resource, our youth. Education is where we develop this resource for either the success or the failure of our nation.

We do not have to look far to see success. A country with no natural resources, with a tenth of our population, can be a developed nation by sheer power of its human resources.

In 1965, Malaysia and Singapore went separate ways in more ways than one. Look at where they are and look where we are now. The lessons to be learned are abundant. Have the humility to know when we are wrong and they have been right all along. There is no need to look East. Look South.

“A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of its leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history, ” said its architect, Lee Kuan Yew in 1963.

The education ministership is the leader in ensuring that our children and our youths are able to take the nation to the next level. It is just not at the very top have we got it wrong, again and again. We must have the humility to admit when we are wrong and have been wrong for more than 30 years. We must have the decency, discipline and courage to want to change so our future can be assured.

What did Singapore do right in education? When one looks at massive differences in results, one need not look at many things. One need only look at the fundamental deviation at the root.

One: Singaporean education is in English.

Despite more than 76% of its population being ethnic Chinese, the medium of instruction for its public schools is English. Have you ever heard the Singaporean government or its leaders talk about “memartabatkan” (to give dignity to) the Mandarin language? They have no time for such foolish ethnic pride.

They may find ways to conserve Chinese heritage but they have no interest or inclination to play to racial sentiments that would sacrifice the very essence that will ensure their children have the easiest access to the widest and latest conservatory of human knowledge since the late 19th century.

As such, accessibility of critical knowledge for their children and subsequent generations are assured from young and is continuous throughout their lives. It is so easy to do for those who have the best interest at heart and yet so difficult to do for those with foolish pride and Machiavellian political ambitions.

No mandatory Chinese calligraphy is needed to ensure Chinese heritage continues. No shouting of slogans of Ketuanan Cina and its preservation. That is confidence in your own ability to shape destiny. To hell with all that. Learn in English.

Two: Their education is secular. Because that is the essence of education

One of the greatest physicists and teachers of the 20th century, the late Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, famously said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes an education.

Singapore does not impose belief on its citizens. And that starts in education. Question everything and everyone. Anything that cannot be questioned has no place in the classroom of public education. That is called indoctrination.

You want to indoctrinate your children that the sky is filled with butterflies and angels in the morning, go ahead, but not on our time or our dime.

It is abhorrent the amount of taxpayers money and children’s time that have been wasted on indoctrination of belief. Indoctrination stops you from thinking, it is the complete acceptance of belief.

As Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. Religion is not about thinking, its about accepting.

Religion – any religious indoctrination – has no place in public education. You do not find that in Singapore and you do not find that in any other developed nation. If you want to include religion in public education, do it as part of comparative religion in the social sciences context. Otherwise it is indoctrination. It is useless as education.

Belief, religion and its indoctrination must be the domain of parents, if they so choose, and not government. Otherwise the result is imposition, persecution and finally tyranny of belief upon the citizenry. And no nation will survive such tyranny.

There is a reason great men of history have warned us against such wanton imposition of religious beliefs and indoctrination of the masses. Thomas Jefferson once said, “In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to liberty.”

We need to heed this warning.

Three: One word – Science.

I have said this again and again. Science is the salvation of a nation, especially today in the 21st century.

The triumph of human civilisation is the triumph of science. The ascendancy of humankind, each empire, each nation and people has been through their grasp of the “science” of their time and its application in their minds and lives.

Our education must be science-centric. No ifs or buts. There must be more basic science taught, learned, experimented with and exposed to our children from the day they start school until they leave it. In depth and breadth and in the number of hours spent on it. We must have truly competent and passionate teachers to carry out this duty.

Even as a lawyer, I have learned that the human mind and senses are limited. Nothing fools humans more than their minds and their own senses.

In just the last decade, more convictions of innocents due to so-called eye-witness testimonies, even multiple ones, have been overturned as a result of DNA evidence to the contrary. Why? Science has proven that human senses and minds can be easily fooled, especially by emotion and herd mentality. But science is objective, evidentiary knowledge.

We need to build a science-centric society and that starts with our primary and secondary education. From the beginning, Lee realised the importance of establishing Singapore as a leader in the field of science and technology in Asia. He did not care what your ethnicity or religion was, that was the priority. And look at the society he built. Modern in outlook and progressive in thought, to the point he could no longer really control the people.

Maybe that is what our leaders are afraid of. A questioning, educated, critical thinking masses.

We must halt this downward slide of epic proportions in Malaysian education.

A new education minister with the right qualifications, a scientific or science-centric mindset and a technocratic iron will to implement critical changes must be appointed. Nothing less can be acceptable to Malaysians. This must be our demand.

I believe the next appointment will be a critical test whether this Pakatan government is worthy of our consideration in the next elections or an alternative must be considered and pursued vigorously by the right-minded citizenry.

We need the new education minister to implement what is needed. Go back to the basics and have the will, courage and ingenuity to make tough changes against what I expect to be conservative political opposition, both racial and religious.

If the person is more interested in putting colleagues in religious brotherhoods ahead of qualified intellectual professionals in positions of authority in education, then we are all doomed.

If the person is more interested in telling and allowing teachers to carry on dakwah (Islamic preaching) instead of closing down separate canteens in schools, then our quagmire will continue.

Black shoes and hotel swimming pools. That is the legacy we have been left with.

We need to see the closing down of worthless tax-payer funded universities that carry the word science but are based on beliefs and scriptures. They make a mockery of our nation and society. They promote the dumbing down of our population and produce graduates that will have nothing to contribute but further destruction of the Malaysian civilisation. We need a shake down of epic proportions for Malaysian education to return it to its past glory and make future progress.

As such, unlike a certain racist and bigoted MP from PAS, who insists on a Malay Muslim candidate only for the post, we need a minister who is qualified, irrespective of race or religion. We just need a Malaysian who is capable, for the sake of our children and our future.

We need an education minister who understands what is essential education. It is not rocket science.

But like all things in Malaysian politics, I have stopped believing in the capabilities or integrity of most of our politicians and political leadership. How I hope that I am proven wrong.

I close with this quote from Carl Sagan, one of the foremost teachers of science: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

That could very well describe our Malaysian education system and administration.

But 2020 has arrived, so it’s time for real change to happen.

Activist lawyer Siti Kasim is the founder of the Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (Maju). The views expressed here are solely her own.

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Comment: Tough times for Chinese education


A glimpse of glory 

 We once had a vision of a future, but now that it’s here, we still seem stuck in the past.

Cutting edge: Schools in China have begun to emphasise the teaching of coding, robotics and AI in the great push to produce the best engineers and digital experts. — AFP

WE are already into 2020 and it’s the dawn of a new decade. But if we buy into the endless narrative of race and religion, it’s as if we haven’t moved.

Six decades after Malaysia’s independence, and we are still trapped in this blinding obsession with ethnicity, which has done nothing but consume so much of our time and energy.

When rationale flies out the window, and reasoning fails, some politicians and self-declared communal champions resort to bigotry ways.

And of course, the most unscrupulous sometimes tell our citizens they should leave the country if they are unhappy, although incredulously, some of these characters conveniently overlook how their forefathers came to Malaya nearly the same time as the rest.

If Malaysia is caught in the middle income trap now, with our inability to reach a higher level of income, that’s down to not having changed in how we’ve functioned economically for the past 40-odd years.

The middle-income trap concept refers to the transition of low income to a middle income economy.

We have failed to achieve the Vision 2020 objective of becoming a developed nation, and the architect of that plan, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has blamed his successors for the failure.

Now, the Pakatan Harapan government – also led by Dr Mahathir – has unveiled the Shared Prosperity Plan for 2035. It remains to be seen if we will reach that goal, either.

But at the rate we are moving, it’s hard to ignore how the voice of hope has somehow hushed.

In fact, Vision 2020 set off bigger expectations and optimism, but now there seems to be a lack of purpose and leadership.

If Malaysia is facing a middle income trap, then we are also snagged in a political status snare because we are heading nowhere as a nation, as we recklessly hand racial and religious hardliners the wheel of the nation.

Unelected religious activists seem to be speaking more boldly than many elected representatives, who seem content to let these fringe personalities hog the headlines.

In the digital age, the decibel level has been cranked in social media, and comments posted by their fans to support these hawks have become more seditious and disturbing.

It’s hard to break free from that gnawing sense that they are allowed to continue because the government fears putting a leash on them.

Our Pakatan Harapan leaders, especially those from Bersatu, seem to lack the will to take on a centrist role, and worse, have attempted to compete with those playing the race and religion cards.

While these political shenanigans may gain domestic mileage, it doesn’t help Malaysia one bit because many see it as part of the inability to get our act together.

They see the vibrance and innovations of Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, and want a slice of that pie. But anyone who has been to the cities of these three Asean countries will understand why they are selling their stories much better to investors.

Let’s be blunt – they are telling investors to forget Malaysia as they highlight our continuing basket case political mentality and actions, with its cyclical scripts in tow.

Who can take us seriously if we believe a group of retired communists in wheelchairs can threaten national security over a reunion, which looked more like their farewell dinner?

Even the communists in China and Vietnam – countries which have good diplomatic ties with Malaysia – have embraced capitalism unlike those in other established free markets. The only thing communist is their political structure, that’s all.

And we still hear some small-minded chauvinists calling for the closure of vernacular schools, claiming they are the root to disunity.

The cause of our fragmentation isn’t these schools (which have produced many great talents), but the resident bigots and extremists.

Framed against this backdrop, it has become even more pertinent for those in significant positions of influence to speak up against these tyrants.

In November, Singapore launched its National AI Strategy, with three objectives to ensure it becomes a global hub for developing, test-bedding, deploying and scaling AI solutions, as well as learning how to govern and manage the impact of AI.

Schools in China have begun to emphasise the teaching of coding, robotics and AI in the great push to produce the best engineers and digital experts.

But our school system continues to be weighed down by politics, religion and language.

For just awhile, can we ask ourselves why we have been so preoccupied and emotional over so many superfluous issues that do nothing to propel Malaysia to become a developed nation?

It’s a small world after all, and in 2020, the world has become increasingly inclusive and is culturally more open and dynamic. But if we continue the way we are, we will remain in the lower tiers of national progress.

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Vision without execution is delusion

Few countries peer far into the future, but in 1991, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir  Mohamad(filepic) declared Vision or Wawasan 2020. … Looking back, was it possible to achieve this breathtaking vision? In my humble opinion, definitely. How much of it has Malaysia achieved? The answer depends on who you talk to.
 

The ideal eyesight is 20-20 vision when we can see everything clearly and know exactly where to go.

Given that 2018 and 2019 have been years of great populist upheaval, geopolitical tensions, massive climate change and technology transformations, it is not surprising that our first year of the third decade of the 21st century is masked by the fog of uncertainty.

Few countries peer far into the future, but in 1991, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared Vision or Wawasan 2020, “the ultimate objective that we should aim for is a Malaysia that is, by the year 2020, a fully developed country in our own mould, according to the standards that we ourselves set”.

To set a five-year plan is common place; to lay out a vision 30 years to the future was breathtaking in audacity. Dr Mahathir himself laid out nine challenges to achieve by 2020: first, establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one bangsa (race); second, creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society; third, fostering and developing a mature democratic society; fourth, establishing a fully moral and ethical society; fifth, establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society; sixth, establishing a scientific and progressive society; seventh, establishing a fully caring society; eighth, ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation; and ninth, establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.

Looking back, was it possible to achieve this breathtaking vision? In my humble opinion, definitely. How much of it has Malaysia achieved? The answer depends on who you talk to. On the issue of advanced country status, Malaysia is one class below in the upper middle income bracket with a gross national income (GNI) range of US$3,996 to US$12,375 per year. High-income economies are defined by the World Bank as those with a GNI per capita of US$12,376 or more. The IMF estimates Malaysia’s 2019 GNI per capita at US$11,140, pretty near the top end of the upper middle-income range, so it is certainly within striking distance. Indeed, if the exchange rate goes back to roughly RM3.80 to US$1, Malaysia would attain high income status. On the issue of national competitiveness, Malaysia ranks 27th out of 141 nations surveyed by the WEF Global Competitiveness Index (2019). This is no mean achievement, as her financial markets are ranked 15th.

But with Malaysia’s Gini Coefficient about the same as the United States (41st), social equality is nothing to be proud of, but at least advanced countries have not also achieved fairness in income and wealth that they vaunt.

Malaysia is a country blessed with large natural resources relative to the population, located in the high growth zone of East Asia and an important contributor to the global supply chain. She faces the same difficulties and challenges of most emerging markets in how to position oneself in a global situation that is fraught with new and somewhat daunting problems of geopolitical tension, climate change and massive technology transformation.

As the example of high income, sophisticated Hong Kong economy has shown, no one can take economic freedoms and competitiveness for granted, because politics can change the game almost overnight. What most governments struggle with is how to prepare the population, both the working class and the young, to adapt to the emerging technologies through education and re-skilling.

So it is not surprising in this age of digital divide that the most contentious area of politics is often in education.

Actually, there is not so much a digital divide as a knowledge divide – we are divided by our ignorances of each other and our inability to appreciate that what is about to kill or marginalise us is global climate change, conflicts and disruptive technology.

But what separates us from working together is ideology, religion and ultimately identity, turbo-charged by fake news that says the other side is always the bad guy.

In other words, polarisation can be reduced from working together to deal with external threats, but internally recognizing that there are common, shared interests and objectives.

Personally, climate change is the existential threat, whilst there is little that small countries can do about Great Power politics.

But technology is what each country can adopt to deal with climate change and keeping up with competition. Small countries like Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland carry much more clout than their size because of their willingness to invest in technology. The real threat of artificial intelligence and Big Data is that only the few that have scale and willingness to invest in knowledge will be the big winners.

This explains why the US and China have the leading tech platforms, because they not only have scale, speed and scope, but also the focus to work on the AI breakthroughs.

But recognising the threats and opportunities is only half of the Vision thing.

Vision without execution is delusion.

Getting the execution right is then all about politics and the bureaucracy.

Boris Johnson’s election victory on Brexit showed that he had the correct vision that the British were tired of European bureaucracy that stifled their freedom of action.

But whether he can change the British business model means that he has to radically transform a British civil service that has followed EU laws and mindset. This is exactly what Carrie Lam has to do with the Hong Kong civil service that is operating behind the times.

MIT economist Cesar Hidalgo quotes the essence of the modern problem by citing top football coach Josef Guardiola as saying that “the main challenge of coaching a team is not figuring out a game plan but getting that game plan into the heads of the players.”

Any plan or vision must be internalised by the players, because only they can execute the plan in the game that is ever changing and uncertain. In short, no vision in 2020 can work until the political leadership understands that only by internalizing the diversity of the team can the team be a winner or at least not a loser.

Happy 2020.

The views expressed are the writer’s own.

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Let’s come together in 2020


AS 2019 comes to a close let us reflect on how we have progressed as a nation in the past year. It’s time to take stock of our achievements and successes, weaknesses and shortcomings.2019 can be as Charles Dickens wrote in his book, A Tale of Two Cities “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The Government has succeeded in enhancing governance and reducing corruption and has unveiled a new shared prosperity vision. Nevertheless, the nation still remains divided with the state of race relations somewhat fragile and fraying.

Economically, whilst Malaysia has improved its international image and reputation and attracted new foreign investments, there are still concerns over the economy, particularly the cost of living and investor confidence.

I hope 2020 will be a better year for all Malaysians, a year of hope and reconciliation so necessary for us to be more united and harmonious.

I would like to propose that for the new year we look at the 4Cs.

Cultural divide: Let us close this divide to enhance our unity and social harmony by celebrating our cultural diversity instead of deliberating on what divides us.

Corruption: We need to instil a culture of ethics and integrity to enable us to fight corruption both in the public and private sectors. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s Act’s corporate liability clause which comes into force in June 2020 can be a game changer to eradicate corruption. We must wipe out this scourge of corruption.

Class competition: The growing inequalities and divide between the rich and poor is unsustainable. More must be done to improve the earnings of the lower middle class so that they can improve their livelihood. At the same time more must be done for the bottom 20 or B20. We have talked a lot about the B40 but the B20 needs a lot more attention.

Common values and common purpose: We need to promote and enhance common values that all Malaysians can uphold and celebrate like tolerance, harmony, trust and mutual understanding. We must also have a common purpose that transcends our political divide and brings us together as a nation.

I would also like to urge the 4As of unity – acceptance, awareness, accommodation and acknowledgement. We need to maintain an equilibrium of the legitimate interests of the various communities.

Finally, I hope all Malaysians will come together to focus on the 3Es which must also be prioritised by the Government.

Economic growth: To ensure we continue to enjoy sustainable economic growth of 4%-5%.

Employment: We need to have enough jobs for our younger generation and create jobs of the future.

Environmental sustainability: We need a joint coordinated effort between government, business and civil society organisations to promote and achieve environmental sustainability so essential for future generations.

These are our common challenges going into 2020. Let us strengthen collaboration to move forward so that we can together work towards upholding the 4Ps – people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnerships for a better nation and better world.

May 2020 be a better and happier year for all of us and a year of the new 3Rs – reconciliation, renewal and racial harmony.

In 2020 we need to also keep focusing on the 3Ds – democracy, divide and digitalisation. The need to continue to strengthen democratic reforms, closing our racial and religious divides and accelerating digitalisation should move the nation forward.

Let 2020 also be the year we accelerate efforts to get rid of the 4Is – inequalities, injustices, indifference and impunity.

Let us begin a new year with new hopes. Happy New Year to all Malaysians.

Together let us unite and move forward to make 2020 the best year ever for Malaysia and Malaysians.

Tan Sri Michael Yeoh, President Kingsley Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific

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KUALA LUMPUR: Former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam said Malaysia’s Vision 2020 objective was “falling apart” with “alarming speed”, and he blames Tun Dr  Mahathir Mohamad for it.

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Jawi, a simple education matter is threatening to morph into a serious political issue?


Dong Zong president Tan (seated second from right) with other Dong Jiao Zong leaders at a press conference on Dec 12.

CHINESE educationists and guild leaders are going to display solid unity on Dec 28 – thanks to the Education Ministry’s move to marginalise the board of directors (BOD) in vernacular schools over a Jawi teaching issue.

Dong Jong and Jiao Zong, collectively referred to as Dong Jiao Zong, have championed the cause of Chinese education since the 1950s.

This coming Saturday, heads of Dong Jiao Zong from 13 states, as well as top leaders of 30 other national Chinese associations will be congregating at Dong Jong Building in Kajang to take a stand against a set of new guidelines on the teaching of Jawi issued by the Education Ministry to non-Malay schools.

Leading Chinese groups Huazong and Hoklian have declared their support promptly.

Hua Zong president Tan Sri Goh Tian Chuan said Chinese guilds need to unite in opposing the government’s move.

“The position of the Chinese community on Chinese language education, especially on this subject, needs to be consistent,” he said.

The bone of contention lies in the new guidelines issued by the Education Ministry on the teaching of Jawi scripts for Standard Four pupils in Chinese and Tamil primary schools.

In the guidelines issued earlier this month, the teaching of Jawi scripts will be optional. But if 51% of parents vote in favour of it in a survey conducted by Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), then schools will have to teach Jawi.

In this PTA survey and voting process, the school BOD is totally left out.

Responding to Dong Jiao Zong’s Dec 12 press conference, deputy Education Minister Teo Nie Ching told Bernama the ministry prioritised the opinion of the PTAs as well as the parents and students themselves.

Heng: ‘We are concerned that once the precedent (of sidelining the school board) is set, school boards will lose their voice in future policies affecting Chinese primary schools.

– Datuk Eddie Heng Hong Chai

“We will let the PTAs make the decision because it’s about their children’s learning. Parents are the guardians, so you should get their consent if you want to do anything,” she said on Dec 13.

But to the Chinese community, the BODs are the dragon heads of schools. Hence, they cannot be sidelined in any decision-making.

In a Chinese school, BOD members – who could include businessmen, parents, alumni and trustees — are expected to donate money, raise funds and formulate policies.

As government funding for Chinese primary schools is often lacking, raising funds for development and repairs of schools often rest on the shoulders of the BOD.

Dong Jiao Zong has argued that this new guidelines not only “defies the decision made by the cabinet”, but also “goes against Article 53 of the Education Act 1996” in which authority is vested in the BOD in schools.

“By allowing the parents to have the final say on this matter, the harmonious and amicable relationship among parents and students from different races will be undermined. This will also marginalise the school board as well as PTA,” Dong Jong chairman Tan Tai Kim said in a statement last weekend.

Dong Jiao Zong’s statement also noted that in the new Bahasa Malaysia (BM) textbook for Standard Four, the appreciation of Chinese caligraphy and Tamil writing are left out.

In the past, pages on Jawi, Tamil and Chinese writings appeared in the Standard Five BM text book; and Dong Jiao Zong was happy with the multi-racial content.

The new BM text book for Standard Four contains three pages on Jawi scripts, without Chinese and Tamil writings.

“The key point to note here is: we are not anti-Jawi or anti-Malay or anti-Islam. There is no issue if students are asked to learn all cultures. But we don’t want to see the gradual Islamisation of Chinese schools and the marginalisation of BODs,” says a Chinese educationist, who declines to be named.

Due to the sensitivity of this matter which could be racially or religiously distorted, Dong Jiao Zong — the organiser of the Dec 28 meeting – has advised invited community leaders to register early.

In the latest statement on Wednesday (Dec 18), Dong Jiao Zong said to ensure the meeting could be effectual and held smoothly, no one is allowed to bring banners and other publicity materials to display slogans.

Provocation is the last thing Dong Jiao Zong wants to see, given that there are already two Malay groups challenging the constitutionality of Chinese and Tamil schools in the country.

The congress is likely to adopt a resolution urging the Jawi Scripts Learning Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education to be withdrawn, and the text book be amended to reflect multi-culturism in the country.

Apart from Dong Jiao Zong, there are other independent groups and political parties voicing similar concerns.

One group that recently sprang up is the one led by Datuk Eddie Heng Hong Chai, who heads the school board of SJK(C) Sentul KL.

At a recent press conference, the businessman opined the teaching of Jawi calligraphy in vernacular schools should be a co-curricular activity.

His group, consisting of representatives from vernacular school BODs and PTAs around Kuala Lumpur, has called for a dialogue with Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik.

“I wish to emphasise that we are not against the teaching of Jawi in schools. We are only opposing the ministry’s decision to include it in the Bahasa Melayu syllabus, ” he told a joint press conference with an Indian group.

“We are concerned that once the precedent (of sidelining school board) is set, school boards will lose their voice in future policies affecting Chinese primary schools, ” Heng said.

With school boards being the founder and pioneer for Chinese primary schools for over 200 years, Heng said school boards always had the authority in deciding school policies.

Gerakan, a political party in the former government, last week announced its plan to appeal against an earlier high court ruling that the court has no authority to interfere with Government decision on introducing Jawi into vernacular schools.

From the education point of view, many academics – irrespective of race – do not see the need for students to learn Jawi.

They have asked: What could students learn from three pages of Jawi in a year? Is there any benefit to their future career? Shouldn’t there be more emphasis on the teaching of English, Science and Maths to prepare Malaysians to be competitive internationally?

Indeed, this current education issue is not the first to stir up an uproar this year.

The first controversy erupted several months ago when the Education Ministry attempted to introduce khat (Arabic calligraphy) into vernacular schools. This decision was later withdrawn after many quarters opposed it.

But the new set of guidelines on Jawi writing is creating another unwarranted chaos.

There is suspicion in the Chinese community that there are elements within the Education Ministry scheming to gradually change the character of Chinese schools.

This deep-rooted mistrust against the Ministry cannot be easily erased because Chinese education has often come under different forms of suppression since the 1950s.

From the political perspective, there is talk that the ruling parties are pandering to ultra Malay politics to gain Malay support.

As the controversy escalates, the DAP – a major Chinese-based party in the ruling Pakatan coalition – appears to be the one feeling the most heat.

This is because the DAP drew most of its political support from the Chinese and Indians in the last general election.

The DAP leaders in Cabinet are expected to reflect the fear and sentiment of the non-Malays to the Education Ministry and the Prime Minister on the Jawi issue.

But so far, only Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow – also a DAP national leader – has openly voiced concern over this baffling issue and said it should be resolved speedily.

If the voice of non-Malays is not taken seriously, and the government continues to ignore inclusive politics, the ruling Pakatan coalition risks being rejected by the people.

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Macao-rise with China while Hongkong in decline, why?


Chinese President Xi Jinping (front C) and his wife Peng Liyuan (behind Xi) walk on the red carpet in front of outgoing Macao Chief Executive Fernando Chui (C) and incoming chief executive Ho Iat Seng (blue tie)
after Xi and his wife’s arrival at the Macau International Airport in Macao on Wednesday, ahead of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the handover from Portugal to China. Photo: AFP :
Xi hails Macao’s prosperity

The inauguration of the fifth-term government will be held Friday morning followed by Xi’s meeting with newly inaugurated judicial and administrative officials.

Macao’s landmark Ruins of St. Paul. Photo: VCG


China’s ambassador to UK says Macao can show Hong Kong way forward

 The success of Macao’s “One Country, Two Systems” will “light up the path forward for Hong Kong,” said Liu Xiaoming, China’s top envoy to the UK, during a banquet at the Chinese embassy in London to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Macao’s return to China. #HK

Macao in Transition: Witness to History / Macao in Transition: Rising Stars

HK, Macao share more differences than similarities

Hong Kong and Macao, China’s two Special Administrative Regions (SARs) practicing the “one country, two systems” principle, share more differences than similarities, while Hong Kong’s social turbulence offers Macao a lesson, observers and analysts said.

From the former Portuguese colony to the world’s gaming hub, Macao is poised to become the richest place, overtaking Qatar with the highest per capita gross domestic product on a purchasing power parity basis by 2020. The small city, with a land area of 32.9 square kilometers, has seen its economic growth skyrocket by over 700 percent over the past two decades and become a city with high social welfare.

While Macao is embracing the 20th anniversary celebration of its return to China, it has been praised again for setting a good example of implementing the “one country, two systems” principle, especially as Hong Kong, which returned to the motherland two years before Macao, has been engulfed in months of anti-government protests.

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Macao from Wednesday to Friday to attend events marking the 20th anniversary of Macao’s return, he is expected to announce a series of favorable policies aimed at diversifying the city’s gaming-dependent economy into a financial center, according to media reports. And such a move is considered as a reward to Hong Kong’s neighboring city for avoiding anti-government protests, according to observers, and some suggested that promoting Macao as a new financial center could be an alternative to Hong Kong.

However, former officials and experts claimed that though the two SARs shared common ground such as a high-degree of autonomy, judicial independence and freedom of the press, they have differences in the way they handle relations with the central government and interpret the “one country, two systems” principle. Instead of simply labeling Macao a “good student” or “golden child” as the city is immune to anti-government protests spiraling next door, it should take a look at the fundamental reasons why the two cities are different from historical, cultural and social perspectives, local observers suggested.

Two SARs’ differences

As Hong Kong protesters identify themselves as Hongkongers instead of Chinese, Macao people believe that rejecting their Chinese nationality unacceptable, Wu Zhiliang, president of the Macau Foundation, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

“Macao people have a deep understanding of the word ‘return’,” Wu said, noting that it is not about changing the national flag, or shifting from the governor of Macao to chief executive of Macao SAR government, it is about integrating into the country’s whole governance and strategic development plans.

Opposition groups in Hong Kong consider any move of the central government as intervention that erodes its high degree of autonomy, as the central government could not take any gesture, which is a misunderstanding of the “one country, two systems” principle, and is not accepted by people in Macao.

“When Macao comes up with new policies, it always takes the country’s development plans into consideration,” Wu said.

For instance, when the central government launched an anti-corruption campaign years ago, Macao imposed restrictions on cross-border financing involving Chinese funds, although it had heavily weighed on its pillar gaming industry, local representatives said.

“Compared to Hong Kong, there is no such mentality of worshiping Western political systems and social values here in Macao, though it has always been under the mixed influence of Eastern and Western cultures, and people treat those two equally,” Wu said.

Unlike Hong Kong, which has been heavily influenced by the West, Macao has a stronger attachment to Chinese culture and values due to its “historical genes.”

In the colonial period of Macao, Portuguese control had seen its influence over local communities declining, drawing a contrast with the relatively sophisticated way British authorities took in ruling Hong Kong before handing it over to China.

“There has been no strong cultural penetration of the West in Macao society, which had not been affected by Western social value either,” Susana Chou, former president of the Legislative Assembly of Macao, told the Global Times on Tuesday. “For example, when the Hotel of Lisboa was inaugurated years ago, many people in Macao did not know where ‘Lisboa’ is. Could you image Hong Kong people not knowing where London is? ” she asked.

While Hong Kong opposition lawmakers turned debates for rolling out policies into political battles, lawmakers in Macao are not against the Constitution, nor the Basic Law and the Communist Party of China, the former president said, noting that they would come up with different ideas to help roll out better policies.

“It’s also inaccurate to say the Legislative Assembly of Macao is the SAR government’s affiliate, as we also criticize our government officials a lot. And the assembly often rejects the proposals made by the government,” Chou said, noting that the opposition is based on concrete arguments rather than disapproving everything because of its political stance.

Lesson to learn

Considering Macao’s historical ties with the mainland, there has been no room for separatism, Wu noted. “But what has happened in Hong Kong would lead us to reflect on deep-rooted questions in Macao, particularly issues concerning Macao youth,” he said.

Behind Hong Kong’s chaos lie deep-seated social problems, as the majority of arrested radical protesters who trashed the rule of law were youngsters. Although Macao is not facing the same issue, the problems with Hong Kong youth could be seen as a warning sign for the city, observers said.

“We lack a fairer and transparent mechanism for Macao young people to climb toward upper society, and also the numbers of skilled positions are limited,” Wu said, noting that the local talent policy is still protective.

“If Macao further opens up its market, could local youth become as competitive as talent from outside? And will talent inflow accelerate social conflicts and anxiety of local youth?” he asked.

While Hong Kong and Macao both share freedom of speech and an open internet, information has been circulating freely on social media and many Macao young people have been well informed about Hong Kong’s social unrest for months. When the students were asked about questions on Hong Kong police brutality, many rationally discuss the matter with teachers instead of arguing with their peers and making one-sided judgments, Wu noted.

“Young people could easily influence each other, which is inevitable. It’s up to how teachers and parents guide them,” he said.

Macao has gained a higher degree of autonomy thanks to the confidence and trust of the central government, which, observers said, creates a positive cycle.

On the contrary, if Hong Kong’s opposition groups continue to touch the redline of the central government, it might lead to reevaluation of political risks in Hong Kong by the central government and the expected political reforms could hardly make any progress in the city, observers said.

The virtuous cycle established between the central government and Macao as well as between Macao and the mainland could to some extent serve as a reference for Hong Kong, they noted.

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YouTube ‘hypocritical’ in removing Xinjiang anti-terrorism video


 

A documentary released by China’s national broadcaster CGTN on the anti-terrorism work in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has been blocked by YouTube for “copyright” issues. Some netizens said that YouTube’s move shows how hypocritical some Western media are.

CGTN aired two documentaries on December 5 and 7 focused on anti-terrorism efforts in Xinjiang and terrorist organization the East Turkistan Islamic Movement’s (ETIM) role in plotting terrorist attacks in China.

The two documentaries included rare footages of terrorist attacks in China, including the Urumqi riots in 2009 – which led to 197 deaths and over 1,700 injuries – and the attack on the Kunming railway station on March 1, 2014, which left 31 dead and 141 wounded.

CGTN also uploaded these two documentaries to YouTube, and the first, Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang, was watched hundreds of millions of times.

However, it was taken down by YouTube “due to a copyright claim by Morgenland Festival Osnabruck.”

Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang was re-uploaded and can now be found on CGTN’s YouTube account, but YouTube is asking users to register before watching the video as some of its content may not be “proper” for all users.

Youtube’s actions have angered many users. Some netizens criticized YouTube’s move as “shameful,” and said it shows viewers how hypocritical Western media are.

A netizen commented, “Make sure everyone knows YouTube censorship previously deleted this video in order to wipe its view count, likes and comments!”

“YouTube, what are you afraid about in this video? Is your censorship of the video in line with what you claim about freedom of speech?” a netizen named “David Watson” commented.

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