Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sri Lanka - 4 months later

Sri Lanka & the LTTE – 4 months after

4 months after Sri Lanka’s proclamation of the LTTE’s defeat & the death of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the Sri Lankan government seems to be shooting itself in the foot.

Trying to detain all LTTE cadres is pointless. As with any army, the lower level cadres/troops just follow orders, its the leaders that are responsible. In any event, the LTTE is so ingrained in the population that they might as well arrest large chunks of the population – which seems quite close to what's going on in the refugee camps.

The military doesn't seem to be held accountable - international observers are prevented from inspecting. Food, water, sanitation are lacking, and many disappearances - some allegedly at the hands of soldiers - are being reported.

Detaining journalists under wartime anti-terror regulations for writing “untrue” articles about the camps is stupid. Whether the claims are true or not, by arresting them the government has lost its credibility in the court of public opinion. While I do support censoring of information that might be militarily useful to enemies, there isn't any enemies left - hostilities are over. Why are these laws not repealed?

Of course, there is President Rajapaksa’s visit to Myanmar, but that easily opens another can of worms with regards to the international scene.

It's quite simple: Piss the Tamils off enough, and this victory might just turn into another ceasefire.......

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Xinjiang unrest

Last year, Tibetan uprisings in Lhasa. Now, Uighur riots in Xinjiang. Quite obviously, pretending that racial tension doesn't exist isn't working.

The reasons why the Tibetans & Uighurs are angry are obvious: mass migration of Han into ethnic areas & them reaping bulk of benefits from economic development, suppression of culture & religious worship, Han control of political power, massive military presence & discrimination by the majority Han.

Unfortunately, by covering up the resentment and not addressing its root causes in the name of short term stability, the Chinese authorities are simply accumulating more long term hatred.

What the Chinese government should do is quite clear:

1. Get rid of the above root causes fueling Uighur dissatisfaction. When it concerns benefits and local political power, at least give the Uighurs an equal share of it.

2. Allow minorities more political posts with real power, not just symbolic NPC seats.

3. Increase Han understanding and acceptance of Uighur and Tibetan culture and practices. This can be easily done through national campaigns and patriotic education, both which China has much success with.

The future looks grim if we look at the former Soviet Union, which had similar but more brutal policies; these caused the many ethnic conflicts that sprung up right after the Soviet breakup. If the Chinese authorities continue on like this, Tibet and Xinjiang could one day become China's Chechnyas.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iranian post election blues

The world watches as the election saga drags on in Iran.

If anything, it destroys whatever moral authority that the authorities might claim to have and makes it look something like the Myanmar junta. The authorities could have at least saved their credibility by recounting the votes, but their refusal to recount destroys most of their credibility.

But even then, it is difficult to say who would win even if this was truly an absolutely fair contest. The reformers have the support of the more liberal urbanites, while Ahmadinejad and the conservatives have the backing of the more conservative rural people.

Now the question is, what is Iran going to end up in? There have been 3 possible outcomes for this kind of revolution in the last 50 years:

- Military coup, like what happened in 1979
- A long standing urbanite vs rural tension like what is going on in Thailand
- The regime becomes a Stalinist kind of state.

Neither is going to happen anytime soon, but given another 10-20 years this could well happen.

The presence of a nuclear program, tension with Israel and the US only adds to the complications. The prospect for military conflict looms in the background. Who knows, the regime might even try playing brinkmanship to distract the populace from the political troubles.

How then? Nobody knows for sure. Naturally the international community hopes that someone with better priorities (economy > nukes) comes up, but from the looks of it not anytime soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Iranian elections

Now we have Mir Hossan Mousavi, said to be a reformist, vs Ahmadinejad, a ideologist. There are another 2, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezhaei, the ex IRGC chief, but these seem to be minor players.

From a Western and perhaps international standpoint, hopefully Mousavi or Karroubi wins and the ideologist rhetoric, belligerent stand and nuclear weaponeering will be reduced, and the economy will improve. As for China and Russia, its not immediately clear who they would support.

The problem is, nobody knows who is going to be elected, especially if the 2 major contenders, Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, have different power bases. Also, Mousavi and Karroubi don't exactly love the West either, as seen by their track record while in power.

The question of corruption also hangs over the election. With corruption being quite rampant in Iran, its not unlikely that someone's going to try to rig the election too.

Let's also not forget that the supreme leader, Al Khamanei isn't elected and isn't answerable to anyone.

So far, the international community has been shooting itself in the foot by using sanctions which affect everyone and not just the regime. This, in addition with historical hatred going back to colonisation and the Shah, means that Iranian attitudes towards the West may well be hostile.

Will international hopes then be justified that Iran's belligerent stance is going to decrease? Hard to say.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sri Lanka - after the LTTE

The 26 year war with the LTTE is finally over, after government forces stormed the last strip of land that the LTTE was holding.

With this, Sri Lanka is now back at the square one before the LTTE came into play. It is imperative that this does not turn into another vicious cycle where another LTTE sort of group comes into power and armed conflict rages again.

The ball is now in the Sinhalese court. They have the stop the discrimination against the minority Tamils that started the whole saga half a century back, and the first and easiest way would be ending instituitionalised discrimination - imposing meritocracy would be the best method forward.

If anything, President Mahinda would have to lead the way, and this certainly means a great change from his normally hardline stance.

Hopefully, he can pull it off well. Sri Lankans of all races have suffered tremendously from this unecessary war, and nobody wants it to happen again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sri Lanka & the LTTE

Now the Tigers have been pushed back onto a small strip of land. No matter all their advanced weaponry and asymmetric tactics, these are generally useless once an enemy is sufficiently pissed off and determined enough to fight.

It is impossible to get your way all the time, and unfortunately Prabkharan & the LTTE leadership failed to realise that. They could have probably gotten an autonomous state if they had negotiated and /or played the media like nationalist anti-colonialist groups did in the 60s, but of course now all such debate is academic.

Neither is the Sri Lankan government playing their cards that well. They should have allowed the UN into the theatre to provide aid - this would enhance their international legitimacy as well as allow stories of atrocities of the Tigers to find their way into international media, which would disgrace the Tigers & at least disillusion some of their international supporters.

Hopefully, this unnecessary conflict can end soon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine flu

Maybe the Jews and Muslims were right about pigs being unclean. Pigs have been long known as places where viruses can intermingle and 'blend' to produce new mutant strains - and maybe God and Muhammad knew something that we didn't.

Clearly, our farming methods have to improve. Keeping large numbers of living organisms together in overcrowded conditions is ideal for disease transmission; that has happened in just about every pandemic from the Black Death to the Hong Kong flu.

Overpopulation might just well be the other problem.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


My swimming competition ended yesterday, marking the end of 2 years of trying to swim competitively. As far as I’m concerned, competing is simply a motivation to work smarter and train harder – hoping for medals is unrealistic, having joined at such a late age.

Technique and water confidence aside, the real takeaway is in the life lessons learned. Usually, competitive sport is supposed to inculcate the determination to train and the resourcefulness to train smarter – and I’ve definitely learnt quite a lot in this respect. But as a relative outsider, I see swimming in a rather different way from the others.

Most competitive swimmers that I know started young – in primary school or earlier. Most of them come from relatively well off backgrounds and have extensive parental support – such as being fetched to and fro from trainings, as often as 6 days a week.

While a small percentage are serious and determined – and these tend to be the ones winning the medals – many seem to lack the motivation to train harder or smarter. To them, they have lost the desire to win and training has simply turned into a routine: they just do whatever the coach tells them to do and then go home after that.

At the same time, there are others who didn’t have the opportunity to swim when young who join, even if they have no chance of winning. Usually these people are from poor backgrounds, but on a whole their motivation level is much, much higher than those who started young.

After all, swimming is just another activity that one can do: This pattern of a small group of enthusiasts and the rest just going through the motions or being there for the bragging rights is, after all, common to almost any other activity.

If anything, this pattern challenges the notion that the best way to raise kids is “starting early” by loading them with all manner of stuff: it may actually hurt them by decreasing their “hunger” – essentially the motivation to learn.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Aware: the fight starts

Now that more information has come to light about the intentions of the newcomers and what they do, things are starting to get heated.

The new exco seem to be in some sort of rush to cement their hold on power, with all the changing of locks, firing of staff and replacing them with their own people.

As a Christian, I'm not exactly happy with the acceptance given to homosexuals, but the new exco's intentions do not warrant the sneaky takeover, and in doing so they've lost whatever moral high ground they might have originally had.

This is especially so considering that many in the group are high fliers, and Dr Thio herself is a lawyer: they should know enough about the available channels to express their concerns, or simply just set up their own group.

The implications are rather clear: the church's reputation is going take a big hit unless some church leaders, particularly the Church of Our Saviour leaders, speak up about this and distance themselves away from such behaviour.

One can only wait and see what will happen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Aware's change of leadership

It's quite obvious that this is coordinated - it can't be that so many newcomers just turn up out of nowhere and run for exco posts.

The most troubling thing about the new exco is that they refuse to disclose any information about their agenda, instead choosing to issue out meaningless vague statements.

Whatever cause this unknown group intends to promote, it doesn't justify taking over in such a fashion. Besides, if they had something to vent, why couldn't they use dialogue and SAY it out first rather than choose such a sneaky measure? And of all things, the new exco is comprised of high flyers, who of all people should have known this fact the most.

With that, is it surprising that everyone is so suspicious of them?

Thailand: the army steps in

The army has finally taken sides and started taking action to disperse red shirt protesters. Even then, it seems like the army is divided, with certain officers being quoted as facing a dilemma over whether to follow orders to quell the rebellion or not. This isn't surprising given that the red-yellow divide tends to be along socioeconomic lines; it is inevitable with any army that most of the soldiers, particularly the rank and file and junior officers, come from lower socioeconomic classes.

As said before, the army's quelling of the protests only stops the violence in the short term, and definitely doesn't solve any of the underlying issues. It only raises more questions about double standards - the PAD was able to blatantly seize various public buildings and airports in the country without any reaction from the government.

Now, the question is, what is the UDD going to do in reaction to this? They have several options besides waiting for the next elections: an underground guerrilla campaign, provoke the military to crack down and thus bring international pressure on the Thai government, or perhaps even incite a mutiny in the army. Who knows? The only thing for sure is that they will retaliate in one way or another.

Either way, the Abhisit government doesn't seem to last very long in this power play.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thailand's red shirt revolution

Now the red shirts have managed to disrupt the ASEAN summit in Pattaya, to considerable embarrassment of the government.

Not surprising, given that nothing was done to stop the PAD from seizing buildings and airports last year. The message sent to them was that blatant violence can be used to achieve their means.

This protest was inevitable anyway: there was plenty of discontent in the masses bottling up against the royalists and the elite. With little way to vent their anger, it was inevitable that it would come to this.

Now it's a question as to whether the army decides to get involved, and on who's side. If things come to a head, the power struggle between Thailand's elite and masses could well turn violent.

Either way, this problem isn't going to be solved anytime soon. And the region ends up as the losers.

North Korea's missile launch

If anything, North Korea's missile aka fake satelite launch would most probably gain it more bargaining chips, since it is now one step closer to a nuke delivery system.

From the response of the international community so far, it seems to raise a few questions:

- Pyongyang claims that the purpose of the launch was for peaceful purposes - to put a satellite broadcasting revolutionary songs and whatnot (of all things). Why did the international community do nothing to blow this lousy excuse? They could have at least demanded to send observers to inspect the so called satelite, the launch or both.

- Why should Japan allow North Korea to blatantly overfly its territory with such a rocket? The next time, North Korea might well load a few WMD warheads downrange as a gift during the next test.

This looks almost exactly like what history has already taught us so many times: let a bully take an inch from other countries unhindered by the international community, and soon they'll be out to get a mile. Britain's appeasement of Hitler and America's refusal to fight so as to win in Korea and Vietnam comes to mind.

Now that North Korea has launched its rocket, the international community should try to get them where it hurts - their money supply. Much of North Korea's income is derived from sales of illegal stuff like drugs and arms, and much of it is carried by ships. Increasing naval patrols, stopping more ships going to and from North Korea in the seas around would well hinder the flow of such contraband, and not least cause them much embarrassment when their activities are brought to light.

That said, one must hope that China and Russia do more when concerning North Korea. Both would gain something big out of it - with less instability coming from North Korea, northeast China and the Russian Far East Federal District would enjoy more development. Also, China's might be able to counter the notion that it makes friends with dictators for resources, like in Darfur and certain conflict areas of the world.

Hopefully, the international community finds a way to really give North Korea a slap in the face.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Newton hawkers overcharging

This is one of the few times that such a case like makes it to the newspapers.

Of course, we know that this sort of things is pretty rife here: Sim Lim square, car workshops making false insurance claims, various shops all over the place, etc.

People may compare and ask why the authorities only seem to respond to tourists getting ripped off and not locals, but enough has been said on that on the blogosphere.

If this continues unabated, sooner or later Singapore is going to go down.

Why do most people trust Japanese or Swiss products and are willing to pay more for them over Chinese products? Simple. Trust. They trust that the product is built to quality standards and works. And to gain people's trust, one needs honesty. Like not substituting inferior parts or defective goods.

The same things apply to just about any other sector, and as a country even more so for Singapore. We have no resources, relatively little history, and definitely no large market like China that might attract the rest of the world. This means that the only thing that we have to justify paying more than any other regional country is in these soft values - honesty, clean government, stability and such.

Plenty of tourists come here because they want to see somewhere without the corruption and traps normally seen elsewhere around the region.

If we Singaporeans are perceived to be dishonest cheats trying to rip people off, we can soon expect us as a whole - and not just our tourist industry - to be hit big time.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Budget

This year's Budget comes amid a time of great recession. Never before has the growth forecast been revised TWICE in rapid succession before a budget announcement.

Despite that, I'm impressed by the measures put up by the Government in this year's Budget.

The Government's focus on saving jobs is a lot better than welfare schemes: it at gives people something productive to do, and more importantly, gives them a guaranteed income that they have control over. When people are on welfare, they don't spend so much, simply because they don't feel that they have the control over their cashflow. Of course, something has to be done to help those already retrenched, but schemes to help them like workplace training & allowances have already been in place for some time, so it's not worth mentioning them here.

However, it's not very clear whether this would apply to contract workers: they are the most vulnerable to job cuts, since they aren't even permanent staff. Hopefully something can be done to help them.

It's also good that the Government is also looking at the long term issues. Historically, recessions were the best times to make investment, since everything is going at pretty cheap prices.

Once the construction contracts from the boom time are completed and the construction industry gets idle, it would be a good time for the Government to use to make Singapore's infrastructure more elderly friendly.

However, I'm not so sure about having a blanket property tax rebate. Giving the rebate to landlords and encouraging them to pass it on to tenants is essentially giving the landlords money: it's highly unlikely that greedy landlords will pass the savings on, and this was pretty much the case the last few times that this was done.

As it is now, some greedy landlords are still trying to increase prices. Given this, probably a better method might be to put up some sort of rental price control - in principle restricting rental prices to a reasonable price. Landlords would have no choice but to rent out anyway, since the building can't be moved and they still have to maintain and pay property tax for the property.

Anyway, hope that this Budget helps Singapore tide over the recession.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sri Lanka and the LTTE

This destructive and unnecessary entire multi-decade long civil war is the sad result of racist discrimination and the vicious cycle that occurred after that. Sri Lanka is a lot worse off than before the crisis.

With all sorts of institutionalized discrimination against Tamils being set up by the new Sinhalese majority government upon independence, it's no surprise that the Tamils started forming political groups, which eventually formed a coalition to oppose all these changes.

When a minority is unable to get their rights through the legislative processes, they will resort to armed struggle, and that is precisely what is happening here. With nothing being gained from negotiations, a lot of Tamils have given up on politics and resorted to armed struggle. To make things worse, Vellupilai Prabkharan's LTTE took control of this by ruthlessly destroying the other groups and killing their leaders.

For a long time, it used to be like this: Sri Lankan military mounts campaign, gains back territory, then a internationally brokered ceasefire which the LTTE regroups, then one side would break the ceasefire and the LTTE would come back and conquer the territories, and then the cycle restarted. In short, a never ending vicious cycle.

From a military standpoint, the LTTE is a formidable foe for the Sri Lankan military. Having advanced weapons like thermobaric weapons and mini submersibles, and the use of unethical / unlawful tactics and methods, like hijacking commercial ships, it is no surprise that they are very capable indeed.

However, like quite a lot of other terrorist groups around, Prabkharan is playing his cards wrong. No matter what equipment they have or they carry out, there's no way that the LTTE can win militarily - it can't match the Sri Lankan armed forces if they really decide to fight them out. To add to that, the LTTE’s various atrocities against Tamil people, like killing other Tamil politicians, simply exposes him as a power hungry murderer, not a freedom fighter for the Tamil people.

The LTTE’s idea of peace negotiations as a rearming time might seem smart in the short term, but in the long term people realize that they don’t want peace and will go crush them totally at the next opportunity, like what is going on now.

The best effect that the LTTE can achieve has already been achieved: drawing the Sri Lankan government into a long drawn out guerrilla war like the Viet Cong did in the Vietnam War. However, nobody benefits anyway: it only makes Sri Lankans, regardless of race, suffer. The only person probably benefiting out of this is Prabkharan himself, relying on the bloodshed for power.

For the Sri Lankan government, they must realize that military might alone cannot solve the problem by itself, like as in previous campaigns. To end it once and for all, they must solve the root cause of the whole problem – the discrimination that the Tamils face and their poverty from all these years of violence. To do that, they would have to remove all these barriers as well as allow Tamils more participation in politics, to actually show them that politics is more effective than armed struggle. This would deprive the LTTE of whatever legitimacy it might have as freedom fighters. However, it is easier said than done.

With that, hopefully the Sri Lankan government can end this vicious cycle once and for all.