Sunday, 21 May 2017

Singaporeans have evolved a distinctive identity: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Chinese Singaporeans confident of culture and aware they differ from Chinese elsewhere
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 May 2017

Singapore is not a melting pot, but a society where each race is encouraged to preserve its unique culture and traditions, and appreciate and respect those of others, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

No race or culture is coerced into conforming with other identities, let alone that of the majority, he added yesterday at the opening of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) in Shenton Way.

In fostering such an approach for a multiracial, multi-religious society rooted in its Asian cultures, Singaporeans need the arts and culture "to nourish our souls", Mr Lee said.

"We don't wish Singapore to be a First World economy but a third-rate society, with a people who are well off but uncouth. We want to be a society rich in spirit, a gracious society where people are considerate and kind to one another, and as Mencius said, where we treat all elders as we treat our own parents, and other children as our own."

In a speech, Mr Lee articulated how Singapore's multiracial approach has forged a distinctive Singaporean identity that is unique.

Singapore's diversity is a fundamental aspect of each group's identity. "Our aim is integration, not assimilation," he said. "Being Singaporean has never been a matter of subtraction, but of addition; not of becoming less, but more; not of limitation and contraction, but of openness and expansion."

Over time, each race has retained and evolved its own culture and heritage. But it has also allowed itself to be influenced by the customs and traditions of other races.

"The result has been distinctive Singaporean variants of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian cultures, and a growing Singaporean identity that we all share, suffusing and linking up our distinct individual identities and ethnic cultures."

Singaporeans who travel can identify one another by the way they speak and act. When dealing with citizens of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China or India, "we are confident of our own Singaporean cultures and identities, even as we are conscious that we are ethnic Chinese, Malays, Indians or Eurasians".

"Thus the Chinese Singaporean is proud of his Chinese culture - but also increasingly conscious that his 'Chineseness' is different from the Chineseness of the Malaysian and Indonesian Chinese, or the Chineseness of the people in China or Hong Kong or Taiwan," Mr Lee added.

Singaporeans now speak of a Singaporean Chinese culture, and in the same way, a Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Indian culture. "For a country that is just over 50 years old, which is a very short time compared to the ancient civilisations from which we spring, this is quite an achievement," he said.

Friday, 19 May 2017

National Day Parade 2017 returns to Marina Bay Floating Platform

NDP 2017 theme's hashtag marks a first
Bid to rally Singaporeans via social media; parade to have 2-segment Dynamic Defence Display
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2017

National Day Parade 2017 will set the stage for a series of firsts, as well as the welcome return of crowd favourites.

For the first time, this year's theme - #OneNationTogether - will incorporate a hashtag to enable Singaporeans to share the rallying call via social media.

The theme was announced by Colonel Melvin Ong Yoke Lam, 47, who chairs the NDP 2017 executive committee, at a media conference yesterday. He said the theme is a call to action to take pride in Singapore's achievements and to be confident in its collective future as its people overcome odds together.

In another first, the Dynamic Defence Display will be organised in two segments.

The first will focus on the Singapore Armed Forces' defence capabilities through action-packed drills, while the second will focus on collective efforts by citizens and defence forces to tackle the rising threat of cyber attacks and terrorism. The Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles and Leopard tanks will also be part of the show.

Col Ong said: "This year's NDP celebrates our precious social unity and the racial and religious harmony we enjoy today.

"It is in this unity that we will continue to rally together as one people and one nation, against all future challenges, striving ahead towards a brave and confident future."

The theme's hashtag also resembles the NDP 2017 logo, with its four interlocking arms, that was unveiled at yesterday's conference.

Inspired by Singapore's first $10 Orchid-series note launched in 1967, the logo is in red and white and embodies Singaporeans coming together to build a better future.

The shape of the island nestled in the centre of the four hands represents the special place the nation holds in Singaporeans' hearts.

The 52nd birthday bash will see celebrations return to the Marina Bay Floating Platform after a two-year hiatus, which also means crowd favourites like the Red Lions skydivers will make a comeback.

Touted as the largest of its kind in the world, the platform was built in 2007 and can seat up to 27,000 in its grandstand, but was deemed to have staged its last NDP in 2014.

Close to 14,000 participants, volunteers and personnel will be taking part in the parade organised by Headquarters Singapore Combat Engineers and agencies from public and private sectors. Highlights include the presidential gun salute on the M3G Raft and the state flag fly-past, as well as a special tribute to 50 years of national service.

A unique use of technology will allow those at home and abroad to enjoy a live 360-degree streaming of the parade on YouTube.

The NDP show will also feature six captivating and rousing acts that celebrate Singaporean achievements and highlight how, as a nation, citizens have overcome the odds together.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Singapore International Maritime Review 2017: Largest Showing of International Navy Ships at RSS Singapura - Changi Naval Base

Naval cooperation key to maritime security: President Tony Tan
Strong partnerships critical as security challenges grow more transnational, he says
By Chong Zi Liang, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2017

The gathering of navies from around the world to celebrate the Singapore navy's 50th birthday is testament to Singapore's strong network of global friendships, which is all the more critical as security challenges have become increasingly transnational, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday.

Noting how multilateral cooperation is key to ensuring a stable maritime order as well as safe and secure seas, he added: "The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has built up a strong and well-connected network of partnerships with like-minded navies."

This is because most of the security threats like piracy cannot be effectively managed by a single country, Dr Tan said after he was welcomed by a parade of international sailors at Changi Naval Base.

For instance, the RSN's stealth frigates and landing ship tanks have taken part in multilateral counter- piracy operations, and Singapore also - on four occasions - took command of the Combined Task Force 151 fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

"In the challenging and uncertain security environment today, having only good hardware and strong capabilities is not sufficient," said Dr Tan.

To celebrate the RSN's golden jubilee, 46 vessels - including 28 from 20 foreign navies - formed up in the waters off Changi Naval Base for Singapore's first International Maritime Review.

Kicking off the review, Dr Tan boarded an open-top vehicle to review the docked ships, whose sailors cheered as he passed by. He then boarded the recently commissioned Littoral Mission Vessel RSS Independence for a review of the remaining warships anchored off the base.

The review was held in conjunction with this year's edition of the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference Asia, which Dr Tan noted is a crucial platform for naval leaders to exchange views on topics like maritime cooperation.

Dr Tan also announced the renaming of Changi Naval Base to RSS Singapura-Changi Naval Base.

As RSS Singapura was the name of the RSN's first headquarters, it will remind Singapore's sailors of the navy's heritage and its vital role in defending the country, said Dr Tan, who officiated the foundation-laying of the base as deputy prime minister and defence minister in 2000.

The truth about bottled water

It is portable and convenient, but is it really better than tap water and how true are the marketing claims?
By Abigail Ng, The Straits Times, 16 May 2017

Getting clean water in Singapore is as easy as turning on the tap, yet retail outlets are awash with a wide array of bottled water.

Data from research firm Euromonitor International shows the thirst for bottled water here is growing.

Consumers spent $134 million on it in 2015, nearly 24 per cent more than in 2010.

More than 12 brands of bottled water are sold here and more have recently been added to the shelves.

Two brands of alkaline water were introduced at the Sheng Siong supermarket chain last year.

Alkaline water has higher-than-usual pH levels and is touted to have health benefits, though these have not been proven.

In fact, as brands come up with new ways to make their products stand out, the question is: Do their marketing claims hold water?

And ultimately, should one be drinking bottled water at all?

Experts say there are differences in the sources and treatment process, but it is difficult to say if one type is better than another.

They also emphasise that tap water in Singapore is safe for drinking.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Lonely and 'waiting to die', Singapore's elderly poor find hope in many helping hands

Poor health and mental illness isolate them from society. But a widening community network is striving to ease their loneliness and make sure they're taken care of, in their final years.
By Yvonne Lim, Jade Han and Kane Cunico, Channel NewsAsia, 14 May 2017

Her one-room flat was a cluttered mess, and Madam Helen Fernandez herself never seemed to bathe, said her neighbours who always saw her in the same set of clothes.

When case workers first visited the unkempt and confused elderly widow, they had to rush her to hospital for very high blood pressure – which resulted because she hadn’t been taking her medication and had been missing doctors’ appointments.

Since her husband died 17 years ago, Mdm Fernandez had been living alone with no friends or family – and slowly falling prey to loneliness and dementia.

There were times when she’d even call up the police just to talk. It was how her case got referred to the Social Service Office, and then to case worker Ahmala Rajoo in 2015.

“She was receiving financial assistance, about S$500 a month,” said Ms Ahmala, a care executive with NTUC Health Cluster Support in Bukit Merah. “But she wasn’t managing it. She was always left with nothing, and she could never tell what happened to her money.”

But the neatly-groomed Mdm Fernandez you meet today almost doesn’t seem the same person. At 78, she is chatty, cheery and cheeky, and greets every visitor with a delighted “come in!”

“They want to put me in home, you know, old age home… I said, don’t want! Put me there for what? I won’t see anybody,” she said.

The walls of her newly-repainted, now-clean flat are plastered with photos and cards from friends. She has blossomed under the care of Ms Ahmala, meal delivery services, befrienders from volunteer group Helping Joy, NTUC Health Care@home services, and the Senior Activity Centre in her block.

“Her memory has worsened. But thankfully with the community support, she’s more active than before,” said Ms Ahmala.

“I don’t think she grasps that I am a social worker. To her, I’m probably like a friend that is helping her out.”

Is Singapore becoming an old young country?

A country's age is about the psychology of its people and their attitude towards the future
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

When MRT trains first started breaking down in 2011, the initial reaction was surprise, even disbelief.

How could it happen in super-efficient Singapore where everything works?

And wasn't the MRT still a relatively young and new system?

I can still remember the first time I stepped into the brand-new trains in 1988 and onto the promise of a new age of modern mass rapid transit. It didn't seem so long ago.

But, of course, we now know that beneath the shiny surface, many things had begun to age, including the timber sleepers which hold the tracks in place and the signalling and power supply systems.

Now everyone is saying how old the system is and in need of a modern replacement.

Old or new, young or aged?

It isn't a question of years, but of psychological make-up, of keeping up with the times and being alive to new possibilities.

The question is as relevant to Singapore, the country.

We often think of it as a young society, newly developed and still finding its feet among the nations of the world, many with centuries-old histories and traditions such as China, India, Japan, France and Britain.

Fifty is young in terms of human civilisation, too short a time to develop a new language or culture, perhaps even a sense of national identity.

But 50 can be old for MRT trains and tracks and Housing Board flats undergoing redevelopment.

A young country can also become old when its people stop believing what can be achieved tomorrow and become more concerned with protecting what they already have, fearful of losing everything.

This type of ageing is more dangerous because there are no obvious outward signs, no dramatic breakdowns that signal it is time for renewal.

A country grows old when its organisations become big, multi-layered and bureaucratic, when decision-making slows down and its people are afraid to take risks. I don't think this is a widespread problem in Singapore - yet.

But there are worrying signs that its reflexes have slowed down and it is not moving as fast and nimbly as it should.

Rise of 'nano' flats in Hong Kong

Flats getting smaller as home prices soar, but people have better shot at buying own home
By Joyce Lim, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

As property prices spiral upwards in Hong Kong, the race is on to build smaller and smaller homes.

Dubbed "nano" flats by the Hong Kong media, these homes are less than 200 sq ft, cost about HK$4 million (S$725,000) on average, and are popular with young couples.

In comparison, a so-called shoebox apartment in Singapore is usually about 400 sq ft and costs around $500,000.

Last year, 206 nano flats were completed in Hong Kong, up from 81 in 2013, reported the South China Morning Post, citing government figures.

Such flats made up a tiny 1.4 per cent of the 15,595 new homes built in Hong Kong last year. This year, about 5,900 small homes - less than 430 sq ft in size - are expected to be built, making up 41 per cent of all new flats, property consultancy JLL said.

These small flats have made it possible for young couples to own homes in a central area, such as Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.

However, analysts warned that an oversupply of such flats is likely to disrupt the market in the long run.

"In the future, when these buyers try to trade up, they will not be able to sell them because of market changes. People may have more money and want bigger flats, so nano flats may not be suitable," said Mr David Ji, director and head of research and consultancy (Greater China) at Knight Frank.

Hong Kong has pipped London as the top market for luxury homes, setting records with four deals hitting the US$100 million (S$140 million) mark last year. However, there appears to be no limit to how small a flat can get.

According to Hong Kong Building Department records, the smallest flat in Hong Kong is a 61.4 sq ft flat. The flat comes with no bathroom or kitchen space.

That would make it smaller than a carpark space in Singapore, which has to be at least 124 sq ft, according to Land Transport Authority rules.

Cyber Attack: Ransomware causing chaos globally

'Unprecedented' cyber attack hits 100 countries
Experts warn of more assaults as firms grapple with worm's impact
The Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

FRANKFURT • It may not be over yet, warned security experts, after a devastating cyber attack described as unprecedented in scale caused disruptions in nearly 100 countries from Europe to Asia.

Capitalising on spying tools believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA), hackers launched the cyber assault on Friday that infected tens of thousands of computers, with Britain's health system suffering the worst.

Cyber extortionists, using a malicious software called WannaCry, tricked victims into opening attachments to spam e-mails that seemed to contain invoices, job offers, security warnings and other legitimate files. The so-called ransomware encrypted data on infected computers, demanding payments of US$300 to US$600 (S$420 to S$840) to restore access.

Once inside the targeted network, the ransomware made use of recently leaked spy tools to silently infect other out-of-date machines.

This, security experts said, marked a risk of attacks spreading in the coming days and weeks.

Yesterday, finance chiefs from the Group of Seven nations meeting in Bari, Italy, vowed to join forces to fight the growing threat of international cyber attacks.

The ministers said in a statement that cyber incidents represent a growing threat to their economies and that tackling them should be a priority.

In Singapore, the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) yesterday said no government agencies or critical information infrastructure had been affected. The attack took place on the same day that the CSA said hackers had tried to steal data from the networks of the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

Europol's European Cybercrime Centre said it was working closely with country investigators and private security firms to combat the threat and help victims. "The recent attack is at an unprecedented level and will require a complex international investigation to identify the culprits," it said.

Researchers with security software maker Avast said they had observed 126,534 ransomware infections in 99 places, with Russia, Ukraine and Taiwan the top targets.

Friday, 12 May 2017

One Belt, One Road: China makes tracks on modern Silk Road

On Sunday, Beijing will host a two-day summit on the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious project that incorporates an overland network of highways and railroads as well as a maritime route. This is the first in a series that looks at the mega project spanning China, Central Asia, South-east Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
By Goh Sui Noi, China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 11 May 2017

That China is holding a mega summit in Beijing this coming week to drum up international support for its Belt and Road Initiative is telling. China may have helped to drive global growth for many years now, but the size and ambition of the project is such that Beijing alone cannot make it happen.

So what is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or One Belt, One Road as it is better known?


Chinese President Xi Jinping, in two speeches in the space of about a month in 2013, proposed the revival of the Silk Road, ancient land and sea trade routes that linked China to the rest of Asia, as well as Africa and Europe.

In September that year, in Kazakhstan, he spoke about building a Silk Road Economic Belt, an overland network of highways and railroads linking China through Central Asia to Europe. A month later, in Jakarta, he proposed the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that links China's sea ports to those in South-east Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Along these routes would be transport nodes and trading and industrial hubs. Building up these routes would mean beefing up infrastructure such as ports and railways, especially in less developed nations along the routes.

In Jakarta, Mr Xi also proposed the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to help finance the building of infrastructure in the economies along these trade routes.

Together, the land and sea networks came to be known in Chinese as 一带一路, or One Belt, One Road. This was later officially translated as Belt and Road Initiative, but One Belt, One Road is more often used.

In March 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission came up with a blueprint of the BRI that painted a broad vision of its aim - to promote the orderly and free flow of economic factors, efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets.

But it is clearly China-centric - it is to enable China to "further expand and deepen its opening up, and to strengthen its mutually beneficial cooperation with countries in Asia, Europe and Africa and the rest of the world", said the blueprint.

It is ambitious in that it encompasses 65 per cent of the world's population, about one-third of the world's gross domestic product and about a quarter of the world's trade.

The initiative would primarily involve more than 60 countries along the routes, but the Chinese have said it is open to all countries that "share the same goals".

So it is that more than 1,200 delegates from 110 countries, including Singapore, and 61 international organisations will attend the forum.

Tommy Koh rebuts view that Singapore has acted against China: 12th China-Singapore Forum

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 11 May 2017

Singapore does not take sides in the South China Sea issue, nor is it aligned with or against any of the major powers, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh has reiterated at a public forum in China.

Reaffirming the close and mutually beneficial relationship between Singapore and China, he addressed statements made by a high-level Chinese official at the public session of the 12th China-Singapore forum yesterday.

Senior Chinese diplomat Ruan Zongze, the first of four speakers at the forum, said Singapore has taken actions in recent years that adversely affected bilateral ties. These included trying to get other ASEAN countries to release a joint statement after an international tribunal's ruling against Beijing's claims in the South China Sea last year, and saying publicly that the tribunal's award is legally binding and countries should abide by it.

China and four ASEAN states have overlapping claims in the sea.

Dr Ruan added that Singapore has also allowed the United States to deploy military vessels and aircraft meant for "close-in reconnaissance in China's South China Sea" since last year, though it claimed not to be aligned with the US.

Noting that Singapore is one of China's few "all-weather friends", Professor Koh said Singapore acted very carefully after the tribunal's decision: It did not issue a statement supporting the ruling, or call on China to comply with it.

"What did we do? We did the minimum possible without sacrificing our own national interests: We took note of the award," he said.

Dr Ruan's accusation that Singapore tried to mobilise ASEAN states to issue a joint statement against China on the arbitration award was also untrue, he added.

"We asked each of the nine ASEAN countries what is their position, what can they subscribe to in the joint statement, that is all we did," he said.

"We were an honest facilitator, trying to find out whether there is a consensus among the 10 ASEAN countries, but always conscious that our national interest is to promote peace and cooperation between ASEAN and China."

Prof Koh said Singapore's foreign policy is to be close to all the major powers. But he assured his Chinese audience that "the bottom line is this: Singapore will never allow its relationship with any major power to harm China".

Sino-Singapore ties are in good order, he added, with multiple annual high-level meetings, including the apex Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. Singapore is China's top foreign investor, and China is Singapore's largest trading partner, he noted.

When Singapore becomes ASEAN chairman next year, it will think of projects to bring China and ASEAN even closer, he said.

Call to end formula milk firms' aggressive tactics: Competition Commission of Singapore

Competition watchdog flags tie-ups with private hospitals, as high prices cause concern
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 11 May 2017

The authorities are calling for a halt to formula milk companies' aggressive marketing methods, including inducements to hospitals, in response to public concern about the steep rise in prices.

In particular, sponsorship and payment arrangements between manufacturers and private hospitals are "conflict of interest" deals that should be reviewed, they say.

This follows a new report by Singapore's competition watchdog which found that formula milk manufacturers are paying private hospitals to distribute their products to newborns.

Such practices have entrenched brand loyalty and helped propel formula milk prices in Singapore to among the highest in the world, said the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS).

It released its 87-page report yesterday after a year-long inquiry into prices of infant formula.

The CCS said formula milk companies target hospitals to gain a "first-mover" advantage, given that most parents do not switch brands later.

It recommended that such tie-ups be reviewed.

Currently, only public hospitals are disallowed from entering into such arrangements . They have a rotation system to give different manufacturers equal opportunities.

The Ministry of Health told The Straits Times that it will "strongly encourage" all hospitals providing maternity services to achieve the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) certification.

This prevents conflicts of interest by prohibiting sponsorship arrangements, and actively encourages breastfeeding.

No private hospital is currently BFHI-certified, although two - Thomson Medical Centre and Mount Alvernia - told ST that they were working towards it.

The aggressive tactics by manufacturers have seen the average price of a 900g tin of formula soar 120 per cent over the last decade.

Much of this, the CCS found, was due to manufacturers hiking their prices after convincing consumers that they were paying for "premium" and improved formulas.

They continually introduce new ingredients that purport to - among other things - boost mental development and vision. Experts have said there is weak scientific evidence to back such claims.

"What consumers face... are the aggressive marketing and 'premiumisation' messages driven by formula milk manufacturers, which perpetuate consumers' belief that the more expensive and the more ingredients there are in the formula milk, the higher quality it is," said the CCS report.

Unwed mother adopts own biological daughter

Some mums do so to protect child's interests, gain benefits given only to legitimate children
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 11 May 2017

Within the month, two-year-old Lorraine Tan (not her real name) will be formally adopted.

She and her adoptive mum will then be treated as any mother and daughter - they will be legally recognised as a family nucleus.

The unique thing about this story: Little Lorraine is not an orphan awaiting a new home. She is a child born out of wedlock who is being adopted by her biological mother.

Her mother, who requested anonymity, started the adoption process last August after seeing mentions of it on a Facebook page belonging to a support group for single parents.

"I saw a post talking about adoption. One woman left a comment saying that she did it for less than $1,000. So I sent her a message and asked her how she did it," said Ms Tan, 38, a civil servant.

She also saw mentions of adoption on the Baby Bonus brochure and on the FAQ pages on taxes.

Unwed parents do adopt their biological children. But that usually happens after they marry a partner who is not the child's parent, and they want him or her to become the legal parent of the child.

Cases of unwed parents singly adopting their children are "very few", said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

"Our laws do not require them to do so. Some unwed parents may nonetheless choose to do so, for reasons such as to terminate the rights and responsibilities of the other parent," the MSF added.