Friday, 30 September 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong's official visit to Japan, 26 to 29 September 2016

Singapore's approach to an issue is never to play sides: PM Lee
It has consistent foreign policy stand, wants to be friends with all friendly nations, he says
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

Singapore must never be seen to be "playing multiple sides" on an issue, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he outlined the principled foreign policy position the Republic has always taken.

Singapore's foreign policy approach is to be friends with all countries who want to befriend Singapore, he told reporters at the end of a four-day official visit to Japan.

So, "you cannot have different messages for different people because you will soon run into very serious trouble". He added: "We must have a stand, our own position, and we stick to that position whomever we are talking to, whichever country or capital we are in. When we make a speech, the gist has to be the same."

Ties among Singapore's friends might be complicated from time to time, as evident in recent issues such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

But in such situations, he said, "we will have to decide where we are going to stand, and how we can try our best to preserve our friendship with both sides of the issue".

On ASEAN's part, it wants an open region and welcomes countries, including China and Japan, to invest and work with the 10-nation bloc.

"We don't see a conflict. The ASEAN countries will have to work out where they stand and whose interests they take," he said.

Earlier yesterday, PM Lee made a wide-ranging speech on shifting regional dynamics at a special session of the Nikkei conference.

Singapore, which is the dialogue coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, has been consistent in what it stands for, he said at the session.

"But in this role, it is not possible for us to command ASEAN and corral everybody into one position, nor are we in the position to negotiate with China on behalf of ASEAN.

"What is possible for us to do, is to be an honest broker, to deal straight with all parties, and try to bring about a consensus where possible."

But even when countries disagree, it does not mean they do not work together at all, he added.

"No single issue defines the whole relationship with another country," he added, noting the multi-faceted nature of diplomatic ties, which range from trade to tourism.

"You have to try and contain the issues where there may be difficulties, and not let it sour the whole gamut of ties," he said, adding that ASEAN, too, does not want the South China Sea dispute to "poison the overall relationship" with China.

Even so, small nations like Singapore must follow principles like international norms as otherwise, "it's just the law of the jungle and the powerful do what they will".

Singapore retains No. 2 competitiveness spot in World Economic Forum report 2016-2017

Republic tops WEF list in higher education and training, and goods market efficiency
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Singapore has been named the second-most competitive economy in the world - the sixth year in a row it has been runner-up.

It came just behind Switzerland, which topped the list for the eighth consecutive year in an annual report compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The United States was third, while the Netherlands and Germany rounded off the top five.

Each country is assessed based on 12 categories that collectively provide a comprehensive picture of its competitiveness.

Singapore was ranked best in the world in two of the 12 categories - higher education and training, and goods market efficiency - and second in five: public institutions, infrastructure, health and primary education, labour market efficiency, and financial market development.

"Singapore's public institutions are transparent and highly efficient. Its infrastructures are among the world's best. Singapore boasts a stable macroeconomic environment with healthy public finances - the government budget has been in surplus since 2010," the WEF noted in its report.

However, it added: "Singapore still lags behind the best-performing nations in the most sophisticated areas of competitiveness, with a relatively disappointing 19th rank in the business sophistication (category) and 9th rank in... innovation."

Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan said Singapore's weaker performance in innovation and business sophistication is certainly not for a lack of effort on the Government's part.

"The Government certainly has been taking steps to raise innovation in the economy but there have been constraints which have not been resolved," he said.

"One reason could be our education system but, to be fair, the Government is addressing that, too, and has been making changes to create a more well-rounded system."

Singapore is far from being the only economy weaker in innovation. The WEF noted that "progress in building an enabling environment for innovation remains the advantage of only a few economies", even though the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" is gathering speed.

DPM Tharman rules himself out as next prime minister: 'I am not the man for PM'

Tharman quashes talk of being next PM
He's not the man for the job, he says, stressing that each minister contributes in a way that matches his strengths
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday ruled out the possibility that he might be prime minister, saying Singapore has a distinctive political culture where each minister contributes to the team in a way that matches his strengths.

This culture has been built up over time and the next prime minister - who will be "first among equals" - will be decided from among the fourth generation of leaders, he added. "There's no urgency to see succession in this term of government. That's why we're focused on the fourth generation of leaders, building them up and enabling them to take over during the next term of government," he said.

Mr Tharman was responding to questions from reporters on recent speculation, including a poll that Yahoo Singapore ran on Monday, that showed him as the respondents' top choice to be Singapore's fourth prime minister.

"Just to be absolutely clear, because I know of this talk that's going around, I'm not the man for PM. I say that categorically. It's not me. I know myself, I know what I can do, and it's not me," he said.

"I'm good at policymaking, I'm good at advising my younger colleagues, and at supporting the PM - not at being the PM. That's not me."

Asked if his age was a concern to his being considered for next prime minister, the 59-year-old said: "I'm quite clear about this. I know who I am and I know what I'm capable of doing, and I know how I am best able to serve Singapore."

Mr Tharman cited as examples Old Guard stalwarts Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam, saying: "Their contributions to Singapore were immense, and till today they are in a league of their own, but even they would not have been ideal as a PM."

He said Dr Goh was a remarkable person without whom Singapore would be much poorer and much less secure, but "did not have the temperament to be PM and did not want to be". As for Mr Rajaratnam, an "extremely good foreign minister", "he wasn't cut out to be PM, he knew it, and no one regards him the lesser because he wasn't PM".

"I mention them as illustration. I myself and no one in future is going to come close to Dr Goh and Rajaratnam's contributions to Singapore, but even they would not have been ideal as PM," he added.

"We each find a way to contribute to Singapore, that matches our strengths, and we each contribute to a strong team."

As for Singapore's political culture, he said: "No one is out to outdo someone else in Cabinet, or worse still to undermine someone else in Cabinet because he or she could be a competitor to them. Everyone is in this as a member of the team. It's a culture that we've built up over time that we must absolutely keep."

First government-run nursing home opens in Chinatown: Pearl's Hill Care Home

First govt-run nursing home aims to push boundaries
Sensors to help prevent falls among efforts towards better eldercare at Chinatown home
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

From sensors that alert staff if frail residents leave their beds or toilets unassisted to mechanical wheelchair storage solutions, Singapore's first government-run nursing home is trying to "push the boundaries" in the eldercare sector.

The three-storey, 130-bed Pearl's Hill Care Home - on the site of what used to be Pearl's Hill School - was officially opened by Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

The Chinatown facility is operated by Vanguard Healthcare, which was set up by the Ministry of Health (MOH) last year to run its own nursing homes.

MOH said two years ago that it would run several nursing homes to better understand the issues faced by operators, and come up with solutions and innovations in eldercare which can be adopted by others.

The ministry said that it intended to directly operate about 1,000 beds by 2020 - 6 per cent of the total here.

Latest statistics show the proportion of Singaporeans aged 65 and above grew from 13.1 per cent last year to 13.7 per cent this year.

There are more than 12,000 nursing home beds and the target is to have 17,000 in four years' time.
The second nursing home to be run by Vanguard will open in Woodlands at the end of next year.

"Vanguard will develop new models of care that are cost-effective while striving to provide affordable quality care to patients," said Mr Gan.

"We will share our experiences and innovations with other providers in the eldercare sector to push the boundaries, so as to benefit the sector as a whole."

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Ageing With You 《老。友伴》

Singapore's population grows 1.3% to 5.61 million from June 2015 to June 2016

Stable growth in resident, foreigner numbers but figures reflect rapidly ageing population
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2016

Singapore's total population reached 5.61 million in June, up by 1.3 per cent from the previous June, population figures released yesterday showed.

The number of residents and foreigners saw stable growth, similar to the past few years, but small shifts are taking place.

Last year had the highest annual number of Singaporean babies born in over a decade.

More maids are working here to take care of children and the rising number of elderly.

More dependants on long-term visit passes - typically, spouses from Asian countries - are also here to be with their Singaporean family members.

These developments reflect the calibrated approach to immigration over the past five years.

The trends are likely to persist as baby boomers' children start families, while their parents' generation grows older, observers said.

"The trends, particularly the need for foreign domestic workers, will continue, given our rapidly ageing population," said National University of Singapore sociology professor Tan Ern Ser.

But this dependence could be lessened if seniors stay healthy longer, relatives or neighbours help to take care of them, and more locals take up caregiving jobs, he added.

This year's Population in Brief report showed the citizen population grew by 1 per cent, to 3.41 million.

There were just under 30,000 new permanent residents last year, a figure that has stayed fairly constant since 2012. The non-resident pool grew by 2.5 per cent over the same period, to 1.67 million people.

Last year also saw a bumper crop of 33,725 citizen births.

This was the highest number of births in more than a decade, higher than in 2012, a Dragon Year, which the Chinese consider auspicious.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Singapore envoy refutes China report on South China Sea

Republic did not raise dispute or arbitral tribunal ruling at NAM summit: Ambassador
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Singapore did not raise the South China Sea territorial dispute or a July arbitral tribunal ruling on the dispute at a recent multilateral summit in Venezuela, the Republic's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh said yesterday, in a letter refuting allegations made in a Chinese newspaper last week.

The actions and words attributed to Singapore are "false and unfounded", Mr Loh said in the letter about an article dated Sept 21 in the Chinese edition of the Global Times on the 17th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit.

The NAM was formed in 1961 by a grouping of newly-independent countries that did not want to take sides in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It meets once every three years.

In its report, the Global Times said that at the meeting held on Venezuela's Margarita Island, Singapore insisted on adding contents that endorsed the Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case against China in a document that will guide the development of the grouping for the next three years.

Singapore had attempted to strengthen the contents on the South China Sea, said the newspaper which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party.

Quoting unnamed sources, it said "the Singapore representative was flustered and exasperated, and made sarcastic remarks" on the stance of countries that opposed strengthening the contents on the South China Sea.

"The representative even used offensive words during the argument, and launched malicious attacks on the representatives of countries taking a fair position," the newspaper added.

Mr Loh, who described the report as "irresponsible" and "replete with fabrications and unfounded allegations with no regard for the facts", said Singapore is disappointed that such a report has been published.

He wrote to the Global Times yesterday to publish Singapore's rebuttal to its article but The Straits Times understands that it has not been published.

In his letter, the Singapore envoy said the proposal to update the South-east Asia paragraphs in the document was not done at the last minute nor by any single ASEAN country. Laos - as the current ASEAN chair - had conveyed the group's common position through a formal letter to Iran, the former NAM chairman, in July.

Yet, Venezuela, the current NAM chairman, had refused ASEAN's request to update the paragraphs related to the region.

This is a departure from the established practice in the NAM, which had always allowed for such regular updates without interference from NAM countries that did not belong to the region or external parties, Mr Loh said.

"The paragraphs on South-east Asia, including those referring to the South China Sea, have been part of the... document since 1992, and regularly updated based on the common position of the ASEAN countries," he added.

Contrary to what the Global Times had described, Singapore had adopted a "principled position" throughout and defended NAM principles and established practices, Mr Loh added.

During the meeting, Laos had protested on behalf of all 10 ASEAN countries to Venezuela "on its improper decision to reject ASEAN's updates".

It had also intervened in writing to the Venezuelan Foreign Minister after the meeting.

In that letter, Lao delegation leader Kham-Inh Khitchadeth expressed "deep regret" that the final document did not reflect current developments in the region with regard to the South China Sea.

"The question of South China Sea is a matter of vital interest for peace, stability, security and cooperation in South-east Asia," he added, and asked to put on record ASEAN's collective reservation that the relevant paragraph was not updated.

Small states need rules-based orders like the UN, Singapore's foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan tells world leaders

By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Rules-based international orders like the one represented by the United Nations are critical to the survival of small states, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told world leaders yesterday, as he outlined the predicament smaller nations face in a period of global uncertainty.

"The United Nations is essential for the survival and prosperity of small states," he said during a five- minute address at the UN General Assembly in New York.

"We are usually at the receiving end of the decisions and actions of large powers. Fortunately, the General Assembly affirms the principle that all nations large and small, rich or poor have an equal stake and equal right to participate in shaping the discourse on global issues."

Dr Balakrishnan added that a rules-based system that allows all states to deal with one another fairly was a "precondition to our existence as independent, sovereign states". "We reject the notion that might is right. This is why small states are often the strongest proponents of the UN."

He also said the uncertainty that has marked much of 2016 meant smaller countries have "had to work that much harder to stay afloat".

"Small boats on a rough sea are more likely to be tossed and turned much more than a large tanker with heavy ballast," he said.

"For our survival and prosperity, small states have to stay open and we have to stay connected to the world. But by definition, our very openness makes us vulnerable to external shocks and threats. Small states like us do not have the option of retreating inwards or opting out of the global system."

And he also had a message for large powers. He said that though competition is inevitable, international relationships do not need to be a zero-sum game.

"All countries benefit when there is peace and stability. This is essential for building partnerships and economic cooperation everywhere," he said.

More user-friendly public transport system

By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2016

Plans are afoot to make buses and trains more user-friendly to the infirm and those with infants.

Responding to recommendations made by the Public Transport Council (PTC) last month, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday said it will roll out new features to make the public transport system more inclusive.

For starters, it will soon allow open prams on board buses, and is working on a restraint system so that these devices can be secured.

Next, it will also implement dual-speed escalators and travelators on new rail lines, starting with the Thomson-East Coast Line.

These devices will move at two-thirds the usual speed during off-peak hours, making them safer for the elderly, the infirm and those with infants. Eventually, all existing lines will have this feature.

The elderly, pregnant, disabled as well as parents travelling with prams will have priority queues at train stations by the end of next year.

The LTA added that it will be redesigning 800 bus stops across the island as well. A study will start next year, and be completed by 2019. Then, new bus interchanges and integrated transport hubs will have nursing rooms. And new MRT lines will have washrooms with a diaper-changing station, child-size toilet seat and barrier-free facilities.

Buses with three doors and two staircases to aid commuter flow may also be on the cards.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton TV duel

First 2016 US Presidential Debate - September 26, 2016

Humanist Society: Serving non-religious folk here more actively

Humanist Society has evolved since starting out in 2010 and aims to meet rising demand for officiants, celebrants
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2016

Over the past two months, Mr Tan Tatt Si, head of Singapore's Humanist Society, has played the role of celebrant and officiant, respectively, at a wedding and a godparent naming ceremony of two non-religious couples.

At the wedding last Tuesday, Mr Tan held a candle-lighting ceremony and a "warming of rings" ritual for the newlyweds. In the rings ritual, the couple's wedding bands were passed around for guests to "bless" with congratulatory words and positive declarations.

While some of the rituals might take inspiration from the religious and cultural backgrounds of the people involved, most of the events are designed to be "human-centric celebrations", said Mr Tan.

The Humanist Society, officially set up in 2010 to represent Singapore's non-religious population, has evolved to serve this community more actively, its treasurer Zheng Huifen, 34, told The Straits Times.

This comes as the proportion of people here with no religion has grown - from 17 per cent of the resident population in 2010 to 18.5 per cent last year, based on the Department of Statistics' General Household Survey 2015.

This is a sizeable jump from 36 years ago, when the proportion stood at 13 per cent. People with no religion comprise freethinkers, atheists, humanists, sceptics and agnostics, as well as others who do not belong to any organised religious groups. Based on the trends in other developed countries, the number is set to grow even further.

China's giant space telescope starts search for alien life

China fires up world's largest radio telescope, boosting space agenda
Scientists look forward to new advances while Beijing pushes on with ambitious space programme
The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2016

BEIJING • The world's largest radio telescope has begun operating in south-western China, a project that experts say will help them better understand the workings of the universe.

The Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), nestled in the mountainous region of Guizhou, began working around noon yesterday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday sent a congratulatory letter to the scientists, engineers and builders involved in the project.

Boasting a diameter of 500m, FAST has overtaken the telescope at Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory as the world's largest single-aperture radio telescope. The latter is 300m in diameter.

Professor Donald Campbell, who teaches astronomy at Cornell University and is a former director of the Arecibo Observatory, told the South China Morning Post that the new telescope would make "significant contributions" to the understanding of the structure and history of the universe.

China has yet to announce a research plan for the telescope, but an early-stage study focused on six topics, including galaxy structure and the formation of stars, according to the study's website.

Mr Wu Xiangping, the director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said the telescope's high degree of sensitivity "will help us search for intelligent life outside the galaxy".

Nicknamed Tianyan, or the Eye of Heaven, the telescope can scour a much bigger swathe of sky for radio signals - and with greater sensitivity - than Arecibo is able to. Its surveying speed is also much faster, according to Xinhua.

Meti (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International president Douglas Vakoch said: "For more than half a century, astronomers have been using radio telescopes to answer the haunting question: 'Are we alone?'

"But they face a daunting challenge. The signals they seek are so weak that an incredibly sensitive telescope is needed to detect them."