Malaysia’s national shipping line: The Robert Kuok Memoirs


November 27, 2017

How I launched Malaysia’s national shipping line (and what Genghis Khan had to do with it): the Robert Kuok memoirs

In the fifth extract from Robert Kuok’s memoir, the Malaysian-born tycoon reveals how patriotism drove him to launch the country’s national shipping line and how he drew inspiration from the Mongol warrior.

By Robert Kuok

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2121108/how-i-launched-malaysias-national-shipping-line-and-what-genghis

CUT THE APRON STRINGS AND CAST OFF

Image result for Shipping magnate Frank Tsao

Shipping Magnate Frank  WK Tsao

In 1967, word reached my ears that the Blue Funnel Group was coming to set up the national shipping line of Malaysia. Blue Funnel was probably the largest shipping conglomerate in Britain at that time. It owned Blue Funnel, Glen Line, Straits Steamship Co in Singapore, and many other lines. The Executive Chairman, a man whom I recall walked with a bad limp, was making frequent lobbying trips from London to Kuala Lumpur. I was interested in applying for the licence, so I chatted with a few of my Malay civil-servant friends. They agreed that I should put in a similar application to be considered for the right to establish the national shipping line.

My interest was partly patriotism … to help Malaysia not be tied to the apron string of the ex-colonial government

My interest was partly patriotism – a desire to help Malaysia to launch its own independent shipping line and not be tied to the apron strings of the ex-colonial government of Britain through Blue Funnel. I had become interested in shipping from about 1964, due to our large-scale buying of sugar for our refinery, wheat for our flourmill and our international commodities-trading activities. For example, we bought free-on-board sugar from India and delivered it to the Government of Indonesia on a cost-and-freight basis (sellers only wanted to sell on the basis of delivery at their own ports; buyers wanted the sugar delivered to their ports. Thus, covering the span of the ocean was my risk).

Robert Kuok

In those days, shipping was quite volatile and freight rates could sometimes shoot up 25-30 per cent. Since margins on sugar trading were small, you could easily make money on your trade, but lose on the freight. There was one problem: I knew nothing about shipping. I did know that in any business, unless you know the tricks of the trade, you can be badly burnt. I couldn’t even submit a decent memo for the application. So I looked for a partner.

A FRANK ADMISSION

On one trip to Hong Kong, I had been introduced by a Malay civil-servant friend to a man called Frank WK Tsao. I remembered that Tsao was a shipping man, Chairman of International Maritime Carriers, so I telephoned him. I said I would like to come and see him to discuss a business proposal. He gave me an appointment and I flew to Hong Kong. When I went to his office, Tsao was only mildly friendly. I was quite humble in my approach. I told him that we had met. He said, “Oh yes, we have met, we have met.” In business life, you learn early on that you must swallow your pride. I told him that some Malay civil servants, who wanted to stir up competition, were encouraging me to submit an application to set up a national shipping line.

There was one problem: I knew nothing about shipping. I did know that in any business, unless you know the tricks of the trade, you can be badly burnt.

I said, “I can’t differentiate between the front and rear ends of a ship,” which was a bit of an exaggeration, “so why don’t you come and help me to set up the Malaysian national shipping line? You’re well known in the shipping business. Are you willing to become my partner?” Without thinking for a second, he retorted, “Do you know, so and so and so and so have also approached me. They are Tan Sris, and I turned them all down.”

He was virtually saying “And who are you? I’ve turned down people way ahead of you in the pecking order in Malaysia.” When I heard these remarks and saw his body language, I said, “I’m sorry then. I thought I would give you first crack. I am going to go at it.” I didn’t tell him what a determined man I am in life.

I concluded, “Never mind, nothing has been lost by this little chat we’ve had. Thank you for receiving me.” I got up and was walking out when he shouted, “Oh, no, no. Please, Mr Kuok. Don’t go! Don’t go! Sit down, sit down.”

To this day I don’t know what made Frank change his mind. I had one shipping expert on staff, Tony Goh, a Singaporean- Chinese who was running my plywood factory. Tony had been a manager at Ben Line, a Scottish liner, before he joined me in 1964. So I sent Tony Goh to draft the memo with Frank Tsao.

I rewrote certain parts to suit the reading style of the Malaysian civil servants, and we submitted the memo in the joint names of Kuok Brothers and Frank’s International Maritime Carriers. A little later, I heard that we were one of the leading contenders. I asked Frank to meet me in Kuala Lumpur. I had made up my mind that we should pick one day to call on as many important ministers as possible. From eight in the morning we whipped around Kuala Lumpur at a furious pace, such as you can’t do today due to the traffic, and saw seven ministers by lunchtime. Some of them gave us good time and good hearings, and we told them the same story. In the afternoon, we visited one or two more.

I remember calling on the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Home Minister Tun Dr Ismail, Finance Minister Tan Siew Sin, Minister of Works Sambanthan and Minister of Transport Sardon Jubir.

Tun Dr Ismail, the former Malaysian interior minister.

OUR SHIP COMES IN

Within two or three weeks, we were picked at a cabinet meeting to start the national shipping line, Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC). We were like a dark horse coming from behind in the last furlong and pipping the favourite at the post!

I was Chairman of the Board and provided business management guidance. Frank Tsao’s side provided the shipping expertise. Just around the time of MISC’s formation in 1968, my dear friend Tun Dr Ismail resigned from government when he found that he had cancer. I immediately invited him to be the first Chairman of MISC.

I was inspired by the example of Genghis Khan, who, when he conquered cities, usually turned the spoils over to his generals and soldiers

Frank Tsao already knew Tun Dr Ismail through a textile-mill investment Frank had made in Johor (Dr Ismail resigned from MISC after the May 13, 1969, riots to return to the Cabinet. I then took over the chairmanship until the 1980s). Our first two ships came from the Japanese. Simultaneous with our moves to start the shipping line, there was an initiative by the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to demand war reparations from Japan.

The Chinese community was angry about the Japanese massacre of innocent Chinese and was seeking compensation for this blood debt. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian Prime Minister, supported the demand and raised the issue during official trips to Japan. The Japanese finally agreed to give two blood-debt ships to Malaysia, which the Japanese called “goodwill ships”. MISC started with these two cargo ships and paid for them on a monthly bare-boat, hire-charter basis. Frank’s ship architects and engineers in Hong Kong supervised the design and construction in Japan. Tunku Abdul Rahman made some very cogent suggestions about the design of the flag for this new national flag carrier.

Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, left, and finance minister Tan Siew Sin in 1969.

MISC had an initial paid-up capital of 10 million ringgit. Since Kuok Brothers led the show, we took 20 per cent; Frank Tsao took 15 per cent. As the ships were reparation from the Japanese to the Malayan Chinese Association, not to the Malaysian nation, the vessels were assessed a reasonable value and the MCA was given MISC shares in lieu of payment.

MCA and other Chinese associations, combined, took 20-30 per cent, so in the beginning the holding of Kuok Brothers, Frank and the MCA group together was easily over 50 per cent. We had a fairly united board in the beginning. MISC started business in the second half of 1969 and quickly flourished. Much of the credit must go to Frank, the deputy chairman, who recommended capable managers such as Eddie Shih. Shih, another Shanghainese who had settled in Hong Kong, ran the show with Tony Goh. Very early on,

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MISC Managing Director Leslie Eu Peng Meng

Tony recommended his one-time colleague in Ben Line, Leslie Eu, who at the time was manager of Ben Line Bangkok. Leslie, the son of Burmese Chinese who had settled in Malaysia, quit Ben Line and came in as Managing Director of MISC.

YES, PRIME MINISTER

Within a year of our launching MISC, Tun Razak, who by then was prime minister, sent for me. Razak said, “I want you to make a fresh issue of 20 per cent of new shares. I’m under pressure because there is not a high enough Malay percentage of shareholding.” I said, “Tun, are you quite serious about this request?” He answered, “Yes, Robert.” So I replied that I would do it. I went back and, with a little bit of arm-twisting, persuaded the board to pass a resolution waiving the rights of existing shareholders to a rights issue (MISC was not yet a public company). Razak allocated all the new shares to government agencies. So, I was diluted to 20 upon 120 – the enlarged base – and Frank became 15 upon 120.

Tun Razak.

One or two years later, Razak again sent for me. He said, “I’m under a lot of pressure at Cabinet meetings. You know, Robert, it’s just the price of your success. MISC is doing well, people are getting envious. But now, instead of giving in to those factions, what I’ve decided is this: Issue another twenty per cent, five per cent to each of four port cities in Malaysia.”

I have always believed in some degree of socialism when you have made money

This entailed enlarging the capital base to 140 from the original 100, making the Malaysian Government the largest single shareholder and relegating Kuok Brothers to second position. And he again wanted the shares issued at par – the original issue price.

I said, “Tun, I have always cooperated with you, but it’s getting very difficult. Three, four years have elapsed from formation, but I would be loath to ask you for a premium since we are a growing company. So I will go back and ask the board again to issue shares at par to you. But Tun, can you please promise me that this is the last time?” He smiled and very gently signified his agreement, without saying the words.

GIVING LIKE GENGHIS

Then Frank and I decided that we should go public. Before we listed in 1987, I made quite a radical move, adopting a practice that I had used within Kuok Brothers. I explained to my Kuok Brothers senior directors that the MISC shares were now worth a lot of money, but only because of the great effort put in by other members of the board and many of the very deserving staff. I wanted to take about 15 per cent of our shareholding and sell the shares at par to deserving directors, staff and ship captains. Quite a number of people benefited from this move. I have always believed in some degree of socialism when you have made money. You know very well that you alone didn’t make it; it was a joint effort.

I was inspired by the example of Genghis Khan, who, when he conquered cities, usually turned the spoils over to his generals and soldiers. He was not selfish, and that is why he became the greatest general the world has ever seen.

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on Dec 1 and in Indonesia on Jan 1, 2018

Malaysian train on wrong track, says tycoon Kuok in memoir


November 27, 2017

Malaysian train on wrong track, says tycoon Kuok in his memoir

https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/24454/

Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew Sin

TYCOON Robert Kuok has released his autobiography in Hong Kong and Singapore today, detailing his thoughts on Malaysia and his relationship with its Prime Ministers.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP), which Kuok once owned, released excerpts of his memoir today.

IN the 376-page “Robert Kuok, A Memoir”, the 54th richest man in the world, according to Bloomberg, said he had known all of Malaysia’s six Prime Ministers and shared how he saw Malaysia’s trajectory as far back as 1969.

Tunku – chief trustee of a nation

Kuok, who is also ranked Malaysia’s richest man, said first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was a well-educated law graduate with “tremendous rhythm”.

Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew SinTunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. And he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not. –Robert Kuok

 

“If you talk of brains, Tunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. His mother was Thai, and he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not.

“Tunku was less mindful about administrative affairs. But he had a good number two in Tun (Abdul) Razak (Hussein), who was extremely industrious, and Tunku left most of the paperwork to Razak.”

The 94-year-old said Tunku had many friends but he would not adopt cronies.

“His friends sometimes helped him, or they sent him a case of champagne or slabs of specially imported steak. He loved to grill steaks on his lawn and open champagne, wine or spirits. Tunku would also do favours for his friends, but he never adopted cronies.

“When Tan Siew Sin was Finance Minister, Tunku sent him a letter about a Penang businessman who was one of Tunku’s poker-playing buddies. It seems the man had run into tax trouble and was being investigated by the tax department, and he had turned to Tunku for help.

Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew Sin

 

“In his letter, Tunku wrote, ‘You know so-and-so is my friend. I am not asking any favours of you, Siew Sin, but I am sure you can see your way to forgiving him,’ or something to that effect.”

But Kuok said Siew Sin was upset and marched into Dr. Ismail (Abdul Rahman)’s office to complain.

Image result for Tun Dr. Ismail

“Ismail took the letter, crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the waste-paper basket. He then said, ‘Siew Sin, Tunku has done his duty by his friend. Now, by ignoring Tunku, you will continue to do your duty properly’,” Kuok said.

“That was as far as Tunku would go to help a friend. Cronyism is different. Cronies are lapdogs who polish a leader’s ego. In return, the leader hands out national favours to them.

“A nation’s assets, projects and businesses should never be for anyone to hand out, neither for a king nor a prime minister. A true leader is the chief trustee of a nation. If there is a lack of an established system to guide him, his fiduciary sense should set him on the proper course.”

Kuok said a leader who practised cronyism justified his actions by doing everything necessary to achieve his ends.

A different man after 1969

Kuok said Tunku was a different man after the May 13 race riots. Tunku felt he had helped the country gain independence and had ruled as wisely as he could, yet, the Malays turned on him for purportedly selling out to the Chinese, said Kuok.

“In fairness to Tunku, he had done nothing of the sort. He was a very fair man who loved the nation and its people. But he knew that, if you favour one group, you only spoil them. When the British ruled Malaya, they extended certain advantages to the Malays.

“When the Malays took power following independence on August 31, 1957, more incentives were given to them. But there was certainly no showering of favours.”

Kuok said everything changed after 1969 due to extremist Malays attributing their poverty to plundering Chinese and Indians.

“The more thoughtful leaders were shunted aside and the extremists hijacked power. They chanted the same slogans as the hotheads – the Malays are underprivileged; the Malays are bullied – while themselves seeking to become super-rich.

“When these Malays became rich, not many of them did anything for the poor Malays; the Chinese and Indians who became rich created jobs, many of them filled by Malays.”

Pro-Malay Malaysia

Kuok said prior to 1969 the government would open tenders and if a company worked hard, it would succeed “eight or nine times out of 10”.

“But things were changing, veering more and more towards cronyism and favouritism.”

Kuok said Malay leaders were quite reasonable in running the country and gave Malays an advantage at times.

“Then, when they see that they have overdone it, they try to redress the problem. Their hearts are in the right place, but they just cannot see their way out of their problems. Since May 13, 1969, the Malay leadership has had one simple philosophy: the Malays need handicapping. Now, what amount of handicapping?”

Closing the gap but opening new wounds

Kuok said Malaysia’s zeal to narrow the wealth gap between the races caused even more racism.

“As a Chinese who was born and grew up in Malaysia, and went to school with the Malays, I was saddened to see the Malays being misled in this way. I felt that, in their haste to bridge the economic gap between the Chinese and the Malays, harmful shortcuts were being taken. One of the side effects of their zeal to bridge the economic gap was that racism became increasingly ugly.

“I saw very clearly that the path being pursued by the new leaders after 1969 was dangerous. But hardly anyone was willing to listen to me.”

Hussein Onn and the three sons

Image result for Tun Hussein Onn

 

Kuok said his father and Hussein Onn’s father, Onn Jaafar had known each other since the 1930s. Kuok and Hussein were even classmates at one time.

And he told the third Prime Minister to use the best Malaysians for the job regardless of race, colour and creed before he took over.

“You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein. The firstborn is Malay, the second-born is Chinese, the third-born is Indian. What we have been witnessing is that the firstborn is more favoured than the second or third. Hussein, if you do that in a family, your eldest son will grow up very spoiled.

“As soon as he attains manhood, he will be in the nightclubs every night. The second and third sons, feeling the discrimination, will grow up hard as nails.

“Please, Hussein, use the best brains, the people with their hearts in the right place, Malaysians of total integrity and strong ability, hard-working and persevering people. Use them regardless of race, colour or creed.

“The other way, Hussein, the way your people are going – excessive handicapping of Bumiputeras, showering love on your first son – your firstborn is going to grow up with an attitude of entitlement.”

Kuok said Hussein was quiet for a while and after that he said: “No, Robert. I cannot do it. The Malays are now in a state of mind such that they will not accept it.”

He clearly spelt out to me that, it was going to be Malay rule, said Kuok.

“I felt disappointed, but there was nothing more that I could do. Hussein was an honest man of very high integrity. Before going to see him, I had weighed his strength of character, his shrewdness and skill. We had been in the same class, sharing the same teachers.

“I knew Hussein was going to be the Malaysian Prime Minister whom I was closest to in my lifetime. I think Hussein understood my message, but he knew that the process had gone too far.

“I had seen a picture developing all along of a train moving in the wrong direction. During Hussein’s administration, he was only partially successful in stemming the tide. The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. Hussein wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.” – November 25, 2017.

‘Robert Kuok, A Memoir’ will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on December 1 and in Indonesia on January 1.

https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/24454/



Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

The Edge logo

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

Image result for Hidup Melayu

Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

Image result for Hidup Melayu--Najib Razak

Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

Image result for Trumpism in America

Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).

The Guardian Book Review: Nick Clegg’s Politics


September 11, 2016

The Guardian Book Review

Politics by Nick Clegg – A painful read

by David Runchiman

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/08/politics-by-nick-clegg-review

Clegg Politics and Cameron rose garden

How long does it take to decompress from the extraordinary pressures of holding high political office, especially when it ends really badly? Bereavement takes at least two years. Nick Clegg suffered a kind ofpolitical death last May, with the added misery of having it played out in the full glare of the cameras. Yet here he is, barely 16 months on, with a book reflecting on his experiences, most of it written presumably in the still raw aftermath of his humiliation. Of the five stages of grief, Clegg seems to have got beyond denial, but he is a long way from acceptance. This is the work of someone stuck between anger and bargaining. The result is a pretty painful read.

In his introduction he promises us something different: a step back to reflect on what’s gone wrong with politics and how to rescue rational, liberal discourse in an age of populist anger run amok. But as such a visible victim of that anger, he keeps scratching away at his personal wounds. Take tuition fees: he fronts up about what a disaster it was to renege on the Lib Dem promise not to raise them, and in particular to be bullied by the NUS into having every Lib Dem MP (Clegg included) sign a pledge promising to vote against future rises. He also admits to being too easily swayed by the demands of leading universities to solve their funding problems. Vice-chancellors were going “nuts”. “If only I had dug in my heels and let them go nuts,” Clegg writes with the benefit of hindsight. So why didn’t he? Partly, he says, because he had too much else on his plate. But it still sounds weak. Getting outmanoeuvred by bolshy students and antsy academics was not a good omen for dealing with far tougher opponents, including those he faced inside the coalition government.

Clegg insists that the Lib Dems were caught between a rock and a hard place on tuition fees and the final policy was the fairest compromise they could muster, with safeguards built in to protect less advantaged students. He says the anger the issue aroused was “totemic”. And though he tries hard to take his medicine, he can’t resist a few whines of self-pity. The two main parties are hardly “paragons of consistency”, so why is this the U-turn everyone remembers? He blames himself for not having at least tried to delay the decision so that it didn’t overshadow everything that followed. But he also blames the British political system for making everything so tribal, with the decent people in the middle getting squeezed.

As a result, he ends up sounding like just another politician. It wasn’t the policy that was wrong, it was the way we communicated it: that’s the fallback of every failing government. His complaints about the unfairness of the system also betray a more basic problem. Throughout, Clegg expresses his surprise and regret that voters were not prepared to credit the Lib Dems for their willingness to compromise for the sake of good government. He says they had no choice but to join the coalition after the 2010 election: anything else would have revealed the party to be fundamentally unserious about power. It would also have let the country down at a perilous economic moment, with the public finances in desperate need of stability. Yet the Lib Dems got no reward for this seriousness of purpose, nor for all the hard work they put in over the next five years to moderate Tory extremism and deliver sensible policies in testing circumstances. Clegg can’t really have been surprised. As he also admits, this has been the fate of junior coalition partners almost everywhere: they get punished for their compromises by voters who see it as evidence of weakness. What’s so special about the Lib Dems that they should have been viewed differently?

Clegg’s bemusement that the British electorate could not see how much good his party had done is either disingenuous or startlingly arrogant. And for all its self-flagellating moments, there is a streak of arrogance running through this book. Clegg keeps telling us that he took decisions on their merits, having done his homework, unlike his Tory partners in government who were more often looking for party political advantage. But why should we think that the deputy PM – especially one as overworked, understaffed and strung out as Clegg tells us he was during his time in government – has some special insight into “the right thing to do”? He would have been better off focusing more on party political advantage for his own side. The absolute priority for the Lib Dems from the coalition agreement was constitutional reform, above all a change to the first-past-the-post voting system. But they got hammered in the 2011 AV referendum, after the Tories did everything in their power to undermine Clegg personally (even using the tuition fees fiasco against him), and Labour saw it as a chance to get in a few cheap shots. Clegg calls all this depressingly short-sighted by the other parties. But given where focusing on the long-term interests of the country has left him and his party, who looks short-sighted now?

The best way for minor parties to survive coalition government is to find some means of maintaining a sharply distinct identity. Clegg thought the Lib Dems should muck in where they were needed, which was fatal. He tells us of his many behind-the-scenes triumphs facing down Cameron and Osborne when they went too far. He wants us to know he’s a lot tougher than he looks. But he never attempted to humiliate them publicly, in the way they repeatedly humiliated him. Nor did he try to peel them off from each other or simply cause trouble for its own sake. It’s hard to think of any occasion when Clegg managed to embarrass the coalition deliberately rather than inadvertently. He was above that sort of thing. So he got crushed in the end.

A further sadness hanging over this book is the result of the EU referendum, which is referenced in a few last-minute tweaks to the text. The causes Clegg has stood for all his life – Europeanism, cosmopolitanism, liberal compromise – are in disarray. At the end of Politics he tries to take stock of what’s brought us to this point – economic stresses, cultural shifts, technological changes – and though he has no real solutions, he refuses to give up on liberal optimism. He hopes we will sooner rather than later rediscover how “to behave in a less tribal way, be civil to one another, be supportive of each other’s efforts to hold the government to account”.

But he knows this is easier said than done – especially since he is not immune to some tribalism of his own. In describing his political formation during the Blair years, it’s clear that a dislike of the Labour party – or the “Labour machine” as he calls it – runs in Clegg’s DNA. He would have found it incredibly hard to enter government with Labour; the Tories were always his preference. To call Clegg himself a secret Tory is unfair. He was his own man, liberal in his instincts, serious-minded, earnest, level-headed. He is totally plausible when he says that he never got caught up with “Cleggmania” following his performance in the first leaders’ debate during the 2010 general election campaign. His “Dutch blood” has made him “immune to great rushes to the head”. Still, given the ultimate failure of his time in government, he might have been better trying to access a bit more of his inner Tory bastard.

Condolences to Singaporeans on the Passing of President S R Nathan


August 23, 2016

To all our Friends, Associates, the Government and People of Singapore, and Madam Urmilla Nathan and the Nathan family, Dr. Kamsiah and I wish to convey our condolences on the passing of former President S R Nathan on August 22, 2016.

Having read his 651 page memoirs,  An Unexpected Journey: Path to the Presidency twice, I have grown to admire and feel close to Mr. Nathan for his many achievements in the service of his country. May Mr. Nathan, a towering but humble man, who inspired countless Singaporeans from all walks of life and  won countless friends in ASEAN and the rest of the world for Singapore rest in peace.  –Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

Former President S R Nathan dies, aged 92

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/former-president-s-r/3064846.html

Mr. S R Nathan and his wife Urmila Nathan posing for a picture together in their living room on Aug 21, 1999.PHOTO: ST FILE

“I have known Mr Nathan for 40 years, since I was a young officer in SAF. I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. He stepped up each time duty called. He was a true son of Singapore.”–Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

SINGAPORE: Former President S R Nathan died on Monday (August 22), three weeks after suffering a stroke. He was 92.

In its statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said: “The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr S R Nathan and would like to convey their condolences to his family. The late Mr Nathan passed away peacefully at Singapore General Hospital on Monday at 9.48pm.

The PMO said a state funeral service will be held for the late Mr Nathan from 4pm on Friday at the University Cultural Centre in NUS.

His body will lie in state at the Parliament House from 10 am on Thursday to 12 pm on Friday, and members of the public who wish to pay their last respects can do so from 10 am to 8 pm on Thursday, according to the statement.

PMO also said that condolence boards will be available at the Istana from 6am on Tuesday for those who wish to pen tributes to the late President.

Mr Nathan had been warded at Singapore General Hospital since his stroke on July 31. He leaves his wife, daughter, son and three grandchildren.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam said that he and his wife Mary were “deeply saddened” by Mr Nathan’s passing. “As President of Singapore, Mr Nathan championed social causes by initiating the President’s Challenge in 2000. The President’s Challenge gained much support from the community and raised over $100 million for more than 500 beneficiaries during Mr Nathan’s two terms of office,” he wrote on Facebook.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent his condolences to Mrs Nathan and the family. “I have known Mr Nathan for 40 years, since I was a young officer in SAF. I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation. He stepped up each time duty called. He was a true son of Singapore,” Mr Lee said.

Mr Nathan officially stepped down on Aug 31, 2011 after announcing that he would not seek a third term in office, and was succeeded by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

After stepping down as President, Mr Nathan took up appointments as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Yusof Ishak Institute) and at the Singapore Management University’s School of Social Sciences.

Prior to becoming President, he held key positions in the civil service, as well as in security, intelligence and foreign affairs. He was appointed as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia in 1988 and later Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States of America from 1990 to 1996.

He also served as Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, and later Pro-Chancellor of the National University of Singapore.

Hillary’s Memoirs–Hard Choices


July 24, 2016

Hillary’s Memoirs–Hard Choices

by David Runciman (June 12, 2014)

 

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Steely determination … Hillary Clinton. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton review – buttoned-up but still revealing

What is Hillary Clinton’s strategy for becoming president – sheer persistence? This faintly robotic but impressive memoir is the latest chapter in an amazing story

If Hillary Clinton becomes the next American president she won’t just be the first woman to hold that office: she’ll be the first Secretary of State to get there since James Buchanan in 1857. Unlike in Britain, where foreign secretaries and chancellors of the exchequer routinely go on to the top job, senior US cabinet positions are not seen as stepping stones to the White House. No secretary of the treasury has ever become president. Cabinet officers are meant to be functionaries: people whose job is to make sense of the world. Presidents are meant to be politicians: people whose job is to lead it. In this long, exhausting, faintly robotic but ultimately impressive book, Hillary makes her pitch to be both.

When she lost to Obama following their titanic struggle for the Democratic nomination in 2008, she had no intention of serving in his cabinet. She expected to go back to the Senate and plot her next move from there. So, she tells us, it came as a bolt from the blue when Obama offered her the chance to become the US “diplomat-in-chief”. She demurred, still bruised by the hurtful things that had been said about her from his side during the campaign (most hurtful of all, the charge that her husband, who before Obama used jokingly to be called America’s first black president, was a racist). Obama persisted. It didn’t take long for Hillary to be tempted. She says she liked the idea of following in the footsteps of one of her political heroes, William Seward, another senator from New York who lost his party’s presidential nomination and then faithfully served Lincoln, the man who had beaten him, helping to abolish slavery in the process. She also says she was tickled by parallels with the fictional world of The West Wing, where the president-elect offers his defeated rival the job of secretary of state and refuses to take no for an answer. It’s nice to know that even the people at the top have spotted how often life now imitates TV.

However, this can’t be the whole story. Hillary leaves out any mention of political calculation, saying only that “When your President asks you to serve, you should say yes.” But political calculation is what the Clintons do for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hillary says she consulted her husband, and it’s impossible to think they didn’t discuss what it would do to her chances of having another crack at the top job. It might not have looked like the most promising route back. But Hillary had been horribly scarred during the 2008 campaign by her 2002 vote as a senator to authorise the Iraq war. Obama hammered her on it, conveniently ignoring the fact that he wasn’t in the senate back then, so didn’t have to face that particular hard choice. The great thing about being secretary of state is that you don’t have to vote on anything: almost all the work you do is behind the scenes. So it’s a job that gives you the chance to craft your own narrative about the hard choices you faced and how you dealt with them, unhampered by the public record. That’s what Clinton does here, telling us about the fights she won and the fights she lost, but always on her own terms. She comes across as consistently hawkish, pushing Obama to take stronger action in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, though more cautious than some of the excitable young people around him when it came to the Arab Spring (his aides, she says, “were swept up in the drama and idealism”; not her). She is able to explain her thinking in detail, making clear that military action always has to be accompanied by a commitment to social and economic reconstruction – not hard power or soft power but “smart power”. The underlying message is that if Obama didn’t always listen, more fool him.

For most of her tenure this political strategy worked brilliantly. As Obama’s first term drew to an end, she was the most popular politician in the country, her poll ratings far higher than those of her boss, since she was untouched by the miserable struggle to get his domestic programme through Congress. Then cameBenghazi. The attack on the US consulate on 11 September 2012, which claimed the lives of the US Ambassador to Libya and three of his countrymen, is the stick that her opponents now use to beat her with. She has been accused of complicity in the disaster (the inadequate security at the consulate is said to rest at her door) and of trying to cover it up afterwards. Conspiracy theories about what really happened abound, though the likeliest explanation for any gaps in the official narrative is cock-up rather than conspiracy: in the heat of the moment different government agencies spun the evidence to cover their backs. But that doesn’t stop the anti-Hillary conspiracy theorists from having a field day.

“…what comes through is Clinton’s sheer persistence. This is how she does politics, by keeping going and totting up the small victories so that they outweigh the defeats. Unlike Obama, who still appears to believe that politics is about rational argument, and unlike George Bush, who thought it was about vision, Hillary believes it is about breaking things down. She is a disaggregator, who can’t see a problem without trying to make it smaller, more manageable, and only then does she try to fit the pieces back together again.”–David Runciman, Political Theorist at Cambridge University

In the US, the Benghazi chapter of this book is the one that has been most eagerly awaited. It is fair to say that Clinton doesn’t give much away. At the same time, she doesn’t give an inch. She stands on her dignity, insists she acted at all times on the best information she had, profoundly regrets what happened, takes full responsibility but refuses to get drawn into the naked politicisation of a human tragedy. It’s not so much a non-denial denial as a piece of non-political politics. Will it silence the critics? Of course not. They will see it as more evidence that she has something to hide. It gives a glimpse of what any future Hillary campaign for the presidency will be like: the Republicans will try to open up her past; she will try to shut it down.

For those reasons, this is a pretty buttoned-up book. But it is not unrevealing. Clinton gives some clear indications of her likes and dislikes. She doesn’t seem to have much time for David Cameron, whom she appears to find too smooth (she much prefers William Hague); she is warily respectful of Angela Merkel; she was almost charmed by Nicolas Sarkozy; she thinks of Vladimir Putin as little more than a thug. Her silences often speak volumes. She says next to nothing about Samantha Power, the leading Obama foreign policy adviser who once called her a “monster”; she makes no mention at all of Anthony Weiner, the husband of her top aide, Huma Abedin, who humiliated them all with the tawdriest of sex scandals (he was the guy who tweeted his penis, then did it again). She says nothing about the state of her health, though it was bad towards the end of her time in office and is likely to dominate speculation about her future. She insists on her sense of humour, which, as so often, is a clear sign that she doesn’t really have one. She lists the number of times she went on David Letterman’s show to make “pantsuit jokes” (telling us the number – it was three – doesn’t add to the sense of fun). She recounts the moment when she tried to lighten US-Russia relations by giving her Soviet counterpart a literal “reset button”, though unfortunately the Russian word for “reset” was misspelt to mean “overcharged”. She tells us she was tempted to send the official responsible to Siberia. Ho ho.

Above all, what comes through is Clinton’s sheer persistence. This is how she does politics, by keeping going and totting up the small victories so that they outweigh the defeats. Unlike Obama, who still appears to believe that politics is about rational argument, and unlike George Bush, who thought it was about vision, Hillary believes it is about breaking things down. She is a disaggregator, who can’t see a problem without trying to make it smaller, more manageable, and only then does she try to fit the pieces back together again. Peace, she tells us, doesn’t necessarily begin with a grand fanfare. Sometimes it comes out of the temporary ceasefire that holds just long enough to make a difference. Part of why this book is so exhausting is its thoroughness: she travels the whole world and tells us about the different challenges she faced, taking them all seriously. Early on she quotes approvingly a maxim from Deng Xiaoping: “Coolly observe, calmly deal with things, hold your position, hide your capacities, bide your time, accomplish things where possible.” The US could do worse than having Deng as its next President.

Hard Choices is a prosaic book, but still, it is an amazing story. Think back to the first time Hillary entered the world’s consciousness, in early 1992, sitting on a sofa for a joint TV interview to try to rescue her husband from the terminal damage that Gennifer Flowers seemed likely to do to his presidential ambitions. It would have been barely credible back then that both of them might one day be president. But there was a true steeliness to that joint performance which gave a glimpse of the future. Their eyes told a story: we are not going away; we can keep going with this; we will outlast anything you have got. Doggedness is not the only political virtue and, God knows, it’s not the most attractive one. But who’s to say it’s not the most important.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/12/hard-choices-hillary-clinton-review-buttoned-up-revealing