Sunday, 23 October 2016

Multiculturalism and the state: Bilahari Kausikan

In dealing with multiculturalism, the state has to manage and allocate values of different communities based on a soft hierarchy of values that expands the common space in society.
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

No country is today, however it may think of itself, homogenous. Identity politics is upon us all; a reality that cannot be wished away. Globalisation is a cultural as well as an economic phenomenon.

The inequalities and sense of cultural threat that globalisation has wrought has also caused identities of various kinds to be more insistently asserted, sometimes violently. Although globalisation's downsides as well as its benefits have now become more evident, it cannot be reversed and there is no alternative. We will just have to somehow deal with it.

My most fundamental assumption is that there is not one "Good" but many "goods", all desirable, but which are not capable of simultaneous realisation. If we accept the existence of multiple "goods" that are not reconcilable, it follows that pragmatic trade-offs are inevitable; perfect consistency is impossible and in fact undesirable.

Historically, attempts to structure political systems on the basis of perfect consistency around some conception of one "Good" or another has generally led to a great deal of trouble and not a little bloodshed.

I take it as a given - not worth arguing about - that universality is a myth and while East and West certainly hold some values in common, these similarities are at such a high level of generality that they are not useful for understanding how societies actually operate and prescribe nothing of any practical significance for how societies ought to organise themselves. I take it as axiomatic that there are differences between East and West, one of the more significant of which is the relative emphasis placed on the individual and the community.

I stress "relative emphasis" because the differences are not absolute. No human being can achieve self-actualisation in isolation. Every individual is necessarily part of a larger "community" whether defined by nation, tribe, class, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preference or some other category. Even a hermit is a hermit precisely because he belongs to a "community" or category of hermits.

Moreover, we all have multiple identities and cannot define ourselves by any single category, although we may well delude ourselves otherwise. "East" and "West" are only one set of categories and not necessarily the most important set.

As a former civil servant and diplomat, my basic frame of reference and analysis is the state. The authority of the state is not uncontested but still fundamental. The state now shares space with other actors but this is still a state-centric world.

The very doctrine of multiculturalism holds the state responsible for protecting the rights of the individual, including the right to belong to some community and the right of any community to have a distinct identity, however defined. If those rights are threatened, it is generally to the state to which first appeal for redress is made.

The question then arises, how should the state discharge this responsibility? What concept of the state can best meet this responsibility?

Foreign entities need permits at Speakers' Corner

MHA reiterates existing rules and clearly sets out what foreign entities are; Singapore entities will not need permits
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

The authorities have made it clear that foreign entities will have to apply for a permit to take part in Speakers' Corner events, such as the Pink Dot rally, starting Nov 1.

And the likelihood of it being approved appears dim, if the issue is deemed controversial.

Said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam last night: "In general, if it relates to controversial social or political issues, which really are a matter for Singaporeans, then it is unlikely the foreigners will get a permit."

The Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday reiterated existing rules that require foreign companies and non-governmental organisations to get a permit to sponsor, promote or get its employees to participate in events at the Speakers' Corner.

What is new is that it has now categorically set out what constitute foreign entities. They include locally incorporated or registered arms of multinational companies (MNCs) unless they are also controlled by a majority of Singaporeans. The rule is also extended to foreign entities that want to speak via tele- conferencing or pre-recorded messages at the Speakers' Corner.

But rules for local entities have been liberalised. Singapore companies and NGOs no longer need permits to hold Speakers' Corner events, or indoor assemblies. Now, only Singaporeans have this privilege.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "Speakers' Corner is for Singaporeans to articulate views, particularly when it comes to sociopolitical issues... So we needed to make that clear."

He added: "We are neutral in terms of what people can discuss and cannot, or which side people take, or which side of the argument people are supporting or against. What we are saying and where we are drawing the line is Singaporeans versus non-Singaporeans."

China and Singapore: Looking back to understand the future

Singaporeans must understand Chinese nationals' view of what China is, just as China must understand Singapore's self-image as a multicultural nation with a global outlook.
By Wang Gungwu, Published The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2016

Recent developments in the relations between China and Singapore have raised questions about how China sees Singapore and also how Singapore should see China.

The questions stem from several issues concerning Singapore as a small new state in a region still riven by division, amid growing rivalry between China and the United States. At the base are complex layers of understanding what is China and who are Singaporeans.

Despite the fact that both of them have had different borders over time, China has been in existence for thousands of years while Singapore is only 51 years old as a sovereign state. But it is also true that people of Chinese descent in Singapore have looked with respect to China for nearly 200 years while most people of China have noticed the achievements of the Chinese in Singapore only during recent decades.


During my recent visits to China, I noticed that many people are keenly interested in the question of just what China is.

Behind this interest is the idea that China was a great country and the time has come to restore China to greatness. Given the many calls during the US presidential election campaign for America to be great again, it is perhaps not surprising that a rising China should also be thinking of being great again. Both calls seem to reflect some anxiety that other people may not recognise that greatness.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Philippines' Duterte says ‘Goodbye America, hello China'

Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte declares 'separation' from US, leans towards China
Philippine leader gets red-carpet welcome in Beijing; both countries agree to resume S. China Sea dispute talks
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday declared his "separation" from long-time ally the United States, leaning to China as the two countries agree to resume talks on their South China Sea dispute.

At a forum attended by some 700 Chinese and Philippine business people in the Great Hall of the People, the 71-year-old former mayor said America had "lost" after 70 years of alliance between the two countries.

In the presence of Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, he said: "I've realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world - China, the Philippines and Russia. It's the only way."

He then added: "I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us."

The US and the Philippines have been close allies but relations soured after Washington expressed concerns over Mr Duterte's bloody anti-crime war - criticism that Mr Duterte took offence with. Yesterday, a US official told Agence France-Presse that Manila had not made any formal requests to alter its cooperation with Washington.

The US has been looking to Manila as an important ally in Asia as China asserts itself as a dominant world power.

Beijing has rolled out the red carpet for Mr Duterte on his four-day visit with 400 business people in tow, signalling the first steps towards mending years of strained ties. Chinese President Xi Jinping extended a warm welcome to Mr Duterte yesterday, complete with full military honours in a ceremony at the Great Hall - a rarity for visiting leaders.

In their meeting, Mr Xi said people from both countries are "brothers related by blood", and they could "appropriately handle disputes".

China's perception of Singapore: 4 areas of misunderstanding

What China misunderstands about Singapore is that: Singapore is not a Chinese country despite having a majority-Chinese population; Singapore values a united ASEAN; Singapore is not a US ally but wants to be friends with all major powers; and Singapore has the world view of a small country.
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2016

Relations between Singapore and China are unique. There is no other country in the world with a population in which the majority are ethnic Chinese. Taiwan is not comparable because it is not a sovereign and independent country. Hong Kong is legally part of the People's Republic of China.


The fact that the majority of Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese is both an asset and a liability in the bilateral relations between Singapore and China. It is an asset because we speak the same language and use the same script, eat similar food and share some common values on education, family, the individual and the state, rights and responsibility, etc.

It is, however, also a liability because it has given rise to unreasonable expectations on the part of China towards Singapore. Many friends in China mistakenly perceive Singapore as a Chinese nation, describing us as "kith and kin". They feel that since Singaporeans are fellow Chinese, we should have a better understanding of China's policies than the other ASEAN countries. They also expect Singapore to support China's policies. I believe that this is one source of misunderstanding between us. China has to understand that Singapore is a multiracial and not a Chinese nation. Further, as a sovereign and independent country, Singapore's interests are not always similar to those of China.


Another possible source of misunderstanding between Singapore and China is Singapore's commitment to ASEAN.

Singapore is located in South-east Asia. Singapore's destiny is tied to the destiny of our region. We want our region to be peaceful, stable and prosperous. We want the countries of the region to integrate their economies and to gradually become one community. ASEAN has played an indispensable role in this journey. Singapore is therefore deeply committed to ASEAN, to its effectiveness, unity and centrality.

Any attempt to undermine ASEAN unity would be regarded by Singapore as a threat to its national interest. This point is not hypothetical but real. Singapore would like ASEAN to be united and to be able to speak with one voice on any important question, including the South China Sea.

30,000 more healthcare workers needed by 2020 as population ages: MOH

By Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Oct 2016

The Ministry of Health (MOH) launched a manpower plan on Thursday (Oct 20) in the hopes of attracting more Singaporeans to take up careers in the healthcare industry and ensure they are well-equipped.

The Health Ministry estimated that an estimated 30,000 more healthcare workers would be needed by 2020 to meet the demands of an ageing population.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, launching the 2020 Healthcare Manpower Plan on Thursday, said the plan aimed to meet the growth in demand for healthcare and sustain good salaries for workers.

The plan consists of three strategies: Equipping the healthcare workforce with relevant skillsets to prepare for the evolving healthcare needs of an ageing population, growing a strong local core by investing in fresh school leavers as well as mid-career entrants and improving the work environment and patient experience with technology.

The initiatives to equip healthcare workers with better skills include a new SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme in gerontology nursing, which will be introduced by Nanyang Polytechnic from December 2016 to give new nursing graduates the opportunity to undergo on-the-job training.

More doctors are also being trained in the community, with a 30 per cent increase in family medicine trainees expected by 2019, the Health Ministry said.

To build a strong Singaporean core in the healthcare industry, MOH said scholarships and sponsorships would be available for young Singaporeans to pursue healthcare training programmes at both local and overseas institutions.

Mid-career professionals will be supported through several initiatives, including an enhanced healthcare professional conversion programme which will provide participants with a training allowance during their courses of study.

Another initiative is the Return to Nursing programme, which will see former nurses undergo a refresher course before starting work.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Teachers are mentors, not vendors

And students are not mere MOE 'customers', but the future of our nation. Parents should support educators, not criticise them.
By William Wan, Published The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

So a well-intentioned Forum letter ("Working after school hours part of 'service'", Oct 8) provoked a backlash against the writer and against "the system".

Well-intentioned, because in a follow-up letter ("Teachers' overtime work driven by parents' expectations", Oct 13), the writer, Ms Lee Wei Yin, clarified that she actually agreed with the detractors, and called for all stakeholders to find workable solutions, particularly to help teachers manage their working hours.

Let's backtrack. Ms Lee, a parent, wrote to highlight how she feels a school could improve - by providing an added service, among other concerns.

On taking up my current role as general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement six years ago, I was surprised that students and parents were considered by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as "customers". I expressed my surprise and concern in discussion with my friends in the MOE management team.

What we call a thing has a big impact on how people perceive the thing itself. Would it really affect our treatment of teachers and the education system if we called our students and their parents "customers", I wondered.

The word "customer" is based on a commercial concept. It is by definition, a transaction with which parties buy and sell among each other. And in sales and service, an often-used cliche is that the customer is always right. Hence, the customer is more likely the one in the stronger bargaining position.

Singaporeans, behave yourself when overseas: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

MFA reminds Singaporeans to behave while abroad
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Behave yourself when you are overseas: That is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA) reminder to Singaporeans following a string of arrests of citizens abroad.

The MFA reminded Singaporeans to respect and abide by local laws and regulations when they go abroad, in a travel note put up on its website yesterday.

This is the first such reminder by the ministry.

The Straits Times understands there are concerns as, in recent months, Singaporeans have been arrested overseas for immigration and drug-related offences.

In the note, the MFA said that violation of foreign laws could lead to immediate arrests and detentions and, in some countries, the judicial process could take months.

Singaporeans convicted of offences overseas could face heavy fines and/or long prison sentences, and in the case of drug-related offences, even capital punishment.

The MFA added that it will render appropriate consular assistance to Singaporeans who are arrested and detained overseas. This includes notifying their next of kin.

"However, MFA cannot intervene in the legitimate law enforcement and judicial workings of another country," it said, adding that Singaporeans should exercise due care and personal responsibility when travelling overseas.

The reminder follows several recent arrests of Singaporeans overseas.

Last month, a Singaporean man was nabbed for drug trafficking in Bali, Indonesia, after he picked up two packages at a post office that contained crystal meth and cocaine.

He claimed he did not know what was in the packages and was collecting them on behalf of a friend.

In August, a Singaporean woman and her two teenage children were detained at a Johor Baru checkpoint after she allegedly made a vulgar hand gesture at a Malaysian immigration officer and shouted vulgarities while sounding the car horn repeatedly.

Other Singaporeans have also been charged for offences at immigration checkpoints.

Self-driving buses to be tested in Jurong West under LTA and NTU tie-up

If 2018 trial succeeds, technology may be used for other bus services in five years' time
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Singapore's first self-driving buses will hit the roads at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2018, in another trial on the use of autonomous vehicles here.

If successful, experts say the technology could be applied to other bus services in as early as five years' time, starting with shuttle service- type routes with a few stops and predictable traffic conditions.

The trial places Singapore among a handful of cities, such as Helsinki and Perth, which are also testing driverless buses. It will be run by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N).The latest pilot adds to Singapore's driverless vehicle push, which includes an on-demand self-driving taxi trial ongoing at one-north. The LTA and JTC are also jointly developing a 1.8ha test circuit at CleanTech Park for driverless vehicles.

The LTA and NTU said yesterday that driverless buses, combined with the rail network and self-driving shuttles or pods for first- and last-mile commutes, will form the future transportation landscape, one "not dominated by roads, carparks and private cars".

"Self-driving buses will arrive at bus stops at precise timings every morning, allowing us to plan our journeys more effectively," they said in a joint news release. "During off-peak hours, these buses will be deployed dynamically based on commuter demand and the fastest possible route, thus reducing the number of vehicles needed to ply the town and maximising the number of commuters on board each vehicle."

For the trial, ERI@N plans to use two electric-hybrid buses, which it will outfit with intelligent sensors, and develop an autonomous system that can navigate local road traffic and climate conditions. The trial is scheduled for early 2018, and starts with a 1.4km route between NTU and CleanTech Park. A year later, the plan is to stretch the route to the nearby Pioneer MRT station.

HDB industrial land, properties to come under JTC

Streamlining of operations aimed at supporting SMEs, and making things easier for tenants, lessees
By Wong Siew Ying, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Industrial land and properties under the HDB will soon be transferred to JTC Corporation (JTC) to better support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The aim is to streamline operations under JTC to make life easier for tenants and lessees, who will have to deal with only one agency.

About 10,700 industrial units and 540 industrial land leases will be consolidated under JTC in the first quarter of 2018.

Announcing the move, Trade and Industry (Trade) Minister Lim Hng Kiang yesterday said: "JTC will also be able to better match companies' space needs across the different stages of their growth with a larger supply of industrial land and space, including its innovative facilities."

HDB's industrial estates are found in the central, and east and north-east regions. JTC's industrial estates are largely in the west.

The types of industrial properties under HDB are industrial complexes, industrial shops, standard factories and terrace workshops. They include Sin Ming Industrial Estate, Defu Industrial Estate, AMK AutoPoint and factories in Woodlands and Bukit Batok, among others.

Most of HDB's industrial tenants and lessees are micro-SMEs, with average annual sales of less than $1 million. About half of these are in the engineering and consumer products sectors.

Minimal disruption to those affected

HDB and JTC have vowed to ensure minimal disruption to business for affected tenants and lessees, who will continue to be served by the same team of HDB officers. About 160 HDB officers will be transferred to JTC as part of the initiative.

Terms, conditions and contracted rents in existing HDB lease and tenancy agreements will not change.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Singapore stages biggest islandwide counter-terrorism exercise

18-hour operation involving Home Team and SAF simulates multiple attacks islandwide
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2016

Heavily armed troops from the police and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) turned out in force yesterday across the island, from Marina Bay to Jurong East, to seek out and neutralise a mock terror threat in the country's largest counter-terrorism exercise yet.

The 18-hour operation involved over 3,200 officers, including those from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and other Home Team agencies. It climaxed at malls in Bishan and Tampines, where "terrorists" armed with M-16 rifles and explosive vests took hostages, including in a cinema, before being subdued early this morning.

Earlier yesterday, joint patrols between police and the SAF's Island Defence Task Force, which protects key installations here, were stepped up at over 360 locations such as the financial centre, public transport nodes, shopping malls, residential areas and immigration checkpoints - after intelligence about an imminent attack was received.

There are two reasons for the exercise, said the police. One is to test the combined response between the Home Team and SAF. The other is to raise public awareness of "the current threat landscape and to encourage continued vigilance".

Over 50 community volunteers took part in the operation, which began at 10am yesterday and was set to end at 4am today. The exercise comes as Singapore ramps up its readiness in tackling terror attacks.

On Sept 24, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched SGSecure, a nationwide movement that aims to increase the public's preparedness and resilience.

Last Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, launched an SMS alert system that will notify people if there is a major emergency nearby.

The police in June also launched their Emergency Response Teams, which comprise police land division officers trained in counter-assault. They took part in yesterday's exercise.

These developments are a response to the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and self-radicalised lone wolves to Singapore and the region, at its highest level in recent times.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Their final days: More dying people sharing thoughts about life and death

More dying people are recording and sharing their thoughts about life and death with others
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2016

What can the dying teach the living? Quite a bit, it seems.

A small but growing number of people spend their last days recording their thoughts on life and how they cope with impending death in order to share them with others.

They hope to get people thinking and talking about death early enough to re-examine their priorities in life, and take action on matters such as making wills or signing advance medical directives.

Mr Stephen Giam, 51, for instance, had advanced bile duct cancer. He died three weeks ago.

But before his death on Sept 26, he spent five of his last 20 days filming short videos of himself tackling various topics from his hospital bed. Titled "Stephen Says", the series of 19 YouTube videos covers issues such as: What's it like to have cancer? How do you make death your "slave"? How do you leave a legacy?

During his life, Mr Giam was a motivational coach. He told his doctors that perhaps being a "death coach" would be useful for others.

Sharing their personal journeys

"People are afraid, but they also want to learn from you. They are curious: what is it like to be dying?" he said in one of his videos.

The videos have since garnered about 70,000 views.

Mr Giam is not alone in his quest to use his dying moments to reduce the stigma associated with death. Industry observers say they see more of such projects nowadays because of a maturing consciousness among people who want to explore what it means to die well, and the availability of online platforms to get the discussion going.