September 25, 2017
September 25, 2017
September 25, 2017
September 25, 2017
by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
Dr. M Bakri Musa–A Prolific Author, Essayist and Public Intellectual
Many attribute America’s dynamism and openness to its tradition of accepting new immigrants, current Trump-stirred anti-immigrant hysteria notwithstanding. The hitch in that presumption is whether the very process of emigrating–the uprooting of oneself from one’s familiar surroundings to seek an uncertain future elsewhere–contributes to the opening up of one’s mind or whether it is the reverse? That is, only those who are already open-minded would consider immigration. In short, what is cause and what is effect?
This issue is complicated by the dynamics of immigration today being so much different from what they were a century ago. Ease of travel and communication has much to do with the change. Today someone from China immigrating to America does not face the same emotionally-wrenching decision as those “shanghaied” to work on American railroads of a century ago. Today’s immigrants could Skype or Facetime their relatives back in the village upon landing at San Francisco airport. They could also return for visits during the New Year and other holidays. Even those who had been forced to leave their native country, as with the Vietnamese refugees, are now able to return freely to their land of birth.
This age of globalization is also referred to as the Age of Migration because of the unprecedented number of people moving across borders either individually or in groups as refugees.
There is angst in Malaysia today (and elsewhere in the developing world) over the “brain drain,” the emigration of its talented citizens. The mainstream media and blogosphere are filled with stories of individuals having to make supposedly heart-wrenching decisions to leave the country of their birth. Those personal dramas and emotions are contrived, and a bit of a stretch.
The experiences of today’s immigrants are in no way comparable to what their earlier counterparts had to endure. Unlike them, present-day immigrants are able to make many trips home or have face-to-face chats via Web camera, not to mention frequent phone calls. Many still hold on to their old passports and retain their properties in the old country. In short, the emotional trauma of immigration, if there is any, is nowhere on the same scale as what those who came before them had to endure. The experiences of the Vietnamese and Somalians should give comfort to current refugees from places like Syria and Afghanistan.
Both Malaysian Prime Ministers–Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak–were chosen by Dr. Mahathir to screw Malaysia to the ground so that he can look good. In doing so, Mahathir destroyed his own legacy. The lesson to learn is : Never be selfish. –Din Merican
This is especially true of immigrants under the “brain drain” category. Their relocation is akin to an extended sojourn abroad and an opportunity to earn a better income, as well as to widen their experiences and perspectives. Because today’s émigrés return home many times, those visits home become occasions for them to relate their new experiences. That in turn helps those at home to have similar “foreign” experiences, albeit vicariously. That too can be mind-liberating on both parties.
Again, modern technology comes to the rescue; it softens if not eliminates the trauma of migration.
The virtual reality that digital technology delivers may lack the sensory and physical components but it still delivers the essence. The images of the carnage perpetrated by a suicide bomber in London carried on your cellphone in the comfort and safety of your palm may not have the smell of burnt flesh, nonetheless the sight of blood, maimed bodies, and screaming victims captures the brute reality close enough.
The Prime Minister and his Deputy Zahid Hamidi –Quality of Leadership?
Digital technology is the transforming invention of our times. As such, access to it should be a basic public service, made free or affordable. It should be considered a public good in the same manner as highways, healthcare, and utilities.
Take for instance highways; it would be hard to consider a country developed without cars and roads. At the same time, both are major killers and destroyers of human life, as well as deleterious to the environment, but those are not reasons not to have cars and roads. Likewise, the digital highway; there are recognized dangers, the obvious being fraud, gambling, and pornography. Again, those are not reasons to ban or limit the Internet. Instead the focus should be on educating citizens on the dangers, just as we do with cars and highway users.
I venture that the broad-mindedness and increasing assertiveness of Malaysians in recent years, especially among the young, is attributable to the fact that Malaysia is an open society and its cyber world remains uncensored. That is one of the few enduring legacies of Mahathir despite his second thoughts lately on Internet freedom. Now that we have tasted freedom albeit only in the cyber world, there is no turning back.
September 19, 2017
by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.–Dr. M Bakri Musa
Modern technology, specifically digital, brings us to the outside world, and it to us. Today what happens in the isolated caves high in the mountains of Kabul can be recorded on a cell phone and then posted on the Web for the whole world to see. Even a repressive regime like China could not control the dissemination of images of its tanks bulldozing innocent citizens back at Tiananmen Square in 1989, though not for lack of trying.
The success of the Arab Jasmine Revolution owes much to this digital revolution. Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ordinary citizens communicated with each other in real time to organize massive demonstrations that brought down powerful leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
I assert that the digital technology is a much more powerful and consequential instrument of liberation than the AK47, hitherto (still is) the favorite with not-so-bright revolutionaries worldwide.
Eygpt’s Hosni Mubarak was derailed not by a gunman, like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, but by a social revolution made possible by the online social network. If there were to be a leader of that movement, it would be Google executive Wael Ghonim. Unlike earlier Arab revolutionaries who were military officers, this guy was, for lack of better word, a geek. What an incredible achievement what he had done! No one could have predicted that Hosni Mubarak, who only a few months previously was the most powerful man in the Arab world, would face charges of premeditated murder for the deaths of those protestors.
Digital technology is not the only modern agent of liberation. Modern transportation has reduced if not removed the barrier of geography. Today I can fly from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur in less time than it took my sister to get from Kuala Pilah to Teachers’ College in Kota Baru via Malayan Railway back in the 1950s.
Travel, in so far as it affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and realities, can be liberating. While the digital revolution might afford a virtual reality on the convenience and safety of your sofa, travel lets you experience reality in its raw, unfiltered physical form.
The liberating effect of travel works both on the traveler as well as the host. This liberating result, however, is not guaranteed. Seeing how the rest of the world operates may not necessarily open up minds; in some it would result in the exact opposite.
The Chinese Emperor of the 15th Century sent out explorers out to the vast Pacific and Indian Oceans. Far from opening up Chinese minds, those exotics foreign expeditions merely reaffirmed their smug superiority that they had nothing to learn from the barbarians outside, a manifestation of a collective “confirmation bias” at the societal level.
The Chinese were so confident of their superiority that they eschewed the need for further foreign explorations. They went further. They ordered the dismantling of their advanced and massive maritime infrastructures and banned the building of boats, declaring that to be frivolous and resource-wasting exercises.
Meanwhile the Europeans continued with theirs. The scale was considerably much less, their ships pale imitations of the Chinese. The length of Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria was less than half the width of Cheng Ho’s.
Unlike the ancient Chinese, the medieval Europeans had no pretensions of grandeur; they explored the world with an open mind. They had no delusions about their ways being the best; instead they observed in those foreign lands things they could take home, like tea and spices. It did not take them long to recognize the enormous potential in trading those commodities by introducing new culinary experiences to European palates. The Europeans also soon discovered that the Chinese had a voracious appetite for opium, which the Brits could secure with ease from India. Lucrative commercial domination soon led to the political variety, and thus colonialism was born.
Why one culture reacted a certain way and another, the very opposite, is intriguing. In the final analysis, it boils down to a culture’s openness to new ideas and experiences, its collective open mindedness. The ancient Chinese had closed minds; the medieval Europeans, open.
Today some foreigners arrive in a new country, and on encountering an alien culture would retreat, fearing it would “contaminate” their pristine values. They would close ranks and congregate in their own little ghettoes, refusing to integrate with the native majority. We see this in America as well as Malaysia.
“…the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Technology and Digitization) is empowering the empowering the economically disadvantaged by giving them access to digital networks, increasing the efficiency of organisations, improving medical care with personalised drugs and providing a technological solution to climate change”.–Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, President, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
Others view their new experiences as open opportunities and endless learning. Some are simply grateful to be given a new lease on life after escaping the wretchedness of their native land. Eastern Europeans who came to America early in the last century were grateful and thus more than eager to join the American mainstream. They readily gave up their old ways to integrate as quickly as possible into their new society. They learned English quickly and changed their names to make them sound more Anglo-Saxon, with Pawlinsky morphing into the less jaw-breaking Paul.
Even when they were actively discriminated against, and the early Jews, Irish and Italians in America definitely were, they continued to adopt American ways. They did not rush to build Italian or Jewish schools; instead they built their own English schools so their children would not be handicapped in integrating into mainstream American society. They did not consider such actions as repudiating or denigrating their own culture. Far from it! They realized that their own culture and ways of life would more likely survive if were to thrive and be successful in their adopted land.
Today St. Patrick Day and Octoberfest are celebrated more exuberantly in Chicago and Milwaukee respectively than in Dublin or Berlin.
It is tempting to attribute the contrasting reactions of early immigrants to America from Europe to later ones from Asia and Latin America to the differences in circumstances that prompted them to emigrate. The Europeans were forcibly thrown out of their native lands through pogroms or wars. In contrast, recent Asian and Latin American immigrants cross the border voluntarily, for the most part (the South Vietnamese being the most recent notable exception). The Europeans did not ever want to return to their homelands. By contrast, many recent Hispanics consider their stay in America temporary, remaining just long enough to accumulate some money so they could return and live comfortably back in their native land. As such, they do not feel compelled to learn English or in any way integrate into American society.
A similar “temporary abode” mentality occurred with immigrants from China and India into Malaysia early last century. Brought in by the colonials to work the tin mines and rubber plantations, their mindset was to work hard, accumulate enough savings, and then balik Tongsan (return to their motherland, China). Hence there was little need to learn the local language or adapt to local culture. They remained insular, xenophobic, and closed-minded.
They were completely different from the Chinese men and women who much earlier voluntarily settled in the Straits Settlement, the Peranakan. They absorbed many of the elements of Malay culture, including the language and attire. They were not obsessed with balik Tongsan. When the British were in charge, those Chinese learned English; in independent Malaysia, they worked with the majority Malays.
The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.
August 28, 2017
by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
Much has changed in the world since 1957 when Malaysia achieved its Merdeka (Independence), with the pace ever accelerating. Great Britain is no longer great, and the Austins and Morris Minors that used to ply Malaysian roads are today found if at all only in the junkyards and collectors’ garages.
The Place Post Independence Malaysian Elites meet
The social landscape too has changed. The Lake Club, a cool oasis in the heart of humid bustling Kuala Lumpur, was once the bastion of colonial privilege where British miners, planters and civil servants retired during the heat of the day to enjoy their stengahs (stouts) and steak, uninterrupted by the offensive sights of the natives spitting on the ground, Chinese maids grunting to clear their throats, and Indian laborers incessantly squirting blood-like betel nut juice through their rotten teeth. Those disgusting and unsanitary habits of the non-colonials could spoil one’s appetite in very short order regardless of the physical ambience.
The staid upscale Robinson Department Store in Mounbatten, Kuala Lumpur was then thriving despite its lack of customers, at least the native variety. Exclusiveness equaled profitability, a concept that is still being aggressively pursued by today’s advertisers in their endless search for lucrative niches. For Robinson, there was little need to cater to the natives; they did not have the money anyway. The few wealthy ones spotted inspecting the store’s merchandise were only too happy to pay the exorbitant prices for the privilege of rubbing shoulders however briefly with their colonial counterparts. For the store, that was an opportunity to jack up the prices and rake in the profits. Then, as now, there was always money to be made catering to people’s vanity, up to a point.
Robinsons today. It is located in The Gardens Mall Lot G-211, Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra
55100 Kuala Lumpur
During a recent visit to Malaysia, I had difficulty finding the old Robinson store. I mean of course the building, as the company itself had long ago disappeared, a casualty of Schumpeter’s creative destruction. As for an evening at the Lake Club, the food–even the Malay cuisines–was way below par compared to those found at the many luxury hotels now in KL. As in those hotels, the Malay food at Lake Club was prepared and served by non-Malays or even non-Malaysians. As for ambience, those foreign hotels are much more luxurious or “exclusive.”
Tourists cannot be faulted for being impressed with Malaysia, especially upon arrival at its gleaming Sepang International Airport. At Customs and Immigration, polite English-speaking officials would be there to greet them.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport @Sepang, Malaysia
That was not always the case. There was a time when the two departments would, to put it kindly, serve as a good introduction to the country. The negligent services were matched only by the tidak apa (lackadaisical) personnel. Since then, frequent comparisons with the efficient operation at the neighboring Singapore airport, only 45 minutes flying time away, had embarrassed the officials sufficiently into making the necessary improvements.
That is the good news; Malaysians are capable of learning when sufficiently shamed. The bad news is that comparisons with the definitely First World Singapore would rattle most Malaysians, especially the UMNO leaders.
When visiting Malaysia, I too like to play tourist, at least for the first few days to ease my transition. There is no point complicating the inevitable jet lag with routines that I have long forgotten, or giving up comforts I have grown accustomed. Once I have recovered, and with the old Malaysian smell and ambience slowly creeping back to re-excite the neurons in the deep recesses of my memory, I yearn to return to the familiar Malaysian ways.
Then I would return to my old village. There, time seems to have remained frozen. This is true of rural Malaysia generally. If there is any change, it is for the worse. Whereas in my youth I had to wait listlessly under the blazing sun for the erratic village bus, today even that service is gone. As for schools, in my time teachers were highly regarded and more than adequately compensated; today the profession is inundated by the bonded and unemployable.
True, during my youth education was a privilege enjoyed by far too few. However, why do we always have to choose between quantity and quality? Strive for both!
Thomas Wolfe’s “you can’t go home again” obviously does not apply to me. When I go back to my village I am indeed returning home and to the time of my youth. Chatting with the old villagers immediately confirms that. It can be unnerving. Sometimes I wonder whether the time I was in medical school and living in North America had just been a dream; awakened, I am back in the drudgery of my kampong life. Only the presence of my wife beside me reassures me otherwise.
In many respects life is now worse for today’s kampong youngsters. At least when I was young I could dream that if I did well in my studies I could escape. Today, even that aspiration is beyond contemplation for most. They may excel in school, but their limited English skills would confine their opportunities and any chance at upward mobility.
There have been many development initiatives introduced over the years, as our politicians constantly remind us, and they all carry exorbitant price tags. Yet for far too many of the villagers and their children–the next generation–life remains unchanged.
It is time for a radical change in approach. Instead of emphasizing the physical aspects of development–freeways, gleaming skyscrapers, and billion-ringgit GLCs–we should focus on changing mindsets, on liberating them. Malays have been longing for a free mind for far too long.
Consider that we had to agitate and at times resort to violence to get our political merdeka; the British did not acquiesce readily or enthusiastically. As for our minda merdeka (free mind), expect even greater obstacles. No one can grant us that; we have to strive for it ourselves, collectively and individually.
It is not in the nature of humans to be cooped under the coconut shell. That is not Allah’s grand design; He wants us to be free so we can undertake our responsibilities as His viceregents in this universe.
There are some worrying trends in Modern Malaysia–Islamisation and Malayness, no longer Unity in Diversity
There are only two options. One is the default setting, meaning, we do nothing but wait passively. If we were to do that, we would reduce ourselves to being victims of circumstances. Rest assured, eventually outside events will topple our shell, as has happened before with the Japanese Occupation. Then ready or not, we were flung out onto the outside world. Though we benefited from the change, the collateral damage was unpredictable and at times unbearable.
The better alternative is to topple our coconut shell on our own. That way we could choose the timing and method, thus minimizing possible collateral damages. Doing so would also empower our people and help create the results we desire.
August 1, 2017
In London last week, I met a Nigerian man who succinctly expressed the reaction of much of the world to the United States these days. “Your country has gone crazy,” he said, with a mixture of outrage and amusement. “I’m from Africa. I know crazy, but I didn’t ever think I would see this in America.”
A sadder sentiment came from a young Irish woman I met in Dublin who went to Columbia University, founded a social enterprise and has lived in New York for nine years. “I’ve come to recognize that, as a European, I have very different values than America these days,” she said. “I realized that I have to come back to Europe, somewhere in Europe, to live and raise a family.”
Trump needs a Liberal Re-Education and there is no better teacher than CNN’s Fareed Zakaria
The world has gone through bouts of anti-Americanism before. But this one feels very different. First, there is the sheer shock at what is going on, the bizarre candidacy of Donald Trump, which has been followed by an utterly chaotic presidency. The chaos is at such a fever pitch that one stalwart Republican, Karl Rove, described the president this week as “vindictive, impulsive and shortsighted” and his public shaming of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid.” Kenneth Starr, the onetime grand inquisitor of President Bill Clinton, went further, calling Trump’s recent treatment of Sessions “one of the most outrageous — and profoundly misguided — courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.”
But there is another aspect to the decline in America’s reputation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 37 countries, people around the world increasingly believe that they can make do without America. Trump’s presidency is making the United States something worse than just feared or derided. It is becoming irrelevant.
The most fascinating finding of the Pew survey was not that Trump is deeply unpopular (22 percent have confidence in him, compared with 64 percent who had confidence in Barack Obama at the end of his presidency). That was to be expected — but there are now alternatives. On the question of confidence in various leaders to do the right thing regarding world affairs, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin got slightly higher marks than Trump. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel got almost twice as much support as Trump. (Even in the United States, more respondents expressed confidence in Merkel than in Trump.) This says a lot about Trump, but it says as much about Merkel’s reputation and how far Germany has come since 1945.
Trump has managed to do something that Putin could not. He has unified Europe. As the continent faces the challenges of Trump, Brexit and populism, a funny thing has happened. Support for Europe among its residents has risen, and plans for deeper European integration are underway. If the Trump administration proceeds as it has promised and initiates protectionist measures against Europe, the continent’s resolve will only strengthen. Under the combined leadership of Merkel and new French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe will adopt a more activist global agenda. Its economy has rebounded and is now growing as fast as that of the United States.
To America’s north, Canada’s Foreign Minister recently spoke out, in a friendly and measured way, noting that the United States has clearly signaled that it is no longer willing to bear the burdens of global leadership, leaving it to countries such as Canada to stand up for a rules-based international system, free trade and human rights. To America’s south, Mexico has abandoned any plans for cooperation with the Trump administration. Trump’s approval rating in Mexico is 5 percent, his lowest of all the countries Pew surveyed.
China’s leadership began taking advantage of Trump’s rhetoric and foreign policy right from the start, announcing that it was happy to play the role of chief promoter of trade and investment around the world, cutting deals with countries from Latin America to Africa to Central Asia. According to the Pew survey, seven of 10 European countries now believe that China is the world’s leading economic power, not the United States.
The most dismaying of Pew’s findings is that the drop in regard for America goes well beyond Trump. Sixty-four percent of the people surveyed expressed a favorable view of the United States at the end of the Obama presidency. That has fallen to 49 percent now. Even when U.S. foreign policy was unpopular, people around the world still believed in America — the place, the idea. This is less true today.
In 2008, I wrote a book about the emerging “Post-American World,” which, I noted at the start, was not about the decline of America but rather the rise of the rest. Amid the parochialism, ineptitude and sheer disarray of the Trump presidency, the post-American world is coming to fruition much faster than I ever expected.
(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group
July 26, 2017
by Stephen S. Roach*
*Stephen S. Roach, former Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and the firm’s chief economist, is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and a senior lecturer at Yale’s School of Management. He is the author of Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China.
Once again, the Chinese economy has defied the hand wringing of the nattering nabobs of negativism. After decelerating for six consecutive years, real GDP growth appears to be inching up in 2017. The 6.9% annualized increase just reported for the second quarter exceeds the 6.7% rise in 2016 and is well above the consensus of international forecasters who, just a few months ago, expected growth to be closer to 6.5% this year, and to slow further, to 6%, in 2018.
I have long argued that the fixation on headline GDP overlooks deeper issues shaping the China growth debate. That is because the Chinese economy is in the midst of an extraordinary structural transformation – with a manufacturing-led producer model giving way to an increasingly powerful services-led consumer model.
To the extent that this implies a shift in the mix of GDP away from exceptionally rapid gains in investment and exports, toward relatively slower-growing internal private consumption, a slowdown in overall GDP growth is both inevitable and desirable. Perceptions of China’s vulnerability need to be considered in this context.
This debate has a long history. I first caught a whiff of it back in the late 1990s, during the Asian financial crisis. From Thailand and Indonesia to South Korea and Taiwan, China was widely thought to be next. An October 1998 cover story in The Economist, vividly illustrated by a Chinese junk getting sucked into a powerful whirlpool, said it all.
Yet nothing could have been further from the truth. When the dust settled on the virulent pan-regional contagion, the Chinese economy had barely skipped a beat. Real GDP growth slowed temporarily, to 7.7% in 1998-1999, before reaccelerating to 10.3% in the subsequent decade.
China’s resilience during the Great Financial Crisis was equally telling. In the midst of the worst global contraction since the 1930s, the Chinese economy still expanded at a 9.4% average annual rate in 2008-2009. While down from the blistering, unsustainable 12.7% pace recorded during the three years prior to the crisis, this represented only a modest shortfall from the 30-year post-1980 trend of 10%. Indeed, were it not for China’s resilience in the depths of the recent crisis, world GDP would not have contracted by 0.1% in 2009, but would have plunged by 1.3% – the sharpest decline in global activity of the post-World War II era.
The latest bout of pessimism over the Chinese economy has focused on the twin headwinds of deleveraging and a related tightening of the property market – in essence, a Japanese-like stagnation. Once more, the Western lens is out of focus. Like Japan, China is a high-saving economy that owes its mounting debt largely to itself. Yet, if anything, China has more of a cushion than Japan to avoid sustainability problems.
According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s national savings is likely to hit 45% of GDP in 2017, well above Japan’s 28% saving rate. Just as Japan, with its gross government debt at 239% of GDP, has been able to sidestep a sovereign debt crisis, China, with its far larger saving cushion and much smaller sovereign debt burden (49% of GDP), is in much better shape to avoid such an implosion.
To be sure, there can be no mistaking China’s mounting corporate debt problem – with non- financial debt-to-GDP ratios hitting an estimated 157% of GDP in late 2016 (versus 102% in late 2008). This makes the imperatives of state-owned enterprise reform, where the bulk of rising indebtedness has been concentrated, all the more essential in the years ahead.
Moreover, there is always good reason to worry about the Chinese property market. After all, a rising middle class needs affordable housing. With the urban share of China’s population rising from less than 20% in 1980 to more than 56% in 2016 – and most likely headed to 70% by 2030 – this is no trivial consideration.
But this means that Chinese property markets – unlike those of other fully urbanized major economies – enjoy ample support from the demand side, with the urban population likely to remain on a 1-2% annualized growth trajectory over the next 10-15 years. With Chinese home prices up nearly 50% since 2005 – nearly five times the global norm (according to the Bank for International Settlements and IMF global housing watch) – affordability is obviously a legitimate concern. The challenge for China is to manage prudently the growth in housing supply needed to satisfy the demand requirements of urbanization, without fostering excessive speculation and dangerous asset bubbles.
Meanwhile the Chinese economy is also drawing support from strong sources of cyclical resilience in early 2017. The 11.3% year-on-year gain in exports recorded in June stands in sharp contrast with earlier years, which were adversely affected by a weaker post-crisis global recovery. Similarly, 10% annualized gains in inflation-adjusted retail sales through mid-2017 – about 45% faster than the 6.9% pace of overall GDP growth – reflect impressive growth in household incomes and the increasingly powerful (and possibly under-reported) impetus of e-commerce.
Pessimists have long viewed the Chinese economy as they view their own economies – repeating a classic mistake that Yale historian Jonathan Spence’s seminal assessment warned of many years ago. The asset bubbles that broke Japan and the United States are widely presumed to pose the same threat in China. Likewise, China’s recent binge of debt-intensive economic growth is expected to have the same consequences as such episodes elsewhere.
Forecasters find it difficult to resist superimposing the outcomes in major crisis-battered developed economies on China. That has been the wrong approach in the past; it is wrong again today.