What to watch in 2018

Professional forecasters like to say that making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future. As we reach the end of 2017, however, here are some of the key themes – and questions – that look set to shape global events next year.

1. Will Mueller’s Russia investigation mark the end of Trump’s presidency?

President Donald Trump didn't expect to be TIME’s “Man of the year” for 2017, but 2018 could be the year that we get a clearer idea of the legacy he will leave.

First, it should become clear just how much mileage prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election really has. Further arrests of high-profile figures might signal that investigators have acquired useful information from key individuals now helping them with their inquiries, particularly former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Trump aide George Papadopoulos. So far we have plenty of rumor, but precious little detail.

The real question is whether Mueller can pin evidence of a conspiracy on Trump. If the prosecutor can’t reach Trump himself, some of Trump’s Russia problems may begin to ease. If, however, it becomes clear the president or those near him have attempted to pervert the course of justice, then the situation will change abruptly. U.S. political experts are virtually unanimous in their belief that Republicans will not impeach Trump in 2018, but that calculus may shift if the Democrats manage to capitalize on Republicans’ unpopularity in the November mid-terms and take control of either the Senate or the House.

2. Will Trump or North Korea risk moving beyond bluster and posturing to military action?

In many ways, the likely trajectory of events surrounding North Korea is easier to predict. Based on events so far, it seems almost certain Kim Jong Un will continue to test increasingly powerful bombs and rockets. As Pyongyang’s ability to strike the U.S. mainland increases, Washington will get increasingly aggressive – but likely will still remain reluctant to launch any kind of strike that could trigger a devastating conflagration.

There remain several wildcards in play, however. The most obvious is whether Trump might ignore the cautionary noises coming from the Pentagon and beyond and attempt to decapitate Kim’s regime and weapons program militarily.

For now, both Japan and South Korea remain extremely cautious about the idea of a unilateral U.S. strike, with South Korea repeatedly stating that it would wish to veto any such action.

Washington’s longstanding alliance with South Korea means that Trump should – in theory, at least – get Seoul’s consent before trying to shoot down a North Korean test missile using regional ground-based interceptors. Such a strategy would be high risk – Washington’s credibility would suffer if the interceptor rocket missed its target.

Aside from the nuclear threat, don’t discount Pyongyang’s growing cyber capabilities. Its suspected efforts to penetrate the U.S. electric grid could escalate into crippling attacks on critical infrastructure.

Keep an eye on Russia and China too. So far, Moscow has been broadly supportive of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions while Beijing has been much more cautious. A shift in either position might well influence Kim’s thinking.

Whatever happens, expect more posturing and more sanctions.

3. Will Europe’s multiple crises reach crunch point?

This has been a volatile year for Europe. After the shock of the Brexit vote in 2016, France and the Netherlands fended off electoral challenges from the far-right. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel emerged from Germany’s October election with diminished support and a struggle to form a viable coalition government. That means the country may have to go back to the polls next year.

The surprisingly strong performance of pro-Catalan independence parties in December elections means domestic tensions within Spain will remain on the table next year, with a new independence referendum looking increasingly likely.

The problem is none of the strains within the continent have gone away – frustration with government policies on migration, the ongoing struggle to keep the single currency bloc and, of course, the ongoing trauma of how to make Brexit work.

The latter issue will escalate in importance throughout the year, as British and EU negotiators attempt to transform December’s preliminary agreement into a workable deal before Britain leaves the union in March 2019. That progress will inevitably hit problems, and if it breaks down entirely a new UK election – or even another referendum – remain plausible.

The far-right hasn’t gone away either. The results of local and national elections in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Holland, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy and Sweden will all be watched for signs that populists are gaining ground.

4. Will new conflicts erupt as America’s Mideast influence slips?

For all the sound and fury following Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 2018 will likely see America ever less at the heart of events in the region.

U.S. forces will continue to mop up remnants of Islamic State and other militant groups, but Washington will increasingly take a backseat to regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran when it comes to driving events. With Tehran seeming to have strengthened its influence in Iraq and Syria this year, expect Sunni Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to push back ever harder against their Shi’ite rival.

The war in Yemen will likely remain the bloodiest theater, a humanitarian catastrophe largely invisible from the outside world. In addition, some analysts already believe Riyadh is already quietly encouraging Israel to consider another war in Lebanon to push back Iran’s Hezbollah proxies.

Another story worth watching will be the push by Kurdish groups for great influence within Turkey, Syria and particularly Iraq, where strains have become particularly severe since September’s independence referendum.

5. Will 2018 see growing challenges to authority in Russia and China?

On balance, 2017 was a good year for the leaders in Moscow and Beijing. While the West remained mired in domestic clinical crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have never looked more in control.

Beneath the surface, however, those assumptions are already being tested. Russia saw a string of anti-government and anti-corruption protests throughout 2017, and Putin will no doubt be hoping to avoid a repeat next year of one of the few prospects that could complicate the presidential election he seems certain to win. Turnout may be reduced, however – challenger and anti-corruption campaign Alexei Navalny called for a boycott this week after he was banned from running against Putin.

In China, Xi secured his position as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao at the quinquennial Communist Party Congress in September. There too, however, there are signs of quietly mounting discontent and protest, particularly in Hong Kong.

Don’t expect either country to see seismic change next year on the back of these trends. But they are worth watching, for they may point too much more significant things to come.

People in Barcelona celebrate after Catalonia's separatists regained power in regional elections, December 21, 2017.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs U.S. District Court in Washington, where he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, December 1, 2017.

Reuters, Published: DECEMBER 27, 2017 - 1:26 AM
What to watch in 2018
By Peter Apps (*)

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist, writing on international affairs, globalization, conflict and other issues. He is founder and executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century; PS21, a non-national, non-partisan, non-ideological think tank in London, New York and Washington. Before that, he spent 12 years as a reporter for Reuters covering defense, political risk and emerging markets. Since 2016, he has been a member of the British Army Reserve and the UK Labour Party.

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Stay positive for the challenges ahead !

UTSJOKI is a tiny, remote county in the northernmost part of Finland and is one of the coldest places on Earth.

This year, I decided to celebrate Christmas with my wife in a place that is completely cut off from the crowd and noise.

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this place was so quiet I could hear my stomach growl during digestion.

It is usually in total darkness this time of year, when the temperatures plummets to -25˚C.

Norway is just 200m from my hotel and the border post is cons-tantly unmanned. I could walk across to the other side on the frozen river, or just take a stroll on the border bridge.

We were 80km from the Arctic Ocean, and when the winds blow, this place becomes a frozen land.

Skies are grey for two to three hours, and then the moon makes an appearance, eerily, in the afternoon.

With a population of roughly 1,200 in an area of 5,144.52sq km, there are probably more reindeer and elk here. In fact, there are some 15,000 reindeer who call this place home.

Utsjoki is the home of Finland’s native people, the Sami, who make up 46.6% of the population, with the rest Finnish.

The Sami people are indigenous folk of Northern Europe living in parts of northern Sweden, Norway and Finland, and the cone-shaped shelter they lived in, called Kota, are like the tepees of the native Indians in the United States.

Utsjoki was chosen because I wanted to find time and the right place to ponder and reflect on my life. I will turn 57 in May next year.

I have never considered this age to be old, often refusing to accept the reality that one is recognised as a senior citizen at 55, even though the retirement age has been raised to 60. Age is just a number to me.

You won’t see me joining a line dancing class or taking a trip on a cruise for two weeks with those of my age group, where the probability of us reminiscing about dead singers, would be very high.

I stubbornly pay the full price for my cinema tickets instead of producing my MyKad for the 50% discount entitled to senior citizens.

But one cannot escape certain realities in life, even though the mind and body are in good shape and kind to me, or so I’d like to think.

The coming year looks difficult for me.

My father turns 93 in June and he no longer recognises me. In fact, he does not even know my mother anymore.

It has been really tough for her as she will be 87 in 2018, and she is not exactly in the pink of health.

Being a caregiver – waking up at 2am daily because my dad would be up by then – has been extremely difficult on her.

If my mom sleeps through, my dad might fall and hurt himself. His frail body won’t withstand such missteps.

We tried putting him in a nursing home to ensure mom gets rest and recuperates, but the relocation lasted only two weeks. His condition deteriorated because the nurses were unaccustomed to his health needs, so he ended up in hospital instead.

My Langkawi-born dad does not indulge in idle chatter but enjoys speaking to anyone in Bahasa Malaysia, in his heavy northern accent. The nurses were glad they could keep him talkative, but it was a short-lived stay.

Believe it or not, my dad has not taken many regular holidays in all his working life. In fact, he didn’t stop working until a few years back.

So when I asked him, jokingly, a few weeks ago, if I could take him on a trip to Langkawi, he replied that it would not be possible because “I need to work.” When I asked him why he still wanted to work, he retorted:

“If we do not work, how are we going to put food on the table?”

It’s amusing, really. But such simple banter between me and my old man may be nothing more than a memory soon.

That is why I am so fearful of the days and months ahead.

So, Utsjoki was the ideal place for me to briefly escape the realities of life. I wanted to breathe freely and take in the fragrance of the forest, and simply feel and appreciate God’s creations and marvels.

Looking at my dad, who worked hard all his life, I don't envy being in his position. So, I wrote up a bucket list that I wanted to tick down.

My work as a journalist has enabled me to travel to exotic and faraway places in all continents, but the time has come to take trips – slow-paced ones – with my wife. Importantly, holidays and not work trips.

After failing to experience the Northern Lights in Iceland last year, the stay at this border town of Norway-Finland was most rewarding.

God has been extremely kind. The aurora borealis appeared in the skies almost every night of our stay, and it is certainly the most spectacular of all natural wonders.

The bouncing, dancing lights are surely a spectacle of the universe, providing an eerie but true spiritual awe of His power. Forget the scientific explanations in Google that I still can’t grasp after reading them several times.

Looking up at the skies, away from noisy cities and the demands of corporate life, has given me plenty of time to think and reflect.

It is also good for one to feel really small and inconsequential. And let’s not forget the so-called priorities and urgencies in life, which in reality, aren’t the most important.

I apologise if this piece has been too self-indulgent, given my period of solitude.

But as we head towards another busy, if not exciting year ahead, let us always remind ourselves that life, health and time with family and friends are the most precious – not divisive, emotional politics, even if it’s an election year.

We must find space for ourselves to think deep and identify what matters most.

When you read this, I should be up in the air, homeward bound, bracing myself to wake up to the demands of the daily grind.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and best wishes for the future. Stay positive for the challenges ahead, because we’re certainly going to need to be strong, whatever life throws at us.

Dream holiday:
Utsjoki was the ideal place for the writer to briefly escape the realities of life and catch the magnificent Northern Lights

The Star, Published: Sunday, 31 Dec 2017
A time to ponder
By Wong Chun Wai (*)

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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Let’s move on to better things in 2018!

MANY of us can’t wait to see the back of 2017, a year that posed difficult challenges and tests.

And as we make the countdown to 2018, many of us scan the horizons for inspiration or any indications of silver lining.

To some, 2017 brings scary memories. To others, the passing year may have brought bountiful harvest.

Hopefully, the new year brings good health and prosperity for all. Stay positive − that’s the advice everyone is giving in the last few days.

I’m sure by now your mobile phones are full of new year messages, with creative designs of posters and cards.

Digital greetings help cut costs and are just as good, if not better. Yes, they also eat up a lot of space and have to be deleted fast.

I sent these words uttered by Nelson Mandela to some friends who had a rather poor year.

Mandela had struggled to keep his head above water in his fight to free South Africa from apartheid.

He survived imprisonment, a good many years of that held in solitary confinement.

Mandela said: “I’m fundamentally an optimist. Part of being an optimist is keeping one’s head pointed to the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested. But I would not and could not give myself up to despair.”

I showed these words to Lee, a young business executive who appeared dejected one morning over breakfast.

He was so depressed when he was told by his boss that his performance for the whole year was below par.

He was ready to give up and return to his village to help at his father’s farm.

I felt for this young man who’s only 30 years old, as he poured out his heart saying that life is meaningless and an unending struggle.

“Uncle, you wouldn’t know what I go through. I don’t see anything in front of me except more struggle and heartache. I’ve done everything. I can’t be struggling forever,” Lee said.

There wasn’t much I could do to raise his spirits. We went on to talk about fishing and football and his eyes lit up a bit. When I asked him when was the last time he went fishing, Lee said he hasn’t touched his fishing rods for months.

I shared some professional experiences of my own with Lee, hoping that it would lift his sagging spirits. Other than his fishing buddies, Lee has no girlfriends, meaning his life is centred only upon one goal − professional success and career advancement.

“Get a life, Lee! Career advancement is important no doubt. But life is more than sales, charts and profit and loss. You have no girlfriends, you have not gone fishing, you seldom watch football anymore and you spend all hours doing nothing but work.

“Something is missing in your life, young man! Go back and see your parents. If you think that you have a tough time, go check out your parents and see how they struggle and yet cope with life very well,” I told Lee.

I invited Lee for overnight fishing, a therapeutic outing for some.

Lee used to be an avid angler, going to many places looking for sebarau (hampala macrolepidota), baung (mystus nigriceps) and wild tilapia (oreochromis nilotucus).

I told him: “Tomorrow, when the sun rises, we should all greet the new year with optimism and cheer. Life can’t be all that bad!”

Lee left me at the kopitiam with a promise that he would visit his parents and pick up his fishing rods to go for a bit of fishing next weekend.

Lee is hardworking, but he misses the big picture, and therein lies part of his problems.

Those who stayed focused on their tasks and assignments in life did well. The world is for those who strive to challenge their own limitations.

These individuals wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near fame and glory if not for their positive attitude and careful nurturing of their talents.

My young friend Lee has talents, but he got sucked into the daily struggles of bread and butter.

He forgot his roots, laid off his passion for the things he liked, and got tricked into believing that countless hours spent in the office would guarantee success.

He used to stop and smell the roses. Not any more in the last couple of years.

Lee’s parents toil every day to raise four children. Two have gotten married and the youngest is still studying. Senior Lee used to tell me his woes, with friends and relatives looking down on him each time he borrowed money to send the children to school.

Senior Lee still tends to his small farm. On weekends, he would take his farm products to the nearby market to sell.

“Saya orang susah. Dulu pinjam duit mau kasi anak-anak sekolah. Semua orang hantam sama saya. Sekarang, anak-anak tolong. Saya baru beli kebun mau tanam musang king. Lu mari saya punya kebun saya belanja baik punya durian.

“Ini hari orang hantam sama kita. Kita jangan lawan. Bila kita sudah senang, kita panggil semua orang makan besar,” Senior Lee told me often.

(I’m not rich. I used to borrow money to send my children to school. Everyone looked down on me. Now my children are helping me a bit. I just bought a small orchard. I plan to plant musang king durians. You must come over for some good durians.

(People may look down on us. Don’t fight back. When we are better, we call all these people and invite them to a big feast.)

Happy New Year, people!

Let’s move on to better things in 2018!

Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela at a mass rally, a few days after his release from jail on Feb 25, 1990 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

New Straits Times, Published: December 31, 2017 - 9:57am
Rise to a new sun. Live!
The writer is chairman of Yayasan Salam Malaysia

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How to make 2018 a better year

It is customary, as the year draws to a close, to look back at what has happened in Britain and around the world and at what may happen next. Numerous reviews of all aspects of life in 2017 have appeared in recent days. Although there were many positive developments, few of these accounts make particularly edifying reading. In political, security and economic terms, it proved a problematic, confusing and often distressing 12 months across the globe.

Similarly, the various predictions and prognostications for 2018 mostly range from the trepidatious to the downright gloomy. For many crystal-ball gazers, the global outlook appears grim.

So is that it? Are we doomed to endure another year of division, conflict and avoidable suffering in which, as Unicef made clear last week, millions of unprotected children, the heirs and future custodians of this fragile Earth, are the principal victims?

No, we are not. Our future and our fate are firmly in our own hands. Things can be different. And it is entirely possible, if we wish it and can summon up the courage, to make 2018 a turning point by adopting, collectively and individually, a manifesto for change. But for that to happen, the attitudes of governments and citizens must shift in fundamental ways. Perhaps the world should pursue a version of the 12-step programmes used by self-help organisations, a set of guiding principles outlining a progressive course of action to aid recovery from self-destructive behaviours. Or perhaps we need a universal, annual road map, listing agreed aims and objectives, to guide the world towards a better, sustainable set of outcomes in 2018.

However such aspirations are formulated and whatever means are used to realise them, it is surely beyond argument that something has to change, and quickly, if more and ever greater disasters are to be avoided. Here are some initial suggestions:

Reviving the United Nations

Restoring the reputation and effectiveness of the UN is a top priority for 2018. Despite many setbacks, the UN remains the foremost, and in important respects, the only truly global guardian of humankind’s shared values and laws. Its marginalisation was accelerated by the US-British decision to, in effect, bypass the security council in invading Iraq in 2003. But other major powers are also guilty of flouting or undermining its authority. Russia’s repeated vetoes of security council resolutions seeking to hold the regime of Bashar al-Assad to account have undoubtedly prolonged Syria’s agony. Even when agreed, UN declarations and human rights accords are often partially enforced or ignored, as with the promulgation of the 2005 doctrine of states’ collective “responsibility to protect” vulnerable civilian populations.

Aggravating this decline is the longstanding refusal, or inability, of the five permanent security council members (the US, China, Russia, France and the UK) to agree reforms enabling the UN to better reflect the 21st-century world. It is simply wrong that entire regions, such as Africa, South Asia and Latin America, have no permanent voice at the top table.

It is absurd that Britain and France do, but not Europe as a whole. In António Guterres, the UN has an able, new secretary general who should be encouraged to advance reforms finally to break the selfish grip of the post-1945 great powers. And the “big five” need to grasp the bigger picture in 2018. This month’s petulant US veto of an otherwise unanimous resolution on Jerusalem was a singular low point. Permanent veto power for any single country should be abolished.

Ban weapons of mass destruction

The bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements that emerged during the cold war are steadily decaying. Repairing them is a key task for 2018. Both the US and Russia are expanding and upgrading their nuclear missile arsenals and China is following suit. There is renewed talk in military circles about how such weapons, in particular tactical or “battlefield” nuclear warheads, might possibly be used in certain circumstances.

The acknowledged nuclear weapons states have failed to meet their disarmament obligations under the 1968 non-proliferation treaty, since when Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel have joined the nuclear “club”. The blatant use of chemical weapons in Syria, illegal under the 1997 convention, has gone largely unpunished.

Preventing a possible nuclear confrontation involving the US and North Korea is a big challenge for 2018. To this end, Britain and other American allies should stand up to Donald Trump and press Washington to cease its military brinkmanship and provocative rhetoric. Pyongyang must halt its bomb and missile tests immediately. But it should be offered the incentive of talks without preconditions.

The nuclear weapons states must also heed the views of the 122 countries that backed July’s new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. The security council should meanwhile formally mandate the international criminal court to investigate war crimes in Syria, including use of chemical or biological weapons.

Encouraging responsible leadership

The year now ending has been notable for a chronic lack of responsible, responsive and persuasive political leadership. Oppressively authoritarian figures such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China found willing emulators from the Philippines to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In the long-established European democracies, shrill populist demagogues drowned out centrist moderates of every stripe. In the US, Trump reduced the presidency to an ugly parody, fostering division and sowing discord at home and abroad. This general failure of leadership, moral and political, encouraged confrontation and discord at the micro and macro levels.

Any manifesto for change should seek to promote a greater sense of global common purpose and a deeper understanding that public figures have a responsibility to set an example by word and deed. Leaders such as Xi and Putin, who hopes to be re-elected as Russia’s president in March, must open themselves to greater scrutiny and criticism if they want to avoid serious societal upheavals in the longer term. A return to civility in public discourse, not least on social media, is also vital.

The extreme levels of vituperation and abuse seen in the Brexit debate are unacceptable and corrosive of Britain’s inclusive democratic tradition. Above all, ordinary citizens have a right not to be lied to. Greater political honesty is a prerequisite for a better 2018.

Conflict resolution

There is no good reason why the wars in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, to take three egregious examples, raged unchecked in 2017. In Syria, freebooting Russian peace efforts, in concert with Iran and Turkey, weakened the UN process, to nobody’s overall benefit. Another big collective international push on Syria is needed in 2018, placing the interests of its people above the strategic ambitions of its neighbours. The plight of sick children in besieged eastern Ghouta became a Christmas story, when the reality is that such terrible suffering is a daily occurrence all year round. This is the moment for those supposed pals, Trump and Putin, to impose a nationwide ceasefire that sticks, co-host a peace summit – and step up co-operation in combating terrorism, their shared foe.

A similar exercising of political will could also halt the slaughter in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and its partners are getting away with murder with western connivance. If Trump, Crown Prince Salman and the Israelis want Iran to back off in Yemen and elsewhere, they should stop threatening to wreck the 2015 nuclear accord and accept that Tehran, like any medium-size power, has legitimate regional strategic interests.

In South Sudan and in other conflicts zones in Africa and Asia, such as Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, an expanded, fully supported role for the UN, its agencies and peacekeepers would lead to better outcomes in the year to come. This would entail greater resource commitments by the developed world, reversing the trend set by Trump, who wants to cut US financial support for the UN. Increased rather than reduced foreign aid budgets in fulfilment of the agreed 0.7% UN target would also put a spoke in the ever-turning wheel of poverty, lack of educational and work opportunities, mass migration and refugee tensions in 2018. This is entirely do-able. It is a question of having the will.


Underlying many if not all of the biggest challenges facing the world in 2018 is the question of respect: respect for other people’s religions and beliefs; respect for differences of race, gender, culture and language; respect for opposing points of view. Such mutual tolerance is a bedrock of human progress, while the lack of it is the cause of much misery. And respect must be extended to the world’s environment and ecosystems, its myriad, marvellous non-human life forms and species and for the extraordinary natural beauties of a wondrous planet on which we are all fortunate to spend a brief, unexplained moment in time.

As Barack Obama suggested last week, these truths, disregarded daily, are better understood now than probably at any time in history. And today, generally, is probably a better, safer, more fulfilling time to be alive than at any point in the past. Despite all the tragedies and failures of 2017, we have much to be thankful for, much to hope for, and much to look forward to as 2018 begins. And gratitude, coupled with renewed respect, is a good place to start. Defeatism besieged us in 2017. But it is a false, disempowering emotion. Things can be different. Despite appearances, change is possible.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They will always materialise if we work for them.

Happy New Year.

The Guardian, Published: Sun 31 Dec 2017 00.02 GMT
The Observer view on how to make 2018 a better year

In exaggerating pessimism we neglect ways to create a better world
By Observer editorial

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The Mountain Between Us

Idris Elba, Kate Winslet and a giant, snowy mountain: what’s not to love? Free-spirited photojournalist Alex (Winslet) has been “shooting neo-Nazis for the Guardian”, and is getting married in the morning, straitlaced brain surgeon Ben (Elba) has to operate on a dying 10-year-old the next day, they’re stuck in Salt Lake City airport and all flights have been grounded. The pair buddy up and persuade a charter pilot to fly them across a mountain range, despite an impending storm. They pile into the plane, Alex practically hanging out of the window trying to snap pictures while Ben plays Candy Crush, dressed in a cashmere sweater and inappropriately suave camel coat.

Inevitably, the plane crashes, leaving them freezing and stranded, with only the pilot’s golden retriever to keep them company. But then disaster movie warps into schmaltzy romance, an odd misfire that ends up being inadvertently hilarious (especially the wacky, wish fulfilment ending).

Despite the couple’s supposed life or death scenario, the stakes feel low, with writers J Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz throwing every snow-related hazard possible at the unlikely pair. A broken leg, hypothermia, a mountain cougar and a bear trap are no match for Ben, gifted with the face of a Hollywood hero and the survival skills of Bear Grylls, who solves every problem with serial killer-like preparation. The Mountain Between Us builds towards a tame romance that left me wondering what kind of film it might have been if the studio had the courage to make a straight romantic comedy starring Winslet and Elba, who are above this parodic material.

The Mountain Between Us
Official Trailer, 20th Century FOX

The Guardian, Last modified on Sat 2 Dec 2017 16.54 GMT
The Mountain Between Us review – inadvertently hilarious

Kate Winslet and Idris Elba star in a disaster movie turned schmaltzy romance
By Simran Hans

One of the many problems with the overstuffed awards season we’re now entering is that films with some element of prestige, at least on paper, are judged solely on their Oscar potential. The Mountain Between Us has been viewed from the outset as a major contender. There’s the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba – check. The director Hany Abu-Assad, whose credits include two Oscar-nominated films – check. Based on a book – check. A premiere at the Toronto film festival – check. A fall release date – check. Oh, and a story that plays into the Academy’s adoration of stories about survival – check.

But entering the cinema with such lofty expectations does the film a major disservice. If judged through the lens of how Oscar-worthy it is, then it’s a non-starter (which might explain some sniffy early reviews) but as an unpretentious and unashamedly mainstream romantic adventure, it’s a solidly entertaining diversion, old-fashioned in its no-frills brand of storytelling and direction.

Alex (Kate Winslet) is a photojournalist, on assignment for the Guardian, in a rush to get to her wedding. Ben (Idris Elba) is a surgeon in a rush to get to the operating room. But the pair find themselves grounded when a storm causes major delays and after a chance encounter, Alex hatches an unlikely plan: they will pay a local resident and charter a small aircraft over the snowy wilderness to Denver. Mid-air, tragedy strikes and their pilot has a stroke, causing them to crash.

Both are injured, freezing and surviving on a small supply of ever-diminishing food. As they’re forced to rely on each other to get out alive, an attraction starts to grow.

There’s something admirably to the point about the way The Mountain Between Us unfolds. It zips along at a tightly controlled pace and, as scripted by the About a Boy and Rogue One screenwriter Chris Weitz, the dialogue is refreshingly brisk and often quite witty. It doesn’t take long for the pair to find themselves stranded and the crash that gets them there is choreographed with ferocious efficiency. Abu-Assad, known for Paradise Now and Omar, makes his English language debut here, and it might seem like a strange fit given the film’s generic nature, but he handles the panicked set-pieces with ease.

While the stakes are clearly high, there’s something comforting about how the film avoids an overly grueling tone. It’s an adventure but it’s also a starry romance and there’s a smooth handling of the two genres that makes it an easy, glossy ride, despite the situation. Given the fact that it’s essentially a two-hander ( there’s a dog as well, of course), it’s all heavily reliant on the appeal of the two leads. Winslet, who tried and failed with the similar mushy throwback Labor Day, gives a committed, warm performance but it’s Elba who really gets the chance to flex his often miscast movie star muscle. Despite his talents, he’s been stuck in a string of thankless blockbusters from Prometheus to Pacific Rim to Star Trek: Beyond to this summer’s The Dark Tower, but this is arguably his best mainstream film role to date. He’s a charming romantic lead and there’s a nice gender role flip-flop in the film, with his character defined as overly cautious and timid while Winslet is the reckless, adventurous type.

The pair also have just about enough chemistry to make you root for them and even though the film starts to sag in the final stretch, there’s an ending that works in spite of its predictability.

In a film such as this, there’s no room for cynicism. It’s unsophisticated and hugely familiar (hardened viewers will spot the plot developments a mile off) but there’s an earnest, simple satisfaction to be had, buoyed by two engaging star leads. Lower your expectations.

* The Mountain Between Us is screening at the Toronto film festival and will be released in the US and UK on 6 October

The Guardian, Last modified on Wed 20 Sep 2017 10.25 BST
The Mountain Between Us review – Kate Winslet and Idris Elba heat up snowy romance

A pair of engaging star turns elevate a satisfying, if simplistic, adventure about the blossoming relationship between plane crash survivors
By Benjamin Lee

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Russian Tankers Fueled North Korea Via Sea Transfers

Russian tankers have reportedly repeatedly supplied fuel to North Korea in a violation of sanctions on the isolated state.

Reuters said two Western European security officials had said Russian ships were transferring their cargo at sea to Korean vessels.

A source told the news agency there was no evidence that the transfers were state-sponsored but noted the transfers were nevertheless “giving a lifeline” to North Korea, which has faced global condemnation for its increasing belligerent behaviour.

Russian officials declined to comment and the owner of a ship allegedly implicated denied any involvement.

But the allegations that Russian ships have been thwarting sanctions intended to stifle the North Korean economy demonstrate the types of hurdles the international community faces in seeking to alter North Korea’s militaristic ambitions through diplomatic means.

As North Korea has hurled ballistic missiles over Japan, tested a hydrogen bomb and threatened Asian neighbours with annihilation, the United Nations has imposed a series of sanctions intended to weaken the nation’s economy and punish its leadership.

But Americans officials have warned that countries have continued to maintain economic relationships with North Korea, circumventing sanctions and undermining the global effort to curb Pyongyang.

Earlier this week, Donald Trump claimed China had been “caught RED HANDED…allowing oil to go into North Korea,” and that a claim that China denied.

“There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen”! Mr Trump said on Twitter.

The United States has also proposed that the United Nations Security Council blacklist 10 ships accused of illegally funnelling coal and refined petroleum from North Korea, an idea that China has resisted.

Earlier this year, in an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting convened in response to Pyongyang’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, America’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned that some countries were “continuing to fund the North Korean nuclear program”.

Heralding the UN for imposing the “most impactful sanctions that any country has experienced in a generation”, Ms Haley said there were nevertheless “reports of the regime continuing to smuggle coal into neighbouring Asian countries” despite a ban on coal exports, and of North Korea “illegally obtaining refined petroleum” through ship-to-ship transfers.

She urged other countries to sever “all ties” with North Korea, including ceasing trade and expelling North Korean workers.

The Independent, Published a day ago
Russia 'has repeatedly supplied fuel to North Korea in violation of sanctions'

Donald Trump and US officials have accused other countries of circumventing sanctions
By Jeremy B White, San Francisco

The Reuters news agency reports that Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, providing an economic lifeline to the communist state.

According to one of two unnamed senior Western European sources speaking on condition of anonymity and quoted by the agency, the Russian vessels "made transfers at sea to the North Koreans."

The sale of oil or oil-products from Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breaches UN sanctions, Reuters quoted the security sources as saying.

A second source said there was no proof of Russian state involvement in the transfers.

"There is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state but these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans," the source said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to the report by saying that the country was observing sanctions against North Korea.

"Russia observes fully the sanctions regime," the ministry said in comments carried by the state-run TASS news agency.

"We would like to remind that fuel supplies, of course, have quotas, but no absolute ban," the ministry added.

The U.S. State Department called on Russia and other UN members to "strictly implement" sanctions on North Korea and to work "more closely together to shut down UN-prohibited activities, including ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum and the transport of coal from North Korea.”

Radio Free Europe, December 30, 2017 16:48 GMT
Reuters: Russian Tankers Fueled North Korea Via Sea Transfers
With reporting by Reuters and TaSS

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Two-decade-long struggle for peace in Mindanao

The Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT, note) here is certain that nothing can derail the two-decade-long struggle for peace in the volatile region.

In Iligan City, where IMT (team site 2) is based, Captain Mohd Kindil Md Akim and his men have been on the lookout for spoiler elements, including those who could emerge from ground zero of the Marawi siege.

Kindil told the New Straits Times during a sit-down at the IMT camp here recently, that the multinational set-up was very much focused on the security of the region, as well as the peace agreement between the Philippine Government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Mindanao IMT was established in 2004 to ensure that the ongoing peace process was seen through.

Kindil said players in the peace process shared the worry that the growing threat posed by extremists in the region could throw a spanner in the works and torpedo the exhaustive process.

The Marawi siege, he pointed out, was not the first to draw attention away from the peace process.

“The Marawi siege was the first time we saw a terror threat in the region growing at that rate. And it followed incursions in Butig and Piagapo in the preceding months... Nobody expected a threat at that scale.”

Ground intelligence, Kindil said, suggested that there could be no fewer than 20 emerging pro-Islamic State groups in the country.

The IMT, he said, could attest to the commitment of the GPH and MILF to see the peace arrangement move into the implementation phase. Both sides agreed that a political solution in the form of a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), was the best remedy to rein in elements that had contributed to the prolonged upheaval here.

“As long as the agreement is not achieved, splinter groups will emerge among those disenfranchised and frustrated that their rights had been denied.

“If there is feeling that the hope for peace is not going to hold out, the fear is not only that supporters of the peace process would pull away their support, but also that some will gravitate towards those they believe, erroneously, will fight for them.

“Although the delay all these years has not had a significant impact on radicalism... it is happening. So, further delays will allow those behind extremism to recruit more support,” he said.

The IMT pointed out that as the younger generation of Mindanao were highly educated, the backdrop against which these struggles are set, differ greatly from that of the 1970s and 1980s.

“Now, everyone is connected... If the (peace) process takes longer, there will be groups interfering from outside... including the IS.”

The IMT, Kindil said, believed that the peace process was stronger than the elements rallied against it.

The tens of thousands of Bangsamoro who want peace to prevail, and the MILF, which is scheduled to govern the region, would be able to rein in and deal with radical groups, he said.

The IMT, in its report, noted that many of the younger generation of Bangsamoro had not experienced the sufferings of their forefathers but rather, enjoyed, to an extent, good education and job opportunities.

They, he said, would want the generation after theirs to have it better, and that lasting peace in the area was the only way to go for the region.

Having been in direct communication with, and engaged the GPH and MILF, even away from formal sessions between the two parties, the IMT said it could vouch for MILF’s commitment in making the peace ambition a reality.

“We know this because we engage with the brigades, battalion commanders and the MILF closely.

“We observed their behaviour and made assessments. Based on our monitoring, the MILF is committed to the peace process.

“The MILF influence here is huge. Its chairman openly said MILF had been supplying intelligence to the government to cripple lawless elements,” said Kindil.

It is part of the IMT’s list of responsibilities to carry out field verification of reported violations of any of the terms in the Cessation of Hostilities agreement, signed between the two parties.

The New Straits Times shadowed the IMT team for several days as it went about carrying out its responsibilities.

Kindil and his charges have been kept busy, making sure life is made more manageable for those displaced because of the Marawi siege.

Captain Mohd Kindil Md Akim speaking to citizens displaced by the Marawi siege in Iligan City, the Philippines, recently.

Kindil leads the IMT (team site 2) in Iligan City.

New Straits Times, Published: December 30, 2017 - 9:34am
'Nothing can derail peace process'

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -
Southerners want the International Monitoring Team to continue observing the peace process even after the possible approval in 2018 of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The Malaysian-led IMT has been helping enforce since 2004 all security agreements between Malacañang and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The inter-agency provincial peace and order council in Maguindanao, a bastion of the MILF, wants the IMT to also monitor the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro through the BBL, which is now pending in Congress.

The IMT is comprised of soldiers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and non-uniformed conflict resolution specialists from Japan, Norway and the European Union.

It was through Malaysia’s third party intercession that Malacañang and the MILF forged on March 27, 2014 the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro, meant to end decades of secessionist conflicts in the southern Philippine region.

The accord also aims to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a more empowered MILF-led Bangsamoro entity via the BBL as an enabling measure to repeal the ARMM’s constitutional charter, the Republic Act 9054.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said on Saturday that the IMT must continue observing the Mindanao peace process even after the BBL’s likely enactment into law and ratification via a plebiscite before 2019.

“It can act as an observer on how the government and the MILF are to jointly implement the BBL, the key to the successful resolution of the Mindanao Moro issue,” Mangudadatu said.

There has not been any single encounter between government and MILF forces since 2010 in central Mindanao as a result of the pacification efforts of the IMT in the region.

Malaysian Army Major Gen. Datuk Masrani bin Paiman, head of the current IMT mission, said credit has to go to local officials, peace advocacy groups and to commanders of the MILF and military units deployed in conflict flashpoint areas.

Paiman said local government units are supportive of the common initiative of the IMT, the MILF and Malacañang to enforce the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between Moro guerillas and state security forces in the south.

The truce was crafted in Cagayan de Oro City in July 1997 by government and MILF peace negotiators.

Despite the ceasefire pact, bloody confrontations between the MILF and units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao hit record high from 2001 to 2009 owing to the hostility of the provincial government then to rebel groups encamped in several towns in the province.

Politicians at the helm of the provincial government during the period stockpiled weapons and organized private militias to fight the MILF to show opposition to the peace process which they fear would boot them out of power.

Mangudadatu, first elected to office in 2010, said their having settled more than 90 vendetta clan feuds in the past six years was achieved with the help of the government-MILF ceasefire committee.

The national government and the MILF has two security mechanisms − the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities and the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group -− that helps the police, the military and LGUs maintain law and order in Maguindanao and other Mindanao provinces covered by the 1997 interim ceasefire agreement.

“This is among the many reasons why we support the IMT and want this multinational peacekeeping group to continue with its mission even after the BBL gets the nod of Congress,” Mangudadatu said.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, deputy of Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza, said Saturday that the recent tangible accomplishment of the government-MILF ceasefire committee and the IMT was the prevention of any spillover of the May 23 to October 23 conflict in Marawi City to vital stretches of the Marawi-Cotabato Highway.

“As the hostilities went on for five months, vehicles of emergency workers and trucks carrying relief supplies for evacuees reached Marawi City from different areas in Mindanao through that highway,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso, a resident of Cotabato City, where there is MILF presence, said the joint ceasefire committee also initiated, with concurrence from IMT, the rescue of 255 Maranaw residents trapped in the crossfire in Marawi City between AFP units and combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

The present IMT contingent in Mindanao is the 12th since 2004.

Its presence in the country is premised on a written protocol concession between the government and the MILF, which both sides renew annually.

“We want the presence of the IMT in Mindanao even after the BBL is passed into law by Congress,” said Bobby Benito of ARMM’s Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, chairman of the regional peace and order council, said he is thankful to the IMT, the government and the MILF for expanding cooperation on socio-economic, civilian protection and other human security projects in far-flung areas.

The joint ceasefire committee also worked together, along with local Army units and MILF guerillas, in driving away from Maguindanao last month the Islamic State-inspired group of Esmael Abdulmalik following an eight week operation that resulted in the deaths of 31 militants.

Butch Malang, chairman of the MILF’s ceasefire committee, said they also lost 20 guerillas in their bid to flush Abdulmalik out of Maguindanao.

Members of the local business communities also support the peacekeeping missions of the IMT.

Pete Marquez, a senior member of different business blocs, said the presence of IMT is a big boost to efforts of creating Cotabato City a potential investment hub for domestic and foreign business capitalists.

“The involvement of the IMT in the Mindanao peace process makes the initiative an international peace-building thrust,” Marquez said.

Butch Malang of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front sign a document in the presence of Malaysian Army Gen. Datuk Masrani bin Paiman of the International Monitoring Team, which helps enforce the interim truce between Malacañang and the MILF.

PhilStar, Updated: December 2, 2017 - 5:17pm
IMT urged to continue observing peace process even after BBL enactment
By John Unson (philstar.com)

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Rising seas affecting island nations

THE 44-member Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) represents some of the world’s most vulnerable island nations fighting a virtually losing battle against rising sea levels triggered by global warming and climate change.

A negotiating voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Aosis has memberships drawn from all oceans and regions of the world, including Africa, the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Medi-terranean, Pacific and South China Sea.

According to the United States National Ocean Service (NOS), the two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.

It says the oceans are absorbing more than 90 per cent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.

Ahmed Sareer, foreign secretary of the Maldives and a former AOSIS chair (2015-2017), says “warming seas have already shifted the fish stocks that we rely on; back-to-back coral bleaching episodes have undermined essential marine habitats as well as critical ecotourism industries”.

He says rising seas, worsening coastal erosion and increasingly powerful storms have forced SIDS to climate-proof their infrastructure projects in the Caribbean and Pacific, and even threaten the territorial integrity of low-lying SIDS.

“The devastation caused by recent storms in the Caribbean are a reminder of how vulnerable small island states are, and how years of development and economic gains can be wiped out overnight, leaving these countries to start from scratch”, says Sareer, whose island nation has been threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

Described as “one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries” and comprising more than a thousand coral islands scattered across the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has a population of nearly 440,000 people compared with India, one of its neighbours, with a hefty population of over 1.2 billion.

The Maldives was devastated by the December 2004 tsunami, and, according to one report, 57 islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, 14 had to be totally evacuated and six were destroyed. Twenty one resort islands were forced to close due to of tsunami damage estimated at over US$400 million (RM1.63 billion).

As part of its defences, the Maldives has been erecting a wall around the capital of Malé to thwart a rising sea and a future tsunami.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Dec 5, Ambassador Robert Sisilo of Solo-mon Islands, told delegates that his country sat on the largest aquatic continent in the world and had a huge maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) that was much larger than its land territory.

The (June 2017) Ocean Conference had represented a ray of hope, and the international community must accelerate that positive momentum, Sisilo said, calling on the UN Security Council to address the issue of climate change.

Sareer says the Samoa (SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action) Pathway, SIDS blueprint for sustainable development, calls attention to the crosscutting nature of climate change and sustainable development in areas as diverse as infrastructure development, agriculture, marine conservation and climate adaptation.

He says the reduction of harmful emissions, transitioning to renewable sources of energy, and investing in mitigation and adaptation are crucial for achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“As small island states, we are advocating for the more ambitious 1.5 degree goal, recognising that the impacts of climate change at 2 degrees are significantly worse. Therefore, these investments, particularly in the context of transitioning to renewable energy, need to be scaled up to a great extent, and also be sustainable and durable.”

The Maldives, as the chair of Aosis, in collaboration with the International Renewable Energy Agency, launched the Initiative for Renewable Island Energy (IRIE) in October, which will facilitate support for small island states in their transition to renewable energy and in achieving energy efficiency.

Sareer says meeting the financing goal of US$100 billion annually by 2020 is essential, and new partnerships with the private sector, non-governmental organisations and other institutions can mobilise the resources.

SIDS says required funding should be predictable, sustainable, adequate and easy to access.

In this regard, Aosis has been advocating for simplified access procedures for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and greater transparency on how the funds are allocated and dispersed, with a clear understanding of what constitutes as climate financing.

The Adaption Fund (AF) is important to SIDS as the fund recognises the particular challenges that many of SIDS face in addressing climate change. In addition, the AF is active in working to ensure its resources are always accessible by SIDS.

In the Fund’s governance, seats on the Adaptation Fund Board are reserved for special representatives of SIDS.

So far, 14 countries from SIDS have seen their projects or programmes approved by AF for a US$96,951,733 grant, including readiness grants. Projects in SIDS account for around 22 per cent of the total commitments of the Fund.

Even though the amount approved by AF is lower than that of GCF, AF has approved more projects than GCF, with less bureaucratic modalities, facilitating direct access through National Implementing Entities for small-scale projects adapted to SIDS particular circumstances.

Given the small size of SIDS, Sareer says, projects are more likely to be small-scale projects. It is therefore essential that this characteristic is understood and taken into account by the different funds under the Convention while reviewing proposals from SIDS.

As AF is tied to the Kyoto Protocol, it may need to undergo changes in its legal status and basic governance structure in order to serve the Paris Agreement On oceans, Sareer says marine debris, plastics and micro-plastics are a global problem, as are the more permanent impacts of deoxygenation and ocean acidification resulting from climate change.

He says aosis is actively engaged in shaping the outcomes of the first ever oceans conference, and “we are advocating strongly for the follow-up of the outcomes from this conference, as well as another conference in 2020”.

Island nations are being threatened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change.

New Straits Times, Published:
Rising seas affecting island nations
By Thalif Deen − IPS

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The United Nations and Malaysian women's power

ONE New Year gift that must surely cheer up all Malaysians is the appointment of Penang Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif as executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements programme (UN-Habitat).

Maimunah makes history by becoming the first Asian to hold this prestigious job, and her appointment helps meet one of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres’ promises to see women in more of UN’s senior most positions.

UN-Habitat is considered one of the most active agencies of the international body. Maimunah will oversee 400 core staff, up to 2,000 project-based employees, four regional offices and activities in more than 70 countries.

A key focus of the agency will be UN’s New Urban Agenda, a 20-year vision for sustainable cities adopted at the 2016 Habitat III conference in Ecuador.

UN-Habitat predicts the number of people living in cities will almost double to seven billion in 2050 from 3.7 billion today, with many mired in squalor if urbanisation is poorly managed.

Encouraging and overseeing adoption of UN’s sustainable urban living goals worldwide is an awesome challenge, to say the least, especially so given recent declines in funding for the 40-year old agency.

Malaysian women have proven themselves up to such international challenges many times, however. In fact, holding key UN positions is part of a tradition of public service par excellence rendered by our female compatriots.

Maimunah follows in the path of Tan Sri Rafiah Salim, who served as assistant secretary-general for human resource management at UN headquarters in New York from 1997 to 2002. Rafiah was instrumental in the reform agenda at UN laid out by then secretary-general Kofi Annan in five core missions:
* peace and security,
* economic and social affairs,
* development cooperation,
* humanitarian affairs, and
* human rights.

As head of human resources, Rafiah’s mandate was to improve the efficiency of the UN machinery, which included heading a task force of experts from different world regions sharing diverse human resource management experience from the public and private sectors.

Similarly, Malaysian astrophysicist Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman was also appointed by Annan in 1999 to serve as director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna. At our government’s request, she returned to Malaysia in July 2002 to serve as the founding director-general of the Malaysian National Space Agency (Angkasa), where her work led to the launch of the first Malaysian angkasawan (astronaut), Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor.

After five years, Mazlan returned to Vienna to reassume the directorship of UNOOSA, appointed to a second term by then secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. In that reprised role, she addressed such daunting issues as international cooperation in space, prevention of space debris and collisions, use of space-based remote sensing platforms for sustainable development, coordination of space law and the risks posed by near-earth asteroids.

A third highly notable example of Malaysian women in leadership roles at the world body is Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, who, since January last year, has served as under-secretary general for partnerships at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Before joining IFRC, she served at UN in New York as chief of the World Humanitarian Summit and of the UN Population Fund’s Humanitarian Response Branch.

Before her UN career, Jemilah in 1999 founded Mercy Malaysia (Malaysian Medical Relief Society), a medical charity inspired by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). In 2008, she was one of 16 members appointed by then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to the Advisory Group of the Central Emergency Response Fund.

It is a source of great pride to Malaysians to see the contribution to world affairs of our women leaders. Having my own window on the UN, I can testify that these top posts are hotly contested and strictly awarded on merit; government lobbying can only do so much. When a UN secretary-general signs an appointment, you can be sure the nomination passed a rigorous search process in which a committee vetted and pared a long list of candidates down to a very few final choices.

Why do Malaysian women excel at such stratospheric levels? I can venture a few reasons: First, a solid education from an early age available in our country and the high female enrolment rate in our universities. Second, a robust public service working environment. After all, these high-flyers were plucked from the prime of their public careers back home.

Some 35 per cent of top management posts in our public sector are filled by women, as noted recently by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who wants even further improvement in keeping with Malaysia’s strong track record in women’s rights.

It won’t be a surprise, therefore, that in the not-too-distant future, we will have a woman chief secretary to the government − perhaps even a secretary-general of the United Nations.

Penang Mayor Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif at her office in George Town recently. Maimunah, who has been appointed executive director of the United Nations Human Settlements programme, joins a list of Malaysian women who have held top UN positions.

New Straits Times, Published: December 30, 2017 - 8:57am
The United Nations and Malaysian women's power
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and former official of the United Nations University

SINCE assuming office in 2009, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib of Malaysia has shown a keen interest in foreign policy.

He had assembled events, people and countries and assembling them to form a framework for decision-making on foreign policy.

We can evaluate Najib’s success in foreign policy using the Causal Layered Analysis (CLA).

In CLA, four levels of reality can be identified: headlines of the day, social causes or reasons why something has happened and who are involved, worldview or what we can imagine the world is going to be, and lastly, myth and metaphor or the intrinsic aspects of values and beliefs held by people and nations.

From headlines over the last few years, the following may have interested Najib: the retreat of the United States, the Russians are coming, the decline and fall of Europe, the rise of China, the Crescent in Crisis, Oil Dependency and Terrorism.

As required by the “d-i-y” approach, he might have to pick and integrate as the narratives of the day.

Together with the social causes and the worldviews, these could help in explaining why certain countries have been behaving in a certain way lately and could register an impact on the country’s foreign policy.

From a study of the development of Malaysia’s foreign policy this year and in the preceding years, there are five different cluster-sets of countries that he could have prioritised as the headline-narratives of the day.

These would include the United States, China, Asean countries, India and Saudi Arabia.

As social causes and existing worldviews, he would have to select the following: with the Asean countries, the facts of geography, history and economics and the regional logic at work; with the United States and China, the result of the type of nation branding in use and its effectiveness to the countries and the functioning international logic observed; with China and Asean, the arcs of history; with India and China, that of strategic partnership; with Saudi Arabia, ummatic unity with a multilateral twist; and finally with India and Saudi Arabia, their policies of Looking East.

Having categorised the various country issues and recognising the push factors behind each of the issues as they surfaced this year, the country had rolled out the red carpet to welcome a state visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia that saw substantial results for the future bilateral relations and in other relevant international concerns between them.

When Najib made a successful visit to India, also in that year, there were high expectations on both sides that it has signalled a new beginning founded on the Look East Policy started by India almost two decades ago.

In the case of moving closer to China, Najib sought to pitch the relations on the facts of history and to work towards capitalising on the rise of the Made-in-China nation branding to fill the void left by the retreating Made-in-USA branding in the region and the world eventually.

China has moved in very creditably with raising the quota of investments in development infrastructure and of course leading to Jack Ma bringing Alibaba here.

Asean will represent a bigger challenge for Malaysia’s foreign policy. The Asean community will now need to harmonise more and avoid treading on one another’s shoes.

Member countries will have to accommodate the working out of the facts of geography, history and economics upon its future development and prepare for changes in the geostrategic environment of the region.

Looking at the future and riding on the present successes of the country’s foreign policy based on the “d-i-y” approach and picking on causal layered analysis as practised by Najib, Malaysia is set to take the lead and welcome more countries to look towards the country as a gateway to go eastwards.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Alibaba founder at the opening of the Digital Free Trade Zone in Sepang last month.

Letter to The New Straits Times, Published: December 29, 2017 - 8:49am
Malaysia leads in many fronts
By Dr Azhari Karim, Kuala Lumpur

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An honourable legacy

“RECALCULATING... go straight ahead and make a U-turn.”

I look at my GPS device with dismay and blame myself for driving too fast. Determined to get to my destination without further delay, I begin to follow the rest of the device’s instructions to the letter. Within minutes, my vehicle finally grinds to a halt at an empty car park.

The grand colonial-styled building beckons as soon as I alight. Although far from being my alma mater, this historic Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) has been on my list of places to visit in Kampar for many reasons. Fortunately, I manage to make time despite my hectic schedule before my drive later to Batu Gajah to spend the night.

Muffled laughter from a corner of the school soon attracts my attention. Within minutes, I find myself in a lively conversation with the cleaning staff who are just winding down for the day. They’re on duty even during this long December school holidays.

They are surprised at my fascination with their school. An elderly Malay woman in the group gets visibly excited and, much to our consternation, disappears into one of the rooms nearby. She soon emerges holding aloft a yellowish parchment triumphantly in her right hand. We crowd around her as she starts pointing out sections in the roughedged piece of paper which I presume came from an old school magazine.


The first paragraph mentions that ACS Kampar, founded in March 1903 by Reverend Edmund Horley, was built on land donated by a wealthy tin miner, Eu Tong Sen. It was an English public school which was open to all races in Malaya at that time.

During those formative years, the Christian missionaries were entrusted to manage the school with funds sourced from the local Chinese businessmen who were predominantly involved in the lucrative tin mining industry.

Looking at the main facade of the sprawling school complex today, it’s hard to imagine ACS Kampar’s humble beginnings.

Under the auspices of the Chinese Methodist Church, the school began with

just a solitary classroom in the church building itself. At that time, it was sited on a 0.8ha plot of land about halfway from the town to the railway station. The roll call then was 45 and there was only one teacher, one Ling Ching Mi. Another teacher, Phong Ah Sang, joined a year later when the student number increased to 70.

Horley, who attended the annual Methodist Conference in 1906, reported that the school was growing by leaps and bounds thanks to Kampar’s rapid

growth. Enrolment kept increasing over the next decade and by 1916, the District Superintendent, Reverend G. F. Pykett, complained that the church was already bursting at its seams trying to accommodate five classes at the same time.

A fundraising exercise was soon initiated with Horley spending most of his afternoons collecting subscriptions in town. By 1917, about $8,000 had been collected on top of a $10,000 grant promised by the government. The mining magnets did their part with Eu donating $3,000. In that same year, Towkay Teng Kong Chen shifted the Chinese Church to its present site as he discovered that the old site actually had a rich tin vein underneath it!

The onset of the First World War caused costs to escalate. This prompted further fundraising and changes in the building plan. Fortunately, a new brick building, which could accommodate 320 students, was finally ready in 1918.

The British Resident of Perak at that time, R. G. Watson, performed the opening ceremony which was attended by invitees from all over the country who came by special trains. The celebrations also saw a procession of school children marching through town and Eu extending hospitality to all visitors at his magnificent residence on Coronation Hill.

Apart from their studies, the ACS Kampar students were also very active with extra curricular activities. They were among the first in the state to join the scouting fraternity when it was still at its infancy in Perak. The first Kampar Scout

Troop was founded in 1924 with Lee Chak Pong acting as Scout Master. The Scout Troop grew rapidly and over the next 15 years won the Latham Shield seven times. In 1929, the District Scout Commissioner of Perak, H. R. Hertslet, chose the Troop to represent Perak at the Selangor Jamboree.

By 1928, the school’s enrolment reached 352, surpassing its capacity by 32 students. This prompted another round of fundraising to add another wing. Plans were drawn up and eventually materialised in 1936. The British Resident, the same one who opened the main building 17 years earlier, officiated the opening of the $11,000 annexe.

In 1934, Chong Wah Fook, the District Scout Master was decorated with the Medal of Merit by Sir Cecil Clementi, the High Commissioner, who visited ACS for

the occasion. During the same ceremony, the headmaster, Yong Njim Djin, mentioned that the school’s initials, ACS, stood for the watch-words “Ambition, Character, Service”.


The winds of war started arriving in Malaya in early 1941. The ACS staff rallied to the need of the hour and joined the Passive Defence Services. They carried out various civilian duties until its disbandment on Dec 23, 1941.

My “new friends” leave me the piece of paper as a parting memento as they prepare to clock out. “Leave before dark,” they tell me before parting.

My questioning look draws a final holler from one of the women. “ACS was

home to the Japanese Garrison during the occupation years.”

The remark, though intriguing, immediately brings to my mind the famous Battle of Kampar. The last few days of December 1941 saw the town of Kampar in a state of utter chaos. General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 5th Division only had to overcome the British and Indian troops belonging to the 11th Indian Infantry Division in Kampar before marching forward to Kuala Lumpur.

The British chose to set up their defences around several strategically important ridges which overlooked the main road leading to the Malayan capital. Their aim was to delay the advancing Japanese troops for as long as they could. The Japanese, however, had every intention of capturing Kampar as a New Year’s gift to Emperor Hirohito.

On Dec 30, 1941, the 4,000-strong Japanese infantry forces under the command of Major General Saburo Kawamura began encircling and probing the British positions. The next day, the Japanese launched their attack but were soundly beaten back by the gallant Gurkha soldiers supported by concentrated barrages from well concealed infantry howitzers.

At seven in the morning, on New Year’s Day 1942, Kawamura hit the Kampar defences with everything he had. There was fierce fighting with Japanese and British positions taken and retaken at the point of a bayonet. The Japanese brought in fresh soldiers to replace their mounting casualties. In spite of the relentless ground and aerial onslaught, the well-concealed British soldiers stubbornly held on to their positions on the western slopes of Kampar Hill.

Reports filed in the aftermath tell of how Captain John Onslow Graham from the 1/8th Punjab Regiment displayed the ultimate act of bravery when he, despite being wounded, continued leading his men in an attempt to retake their captured trenches.

The gallant captain only stopped when a grenade mangled both his legs beneath the knees. Even then, he continued shouting encouragements to his men, urging them forward while lobbing grenades at the Japanese positions. Altogether 34 Indians died in the attack, they managed to retake their position. Graham succumbed to his injuries the next day and was subsequently mentioned in dispatches for his bravado on Thompson Ridge.

The remaining Allied forces finally withdrew on Jan 2, 1942. Aside from achieving their objective of slowing the Japanese advance by a full four days, the defenders also won a tactical victory by inflicting such a heavy toll on the Japanese forces that some crippled regiments were unable to participate in the final attack on Singapore later in February that same year. The final count showed that the Japanese suffered 500 casualties while the Allied forces only lost 150. For the first time in the Malayan campaign, the Japanese Imperial Army had suffered a serious defeat!

By late afternoon, Japanese tanks and armoured personnel carriers began rolling into Kampar. Standing at the edge of the car park, I look out onto the busy Jalan Kuala Dipang and imagine the terrifying episode that took place here some 76 years ago. Little known to the ACS students at that time, their educational pursuit would be interrupted for nearly four long years!

It now begins to dawn upon me the reason why the cleaning staff gave me the piece of advice before they left. Like other towns throughout Malaya, the Japanese secret police or Kempetai was on the constant lookout for British sympathisers and spies in Kampar.

The school’s assembly ground, located adjacent to the car park area, was regularly used as execution grounds by the Japanese soldiers. I shudder at the thought of rumours about former students hearing sounds of troops marching in the courtyard and witnessing wandering headless prisoners within the school compound!

The surviving pre-war school staff met under the leadership of Wong Hean Kim after Malaya was liberated by the returning British troops in September 1945. Lessons only commenced a month later as the building was badly dilapidated. All its furniture and equipment were looted or used as firewood during the resourcescarce occupation period.


The students and teaching staff slowly began picking up the pieces, trying their utmost to bring their lives back to normal. Like everyone in Malaya at that time, erasing the grim memories of the occupation was an uphill task for many of them. Only true determination and grit saw them through those challenging times.

The moment to celebrate finally arrived on April 6, 1953 when ACS celebrated its Golden Jubilee. The highlights of this momentous event included the Jubilee Reunion Dinner and visit by the British High Commissioner, Sir Gerald Templer and his wife, Lady Templer.

After Merdeka, the school continued to improve on its academic excellence. By 1962, it became the third largest Methodist Mission secondary school in Malaya after ACS Ipoh and Methodist Boys School in Kuala Lumpur. The student enrolment at that time was a whopping 1,047.

The last item on the page talks about the double celebrations held at the school in 1963. ACS celebrated its Diamond Jubilee on Sept 7 and just nine days later, the school’s entire educational fraternity joined in the festivities to welcome the formation of our new nation, Malaysia.

Before leaving, I manage to take a good look at the school badge by the main entrance. Adopted to commemorate the double bash in 1963, it incorporates three important features in its attractive design − a book (signifying the quest for knowledge); a bunga raya (representing the birth of Malaysia) and a graduating student (to symbolise the school’s contribution to society).

A visit to one of the oldest schools in Kampar, Perak acquaints Alan Teh Leam Seng with the horrors of war and the human capacity to overcome all odds.

[photo-2] British troops arriving to defend Malaya in 1941.

[photo-3] Horley posing with the ACS Kampar Scout Troop in 1928.

[photo-4] Most Japanese troops travelled through Malaya on bicycles.

[photo-5] Allied soldiers defending Perak regularly sent letters home to their loved ones.

[photo-6] The ACS badge was adopted i n 1963.

New Straits Times, Published: December 30, 2017 - 2:30pm
An honourable legacy

A visit to one of the oldest schools in Kampar, Perak acquaints Alan Teh Leam Seng with the horrors of war and the human capacity to overcome all odds
By Alan Teh Leam Seng

posted by fom_club at 15:37| Comment(0) | 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする

A Christmas fraught with challenges

The soldiers in the officers’ mess are in a boisterous mood. The men, dressed in their neatly ironed uniforms and perfectly polished boots, have every reason to celebrate. This is the first Christmas party they’re celebrating in Malaya since the horrific Japanese Occupation ended just four months ago.

For many in the room, it’s a home coming of sorts as the Royal Air Force (RAF) base here in Kuala Lumpur has been their station prior to the Second World War. A large majority present are part of the liberation task force which set sail from Colombo and Trincomalee as soon as news broke about the Land of the Rising Sun putting up the white flag. The remainder are former prisoners of war who suffered greatly during the Japanese Occupation. These gallant men were mainly interned at various locations throughout Selangor, including the dreaded Pudu Jail.

Moments later, the commanding officer heads over to the gramophone and stops the music. Raising his glass, he taps it gently with a spoon. The sharp clinking sounds resonate across the room, catching everyone’s attention.

The commanding officer proceeds to make a short speech before inviting everyone to take their places at the table, and says: “Enjoy your Xmas dinner as I assure you that the prevailing cheery atmosphere here today is just a temporary interlude. We have a long and difficult task ahead of us. We are to set Kuala Lumpur and all of Malaya back on track, return them to the way they were before the war started.”

An attendant turns the music up once again, aptly setting the mood by playing Judy Garland’s wartime hit, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Christmas’. The room immediately erupts into loud cheers and applause. “Let the party begin!” someone shouts out and again laughter thunders across the wide expanse.

The loud shrills of a mynah resting on my window ledge jolts me from my reverie. I gaze at the slightly toned Christmas Fare card in my hands. Although it’s crudely made from light green Manila card and decorated in a simple manner with a coconut tree in the centre and the RAF insignia at the top left corner, this card remains one of my most treasured possessions.

Made to celebrate the 1945 Christmas party at the RAF station in Kuala Lumpur, this card represents a new beginning in our country. Back then, Malaya was still reeling from the after-effects of the war and the Malayan people needed all the help they could get to return to their normal way of life.

Down memory lane

Opening the card to study the menu, I realise that what the soldiers were having on that day was considered a luxury considering the prevailing food scarcity in Malaya at that time. The meal started off with cream of tomato soup and this was followed by quite a large main course consisting of roast pork with sage and onion stuffing, roast chicken and potatoes, cabbage and peas. Dessert came in the form of mince pies and Christmas pudding with rum sauce. The fresh fruit platter has apples, bananas and pineapples. The dinner was completed with an offering of coffee, chocolates, beer and even cigarettes!

Contrary to the expectations of the returning British forces, food was readily available for a very brief period after the Japanese surrendered on Aug 15, 1945. Looters raided warehouses and the British soldiers started to distribute rice from the massive Japanese stockpiles located all over Malaya.

Shops started displaying ample amounts of food stocks for a few weeks. Unfortunately, the time of abundance was short-lived. Stocks quickly vanished from the shelves into a burgeoning black market when news of an impending acute food shortage became common knowledge.

Rice, the main staple diet of the population, soon became a controlled item. On Jan 1, 1946 the official ration for each person in Malaya was 130g of rice per day.

By February, this amount was supplemented with an additional three ounces of wheat flour. Demand quickly surpassed supply and in just two months, the rice ration was drastically reduced to just 85g per person. This was a far cry from the 453g each person consumed before Second World War started!

To make matters worse, consumers were frequently supplied with poor quality rice that contained a high proportion of broken grains and a great deal of dirt. As a result, those with deeper pockets had to supplement their rations by purchasing smuggled rice from the black market. The government closed one eye to this practice as it was considered the best way to ensure that the population received sufficient food.

Fortunately, the rice supply improved significantly by July 1947 and the increased volume allowed the government to lift internal curbs completely. By 1948, much to everyone’s relief, Malayan rice production returned to its pre-war levels.

The original owner of this card managed to get his mates and close friends to autograph the blank portion next to the food list. There are no less than eight different signatures as well as nicknames. A person by the name of Joe Paddy Millikin must have been keeping a constant eye out for letters from home to earn the nickname Wot No Mail.

Prisoners of war in Malaya during the Japanese Occupation depended solely on the International Red Cross to bring them letters, postcards, and parcels from their loved ones in England. During their internment, mail days were considered one of the main highlights of the week. Inmates would, to the envy of their empty-handed friends, often scurry off to a quiet corner to read and re-read the contents of the letters from home.

Even during the Japanese Occupation, all mail coming into Selangor had to pass through the General Post Office, located right next to the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building. Like many others in the city, both of these buildings sustained damage when the Allied bombers started attacking major installations starting from November 1944.

Building relations

Even the RAF airstrip in Kuala Lumpur was not spared. Remedial work got underway as soon as the British returned. This airstrip, built by the RAF in 1931, is located five kilometres from the city and was equipped with its own swimming pool and cinema. Known also as the Sungai Besi Air Force Base, its single runway was said to have the highest number of aircraft movements in the world from 1949 to 1954. This period of time in our history represented the height of the Malayan Emergency.

The British forces returning to Malaya, including the RAF, were aware that the unquestionably enthusiastic and warm reception accorded to them by the local population were primarily dominated by anti-Japanese rather than pro-British feelings.

As a result, the British Military Administration (BMA) resolved to make rapid progress in overcoming shortages plaguing the local population in order to sustain this initial public euphoria. The authorities were well aware of the monumental task that lay ahead. Apart from providing relief supplies, they also had to create conditions to promote the resumption of normal economic activities.

Talk of the impending war crime prosecution in January 1946 would surely have escaped the lips of the people attending the Christmas party. The Japanese officers who initiated the sook ching or purification by elimination massacres had to be brought to justice but the prosecutors were facing a large headache. Their efforts were hampered by the fact that the screenings and executions were carried out by ordinary soldiers and it was proving to be very difficult to pinpoint the officers who gave the orders!

At the same time, the authorities were aware that nearly all of the Malayan population had in some way collaborated with the Japanese, apart from those who joined the guerrilla forces in the jungle. Adopting a conciliatory attitude, the British chose not to take the pro-Japanese and anti-Allied opinions expressed publicly by prominent citizens during the Japanese Occupation at face value.

The British preferred to believe that these individuals had co-operated with the aggressors under duress and had merely acted as intermediaries for the betterment of their own communities during those war years.

I’m quite certain that the officers attending the 1945 Christmas parties throughout Malaya also spent many sleepless nights thinking of ways to deal with their wartime allies. Although the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) had rendered valuable service by fighting the Japanese soldiers, the Malayan Communist Party, which controlled the MPAJA, were harbouring an agenda that extended beyond the defeat of the Japanese.

Faced with problems coming in from all fronts, the British top brass preferred to adopt cordial relations with the MPAJA, conferring honours and cash payments to the guerrillas in exchange for disbandment and return of arms. As a show of sincerity, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten personally presented war medals to members of the resistance.

Life goes on

On Dec 1, 1945 the British staged elaborate demobilisation parades throughout Malaya where the fighters handed in weapons en masse and received gifts of clothing and money. The MPAJA also took part in the victory parade held in London.

The British would later discover that these efforts to placate the MCP were merely superficial. The MCP, upon realising that their political ambitions were hampered by the authorities, quickly became involved in nationwide racial instigations, riots and strikes. Ultimately, by 1948, Chin Peng and his battle-hardened comrades were left with little choice but to return to the jungle to launch their futile armed insurrection.

In the meantime, life continued for the common folk. Taking hardship in their strides, brave Malayans continued to strive for their betterment and that of the future generations to come. Despite the fact that religious festivals like Christmas were celebrated at a much lower scale during the rebuilding years after the Japanese Occupation, they still remained the forerunners in maintaining racial harmony in Malaya.

It took a few more years before lavish parties with their elaborate concerts and pantomimes began making their appearance felt again in the local scene. Even then, Malayans found it difficult forget the overwhelming euphoria and relief brought by the first Christmas celebrated when the British returned after the war.

[photo-1] Christmas parties were celebrated in a big way prior to the Second World War.
[photo-2] The RAF Station Christmas Fare card
[photo-3] The inside of the RAF Station Christmas Fare card
[photo-4] Crowds welcomed the returning British troops in 1945.
[photo-5] Christmas was celebrated in a simple manner immediately after the Second World War.
[photo-6] British soldiers shopping for Christmas gifts.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 6:54pm
A Christmas fraught with challenges
By Alan Teh Leam Seng

posted by fom_club at 15:29| Comment(0) | 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする

Unbreakable bond with the past

“The Gallipoli flag here is the only known one of its kind in existence in the world today. It’s just beside the foundation stone of the first church on this site, laid in 1817. This means that we’ll be celebrating our 200th Christmas mass later this month. Join us if you can,” the friendly counter staff voluntarily blurts out the interesting facts when I stop to ask for a brochure.

I had clapped eyes on the cathedral spires when I was drawing the curtains in my room upon checking in at the Novotel Newcastle Beach Hotel. I later discover that they belonged to the city’s renowned Christ Church Cathedral.

The cathedral, just a short drive away from the hotel, is located on a slight rise in the city’s eastern suburb aptly called The Hill. Using the lofty spires as a guide, I managed to reach my destination quite easily.

There’s ample parking space within the compound. On my way into the building, I notice the rather unique brick-lined pavement. Close scrutiny reveals that each bears the names of individual donors who had given generously during the cathedral’s recent fundraising exercise.

Before stepping indoors, I take in the magnificence of the cathedral. Interestingly, the first worshippers at this site back in 1812 had to make do with just a small slab hut with a chimney at one end and a bellcote at the other.

I enter the building and gasp in awe at the sight of the grand interior. With measured steps, I walk slowly along the aisle while admiring the numerous banners decorating the nave. After some time, I reach the original foundation stone which was placed a year after the slab hut was demolished in 1816. A decision was made to build a larger and more permanent building due to the marked increase in the congregation size.

Initially named Christ Church, this second building was upgraded to become a cathedral in 1847. This was around the same time when the Diocese of Newcastle was created and William Tyrell was appointed the first Bishop of Newcastle.

Construction of a new cathedral

By 1861, the first cathedral fell into disrepair. The people of Newcastle at that time described it as “a crumbling building”. As a result, “a cathedral building” committee was set up to oversee the demolition of the old building and the construction of a better replacement.

A competition to design the new cathedral held in 1868 was won by architects Terry and Speechley from Melbourne. Unfortunately, the duo had seriously underestimated the cost of their design and were forced to withdraw soon after.

This unexpected incident threw Canadian-born architect John Horbury Hunt into the limelight as his plans were adopted instead. Hunt’s design provided for a cruciform Victorian Gothic-style building with a central tower and spires over the central crossing. Even more significant was Hunt’s attempt to exemplify the arts and crafts principles where he preferred the use of brick rather than stone for both structural and decorative purposes.

Work started in 1883 and the older building was demolished a year after. The nave of the new cathedral was completed in 1902. At that time, it didn’t have the tower and spires that can be seen today. Those were only added after a severe storm in 1974 damaged a large part of the roof. A decision was then made to complete the building according to Hunt’s original design. The estimated cost at that time was A$700,000 (RM2.187 million).

The completed building was dedicated in May 1979 and its consecration ceremony was held on Nov 25 1983. Today, Christ Church Cathedral holds the record for many firsts in the state as well as Australia as a whole. It remains the largest place of worship designed by Hunt, the largest Anglican cathedral in New South Wales, and the largest provincial Anglican cathedral in Australia.

Inside the cathedral

Leaving the foundation stone, I move just a few steps to a side wall and find the relic of Gallipoli staring me in the face. I pause a moment to contemplate the irony of seeing something that represents the immense human sacrifice and sorrows of World War I in such peaceful surroundings.

Occupying the entire wall near the main altar, the glass-framed silk Union Jack is one of the cathedral’s most prized possessions. This authentic Gallipoli flag was presented to the cathedral on Easter Day 1916 by battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Granville J. Burnage after he returned home from war.

Inscribed nearby on a brass plaque are the words: “To the immortal memory of the 15 officers and 385 soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 13th Battalion who gave their lives in Gallipoli. Their sacrifice is our heritage. Lest we forget.”

This historic flag traces the position of the battalion headquarters during the campaign. First in Liverpool, New South Wales, then on to Broadmeadows, Victoria before moving onboard the HMAS Ulysses. It then disembarked at Gaza, near Cairo, and finally reached Gallipoli where it remained from landing until evacuation. Even until today, this cathedral remains a place of pilgrimage for veterans, their families, friends and descendants from all around Australia.

Once inside, it’s impossible to miss the cathedral’s magnificent stained glass windows. Of the 72 outstanding works of art, the one that I like most is the famous Dies Domini (Day of the Lord) window which was designed and executed by the pre-Raphaelite artists, Sir Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, respectively. The vibrant colours from the windows are outstanding especially when the glass catches the sunlight coming in from the background.

Laid to rest

Venturing out into the sun, I make my way to the adjoining Cathedral Park Burial Ground, home to one of the earliest European cemeteries established in New South Wales, pre-dating even the two century old Christ Church Cathedral itself!

Known as the Christ Church burial ground during its earliest days, this place was the only dedicated burial site for Newcastle citizens. By the 1840s, three new burial sites were established in Newcastle West for Roman Catholics, Wesleyan Methodists and Presbyterians. A further two cemeteries were developed in Mayfield and Thomas Street. Today however, all five have long disappeared.

Walking amongst the tombstones and reading the inscriptions on them, it soon becomes apparent that this place is home to the remains of early Newcastle citizens. Interestingly, the tombs are augmented by an astonishing number of infants! Furthermore, the different styles employed in the creation of the many headstones give me a good idea about the changing burial customs prevalent in New South Wales during the 19th century.

Entries in the cathedral register of burials from July 1821 to 1900 contain 3,352 names including 1,282 children under 3. It’s interesting to note that burials for the 3-to-10-year-old group were relatively uncommon compared to the significantly higher death rate of those aged between 11 to 20. At the same time, adult deaths peaked in the 31-40 year group.

According to church records, the first registered burial here was for Richard Ling in July 1821 but scholars believe that this was far from the first interment on this site. Many suggest that burials of convict coal miners might have occurred on this site as early as 1802.

Further research at the Newcastle City Council revealed that the earliest known documented burial was that of Archibald Scott, a seaman on the Resource, which was a 22-gun floating battery. Scott was killed by a misfiring musket and his public burial conducted by Lieutenant Menzies in 1804 was held on what was to become the site for the first Christ Church.

A further public burial took place in 1816 after the colonial brig Elizabeth Henrietta capsized in Newcastle Harbour. That incident resulted in the drowning of the captain’s wife and a crew member, Patrick Fitzgerald. Both died when they were trapped below deck.

Severe congestion in the 1850s prompted the authorities to close the cathedral burial ground but burials were still held here as late as 1884. This exemption was given solely to families whose relatives wished to be laid to rest alongside existing graves.

Over the next century, the burial ground fell into a gradual decline and eventually became an abandoned mess. Cases of neglect and vandalism led the Newcastle City Council to resume ownership of the land in 1966 and turn the place into a rest park.

By then the council could only identify 258 graves. About 70 headstones were relocated to the eastern side of the grounds while fragments of broken headstones that were corroded beyond recognition were used to line the walkways of Blackbutt Nature Reserve in Shellharbour, New South Wales.

Final reflections

I spend the rest of my evening sitting by the seaside at Newcastle’s symbolic landmark called Nobbys. It was on the waters off this narrow headland that Captain James Cook aboard HMS Endeavour made his historic sail past in May 1770.

Today, Nobbys is a popular recreational area for the Newcastle residents. By late afternoon, the place is full of people. Some come here to walk their pets while others head out to greet the distant waves astride their surfboards. There are even a few treasure hunters scouring the water’s edge in search of buried treasure. Who knows, with a bit of luck they may unearth something related to Newcastle’s past. As the sun starts to dip below the horizon, I take some time to reflect upon the places I’d visited today. To me, these historical custodians serve as reminders of Newcastle’s rich heritage, forming an unbreakable bond with the past as the city progresses forward as one of Australia’s fastest growing in the 21st century.

[photo-1] The cathedral was built based on John Horbury Hunt’s design.
[photo-2] The Christ Church Cathedral is the largest Anglican cathedral in New South Wales.
[photo-3] This Gallipoli flag is the one surviving example of its kind in the world.
[photo-4] Bricks bearing the names of donors line the walkway leading to the cathedral.
[photo-5] The famous Dies Domini stained glass window.
[photo-6] Treasure hunter hard at work.
[photo-7] A tombstone seen at the Cathedral Park Burial Ground.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 @ 6:43pm
Unbreakable bond with the past
By Alan Teh Leam Seng

posted by fom_club at 15:21| Comment(0) | 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする

Where's Santa?

It’s the question every good little girl and boy asks on Christmas Eve: When is Santa coming?

As it has done every year since 1955, a Canadian and American defense agency is tracking the jolly old man’s path around the globe in his reindeer-powered sleigh.

A 3-D, interactive website at www.noradsanta.org shows Santa on his delivery route, allowing users to click to learn more about the various cities along the way.

The Santa tracker presented by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) dates to 1955, when a Colorado newspaper advertisement printed a phone number to connect children with St Nick mistakenly directed them to the hotline for the military nerve center.

To avoid disappointing the little ones, NORAD’s director of operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, ordered his staff to check the radar to see where Santa might be and update the children on his location.

When not spreading holiday cheer, NORAD conducts aerospace and maritime control and warning operations – including monitoring for missile launches from North Korea, something that may have been on Santa’s mind as he passed over the country’s capital of Pyongyang.

“NORAD radars have sensed movement near the North Pole. It appears that the elves have finished loading Santa’s sleigh and Santa has lifted off! Even loaded with all the gifts and goodies, Santa’s sleigh seems to be moving lightning fast,” the website said in a video clip at the launch of Santa’s global journey.

As of 1545 GMT, Santa was headed for the Indonesia capital of Jakarta, having already left nearly 1.5 billion gifts for sleeping children in countries including New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

This year, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania, who are spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, were expected to participate in Santa Tracker calls Sunday afternoon.

Volunteers manning the NORAD phone line included military members in uniform, with a soldier completing his look with a camouflage Santa hat, according to photos on the website’s Twitter account.

The Santa tracker “has become a magical tradition for generations of families everywhere,” General Lori Robinson, commander of the US Northern Command and NORAD, told Politico.

“While certainly a reminder that we have the watch defending North America, our ultimate goal is to provide good will and cheer during the holiday season.”

Volunteers are armed with a 14-page handbook detailing the “tracking operation,” Politico reported.

“When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced – enough for the satellites to see them,” it says. “Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites detect Rudolph’s bright red nose with no problem.”

This file photo taken on December 15, 2011 shows a man dressed as Santa Claus riding a reindeer and sled outside Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland.

New Straits Times, Published: December 25, 2017 - 5:16pm
Where's Santa? US-Canadian military command tracking St Nick

It was the spring of 1987 and down near the bike sheds of Woodville primary school two young gangs had formed. I stood beside my friend Stewart as our posse boldly confronted a small group of misfits who were saying unspeakable things – that Santa was not real.

Even at the tender age of seven I had the insight to wonder at the sort of upbringing they’d had. I already had a sense that some kids grew up in families that were a bit rougher than mine but this was next level type stuff. How could you be so dead inside that you would deny the existence of Santa? With numbers and morality on our side, our gang won that day but our fate was sealed. When the time came, we wouldn’t all go down together but one by one. Confused and alone in defeat.

At least, that’s how I felt. Like I’d swallowed the red pill and my reality was falling away in front of me. “What do you think?” my mother asked me diplomatically. But that was the point – I had been the victim of a fraud perpetrated willingly and knowingly by all I knew and loved for the entirety of my short life. I didn’t know what to think.

Now that I’m an adult and I’ve recovered my equilibrium, I mostly do know what to think. And it’s this: it’s wrong to tell barefaced lies to wide-eyed children. Which is why I tell my young daughters the truth about Santa.

I don’t usually advertise my position on this issue because I fear accusations of being a joyless old Grinch intent on robbing my own children of the magic of childhood. I pretend to be normal during conversations with other parents who just got a thing called Elf on the Shelf. And I judge them for treating their own children’s credulity as entertainment. It’s much the same way I judge parents who post photos of their crying kids on Facebook. Where it appears the parent’s first reaction to their child’s distress has been to take out their phone and snap a pic. Poo explosion? Snap. Tantrum in the supermarket aisle? Snap. Hair tangled in the wheels of a remote-control car because the child put it on her head while her sister activated the controls? Snap. Oh wait, that last one was me.

My position isn’t the moral high ground you might expect it to be. Because instead of lying to my children, I spend several months of the year actively teaching them to lie. There’s pretty much no way this can’t backfire.

I start early. As soon as Christmas paraphernalia appears on shelves, I start drilling.

Me: “Is Santa real or not real?”

Four-year-old: “Not real.”

Me: “What if you’re talking to another kid.”

Four-year-old: “Real.”

Me: “Good girl.”

Two-year-old: “He’s got claws.”

This is all very well with my eldest daughter who is quite good at following rules. But I wonder what will happen with my younger child who seems to revel in defiance and who likes to stir the pot. If knowledge is power, when the time comes, how will she wield it?

The truth is, I can’t win. Either I lie to my children or I teach them to lie to their peers. The alternative is that we ruin Christmas. Even now, when I remember that day near the bike sheds, I think of those kids as bad kids. I can’t let my child be one of them.

Of course, I don’t call it lying. I talk to the kids about the importance of pretending. I tell them that our imaginations are a precious gift and that pretending is good fun. We still put out milk and biscuits, we still leave carrots for the reindeer. And when they wake in the morning to find crumbs and hoof prints they seem to be genuinely excited. Which immediately triggers my anxiety that perhaps I haven’t actually explained this whole Santa thing properly. I have to stop myself from asking: “You know that mum ate the carrots, right?”

Clearly, children have a marvellous capacity for wonder. It’s a shame that it so often gets lost along the road to adulthood. Perhaps we’d preserve it better if we anchored it in reality. A mouse’s heart beats, on average, the same number of times through the course of its life as an elephant’s. MAGIC! The male octopus fertilises the female with one of its arms. MAGIC! Humans first landed on the moon using computers far less powerful than our phones. MAGIC! Brazil was named after a nut and not the other way around. MA ... INTERESTING!

Now that I’m out, I’ll brace for the inevitable onslaught of accusations that I’m punishing my children with projections of my own childhood trauma. Because I might be alone on this one. But I’m right. Trying to create magical childhoods by lying and deceiving? Now that’s a projection of trauma. It’s an understandable trauma that comes from forgetting that, despite all the horrors of the nightly news, the real world is already a magical place.

‘Of course, I don’t call it lying. I talk to the kids about the importance of pretending. I tell them that our imaginations are a precious gift and that pretending is good fun’

The Guardian, Last modified on Sat 23 Dec 2017 23.03 GMT
I tell my kids the truth about Santa. And then teach them to lie

Instead of lying to my children, I spend several months of the year actively teaching them to lie. There’s pretty much no way this can’t backfire

By Erin Lennox
Erin Lennox lives in Melbourne. She is doing a PhD on urban birds.

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Christmas in the age of political correctness

WHEN I was a little girl growing up in a small town in Kedah, Christmas was just something that I saw in black and white on television; of the rotund and merry Father Christmas carrying a sack full of presents.

During a school holiday trip to the more modern Kuala Lumpur, and a subsequent visit to Port Dickson, I met my first Santa. He was not rotund or European or had a sack full of presents, but we children had lots of fun. He was our Uncle Dorai. There was no turkey, but lots of chicken curry and capati made by Aunty Tata.

Having been schooled in a convent, I was aware of the religious side of Christmas, and the Christmas experience I had then had no religious significance whatsoever. There were no constant reminders of what not to do, but, somehow, we knew the boundaries. It was all about sharing the fun.

Fast forward 10 years or more, I landed in London in December 1979, where the Christmas atmosphere was fast building up. We joined throngs of last-minute shoppers hunting for presents in Oxford Street.

What could be more Christmas-sy than hearing Christmas songs and carols from every corner of the street, meeting revellers in their party hats all tipsy from their Christmas office parties and seeing people lugging home small Christmas trees to be decorated. Strangers hugged and shouted out “Merry Christmas” to each other.

On Christmas, we sat around the table with old friends of my husband’s, wore those silly paper hats, pulled Christmas crackers and opened presents. This celebration with these friends became an annual affair for a few years.

When it was Eid, they, too, shared our celebration. Perhaps our friends were not overly religious, thus our Christmas days were more about spending free time together because there was nothing better to do.

Everything was shut for Christmas, and watching Fawlty Towers and repeats of The Sound of Music was more bearable when watched together. Doing bumper crossword puzzles in the newspaper was another popular activity.

However, it was with the arrival of the children that things began to change, somewhat.

Of course they were excited when Christmas came; they gave presents and received presents, they got to play small parts in the school’s nativity play, queued outside Santa’s grotto and sat on his lap for pictures, and even joined in charity work visiting lonely, elderly people and cooked for the homeless.

As they grew older, fortunately, they got tired of being the hind legs of the donkey and trying to pull Santa’s white beard was no longer fun; which was just as well, as the whole political correctness and sensitivities surrounding nativity plays at school and the issue of Christmas trees and decorations suddenly became problematic.

Some Muslim parents refused to let their children take part in nativity plays and one year, a school went a bit too far in trying to be politically correct to accommodate the Muslim community, so no Christmas trees or decorations were allowed.

There was even one ridiculous suggestion to refer to Christmas as just “a holiday”. This riled up more counter accusations about Muslims not wanting to integrate.

Whether it is in Malaysia or on British soil, debates and discussions on what is and not allowed usually gain momentum long before the first sounds of the jingles are heard.

This year, Tesco’s Christmas advertisement backfired as it depicted a Muslim family celebrating together.

In its one minute-long advert, families are seen preparing a Christmas dinner and cooking a turkey in their own way. They greet each other, and, in one scene, a Muslim family is seen holding Christmas gifts.

Oh, what a day for Twitter and Facebook ranters! The Muslim Council of Britain was moved to issue two simple Christmas greetings, “Keep Calm, It’s Christmas’ and “Don’t Panic, Christmas is not Banned”.

For a few years now, Dec 25 has come to have its own special significance for us and some close friends. Come Christmas, Chef Syed Fauzi of Tuk Din Restaurant in London would order halal turkey. Trained to cook western food at the same school that Naked Chef Jamie Oliver was trained, Syed Fauzi would whip up a meal complete with Yorkshire puddings, stuffing, gravy, potato salad and Brussel sprouts. On my part, without fail, it will be air asam and nasi tomato for this “East meets West” annual affair.

It was on Christmas that Tuk Din, or Zainuddin Yahya, got married to his wife, Hamidah, and since then, there has been no better way to spend the day.

Roasted turkey and air asam have come to symbolise our existence here; taking the best of the two cultures and celebrations without offending anyone.

Shoppers flocking to Oxford Street for Christmas gifts in London recently. Christmas is all about sharing the fun.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 10:43am
Christmas in the age of political correctness

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Israel's brand of terrorism

ALL across the globe, Israel has been called a terrorist state. Since its inception, the country has used its intelligence service (Mossad) to assassinate people on foreign soil.

In the Middle East, terror has been perpetrated by the Israeli authorities against the Palestinian people. However, they defend their actions as a “sign of strength” and “resilience”.

It is not a surprise that a few days after United States President Donald Trump called for the US embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Israelis again showed “strength”.

Mohammed Zeidan, director of Human Rights Association in Nazareth, said since that day, “seven minors have been seriously injured by Israelis forces”.

The US has turned a blind eye to Israel’s misuse of US-supplied tear gas, bulldozers and munitions to commit human rights violations against the Palestinians.

A Pennsylvania-based company, Combined Systems Incorporated, has for years, supplied Israel with tear gas, a non-lethal means for crowd dispersal and control.

“Israel has repeatedly used tear gas at close range on unarmed protesters who posed no threat to soldiers, often injuring and even killing them.

“There is a hyper-militarised culture of incitement and belligerence in Israel.”

Palestinians are still viewed by the state, and much of the Israeli public, as enemy combatants. A few years ago, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat called on Israeli civilians who owned firearms to carry them at all times and be ready to use them.

Last week, Israeli member of parliament Oren Hazan verbally harassed Palestinian families from the Gaza Strip journeying by bus to visit imprisoned relatives in an Israeli prison, calling their sons “dogs” and “terrorists”.

He told them: “You educated your son to murder and we will show your son to the ground.”

Oren said the bus was carrying the families of “animals”.

Many Israeli politicians like Hazan have used psychological terrorism against the Palestinians through the worst humiliation and abuse imaginable.

Though most Palestinian political prisoners hail from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, they are placed in prisons inside Israel, in direct contravention of international law. Families of Palestinian prisoners must, therefore, apply for hard-to-obtain permits to enter Israel and visit them, usually in buses organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Terrorism has been the hallmark of Israeli leaders, including Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, among others.

Assassination of Palestinian leaders and intellectuals in Europe and the Middle East has happened for years.

Israel used chemical weapons in the attempt to assassinate Khalid Meshal, a Hamas leader, in Amman in 1997 on the orders of Netanyahu.

Israel was the “first, fundamental and only suspect in the suspicious death of Yasser Arafat”, based on the reports of Swiss and Russian scientists on a sample taken from the exhumed corpse of the Palestinian leader.

Although the cause of Arafat’s death has never been determined in real confidence, one can quote several Israeli leaders who stated that “killing Arafat is a viable option”.

Israeli violence is not limited to Palestinians but includes the assassination of the British minister, Lord Moyne, in 1944 in Cairo as planned by Shamir, a former Israeli prime minister. Another assassination, of the Swedish nobleman Count Folke Bernadotte on Sept 17, 1948, in Jerusalem, was alleged to be on the orders of Shamir.

Bernadotte’s sin was his recommendation, as the United Nations mediator, that Palestinian refugees who were driven out from their homes by Israel should be allowed to return.

This recommendation was the substance of the UN resolution 194, on Dec 11, 1948, stipulating the right of return for the Palestinian refugees as soon as possible.

The first deliberate act of shooting down a civilian airliner was carried out by Israel when a Libyan airliner was shot down by fighter jets over Sinai in February 1973, on the orders of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, killing 107 passengers and its entire French crew.

Israeli terror was not restricted to Palestinians, Arabs and Europeans, but included its own closest supporter and ally, the US. In 1954, Israeli secret agents bombed Egyptian, American and British-owned civilian targets, cinemas, libraries and American educational centres. The attacks were blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, or “local nationalists” with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to maintain its occupying troops in Egypt’s Suez Canal zone.

Israel’s Mossad agents, too, were the ones who carried out the much-publicised assassinations of four Iranian scientists − Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriari, Darioush Rezaeinejad and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan − between 2010 and 2012.

The noted British historian, Arnold Toynbee, in a 1961 lecture at McGill University, Canada, delivered to a largely Jewish audience, highlighted the crimes committed by Israel in the name of the Jews, thus: “The Jewish treatment of the Arabs in 1948 was as morally indefensible as the slaughter by the Nazis of six million Jews... The most tragic thing in human life is when people who have suffered impose suffering in their turn.”

The Palestinian people today are calling for a modicum of justice. This will not happen if we continue to condone Israel’s state-sponsored terrorism.

Palestinians run from tear gas during a demonstration against United States President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The US has turned a blind eye to Israel’s misuse of US-supplied tear gas and munitions to commit human rights violations against the Palestinians.

New Straits Times, Published: December 29, 2017 - 9:12am
Israel's brand of terrorism
The writer is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow, and a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak

Two US companies have shipped crowd control munitions and teargas to Egypt – one firm repeatedly – in the midst of violent and often lethal crackdowns on protesters by security forces, according to an Amnesty International investigation.

The human rights group has asked for Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to stop granting export licences for teargas and other munitions, pending an investigation into its misuse by Egyptian forces.

Combined Systems Inc (CSI), based in Jamestown, Pennysylvania, has sent at least three arms deliveries to Egypt since the protests began in Tahrir Square on 25 January, according to Amnesty. The most recent delivery, addressed to the interior ministry, arrived in the port of Adabiya near Suez on 26 November, only 48 hours after days of bloody clashes between interior ministry troops and protesters left two dozen dead and thousands injured.

Amnesty said the November shipment contained at least seven tonnes of "ammunition smoke" - which includes chemical irritants and crowd control agents such as teargas.

The investigation tallies with eyewitness reports from Egyptian demonstrators who told the Guardian last month they had seen teargas canisters branded with CSI's name and address.

The US State Department, which has condemned the excessive use of force on demonstrators in Cairo and has begun an investigation into misuse of teargas by Egyptian authorities, has confirmed that two export licenses for "teargas and other non-lethal riot control agents" from US companies were approved in July and arrived in Egypt in November.

The second company has not been identified.

Amnesty's arms expert, Brian Wood, condemned the State Department as "irresponsible" for approving them.

He said: "These licences were authorised during a period where the Egyptian government responded to protests by using excessive and often lethal force. It is inconceivable that the US authorities did not know of evidence of widely documented abuses by the Egyptian security forces. These licences should not have been granted."

"The Egyptian security forces have a reputation for violations against human rights. The US should be suspending these supplies pending proper changes in the way they deal with crowd control."

Since January, and particularly in the run-up to the election, protesters in Egypt have subject to violent crackdowns by security forces, resulting in deaths and hundreds of injuries. Medical staff have reported that some fatalities have been caused by the misuse of teargas.

Wood said that while the use of teargas was not wrong per se, it was potentially lethal if misused.

He said: "It is a dispersal tool and it should not be used in a situation such as in narrow streets where a crowd cannot disperse. There are videos showing security forces firing directly at protesters."

"Egypt's security forces, including riot police, must be reformed and trained to respect UN standards on use of force and firearms. Without fundamental change in the behaviour and accountability of the security forces, it is irresponsible for foreign countries to provide arms and other equipment to forces that are most likely to misuse them."

Wood said that the November 26 shipment was linked to CSI by a cargo manifest from Egypt. According to Amnesty, it was carried aboard a Danish ship, the Marianne Danica, was organised by defence logistics company Nico Shipping and left North Carolina on October 13.

Amnesty said the company had also sent a shipment of 21 tonnes of ammunition to Egypt – enough for 40,000 rounds of tear gas grenades and cannisters – on 8 April from Wilmington, North Carolina, and another shipment of 17.9 tonnes from New York on 8 August. According to the commercial trade database Piers, both were listed under the product code of bullets, cartridges and shells, but the New York was also described as "ammunition smoke".

Amnesty said they could not "100% verify" the authenticity of the cargo manifesto, because it was not provided to them by the shipping company, but said that the information in the manifest corresponds with other data it had from the US State Department, the shipping route, and the US supply company.

CSI manufactures a range of arms, including rubber baton and chemical irritants, for military forces and law enforcement.

When asked about the export of teargas by US companies to Egypt, a State Department official referred the Guardian to two previous statements. On 29 November, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters: "What we've seen is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but we haven't seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing teargas".

Two days later, on 1 December, he said department was investigating allegations that teargas had been misued. He said: "With regard to the allegations of misuse of tear gas, we take those allegations very seriously, and we are, in fact, following up on these allegations to determine if there was some measure of misuse. And we're carefully monitoring the ongoing situation and also seeking additional information."

He added: "I can say that we have approved export licenses to two US companies for the export of teargas, and other non-lethal riot control agents to the Egyptian government. And the most recent export license approval occurred in July, and that was, in fact, the shipment, I believe, that arrived in Egypt on 25 November."

No-one at CSI was available for comment on Wednesday.

Egyptian demonstrators told the Guardian that teargas canisters branded with CSI's name had been used in Tahrir Square.

The Guardian, Published: Wed 7 Dec 2011 23.02 GMT
US firms shipped teargas to Egypt during crackdown, investigation reveals

Amnesty International condemns State Department as 'irresponsible' for granting export licences to munitions firms
By Karen McVeigh

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Have a great New Year !

BACK in 2015, many had predicted that the Malaysian economy would dip into recession by 2018, or even earlier. Perhaps, this was based on historical data which suggests that the economy tends to plunge into a recession every seven to 10 years.

The last time the economy experienced a recession was in 2009, when gross domestic product (GDP) contracted to 1.5 per cent. There were other recessions prior to this, one in 1998, and another in 1985. The depth of the recession was more significant in 1998 when GDP took a dive to negative 7.4 per cent. In 1985, GDP contracted to 0.9 per cent.

Given this background, what is the prospect for the Malaysian economy next year?

Clearly, there is no indication whatsoever that the economy is on the path of recession or crisis. On the contrary, there is evidence emerging that suggests the economy is on course to become a high-income nation by 2020.

The World Bank, based on simulations, predicted that we are on track to achieve the target. In fact, according to Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) analysis, Malaysia may even arrive at the high-income status as early as the first quarter of 2018.

The consensus forecast for Malaysian economic growth in 2018 is within the range of 5.5 to 5.8 per cent, with the prospect of stable inflation and low unemployment. There is evidence to suggest that the overall wellbeing of the people has improved steadily as incomes edged higher, especially for the bottom 40 (B40) group. Data shows that the education system is improving, number of jobs growing, income and regional inequalities are being reduced, and public transportation is becoming better over time. And, this trend is set to continue next year for reasons which I will elaborate.

For the first time since the great recession, the world economy is in a somewhat positive mood. It is projected to grow at more than 2.5 per cent next year. Interestingly, both developed and emerging economies are forecast to perform better next year.

The United States and the rest of Europe are expected to turn in an average growth rate of two per cent in 2018 while China, despite its slower than expected growth rate, is still a major force, with an economic trajectory of around 6.7 per cent next year. And without a doubt, the recently unveiled 2018 Budget, touted as the “mother of all budgets”, will further boost the Malaysian economy as we approach 2018, especially the people part.

The 14th General Election (GE-14) will be the central issue next year. While the government has a clear economic plan, a policy direction and a vision, the opposition has merely an incoherent economic wishlist: to abolish the Goods and Services Tax (GST), to have free education and to reduce the civil service. These are not economic plans, they represent an economic wishlist. Contrast it with the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), which is set to turn the country into a high-income, inclusive, and sustainable economy by 2020.

Instead of reverting to the past, the government is set for the future beyond 2020 with the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) vision. TN50 will prepare Malaysians, especially the youth, for future challenges such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), an ageing society, the era of robots, climate change and the digital economy.

Indeed, with the launch of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) this year, 60,000 high-income jobs are expected to be created primarily for the youth.

From the perspective of financial management of the country, the prospect for 2018 is promising.

Our international reserves now stand at US$102.2 billion (RM416.97 billion), which is sufficient to finance 7.5 months of retained imports and 1.1 times short-term external debt.

This compares starkly with 1998, when our reserves stood at a mere US$20 billion, sufficient to finance just 2.6 months of retained imports.

As for the prospect of the ringgit strengthening, we can see that the Malaysian currency is now performing well at RM4.08 against the US dollar compared with 1998 when it was at RM4.88.

Other indicators, such as the inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) and trade activities are also expected to improve. This is due to major investments in public transportation infrastructure and strong bilateral ties with important economies such as China, the US, Saudi Arabia, India, and Japan.

The 14 Malaysia-China business memoranda of understanding (MoU) and the 31 Malaysia-India business MoUs for instance, are expected to bring about RM302.4 billion worth of investments into Malaysia.

Multi-regional economic links such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also set to take effect in 2018.

That said, 2018 will surely be another encouraging year for Malaysia. Have a great New Year.

The government is set for the future beyond 2020 with the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) vision. TN50 will prepare Malaysians, especially the youth, for future challenges such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an ageing society, the era of robots, climate change and the digital economy.

New Straits Times, Published: December 29, 2017 - 9:15am
2018 a good year for Malaysian economy
The writer is a director of the Asian Research Institute of Banking and Finance, Universiti Utara Malaysia and Visiting Research Fellow in Islamic Finance at OCIS, Oxford University








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MALAYSIA is ready to help Mindanao develop

KUALA LUMPUR: MALAYSIA is ready to help Mindanao develop its full potential with a blueprint that would elevate the Bangsamoro from its impoverished existence.

This is, however, contingent on the volatile south Philippines securing the promise of a lasting peace.

Malaysian Third Party Facilitator and/or special adviser Datuk Kamarudin Mustafa said Malaysian investors were encouraged to explore areas of Mindanao’s economic resources and help develop the region.

“Many Malaysian investors would love to go there for the great opportunities in the minerals and plantation sectors, among others.

“But, currently, the security situation is volatile and that is a problem... but, once stability sets in, investors will readily and happily come in,” he told the New Straits Times, adding that Kuala Lumpur would play its role in spurring investors to look Mindanao’s way.

He spoke of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) in Mindanao, serving to ensure that the tail-end of the peace process was not derailed, and that, when the time was right, a team from the Economic Planning Unit would be reinstated to help the region move its economy.

“That is the plan... when we set up the IMT, it was on the basis that the military presence would be phased out and the focus will shift to the economy and developing the region, including through the East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA),” said Kamarudin, who was instrumental in drawing up the papers for IMT’s set-up.

The BIMP-EAGA initiative is a sub-regional economic cooperation, comprising Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines, founded in Davao City.

Kamarudin said Malaysia, like other neighbours of the Philippines, was hopeful that the Bang-samoro Basic Law (BBL), which reflected the inclusivity of all stakeholders in the prospective Bangsamoro, would be passed.

The BBL seeks to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new, self-governing region, with a bigger territory and additional powers.

Kamarudin agreed with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and former chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, Irene Santiago, who told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the submission of the draft law that the legislation, which would give birth to the Bangsamoro (autonomous region), was the formula for lasting peace in Mindanao.

He said unlike in preceding years, time was of the essence, as pocket groups, bent on pursuing their personal agenda, would seize any opportunity presented to the already anxious and impatient communities in the region.

The Marawi City siege, he said, was partly triggered by that, and was partially “fed” by the simmering frustration and discontent felt by the general populace there.

“We are concerned. That is why we now have the tripartite agreement to contain any spread of the unrest from there.

“You need to address the root causes prevalent in the area, which is like Malaysia back in the 1960s. Everything there is expensive and the hardship is a daily grind,” he said, adding that Kuala Lumpur hoped to be able to work with Manila and MILF to develop the region and provide opportunities to everyone there.

“It is the poverty that is the main issue, so development is the next phase in our plan. Japan is also ready to help with social economic developments.”

Kamarudin shared an insight on how MILF was on the ground during the Marawi City siege, telling the people to not get involved, while working with the Philippine government.

“There is this realisation that the Bangsamoro is not only for the Muslims. That it includes the Christians and indigenous people, as well.

“This, and the fact that it takes into account the interests and concerns of these other groups, have been well explained.”

He said with Malaysia as a third party sitting to ensure that the process went smoothly, the level of trust between the two parties had never been higher.

“Negotiation is about trust, and when you achieve that, it will happen. In fact, most of the critical people involved from Manila, is from the south. The president, who is from there himself, knows that BBL must happen.”

Kamarudin said Kuala Lum-pur’s role was “technically done” the minute the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) was concluded.

The CAB is a peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and MILF that sets out the agreements to be enacted in BBL.

“From there, it was up to the Philippine government and MILF to draw up BBL. We were not involved in the drafting of BBL.

“We were there as the facilitator to see to it that it happened. Sometimes, you may say that we had no role... but, what if something does not go smoothly?

“Our role is to observe and bring the two sides together... to pacify or to patch things up,” Kamarudin said, adding that at times, this sort of diplomacy was done over a cup of coffee.

With both sides trying to protect their own interests, Kamarudin said, as the third party, he would, at times, be required to move between Cotabato, the MILF base and Manila to resolve issues arising between the two groups.

He said Kuala Lumpur was encouraged by the fact that BBL had not seen any insurmountable hurdles.

“Both sides in fact are positive about the Bangsamoro region happening.”

Malaysian Third Party Facilitator and/or special adviser Datuk Kamarudin Mustafa says once stability sets in Mindanao, Malaysian investors will readily come in.

New Straits Times, Published: December 29, 2017 - 10:32am
Malaysia all set to develop island

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Business Philosophy

I'D like as my concluding column for 2017 to share my thoughts on Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, the group chief executive officer of AirAsia, someone whom millions of people worldwide truly admire.

And for us Malaysians, he's one of a kind and it's an understatement to describe him as a role model. He's much more and the trail that he has been blazing in turning AirAsia from nothing to winning the world's best budget airline title for many years in a row could count as perhaps the eighth wonder of the world.

I know he's someone whose time is always occupied with so many things and yet it warms my heart that he always has time to quickly respond to my WhatsApp messages no matter where he is, including while he was busy with his wedding preparations when he married his Korean wife in France in October.

We exchange notes regularly on current affairs and get into arguments sometimes, including on the airline industry for which he's more than a proven expert with myself giving some independent views from the standpoint of a journalist.

Journalists by the nature of their work are often said to be the jack of all trades but master of none.

Tony can be very nice and rude at the same time depending on the cut-off points in his level of tolerance for some of the views that I have.

Some years ago I was invited together with Tony by a group of Malaysian students in the United Kingdom during their semester break to a forum at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I spoke to them on media matters and Tony's session after mine was most exhilarating to say the least.

He talked mostly about AirAsia, the ostensibly impossible dreams that he turned into reality and all that but what sticks in my mind to this day are the snippets from the Q&A session that followed.

One student wanted a free return ticket back to the UK via AirAsia X after his vacation.

Tony obliged by asking him to contact the airline and that he would ensure that the ticket would be issued.

Then a few others wanted the same thing too, but before one whole AirAsia X flight to Manchester could be filled up with these holidaying students, Tony put a stop to it.

"Come on, I'm not Barisan Nasional, Man," he shouted tersely, to everyone's laughter.

Another student came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea to make some money from the AirAsia icon.

"Tony, I want half of the cash you have in your wallet right now," said the boy.

Tony took out his wallet and announced that he's got RM400 and there was a thunderous applause as the student went up on stage to get his 200 bucks.

There was never a dull moment and Tony never fails to amaze when he's holding court.

He was then asked about the out-of-the-box style of management that's been making a phenomenal success out of AirAsia while our premium national carrier Malaysia Airlines till this day is still struggling despite multi-billion ringgit bail-outs with taxpayers' money.

But the one story that's the biggest take-away from the session with the students is a truly awesome one and a mirror of Tony to the core.

He told the students that as a hands-on CEO, he went one day to the luggage handling section of the airport terminal and observed one very hardworking lad who never seemed to take a break.

Tony spoke to the luggage handler who told him that he was a 20-year-old from Sibu, Sarawak.

All in the audience that day including me would have thought that it was the end of the boy's story but it was not.

To our amazement, and to cut a long story short, Tony said he gave the boy a chance to be trained as a pilot.

Tony received a standing ovation when he proudly said: "This luggage boy is now flying one of my latest jets and earning a very good income."

That's Tony for you.

We can read all about Tony in his newly-released memoirs Flying High (My Story From AirAsia to QPR).
He lays down four of his business fundamentals and I will just cite one here.

Being someone with a background in the music industry before becoming the budget airline king, he writes: "Have a good product. If you use the music analogy, what's the most important thing? It's the song. You can have the greatest singer in the world but if it's a crap song, it's not going to get played. I always preferred to sign singer-songwriters because they could control their own destiny."

Tony sent a WhatsApp message to me a few days ago that in the brand new year he wants to be the regional Asean man and move his base from Indonesia to Thailand.

So more is yet to come from this guy with the "Now Everyone Can Fly" mission.

Wishing all readers A Happy New Year.

The SunDaily, Posted on 29 December 2017 - 08:11am
Tony Fernandes never fails to amaze
By Azman Ujang

SURPRISINGLY, Robert Kuok's business philosophy is largely people-centred. In Robert Kuok, A Memoir the Malaysian billionaire offers several maxims:

understand human nature;
nurture long-term relationships rather than immediate profits;
prioritise employees' welfare above that of guests;
focus on potential employees' character rather than academic qualifications; and
consult individuals who are cleverer to avoid making mistakes.

Although Kuok subscribes to the Chinese belief "failure is the mother of success", he believes the reverse is truer today: "Success often breeds failure, because it makes you arrogant and incautious".

Kuok gives greater weight to an employee's character rather than academic qualifications.

"I do not look for MBAs or exceptional students. You may hire a brilliant man, summa cum laude, first-class honours, but if his mind is not a fair one or if he has a warped attitude in life, does brilliance really matter?" Kuok asks.

One example highlights Kuok's preference for nurturing a long-term relationship rather than focusing on short-term gain.

In 1963, Indonesia's Gula Negara requested amending the terms of a sugar trade. If accepted, this proposal would reduce Kuok's profit on 10,000 tons of Java raw sugar from £20,000 to £15,000. Kuok was willing to accommodate this request because Gula Negara sometimes gave him "offers well over and above normal commercial terms".

"Legally, we could have said no, a contract is a contract. But, in Asia, you don't trade only on the basis of legal documents, you trade on give and take and you place great value on friendship," he wrote.

Because Allan Arthur, a director of a British sugar trader Woodhouse, Drake and Carey, insisted on sticking to the contractual terms, Kuok angrily informed the former this was their last deal.

Although Kuok never studied hotel management, he says travellers have three basic requirements: a comfortable bed, a good bath as well as good food and beverage outlets within a hotel.

Kuok outlines his three-step hotel management strategy, in this order: "To look after our hotel staff; to look after our guests; to look after our shareholders."
By treating hotel staff "as fellow human beings, (and by not behaving as lords and masters) – we motivate them to provide the best service to the guests, our customers. If we do everything sensibly, we end up rewarding our shareholders with good profits from which we can pay decent dividends."

When doubtful about a project, Kuok employs a neat tactic. "I chat with a man cleverer than myself and offer him a joint-venture deal." This ploy prevented Kuok from building a Shangri-La hotel near a Bangkok bus terminus in the late 1970s.

Before the bidding, Kuok consulted the late Suree Asdathorn, a leading Thai sugar miller and exporter. Noise, smoke and pollution from the bus terminus made the proposed site unsuitable, Asdathorn advised. A better location for Shangri-La was on the banks of the Chao Phraya River – advice that Kuok accepted.

Kuok's memoir is puzzling in two respects. First, he doesn't explain the business rationale for buying and selling on March 2016 a controlling interest in the Hong Kong publisher of the South China Morning Post daily newspaper.

Kuok believes "an independent media is a crucial component of a fair and orderly society" and in the permanence of print in recording daily events. When asked how he felt about disposing of a newspaper he had owned for 24 years, he said "Phew!"

Second, his stand on nepotism appears inconsistent. In his memoir, Kuok wrote if he "ever started a company, there would be no nepotism, no weakness" because "in a company, discipline matters".

Yet the Kuok Group employs several relatives. Although his work was deemed unsatisfactory, Kuok hired this kinsman twice and on both occasions was forced to let him go.

Why did he employ this kinsman? Was it because this kinsman's father's share in Kuok Brothers was equal to that of Kuok? Or was it because this kinsman's father was the brother most loved by Kuok's father?

In the memoir, Kuok described Khoon Hong as "a businessman who was at least as able as myself" and "the most capable Kuok ever". Khoon Hong resigned from the Kuok Group in 1991; a departure precipitated by Kuok informing his cousin's son that it was difficult to pay a bonus that year because there were no profits, Kuok said, due to the wrong strategy adopted by Khoon Hong in trading sugar.

Khoon Hong's success in establishing and expanding Wilmar prompted Kuok to initially take a stake in the Singapore-listed company and later to merge their respective entities.

One question Kuok doesn't ask, let alone answer: Is Kuok the banyan tree under which nothing grows? Would Khoon Hong have flourished if he had remained within the Kuok Group?

Perhaps the memoir isn't intended as a tell-all but a partial and tantalising show-and-tell.

Robert Kuok, A Memoir

The SunDaily, Posted on 28 December 2017 - 09:26am
Kuok’s business philosophy
By Tan Siok Choo

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Penang Hill to reopen

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Hill would be opened for business as usual from this Saturday after a lapse of 31 days following the devastating floods which triggered a total of 194 landslips in the hilly terrain.

Coupled with a gush of stronger than usual winds and a 16 hours of consecutive driving rain, the hill was one of the main casualties of last month's floods.

But due to the hard work of the Penang Hill Corporation, one of the top tourism landmarks in the country, was now ready to greet tourists in just a matter of days now, said Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

Lim told a press conference that majority of the affected areas, which were damaged from a combination of landslides, the rainfall and a storm during a period of Nov 4 and 5, have been rehabilitated.

Positioned at 800m above sea − level, the hill bore the brunt of the severe weather which had caused unprecedented levels of damage to Penang.

A few parts remained classified as red zone but those areas have been sealed away from visitors, said the corporation's general manager Cheok Lay Leng.

In an earlier statement, Lim said that the jeep track from Botanic Gardens to the hill top has been cleared by the public works department but a long term rehabilitation work was still needed to be carried out to prevent more landslides.

The summit road has been fully cleared whereas the upper tunnel road was also cleared of debris from the landslips.

The lower tunnel road has also been 80% cleared of debris, and it is the same for the Viaduct Road except for part of the west side which remained blocked.

Lim also explained that the delay was also because the spare parts for the damaged funicular rail tracks took time to arrive from Germany after there was an air freight services strike at the Frankfurt International Airport.

He also said that the utilities have been restored at the hill in terms of electric, water and partial telecommunications services.

The accommodations and touristy features including the canopy walk were also believed to be operational by Saturday.

In another development, Lim said that he would rather debate MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai rather than his deputy Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong over Chinese issues in view that the 14th general election was nearing.

Penang Hill was closed due to a series of landslips which disrupted the rail service following floods in November.

The SunDaily, Last updated on 28 December 2017 - 05:51pm
Penang Hill to reopen by Saturday
By Ian McIntyre

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Bali's garbage emergency

KUTA, Indonesia:
Bali's palm-fringed Kuta beach has long been a favourite with tourists seeking sun and surf, but nowadays its golden shoreline is disappearing under a mountain of garbage.

Plastic straws and food packaging are strewn between sunbathers, while surfers bobbing behind the waves dodge waste flushed out from rivers or brought in by swirling currents.

"When I want to swim, it is not really nice. I see a lot of garbage here every day, every time," Austrian traveler Vanessa Moonshine explains.

"It's always coming from the ocean. It's really horrible," she adds.

Often dubbed a paradise on earth, the Indonesian holiday island has become an embarrassing poster child for the country's trash problem.

The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is the world's second biggest contributor to marine debris after China, and a colossal 1.29 million metric tons is estimated to be produced annually by Indonesia.

The waves of plastic flooding into rivers and oceans have been causing problems for years − clogging waterways in cities, increasing the risk of floods, and injuring or killing marine animals who ingest or become trapped by plastic packaging.

The problem has grown so bad that officials in Bali last month declared a "garbage emergency" across a six-kilometre stretch of coast that included popular beaches Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak.

Officials deployed 700 cleaners and 35 trucks to remove roughly 100 tons of debris each day to a nearby landfill.

"People with green uniform were collecting the garbage to move it away but the next day I saw the same situation," said German Claus Dignas, who claimed he saw more garbage with each visit to the island.

"No one wants to sit on nice beach chairs and facing all this rubbish," he added.

Bali's rubbish problem is at its worst during the annual monsoon season, when strong winds push marine flotsam onto the beach and swollen rivers wash rubbish from riverbanks to the coast, according to Putu Eka Merthawan from the local environment agency.

"This garbage does not come from people living in Kuta and nearby areas," he told AFP.

"It would be suicidal if Kuta people were doing it."

War on waste

Some 72km from Kuta, Mount Agung has been threatening to erupt for two months, prompting tourists to cancel visits and displacing tens of thousands of villagers living within a 10km-radius of the volcano's crater.

But the island's waste problem is no less of a threat, said I Gede Hendrawan, an environmental oceanography researcher from Bali's Udayana University.

"Garbage is aesthetically disturbing to tourists, but plastic waste issue is way more serious," he told AFP.

"Microplastics can contaminate fish which, if eaten by humans, could cause health problems including cancer."

Indonesia is one of nearly 40 countries that are part of UN Environment's Clean Seas campaign, which aims to halt the tide of plastic trash polluting the oceans.

As part of its commitment, the government has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70% by 2025.

It plans to boost recycling services, curb the use of plastic bags, launch cleanup campaigns and raise public awareness.

Still, the scale of the problem facing Indonesia is huge, due to its population of more than 250 million and poor waste processing infrastructure.

Hendrawan, who says both locals and tourists are responsible for the island's rubbish problem, urged authorities to invest more resources to tackle the problem.

"The Bali government should spare more budget to raise people's awareness to take care of local rivers, not to dump waste," he said.

"The central government should boost the campaign to reduce use of plastic packaging and ban free plastic bags at convenient stores."

The Indonesian holiday island has become an embarrassing poster child for the country's trash problem.

The SunDaily, Posted on 28 December 2017 - 04:54pm
Bali declares 'garbage emergency' amid sea of waste

The Badung regency administration in Bali recently launched a clean-up activity on Kuta Beach involving cleaners dressed up in superhero and Santa Claus costumes.

Badung Landscape and Sanitation Agency head I Putu Eka Merthawan said the activity aimed to encourage people to keep Kuta Beach clean.

The activity started at 10 a.m. and involved a total of 400 staff cleaners. Nine of the cleaners wore costumes, such as Captain America, Superman, Batman and Santa Claus costumes, as they cleared the beach of plastic, Antara news agency reported.

Eka said that, in the third week of December, there was a total of 724.5 tons of waste in the area, much of which came from other areas.

He added that Kuta Beach and its surroundings would remain clean during New Year’s Eve, as the cleaners would not take the year-end holiday off to ensure that tourists have a clean beach on which to relax.

For New Year's Eve, the regency administration has planned to prepare 30 trucks, three loaders and 700 staffers to clean the area.

“In 2018, [we plan to] add loaders and two beach cleaners, so our staff can work more quickly,” he said.

The Jakarta Post, Published: Fri, December 29, 2017 - 10:09 am
Superman, Captain America clean up Kuta Beach

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Sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II

South Korea's 2015 deal with Japan over Tokyo's wartime sex slavery was "seriously flawed", President Moon Jae-In said Thursday, telling officials to re-examine the controversial agreement.

The issue of women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II is a hugely emotional subject that has marred ties between the South and its former colonial ruler, Japan.

Moon's comments came a day after Seoul's foreign ministry said the deal -- which was pushed and endorsed by his predecessor Park Geun-Hye -- was faulty and had "failed to reflect the victims' views".

The unpopular agreement was meant to end the decades-long dispute with a Japanese apology and a payment of 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to survivors.

But it sparked anger among some survivors seeking an explicit apology from the Japanese government for the wartime abuses.

Following Moon's decision to order a review of the deal after being elected to office this year, a task force published a report Wednesday saying the agreement was rushed and did not do enough to seek out the opinions of the victims, often known by the euphemism "comfort women".

"It has been confirmed that the 2015 deal ... was seriously flawed," Moon said in a statement released on Thursday.

"Although the 2015 deal was an official agreement endorsed by the leaders of both countries, I'd like to make it clear that the deal cannot solve this issue of 'comfort women'."

The latest revelation by the task force is "regrettable but unavoidable," Moon added, telling officials to "come up with follow-up measures at the earliest date" without elaborating further.

It is unclear whether Seoul will call for renegotiation with Tokyo or walk away from the deal.

Japan has urged South Korea to stick with the 2015 agreement, saying any attempt by Seoul to revise the original deal "cannot be acceptable whatsoever" and would leave bilateral ties "unmanageable".

The row comes as both countries face shared nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, whose recent military standoff with the US sparked fears of war on the Korean peninsula.

Attempts to reopen the agreement may also dent the South's credibility in the diplomatic community, Seoul's top-selling Chosun daily said in an editorial on Thursday.

"The 'comfort women' issue is important. But if we demand renegotiation over the deal made two years ago, bilateral ties will be shattered," it said.

"We can't let ourselves trapped in the past at a time like this when North Korea's nuclear threat is growing rapidly."

Mainstream historians say as many as 200,000 women -- mostly from Korea but also other parts of Asia including China -- were forced to become sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war.

The Japanese government denies it is directly responsible, insisting that "comfort women" were recruited by civilians and that the army brothels were commercially operated.

Despite the 2015 agreement, ties between the two neighbours remain tense over statues placed outside Japanese diplomatic missions by South Korean activists in memory of the victims.

The issue of women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II is a hugely emotional subject in South Korea

afp, Published: 28 Dec 2017
S. Korea's Moon says 'comfort women' deal with Japan seriously flawed












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Fear as tool to gain power

ROME, Dec 14 (IPS) - At the outset my thanks to Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Kassim, and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy who lead the Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue for organizing this panel discussion at a critical moment in history. The Centre, is one of the few actors for peace and cooperation between the Arab world and Europe. As a representative of global civil society, I think it will be more meaningful if I speak without the constraints of diplomacy, and I make frank and unfettered reflections.

President Trump could be a good case study on the relations between politics and populism.

Just a few days ago the United States has declared that they are withdrawing from the UN Global Compact on Migration. This has nothing to do with the interest or the identity of United States, which has built itself as a country of immigrants. It has to do with the fact that this decision is popular with a part of American population, which is voting for President Trump, like the evangelicals.

I have here to show the message they are circulating, after the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what it is said in the Bible. If we recreate the world described in the bible, Jesus will make his second coming to earth, and only the just will be rewarded.

And therefore they think that Trump brings the world closer to the return of Christ, and therefore he acts for the good of their beliefs. Evangelicals are close to thirty million, and they strongly believe that when the second coming of Jesus will happen, he will recognize only them as the believers who are on the right path. Trump is not an evangelical, and he has shown little interest in religion. But, like each of his actions, he is coherent with his views during the campaign, which brought together all the dissatisfied people catapulting him into the White House.

Everything he does, is not in the interest of the world or of the United States. He is just focused on keeping the support of his electors - those who do not come from big towns, academia, media and the Silicon Valley. They come mainly from impoverished and uninformed white electors, who feel left out from the benefits of globalization. They believe those benefits went to the elite, to the big towns and to the few winners, and believe that there is an international plot to humiliate the United States.

So, climate change for them and Trump is a Chinese hoax ! During the first year, Trump can well have a shocking approval rating of 32%, the lowest in history for a President of United States.

But 92% of his voters would re-elect him. And as only 50% of Americans vote, he can conveniently ignore general public opinion.

It is not the place here to go deeper into American political trends. But Trump is a perfect example to see why a large number of Europeans, or even countries like Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, are ignoring the decisions of the European Union on migrants, and why populism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise everywhere.

Fear has become the tool to get to power.

Historians agree that two main engines of change in history, are greed and fear.

Well, we have been trained, since the collapse of communism, to look to greed as a positive value. Markets (no man or ideas), was the new paradigm. States were an obstacle to a free market.

Globalization, it was famously said, would lift all boats, and benefit everybody. In fact, markets without rules was self-destructive, and not all boats were lifted, but only yachts, the bigger the better. The rich became richer, and the poor poorer. The process is so speedy, that ten years ago the richest 528 people had the same wealth of 2.3 billion people. This year, they have become 8, and this number is likely to shrink soon. All statistics are clear, and globalization based on free market is losing some of its shine.

But meanwhile we have lost many codes of communication. In the political debate there is no more reference to social justice, solidarity, participation, equity, the values in the modern constitutions, on which we built international relations. Now the codes are competition, success, profit and individual achievement. During my lectures at schools, I am dismayed to see a materialistic generation, who do not care to vote, to change the world. And the distance between citizens and political institutions is increasing every day. The only voices reminding us of justice and solidarity, and are voices from religious leaders: Pope Bergoglio, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, and the Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein, just to name the most prominent.

And with media who are now also based on market as the only criteria, those voices are becoming weaker.

After a generation of greed, we are now in a generation of fear. We should notice that, before the great economic crisis of 2009 (provoked by greed: banks have paid until now 280 billion dollars of penalties and fines), xenophobe and populist parties were always minorities (with exception of Le Pen in France). The crisis created fear and uncertainties, and then immigration started to rise, especially after the invasion of Libya in 2001 and Iraq in 2013.We are now in the seventh year of the Syrian drama, which displaced 45% of the population. Merkel is now paying a price for her acceptance of Syrian refugees, and it is interesting to note that two thirds of the votes to Alternative Fur Deutschland, the populist and xenophobe party, comes from former East Germany, that has few refugees but an income, which is nearly 25% lower. Fear, again, has been the engine for change of German history.

Europe was direct lyresponsible for these migrations. A famous cartoonist El Roto from El Pais, has made a cartoon showing bombs flying in the air, and migrant's boats coming from the sea. "We send them bombs, and they send us migrants". But there is no recognition of this. Those who escape from hunger and war are now depicted as invaders. Countries who until few years ago, like the Nordic ones, were considered synonymous with civic virtues, and who spent a considerable budget for international cooperation, are now erecting walls and barbed wire. Greed and fear have been so successfully exploited by the new nationalist, populist and xenophobe parties, that now they keep growing at every election, from Austria to the Netherlands, from Czech Republic to Great Britain (where they created Brexit ), and then Germany, and in a few months, Italy. The three horses of apocalypse, which in the thirties were the basis for the Second Wold War: nationalism, populism and xenophobia, are back with growing popular support, and politicians openly riding them.

But what is shocking is that we have now a new element of division: religion, which is widely used against immigrants and should instead unite us. Religion has always been used to get power and legitimacy. Common people never started the wars of religion in Europe but by princes and kings.

A few years ago we did commemorate the expulsion first of the Jews, and then of the Moors, from Spain, where they lived in harmony and peace with the Christians, forming a civilization of the three cultures. And a few weeks ago, there was a great march in Warsaw, ignored by the media, with 40.000 people, many coming from all over Europe and the United States. They marched in the name of God, crying death to the Jews and Muslim.

But while Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jew religious leaders engage in a positive dialogue for peace and cooperation, a number of self-proclaimed defenders of the faith, are bringing fear, misery and death. And it should be clear that we have no clash of religions. It is a clash of those who use religion for power and legitimacy. And they ride an unrealistic historical dream. To return to a world, which is gone, where mines will reopen, the country will go back to its former glory: a world, that dreams not of a better future, but of a better past. Africa is going to double its population, with 80% of its population under 35 years; while in Europe it will be just 20%.

There is no hope for Europe to be viable in a global economy and in a competitive world, without substantial immigration. Yet, to speak about that in the political debate, is now a kiss of death.

In conclusion, I must stress that we face a sad reality, which cannot be ignored any longer, even if it is not politically correct. Ideals have always been used to gain support, even from those who did not believe them. And historians teach us that in modern times humankind has fallen into three traps: In the name of God, to divide and not to dialogue; in the name of the nation, often to rally support and bring citizens to wars; and now, in name of the profit. I think it is time to make new alliances, and launch a great powerful campaign of awareness on the false prophets, with mobilizations of media, civil society and legitimate politicians, to educate citizens that immigration must be regulated, as it is a necessity, with which Europe must live.

We must establish policies, and even after Trumps leaves the global Compact, like he left the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will remain an isolated voice, while citizens will strive for a better world, with no fears, based on common values. We must take an unpopular but vital action for education and participation. It will be unpopular and difficult we know. But if we do not take this road, human beings, who are the only 'animals' who do not learn from past mistakes, will again go through blood, misery and destruction.

[photo] Roberto Savio
The misuse of religion, of populism and xenophobia, is a sad reality, which is not clearly addressed any longer, but met with hypocrisy and not outright denunciation. Only now the British are realizing that they voted for Brexit, on the basis of a campaign of lies. But nobody has taken on publicly Johnson or Farage, the leaders of Brexit, after Great Britain accepted to pay, as one of the many costs of divorce, at least 45 billion Euro, instead of saving 20 billion Euro, as claimed by the 'brexiters'. And there are only a few analysis on why political behaviour is more and more a sheer calculation, without any concern for truth or the good of the country.

Global Issues, Published: Thursday, December 14, 2017
Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Power
By Roberto Savio (Rome)
[Source] Inter Press Service

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Malaysia’s poverty rate is the lowest among South-East Asian countries

KUALA LUMPUR: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook 2017 has reported that Malaysia’s poverty rate is the lowest among South-East Asian countries, said Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak.

He said it was just 3.8% compared to Vietnam and Indonesia (11.3%), Thailand (12.6%) , Laos (22%), the Philippines (25.2%) and Myanmar (32.7%).

“If compared to other countries with a high poverty line like Syria (82.5%), Madagascar (75.3%) and Zimbabwe (72.3%), I feel grateful over Malaysia’s success in ensuring the well-being of the people,” he said on his blog, sskeruak.blogspot.my, on Wednesday.

He also said the report highlighted that Malaysia’s per capita gross domestic product was US$27,200, which was far better than those of its regional peers as Thailand (US$16,800), Indonesia (US$11,700), the Philippines (US$7,700), Vietnam (US$6,400), Myanmar (US$6,000) and Laos (US$5,700).

Salleh stressed that Malaysia’s success was different from the perception of certain quarters who felt the country had been left behind, but the current data clearly showed it had achieved a level of economic growth that was very good vis-a-vis neighbouring countries.

“Samuel P. Huntington in his book, Political Order in Changing Societies, said one way of evaluating the political development of a country is to watch its economic growth. The index of measurement he used was per capita income and the poverty line,” he added.

Salleh expressed confidence that through the Government’s efforts at making Malaysia a high income nation, 2018 promises a better outcome for the lives of the people.

Salleh says Malaysia has been successful economically, unlike certain quarters' perception that the country has lagged behind others.

The Star, Published: Wednesday, 27 Dec 2017, 5:52 PM MYT
Malaysia has lowest poverty rate in S-E Asia - Salleh
[Source] Bernama (or The National News Agency of Malaysia)

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Farrah Naz Karim

A GROUP of brave men, young and old, jumped off the back of a pickup truck, ready to venture into a war zone where their lives could be snuffed out at any time.

Armed only with a white flag, the men, in neon pink and lime green T-shirts, and led by their leader, wasted no time in making their way through the rubble.

Their every move is watched by snipers, strategically positioned behind the ashen walls of buildings sandwiching them, which, at any time, could be reduced to a fresh pile of rubble due to the mortar shelling and incessant airstrikes.

The mission of these men, some from the local Non-violent Peaceforce and many more from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was clear − to retrieve as many warm bodies as possible from the once scenic and peaceful Marawi City.

The bigger hope that these men had been praying for since clashes between the Philippine authorities and the Maute group hopeful of being recognised as an affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) began, is that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is not derailed.

The BBL, essentially, is the golden key to lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao, and is the best bet yet for the start to an end to decades of insurgency that had robbed the region of its vast prospects.

MILF, which led the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Committee in drafting the proposed charter of a Moro autonomous entity to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with greater powers, has spared no expense in proving that it is in it for the long haul.

Aspersions were cast by those not ready to erase all doubt over MILF’s stance that it is against atrocities committed by fellow Muslim brothers, who are determined to make Mindanao the outpost of the so-called Islamic State. However, the suspicion is misplaced.

Its determination in putting in place peaceful arrangements in the region does not end with members decommissioning their weapons and having soldiers, running in the tens of thousands, abandoning the life as they knew it.

MILF has officially become the number one target of IS, which declared members of the once single-largest Muslim insurgent group in Mindanao must be annihilated for turning their backs on their fellow Muslim brothers by shunning IS and colluding with Manila.

The numbers of its members who had lost their loved ones in recent weeks to the rebel group have drastically increased.

MILF has expressed and displayed a genuine interest in finding a lasting peace arrangement.

They have been involved in humanitarian work in Marawi, rescuing trapped citizens. To those keenly observing, there are real signs that the group is ready to move forward.

The cornerstone of this was marked at the ceremonial turn-over of the proposed BBL, where President Rodrigo Duterte said the draft BBL was proof of the resolve to “set aside differences and stand united to achieve a common goal of peace”.

The draft law and its embodiment of shared aspirations of a peaceful, orderly and harmonious nation that puts an end to a time of armed struggle and violence is to be followed with a constitutionally consistent, legal document that is supposed to lay the groundwork for lasting peace in Mindanao.

The mission of these men, some from the local Non-violent Peaceforce and many more from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was clear − to retrieve as many warm bodies as possible from the once scenic and peaceful Marawi City.

New Straits Times, Published: December 28, 2017 - 10:18am
Setting aside differences for peace

The intense determination to ensure that all milestones in attaining the elusive hope for lasting peace in Mindano is not derailed was evident.

Rocked by the biggest threat the country had seen in recent history, the hundreds of thousands of Moros, led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) group, had spared no expense in dousing any spark that would extinguish any chance for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to see the light of day.

Playing the leading role for the predominantly Muslim Mindanao to secure the goal for an autonomous Bangsamoro, these men, many of whom were once fearless, armed fighters who stood up against decades-long injustices, which Manila has since recognised, were at the forefront of sorts in the war.

The Battle for Marawi, which the world had been watching closely, was the longest campaign the Philippines had had to fight yet.

More than five months after the Maute group, which teamed up with the Islamic State, launched their attack in Marawi City, the capital of the Lanao del Sur province, the realisation is clear for those who have shed immense blood, sweat and tears and devoted their lives for the Bangsamoro cause − both the the Philippine government and MILF − that the threat is real.

Further delays in passing the BBL may permanently seal that small window for any hopes of peace to take root and thrive in volatile Mindanao.

The Philippine government had conceded that there are 20 IS cells in the country, comprising small insurgent groups aligning themselves to the global terror group, which had identified Mindanao as the most fertile ground in the region to spread their ideology.

MILF had openly, as partners of the Philippine government, condemned the Marawi siege led by the Maute brothers who had aligned themselves with Isnilon Hapilon, the IS leader for Southeast Asia, and called on the Bangsamoro to reject the heavily-armed group.

At the forefront of the “peace corridor” the MILF spearheads with the implementing panels of the government, these men, who ensured the safety of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the displaced, had front-row seats in the inner workings and strengths of these insurgents bent of turning Mindanao, starting with Marawi, into an IS caliphate.

“We knew of young people who, after just a week of being trapped inside Marawi City with the rebels, chose to ignore rescue efforts. They picked up arms instead and decided that there was nothing to lose by joining the fight,” said a member of a non-governmental organisation, sanctioned to take part in the highly-risky rescue missions in the besieged city.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, a Marawi native who had been helping with relief efforts, sees only one way to prevent this: “Give that hope to the Moros to cling on to.

“People, especially the young, are disappointed with the system, injustices and inequality.

“Time is of the essence. We need to be bold enough to explore other means to address the root causes of the problem.

“This generation is fed up that they no longer have hope in negotiations… then the IS came along, proposing a completely different hope,” he told the New Straits Times.

He cautioned that convincing the current generation who are aggrieved and anxious, was critical in stemming the spread of the IS threat in Mindanao.

“The young don’t want to inherit the problem anymore, so they are taking up the solution they think they have.

“The IS has an easy audience... our young are beginning to think, ‘Well, maybe if you can separate us from the Philippines and set up a caliphate here, maybe it’ll be good for us, who knows’.

“Plus, they may already be fed up with too much negotiations and non-settlements…

“They are thinking that IS could be the solution for them,” he said, adding that this notion must be erased from the minds of the youth in the region.

Irene Santiago, chair of the government’s implementing panel for the Bangsamoro Peace Accords, shares the worry.

She concurred that the best way to fight extremism would be to pass the BBL.

Pointing out the correlation between the rise of insurgent groups in the region and the feeling of despair of those lured in by the groups, she said it was crucial, now more than ever, to give the Bangsamoro the right to self-determination.

“The Mautes, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the rest of its kind are saying, ‘Look at the way we are being treated... We can’t even get what they agreed to give us’. So, they feel like there is nothing left to hope for... the best way to rein in the situation is to pass BBL.

“Give the Bangsa-moro their government, their right to self-govern,’’ Irene told the NST during a sit-down in Manila.

The Bangsamoro Transition Commission approved the final draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law on July 17 and the final BBL draft had already been submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The way forward for this, for the promise of peace in the region, now lies in the hands of the Philippine Senate and Congress.

The world watches with the highest of hope.

Joint Philippine government-MILF Peace Corridor personnel evacuating civilians from Marawi City. MILF had openly condemned the Marawi siege led by the Maute brothers who had aligned themselves with Isnilon Hapilon, the IS leader for Southeast Asia

[photo-2] Zia Alonto Adiong
[photo-3] Irene Santiago

New Straits Times, Published: December 28, 2017 - 9:54am
Hoping for peace in Mindanao

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Moro Islamic Liberation Front

COTABATO, Philippines: Manila’s strategic partner in bringing peace into volatile Mindanao has made headway in neutralising elements that could threaten to turn the region into the new bastion for the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, however, cautions that efforts to rein in existing and emerging extremist groups would be difficult, tenuous at best, without the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In the most recent development, MILF, which has influence in at least 60 per cent of the country’s south, has managed to pull to its side, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under the leadership of Yusop Jikiri, to promote peace in the region and fight extremism.

Its chairman, Murad Ibrahim, said efforts to consolidate armed groups in Mindanao were being aggressively carried out.

“We are in the convergence phase. With MNLF under Yusop Jikiri, we are confident of moving together... We have two of the three Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) factions on board, supporting the peace process.

“Even our former members, who are now among the Maute group, are trying to find a way to come to an understanding with us... Our doors are always open to other hardline groups, to give them that chance to converge for peace,” he said in an interview at MILF’s headquarters at the Darapanan Camp.

Question: The planned birth of the BBL seems to be overdue.

Answer: In the proliferation of extremism, the most effective solution to counter this is to have in place a political set-up that is acceptable to the Bangsamoro people. We have seen small groups emerge... from the factions which fell out of MILF, including the Abu Sayyaf group to BIFF. When the BBL was not passed in the last administration, what followed was the emergence of the Maute group in Lanao. All these small groups that emerged came into being because of the non-implementation of the BBL... there is no political solution in place.

Q: There are whispers of some provisions in the proposed BBL being “unconstitutional”.

A: It took us 18 years to sign the Comprehensive Agreement for the Bangsamoro (CAB) that meets the aspirations of the Bangsamoro for self-determination, and one that agrees with the Philippines’ constitution. The contraries made that difficult, so a lot of compromises were made to ensure the political set-up was accepted. Hence, if it is acceptable to the majority of the Bangsamoro, anyone who sabotages it will become the enemy of the people.

Q: Are you encouraged by President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise that he would make the BBL happen and push forward the proposed law until it is passed by congress.

A: I met the president in Sept 4 and he committed that he would do all he could so that the BBL is passed. We state our case that as far as all the legal issues are concerned, the draft of the BBL had gone through a strict and robust review, and there are no unconstitutional provisions in it. In fact, nobody can actually point out anything unconstitutional.

Q: Do you feel there are attempts to dilute the BBL?

A: There are observers who feel that it (claim of unconstitutional provisions) is an excuse to dilute the provisions of the BBL. This is part of the struggle and we will struggle to make sure there is no dilution. The BBL must comply with the provisions of CAB that had been signed. We will not accept a BBL that does not. This has been conveyed.

As far as we stand, the political agreement is completed and signed.

There are no more negotiations. It is provided in the agreement that if there are provisions declared as unconstitutional, then the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Committee) that crafted the BBL will recommend amendments to the Philippines constitution. That is clear.

Q: You said a delay in passing the BBL will spell disaster. How so?

A: This couldn’t be closer to the truth. We now see IS is losing ground in the Middle East and now they need another ground to operate from. We know that they see the problems in Southern Philippines and they want to capitalise on it. This area is strategic, close to Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asean countries they have eyes on. They are also hoping to capitalise on the radical groups that are around (the region) and the many Islamic organisations sprouting. It will be difficult for us to fight them without any political settlement in place. If the peace process fails, there is no moral ascendancy to fight them. They will be seen as the defenders while we will be merely seen as the one working or rather colluding with the government. This (the BBL) is the only political solution that will effectively counter the ongoing proliferation of extremism in Mindanao. Marawi is a clear signal of bigger things that could happen... and this is a small group that has sustained a fight for five months.

Q: How do you see this unprecedented agreedment for a partnership you just signed with MNLF, working in favour of a stronger Bangsamoro?

A: Our strategic cooperation with MNLF under the leadership of Yusop Jikiri is not only in pursuing the passage of the BBL, but also in countering extremism in this region. People in the south are in full support.

Q: You and your men are all set to put down your weapons for good?

A: We are in that direction. Creating an atmosphere where there are no arms except for the authorities. That is why we agreed on the decommissioning process and we agreed to work together on the disbanding of private armies and drug lords.

We agreed that the final and long term peace can be achieved only with controlled weapons and arms. This will be a challenging process, but once the law is passed, we are willing to cooperate with the government on this aspect.

We did not demand for the integration of our forces. We are willing to lay down our arms, but we also have to strengthen the police force of the Bangsamoro. That will be the official armed wing of the government. There will be a requirement, which includes members of the force having to be qualified.

Q: What is MILF’s strength?

A: We have a significant number of trained combatants. It expands if we mobilise weapons from civilians. Our military wing, which is under the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, is organised separately from our political wing. Across the region, from the central committee, provinces, municipalities and villages, we have the support of roughly 60 per cent of Mindanao.

Q: MILF is now among enemy No. 1 for the Mindanao-based IS, by virtue of you engaging in the peace process with Manila.

A: This is a non-issue for us as the people do not see it that way. They know that IS is globally condemned by all ulama and they are not Islamic. IS declared us infidels, but that does not affect our credibility, as the people here know we are working for them, their welfare and peace. They believe in MILF and that we are following the right teachings of Islam. The majority of ulama are also with us.

Q: You are certain that nobody doubts your sincerity in this whole peace process?

A: In the case of the Marawi siege, we had avoided by all means to be implicated. We suspect the “spoilers” of this peace process wanted exactly that to use it against us and create another “Mamasapano incident”. But we very much distanced ourselves. There was a time the Maute group demanded that MILF intervene, saying that they would if we did. We said “no”. It could have been a ploy so that it would be manipulated and we would be accused of having been involved in the fighting on the ground. We told them if they really wanted to withdraw, they have all the means to do so without our intervention. There was clearly something else on their mind.

Q: What can the region expect when the BBL is passed?

A: MILF has a blueprint of what we want after we achieve that political solution. It is a development plan for the short, medium and long terms. In developing this area economically, we are looking forward to neighbouring countries helping us in the peace process, to move development programmes forward to ensure sustainability and for lasting peace. Only by having in place a sound economy and livelihood for the people, could there be lasting peace. Many nations, including Malaysia, are engaging with us.

Question: Kuala Lumpur served as the third party during your negotiations with Manila. Does it end there?

A: We have agreed for the role of the facilitator to continue in the implementation process, until an exit agreement is officially signed.

It is when both parties agree that all aspects of the peace process had been implemented. That is when the term of the facilitator officially ends. But we can also agree that there is the long-term process of normalisation, which is parallel to the peace process.

This period is longer because it will involve the rebuilding of vast areas. We need to continue cooperating with the international community, including Malaysia. We look forward to having Malaysia’s continued involvement in the normalisation process.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ibrahim says only by having in place a sound economy and livelihood for the people can there be lasting peace.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front staged a massive rally in late November at its headquarters in Camp Darapanan, the Philippines, to push for the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

Participants at the rally.

New Straits Times, Published: December 28, 2017 - 10:07am
Finding peace for Bangsamoro

For Your Reference:
Mr Yahho's Blog, Dated : 2017年12月02日, Under the title:
Mindanao, Philippines

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Philippines Says Not Moving Its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:29 p.m.) − The Philippines is reportedly considering moving its embassy to Jerusalem, a few days after Manila abstained from a United Nations vote calling for the United States to drop its recognition of the Holy City as Israel’s capital.

According to a report by the Agence France-Presse, Israeli public radio cited Israeli diplomatic sources as saying that the Philippines was among the countries considering such a move.

"We are in contact with at least 10 countries, some of them in Europe" to discuss the move, deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who was quoted as saying by AFP, told public radio.

Sought for comment, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said it “has always supported the policy of two states for two peoples as a long-term solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

This position was consistent with the Philippines’ vote in favor of the Partition Plan for Palestine in the UN in 1947, the DFA added.

The DFA was referring to the proposal recommending Palestine be partitioned into an Arab State and a Jewish State, with a special international status for the city of Jerusalem under the administrative authority of the UN.

On December 6, US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital and said that he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv−a departure from decades of US policy.

Several presidents and prime ministers had warned Trump that his decision may risk blowing up the new Arab-Israeli peace initiative and could lead to new violence in the region.

Last week, an overwhelming majority of UN member-states voted to declare the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital null and void. Meanwhile, the Philippines was among the 34 countries that abstained on the UN vote.

In November, the Philippines voted against a UN resolution urging Myanmar to end its military campaign on Rohingya Muslims living in its Rakhine state.

President Duterte shakes hands with Israeli Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau during a visit to the Beit Yaacov Synagogue and the Jewish Association of the Philippines in Makati on Tuesday.

The Philippines Star, Updated December 26, 2017 - 11:27am
Philippines studying moving embassy to Jerusalem − report

The Philippines is not moving its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the country's foreign minister said, denying reports that it was among ten nations planning the transfer.

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Israel never even asked the Philippine government to consider such a move.

"We have communicated clearly to all our friends in the Middle East that there hasn't been any discussion or move to move our embassy from Tel Aviv," he told Manila television network GMA News on Tuesday.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that Israel is talking with more than 10 countries about potentially moving their respective embassies to Jerusalem following Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s announcement that he would move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Hotovely told Haaretz that these discussions are initially focusing on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rather than on immediately moving the embassies. On December 7, U.S. President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, adding that the U.S. embassy would be eventually be moved there from Tel Aviv.

Cayetano noted that the Philippine government supports a two-state solution and was willing to play a role as peacemaker in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We are for peaceful resolution of conflict," he said. "In diplomacy, unless there is an urgent situation, you don't just take a blind giant leap. You study all of these. There's going to be a balancing act."

An Israeli public broadcaster said ten countries, including the Philippines, Romania and South Sudan, were considering transferring their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem after talks with Israel.

The move would in effect recognize the disputed city as Israel's capital.
Last week, the Philippines was among 35 countries that abstained from a United Nations vote on US President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.  

Millions of Filipinos work and live in the Middle East, and the Philippine government has stressed their welfare was a key factor in determining its foreign policy.

Haaretz, Published: Dec 27, 2017 7:55 AM
Philippines Says Not Moving Its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Foreign Minister denies reports it is among ten countries planning to transfer embassies
By Haaretz, online edition of Haaretz Newspaper in Israel, and DPA

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Sex slavery deal 'faulty

South Korea said Wednesday a 2015 deal intended to end a festering dispute with Japan over Tokyo's wartime sex slavery was faulty, reopening a historical wound as the two countries try to rein in North Korea.

Seoul and Tokyo signed the agreement to settle the hugely emotional and decades-long issue with a Japanese apology and payment of money to survivors.

Following an election pledge, the new government of President Moon Jae-In ordered a review of the unpopular deal which was struck by his now-jailed predecessor Park Geun-Hye.

On Wednesday a task force published a report saying the deal was rushed and did not adequately seek out the opinions of the women forced to work as sex slaves, often known by the euphemism "comfort women".

"The agreement was finalised ... without adequately taking into account the opinions of victims in the process of negotiation," the report said.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha apologised for the deal, saying it "hurt" the victims and had "failed to reflect the victims' views".

Observers say any move by Seoul to abandon the deal could damage relations with Tokyo as the two countries face off against a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Kang said Seoul would "take into account any impact on South Korea-Japan ties as it carefully establishes its position" following the report's release.

But she stopped short of saying whether Seoul might consider calling for renegotiation or walking away from the deal.

Tokyo urged Seoul to stick with the 2015 agreement.

"Japan's position remains unchanged, that we ask the South Korean government to abide by the deal," a Japanese foreign ministry official told AFP.

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also other parts of Asia including China, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

The agreement was meant to put an end to the hugely emotional issue with a Japanese apology and payment.

But survivors and their supporters call for a direct and explicit apology from the Japanese government for the wartime abuses. Japan annexed the Korean peninsula from 1910-45.

The Japanese government denies it is directly responsible for the abuses, insisting that "comfort women" were recruited by civilians and that the military brothels were commercially operated.

Despite the agreement, ties between the two neighbours remain tense over statues which South Korean activists positioned outside Japanese diplomatic missions in memory of the victims.

A statue of a teenage girl symbolising former "comfort women" is placed on a bus running through downtown Seoul in August

Mail Online, UPDATED: 09:46 GMT, 27 December 2017
S. Korea says deal over 'comfort women' faulty

South Korean civic groups demanded Wednesday the government nullify the Korea-Japan deal over Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, after a task force revealed that the government led by ousted President Park Geun-hye had made secret agreements with Japan in connection with it.

They also urged the Moon Jae-in administration to dissolve the state-run Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which was established to support the victims as a result of the deal, and return the funds totaling 1 billion yen offered by Japanese government.

“In any of the process and the result of the 2015 deal, there were no concerns for the victims and there were no efforts made by the Korean government to reflect victims’ positions,” the groups said at a press briefing in front of the Foreign Ministry building in


“The Moon Jae-in government must immediately accept the result of the task force’s probe and victims’ demands and must not delay the nullification of the 2015 agreement,” they said, criticizing the Moon administration for “remaining silent” on the issue.

Announcing the result of its five-month investigation into the much-disputed deal earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry task force said that the Park administration hid some of the details of the deal from the public to avoid a backlash over concessions it made to Tokyo.

Among the secret agreements were the Korean government’s promise to “persuade” a civic group supporting the victims -- the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan -- to accept the deal, as well as its promise not to support the erection of statues symbolizing sex slavery victims.

The rights groups for the victims have called for abolishment of the deal made on Dec. 28, 2015 between Seoul and Tokyo, saying that the deal failed to reflect the victims’ demands -- a sincere apology and legal compensation from the Japanese government.

In the deal -- described by the two countries as “final and irreversible” -- Japan offered the funds to the foundation and an apology to the surviving victims in return for Seoul’s promise not to raise the issue again in international forums.

At the time of the agreement, only 47 victims of the 238 registered with the government were still alive, with their average age at 90.4. Now, only 32 victims remain.

“The government is said to maintain a reserved stance on the issue for a while, separating the investigation result from its official position, due to the possible impact it could have on the PyeongChang Olympics next year,” said Yoon Mi-hyang, president of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. “The Moon government should take responsibility for the victims.”

The civic group held this year’s last weekly rally, the 1,315th, in downtown Seoul earlier in the day, with some 500 people in attendance. They paid tribute to victims and demanded the Korea-Japan deal be annulled.

“The presidential office and then-ruling Saenuri Party touted the deal as a diplomatic achievement that none of the previous government had made when the deal was struck. All of them should be held accountable,” said Park Jung-eun, secretary-general of the People‘s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.

A separate task force under the Gender Equality Ministry also unveiled a result of its probe into the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation. The foundation was established hastily following the bilateral deal and the ministry made aggressive efforts to persuade many of the reluctant victims to receive cash payments from the foundation, according to the internal probe.

The ministry, however, said that it still has no immediate plan to disband the foundation.

Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women remains one of the key points of diplomatic dispute between South Korea and Japan.

According to historians, up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, are estimated to have worked as comfort women at Japan’s front-line brothels during World War II. Japan colonized Korea from 1910-45.

Protesters sit on chairs while holding flowers in tribute to the deceased victims of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul after staging this year‘s last weekly rally in front of the Japanese Embassy nearby, Wednesday.

Korean Herald, Published : Dec 27, 2017 - 18:43
Activists demand scrapping of sexual slavery deal
By Ock Hyun-ju

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Japan land riddles come at a cost

TOKYO (Reuters) -
When Sparx Green Energy & Technology, a renewable energy firm, found an ideal plot of land on which to build a solar panel factory in Japan, there was a catch. The three people on public record as the owners of the land had died years ago.

What followed was a protracted search for the dead owners’ descendents to find the legal heirs of the land, about the size of a football field. The company found that the number of people who could lay claim to the plot had mushroomed to more than a hundred.

At that point, the unit of Sparx Group, changed plans and looked for land elsewhere to avoid having to conduct separate, potentially expensive and time consuming, negotiations with so many people.

Registration of land ownership is not compulsory in Japan but the lack of up-to-date ownership records is an increasing problem. More than a tenth of the country’s land mass, or an area the size of Holland, has no up to date record of ownership.

A research group at the National Land Planning Association estimates the problem will cost the economy 6 trillion yen ($53 billion) by 2040 based on the cost of maintaining abandoned land and the value the land could bring if it was put to productive use.

The government is responding. Earlier this month it said it plans to introduce legislation next year to make it easier for public works to be carried out on vacant land when it is difficult to determine ownership.

Such land plots were a major obstacle for reconstruction efforts after the 2011 tsunami and experts warn it could stifle any recovery efforts should Japan suffer another major natural disaster in the future.

“I believe we can inherit land in a real sense only by using it. If you can’t tell who owns where in a country with limited land, it’s as if you were abandoning the country’s precious assets,” said Takahide Taniwaki, president of Sparx Green Energy.

Many land owners do not bother to register because it is not mandatory.

Shoko Yoshihara, research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation who has written a book about the issue, said under current regulations there is no disadvantage for owners if they do not register their interest, while at the same time, there is a cost. Registration comes with at least a 0.4 percent tax on the value of the land, plus any legal or notary fees.


Until recently, the lack of accurate records of land ownership had attracted scant public attention.

But legal notaries, private sector researchers and local government officials say the problem of tracking down owners is only going to get more difficult as the baby boom generation die, often leaving several siblings and children.

Mass migration into big cities by the baby boom generation and their children during Japan’s rapid industrialization, will also complicate efforts to track down descendents.

A pensioner in his sixties, who identifies himself as Y.K., said he came to learn recently from a note left by his aunt when she died that his parents owned land in a forest in Kyushu, Western Japan, about 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) away from his current home.

Although he initially wanted to report his inheritance he decided not to, he said, because doing so came at a cost and no benefit.

“I went there to check the land but the place seemed useless. It was even hard to tell exactly where it is because there was no picket or anything that shows the border. I asked a local real estate agent whether they wanted it but they said they didn’t want it either,” he said.

“I don’t need it. I just wish the local government would take it,” he said.

And while the issue has been seen as mostly confined to rural areas with low economic value, there are cases that are too late to untangle even in big cities.

A houseowner in the Tokyo suburb of Fuchu decided not to try to register as the owner of the house he lives in after he found that the registered owner was his great grandfather, who was born in the middle of the 19th century. That meant that now there were about 50 descendents who could claim ownership, said a legal notary, who requested anonymity to protect the confidentiality of his clients.

“If you are talking about 10 to 15 people having ownership, you can cope. But if you have 50 people having a claim, it’s just impossible to get agreement from all of them,” he said.

“Even though they are relatives on paper, they don’t know each other. And I suspect most of them don’t even know they have a piece of ownership,” he said.

An old house whose owners had been not known for a long time and has blocked construction of road, is seen in Omiya, north of Tokyo, Japan December 20, 2017.

Reuters, Published: DECEMBER 20, 2017 - 6:03 PM
Land ownership riddles in ageing Japan come at a cost, stifle economy
By Hideyuki Sano
Reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Editing by Neil Fullick

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2017: A dangerous and testing year

China was a big winner in 2017, the United States an erratic also-ran and North Korea the year's show-off.


There is a Latin word, annus horribilis (it means a horrible year), that might come close to describing the year. But more of this later.

How to make sense of all that had happened in 2017?

It isn't easy and you have to go beyond the individual events that made the news headlines to see the emerging picture.

Different writers might come to different conclusions but, for me, the 2017 story was about countries continuing the jostling for their place under the sun.

The shake-up began after the Cold War as new powers emerged to challenge the established order led by the US.

There is now an even more intense jockeying for influence and power following President Donald Trump's election and his "America First" approach, which has made for a more uncertain foreign policy.

It isn't clear how much he will actually depart from traditional US positions, but the unpredictability has already led to several earth-shaking events around the world.

The North Korean nuclear crisis hogged the news for months, making many in Asia more anxious than they have ever been about war breaking out.

The underlying story for leader Kim Jong Un may not have changed at all - ensuring the survival of his regime - but his actions in 2017 became more risky and urgent because he fears the world around him is changing to his detriment before he acquires nuclear weapons.

Puzzle of the year: How did a small renegade country, with an economy that some experts estimate to be the size of Uganda's or Haiti's, seize the world's attention?

The answer to this question says more about the other powers involved in the stand-off, including the US and China, than it does the nuclear wannabe.

But the more dangerous jostling is taking place in the Middle East.

Last month, 32-year-old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a stunning move to strengthen his rule, detaining family members and other powerful figures.

It sent shock waves round the world, not just because of the audacity of the mass arrests but the knock-on effect they will have in the neighbourhood.

He, too, wants to strengthen his country's future amid the changing international landscape and the proxy war with Iran.

The Prince's daring exertions could not have been carried out without US support, and especially from President Trump.

That makes it even more worrisome as America has had a dismal record getting it right in the Middle East.

How then not to worry about Mr Trump's latest pronouncement to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital?

It was the latest piece in the Middle East puzzle to be moved in 2017, but it is unclear what picture will emerge in the coming years.

For Asians though, the largest piece in their part of the world moved as orderly and as predictably as the sun rising in the east.

When the Chinese Communist Party's 19th Party Congress concluded in October, President Xi Jinping's strongman rule was strengthened considerably, ensuring his global ambitions for the country will continue apace.

The One Belt, One Road summit in Beijing involving 65 countries capped the year for China, extending its reach and influence well beyond its borders.

President Xi did not need to proclaim "China First", but his actions put it firmly at the head of the table among many countries with substantial economic and political links to it.

As the balance of power between the US and China shifts, expect even more jostling in this part of the world.

How did Singapore cope amid these changes? Did what happened within the country help or hinder its ability to survive and thrive in such an uncertain world?

That, for me, was the key question for Singapore in 2017.

Alas, I am afraid the record wasn't a pretty one.

For some, it was annus horribilis (reminder: a horrible year), a term made famous by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 when the royal family appeared to be falling apart.

The Lee siblings' squabble over the fate of their father's Oxley Road house brought shame not just to the family but also to the country.

At its darkest hour, amid accusations and counter-accusations, Singaporeans feared the worst over the damage it would do to the Government and especially the Prime Minister.

There is now an uneasy truce within the broken family, but the unhappy episode was a reminder to Singaporeans of what can happen in a post-Lee Kuan Yew Singapore.

If even the illustrious Lees can fall down so badly, what might be next? That might well be the question of the year.

The flooding of an MRT tunnel causing train services to break down in October and a train collision the following month were among the most debated issues in 2017.

It wasn't just because of the large number of commuters affected daily but what the breakdowns represented.

It raised questions about Singapore's reputation for performance, which had brought the country to where it is today.

Were the MRT failures a sign of declining standards in the post-LKY era, signalling an end to Singapore's exceptionalism?

The reserved presidential election in September, with Madam Halimah Yacob qualifying as the only Malay candidate, divided the country.

There was unhappiness over the way the process was managed, but the Government was determined to push it through, arguing the move was necessary for multiracial Singapore to have its highest office always open to all races.

If there is a common thread running through these episodes, it was that they tested Singaporeans' confidence in the country's leadership.

Perhaps this is inevitable as the country makes the transition to the next generation of leaders who have to prove themselves and earn the respect their predecessors enjoyed.

But they have to do this quickly because the jostling in the rest of the world will increase and Singapore will require a leadership that has the strong support of the people to ensure its interests are protected.

It will also have to do better internally and avoid the sort of self-inflicted wounds that 2017 exposed.

If the right lessons are learnt, Singaporeans might yet benefit from all that pain.

Happy Christmas and New Year.

North Korea's Hwasong-15 missile being launched last month. The country's nuclear crisis hogged the news for months, making many in Asia more anxious than they have ever been about war breaking out.

US President Donald Trump's latest pronouncement to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital is the latest piece in the Middle East puzzle to be moved in 2017, but it is unclear what picture will emerge in the coming years.

The Straits Times, Published 6 HOURS AGO
2017: A dangerous and testing year
By Han Fook Kwang
He was Editor of The Straits Times from 2002 to 2012. And he is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

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Willpower and tenacity

WITH 2017 drawing to a close, I got to thinking about working on something that I can be proud of by the end of 2018. This has been something that I’ve been doing for a few years now; I take up one project and work on it throughout the year and see where it ultimately lands me. From past experiences, I’ve realised that determination and perseverance are the keys to success.

For this year, I decided to join a few running events, as I’ve never in my life joined any. Being overweight, my knees always protest whenever I strain them, so I always thought that running wasn’t for me. However, I resolved to put my pessimism aside and try out a few first.

I admit that at first it was challenging. I joined my first 5km running event and as I crossed the finishing line, there was an overwhelming feeling of joy. I became addicted to the sense of satisfaction as I collected finisher medals one by one.

In the span of one month, I have successfully joined and completed six running events. It was then that I realised this was something that I could continue doing for a long time to come. If you had told me three months ago that I would be joining one running event after another, I would have never believed you.

That’s the funny thing about willpower and tenacity − we realise its powers only when we set our hearts and minds to accomplish something.

That aside, I would like to share something a little less heartening that had happened at one of the running events that I had joined.

This particular event took place on the newly opened 3rd Klang Bridge. There were two categories: a 5km fun run and 10km open event. Naturally, I joined the fun run event because I knew I wasn’t ready to take on anything bigger just yet. The running route was made available on Facebook, and most runners knew exactly where to run towards and make U-turns.

The bridge itself (as with the roads leading up and down) was closed to the public to make way for runners on the day of the event. I was thankful that the safety of the runners was made a priority, because the event organiser made sure that there were no chances of anyone getting hit or run over at any point during the run.

However, I was disappointed with some of the so-called runners who took part in the 5km fun run category. Halfway during the run, suddenly there was no sight of the event crew members. A number of participants took this opportunity to cut across the divider and have their distance cut short to almost half.

Instead of running (or brisk walking, if you like) all the way up and down the bridge and making a U-turn about a kilometre after, these dishonest runners jumped over from the other side midway in order to reach the finishing line earlier and claim their finisher medals.

I was too much in shock to say anything, so I shot them dirty looks and shook my head in disgust before continuing. Initially, I was angry that some people would do such a thing.

Why join the race when you intend to cheat?

Why collect your finisher medal when you didn’t actually finish?

Why brag about running 5km on social media when you lied about the whole thing in the first place?

It’s sad that some people no longer have the decency to do something honestly anymore. What is the point of obtaining something that clearly wasn’t earned?

I saw parents, who were pushing the strollers of their babies, complete their run, and they didn’t cheat.

I saw elderly people, who struggled to complete their run, and they didn’t cheat.

I saw a man without a leg and using only crutches to complete his run, and he didn’t cheat.

I have one piece of advice here: don’t bother joining if your intentions are corrupt.

Do things for the right reasons, and always be honest in whatever you seek to do.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Participants in a marathon in George Town recently. We only realise the powers of willpower and tenacity when we set our hearts and minds to accomplish something.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 9:57am
Should the end justify the means?

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Life of John Newton

I THINK one of the worst situations to be in is to do something wrong unintentionally and then having to own up at a later date.

I remember having just passed the driving test and I had the privilege of driving my sister’s car every now and then. There was a time when my classmate asked me to help her move some boxes from her house to another location.

Like a Good Samaritan, I agreed and borrowed my sister’s car for that purpose.

So I drove to my friend’s house, and as I reversed the car into the porch I heard a very unpleasant crunch. Due to poor judgment on my part, the door near the passenger seat suffered a nasty dent and my heart sank.

To cut a long story short, I drove the car to a mechanic, had the dent hammered out and the door looked so good, no one would have guessed what had happened before. What was uppermost in my mind was whether I should confess to my sister what I had done.

In other words, to own up to my careless deed or to keep quiet about it. At 18, that was pretty hard to do for fear of repercussions as it was a relatively new car.

What if someone does something wrong intentionally and due to a life-changing event realises his mistake?

We went to the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal not too long ago. Situated in the northernmost part of Ireland, its unharnessed beauty attracts many and has become a point of interest. When the cast and crew of Star Wars: Episode VIII returned to Ireland, Malin Head, on the Inishowen Peninsula was handpicked to be one of the shooting sites. In fact the trademark slogan “May the Force be with You” seems so appropriate, especially when the wild winds there can even blow a strong man down.

But this peninsula is also home to a significant event.

We are talking about the life of John Newton, a foul mouthed sailor involved in the slave trade in the 18th century.

During his journey back to England from Africa in 1748, he was caught in a storm.

It was here in Inishowen that his boat was repaired and his crew housed. That was a life changing moment because in the face of possible death he was given another chance to live.

So, he had to look into himself and right the wrong (slave trade) that he had been involved in.

He gradually gave up being captain of slave ships and wrote the pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” whereby he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships. He later teamed up with William Wilberforce, leader of the Parliamentary campaign, to abolish the African slave trade.

To many of us who have not heard about Newton, perhaps he is most remembered by a song that he penned about mercy and atonement. Elvis Presley, Andrea Bocelli, Whitney Houston and Rod Steward have all sung Amazing Grace.

Our actions carry personal responsibility. When we make mistakes, the gap between our questionable behaviour and our self concept widens.

There is a form of mental discomfort or tension.

It is a sorry state when unscrupulous people cheat and prey on the vulnerable. How many times have we read of scams and forgery? Blatant slave trade may not exist in the present world but yet there is always some other form of slavery. Then there are others who have no qualms about making false insurance claims for example, just so they can lay their hands on big money.

Having escaped death, John Newton described himself as a wretch that was found and as a blind man given new sight.

How good it is to see someone turn around from a questionable past to walk the straight and narrow.

Moving on. I did tell my sister about the dent and about the mechanic finally and I felt a great relief when she did not make any fuss about it.

It was here in Inishowen, Ireland, that John Newton was given another chance at life.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 10:05am
When something goes wrong unintentionally

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Trump misread Muslim and Arab sentiment

THIS could be one of Donald Trump’s biggest policy missteps in his presidency so far.

His undoing of decades of US policy on Jerusalem has not only raised the ire of the global community and alienated close allies, but has also defied the opinion of ordinary Americans.

One US opinion poll showed that 63 per cent of all Americans oppose moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 per cent of Republicans.

In a blow to the US, the UN has voted overwhelmingly to rebuke the Trump administration for its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Previous to the vote, Trump threatened to cut aid to countries that supported the measure.

For sure, such a move would damage America’s Middle East policy. It has also triggered accusations from Muslims of US bullying, blackmail and intimidation.

However, the US president’s threats against nations poorer than his own did not appear to have had much of an effect.

The UN measure requires that all member states − including the US − act according to a UN Security Council resolution that says no country should establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

Only eight nations sided with the US in rejecting the measure, with 128 − including Malaysia − advocating its passage and 35 abstaining.

Aside from Israel, the seven were relatively poor countries that plausibly could have, to some degree, been influenced by the threat of aid removal.

Middle East watchers and scholars say they don’t see the logic in the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and possibly moving the US embassy to Israel there − before it even unveils what’s certain to be a controversial plan for Middle East peace.

“In fact, the move would go against the very priorities that the (US) administration has set for itself in the Middle East: fighting Islamist militancy and confronting Iranian influence,” said Shibley Telhami, non-resident Senior Fellow − Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy, US Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution.

“Jerusalem is the perfect issue for Iran and Islamist militants to use to mobilise support against the United States and those who endorse its policies,” he wrote.

In the first place, the White House may have underestimated the centrality of Al-Quds to the Palestinians and the Muslim world.

This was the case in 2000 in the lead-up to the Camp David negotiations that president Bill Clinton mediated.

The issue of Jerusalem later brought the negotiations down.

Trump must have misread the Muslim and Arab sentiment.

The huge protest that took place on Friday in the heart of Putrajaya, joined by tens of thousands of people and similar protests elsewhere, was an example of deep Muslim anger at his pro-Israeli stance.

In a show of unity, the rally was joined by Pas and opposition figures and members as well as Muslim non-governmental organisations and some Christian groups. Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang was unwell and he was represented by his son, Mohamed Khalil Abdul Hadi, who also addressed the rally.

In his speech, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made it clear that although Malaysia enjoyed close ties with Washington, he would not compromise his principle as a Muslim on the Palestinian cause.

He said he would not budge from championing the cause, “even if it means cutting me up into pieces”.

He said Malaysia would not beg for or solicit US aid.

The nine countries voting “no” were the US, Israel, Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Togo. Among the notable abstentions were Australia, Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Mexico.

The absent countries included Kenya, which was the fifth-largest recipient of US aid last year, and Georgia and Ukraine, both of which have close US ties.

New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 10:20am
Trump misread Muslim and Arab sentiment

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US threat to nations tantamount to bullying

IT is sad and disappointing to read reports that Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to United Nations, will report to President Donald Trump the names of countries who support a draft resolution rejecting the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the United Nations General Assembly.

She described the 14-1 vote against the US at the Security Council as an insult and something that will not be forgotten.

The US is supposed to be the most democratic country in the world and practises freedom of speech and expression.

Threatening countries that voted against the US is tantamount to the US bullying weaker countries into submission.

Even allies like Great Britain, France and Germany are against the decision to recognise Jeru-salem as Israel’s capital.

Therefore, we hope the US will uphold democracy and respect the views of the majority of the countries and abort the decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, vetoing a draft resolution that calls on countries to not establish diplomatic missions in Jerusalem, at a UN Security Council meeting in New York on Monday.

Letter to The New Straits Times, Published: December 24, 2017 - 10:25am
US threat to nations tantamount to bullying
By Thomas Foo, Subang Jaya, Selangor

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Beware of President Trump’s nefarious language games Beware of President Trump’s nefarious language games

The strongman knows that it starts with words. He uses them early on to test out his plans to expand and personalise executive power on political elites, the press and the public, watching their reactions as they arrange into the timeless categories of allies, enemies and those who help him by staying silent.

Some say the strongman is all bluster, but he takes words seriously, including the issue of which ones should be banned.

That's why those who study authoritarian regimes or have had the misfortune to live under one may find something deeply familiar about the Trump administration's recent decision to bar officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from using certain words ("vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based").

The administration's refusal to give any rationale for the order, and the pressure it places on CDC employees, have a political meaning that transcends its specific content and context. The decision as a whole links to a larger history of how language is used as a tool of state repression.

Authoritarians have always used language policies to bring state power and cults of personality to bear on everyday life. Such policies affect not merely what we can say and write at work and in public, but also our expression of who we are as individuals and as members of that private institution the state tries so hard to breach: the family.

We may be ordered to add new words to our vocabulary for public use, as when Germans had to greet colleagues and friends with a "Heil Hitler". Benito Mussolini banned common foreign words such as "cocktail" and "chauffeur" as part of fascist campaigns of cultural autarchy and Italianisation.

Italians who spoke Slovenian and other Slavic languages had to change their names (and even family tombstones). The same applied to Zairians who were affected by Mobutu Sese Seko's anti-colonial "authenticity" policies.

The strongman fears language as a symbol of identity and creator of community bonds. That's why he attempts to use it instead to sow unease and discord among his people, and to erase from the public record what and whom he rejects from the nation.

The Hitler salute and salutation, writes Tilman Allert, "took a normal social situation and imbued it with the threat of sanction and punishment". Through altering how we use language, such rulers aim to change the way we think about ourselves and about others. The weaker our sentiments of solidarity and humanity become - or the stronger our impulse to compromise them under pressure - the easier it is for authoritarians to find partners to carry out their repressive policies.

It's no surprise, then, to see the word "vulnerable" on the Trump administration list. Its ban simply codifies an informal emotional training Mr Donald Trump has been giving Americans since his presidential campaign. His crusade to mobilise hatred and mistrust for the media, judiciary, and other sectors of society that value documentation and inquiry has gotten the most attention (and is perfectly expressed in the ban on the terms "evidence-based" and "science-based").

Yet President Trump has also been encouraging us to unlearn feelings of care and empathy that lead us to help and feel solidarity with others. Banning words works together with another language game authoritarians play: floating extreme ideas to make them acceptable to mainstream audiences.

Often, this is done through casual or "humorous" remarks, but there's no kidding about their impact when they spark news cycles or are circulated by the leader to his millions of followers. The context for the banning of "transgender" is enlightening in this regard. Mr Trump's linguistic ban follows his attempt at physically removing America's Lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer/questioning populations from the military. As The Washington Post has reported, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS, the same agency that produced the banned words list) has already excised them bureaucratically by deleting all information about LGBTQ Americans from its website.

Mr Trump took this process one step further in October, when he "joked" that Vice-President Mike Pence wants to "hang gays", conjuring a state-sanctioned physical persecution. Days later, anti-gay posters that showed bodies hanging from a noose appeared on college campuses and social media feeds. Words matter.

DHHS spokesman Matt Lloyd may deny that the government has "banned words", claiming this is a "mischaracterisation of the discussions regarding the budget formulation process". Even if the ongoing outcry among scientists and others leads to the order being rescinded, the message has been sent: The Trump administration now feels empowered to engage in direct censorship. Indeed, each word on that list is part of an ongoing war about the future of our democratic rights to speak and research freely, to control our own bodies and identities, and to live without fear of being targeted by the state because of our faith, skin colour, or sexual orientation.

Like all authoritarians, Mr Trump uses language as intimidation. He's warned us clearly what he plans to do. It's up to all of us to tell him, with our words, that we won't be silent. The time to speak out and encourage others to do the same is now.

Straits Post, Published: DEC 23, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT
Beware of strongmen and their language games
By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

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Award-winning new age maestro Kitaro will perform in Genting Highlands. Subhadra Devan talks to the man of peace

NEW age music took on new meaning once Kitaro’s combination of electronic and acoustic sounds, mellow music and repeating chords came into the centrestage.

With 17 Grammy nominations since 1987, and a Grammy Best New Age award in 1999 for Thinking of You, the Japanese artiste can safely state he has created a unique, signature sound for his brand of music.

The message has always been world peace, says the 64-year-old, whose real name is Masanori Takahashi. “There is no need to fight each other,” he succinctly said in an interview.

And that is the same theme on his latest album, The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai series, now Volume 5, also nominated for a Best New Age Grammy at this year’s 60th Grammy Awards, of which the results will be announced on Jan 28.

Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai Volume 5 follows the acclaimed Volumes 1 through 4 of the series, all Grammy nominated, which rose after the fateful event of Sept 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into New York City's Twin Towers.

He envisioned the Ku-Kai series as a means of uniting the world through music. Ku-Kai was an enlightened Japanese monk who, among others, devised the 88 temple pilgrimage of Shikoku.

“Each album of the Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai is meant to depict a different area, dialect and lifestyle that Ku-Kai travelled through.

“For example, Volume 4 represents the Kochi prefecture and Volume 5 is the Ehime prefecture,” he said.

Kitaro added:
“One of the things that I found and realised on my journey through the temples was that each prefecture was unique in its own right; however they all seem to have a common thread through Ku-Kai’s perspective. Hence, the Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai series is my attempt to show the connection.”

It has been six years since Kitaro last performed in Malaysia. Set for a Christmas Eve show tonight in Arena of Stars, Resorts World Genting in Genting Highlands, organised by Star Planet, Kitaro said:
“With this tour, we are bringing a new project, Kojiki And The Universe. This is my latest performance, which combines music with provocative and inspiring visuals to provide a more immersive experience to my music and the show. I hope everyone will enjoy it as much as I have creating it.

“The audience needs to do nothing, that’s my job! Just come and experience the creation of music. I promise this show will be unique!” he said enthusiastically.

Fans can expect to be treated to a unique experience where time-lapse images are expertly intertwined with real-time films provided by and in cooperation with Nasa and Kyoto University.

The Kojiki & The Universe Live Tour began in April this year in California and has since gone on to major cities around the world.

On plans for collaboration with J-rock, K-pop or any other artistes in future albums or even shows, he replied in the negative.

“I don’t have any plans to work with J-pop or K-pop artistes for now. However, I am always looking for singers who have amazing voices. Perhaps, you just gave me an idea of a future concert!” he added.

On advice to aspiring musicians today, he says:
Regarding music today, many people try to make money out of music. I never focused on money when I first started. I focused on creating beautiful music and I believe this is what led to my success.

He further added:
“Don’t forget that music is created and has always been created to be beautiful."

His best memory of Malaysia so far?

“Ever since my first trip to Malaysia, I have always enjoyed my stays so it is difficult to pick just one out of many memorable moments. Every time I come, we have a great experience and create wonderful music. I am sure this time will be no difference. No difference at all.”

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 @ 4:40pm
All about world peace

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Use positive and loving words

I WAS enjoying my cup of coffee when I overheard a mother at the next table scolding her young son for not keeping his toys in a bag. Then the father came into the picture and proceeded to express his disappointment too.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the boy. Based on what had transpired, I felt that they were frustrated at something else and the son just happened to be at the wrong place and the wrong time. I could see that he was feeling humiliated after such a public scolding.

Does this episode sound familiar? Have we been guilty of a negative emotion and unleashed our frustrations on innocent bystanders? Words are something we can’t take back once we let them out.

There’s a Malay proverb that says, “You can reverse an overshot boat, but if you overshoot your words, be prepared for a dire consequence.” Many of us are likely to have gone through similar episodes in one form or another.

Yet, this incident and others like it serve to highlight the fact that people with “family authority” often take their role for granted. They’re less careful with what they say and do to their loved ones. These people include brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and yes, parents too.


Like it or not, our younger siblings, relatives and children look up to us as a shining example. But when we lose control, things can get ugly. They trust us to treat them in the best way possible − with dignity and respect. When they unexpectedly become the victim, they may be wondering, “I’m supposed to be your loved one. How could you say those words to me?” Feelings will be hurt and relationships affected.

It’s also quite ironic how some people can be extremely nice to strangers and yet so mean to their loved ones. In today’s highly pressured world, this phenomenon is becoming more rampant than ever. At work, we’re swarmed with work and deadlines. Higher and higher expectations are placed by employers on their workers. Coupled with the rising cost of living, many people are finding it hard to cope, let alone be happy and satisfied with their lives.

All these contribute to the pent-up feelings inside. They try hard not to let it out on their customers, co-workers or the cashiers in the supermarkets because that would be embarrassing. But when they get home, they can’t contain it anymore. It just needs “small” triggers like a messy home, a noisy child, or an annoying sibling for the time bomb to explode. When it does, it destroys the family harmony, reversing back hours of time spent nurturing a happy and loving family.

So, let’s take the last few days of 2017 to reflect on whether we have been behaving this way in the last few months. More importantly, let’s find a way to turn the situation around and create more positive episodes in 2018. Let’s begin by using more positive and loving words with our loved ones.

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 2:00pm
Use positive and loving words
By Zaid Mohamad

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Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

ALTHOUGH the school holidays started last month, the travelling period will be at its busiest around now as we approach the end of year public holidays and festivities.

Preparation for travel is always a time-consuming effort, regardless of whether it’s just a short drive back to the kampung or a long flight overseas. While exciting, it’s also worrying as you consider all the issues, including safety.

When you’re travelling with a loved one with special needs, there is additional pressure. Many things need to be considered − destination, wheelchair access, airline details, car rental, hotels, medication, doctors’ letters, insurance and what to pack.

You can’t take anything for granted and assume that all facilities cater to those with special needs. Many airlines and countries may now be more accessible to those with disabilities these days but it’s always good to check.

The Internet and email have made it easy for us, failing which there’s always the phone.

When booking airline tickets, ensure you pick seats close to the front, especially if you need to use the wheelchair. Aisle seats are always the best.

I normally contact the airline and make a reservation to use their wheelchair at both airports for departure and arrival. We check in our wheelchair into cargo and retrieve it with the rest of our luggage later.

Using the airport wheelchair has several advantages. An attendant will wheel you right to your seat on the airplane. You also get to whizz by immigration.

The downside is that you won’t have time to shop at the airport unless you arrive early enough, and if your attendant is obliging enough.


In the years that I’ve travelled with the children, I have learnt through trial and error.

For instance, always try out new medication before the trip to see how it affects your child.

While most children may feel drowsy from certain medications, some may actually become more active.

Remember to always pack all medication in your hand-carry luggage. Do not check them in with the main luggage in case your bags get lost or are delayed.

Be mindful of how much fluid medication you carry with you. You may need to split them into several 100ml bottles.

Also ensure that you have your doctor’s prescription and letters to support why you have to carry certain medication, syringes and needles with you. This also helps in case you need extra prescription at your holiday destination.

It’s always a good idea to carry two sets of clothes (and disposable diapers) per child. Vomitting and diarrhoea go hand-in-hand. When that happens, you need to contain and manage the disaster as efficiently as you can. Wet wipes, tissue paper, hand sanitisers and plastic bags are standard items you can’t do without.

It also helps to bring something they love from home, like a small pillow, blanket or toy so that they can settle down faster.

You may want to bring their favourite snacks too in case what’s served is not to their liking. Yes, you do tend to pack a bit more things when you travel with children, especially those with special needs but it’s definitely worth the effort.


My son used to get easily distressed by loud noises or sounds of other children shrieking or crying.

So I’d usually have noise-cancelling headphones to help drown out those noises and play his favourite music and soothing sounds. I tried earphones or ear buds at first, but those didn’t work so well because they fell out easily.

An important point to remember when going on such holidays is to anticipate inconveniences. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to prepare your children and tell them about the trip. However, sometimes it works against you as they may get so excited about the trip that they start their countdown way ahead, driving you round the bend.

It would also be good to stick to some of your at-home routines as much as possible. My son is such a stickler for routines that we’d keep his meals and bedtimes to his timing whenever we could.

I’ve discovered that when we travelled as a family, moving at the children’s pace rather than ours ensures that they too can enjoy the trip.

Most importantly, it’s about how the entire family can enjoy the time together without being too stressed out. Take a deep breath and just go.

Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 2:01pm
Tips for an enjoyable holiday
By Putri Juneita Johari

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I wish you all a very “Merry Christmas”

COULD there be a bigger oxymoron? The ultimate celebration of peace and love in the Christian calendar has become the target of a misplaced debate on political correctness.

Every year, come December, television and radio hosts push and shove for pole position to air a story on the subject of whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

Jesus, the main protagonist of this sad contest, would most likely not have cared either way. His aim, his professional goal, so to speak, was to promote justice for the oppressed, as well as love and understanding among people. He would be quite disappointed to know that the celebration of his humble birth has been hijacked for political agendas by so many.

And, he would be appalled to see how the modern world has turned this joyful event into a race for economic bottom lines, fierce competition for most glamorous decoration, shameless gluttony and mindless gift exchange.

While it might well be too late to reverse the magnitude with which Christmas has fallen victim to brazen commercialisation, we can, and we should, at least try to remind ourselves of the core objective of the person whose birthday we celebrate.

This would mean to live a life of generosity, service and hospitality towards others, a life of love towards our fellow humans. This would imply trying to be a better person every day of the year, not just on Dec 25, but let’s take it one step at a time, shall we?

Being a person of faith, any faith, means trying one’s best to live a life of encounter, rather than confrontation, to listen and to respect one another.

However, as any psychologist would attest, to love and respect others, we have to first learn to love ourselves.

It seems that many an avid defender of political correctness has forgotten this detail, sometimes with far-reaching consequences.

As Westerners in a predominantly Muslim country such as Malaysia, we often believe that we are required to walk on eggshells. We rename our Christmas tree “Holiday tree”, we perform “winter concerts” in international schools rather than “Christmas concerts”, and we wish everybody “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

But have we asked our Malaysian hosts if they are insulted by our traditional celebration of Jesus’ birth? Have we bothered to find out whether they mind our display of felicity?

I dare say we have not. We simply assume that they do take offence. In an attempt to do the right thing, we do just the opposite. We actually show a lack of respect. We underestimate people of a different faith’s ability and willingness to respect us, to share in our merriment, and this is disrespectful.

I will argue that it is an offence towards people’s faculty to honour cultural diversity, if we assume that we are expected to depart from our traditions for their sake. While this applies to every community, it is particularly true in a country like Malaysia, a country that thrives on its ability to celebrate diversity, be it racial, cultural or religious.

In fact, while many an international friend whispers a shy “Happy Holidays”, it is the local Malays, Indians and Chinese who wholeheartedly wish me a “Merry Christmas” these days as I walk down the street or leave a shop.

Just as it is with the most sincere emotion that I wish them “Happy Deepavali”, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” or “Selamat Hari Raya”, come that time of the year.

Jesus might not have minded either way, but it is with pride in my origins and with utmost respect for my Malaysian hosts’ empathy that I wish you all a very “Merry Christmas”.

The celebration of Jesus’ humble birth has also been hijacked for political agendas by so many.

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 9:22am
The war on Christmas
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition, and unapologetically insubordinate

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Ethnic cleansing carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces since August

ON Nov 23, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement to return the Rohingya refugees − more than 600,000 people who escaped from Rakhine State in western Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh − after ethnic cleansing carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces since August.

Bangladesh is expected to compile a list of refugees wanting to return on a voluntary basis. Myanmar intends to verify each application to establish whether a refugee is eligible for repatriation. Returnees must provide copies of identity cards and documents certifying the address of their residence in Myanmar.

It might create the illusion of a policy decision by two governments moving towards addressing a shared refugee crisis. But the agreement is a hollow political gesture.

One of the factors to consider is Myanmar’s verification process for a refugee to return. Myanmar’s military governments have had a consistent policy of either withholding official documentation from the Rohingya, or seizing and destroying the documentation they had.

A British government report documented how the Myanmar government changed its citizenship rules in 1989 and rendered residency cards that most Rohingya were carrying invalid. The government collected those invalid residency cards, but in most cases, failed to provide the Rohingya with new residency cards. As a result, a majority of them in Myanmar did not have any official documentation at the beginning of this year.

Myanmar’s Resettlement Minister Win Myat Aye, has said that his country would take back no more than 300 refugees per day. At that rate, it would take more than five-and-a-half years for all the 600,000 Rohingya to be allowed back in.

Most of the Rohingya who fled for Bangladesh left under dire circumstances − their villages set on fire, their lives in peril. They made desperate runs with their children and elderly. How many would have had the luxury of time and safety to look for their documents before the exodus?

The agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar specifies that the refugees should be returned to their homes and property. It is highly improbable, because Rohingya villages have been burned, and their cattle and lands seized by their Buddhist neighbours.

Early this month, Myanmar announced that it would build camps for some of the returnees. It is unclear whether it is a serious policy proposal or yet another talking point. No details about the capacity of the proposed camps are available.

The other issue is that the resettlement has to be voluntary. Why would the Rohingya prefer moving from a refugee camp in a relatively safe country to a refugee camp in an intensely hostile country and depend on safety from the very people who killed their families and burned their villages?

Several Rohingya refugees I met in the camps in Bangladesh did tell me that if they were granted citizenship and equal rights, they would return to Myanmar. But that seems improbable because of Myanmar’s long history of depriving the Rohingya of their legal and basic human rights.

The government of Myanmar has given no assurance about the legal status of the returnees nor spoken about guaranteeing their safety. They might end up being described as “immigrants from Bangladesh”, a phrase their persecutors all along used to describe them.

A recent statement from Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief, about the proposed repatriation process has renewed fears about the safety of potential returnees. “The situation must be acceptable for both local Rakhine ethnic people and Bengalis, and emphasis must be placed on (the) wish of local Rakhine ethnic people who are real Myanmar citizens,” he said.

This raises doubts about the agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Several Bangladeshi leaders I met in Dhaka after the agreement was signed seemed keen to send the Rohingya without having given much thought to how they would achieve it. They regard the Rohingya as a financial burden on their impoverished country and a potential security threat.

Bangladesh has tried to keep Rohingya refugees in camps isolated from the rest of society to signal that they are not meant to live there for good. Bangladeshi politicians signed the agreement because from their point of view, any deal that might move some Rohingya back across the border is a good deal.

For the civilian government of Myanmar and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the refugee agreement is a public relations exercise to ward off international condemnation. Sources in Myanmar told me there is no communication between the military and Suu Kyi’s government on the issue. Without support from the military leadership, even if she would be so inclined, Suu Kyi cannot stop the army from assaulting the Rohingya.

The Rohingya know it. And that is why there is not much in the way of a line to fill in resettlement forms around Cox’s Bazar. Staying in Cox’s Bazar is the best option for the Rohingya at the moment. Bangladesh must let them stay and not try to push them back over the border into the hands of their persecutors.

Bangladesh is expected to compile a list of Rohingya refugees wanting to return to Myanmar on a voluntary basis.

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 9:26am
Why Rohingya can't return yet
[Source] NYT
The writer, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, is the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide”

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Arming poor countries enriches rich countries

ALTHOUGH the Cold War came to an end over a quarter century ago, international arms sales only declined temporarily at the end of the last century.

Instead, the United States under President Donald Trump, is extending its arms superiority over the rest of the world.

The 5 biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and Algeria.

Indian arms imports increased by 43 per cent. Its imports during 2012 to last year were far greater than those of its regional rivals, China and Pakistan, as Pakistan’s arms imports declined by 28 per cent compared with 2007 to 2011.

UAE’s imports increased by 63 per cent while Saudi Arabia’s rose a staggering 212 per cent.

Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of US weapons followed by South Korea.

Meanwhile, some fast-growing developing countries are now arming themselves much faster than their growth rate. Such expensive arms imports mean less for development and the people, especially the poor and destitute, who constitute several hundred millions in India alone.

The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s had raised expectations of a “peace dividend”. Many hoped and expected the arms race to decelerate, if not cease; the resources thus saved were expected to be redeployed for development and to improve the lives of ordinary people.

But the arms trade has continued to grow in the new millennium, after falling briefly from the mid-1990s. And without the political competition of the Cold War, official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries fell in the 1990s. Such ODA or foreign aid only rose again after 9/11, only to fall again after the global financial crisis.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report on the world’s arms trade offers some revealing new data. The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2012 to last year was 8.4 per cent more than in 2007 to 2011, the highest for any five-year period since 1990.

International arms exports rose steeply until the early 1980s, after a brief decline during 1955 to 1960. It fell once again from the mid-1980s as Mikhail Gorbachev, who was president of the Soviet Union, sought to end the Cold War which had diverted resources to military build-ups in developing countries.

Foreign sales of military arms and equipment across the world totalled US$374.8 billion (RM1.52 trillion) last year, the first year of growth (by 1.9 per cent), after five years of decline. American companies had a US$217.2 billion lion’s share of foreign arms sales. Seven out of ten of the world’s top arms companies were American, earning US$152.1 billion, with Lockheed Martin leading with US$40.8 billion.

US exports of major weapons increased by 21 per cent during 2012 to last year compared with 2007 to 2011. The major destination was the Middle East, which accounted for 47 per cent. The US exported major weapons to at least 100 states during 2012 to last year, significantly more than any other supplying country.

Russian major weapons exports increased by only 4.7 per cent. It sold weapons to only 50 states, with exports to India alone accounting for 38 per cent. Meanwhile, China’s exports increased by 74 per cent, as its share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 per cent. China’s arms exports to Africa grew most, by 122 per cent, to account for 22 per cent of its total arms exports.

India, the world’s largest arms importer, has more of the world’s abject poor (280 million) than any other country, accounting for a third of the world’s poor living below the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. Using a US$3.10 a day poverty line, more appropriate for a middle-income country, the number of poor in India goes up dramatically to 732 million.

A study in 2014, led by the former chairman of the Indian Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, C. Rangarajan, estimated that 363 million, or 29.5 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people, lived in poverty in 2011 to 2012, i.e., on less than Rs 32 (RM2.03) daily in rural areas, and below Rs 47 a day in urban areas.

Asia and Oceania was the main importing region in 2012 to last year, accounting for 43 per cent of global imports, followed by the Middle East, with 29 per cent, and African states accounting for 8.1 per cent. Between the two five-year periods, arms imports in Asia and Oceania increased by 7.7 per cent and in the Middle East by 86 per cent. Arms imports by European states fell by 36 per cent while African arms imports declined by 6.6 per cent.

Tensions in Southeast Asia have driven up demand for weapons. Vietnam’s arms imports increased by 202 per cent, pushing it to become the 10th largest arms importer in 2012-2016 from being 29th in 2007 to 2011. This was the fastest increase among the top ten importers. Philippines’ arms imports increased by 426 per cent while Indonesia’s grew by 70 per cent.

Six rebel groups are among the 165 identified recipients of major weapons in 2012 to last year. Even though deliveries to the six accounted for no more than 0.02 per cent of major arms transfers, SIPRI argues the sales fuel conflicts.

Conflict regions alone accounted for 48 per cent of total arms imports to sub-Saharan Africa. According to SIPRI, governments fighting rebel groups used major arms against anti-government rebels.

Foreign sales of military arms and equipment across the world totalled US$374.8 billion (RM1.52 trillion) last year. American companies had a US$217.2 billion lion’s share of foreign arms sales.

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 9:03am
Arming poor countries enriches rich countries
[Source] IPS

* Anis Chowdhury is an adjunct professor at Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales. She held senior United Nations positions during 2008 to 2015 in New York and Bangkok

* Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations assistant secretary-general for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007


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Modi and his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)

INDIA’S democracy moves from elections to elections in some of its 29 states each year. Yet, the Gujarat assembly elections this month seemed a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 41-month rule.

He has won, but questions and doubts abound. Uniquely, the victor isn’t victorious enough and the loser isn’t despondent.

Gujarat is the political backyard of Modi and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah. They have retained it, while snatching Himachal Pradesh, yet another state from Congress, the main opposition.

Whether these victories point to a “mega surge” for BJP that ensures Modi’s re-election in the 2019 parliamentary polls − as much of mainstream media is predicting − remains doubtful.

For one, it failed the Shah-wowed 150 seats target in house of 182. Its majority win stopped short of a hundred, down 16 that it had won in 2012. The Congress won 16 more, at 79 giving its best in two decades.

The BJP bagged 43 of 55 urban seats, but only 56 of 127 in the countryside where poverty and inequality persist. Modi’s penchant for bullet trains and start- ups has not reached there.

The much-touted “Gujarat model” of development that he prescribes for the whole country has taken a hit.

Two, although he won despite absence of a favourable wave, even fighting anti-incumbency sentiment that the Congress whipped up, he is vulnerable to uncertainties of a sliding national economy.

Business classes conveyed their anger at his demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) measures. BJP was saved by the “Gujarati pride” in having Modi at the helm in New Delhi.

Three, the Congress has risen, belatedly though, to provide democratic opposition the country needs. Amid a string of defeats, it could stem BJP’s plans of making India “Congress-free.”

Rahul Gandhi surprised everyone by shedding reticence in Gujarat. He surged as a spunky, persuasive campaigner, matching Modi’s argument for argument. He played the decent underdog by deflecting Modi’s jibes and insults.

“I will criticise him, but not insult the country’s prime minister”, was his constant refrain.

Despite defeat, Gujarat is his morale-booster. Elevated to lead the 132-year-old party this month, he has begun with twin defeats, and more may be in store. But Gujarat has sent a positive signal to cadres that he must organise better. He is no match to Modi in oratory and experience.

Leading a mass-based party, Rahul needs to learn from the cadre-based BJP’s sixth consecutive Gujarat victory. Ultimately, a party’s organisational machinery and ability to bring voters to the polling stations count.

Nobody seriously thought Modi could lose Gujarat, given his resources and well-oiled party machinery. Modi’s tireless campaign seemed favourably one-sided at the outset. But following Rahul’s campaign, he was forced to project his achievements as the Gujarat chief minister (2001-2014), ridicule Rahul and string together communal canards targeting the Muslims.

Taking cue from last year’s American presidential elections when allegations of Russian interference flew thick and fast, Modi wove a web of conspiracy theories. One innuendo was that former Pakistani military officials were unduly promoting Ahmed Patel, just-retired Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, a Muslim, as Gujarat next chief minister.

He alleged at a polls rally that a “conspiracy” was hatched at a dinner Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar hosted for his friend, former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri.

Modi had in 2002 polls gamely alleged interference by “Miyan Musharraf”, a veiled reference to then Pakistan president, implicitly threatening Indian Muslims.

This time, his predecessor Manmohan Singh, a guest at the Aiyar/Kasuri dinner, along with a former vice president Hamid Ansari and an ex-Indian Army chief, issued a strong rebuttal.

As India’s PM, Modi could have avoided this fracas. Gujarat’s Muslims form 15 per cent of the 40 million. For the first time, they were eliminated from any electoral equation. Both the principal parties disowned them.

BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate. The Congress gave six Muslims tickets. But the symbolism of Rahul’s visiting 27 Hindu temples, but not any Muslim shrine, was not lost.

The Congress sought to counter the BJP’s Hindutva card (political use of the Hindu faith, whatever its other philosophical, social and ideological interpretations) by playing what its critics call “soft Hindutva”. To shed the party’s perceived “pro-Muslim” image, Rahul declared that he worshipped Lord Shiva and donned the sacred thread.

He was emulating grandmother and former premier Indira Gandhi, but not his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, the first premier who had avowedly opposed mixing religion and politics and had sought to protect the religious minorities.

Unsurprisingly, the word “secular” that is part of the Indian Constitution, which BJP would want to eliminate, did not figure in the Gujarat discourse.

Prospects of any commitment, by the government and/or any political party to protect the religious minorities from majoritarian onslaught, amidst frequent violence by rightwing vigilantes, appear bleak.

The Gujarat campaign showed the politics of hope has been replaced entirely by politics of fear, of showmanship, projections by a complicit media and social media troll and by shenanigans − personal, political, diplomatic, religious, caste − you name them.

Having reported some elections and monitored many more in Gujarat and elsewhere, I am among those who sadly feel assailed by the toxic nature of the political debate.

One clutches at a silver thread. BJP’s “moderate” victory in Gujarat may strengthen Modi as the PM, facilitating his development agenda and hold back the one that Hindutva hotheads have been trying push.

There is a long way to go till the 2019 elections. If BJP has resolved that crude religious polarisation is the only way it can retain power, and the Congress wants to duck it by playing the same game, India is in for a really trying time.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes a victory sign in New Delhi on Dec 18, after his party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the Gujarat assembly elections. BJP bagged 43 of 55 urban seats, but only 56 of 127 in the countryside.

New Straits Times, Published: December 23, 2017 - 9:05am
Hope versus fear
The writer, NST's New Delhi correspondent, is the president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association 2016-2018 and a consultant with ‘Power Politics’ monthly magazine

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Andrew Drummond Law

Following a serious knee injury, Andrew Drummond Law was hospitalised.
Here, he recounts the painful rehabilitation process and why he has to rethink his way of travelling.

AFTER five weeks of physiotherapy and a pair of crutches, I was finally back on my own two feet. With osteoarthritis of the knees, I recently experienced a nasty flare-up.

After I had landed awkwardly walking down the stairs, I was in acute pain with a build up of fluid inside the left knee, tripling its normal size. The cartilage in the joints has worn out, after nearly 50 years of sports, trekking and travel.

Unable to walk, I was hospitalised for six days and had to undergo physiotherapy for a month. Sitting down or standing up was difficult. I had to walk sideways like a crab when using the stairs. And driving was impossible for two weeks.

I couldn’t bend my knee enough − even with the driver’s seat pushed fully back − to fit in. And when I could drive, it was valet parking only because if I parked myself, I would not be able to get out of the car into the narrow space between vehicles with my crutches and swollen leg.


In hospital, my twice daily physiotherapy included ice treatment and a continuous passive motion machine to help reduce the swelling and repair the tissue.

I also received Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) treatment, where an electrical current stimulates the nerves and treats acute pain. All complemented with ultrasound providing deep heat to the damaged soft tissue.

The first three days were very painful. The next two even worse. Intravenous painkillers partly helped, although I felt nauseous. After this intensive physio programme, the doctor gave me a cortisone injection for temporary pain relief. Two days later I was discharged.

Apart from being woken up one morning by earthquake tremors all the way from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, shaking me in my bed, my hospital stay was uneventful. Physio twice daily, healthy but bland hospital food three times daily, regular check-ups of my vital signs, sleep and rest.

Since my discharge and after a month in rehab, I am much better.


Walking is a primal instinct for everybody. Some much more than others as a part of their daily routine. Thirty minutes daily is the minimum recommended walking time for improving general health and longevity.

For my joints, I have been taking glucosamine with chondroitin tablets for several years. My first thought was it couldn’t have been that effective, given my recent injury. Since talking with others, I have realised it could have been much worse if I hadn’t been using it. More exercise and a better diet are also crucial to my recovery.

Malaysia has the highest obesity rate in Asia, says a 2014 medical study from The Lancet, a British medical journal. As well as diabetes, heart problems, and high blood pressure, being overweight plays havoc with our joints. But it is no coincidence that the food here is also the tastiest on earth.

Other patients in my rehab centre included senior citizens and those with sports or accident-related injuries. I was surprised to see youngsters who appeared to be overweight from eating too much and not exercising enough.

For cardiovascular fitness, I cannot run anymore. Although swimming and cycling are good low-impact alternatives for keeping my weight down, and protecting my knees. I have since had to rethink my way of travelling and exploring.


When exploring I always use trekking poles. They help reduce the impact on my knees by up to 20 per cent, especially important when descending steep inclines. Those who are younger or still have good knees, think 20-30 years ahead.

My favourite knapsack weighs 2.5kg. Tough as nails, it went with me everywhere. I’ve since switched to one weighing only 194g.

I wear lighter yet still sturdy footwear whenever possible. Every 500g of weight on your feet is considered equivalent to carrying five times more (2.5kg) weight on your back.

For good reason, a lightweight approach has become my mindset for travel. Carrying only a cabin bag weighing less than 7kg and my camera, I feel much less fatigued when travelling regionally.

But most importantly, over the longer term I will need to shed another 5kg off my waist. I will save my knees, carry less and see more, into my old age.

Long haul or local, on foot or his bicycle, Andrew Drummond Law travels in search of the sights and sounds, tastes and smells that make a moment.

New Straits Times, Published: February 23, 2017 - 2:02pm
Knees, needles and knapsacks
By Andrew Drummond Law

I REFER to Andrew Drummond Law’s column, “Tourism under threat” (NST Life & Times, Sept 10, 2015). I agree with the writer when he wrote: “Smile, like it or not, you are a national ambassador.”

Sabah is known as “The Land Below the Wind” because of its location that lies below the typhoon belt.

Sarawak is known as, “The Land of the Hornbills”, the national bird of the state. Egypt is “The land of the pharaohs” because the most powerful person in ancient Egypt was the pharaoh.

Even so, there is nothing more pleasant and beautiful than Thailand, which is known throughout the world as “The Land of Smiles”, because Thais smile even though they face political problems.

They welcome tourists with a smile that shows friendliness. This makes tourist and people feel at ease and relaxed.

Prophet Muhammad said: “Even a smile is charity.”

Mother Teresa said: “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”

And a Chinese proverb goes: “Every smile makes you a day younger.”

Books, songs, articles, poems, and quotations have been written about the smile.

Some people take the smile for granted, when it can “break the ice”. This is an idiom that means to make people who have not met before feel more relaxed with each other.

That’s what Thais are doing, and I feel that Malay-sians should emulate Thais and smile more often at Malaysians and tourists.

A smile is free, and one will be rewarded for it.

I have observed that Malaysians have tight lips, simply because they are unwilling to let their lips open up for a smile, to show friendliness to someone irrespective of race, colour or religion.

Enter a lift full of people, and you see that “kiasu”, “egoistic” and “sombong” (arrogant) look on their faces, even though one enters the lift with a greeting and a smile. No one will respond.

Why not just give a “senyum kambing”, as Malays say − even a goat smiles, sweetly, without opening its lips.

A smile is a facial expression formed by flexing the muscles at the side of the mouth.

We should keep our face smiling, and smile when we meet someone.

It helps to generate more positive emotions within us, like love, affection, politeness, kindness, goodwill, mutual respect and friendliness.

That’s why we often feel happier around children, as they smile more. Smiling is more than a contraction of muscles in our face.

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do,” said Mother Teresa.

I would like to urge the Tourism and Culture Ministry and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to start a smiling campaign, and put up posters of people smiling, in trains, buses, taxis, lifts, shopping complexes and government departments.

Hopefully, more Malaysians will start smiling at each other and become friendlier.

I feel that the greatest thing we’ll ever learn is just to smile and be smiled at.

Letter to The New Straits Times, Published: September 16, 2015 - 11:01am
Smile, and the whole world smiles with you
By NOR SHAHID MOHD NOR, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

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Norwegian public education has been ranked as one of the best in Europe.

SINCE the school holiday started, my 5-year-old son has been asking us almost on a daily basis why he is at his nanny’s place and not at school.

A few days ago, he had asked me to drive by his kindergarten so that he could see for himself that his school was not open. In short, he just misses school and his friends.

My immediate take on this is that the kindergarten has done its job in making my son love going to school.

The learning experiences he has had so far have shaped his perception about education − it is fun!

If similar fun can be felt by my son when he goes through formal education, I believe he will gain so much knowledge and positive experiences in school.

I was upbeat when Education director-general Datuk Dr Amin Senin said the Education Ministry wanted to bring back fun into the classrooms, especially in primary schools. He has my full support. It is time to bring back fun in learning.

We have been told by many that Norwegian public education has been ranked as one of the best in Europe.

Children in Norway’s “Barneskole” (primary school) spend their days playing educational games, learning social skills and basic education in the first grade.

Norway is one of the countries where children in primary schools do not receive official grades. But, their teachers will write comments and unofficial grades on tests to show progress.

It sounds familiar because Malaysia is embarking on the same path for its primary school education, to the horror of many Malaysian parents who are so used to getting official grades to gauge their children’s learning progress.

Starting this year, there is less opportunity to fuel parents’ bragging rights when it comes to their 12-year-olds’ Ujian Pencapian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) results.

Instead of the usual announcement of straight As scorers and which states or schools excelled in UPSR, holistic assessment reports of the candidates’ learning progress were given under the Primary School Assessment Report, or Pelaporan Pentaksiran Sekolah Rendah.

The assessment showed candidates’ performance in non-academic components as well − sports, physical and curriculum assessments, classroom assessment and psychometric assessment.

In other words, the public gets a bird’s eye view of the Year Six pupils’ performance based on these four components rather than just the UPSR results.

For the academic assessment, the ministry only announced the percentage of UPSR candidates who secured minimum mastery in various academic subjects without going into detail on the breakdown of grades, as done previously.

The details of the UPSR results, however, were still listed in the result slips that students collected from their schools, together with three other reports.

In addition, there will be no more data on school average grades and subject average grades as they are found to place pressure on schools, teachers and students to excel solely in academics.

The decision to do away with such data is the Education Ministry’s way of relieving the pressure and bringing back fun in the learning process.

We have read enough news on how the pressure to excel in studies has led to a growing number of suicides.

It was reported that children in Hong Kong were raised to excel, not to be happy, and experts had deemed it worrying.

Experts have been saying for years that a high-pressure, exam-oriented education system has pushed young people to the breaking point and triggered a decline in their mental health.

In the United Kingdom, surveys showed that primary school children were attempting suicide because of exam pressures, too much homework and cyberbullying. It is worrying when experts say that suicidal thoughts among pupils are “out of control”. And, Japan is on suicide watch as children go back to schools.

Malaysia will not be spared from a similar fate if changes are not made to our education system. Instead of throwing a fit when the authorities are making changes, we parents should ask ourselves: How we can help?

Things are changing now for the better. One such change is reflected in the 2017 UPSR results, which came with the three other reports.

Parents will have better insight into their children’s development as an individual because each student is unique.

And, this uniqueness is what the Education Ministry wants to celebrate, rather than focusing only on those who excel academically. About time, too.

SK Seri Indera pupils receiving their Primary School Assessment Report slips in Kangar last month. Instead of the usual academic grades, holistic assessment reports of the candidates’ learning progress were given.

New Straits Times, Published: December 22, 2017 - 9:20am
Things are changing
With more than 15 years in journalism and a master’s in Counselling Psychology, the writer is always drawn to the mystery of the human mind and behaviours

Read more:

It’s a warm September afternoon in the Kallio district of Helsinki. Out in the Franzenia daycare centre playground, groups of four- and five-year-olds roam contentedly. “Would you like an ice-cream?” asks one, having set up her elaborate “stall” on the edge of the sandpit. Kindergarten staff move among the children, chatting, observing and making written notes.

There is nothing outwardly distinctive about the centre, though with 200 children, it is the city’s largest. It is a tall, somewhat dour former university building, built in the 1930s and converted to its present role last year. Yet it is in places such as this oddly homespun centre with its strange echoes of bureaucracy, walls plastered with children’s art and piles of play paraphernalia, that the Finnish education “miracle” starts to take shape.

In Finland, whose comprehensive school system has sat at the top of Europe’s rankings for the past 16 years, the narrow, heated debates on school governance and structure that obsess the UK – free schools, academies, grammars – do not exist. Schools ultimately deliver academic success, the Finns would agree - and there has been intense worldwide interest in how they manage it (see below) – but they would also argue that groundwork for good school performance begins earlier, long before children enter formal school, and arguably while their future pupils are still in nappies.

Central to early years education in Finland is a “late” start to schooling. At Franzenia, as in all Finnish daycare centres, the emphasis is not on maths, reading or writing (children receive no formal instruction in these until they are seven and in primary school) but creative play. This may surprise UK parents, assailed as they are by the notion of education as a competitive race. In Finland, they are more relaxed: “We believe children under seven are not ready to start school,” says Tiina Marjoniemi, the head of the centre. “They need time to play and be physically active. It’s a time for creativity.”

Indeed the main aim of early years education is not explicitly “education” in the formal sense but the promotion of the health and wellbeing of every child. Daycare is to help them develop good social habits: to learn how to make friends and respect others, for example, or to dress themselves competently. Official guidance also emphasises the importance in pre-school of the “joy of learning”, language enrichment and communication. There is an emphasis on physical activity (at least 90 minutes outdoor play a day). “Kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically,” writes the Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg. “Instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”

Play, nonetheless, is a serious business, at least for the teachers, because it gives children vital skills in how to learn. Franzenia has 44 staff working with children, of whom 16 are kindergarten teachers (who have each completed a three-year specialist degree), and 28 nursery nurses (who have a two-year vocational qualification). The staff-child ratio is 1:4 for under-threes and 1:7 for the older children. Great care is taken to plan not just what kind of play takes place – there is a mix of “free play” and teacher-directed play - but to assess how children play. The children’s development is constantly evaluated. “It’s not just random play, it’s learning through play,” says Marjoniemi.

Play at this stage of child development can successfully engage them in the process of learning, says David Whitebread, director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning at the University of Cambridge. Once engaged in a task they enjoy, whether acting out a story or constructing a building, children become motivated to constantly refine and improve on their task and to increase the challenge. “From a psychological point of view you can see how play can help children become powerful learners,” he says.

Carefully organised play helps develop qualities such as attention span, perseverance, concentration and problem solving, which at the age of four are stronger predictors of academic success than the age at which a child learns to read, says Whitebread. There is evidence that high-quality early years play-based learning not only enriches educational development but boosts attainment in children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not possess the cultural capital enjoyed by their wealthier peers. Says Whitebread: “The better the quality of pre-school, the better the outcomes, both emotionally and socially and in terms of academic achievement.”

Importantly, early years care in Finland is designed and funded to ensure high take-up: every child has a legal right to high-quality pre-school care. In Franzenia, as in all daycare centres, there are children from a mix of backgrounds. Fees, subsidised by the state, are capped at a maximum of €290 (£250) a month (free for those on low incomes) for five-day, 40 hours a week care. About 40% of 1-3-year-olds are in daycare and 75% of 3-5-year-olds. Optional pre-school at the age of six has a 98% take-up. Initially envisaged in the 70s as a way of getting mothers back into the workplace, daycare has also become, Marjoniemi says, about “lifelong learning and how we prepare young children”.

The time children spend in pre-school, with its emphasis on play and socialisation, are “the most important years”, says Jaakko Salo, special adviser to the OAJ, the Finnish teachers’ union. Finnish education is undergoing the biggest financial cuts in its history, with the latest round lopping €2bn, or 8%, off the budget, but early years and primary schools – the bedrock of the system and the point where learning skills can be most successfully embedded – have been relatively protected, according to the OAJ.

Daycare is not the only factor underpinning academic success. Hard-wired into Finland’s educational mission is the idea that equality is vital to economic success and societal wellbeing, as well as the belief that a small nation, reliant on creativity, ingenuity and solidarity to compete in the global economy, cannot afford inequality or segregation in schooling or health. Behind its stellar education ranking is a comprehensive social security and public health system that ensures one of the lowest child poverty rates in Europe, and some of the highest levels of wellbeing. Gunilla Holm, professor of education at the University of Helsinki, says: “The goal is that we should all progress together.”

How it works

The success of Finland’s comprehensive school system is a story now well-told. At the turn of the century, much to the surprise of the Finns, let alone the rest of the world, it emerged as a global leader in education. Pisa tests revealed Finnish pupils produced some of the world’s highest scores in maths, science and reading. In the three subsequent reports, the last in 2012, the country’s performance dropped slightly but it remains the highest-ranked in Europe.

Its success came under a system built resolutely against the grain of prevailing education fashions adopted by developed countries, including the UK, in the 1980s and 90s. In Finland, children do not start formal academic learning until seven. Driven by a commitment to equality (on both moral and economic grounds), it outlaws school selection, formal examinations (until the age of 18) and streaming by ability. Competition, choice, privatisation and league tables do not exist. “Teaching to the test” is an alien concept. Grammar schools, the UK government’s current obsession, were abolished decades ago. Free school meals, tentatively endorsed for younger pupils only in the UK, are universally provided.

Those elements of British schooling that cause most parental anxiety – will my child get into a “good school”, will they get into a top set, will they get a good Sats score – are largely absent in Finland. Differences in educational outcomes between individual schools in most areas are relatively trivial, meaning parents rarely send their children farther afield than the local comprehensive. Pupils are generally more content too: a quality-not-quantity approach means school hours are shorter and homework duties are light. After-school tutoring is rare. Finnish children are happier and less stressed than their British contemporaries.

As UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed, Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning. Teachers are well paid, well-trained (they must complete a five-year specialist degree), respected by parents and valued and trusted by politicians. There is no Ofsted-style inspection of schools and teachers, but a system of self-assessment. Educational policy and teaching is heavily research-based.

Worried that its sliding Pisa scores reflected a complacency in its schools, national curriculum changes were introduced this year: these now devote more time to art and crafts. Creativity is the watchword. Core competences include “learning-to learn”, multiliteracy, digital skills and entrepreneurship. At the heart of the new curriculum, the National Board of Education says unashamedly, is the “joy of learning.”

Gaining on the swings: Franzenia daycare centre, Helsinki, where the emphasis is on creative play.

Franzenia daycare centre, Helsinki.

Why does Theresa May want to bring back grammar schools?

The Guardian, Last modified on Tue 28 Nov‘17 14.32 GMT
No grammar schools, lots of play: the secrets of Europe’s top education system

In Finland children don’t start school until they are seven, but what happens before that is even more important
By Patrick Butler

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Active electoral participation is important

ACTIVE electoral participation is important so that only the best candidates are elected as representatives to form a credible and efficient government.

It is also important for the sake of ensuring that the elected representatives are persons who can effectively hold the government accountable to the public.

Unfortunately, some Malaysians are lukewarm about the significance of electoral participation. Statistically, 3.7 million Malaysians who are eligible to vote have yet to register as voters up to July.

The chairman of the Election Commission has said that the level of new voter registration among the younger generation was not satisfactory.

This is not a good sign because the quality of a healthy democracy is determined, among others, by the level and quality of public participation in the electoral process.

Taking into account the fact that, demographically, Malay-Muslims are the majority, it means certain causes of the problem are probably unique to them.

The negative attitude of some Muslims towards electoral participation may be broadly grouped into two categories.

Firstly, there are Muslims in Malaysia who believe that democracy is incompatible with Islam.

If some people are sceptical of democracy because it is of western origin, they should be reminded that Islam opens the door to hikmah (wisdom), regardless of where it originated from.

It was once narrated from the Prophet (peace be upon him) on the authority of Abu Huraira that “wisdom is the lost property of the believer, and wherever he finds it then he is the most deserving to claim it”.

Muslim should embrace democracy because, despite some weaknesses, it is arguably the best available political system that we have. An orderly democracy allows for a safe and smooth transition of political power in society without any bloodshed.

Apart from that, there are many religious concepts that are systemically reflected and promoted in a parliamentary democracy, such as the principle of shura (consultation) [3:159], the principle of muhasabah (taking oneself to account and mutual accounting) [52:21] and the principle of at-tawasi (mutual advice) [103:3].

The core idea of electing representatives in an election to debate public policies, to hold government to public accountability, and to give advice to public authorities is certainly Islamic in the light of these principles.

With respect to the principle of muhasabah, Muslims should be reminded to pay heed to the Quranic teachings in Surah al-Asr that underline the need for them to remind one another to righteousness and Truth.

With regard to the principle of giving good advice, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “religion is good advice”.

“We asked, To whom?”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk”.

The second caliph, Umar al-Khattab, used to advise his officials to “take yourselves into account before you are taken into account”. Muhasabah in Islam thus begins with oneself, self-criticism and self-discipline, but it is incomplete without it becoming an integral part of good governance.

Apart from the fact that democracy, on the whole, is acceptable to Islam, taking a negative view of democracy is practically irrelevant in the Malaysian context because it has been practised for decades and any activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy is a criminal offence under Section 124B of the Penal Code.

Moreover, Malaysia has held 13 successful general elections, a rare achievement among Muslim countries.

Secondly, even those who may not subscribe to the extreme view that democracy is un-Islamic have not shown much enthusiasm to actively participate in the electoral process.

If we look at the process of registering new voters, for example, Muslims who are eligible to register as voters do not take the opportunity seriously.

Such a lackadaisical attitude is due to many factors that include a wrong understanding of certain religious concepts. Some Muslims would excuse themselves from fulfilling their electoral obligation on the pretext that it is a collective obligation (fard kifayah), which is dispensed with when other Muslims in the community have cast their votes.

It should be highlighted, however, that the remaining Muslims are freed from the responsibility before God if a collective obligation is adequately discharged. If it is not adequately discharged, then it behoves every relevant Muslim to address the deficiency.

The fact that voter registration is neither compulsory nor automatic exacerbates the difficulty in getting a high level of public participation.

Considering the importance of public participation in a democracy, perhaps, the authorities should now introduce a process of automatic registration of every citizen who reaches voting age.

It is well within the doctrine of Siyasah Syariah for a lawful authority to impose and enforce compulsory registration as a civic responsibility among citizens for the sake of promoting good governance and justice.

Voters queueing up to cast their ballot in the Sarawak election last year.

New Straits Times, Published: December 22, 2017 - 9:31am
Muslims and electoral Participation in Malaysia
The writer is Fellow at Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia (*).

(*) The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia

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Peaceful coexistence among peoples of differing political and religious persuasions

WITH malls all across the country decked in festive trimmings and seasonal music wafting over the airwaves, it definitely is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which is, of course, in a few days’ time.

The birthday of Jesus is one of the most joyous occasions in the year for Christians everywhere. In multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, the traditional Christmas message of peace on earth and goodwill to all is always particularly appropriate and fitting.

Malaysians can never get enough reminders to not take for granted the peace and harmony in our midst.

Unfortunately, this year, we, like many in all corners of the globe, have been jolted by recent developments in the Holy Land, sacred almost in equal parts to the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Like a thunderbolt out of the blue, United States President Donald Trump decided to shift his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv (where all other foreign embassies are located) to the divided city of Jerusalem, thus unmistakably signalling that the US recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Not even a single Western ally of Washington followed its lead in agreeing to shift embassies away from Tel Aviv. In fact, all joined in the worldwide dismay and even condemnation of the move, which, if not exactly in intent was most certainly in effect, a bold and provocative poke in the eye of the always fragile and fraught Middle East peace process.

Violence in protest against the move erupted almost instantaneously in the volatile region and much of the rest of the world reacted with outrage, seeing the US move as another (maybe even final) death knell for the two-state solution to the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict.

The capacity of events in the Holy Land to arouse deep passions is evident even in Malaysia where near spontaneous consumer boycotts of known American brands sparked understandable business concern. Governments across the Muslim world were suddenly confronted with having to keep pace with such heightened popular sentiments.

In some respects, the political circumstances in the Holy Land mirror those prevailing here in Malaysia. Ordinary Jews and Arabs (Muslims as well as Christians) by and large live in close quarters peaceably and like people everywhere else would want nothing more than to be able to live in peace and get on with the daily business of human existence unhindered.

Again, like almost everywhere else, politics and religion − especially of the more extremist sorts − add a rather toxic mix to the general human condition, complicating the search for a workable peaceful coexistence among peoples of differing political and religious persuasions.

The inability to find a home-grown acceptable solution almost always inevitably leads to outside intervention, which, in the Israel-Palestine case, adds only a further layer of complicating factors that makes finding a solution that much more remote.

As much in the Middle East as here, Malaysians need to recognise and value the fact that they, by and large, must act with a clear understanding of what is of the utmost national interest: maintaining the existing peace and harmony and not inviting foreign intervention otherwise.

We must preserve at all costs the fact we serve as a beacon of how a Muslim-led nation can and should conduct itself in running a polyglot of a nation and doing so in reasonably exemplary fashion.

We need to collectively strive to build upon all the good we have achieved, of course, without seeking to completely tear down what has served us well thus far, in perhaps mistaken and misplaced hopes that a better alternative can easily be put in its place.

As we join the rest of the world in some despair this Yuletide season over the seemingly forlorn prospects for peace in the Holy Land, let us be forever mindful that peace in our own land has not been that easily achieved over the preceding years and decades and that it will perhaps always remain a work in progress.

Instead of lashing out in somewhat understandable anger over the latest unprovoked outrage delivered by Trump over Jerusalem, we must contain our feelings and seek instead to find ways our own special circumstances may be converted into making Malaysia a worthy and constructive actor for peace beyond our own shores.

There will be no better way than to show that we live on a daily basis the Christmas message of peace and goodwill to all in our own little corner of earth.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers chanting slogans in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City last week. United States President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a provocative poke in the eye of the always fragile and fraught Middle East peace process.

New Straits Times, Published: December 22, 2017 - 9:24am
Message of peace and goodwill
By John Teo
The writer views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak

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Israeli annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem since 1967 is illegal

MOST of the international community is in agreement that Israeli annexation and settlement of East Jerusalem since 1967 is illegal, and henceforth refused to recognise Jerusalem (Baitulmuqaddis) as Israel’s capital.

The leaders of the Muslim world gathered at an extraordinary summit in Turkey on Dec 13, as a response to United States President Donald Trump’s unwelcomed decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Days after the summit, Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan announced Ankara would open an embassy in East Jerusalem to recognise it as the capital of Palestine. Consequently, US-Turkey relations have sunk to new lows.

In the world’s most populous Muslim country, 80,000 Indonesian Muslims rallied outside the US embassy to express their solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Similar scenes have been observed in other Muslim capitals, including Ankara and Karachi, to rail against Trump’s game-changing decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Muslims around the world, and especially in the Middle East, may ultimately hold their ruling elites accountable for an epic failure of leadership. King Abdullah II of Jordan, one of Washington’s most valued allies, is whirling from the decision. Jordan already has a population that is half Palestinian. He is backing Mahmoud Abbas, the president of Palestine who has adopted extreme anti-US positions.

Some argued that Trump’s decision disrespects the Christian sites in Jerusalem as well. Jordan has been the custodian of all Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem since 1994. Even Pope Francis said in his weekly address that this status quo which governs the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites should be respected. Meanwhile, Nazareth, the Israeli Arab city where Jesus (peace be upon him) was believed to have been raised has cancelled some Christmas celebrations in protest at Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem.

Even in US-friendly Egypt, hundreds of protesters had gathered in Al-Azhar mosque to chant “Trump, you madman”. Tilda Swinton, Mark Ruffalo, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno are among dozens of writers, musicians and actors who have condemned Trump.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, has stated that Trump’s national security strategy is not “America First”, it’s “America Alone”. Trump bragged that the US is “leading again on the world stage, just as his UN ambassador Nikki Haley was being chastised at the UN Security Council last Monday”.

The US was isolated and outnumbered at the UNSC with 14 to 1 votes against its stance on Jerusalem. It stood alone, defensive and defiant, as ambassador Haley whined about the world’s “insult” to the US. Monday’s scene at the UN makes Trump’s assertions about renewed US respectability and influence around the world a joke.

Trump’s judgment on his foreign policy is even discussed hotly in the US. The New York Times which did so with a headline that read “Trump: Madman of the Year” last year claimed their president was as “confused” about Jerusalem, and made matters “more bewildering and stressful for everyone”.

Trump’s motivation might go beyond consolidating his supporters of the hardcore right-wing evangelical base. More likely, the president might have typically, as always, had a grandiose idea by settling this issue with a strong, decisive tone, but not taking into consideration the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not like any of his previous business or political judgments.

As a social scientist studying “liars and their lies”, Bella DePaulo, former professor at the University of Virginia recently stated, “Nearly two-thirds of Trump’s lies (65 per cent) were self-serving. Slightly less than 10 per cent of Trump’s lies were kind ones, told to advantage, flatter or protect someone else.”

It is typical that Trump’s Jerusalem call was self-serving but poorly thought through to consolidate domestic supporters through a “bluff”.

Indeed, the actual move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will take years which could dissipate the sentiment of such a political “scam”.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian UN envoy says Trump’s recent move “encourages more Israeli crimes”, as 14 other Security Council members backed the proposed measure. “Israel has been a terrorist state from beginning, and has its foundations in terrorism. Three Israeli prime ministers were or are terrorists: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.”

Retired West Chester University professor Lawrence Davidson last month announced, “Israel and the Zionist project are anachronisms.” Building on his history of anti-Zionist activism, Davidson used the 2017 centenary of the 1917 British Balfour Declaration to attack Israel’s rebirth. He condemned the first international recognition of a renewed Jewish homeland in the Holy Land as an “imperial and colonial document in which a European power promised a non-European parcel of land to another European people”.

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale professor Virginia Tilley, a rabid Israel-hater, went so far as to reject a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict as “unacceptable because it preserves Israel in its present form as an apartheid state”. She declared, “Israel will be the same state, with the same character, with the same racist laws, with the same self-declared mission, within just different borders”.

Trump’s declaration is a sign that Washington is not qualified to play its role “as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East.

Much of the world has already considered the US as a partial actor with pro-Israel views.

Trump’s new position, however, has explicitly endorsed an American shift from a pseudo-neutral mediator to a staunch devotee of Israel. It is not wrong to believe that the future of peace in the region is becoming less likely.

A protest rally in Kolkata, India, yesterday against United States President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

New Straits Times, Published: December 22, 2017 - 9:35am
Not a sponsor of peace
The writer, a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow, is a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak

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Defying Trump threat, UN rejects US decision on Jerusalem

Defying President Donald Trump's threat to cut off funding, the United Nations approved by a resounding vote on Thursday a motion rejecting the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The 193-member General Assembly adopted the resolution by 128 to 9 with 35 abstentions, in what Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour called a "massive setback" for the United States.

An additional 21 countries did not turn up for the vote including Ukraine, which had supported the same resolution in the Security Council, indicating the US threats did have a chilling effect on some governments.

Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Togo joined the United States in opposing the measure.

Among the countries that abstained were Argentina, Australia, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Mexico, the Philippines, Poland, Romania and Rwanda.

Speaking at the emergency session, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the United States "will remember this day."

"America will put our embassy in Jerusalem," Haley said in defense of the US move, which broke with international consensus and unleashed protests across the Muslim world.

"No vote in the United Nations will make any difference on that," Haley said. "But this vote will make a difference on how Americans look at the UN and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN."

"When we make generous contributions to the UN we also have a legitimate expectation that our goodwill is recognized and respected," she said.

The resolution reaffirms that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through negotiations, and that any decision reached outside of that framework must be rescinded.

Without explicitly referencing the US move, it "affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the vote showed the "illegality" of Trump's decision, urging the United States to withdraw it.

- 'Unprecedented test' -

The motion was sent to the General Assembly after it was vetoed by the United States at the Security Council on Monday, although all other 14 council members voted in favor.

While resolutions by the General Assembly are non-binding, a strong vote in support carries political weight.

Ahead of the vote, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the UN as a "house of lies," saying Israel "rejects outright this vote, even before it passes."

"No General Assembly resolution will ever drive us from Jerusalem," vowed Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon.

Palestinian foreign minister Riad al-Malki called the vote an "unprecedented test" for the UN, and referenced the US warning that it was "taking names."

"History records names, it remembers names -- the names of those who stand by what is right and the names of those who speak falsehood," al-Malki said.

Trump's decision on December 6 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital prompted a flurry of appeals to the United Nations.

The status of the Holy City is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump warned that Washington would closely watch how nations voted, suggesting there could be reprisals for those that back the motion put forward by Yemen and Turkey on behalf of Arab and Muslim countries.

"They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us," Trump said.

"Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care."

- 'House of lies' -

The resolution mirrored the text that was vetoed at the Security Council on Monday, and although it does not mention Trump's decision, it expresses "deep regret at recent decisions" concerning the city's status.

No country has veto powers in the General Assembly, unlike in the 15-member Security Council where the United States, along with Britain, China, France and Russia, can block any resolution.

UN diplomats privately said the United States had succeeded in making some countries think twice.

Haley tweeted that 65 countries had "refused to condemn the United States" over its decision on Jerusalem - a tally of "no" votes, abstentions and no-shows.

"While the resolution passed, the vote breakdown tells a different story," said a spokesperson for the US mission.

"It's clear that many countries prioritized their relationship with the United States over an unproductive attempt to isolate us for a decision that was our sovereign right to make."

The Palestinian ambassador insisted the vote was more about Trump's foreign policy approach than the status of Jerusalem.

"They made it about them," said Mansour. "They did not make it about Jerusalem, so when you make it about them and to only be able to get nine votes to say 'no' to it, I think it was a complete failure for their campaign."

Israel seized the largely-Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, claiming both sides of the city as its "eternal and undivided capital."

But the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any Israeli attempt to extend sovereignty there.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the General Assembly prior to the vote on Jerusalem.

US President Donald Trump had warned ahead of the General Assembly vote that "we're watching" and threatened reprisals against countries that back the measure.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, addresses the UN General Assembly prior to a vote on Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: the Holy City whose status is one of the most thorny issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

President Donald Trump will be "watching closely" to see how people vote on the Jerusalem issue.

AFP, Published: 21 Dec 2017
Defying Trump threat, UN rejects US decision on Jerusalem

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K-pop stars carry singer's coffin after suicide

Six of K-pop's biggest stars carried the coffin of fellow singer Kim Jong-Hyun to a hearse Thursday, after he died leaving behind a suicide note that spoke of his battle with loneliness and depression.

Kim's body was taken to his funeral from the Asan Medical Centre in Seoul where it had been lying at rest.

The procession was led by one of Kim's bandmates from SHINee -- one of the country's top boy bands -- dressed in black bearing a plaque topped by a crucifix and reading "Kim Jong-Hyun, believer".

His sister followed, tears coursing down her cheeks as she carried a picture of Kim in a dark wooden frame, smiling at the camera with his hair dyed a light brown.

The coffin was carried by the three other surviving SHINee band members and three from Super Junior, another boyband managed by the same agency.

The celebrities bowed their heads and prayed while waiting for the hearse, a black Lincoln limousine, to leave the building, as people at the back sang Christian hymns.

Despite harsh winter weather, weeping fans in jackets, hats, scarves and masks waited outside for the vehicle to leave.

They cried even harder as the hearse passed them by.

Kim, 27, was found in a hotel room in Seoul on Monday in what police said was suicide.

A coal briquette was burning on a frying pan -- a common method of self-killing in South Korea, an ultra-competitive society with one of the world's highest suicide rates.

Kim's close friend, musician Nain9, released his suicide note on her Instagram account, saying he had asked her to publish the message in the event of his death.

"I am broken from inside. The depression that gnawed on me slowly has finally engulfed me entirely," it said.

"I was so alone," he went on. "Please tell me I did a good job," he implored.

Five-member SHINee debuted in 2008 and went on to lead the "Korean Wave" that saw South Korean pop culture develop a fan base across Asia and beyond.

Known for peppy songs and carefully-choreographed dance numbers performed with military precision, they have released five albums that swept charts at home and abroad, with some reaching Number 1 on the US Billboard World Albums chart.

Kim's sister holds a picture of the late singer, while six fellow singers carry out his coffin.

AFP, Published: 21 Dec 2017
K-pop stars carry singer's coffin after suicide

Known for its ultra-competitive, pressure-cooker society, South Korea has one of the world's highest suicide rates. And this week the even higher stresses in the country's lucrative showbiz industry took their toll on a K-pop superstar.

Kim Jong-Hyun, a 27-year-old lead singer of the hugely popular boy band SHINee, took his own life in a Seoul hotel room on Monday, with his death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

Five-member SHINee were at the forefront of the "Korean Wave" that has seen South Korean pop culture sweep Asia by storm in the past decade and lap at shores even further afield.

The band has found fame and fortune with multiple chart-topping albums and sold-out concerts at home and abroad since their debut in 2008.

But a grittier reality lies beneath the glitz and glamour of the K-pop scene -- cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Many stars like Kim are picked up by agencies at a young age, usually in their early or mid teens, their lives then taken over by gruelling singing and dancing training, with the ever-present risk of falling foul of a cut-throat screening process.

Holidays are rare and privacy an unaffordable luxury as many live with other band mates in dorm-like apartments provided by their agents, who dictate everything from music styles and diet regimen to mobile phone use -- and normally impose dating bans.

Many struggle with a constant lack of sleep and privacy.

Kim Se-Jeong, a popular K-pop singer, confessed of once sleeping a total of one hour for four days. "I had to perform on stage, appear in TV shows and shoot ad commercials all at the same time," she told a television interviewer earlier this year.

Kang Daniel, of the popular boy band Wanna One, admitted that his biggest wish was "having just one day of rest".

"For months ahead of my debut, I usually woke up four or five in the morning... practised until two or three in the morning the following day," Kang said in a television interview aired in August.

He was "grateful" to get a chance at fame, he added -- but the gruelling schedule eventually affected his health and the 21-year-old cancelled all public appearances earlier this month.

- Smiley happy face -

Many K-pop stars face tremendous pressure to look and behave perfectly in an industry powered by so-called "fandoms" -- groups of well-organised admirers who spend enormous amounts of time and money to help their favoured stars climb up the charts and attack their perceived rivals.

In return, the stars are expected to tread carefully in an industry where today's most-fervent fans can be tomorrow's most vicious critics if their idols fail to meet their expectations -- or "betray" them.

Drug use or drunken driving are seen as career-breakers, while behaviour that causes a "stir" -- anything from a social media gaffe to a failure to smile ceaselessly at public appearances -- could be criticised for years.

Many are constantly chased by paparazzi and camera-touting fans who share or sell every single detail and images of the stars' daily lives online for public scrutiny.

"These 'idols' virtually live in a fishbowl and are pressed to put on a smiley, happy face while behaving nicely 24/7," said cultural commentator Kim Seong-Soo, adding the strain could "cripple them emotionally".

Such challenges are common among celebrities around the world, he told AFP, but are amplified in the hyper-wired South, which has some of the world's fastest internet speeds and highest smartphone usage, and a society where pressure to conform is high.

Taboos about mental illness dissuade many from seeking medical help, including public figures, he added.

- Winner takes all -

Kim's death is unusual for a K-pop musician at the height of his popularity, but is the latest in a long list of showbiz suicides.

In 2010, Park Yong-Ha, a top actor who had huge followings at home and in Japan and China, hanged himself, and former actor Kim Sung-Min, whose career was ruined by a jail term for drug abuse, did the same last year.

In the most shocking series of suicides, actress Choi Jin-Sil - a household name - hanged herself in 2008, her actions blamed on online bullying.

Her brother, also an actor, killed himself two years later, and her ex-husband, former baseball star Cho Sung-Min, followed suit in 2013.

Actress Park Jin-Hee interviewed hundreds of actors and actresses for her master's thesis in 2009 and said that 40 percent had considered suicide at least once due to a lack of privacy, online bullying or unstable incomes.

But celebrity suicides are only a microcosm of South Korea's wider social problems, including cutthroat competition in areas from education to workplaces and a lack of safety nets, said commentator Kim, calling depression an "inevitable outcome" of living under such strain.

"Our country has an extreme form of winner-take-all system where those who fail can hardly make a comeback, or even survive."

Kim Jong-Hyun, a 27-year-old lead singer of the hugely popular boy band SHINee, took his own life in a Seoul hotel room.

Kim's death sent shockwaves through fans around the world.

AFP, Published: 21 Dec 2017
Star's suicide highlights dark side of the K-pop dream

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Policy and persuasion

OVER the last few months, I had the privilege of teaching a class of final year undergraduate students at Nottingham University the 101 of public policy.

This seemed to be a perfect match, seeing as how I have been working in public policy in various capacities within government, think tanks and civil societies over the last decade or so.

Quite unlike some of the other more academic modules the students would have been exposed to, this would be one of the rare occasions in which they would examine the practical and real-life applications of their university knowledge, whether in the fields of economics, international relations or environmental science.

It is interesting that the university offers this subject at all – many students graduate from university (myself included) being equipped only with the knowledge provided by academic sources, with perhaps some research and experimentation thrown in.

Even essays and assignments are written towards an academic end; no harm in and of academia itself, since after all, this is the path I am pursuing myself.

But to transform this knowledge into the nuts and bolts of how things actually work in the real world was my task over the last semester.

That is, to make sense of the often complicated and highly complex way in which policies are adopted, implemented and evaluated within any political system of government.

In fact, the understanding of "how things work in public policy" is not common knowledge.

It does require firsthand experience of having worked in some capacity with or within government.

Probably worse is that there is poor comprehension of what "public policy" even means.

In my lecture preparation, I found there was very little Malaysian material on public policy to refer to.

Because so much of what is available out there is based on a largely Western context, it was important for me to ground examples and case studies within the Malaysian context instead.

For the purposes of my lessons, I referred to public policy as a course of government or public action or inaction in response to public problems.

In short, the issue needs to be public in nature, and one in which members of a community would have an interest, for it to qualify. Second, it should be a problem for which something can be done, and where a solution is possible.

Public policy is wide and all-encompassing, inclusive of formally approved policy goals and means, regulations and practices of agencies, and can take the form of laws, regulations, circulars and directives, long-term plans and very simply, policies.

In Malaysia, public policy would be derived from sources such as the Federal Constitution 1957, laws like the Petroleum Development Act 1974 and the Medical Act 1971, the Companies Regulations 2017, Ministry of Finance circulars on public procurement, long-term plans like Transformasi Negara 2050 (TN50) and even longer term policies like the National Vision Policy.

There are multiple actors in the public policy process.

Imagine any policy that is being proposed within Parliament – particularly a controversial one – and one could picture these interest groups playing their respective roles.

These stakeholders would be a mix of policymakers, politicians (since the process of policymaking is in fact very political), policy analysts, activists, academia, media, global interests as well as the general public.

But how is government policy approved?

A textbook model of understanding the public policy process is clean and methodical: First, you set the agenda by deciding which problems will be addressed by public policy; second, you formulate the policy by consulting with stakeholders, based on research and evidence; third, the policy is adopted via means of legal statute at the federal or state level; fourth, the policy is implemented through the government bureaucracy; fifth, the policy is assessed and evaluated as to its merits; and finally, a new policy issue emerges, which starts the process all over again from the beginning.

Of course, the reality of what takes place is far from constructed. There are multiple and sometimes, competing forces at play.

Policymakers are not always equipped with the full amount of information required to make informed decisions.

Economic, political and social conditions are dynamic and fluctuate violently, making it difficult especially for long-term policies – do you adapt according to changing times, or ensure stability for the country by maintaining a certain policy for good?

Governments may also tend to intervene when they see the need, depending on the ideological nature of whichever political party is in power.

In Malaysia, we have only ever known one coalition at the federal level, so interventions are more likely to be political than they are ideological.

There are instances where government might want to intervene for moral or ethical reasons, for example to break up monopolies or oligopolies that have formed.

Again, this is dependent on the country's economic system and to what extent governments believe in the market system.

It has been interesting examining Malaysia's public policy processes as an outsider over the last weeks, also coinciding with the reflective period of the end of the year.

The question weighing on my mind – and probably that of my students' too – is whether any actors outside of the upper echelons of government (read: Prime Minister's Office) have truly been successful in influencing public policy at all.

Have the efforts of the so-called independent intelligentsias been effective in changing policy? Swaying public opinion? The subject I taught was, after all, about persuasion as well. This I explore in future columns.

The SunDaily, Posted on 21 December 2017 - 08:46am
Policy and persuasion
By Tricia Yeoh
Tricia Yeoh wishes all readers a Happy New Year ahead.

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Education, technology, love

THERE’S this video you must watch. It shows Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail, vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), at a forum responding to a question on achieving success in a career while having children.

Prof Asma begins by sharing this: “I am an outlier, in the sense that I do not have my own children, but I have 31,000 children in USM.”

With regard to success, she continues, “I believe that behind every successful woman, there is a very understanding and supportive husband.

She ends by saying, “Very few of us get to marry malaikat (angel) on Earth.”

Say it with me, “Awww.” I’m sure you’d concur with me when I say it’s one of the most sincere expressions of love you’d ever heard.

Prof Asma made these remarks at the recent Malaysia Higher Educa-tion Forum 2017.

Her session was moderated by comedian Harith Iskander and he too paid tribute to his wife, Dr Jezamine Lim, for being the first woman to receive a PhD in tissue engineering from Universiti Kebang-saan Malaysia recently.

These expressions of appreciation and love for another remind us that at the core of it all, we are human beings. We are emotional. We have feelings. We want to love and be loved.

It’s a simple thing, this. But many people are still mean, rude and unkind to others. In Malaysia, the popular colloquial retort to such uncouth behaviour would be “Your mother never teach you, ah?”

This leads us to an important question: What role does love play in education?

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and China’s richest man, famously said, “If you want to be successful, you should have a high emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ), but if you want to be respected, if you want to survive the next 30 years, you should teach your kids the ‘Q’ of love, of care for others.”

With regard to technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, he has also asked, “And what is LQ? The quotient of love, which machines never have.”

How I see it, love has a wide meaning. It encompasses care, empathy, respect, appreciation, and gratitude (syukur).

In the context of education, the role of educational institutions has traditionally and largely been to ensure their graduates get jobs. This isn’t a “fault”.

The motivation for knowledge in and of itself isn’t a good enough reason to enter university or college – it’s just not worth the debt. Arguably, for most universities, graduate employability is their strongest selling point.

Thus, the motivation within higher education today, especially in this era of Industry 4.0, is to offer the most industry-relevant programmes, filled with technical curriculum.

Oftentimes, this happens at the expense of more humanistic subjects or even soft skills.

As new technologies emerge and as the job market evolves with new demands and new opportunities, it’s easy to get carried away.

Consequentially, despite the myriad of benefits from technology, its rapid growth and presence in our lives has led to greater isolation, less empathy and also a higher prevalence of depression.

Similarly within higher education, even if institutions are able to produce the best graduates who can meet workforce demands of Industry 4.0 on a technical level, where will that actually lead us in terms of societal progress?

My fear is that we produce graduates who thrive in the new economy and become billionaires by coming up with innovative products, but just don’t give a hoot about society around them.

And this isn’t an uncommon phenomenon. The subprime mortgage crisis, which led to the 2008 global financial crises, was essentially caused by smart people who lacked ethics and empathy.

Check out an article titled “Why Smart People Do Unethical Things: What’s Behind Another Year of Corporate Scandals” published in 2004 by the Wharton Business School.

So what can be done about it?

On the plus side, higher education institutions in Malaysia have recognised this growing concern.

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, for instance, offers a Youth Transformation Programme that aims to inculcate emotional intelligence.

The Higher Education Ministry through an initiative known as the Integrated Cumulative Grade Point Average (iCGA) requires institutions to embed ethics and values into their curricula.

Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia emphasises the integration of naqli (revealed or religious knowledge) and aqli (worldly knowledge) as their guiding principle.

And the Higher Education Leader-ship Academy is exploring issues relevant to aligning the role of universities in educating the heart and soul.

In our fervour to harness the potential of technology and Industry 4.0 within our education system, let us remember to take a step back and refocus.

Ultimately, possessing the love quotient means that we are able to put others before ourselves, to use our knowledge for the betterment of society, to be patient and supportive of those who may need more time and help, and to not feel superior but rather duty-bound for the blessings we have received.

The Star, Published: Thursday, 21 Dec 2017
Education, technology, love

As education strives to keep up with new technologies and the 4th Industrial Revolution, we must not overlook the values that make us human.
By Danial Rahman

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