November 2, 2018
Lecture: Climate Change and Governance
November 2, 2018
September 30, 2018
September 8, 2018
The World Economic Forum of ASEAN will discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, powered by a wide range of new breakthroughs. Chheang Vannarith writes these new technologies are revolutionary due to the speed, breadth and depth of anticipated change they will bring and warns that if Asean leaders do not think regionally, they will miss out on opportunities and fail to address growing challenges.
The World Economic Forum on ASEAN is going to take place in Hanoi on 11-13 September, with the participation of, if nothing changes, seven state leaders from ASEAN member states, namely State Counsellor of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
The main theme of the forum this year focuses on how Asean can embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution – which generally refers to technological revolution in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing. This is a new, critical area of regional cooperation as Asean moves towards building a genuine people-centered, people-oriented community.
Opportunities are present, stemming from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we need to be aware of and get ready to face emerging challenges such as job losses and disruption, inequality and political instability, and cyberattacks. With the accelerating pace of change and transformation in almost all dimensions of social, economic and political landscapes, Asean member countries need to accelerate their comprehensive reforms, especially regulatory reforms, in order to grasp the benefits and overcome the challenges.
Information and knowledge sharing is critical to building national and regional capacity in navigating through these transformations and uncertainties. The less developed economies like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar need more international support in building their digital infrastructure and human capital to survive and stay economically competitive. If not, they risk being left far behind. Be aware that widening the development gap within the region will prevent the realisation of a genuine regional community and could potentially trigger regional division and instability. A two-tiered ASEAN is not a healthy ASEAN.
The report by the World Economic Forum and the Asian Development Bank in 2017 suggests that regional governments must be fast, agile, experimental, inclusive, and open in developing an ecosystem for digital integration. Being inclusive in policy design and execution has been one of the main shortcomings in regional integration in Southeast Asia since regional projects are chiefly led by political ruling elites with low participation from the private sector and civil society. It is commonly said that ASEAN is an elite-driven regional project.
How to transform this unprecedented breadth and depth of technological revolution into a source of inclusive and sustainable development remains the top challenge for ASEAN and its member states. It is proven that inequality is one of the root causes of political and social instability and ASEAN must develop a strategy to link technology with the narrowing development gap – one of which is to promote “an inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
The new Cambodian government to be formed today has included digital economy into its development agenda for the next five years, with the expectation that it will help Cambodia to compete with other regional countries within the context of intensifying market competition, the gradual collapsing of labor-intensive manufacturing industry, and the concentration of market power by multinational companies.
The local enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will face mounting challenges to remain competitive in the market that will transition to virtual products and services than real ones. Technology remains unaffordable and inaccessible for many SMEs in the region and there is an urgent need to develop a support mechanism, both financial and technical support, to assist SMEs in utilizing the benefits accorded in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Another interesting agenda of the forum is the dialogue session on the future of the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. The leaders from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will present their views on the current state of regional development and integration in the Mekong and the management of the Mekong River. There are increasing concerns that hydropower dams being constructed and planned along the mainstream of the river will severely affect the livelihoods and ecosystem in the whole Mekong River Basin. The recent dam collapse in Laos has prompted riparian countries to review their hydropower projects.
The two downstream countries, Cambodia and Vietnam, are the most affected countries. They have put certain pressures on upstream countries, particularly Laos, to conduct trans-boundary environmental and social impact assessments before constructing dams. Data sharing on water flow and quality is another key area of cooperation, especially in the dry season. There are many outstanding issues and emerging challenges that the Mekong countries need to overcome and find suitable solutions for all. A win-win cooperation must be real on the ground, not only in diplomatic statements. The perception of the local people, not the ruling elites, is the best indicator to reflect and prove whether a development project is a win-win project.
ASEAN and other sub-regional institutions such as the Mekong River Commission share one common weakness which is the lack of implementation and enforcement. Policies abound – either in the form of blueprints, declarations, or joint statements – but implementation is lacking. Next week, ASEAN leaders will share their perspectives on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Mekong River. It will be a reminder that people want to know concrete actions and solutions that benefit whole societies and not small groups of political and business elites. That is what inclusiveness is all about.
Chheang Vannarith is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.
August 24, 2018
Dr Abdul Khalid and Hwok-Aun Lee
Economist Muhammed Abdul Khalid has been appointed as the economic advisor to Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
This follows Muhammed’s stint as the secretariat head for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), which has served past its 100-day tenure.
Muhammed is best known for his talk show appearances, where he explains economic issues in simple language.
In 2014, he authored the well-received “The Colour of Inequality: Ethnicity, Class, Income and Wealth in Malaysia” which illustrated how Malaysia’s wealth gap was widening in tandem with its economic success.
He was formerly a research head at the Khazanah Research Institute, chief economist with the Securities Commission and senior analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
He has also held positions with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Unescap).
The Penang-born economist was awarded a PhD with highest honours from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, better known as Sciences Po, and is the founder of big data firm DM Analytics.
His appointment will take effect on August 27.
August 21, 2018
By: Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung
In a region where little attention is paid to sustainability and the environment, Sunway City, built on an abandoned tin mine on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, is a standout, more aligned with Singapore, whose Building Construction Authority aims for 80 percent of buildings to be Green Mark-certified by 2030, than Malaysia.
Called a “wasteland-turned wonderland,” this onetime township now boasts world-class resorts, hotels, shopping malls, schools and medical centers, and is home to 200,000 residents. It is the brainchild of developer Jeffrey Cheah Fook Ling, Malaysia’s 13th richest man. The rehabilitation and transformation of the landscape has led to recognition as the country’s first integrated green township.
Thriving on a balance between sustainability and profitability, Sunway City has stayed on a course of sustainable development while remaining robust financially. The conglomerate reportedly accrued RM137.5 million (US$33.51 million) in first-quarter 2018 profit, a 11 percent rise year on year.
Around Sunway City, posters and billboards of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are hanging everywhere, making clear Cheah’s determination to construct an integrated township and sustainable community. Unlike many companies which view green initiatives as a means to fulfill their corporate social responsibility, Sunway Group appears to set sustainability as the core value of the township.
The heart of the development is Sunway University, fully accredited both in Malaysia and by the Education Committee of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) of United Kingdom. But Sunway City didn’t always have college campuses, theme parks and a pyramid-shaped mall. When Malaysia was under British rule, Cheah bought an 800-acre tin mine from the British and developed his tin mining company which later diversified into sand mining, quarrying and construction.
The business came to a halt when the late 1980s brought a recession, causing tin prices to collapse. “It nearly bankrupted me,” said Cheah, now a Tan Sri, one of Malaysia’s highest-ranking honorifics. What he had built became a “mined-out wasteland,” as he would put it. He ended up selling quarries, one of his most profitable assets at the time, as well as laying off the unit’s employees.
“One incident that made me respect Tan Sri is that he promised not to abandon his quarry workers during the financial crisis,” said Dr. Elizabeth Lee. She joined Sunway Group’s education arm 20 years ago and is now its senior executive director. “He promised to employ them when he had earned back the money. And he did.”
Malaysia was the world’s largest tin producer until the price collapse some three decades ago. Following that particularly difficult time in the country’s tin mining history, the private sector sought to rehabilitate deserted mining sites for more productive land use.
Cheah was among the first entrepreneurs in the country to grant a second lease of life to a mining wasteland. As he turned his vision of an integrated green township into reality while further diversifying his business interests, Sunway City supports 12 different business units, ranging from property development and hospitality to education and healthcare.
Cheah was not the only one transforming ex-mines into resorts either. In 1988, property tycoon Lee Kim Yew was tasked by the government to convert Hong Fatt Mines, the world’s biggest open-cast mine back then, into Mines Resort City, a tourist destination with a five-star hotel, man-made beach and golf course.
Sustainability and Profitability Hand-in-Hand
Today, Sunway Group has three publicly listed companies in Malaysia with a combined market capitalization of RM17 billion and 15,000 employees across 50 locations internationally, testament to how sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand.
“A lot of times, people think sustainability is a cost to what you do,” commented Chew Chee Kin, Sunway’s Group President since 1999 and long-time friend of Cheah. “What you have to do is to minimize the damage you do to the environment.”
To achieve this, the company strives to be as scientific as it can. Producing clay pipe used to require 48 hours of burning, but Sunway Group has managed to reduce that to 20 hours, saving more than 60 percent of energy, according to Chew. “If it is something we can save energy, it’s very good for profitability,” said Chew.
Environmental and economic sustainability aside, Cheah also tries to facilitate sustainable cultivation of talent through the group’s education arm and philanthropic channels. Established in 2010 to continue the mandate of Sunway Education Trust Fund, Jeffrey Cheah Foundation has awarded RM270 million in scholarships to thousands of individuals for their tertiary education, making it a leading education-focused social enterprise in the country.
Managing the highly lucrative education business in the form of a foundation and running Sunway University as a nonprofit, Cheah effectively ensures that his realm is free from any shareholder control. “Surpluses can be plowed back for scholarships, for research and improvement in facilities,” he explained.
The foundation also dedicated US$10 million for sustainable development education in 2016, one of the most generous amounts gifted towards the cause in recent years. “Our strategy and our long-term thinking is through education, education, education,” said Cheah. “I know education is the best way out of poverty.”
Success or Gimmick?
Education is not the only way in which Sunway City pushes forward its sustainable development agenda. Little remained of the tin mine’s original biodiversity when Cheah acquired the site. A lot of work had to be done to rebuild the entire ecosystem. Even earthworms had to be re-introduced for soil revitalization.
“Of course, I had to do a lot of transplantation of trees and shrubs and all these, and today the ecosystem is back,” he said. “This mother earth is so important to us, if we continue to damage it, … our future generation will have a big headache.”
A quarter of Sunway City is designated as green space. The city offers free Wi-Fi coverage in public areas and provides free internet access for all students and residents. A 4-km “Canopy Walkway” footbridge connects the city’s two universities and major facilities. Electric buses run on a flyover not shared with other vehicles. The group is urging the government to lower the bus fare, currently RM5.4 for a complete 5.4-km ride.
Attempts to promote sustainability in urban planning have won Sunway City multiple awards both within and beyond the borders. In 2017, it was recognized as an Integrated Smart and Low-Carbon Township by International Data Corporation Government Insights, a global market intelligence firm.
At first glance, Sunway City is nothing short of a perfect role model championing sustainable development without compromising economic viability. Nevertheless, things are always easier said than done, even more so on such a city-wide scale.
First of all, one questions if rules on sustainability are thoroughly implemented. Caterers at Sunway University continue to pack food in disposable plastic containers. Central air-conditioning on campus renders room-specific adjustments impossible. And recycling bins are yet to become common fixtures around the township. There seems to remain much room for improvement for Sunway City to translate the grand idea of sustainable development into the nitty-gritty of everyday life.
Regardless, with Sunway Group’s aggressive promotion on the notion, sustainability has over the years become a buzzword among city residents. Many are indeed mindful of sustainable living and serious about making positive changes on the environmental protection front through real-life practices. For instrance, there is Maslisa Zainuddin, a Sunway University design communications and interior architecture lecturer.
“[Sustainability is] something that I’ve decided to take onboard myself,” she said. A poster child for what has become known as “upcycling,”, Zainuddin proudly wears clothes refashioned from discarded garments on a daily basis. “Today’s top I’m wearing, it was a romper, which I refashioned into a high-low top,” she said, referring to her fitted ivory sleeveless blouse with embroidery details. “[The bottom part] is actually being transformed into a bow that sits on top of my shoulder of a tote bag that I’m making from an old skirt. Because as a designer, I still am a practicing designer, I just don’t believe in teaching and not practicing what you preach.”
“Walk the Talk”
While individuals like Zainuddin are making sustainability-conscious lifestyle choices and influencing others to follow suit, Sunway City is exploring new ways to closely align modern city life with the UNSDGs. Cheah hopes that a new government will steer things in the right direction.
The business mogul used to feel taken advantage of as he executed many urban renewal projects on his own which technically fell under government responsibilities. “We walk the talk. They don’t walk the talk,” said Cheah, frustrated with the former government’s inefficiency. “Hopefully, with the new government, people will listen, rather than they hear you, but they don’t listen.”
Learning from past mistakes, the conglomerate is already replicating the Sunway model elsewhere in Malaysia. Sunway City Ipoh in Perak and Sunway Iskandar in Johor are both set to promise the same sustainability-backed prosperity. The story of a flourishing integrated green township built from scratch even offers urban planning inspirations worldwide.
Yet, resources, policies and cultures do place restraints onto cross-national endeavors. “We’re doing a small project, ecocity project in Tianjin,” added Chew, as Sunway Group got invited by provinces in China to recreate the miracle. “But we probably don’t have the resources to build so many townships overseas.”
Lexie Ma, Tom Tsui and FY Lung are students at the Hong Kong University Journalism and Media Studies Center
August 20, 2018
During his ten years as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan was often spoken of as a figure of preternatural calm. He appeared, even to those who worked most closely with him, to be a man devoid of anger, who would never take things personally—a quality reflected in his habit of speaking, when matters of consequence were at stake, in the royal “we.” Annan’s ability to project this unflappable persona—the honest broker between conflicting interests—was generally cited as his great strength. In other, much more profound ways, however, this aloofness was his defining weakness.
Prior to becoming Secretary-General, in 1997, Annan served as the head of the U.N.’s peacekeeping department, and in that capacity presided over the ignominious failures of the U.N. missions in Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Yet, right up until his death, on Saturday, in Switzerland, he steadfastly refused to acknowledge any meaningful sense of personal or institutional responsibility for these debacles, even as he spoke tirelessly of the world’s desperate need for more responsible leadership—“cool heads and sober judgment,” as he put it in an interview with the BBC, in April, in one of his final public appearances, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.
Kofi Annan and his wife Nane Lagergren
Annan’s image of cool was, of course, just that: an image. There is no mistaking the prickly personal pique, for instance, in a cable he sent in 1995, on the eve of the first anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, to another U.N. official. The tone of defensive derision is established in the first sentence: “Every now and then some journalist or human rights advocate remarks, usually on the media, that either they themselves or someone else had warned UNAMIR”—the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda—“of the impending genocide.” Annan then wrote, “We do not recall any specific reports from Kigali to this effect.” A review of the peacekeeping files, he wrote, had turned up only four cables from Kigali in the months preceding the genocide that mentioned “ethnic tensions as being possibly related—or not related—to specific incidents of violence.”
But, in reality, one of the four cables Annan listed consisted of an alarmingly specific report of preparations for the genocide, sent by his force commander in Kigali, the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, in January of 1994. Dallaire had heard from a trusted informant on the payroll of Rwanda’s ruling party, who described plans to “provoke a civil war,” and to kill Belgian peacekeepers in order to scuttle the U.N. mission. The informant himself said he was involved in drawing up lists of Tutsis in Kigali, and Dallaire wrote, “He suspects it is for their extermination. Example he gave was that in twenty minutes his personnel could kill up to a thousand Tutsis.” Dallaire asked for permission to act on this information by raiding and seizing illegal arms caches. Annan’s office replied at once, in a cable under his name, and signed by his deputy, telling Dallaire not to act but, rather, to follow diplomatic protocol and share his information with Rwanda’s President—the head of the party that Dallaire wanted to act against. Three months later, in April of 1994, everything that Dallaire described in his warning took place, and in the course of a hundred days around a million Tutsis were massacred.
In May of 1998, when I published a report on Dallaire’s fax and Annan’s response, Annan—who had since been promoted to Secretary-General—dismissed reporters’ questions on the exchange, saying, “This is an old story which is being rehashed.” And he said, “I have no regrets.” The following year, when a U.N.-commissioned investigation described Annan’s failure to share the information in Dallaire’s fax with the Security Council as “incomprehensible,” he remained studiously cool and impersonal. “All of us must bitterly regret that we did not do more to prevent it,” he said. “On behalf of the United Nations, I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse.”
Annan was the first Secretary-General ever to come from a lifelong career in the U.N. bureaucracy. In a Profile I wrote of him, in 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq War, I described how that background had shaped his instincts and reflexes:
Annan’s habit of speaking in the name of the U.N. when he is criticized, and of casting the collective burden of the organization’s failures on the shoulders of the world at large, stands in stark contrast to his willingness to take credit when there’s praise to be had. It is a deeply ingrained reflex among U.N. officials to blame the member states for the organization’s failures, just as the member states blame the U.N. for theirs. Invariably, there are well-founded grievances on both sides of this seesaw of complaint, but they cannot properly be judged by the same standards.
As Secretary-General, Annan sought to assert the U.N.’s authority as the ultimate arbiter of legitimacy and legality in international affairs. The paradox of that authority, however, is that it is entirely derived from the sovereign powers over which it is meant to hold sway. Annan’s insistence that the U.N. could not be blamed for its failures, but that it should get credit in the event of success, failed to resolve that paradox.
As Secretary-General, he resisted the temptation to make any more of the false promises of protection that the U.N. had repeatedly betrayed on his watch at peacekeeping, and for this he was hailed as a reformer. But his attempt to recast the U.N.’s role as an international legal authority meant limiting its legitimacy to nothing more, nor less, than the Security Council’s seal of approval. And the contradictions of this legalistic position came to a head in the run-up to the Iraq War. When the United States made its case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein on the basis of Saddam’s refusal to comply with past Security Council resolutions, Annan was caught in a bind, helping to steer the Security Council into granting legitimacy to a war that he and most of the U.N.’s member states considered illegitimate.
Annan was the last U.N. Secretary-General to figure, in news headlines and public consciousness, as a central figure in the major international conflicts of his time. That he was weak was a function, chiefly, of his office, but it was also a function of his curious mixture of grandiosity and unaccountability. He fancied himself a great leader, but he was constitutionally incapable of accepting the burdens that great leadership entails. In his final press conference as Secretary-General, he spoke bitterly, even mockingly, of being asked to carry the weight of his office. “There is a tendency in certain places to blame the Secretary-General for everything, for Rwanda, for Srebrenica, for Darfur,” he said. “But should we not also blame the Secretary-General for Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the tsunami, earthquakes? Perhaps the Secretary-General should be blamed for all of those things. We can have fun with that, if you want.” This past April, when he sat for his interview with the BBC, Annan was pressed one last time to acknowledge that some of his actions and inactions on the world stage had had consequences. He was as dismissive as ever. Of Bosnia, he said, “It’s always easy to find a scapegoat.” Of Rwanda, he said, “We were helpless.” May he rest in peace.