Archive for December, 2019

What really went wrong with Malaysia in 2019?

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

IN two of my recent columns, I wrote on Malaysia’s lost strength and Malaysia’s lost unity.

My plan for 2020 is to not just be constructive, but to construct.

Before going hard in that direction, let me end the year with a final recap of what problems in Malaysia my projects for 2020 will seek specifically to address.

There are two main areas generally: the incentive structure of our political system, and what can (for shorthand purposes anyway) broadly be termed the national unity question.

I think most of our problems started in 2018.

When Pakatan Harapan won the 14th General Election (GE14), it did so off the back of three-cornered fights that Umno thought would benefit Barisan Nasional, but benefited Pakatan instead.

In essence, Pakatan won off the back of a third or less of the Malay vote. This was the first important factor – one that never left the minds of key Pakatan politicians.

Secondly, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was chosen as Prime Minister. Many were not sure what kind of premier he would be this time around. As 2020 (the year he himself famously touted) rolls around, the answer to this question is becoming apparent.

As a detailed exposition would take too long, we skip to the conclusion: most signs point to the fact that Dr Mahathir wants to go back to the “good old days”.

In this case, this simply means a return to the Barisan formula: have an unchallenged, Malay-only party at the apex of Malaysians politics, with the other races represented by one party each, in a Barisan-style coalition.

It is entirely logical for Dr Mahathir to think this way. In his view and experience, this system led the country strongly and stably for decades.

Thus, one interpretation of his first year and a half in office is that he has been working relentlessly behind the scenes to twist, squeeze, and force Malaysia into a dress that no longer fits.

The acrobatics Dr Mahathir has done to try and get his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to be the new Umno has been a disservice to Malaysia, and the effort in turn has put coalition partner the DAP in an untenable position.

As I have repeated ad nauseam: swapped actors, but same script. Different players, same game.

Simultaneously, Dr Mahathir seems perfectly content to actively brew or passively abet discord in PKR – most likely because PKR’s multiracial formula lies in such opposition to Dr Mahathir’s own belief regarding what does and doesn’t work in Malaysia.

Dr Mahathir, perhaps more than anyone else, is the person responsible for concentrating so much power in the PM’s office. In doing so, he has created a winner-takes-all game, in which no other question in politics matters anywhere near as much as the question of who becomes prime minister.

It feels like at least 90% of all the energy and effort of our politicians (especially from Bersatu and PKR) has been built directly or indirectly around making sure the candidate they support becomes PM – generally at the expense of doing what is really necessary for making Malaysia better.

Dr Mahathir meanwhile knows that he does not have the strength to unilaterally impose his “back to the good old days” vision, and so he makes concessions here and there, while still trying hard to do things the way he wants to.

The end result? A Frankenstein-ish hodgepodge of incoherent policy – always neither here nor there.

The first major gaffe perhaps was Icerd (the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination). Went in guns blazing, got hit with a fierce backlash, made a U-turn.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was a startlingly similar experience. Went in guns blazing, got hit with a fierce backlash, made a U-turn.

The Jawi/ khat controversy was similar. Suddenly announced a big policy, got hit with a fierce backlash, and now going around in circles – all while racial tensions run higher and higher.

The lack of preparation with regards to proper planning and stakeholder engagement is glaring.

It feels like many policies are introduced to please one faction or another, usually on the progressive versus conservative ethnoreligious spectrum.

When the conflict bursts onto the public sphere, the crisis begins to become a zero-sum game.

In the Jawi controversy for instance, perhaps the Education Minister fears compromise because it weakens his position in Bersatu, an all-Malay party.

The progressives in Dong Zong meanwhile, may prefer dialogue over conflict, but may have trouble defending such approaches in the light of violent threats from right-wing Malay groups.

So on and on we go, trapped in decades-old cycles of mistrust and ethnoreligious conflict, because for all its talk of new Malaysia, Dr Mahathir’s government is firmly stuck in old Malaysia’s deep-rooted culture of letting partisan and racial concerns be the prime driver and determinant of government policy.

That dress no longer fits. The more we try to squeeze into it, the more the government will continue to appear directionless, inept, and utterly confused as to its own identity.

On the part of ordinary Malaysians, I think our biggest mistake is in believing that all we need to do to get better government is to change politicians.

I saw one Christmas sweater that said, “Santa, all I want for Christmas is a new Prime Minister”. I saw on Twitter a hashtag inviting us to identify which five ministers we needed to change.

In my humble opinion, all these miss the point. If 2019 has taught us one thing, it is that it is not the players that shape the game, but the game that shapes the players.

This leaves us with two tasks for 2020.

First: stop relying on politicians and players that have already been shaped by the game, and instead take our own initiative to reclaim Malaysia and put her back on the right track.

Second: redesign the game from scratch. It’s well past time.

If 2019 was a year of disappointment in our government, let 2020 be the year was stop looking to them to solve our problems, and start doing it ourselves.

Details to come in a week or so. Happy New Year, everyone!

NATHANIEL TAN is a communications consultant who occasionally dreams impossible dreams. Those interested in working together in making those dreams a reality in 2020 are welcome to get in touch at

By Nathaniel Tan.

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A decade of innovation

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

THE twenty-tens (the period between 2010 and the end of 2019) has been nothing but stellar, technology-wise. A lot of game-changing innovations were introduced during this period which pretty much changed the way we live, communicate, work, travel, and so on.

We’ve moved from the era of slow Internet to fast broadband, and seen how smartphones evolved into becoming the most important device to mankind. Disruptive e-commerce technologies like e-hailing, online shopping, online bookings and hotel booking engines have changed the industry forever, while the power of social media has brought about new ways in communicating and lifestyles.

Here are the top 10 innovations and happenings of this decade.


While players like Apple and Samsung dominated the smartphone market in the early to third quarter, the Chinese mega company Huawei started to show its prowess with devices like P and Mate series phones.

By the third quarter of this year, Huawei had overtaken Apple to take the second spot with 18.6 per cent of the worldwide market share, with Samsung still holding the crown at 21.8 per cent share.

The China powerhouses (companies such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo), employing good go-to-market strategies with more affordable premium phones and strategic partnerships with premium makers like Leica (in Huawei’s case), is expected to further penetrate the global smartphone market. The birth and surge of new and aggressive mobile players also saw early giants like Blackberry, SonyEricsson, Motorola and Nokia back out of the industry. Motorola, however, continued to have a second life after it was taken over by Lenovo in October, 2014, and just recently, the company announced the Motorola Razr foldable screen smartphone, which resembles the iconic flip screen Razr phone from 15 years ago.

Nokia, on the other hand, after a failed Nokia Lumia initiative with Microsoft, got another life extension under HMD Global, and now three years after finally adopting Android OS, the Finnish brand is slowly building its global market share starting small, with just 1.1 to 1.2 per cent market share based on Counterpoint Research study.


This is the main platform for almost all the innovations that we use today, such as messaging apps, e-commerce apps, social media, business applications and productivity tools. From being a device that was used only for making calls, sending SMSes and basic web surfing, smartphones have evolved to embrace more than just connectivity.

The advancement in phone processors like the Apple Bionic, Qualcomm Snapdragon, HiSilicon Kirin and Samsung Exynos has enabled smartphones to do almost anything, including replacing laptop computers to a certain extent.

Besides that, the device has become the preferred daily photography tool for most users because of the innovations in phone cameras, and the wealth of mobile apps extend the capability of smartphones today.

With prices going down and as mobile broadband becomes more affordable, the usage of smartphones is predicted to increase by ten-fold by 2020. According to Ericsson Mobility Report, advanced mobile technology will be globally ubiquitous by 2020 with 70 per cent of people using smartphones and 90 per cent covered by mobile broadband networks.

It also states that smartphone subscriptions will more than double by 2020, reaching 6.1 billion, and almost 80 per cent of these new subscriptions will come from the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.


Social media, during this decade, has grown to unprecedented heights. Almost, if not all, Internet users today have some sort of social media account like Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. What makes social media so popular, on top of being free, is that it has become an extension of a person’s life and also a source of information and networking platform.

With an estimated 3.48 billion users up to this year, the number of social media users is expected to grow 10 per cent year on year. Besides being used as a platform to share one’s daily activities, thoughts, and photos, social media has also become a formidable marketing tool to many businesses — big and small.

Besides that, its popularity has also given birth to a new breed of “marketers” better known as influencers. With thousands, and even millions of followers, they are often used by companies to “promote” certain products and services. Some are making millions and earning a good living.

Meeting new people is also no longer awkward, as social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and video streaming app TikTok are making this easier.


This decade has also been a “disruptive” one in terms of technological innovations.

The start-up phenomenon has given birth to new companies with ground-breaking products that have completely changed the industry. For example, e-hailing and food ordering apps like Uber and Grab changed the way people commute, while e-commerce sites like Shopee and Lazada revolutionised the way we shop, and hotel booking and vacation platforms like, Agoda, Airbnb, Traveloka and Expedia became companies with the biggest collection of rooms without “owning” a single property.

These companies thrive because of the convenience they offer to users, as well as the trust people have in online transactions. The confidence people have in transacting online has Aldo driven the popularity of online shopping sites like Shopee, Lazada, ShopBack and the likes, which, to a certain point, have affected many of the brick-and-mortar businesses.

The convenience consumers get as well as the access to a plethora of products at cheaper prices, with monthly promotions and discounts; have further strengthened these online shopping sites business. According to ShopBack Malaysia, the traffic and sales of the 12.12 shopping campaign have increased by approximately 150 to 300 per cent compared to last year’s 12.12.


This technology has long been visualised and used in movies. For example, in 2001 a science fiction film Artificial Intelligence was released and it gave some ideas on what AI will be about. Unlike in the movie, AI world domination did not happen but it showed its potential when Google DeepMind AlphaGo AI beat world Go (an abstract strategy board game) champion Lee Sedol in 2015.

Today, we are blessed with voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana as well as Alibaba’s TMall Genie who all make using the smart devices and tech services easier.


When wireless broadband Internet becomes standard connectivity for smartphones and its coverage becomes wider and affordable, streaming services flourish.

The popularity of cable TV services are diminishing while the businesses selling entertainment content via DVDs and CDs have almost disappeared.

By the third quarter of this decade, we saw streaming services like Netflix, Viu, Apple TV, Spotify, and others gain traction among users with a steady increase in subscription numbers. In terms of entertainment, consumers have generally moved from watching content on TVs to watching on personal mobile devices. The fact that these streaming services’ content are all on-demand, come in very high quality (even in 4K) and are affordable has made them the preferred way of consuming entertainment, especially among the younger generations.

The advancements in display technology in smartphones and tablets, giving users ultra HD display, have also fuelled the popularity and uptake of steaming service


The twenty-tens is also an era of wireless technology. We’ve seen many products that have cut the cords they once had — devices like headphones, earphones, phone chargers, and even vacuum cleaners. Thanks to the improvement in rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, more devices are able to operate for hours without the need for a direct electricity supply.

Some examples of these wireless technologies include the Apple AirPods, Dyson Vacuum Cleaners, and many more.


No doubt wearables are among the important innovations of this decade. Wearable technology has a variety of applications which grow as the field itself expands. They appear prominently in consumer electronics with the popularisation of the smartwatches, activity trackers, smart glasses, AR/VR devices, wireless earphones, clothes and shoes.

Apart from commercial uses, wearable technology is being incorporated into navigation systems, advanced textiles and healthcare.


Going green has been one of the main goals of manufacturers and this has resulted in millions of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, which in a way helps in reducing carbon dioxide output.

While almost all manufacturers have their version of green vehicles like the Toyota Prius, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf, and Renault Zoe, Tesla is one of the leading ones with its all-electric car line-ups. Its founder Elon Musk even sent one of the new Tesla Roadsters to space under the SpaceX programme.

The Roadster model has a range of 1,000km on its 200 kWh battery packs. The future is definitely big for this type of vehicles.

By Izwan Ismail & Nur Zarina Othman.

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NST Leader: Be productive

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
For Malaysians, work has become a catchword, almost a shibboleth — a principle or custom that has shaped our lives. NSTP/MUSTAFFA KAMAL.

WORK, work, work. This appears to be the mantra for many people around the globe. For Malaysians, work has become a catchword, almost a shibboleth — a principle or custom that has shaped our lives.

We have to work to survive; if we don’t, we have no money and we have nothing to eat. At least that’s what work means to most of us.

It is no wonder that fast-paced Kuala Lumpur has been lumped together with Singapore and Tokyo where workers in these three cities spend longer hours in the office and take fewer holidays. A report in This Week In Asia says workers in KL, Singapore and Tokyo “have some of the worst work-life balance in the world”.

It says the “workaholic culture” is in “stark contrast” to cities in northern Europe, where “vacations are long and the average working week is shorter”.

The report quotes a study of 40 cities by an office access control systems provider. Tokyo took top spot, followed by Singapore, United States’ capital Washington, DC and Kuala Lumpur, which, it says, has the longest average working week at 46 hours. Imagine that! Do we ever have some downtime?

This Leader, in April, had called on Malaysians to “set the equation right” — strive to be productive, as well as make living a priority. “A higher output and outcome, but without compromising the ideals. Revisit the work smart concept to achieve a work-life balance.” Has anything changed since?

Sadly, no. If anything, we seem to be working harder. Work-life balance seems an illusion in today’s dog-eat-dog world. We are one day away from the third decade of the 21st century; something must change, something’s got to give. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama says “we need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list”. Yes, this we must.

Working long hours puts us at risk of health issues such as heart disease and diabetes. Let’s pause and ponder. We need a balance. Consider the benefits — improved productivity, reduction in employee turnover, lower medical costs and a better reputation for the company.

Companies should consider allowing employees to take short breaks in between. A 2011 study by the University of Illinois highlighted the importance of taking breaks. It said “prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance”, and that it was difficult for our brains to focus on one thing for long periods. Once we’ve reached our optimum, a short interruption or “break is what we need to stay on track”.

The idea of work-life balance actually goes back to the 4th century B.C, during the days of Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that “maintaining balance and not going into the extreme” was the key to happiness. He also believed that in life, change was “necessary and natural”.

There you have it. Today’s advanced technology has made our tasks easier; we do not need an Einstein to help us formulate a work-life balance. We can do this, let’s make this our resolution for 2020.

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Renew resolve, hope and confidence to build a New Malaysia in 2020

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
(Filepic) DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang said it was a sign of failure of the “spring of hope” in Malaysia. -NSTP/MUHD ZAABA ZAKERIA.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians were urged to persevere in working towards the “spring of hope”, renewing their resolve, hope and confidence to build a New Malaysia in 2020 despite setbacks and vicissitudes.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang said it was a sign of failure of the “spring of hope” in Malaysia, in that after 19 months of the Pakatan Harapan government – the first time that Malaysia gave the world hope that a peaceful and democratic transition of power can bring about reform and change at a time when democracy was in retreat in the world for over a decade – seemed to have dissolved in such an ignominious fashion in very discordant and divisive dispute over the Jawi issue.

The Seri Iskandar MP said since the historic outcome of May 9 in 2018, lies, fake news and hate speech by irresponsible and extremist elements resorting to politics of race, religion as well as aided by the Internet and the social media platforms had conspired to create a false situation where every ethnic group and religion felt that it was facing an existential threat.

“As a result, the Vision 2020 of a fully developed Malaysia which is a united nation, with a confident Malaysian society, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable, progressive and prosperous, and in full possession of an economy that is competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient” is not within reach on the horizon.

“We seem to have lost confidence in ourselves as a plural society, where our diversity should be our asset, fearful and suspicious of each other and unable to leverage on the best values and qualities of the Islamic, Chinese, Indian and Western civilisations which meet in confluence in Malaysia to build a great Malaysian nation.

“The Malays feel threatened, the Chinese feel threatened, the Indians feel threatened, Islam is under threat and the non-Islamic religions are under threat,” he said in a statement in conjunction with 2020 New Year.

Lim said every community was made to believe that its ethnicity, culture and religion was facing an existential threat.

“But who is creating all these threats to all ethnic and religious groups in the country? We must not mortgage our future and that of our children and children’s children to the extremists from whatever quarter.

“We must promote the moderate Malaysian centre to build a confident Malaysian society, infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable, progressive and prosperous, and in full possession of an economy that is competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.”

He also called upon Malaysians to ensure success of Pakatan Harapan government in fulfilling the Buku Harapan promises through resetting nation-building policies for Malaysia by returning to the founding principles of the Malaysian Constitution.

This was done by ensuring unity, justice, freedom, excellence and integrity in Malaysia, where there is separation of powers, the rule of law, public integrity and respect for human rights, he said.

Lim also called upon Malaysians to allow PH to fulfil the five pillar-promises towards the building of a New Malaysia:

- Reduce people’s burden;

- Institutional and political reforms;

- Spur sustainable and equitable economic growth;

- Return Sabah and Sarawak to the status accorded in Malaysia Agreement 1963; and

- Create a Malaysia that is inclusive, moderate and respected globally.

“Malaysia will not achieve Vision 2020 in 2020. But it will be a make-or-break year for the Pakatan Harapan Government in Putrajaya to reset nation-building policies for Malaysia,” he said.

By New Straits Times.

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Navy’s first new-class large patrol vessel to be based in KK handed over in China

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

Malaysia’s first littoral mission ship handover ceremony in China (Photo: Royal Malaysian Navy).

KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian navy’s first new-class large patrol vessel that will be stationed at its Sepanggar base near here was officially handed over during a ceremony in China on Tuesday.

The littoral mission ship (LMS) named Keris, whose building started on July 31, 2018 in Wuhan, China, was handed over at Wucang Port, Qidong.

A four-man Malaysian delegation headed by the Ministry of Defence’s (Mindef) Acquisition Division Secretary, Dato’ Ahmad Husaini Abdul Rahman, carried out the ship’s documentation-cum-physical inspection and also took part in a demonstration voyage, a Mindef statement said.

The handover was witnessed by Vice Adm Dato’ Pahlawan Syed Zahrul Putra Syed Abdullah, chief of the navy’s Eastern Fleet Command Headquarters based at Sepanggar, and Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd CEO Ee Teck Chee.

Keris has been scheduled to be commissioned in Wuhan on Jan 6, 2020 with navy chief Adm Tan Sri Mohd Reza Mohd Sany expected to grace the ceremony.

The second LMS, Sundang, has been scheduled to be handed over in April 2020 while the third and fourth vessels in mid-2021.

The LMS is one of five vessel classes in the navy’s transformation programme named “15 to 5”, where its current 15 ship classes will be reduced to five to improve efficiency.

By: Zam Yusa.

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More borrowers repay PTPTN loans

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

PETALING JAYA: The National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) recorded an increase in loan repayment this year.

Repayment by borrowers jumped to 82.5% as at Dec 30, up from 81.3% last year.

PTPTN chairman Wan Saiful Wan Jan said it had set a target of collecting a repayment of RM2bil for 2019 but as at Nov 30, RM2.07bil had been successfully collected.

He revealed that of the 172,863 students who enrolled in higher education institutions through PTPTN loans as at Nov 30,46% of them were from the B40 income group.

“As for the implementation of the government’s manifesto, PTPTN has executed 75% or three out of four related items, ” he said in a statement yesterday.

He added that those included giving a discount or eliminating the debt wholly for excellent students and students from low-income families; giving tax incentives to employers who help repay their employees’ debts without deducting their salaries; and eliminating the blacklist policy on borrowers.

“The promised delay in repayment for PTPTN borrowers who earn less than RM4,000 a month is still not implemented, ” he said, “as it involves matters outside PTPTN’s jurisdiction.”

“In addition, it has huge implications on the country’s finances.

“PTPTN has taken appropriate action which includes holding negotiations with stakeholders, ” he said.

Separately, Wan Saiful said the National Education Savings Scheme (SSPN) gained RM151.5mil in the third quarter of this year in cumulative investment returns.

“The performance showed a 25.9% increase from the RM120.33mil for the same period in 2018.

“PTPTN expects the fourth quarter of cumulative investment profits to continue to perform excellently.

“The deposited amount for SSPN accounts as at Nov 30 is RM798mil compared to RM671.97mil in the same period last year.

“This figure represents an increase of 18.76%, bringing SSPN’s overall deposit amount to RM5.3bil, ” he said.

A total of 4.32 million SSPN accounts had been opened since its launch in 2004, Wan Saiful said.

Wan Saiful also noted the recognition accorded to the corporation throughout the year, commending his officers for carrying out their duties well.

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The way forward for Muslim countries

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
CERN has been a world leader in particle physics for half a century, and is host to the world’s biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

IN reasserting the importance of science and education in Muslim-majority countries, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as chairman of the recently concluded KL Summit placed them as the first two commitments of seven priority goals, namely: COMMITMENT to implement pragmatic solutions, improving the current situation of the ummah, and expanding the outreach of economic development, science, technology and innovation for the benefit of future generations; and, REAFFIRMING the commitment towards building an ummah that lives a fulfilled life with dignity and prosperity, and possessing the highest level of education and skills, advocating peace and justice, and contributing to the international community.

There were many issues raised by the delegates during the summit. However, one pertinent issue that would assure our faith is the time when Muslims were recognised for their advanced civilisation. They were wellversed in all fields of knowledge, including the sciences and engineering.

London-based Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation chairman Professor Salim al-Hassani said among the modern products introduced by Muslims since the Islamic Renaissance were the use of catgut sutures (absorbable suture)to stitch wounds by the celebrated doctor Al-Zahrawi, the discovery of coffee in Yemen in the ninth century, the introduction of algebra in the ninth century by Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi and the study of modern optics pioneered by Muslim physicist Ibn al-Haitham.

Prophet Muhammad popularised the use of the first toothbrush around the year 600. Using a twig from the miswak tree, he cleaned his teeth and freshened his breath. Substances similar to miswak are used in modern toothpaste.

But that was a long time ago. Today, as asserted by Dr Mahathir, “many Muslim countries are in a state of crisis, helpless and unworthy of this great religion”.

For example, 21 of the 48 least developed countries in the world are Muslim-majority countries.

In conjunction with the KL Summit,the Indonesian Institute of Science, the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology, the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences of Pakistan and the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey agreed to establish a virtual Centre of Excellence (COE).

COE is aimed at bringing together organisations from Muslim-majority countries and experts from renowned universities and research laboratories to share knowledge and facilities.

However, a more inclusive process needs to be formulated to encourage their participation. We should also think big and think out of the box. Two things need to happen: one, political will (which was amply demonstrated by the heads of government during the summit), and two, big-time funding.

We should emulate the success of industrialised countries in forging international collaboration on a grand scale.

One example is CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, that has 20 European member states. It has been a world leader in particle physics for half a century, and is host to the world’s biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

The Muslim world must realise by now that the way forward is to jointly mobilise resources to provide the necessary infrastructure for Muslims to pursue education and carry out world-class research in their home countries.

It is no wonder that the three Muslim Nobel Prize winners in the sciences, Abdus Salam of Pakistan, Ahmed Zewail of Egypt and Aziz Sancar of Turkey, did their seminal works in Western countries.

By Zakri Abdul Hamid.

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What can Muslim countries be proud of?

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Security forces carrying out a military operation to search for Islamic State militants in Anbar province, Iraq, on Sunday. Internal strife is common in many Muslim countries. REUTERS PIC

I’M writing about the world’s affairs in the past 100 years.
European countries had engaged in bloody civil wars prior to the first and the second world wars.

Most practised a liberal-capitalist economic system and freedom for humanity.

After World War 2, these European countries consolidated their positions and eventually formed the foundations of today’s European Union (EU).

The very aim of the EU was to assist in redeveloping weak European countries by establishing and advocating “shared prosperity”.

Eventually, through sheer determination, the European countries became economically and socially successful. Major powers like the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and France played the biggest roles.

The EU, centred in Brussels, managed to spread its influence by becoming the economic backbone of the continent, and broadening its role in political and economic systems in other parts of the world

The EU, alongside the United States of America, became a major power globally

The influence of the EU and US is widespread, and their military capabilities are exceptional, especially with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Military treaties between the US and European countries, including Turkey, have turned the EU into a powerful bloc

On the other side of the world, there is another group of countries that adopt the socialist or communist ideology.

We cannot accept their ideology and belief system. But it is clear that these countries have historically dominated their people through the “doctrine” of their struggles.

It was the main reason why Russia was able to influence the Soviet Union and managed to dominate a large number of countries befo

The dissolution of the Soviet Union gave birth to eight independent countries, but Russia remained very strong by dominating the people’s way of thinking.

It was also militarily and economically strong

Then there is China. It was at one time in chaos, mainly due to the wars between warlords. The turmoil enabled the Japanese to control a large part of the country.

Prior to that, the British also managed to gain control in China. We can still see the British legacy in Shanghai today.

However, Mao Zedong, who led the ‘Long March’, succeeded in uniting China.

Adopting a strong communist ideology, Mao and his associates managed to unite the Chinese people under one republic, with the exception of Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek escaped communism in China and founded the more liberal and democratic Taiwan

Both nations competed with each other for power and progress and finally, as we are witnessing in this century, China has emerged as an economic and military superpower.

Mao managed to unite the Chinese despite the use of brute force.

Post-Mao, Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms

Under the leadership of the Communist Party, China modernised into an economic and military superpower and is now the strongest rival to the US.

Taiwan, on the other hand, continues to develop under western influences and has made tremendous progress.

China’s progress and power have led other countries like Japan and South Korea to approach it despite warnings by the US.

Japan and South Korea are slowly changing their direction by building a close relationship with China while remaining allies with the US and European countries.

The same can be said about North Korea. Japan and South Korea are now approaching the country through dialogues.


The question is, where is Islam and the Muslims now, after
the British, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Italian and other European colonialists left Asia and Africa?

The Islamic countries gained independence after the colonialists were forced to leave.

Lately, we have witnessed how the Islamic countries became birthplaces of rich leaders.

The purchase of luxury items, such as paintings worth millions of dollars by these leaders, were revealed by the media.

They are also proud owners of luxury yachts, hotels and apartments in Switzerland, London and Paris, among many other places. They are also well known for visiting casinos.

Islamic leaders, be they presidents or kings, are known for their wealth and luxurious life.

To keep their country secure and to protect themselves from being overthrown by their own people, they would sometimes seek help from the major powers like the US, Britain or France

The fact is, Muslim-led countries are still the proxies of superpowers.

Not being fully independent, especially in the way of thinking, has made Muslims weak.

Internal strife is common. We can see how Muslim wealth and lives are so cheaply ‘lost’ in the Islamic world.

Look at what has happened in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and many others. In Afghanistan, the war has been raging for more than 40 years and is sadly being fought between Muslims

While the socialist-communist countries — China and Russia — can be proud of their strength, and so, too, the liberal-capitalist countries such as the US, France, Germany and the UK, what about Muslims

We Muslims always claim that we are the best, that Islam is superior to the others. This is continuously said in Islamic lectures and sermons. But Muslims are still at the bottom in terms of the economy, social justice and military capabilities

The fights continue and Muslims will always be chasing the pack.


Along came one man, the prime minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He has seen the ‘epidemic’, especially in the Islamic world, from post-World War I to World War 2, and up till now.

He often raises the matter of Muslims’ weaknesses in both open and closed-door meetings.

Muslims need to unite because they used to lead the world economically and militarily, as well as in education.

As the most senior leader in the Islamic world, Dr Mahathir is the most qualified person to talk about the unity of the ummah.

Alongside leaders from Turkey, Iran and Qatar, he initiated discussions on the unification of Muslims with the intention of liberating them.

At the very least, with ideas that focus on the future, the strengths of the Islamic world could be improved and mobilised, earning respect from others

This very idea was translated into the Kuala Lumpur Summit (KL Summit).

The success of the KL Summit is probably not immediately evident, but the idea of unification of the ummah must be continuously pursued so that Muslims can freely discuss ideas, without the restrictions of sect, race and tribe that have often shackled the Islamic world.

The KL Summit was a platform to seriously discuss how the strengths of the Islamic world should be portrayed, and how wealth should be shared among Muslims, as what was done by the superpowers in the Eastern and Western blocs.

In the teachings of Islam, helping each other is a must, but this has never been done by Muslims.

Ironically, it is being practised by others, who interpret the teachings of the Quran themselves.

Dr Mahathir has started something new to bring Islam and the Islamic civilisation back to the world on loan by Allah S.W.T. so that we are able to return to Allah S.W.T. by fulfilling the teachings of Islam.

In the Islamic world today, there are at least two countries that have great military capacity, namely Turkey and Iran.

We are expecting the two countries, together with Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and Qatar, to unite the ummah and bring about the enlightenment of the ummah of today and the future.

By Mohamad Sabu.

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2020: Don’t let Trump — or China — make all the running

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
United States President Donald Trump answering questions from reporters at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida recently. During the course of 2020, there are dangers of Trumpian grandstanding, especially in foreign affairs. AFP PIC

ALAS, there is going to be a lot of Trump next year. He has been impeached by the House of Representatives, only the third US president to suffer the ignominy.

But the Senate is not likely to convict President Trump and evict him from office, given his Republican Party majority in that chamber.

From the time the Senate trial starts in January or whenever, long or short, right through to
the US presidential election in November it will be one long narrative of an alleged witch-hunt by the Democrats against Trump since his triumph over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

On being impeached, his six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was vitriolic and expansive on his achievements as president.

The vitriol and the proclaimed glory he has brought to America will be a long thread to the US presidential election on Nov 3, 2020.

If he is re-elected, we might see Trump in Malaysia for the Apec summit soon after. In that week, whether in Kuala Lumpur or Washington, we will get President Trump 2.0, which would make 1.0 look like a picnic. So beware.

It is going to be an extremely bitter presidential campaign. Support for Trump has remained steady but there are signs of its cracking up following the impeachment. One ominous sign for him is Christianity Today, an influential magazine founded by the late Reverend Billy Graham, coming out against the president for “profoundly immoral” conduct in offic

But Trump is likely to pull out all the stops to get his supporters into an unthinking frenzy. Whoever the Democrats might put up against him, one is reminded of the rueful comment by 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson on being told he had the support of every thinking American: “Yes, but I need a majority.”

There is every likelihood of the Democrats putting up someone who appeals to the thinking American. So we shall see where America is at on Nov 3, 2020.

Whatever, win or lose, during the course of 2020, there are dangers of Trumpian grandstanding, especially in foreign affairs.

In June this year Trump had ordered airstrikes on Iranian radar and missile sites following Iran’s downing of a US drone, but reversed his decision just 10 minutes before the strikes, with American planes already up in the air.

During the 2017 missile crisis with North Korea he had ordered that Seoul be evacuated, a move that would have been read in Pyongyang as preparation for an attack on the north. Luckily, James Mattis, the then secretary of defence, quietly ignored the order. There are hardly any such characters now in the US administration.

With Trump back to calling Kim Jong-Un “Rocket Man” and Kim calling Trump a dotard, any replay of tensions in Northeast Asia during the US presidential campaign would not be funny.

There is now a ceasefire in the US-China trade war, to be signed in the new year. The first-phase agreement will halve the tariffs imposed on US$120 billion of imports from China from 15 to 7.5 per cent, with no more new US tariffs to be imposed, in return for an increase in a variety of American imports into China, mainly agricultural products, by US$200 billion over two years. There are also some promises by China on intellectual property protection.

Any number of things can still go wrong. The US Trade Representative is the arbiter of the agreement. Disputes can arise. US-China relations have been seriously damaged. Third countries, such as Australia, Brazil and Canada may object to violation in the agreement of WTO non-discrimination provisions particularly in agriculture.

Even if the ceasefire holds, will Trump next train his protectionist guns on the EU, while lapping it up with Britain after Brexit? The US has a US$180 billion deficit with the EU. The American president has been straining at the leash to escalate trade confrontation with the Europeans.

Already punitive tariffs have been imposed on US$7.5 billion of EU goods since last October. The perennial conflict over subsidies between Boeing and Airbus may worsen, especially as Boeing is in turmoil following the 737 MAX debacle and the recent sacking of its CEO.

Trump is also going after imports of Italian cheese, French wines and, before Boris Johnson’s election triumph earlier this month, British whisky. He seems set on imposing levies on countries that were promising digital sales taxes on American companies, starting with France.

Just recently, Indonesia also announced the introduction of such sales taxes. Malaysia also has such intention.

Vietnam is being watched for its sharply rising trade surplus with the US. Indeed this month, perhaps as a foretaste, US duties of up to 456 per cent were imposed on imports from Vietnam of corrosion resistance steel (CORE) — although in this instance there were valid grounds based on US anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties.

Nevertheless, the clear signals are, in an American presidential election year, with Trump under the cosh, we can expect in 2020 an international security situation fraught with risk, and no world economic peace.

All other states should STAND UP and SPEAK OUT for a rules-based international order. That, however, would not be enough. They should WORK AT and ACT to form associations and relationships which affirm the rules-based order they proclaim.

I our region, Vietnam takes over the chair in 2020, and has chosen “Cohesive and Responsive” Asean as the theme. As usual with Asean, these are mere words. What about being also ACTION-ORIENTED?

Beyond the theme, Asean should roll out its 2020 priorities to be adopted by the first leaders summit in April-May.

First, work out a common stand to be taken at the G-20 summit on Nov 21-22 in Riyadh; also, support for shared prosperity at the Apec summit in Kuala Lumpur earlier that month.

External trade and geopolitical pressures are a great risk to Asean’s future progress and growth, with trade accounting for 90 per cent of its GDP. Trade is Asean’s lifeblood. Protect it.

Engage considerable economies such as the EU, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia and India. Indeed third-country substantial presence in Asean would be strategic diversification.

Second, get the RCEP signed which, if done early in the year, could come into effect on Jan 1, 2021. Even without India the 15-state RCEP would be the largest trading bloc in the world, and India’s absence would only minimally affect the growth rates of each member state, with the prospect of intra-member state trade now accounting for 32 per cent of the total being enhanced.

Thid, and most importantly because of its developed integration plans, MAKE IT HAPPEN: the Asean single market and production base, with seamless connectivity of people, capital and services. The US$3 trillion fifth largest economy in the world is an aggregate. Just imagine if it was truly ONE economy. The present average growth rate of 5.2 per cent could at least be realistically sustained. What more with new technologies which should not be hindered from bringing the benefits they offer.

Alas, intra-Asean trade has stagnated at about a quarter of its total trade, 77 per cent of its merchandise trade being with extra-regional markets. Intra-Asean FDI has also stagnated, for the last eight years, at 15-20 per cent of total flows. Now more than ever — the world in 2020 likely to be unruly — Asean has to stop mouthing platitudes and work to realise its full potential.

Fourth, Asean should strengthen its relationship with China by earning Beijing’s real as opposed to feigned respect. Fear to antagonise China or China-can-do-no-wrong is a sure way to realise the replaced domination of one great power by another.

China benefited from the rules-based world trade order since it joined the WTO in 2001, but “rules-based” also encompasses standards other than just in trade.

Thus unfair practices such as in particular project and financing arrangements under the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative, for example Malaysia’s East Coast Rail Link) are something Asean should look out for — as indeed it should work out more generically the synergy envisaged with the regional grouping’s MPAC (Master Plan on Asean Connectivity) 2025.

The objective for sustainable infrastructure development, for instance, was identified in the Asean-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 signed in Singapore in 2018.

Asean must protect its environment and not allow, for instance, the kind of transformation over the last 40 years of the Mekong to cause it future grief. With the Mekong, dams built in China and now in Laos, have posed a danger to fish stocks and limited the flow of vital sediment. Climate change is a growing threat to the river, particularly to cities and settlements in the Mekong delta.

Massive damage awaits. Irresponsible infrastructure development such as this cannot continue.

In respect of the South China Sea, Asean cannot concede that just because China makes an extensive claim of sovereignty other countries have no right to make theirs.

Just recently, on Dec 12, Malaysia filed a submission with the UN to establish the limits of its continental shelf in the South China Sea. Beijing responded by claiming Malaysia’s action “infringes on China’s sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and also violates basic principles of international law” — this after an international tribunal had found in 2016 that China’s nine-dash line claiming almost all of the South China Sea has no basis in international law.

Indeed, as against China’s contention of its ancient rights, eminent historian Wang Gungwu has written that the first maps to claim the South China Sea were Japanese and were inherited by Nationalist China.

The point is, if China begins to act as if what it says is law, then Asean and the region would be in a worse position than it was under American domination. This is something China too might want to think about.

Asean should remind China of its often expressed policy respecting the sovereign rights of other countries and the rules-based international order. Here we have China challenging the rules-based order in areas it views as impinging upon its national sovereignty — as determined in extenso by Beijing alone.

Asean should in 2020 take the reasonable stand by calling for respect for the sovereignty, equally, of each of its member states.

Give them a free rein, Trump’s America or Rising China, will put other countries between a rock and a hard place.

The writer, a former NST group editor, returns to write on local and international political affairs. He is also a member of the Economic Action Council chaired by the prime minister

By Munir Majid.

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To sack or not to sack Hisham?

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Some PKR and Umno leaders are now fantasising of the day Datuk Seri Azmin Ali (right) and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein would be sacked from their respective parties. – NSTP/File pic

It is often said that sacking a loyalist in a political party will make him a martyr.

This, according to many political observers, was the reason why PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim refrained from firing his deputy Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, even after all the public bickering between them.

When Anwar was sacked from Umno in 1998, it made him a hero to many. Thus the “Reformasi” movement was born.

Logically speaking, there is no reason why Anwar would want to make Azmin a saviour at his expense.

Of late, a similar situation is brewing in Umno with its leaders entangled in a dilemma: to sack Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein or leave him be?

It began with Hishammuddin allegedly getting cosy with Azmin as it is a taboo for two men from different political coalitions to be seen forming a friendship.

It was rumoured that Hishammuddin was apparently deemed by some as a bridge for Umno lawmakers to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which the Sembrong member of parliament has repeatedly denied.

Both Anwar and Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi were very unhappy with this cosying up although it is unproven.

Some PKR and Umno leaders are now fantasising of the day Azmin and Hishammuddin would be sacked from their respective parties.

One of the people who was most vocal in this issue is Umno Supreme Council member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam, who is attacking Zahid for failing to take disciplinary action against Hishammuddin.

Not only that, Umno disciplinary board chairman Tan Sri Apandi Ali himself was fuming when he was told that Hishammuddin’s disciplinary hearing would be postponed.

He took a bold move and announced his resignation. This raised a question: if Hishammuddin is really a mole in Umno and causing the party to lose its lawmakers, why won’t Zahid get rid of him?

Commentators were quick to suggest “interference”, with Lokman accusing Zahid of conspiring with the ruling government on the matter.

According to Lokman, Zahid would not terminate Hishammuddin for this reason.

However, several party insiders from Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional, when speaking to the New Straits Times, pooh-poohed insinuations of possible government meddling in the Zahid case.

“Why would anyone do something that brings no benefit to them? The way I see it, Zahid is afraid to sack Hishammuddin because of (the latter’s) family legacy and influence,” said a PH insider.

If this was the case, perhaps Lokman and Apandi could give words of encouragement to their party president instead of releasing stinging remarks publicly.

While some believe that the whole brouhaha had to do with the unconfirmed date of transfer of power from Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to Anwar, others believe it to be an effort by certain people to evade prosecutions. Regardless, there exists at least two factions within Umno.

One side wants Anwar as premier and the other wants Dr Mahathir to stay, according to sources from the country’s largest Malay-based party.

One source said although Zahid was elected as party president by grassroots members, many leaders at the federal level were not keen in having him as the boss.

The source claimed that the reason for this was Zahid’s friendship with Anwar.

“One of the factions in Umno really can’t accept Anwar as their future prime minister and they are waiting for Dr Mahathir to find a viable successor.

“So the factions in Umno involve one group backing Zahid, who wants Anwar as the PM, and the other wants to get rid of Zahid because they want to see him thrown in jail for all the (alleged) corruption cases,” said the source.

American writer Rachel Caine once said, “Desperate people do desperate things” and according to a high-ranking PH leader who wished to be quoted anonymously, both Anwar and Zahid are currently anxious.

“If they manage to find proof that Hishammuddin betrayed Umno, no problem. But, if there is no concrete evidence, Hishammuddin will be seen as a martyr and that is game over for Zahid,” the insider said.

Nevertheless, Zahid still has time, considering Apandi is delaying his resignation until next month. But one thing is for sure: the decision to sack or keep Hishammuddin in Umno could make or break Zahid as the party president.
By Arfa Yunus.

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