Thursday, September 18, 2014

How the Malaysians Used a Skyscraper to Fool the World

Posted: Updated: 
Never underestimate the power of good marketing. Politicians need it to win elections. Entertainers need it to gain popularity. Musicians need it to sell tickets. Skilled marketers can spin stories and create elaborate facades to manipulate the viewpoints of targeted groups of people. It can be done on a small scale, or on a grand scale.
Now that I've visited the Petronas Towers in the city of Kuala Lumpur ("KL") in Malaysia, I have come to appreciate the impact of successful marketing at the global level. In fact, I believe the Petronas Towers are part of a well-executed scheme to convince the world that the country of Malaysia, as embodied by its capital, KL, is as modern and advanced as the towers themselves. Unfortunately for Malaysians and for investors, this simply isn't true.
From 1998 - 2004, the twin Petronas Towers held the record for the world's tallest building. The iconic towers, connected by a bridge at the 41st and 42nd floors, are the work of Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli. For his firm's work on the towers, Pelli's company was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004. In 1999, the building was featured in the Sean Connery/Catherine Zeta-Jones action film Entrapment, which grossed over $212 million worldwide. With all the towers' publicity, it can be argued that the building pulled Kuala Lumpur out of geographic obscurity and helped brand Malaysia as a country with a bright future.
No doubt Malaysia has recently experienced significant economic growth. When the Petronas Towers were built, Malaysia had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $100 billion. Today, its GDP is over $310 billion. It has the third largest economy in Southeast Asia. Further, KL has established itself as a multicultural, world-class urban center, a "definite place to visit for world travelers." Its luxury offerings are the talk oftravel bloggers, always on the lookout for the next best thing.
Yet the Malaysian Airline disasters of this past year have many in the global community wondering about the legitimacy of this up-and-coming nation. It has been over six months since Flight 370 went missing several hours after its take-off from KL. There is still no explanation for why the flight disappeared, and no wreckage has been found. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the Ukraine in July. Whileevidence is mounting as to the cause of the disaster - an alleged surface-to-air missile fired by a pro-Russian separatist group - just why the plane was in harm's way in the first place is a question that has yet to be satisfactorily answered.
My curiosity was piqued by these contradictions; I wanted to see Kuala Lumpur first-hand. So when I was in Singapore this past July, I took a day trip over to KL to check out Malaysia for myself.
My first revelation was that anyone who thought they could predict Malaysia's future by looking up at the Petronas Towers should really be looking down into KL's mass transportation system. There they would find evidence of two Malaysias: one of modern efficiency; the other of third-world chaos. Riding the trains in KL provided me with a unique perspective on Malaysia's potential, and what it will need to overcome to achieve it.
The KL Express is the train that connects the airport to the city center, and it is fantastic. The ride was fast, reliable and inexpensive. Signage for the train is also excellent. The KL Express could give an investor hope that Malaysians, with some foreign support, could design and execute world-class programs.
The KL metro system, on the other hand, truly lives up to its name. That's because "kuala lumpur" literally means "muddy confluence." That may explain why it's so hard to get around on the metro. Or should I say the metros, as there are three different systems, each with its own operating company. Yet all the train lines are shown on one map, which makes the rider believe that connections can be made with a single ticket. Nope! One must exit the platform, buy another ticket and get back on a different train line to make certain transfers. Platform signage is inconsistent and confusing, and the lines at the kiosks are ridiculously long. Many of the kiosks only accept cash. If the poor design and execution of the system aren't bad enough, the stations themselves are filthy.
The disconnect between Malaysia's well-publicized modernity and its backwater reality is manifest in other elements of the country, too. Top of mind is the KL metro's cousin, Malaysia Airlines. As a result of the aforementioned disasters of Flights 370 and 17, the Malaysian government is poised to invest $1.9 billion in the enterprise as part of a major restructuring plan. Routes will be reduced and 6,000 jobs will be cut. However, success is far from guaranteed; the airline hasn't been profitable since 2010.
While some may tout Malaysia's year-over-year GDP growth rate as proof-positive of its economic progress, there has been heightened concern over other indicators. About45% of Malaysia's sovereign debt is owned by foreign countries. Further, the ratio ofMalaysia's household debt to GDP is an alarming 87%. High rates of foreign investment and consumer debt should sound eerily familiar to Americans; these are some of the factors that contributed to our recent economic crisis.
In its quest to achieve "developed nation" status, Malaysia will need an educated workforce to create and execute goods and services competitive in the international community. Yet the country's educational system is akin to the American healthcare system; it receives a significant portion of the national budget, yet performance is sub-standard on a global level. Malaysian students had some of the lowest ratings in the world in the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment study. Without an educated younger generation, Malaysia may never be able to transform itself into an economic powerhouse.
But there may be hope. It cost $1.6 billion to build the Petronas Towers. That investment helped establish Malaysia as a potential global player. Maybe the Malaysian government should take the $1.9 billion it plans to invest in Malaysia Airlines, and use it instead to build the world's biggest school. Bragging rights and an educated populace? That may be Malaysia's ticket out of the muddy confluence and into the shiny new future that was promised by a gleaming, landmark skyscraper.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shame on you, you stupid dog! VIP politicians thrown off plane!

PUBLISHED: Sep 16, 2014 07:44pm
UPDATED: Sep 17, 2014 07:10am

Angry airline passengers throw VIP politicians off plane (video)


Pakistan International Airline planes are positioned on the tarmac at an international airport in Islamabad in this file photo. – AFP pic
ISLAMABAD, Sept 16, 2014:
Video of angry Pakistani airline passengers throwing two lawmakers off a plane for delaying its departure went viral today, sparking a passionate debate online about the country’s so-called “VIP culture”.
The Monday night Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Karachi to the capital Islamabad took off almost two hours late, with a government official today confirming the delay was partly due to the late arrival of two politicians.
Senior government and military figures in Pakistan enjoy a host of lavish privileges, from plots of land to heavy police escorts that disrupt traffic. They are often able to keep flights that are ready to depart waiting on the tarmac for their arrival.
In one of the videos, apparently shot on mobile phone, the passengers can be seen waiting at the door of the plane for Malik. As he walks down the jetway, a man shouts: “Malik saheb (Sir) you should go back. You should apologise to these passengers. You should be ashamed of yourself!

But irate passengers on the PIA plane decided to hit back – aiming a string of invective toward Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a minority Hindu member of the ruling PML-N party, and later at the country’s former Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
“150 passengers have been put out because of you.”
Another man can be heard saying: “We’ve taken it for 68 years. Are we going to take it another 68?” referring to the country’s age.
The embarrassed politician later turned back. Vankwani left the flight after passengers threatened to beat him with shoes.
Many Pakistanis on Twitter hailed the event as a rare example of ordinary people standing up to the powerful – with some connecting it to the protest movement against government corruption led by opposition leader Imran Khan.
“What a delight to watch the video. At last someone stood up & everyone joined. Salute to all those who raised their voice #NotoVipCulture” tweeted user Frasat Mahmood.
Others criticised the abusive language and threats of violence.
Shujaat Azeem, an aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said two airport officials were being suspended over the incident.
He said in a statement the flight was delayed for 90 minutes due to technical reasons and it was delayed for another 25 minutes because Malik was late.

China see the eventual return of Overseas Chinese to China as their final objective.

Last week on "cakap cakap at 5.30 on a Saturday morning" I wrote: 

Another thought has also crossed my mind....Am I being to apologetic for the Malays in my writing? Am I always writing about how the Malays should do this and do that to accommodate the other races and forgetting that integration and working towards 1Malaysia is a two way street? I must be or else these thoughts will not have entered my head. I am resolved to look into this and see if I can restore the balance and write about what the Malays feel about the other races too. This would be an interesting exercise...allowing my mind to wander and delve into the inner workings of the Malay mind...after all I too am a Malay and so I would not have far to travel to do that.

Here is my follow through on that intent:

For the Malays China's global intent is worrying as China flex their considerable economic and military capabilities.  Predictably China begins to look towards the Chinese population overseas with more interest than before to see how 'Overseas Chinese' can play a part in the realization of China's  global designs but first let us look at one aspect of China's robust economic expansion that affects Malaysia directly. 

Because of its export success, China is the world's largest holder of foreign exchange reserves. This stands at USD 3.44 trillion (65% held in dollars, 26% in euros, 5% in pounds and 3% in yen).

As a comparison, Malaysia Foreign Exchange Reserves stands at 136687.50 USD Million in June of 2014.

China uses its reserves to finance overseas investment. In Malaysia China's state owned corporation have invested in Pahang and Johore. 


Kuantan Port is operated by the Kuantan Port Consortium, a joint venture between IJM Corporation Berhad and China’s Guangxi Beibu International Port Group (GBIPG). 

GBIPG operates four ports in the Guangxi Region. 

The port expansion involves the construction of a new 4.7-km long breakwater, one of the longest in the world to create a sheltered basin for the development of the new deep water terminal allowing for berths to operate safely and efficiently throughout the year.

The Federal Government is investing RM1 billion to build the breakwater.

IJM Corporation Berhad and GBIPG will invest RM3 billion for capital dredging, reclamation works to create new development land, construction of new berths, operational buildings and facilities, equipment and machinery, as well as internal infrastructure.

Kuantan Port is also the catalyst for development of the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP), the sister park of the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park, whereby GBIPG is also a key investor in MCKIP"


In Iskandar Chinese property firms are investing in high-profile projects in the special economic zone. 

Chinese eye Malaysia real estate

How soon before we see China's state owned firm, State Grid, the world's largest utility company make a play for TNB and the IPP's in Malaysia? 

At this rate there will come a time in the not too distant future when Malaysia's economic growth will depend on the continuing expansion of these state owned Chinese enterprises in our country.  

All these economic activities by these state owned China companies are well and good taken in the context of our need for foreign investment to boost the development of our nation's economy. 

What worries the Malays is how these massive financial investment in Malaysia will be used by China's to achieve its global ambitions of being a second superpower after the USA.

One area of contention between Malaysia and China are the submerged reefs 80 km off  Sarawak. The reef lies outside Malaysia's territorial waters but inside its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone but China regards those waters as its southernmost territory, the bottom of a looping so-called nine-dash line on maps that comprise 90 percent of the 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) of the South China Sea. 

The probability of armed conflict between Malaysia and China is remote but being Malaysia's biggest trade partner and with significant investments already in place in Pahang and Johore do you not think that that is sufficient leverage for China to have their way with Malaysia? China have already signalled their intentions by holding two naval exercises in less than a year around the James Shoal!

China’s first aircraft carrier, purchased from the Ukraine, refitted and modernised
The Malays do not look at these issues in isolation. The aggressive economic foray into Malaysia and the on going territorial disputes is worrying when we see China ramping up the activities of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council. Here are their stated objectives: 

Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council

I. General Introduction
The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China is an administrative office which assists the Premier in handling the overseas Chinese affairs. The Office' s major responsibilities are as follows:

To study and formulate the guidelines, policies and regulations concerning the works on overseas Chinese affairs, as well as to supervise and check the implementation of them; To conduct research and study on the development of overseas Chinese affairs both domestically and abroad, as well as the relevant work in this regard, so as to provide the information to the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council; To work out the development plan for overseas Chinese affairs work.

To assist the Premier in the administration of the overseas Chinese affairs; To review concerned policies which directly relate the overseas Chinese affairs worked out by the relevant ministries or local governments; To conduct necessary controls and coordination for the overseas Chinese affairs work carried out by relevant departments and social organizations.

To protect the legitimate rights and interests of the overseas Chinese; to enhance the unity and friendship in the overseas Chinese communities; To keep contact with and support overseas Chinese medias and Chinese language schools; To accelerate the cooperation and exchanges of the overseas Chinese with China in terms of economy, science, culture and education.

To protect in accordance with the law the legitimate rights and interests of the returned overseas Chinese and their relatives, as well as those rights and interests inside China of the overseas Chinese; To draft and formulate, together with relevant departments, the guidelines and policies concerning the work of returned overseas Chinese and their family members; To conduct the work of returned overseas Chinese and their family members; To assist relevant departments in the selection of the deputies among the returned overseas Chinese and their family members.
II. Current Leaders
Minister: Li Haifeng
Notice: The English version of is under construction.

Updated: Dec. 24, 2009

It states that China intends to defend the rights of the overseas Chinese wherever they are. This was partly due to the inaction of the Chinese government when Chinese were being slaughtered in Indonesia during the May 1998 Riots.  China does not want any Oversea Chinese to be in that position again....and rightly so. 

The question Malays are asking is this: 

When all of the above are taken into consideration it is obvious that the Chinese government consider all oversea Chinese as still being one of their own  - and that they are working on a "development plan" to work with them even as they continue to reside oversea: 

"To protect the legitimate rights and interests of the overseas Chinese; to enhance the unity and friendship in the overseas Chinese communities; To keep contact with and support overseas Chinese medias and Chinese language schools; To accelerate the cooperation and exchanges of the overseas Chinese with China in terms of economy, science, culture 
and education".

China see the eventual return of these overseas Chinese to China as their final objective.

Now tell me, as a Malay, if I should or should not be worried about these developments? The Malays only have Malaysia. The Chinese have Malaysia and China. I rest my case.