Friday, 20 September 2019

Singapore claws back at pet cat ban

City-state’s public housing authority bars cat ownership but activists and others are fighting back for feline rights


Thara Jeyaraman has plenty of mouths to feed. Around 60, to be exact.

The 50-year-old Singaporean has fostered animals since 2003 and provides twice-daily meals to dozens of community cats in the city-state. As a registered animal caregiver, she works to sterilize and neuter strays, boarding them in her own home before releasing them back to the housing estates from where they were picked up.

At any one time, there are about 20 cats lodging in her five-room unit. Technically, though, the presence of even a single cat in her home runs afoul of the law.

More than 80% of Singapore’s population live in public housing units, or Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, which have long prohibited keeping cats as pets. According to regulations, residents are permitted to own a dog provided that it belongs to one of 62 HDB-approved breeds.

A variety of small animals from hamsters and guinea pigs to turtles, tree frogs, birds and even chinchillas are permitted as long as they are legally imported. Felines of any breed, however, are not.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 13 September 2019

AmCham survey shows HK losing its corporate edge

80% of respondents said city’s turmoil has affected their investment decisions; Singapore is the top relocation destination


A new American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham) survey, conducted in collaboration with market researcher Ipsos, gives arguably the clearest indication yet of how business sentiment and investment decisions are being impacted by Hong Kong’s three-month-old political crisis.

Sixty-seven percent of senior managers, business directors and chief executive officers (CEOs) from company respondents said that Hong Kong’s reputation as a regional base of operations for businesses has been tarnished, according to the survey’s findings released on September 12.

Eighty percent of respondents, meanwhile, indicated that Hong Kong’s political turmoil has affected their future decisions to invest in the city. Sentiment is generally more conservative among companies without a business presence in Hong Kong (88%), compared to those with office space in the city (75%), the survey showed.

Over 20% said they were considering whether to move capital or relocate business functions out of Hong Kong, though more than 70% of respondents said they had no such plans. Among those companies considering to relocate, 91% indicated that their preferred destination would be Singapore.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The ties that bind Mahathir to Moscow

Malaysian leader looks to Russia for arms and deals to rebalance his diplomacy away from China and the US


Malaysia and Russia’s friendly ties were on full display at last week’s Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, where Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad led a delegation aimed at spurring bilateral investment and defense links.

Speaking at the forum’s key event, Mahathir said Russian efforts to develop its most sparsely populated region “may mean the opening of a new market for Malaysia” and that Malaysian investors would flock to Vladivostok if greater economic opportunities in the region beckon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has identified the development of his nation’s Far East as a priority in pursuit of deeper engagement with Asia-Pacific economies. Mahathir’s three-day visit follows recent high-level defense consultations, including sales pitches for Russian-made aircraft.

After locking horns with China in a bid to renegotiate costly infrastructure deals and snubbing US President Donald Trump’s trade war, Mahathir’s embrace of Russia signals his bid to diversify Malaysia’s big power diplomacy. Against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter Sino-US rivalry, the Kremlin is all too willing to oblige.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Lee’s last election coming soon in Singapore

Leader has vowed to step aside after expected polls but his long-ruling PAP may face its stiffest ever electoral test


Singapore is officially on the cusp of an election season following an announcement this week that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong initiated a review of the city-state’s electoral boundaries.

While Lee’s long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is widely expected to score another win, it may face its stiffest challenge to date as a new generation of PAP leaders square off against an energized opposition that draws on the support of the premier’s estranged brother.

Speculation has been rife that a snap poll could be called after Lee earlier hinted that elections, which legally must be held before April 2021, could be held as early as this year. The election is expected to be the premier’s last before stepping down to make way for the PAP’s so-called fourth generation (4G) leadership.

The panel tasked with evaluating the electoral map and making recommendations to reshape constituencies, known as the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), will submit their report to the premier prior to its public release.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Moment of truth approaching for Trump’s trade war

New fourth round of tariffs on Chinese goods will hit US consumers and firms especially hard, just as the US enters an election season


An already bitter trade war between the United States and China went a notch further on September 1, with the two economic superpowers imposing new tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods.

But despite bipartisan consensus that Beijing engages in unfair trade practices and agreement on need for a recalibration of trade ties, former US officials and market observers believe President Donald Trump is fast losing support for his trade war among American business executives, farmers and swing voters.

And while there are reports that bilateral negotiations could resume later this month, the rhetoric on both sides signals more trade trouble ahead.

A stinging editorial published on Sunday by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua accused the US of “economic warmongering” in response to the new tariff increases of 15% on more than US$125 billion in China-made goods, including an array of consumer electronics, linens and footwear.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Trade war salvos singe Singapore’s chipmakers

Falling electronics exports and rising retrenchments could soon drag the trade-reliant city-state into recession


Ly Chong, chief operating officer at Hybrionic Pte Ltd, a Singaporean hybrid microcircuit producer which employs nearly 300 people, says his business has been “drastically” impacted by the US-China trade war.

The company builds electronic circuits and modules used in automobiles, healthcare devices such as hearing aids and telecommunication electronics. Ninety-five percent of the firm’s products are exported to the US market but its supply chain is linked to China.

“Because of the trade war and our end-customers, we were asked to hold back our shipments of an automotive product that represented 40% of our total sales,” Chong told Asia Times in an interview.

That product, Chong said, has traditionally been sent by his firm to China for assembly into a module which is then shipped to Mexico and the US. Sales volumes of the device have recently drop by some 60% because of US tariffs, he said.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Radical Indian preacher rocks and roils Malaysia

Zakir Naik, a fugitive Islamic televangelist wanted by New Delhi, could lose his safe haven in Malaysia for inflaming racial tensions


Malaysian authorities are under pressure to act against Zakir Naik, a fugitive Islamic televangelist wanted in India on radicalization and money laundering charges who recently suggested that Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese minority community should be expelled.

Speaking at an event in Kelantan state on August 8, Zakir claimed that Malaysia’s minority Hindus have “100 times more rights” than Muslim minorities in India but are more supportive of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi than Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Naik then mentioned Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese community, which represents around 21% of the national population as he addressed rising calls for him to leave Malaysia, where he now holds permanent residency despite India’s calls for his extradition.

“You know, someone called me a guest. So, I said, before me, the Chinese were the guests. If you want the new guest to go first, ask the old guest to go back,” he said. “The Chinese aren’t born here, most of them. Maybe the new generations, yes,” Naik added.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Goldman’s 1MDB troubles grow deep and wide

Wall Street bank’s legal liability in Malaysia’s multibillion dollar financial scandal is likely much larger than markets and analysts recognize


Goldman Sachs is under potentially punitive new legal pressure after Malaysian prosecutors filed criminal charges against 17 of its current and ex-executives, raising the stakes and new questions of institutional culpability in the multibillion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption and money-laundering scandal.

Malaysian Attorney General Tommy Thomas said last week that custodial sentences and criminal fines would be sought against the accused, all of whom held key leadership positions across three of the bank’s subsidiaries. The charges were filed under a Malaysian law that holds senior executives responsible for any offenses that may have been committed during their tenure.

Those indicted “occupied the highest executive positions in those three Goldman Sachs subsidiaries, and exercised or ought to have exercised decision-making authority over the transactions of those corporate bodies,” which, Thomas said, were involved in the “fraudulent misappropriation of billions in bond proceeds.”

The newly accused include Richard Gnodde, chief executive of the US investment bank’s international subsidiary, Michael Evans, an ex-Goldman executive who is now president of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, and 15 other current and former directors from the bank’s international divisions including in London and Singapore.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Singapore’s Lee family feud gets political

New Progress Singapore Party could pit members of the long-ruling Lee family against each other at elections expected in 2020


Tan Cheng Bock, a 79-year-old veteran politician and retired medical doctor, believes the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) he was a member of for over two decades has “changed” for the worse. Speaking at a launch event on August 3, the charismatic septuagenarian explained why his newly formed opposition party is pushing for political change in Singapore.

“The style of government has changed, the processes of government have gone astray, because there has been an erosion of the three pillars of good governance: transparency, independence, and accountability,” he said at the new Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) official launch.

Analysts believe the new political outfit could make an impact at the ballot box amid talk of Singapore’s fragmented opposition parties organizing a loose alliance. Among the PSP’s several hundred members are former ruling party cadres, an apparent indication of rising elite dissatisfaction with the direction of the current PAP government.

Tan described an “underlying disquiet” in the country, claiming that Singaporeans are fearful of publicly criticizing their government, the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia. “People fear for their jobs, their promotions, their grants, their rental premises, and getting sued,” he said.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Singapore slings a trade war antidote

Newly inked UN-backed Singapore Convention on Mediation promises neutral settlement of trade and commercial disputes. China and US are among treaty’s first signatories


Singapore became the first of 46 countries to sign a new United Nations (UN) treaty on commercial mediation on August 7, when officials from 70 nations convened in the city-state to officiate an agreement designed to facilitate global trade and resolve cross-border disputes.

The Singapore Convention on Mediation, the first treaty concluded under UN auspices to be named after the city-state, aims to give businesses greater confidence to settle international disputes through mediation, which involves a neutral party working with different sides to come to an agreement rather than resort to costly court proceedings.

While both the United States and China remain at loggerheads in an escalating trade war, the world’s two largest economies were among the convention’s first signatories, an outcome that observers see as a small coup for Singapore, a staunch free trade advocate that has cautioned against an unravelling of multilateral institutions.

Once ratified, the treaty’s provisions establish a framework for commercial parties in a dispute to enter a mediated negotiation with the ability to enforce the terms of a settlement in any of the convention’s signatory jurisdictions. Parties to the treaty are obliged to ensure that the terms of any settlement are enforced by their courts.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Hong Kong’s economic loss is Singapore’s capital gain

Businesses and investors are starting to look to Singapore as an exit strategy from Hong Kong’s civil unrest and economic decline


With civil unrest threatening to drag Hong Kong’s economy into recession, businesses and investors are beginning to look for exit strategies. Singapore, a rival Asian commercial hub and financial center, appears to be atop their list.

In her first press conference in more than two weeks, the territory’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on August 5 that the city was on the verge of “a very dangerous situation” amid unprecedented scenes of chaos during a citywide strike.

The Beijing-backed leader, who asserted the city’s “stability and prosperity” were now at stake, claimed the protest movement was “trying to topple Hong Kong” and that her government would be “resolute in maintaining law and order…and restoring confidence.”

Recent data indicates that confidence is crumbling with the ongoing unrest and no end to the turmoil in sight.

Private sector business activity in Hong Kong has dropped to its lowest level in a decade according to Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) indicators, weighed down by weeks of mass demonstrations and a US-China trade war that has disrupted global supply chains and rattled some of the region’s trade-reliant economies.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Why Hong Kong protestors fly the American flag

Protests have nothing to do with a US-backed ‘color revolution’, as Beijing claims, and everything to do with rights, liberties and democracy


When black-clad protesters gathered at Hong Kong’s central Chater Garden for a mass rally on July 28, an unlikely tune rang through the air: a rendition of the United States’ national anthem performed by a megaphone-carrying activist in black sunglasses and a face mask.

As activists waved American flags and appropriated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a protest song, a China Daily editorial published that day reiterated Beijing’s verdict on a protest movement that has brought parts of the semi-autonomous city to a standstill since demonstrations began in June.

“Judging from the preparation, targeting strategies, riot tactics and abundance of supplies, it takes naivety akin to simplemindedness to truly believe these activities are not being carefully orchestrated,” the state-run newspaper’s editorial said.

It further stated that the demonstrations are a “color revolution” orchestrated by local opposition politicians in collusion with foreigners, namely the US.

The term is a reference to various pro-democracy movements, some of which adopted a specific color or flower as their symbol, that erupted in several countries of the ex-Soviet Union in the early 2000s that toppled unpopular regimes with the backing of student activists and Western-financed civil society groups.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Beijing says stop but Hong Kong says no

China spokesman says on Monday ‘Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong’ and that future unrest won’t be tolerated but there is no resolution to the escalating fight in sight


The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, an administrative agency of China’s cabinet, held a rare 40-minute press conference in Beijing today (July 29) in response to recent violent clashes and escalating political instability that has brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill.

Yang Guang, the office’s news spokesman, reiterated the central government’s “resolute support” for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s administration and praised the Hong Kong police’s handling of the mass protests. He told reporters that Beijing regards the “one country, two systems” framework as the best way to continue governing the territory.

He condemned “radical protesters” for using violence and causing injury. The central government’s three hopes for Hong Kong, the news spokesmen said, are that various sectors firmly oppose violence, firmly safeguard the rule of law, and for society to resolve political conflicts as soon as possible.

Hong Kong’s leadership must “find ways to push for economic development and solve grievances of youngsters on quality of life and career prospects,” Yang said, with his counterpart, spokeswoman Xu Luying, acknowledging “deep-rooted problems” that impede young people’s economic mobility and access to housing in further remarks.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Hong Kong reaches a protest point of no return

Weekend of rage ends with clashes, tear gas and tense standoffs between protesters and riot police in now familiar scenes of chaos


Tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong peacefully assembled at the city’s central business district on June 28 for the weekend’s second mass demonstration and began marching in different directions, a day after black-clad activists descended on the northwestern town of Yuen Long in their thousands.

Police denied permission for both marches to be held, though umbrella-wielding protesters still turned out in force.

Police, in a now-familiar cycle of events, fired repeated volleys of tear gas at groups of protesters who marched both to Causeway Bay and westward to Sai Ying Pun near the Central Government Liaison Office, which was vandalised with ink and graffiti one week earlier.

Riot police cordoned off Des Voeux Road to prevent restive marchers from reaching the building. Demonstrators, most of whom dressed in black and hid their identity with goggles and face masks, simmered with anger as they erected makeshift barricades a half-block from police lines outside the area’s Western Police Station.

Both sides exchanged messages in Cantonese and English over loudspeakers before police put on their gas masks and charged toward the protesters as chaotic scenes unfolded.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Tensions flare, teargas fired at Hong Kong anti-triad rally

Protestors rally in the beleaguered town of Yuen Long in defiance of a police ban to show outrage over attacks last week by triad-linked assailants


Yuen Long, a small northwestern town in the New Territories region of Hong Kong, played host to a sense standoff between thousands of black-clad protesters and riot police earlier today (July 27), after scenes of bloody mob violence linked to underground triad societies unfolded at the district’s metro station a week earlier.

Riot police fired waves of tear gas canisters as they forced protesters into retreat across multiple locations in the town. Demonstrators in turn shouted insults at the officers, while others gathered bamboo sticks and pried bricks from the roadside, acts which they insisted not be photographed by reporters.

By early evening, protesters began making their return home via the nearby metro station, though many remained on the streets in a continuing standoff with law enforcement at the time of publication. Police had earlier issued a rare refusal of permission for the gathering to be held over concerns of violence and clashes.

That hasn’t deterred activists, who have turned up at the town in large numbers despite the march being designated as an “unlawful assembly.” Seething with outrage over attacks carried out on Sunday (July 21) by assailants with links to triad gangs that targeted protesters and others, the crowds have mobilized to make a stand.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Hong Kong braces for ‘unlawful’ anti-triad protest

Police declare Saturday’s planned mass march near known triad area illegal but the stage is still set for an activist vs gangster confrontation


In a rare move, Hong Kong police have officially banned a protest scheduled to be held on Saturday (July 27) in the northwestern town of Yuen Long, where earlier this week a marauding gang with alleged links to triad criminal groups indiscriminately attacked pro-democracy protesters and others at a metro station.

Citing a risk of violence and challenge to public order, Anthony Tsang, the acting regional police commander for the New Territories North, said there is a “fairly high chance for both sides to clash” if the demonstration goes ahead.

Tsang said that the march’s planned route was too densely populated and narrow for a huge number of demonstrators, adding that it would end near indigenous villages where many of the triad-linked attackers are believed to reside.

Calls for aggressive retaliation against the criminal mob have also cropped up online, he said, raising fears that the border town could become the next flashpoint in Hong Kong’s escalating weeks-long political crisis.

Thousands are expected to defy police orders and march on Yuen Long tomorrow despite its official designation as an “unlawful assembly.” If the march proceeds, it would mark the eighth straight weekend of demonstrations that, while largely peaceful, have increasingly descended into violence as protesters adopt more radical tactics.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Hong Kong’s radicals test Beijing’s bottom line

China’s offer to deploy People’s Liberation Army troops to maintain order has put the city on edge ahead of planned protests this weekend


After more than seven weeks of massive and increasingly violent demonstrations and retaliatory crackdowns in Hong Kong, recent remarks by China’s Defense Ministry suggest Beijing’s tolerance could be at a breaking point.

Referring to the vandalism of the Chinese government’s central liaison office by radical protestors on July 21 as “intolerable” and an affront to the “one country, two systems” principle, Chinese military spokesmen Wu Qian raised the prospect of deploying the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to Hong Kong if requested by the city’s government.

On July 24, when asked at a briefing how China’s Defense Ministry would handle possible future violent agitation by pro-independence protestors, the official replied by saying that “Article 14 of the Garrison Law has clear stipulations,” without elaborating.

The ominous remark, one that hints of a possible armed crackdown, has put many in the city on edge as a new round of mass protests are scheduled for this weekend.

Article 14 of the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, states that the Hong Kong government can ask Beijing for assistance to maintain public order and disaster relief from the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison, which houses mainland military personnel who are not otherwise permitted to leave the premises.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

After the crash, information wars inflame MH17

Conflicted narratives and contested facts mean no near-term justice or closure for what may be the most politicized aviation disaster in history


“Five years might have passed but our resolve for accountability and justice will not wane,” read a statement by Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport released on the fifth anniversary of the unresolved shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over the skies of eastern Ukraine, taking the lives of all 298 people on board.

Malaysian authorities vowed to “remain resolute in our pursuit” and “leave no stone unturned until justice is served,” adding that it would continue to work with the other members of the multinational Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and international community to pursue the those responsible for the plane’s downing.

“We sincerely hope that this will bring some measure of comfort and solace to the families and the next of kin of those who were lost in this tragedy,” the statement said.

Conflicted narratives and contested facts about what actually happened above the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, however, means there will be no near-term closure for what may be the most politicized aviation disaster in history.

Dutch prosecutors tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the downing announced last month the names of four suspects, three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian, who are due to face murder charges in proceedings set to start in the Netherlands next March.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Five years on, no answers to who felled MH17

Asia Times examines in two parts why Malaysia’s premier and others doubt a Dutch-led probe’s finding that Russia shot down flight MH17


Five years ago, scenes of horror unfolded across the sunflower fields of eastern Ukraine. Shot out of the sky, the smoldering fuselage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tumbled back to earth with 298 passengers aboard, unwitting victims of the single deadliest incident of a still-festering civil war on Europe’s periphery.

Bound for Kuala Lumpur, the Boeing 777-200ER’s flight path took it directly over conflict-ridden areas of Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists and government forces were engaged in fierce combat. The plane disappeared from radar nearly four hours after departing from Amsterdam and crashed in Donetsk, a separatist-led breakaway republic bordering Russia.

International investigators concluded in 2016 that the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk-9M38 missile fired by separatist fighters. The missile system in question is said to have been brought across the border into eastern Ukraine to aid the Russia-backed rebels and quickly rolled back after the MH17 disaster to avoid detection.

A multinational Joint Investigation Team (JIT) believes the Soviet-era surface-to-air rocket was supplied by the Russian military’s 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade, a charge the Kremlin has strongly and consistently denied.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Singapore the big winner of Hong Kong’s chaos

The city-state’s comparative stability is drawing business and funds away from tumultuous Hong Kong


Recent turmoil and tumult in Hong Kong has spooked investors and dampened business sentiment, prompting capital flight that appears initially to have benefitted rival business and finance hub Singapore. 

The Southeast Asian city-state, likewise known for its modern banking and financial services, is widely seen as an attractive alternative for investors seeking stability and impartial rule of law in the region.

The mammoth protests against a proposed extradition bill that have gripped Hong Kong since early June would be unthinkable in Singapore, which strictly enforces laws that curb public protests and political expression. 

The weeks-long demonstrations took an extraordinary turn on July 1 when protesters besieged and ransacked Hong Kong’s legislative building on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Though the chaotic scenes have made global headlines and raised new questions about the city’s future as Asia’s premier financial center, analysts and experts say the protests are not necessarily the main factor driving the capital outflows.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Singapore licks its trade war wounds

City-state’s exposure to tariff-disrupted supply chains could soon tilt the trade-reliant economy into recession


While the US-China trade war truce achieved at the G20 summit has been widely welcomed by business and markets, trade-reliant regional countries like Singapore are still bracing for economic headwinds.

Economists have warned that Singapore could tip towards recession if the US imposes more tariffs on Chinese imports, a reflection of the wealthy city-state’s high exposure to China-linked supply chains and production networks.

While US President Donald Trump has stepped back, for now, from his threat to slap levies on some US$300 billion worth of additional Chinese goods, US tariffs applied so far have contributed to Singapore’s worst manufacturing downturn in a decade.

The high-tech manufacturing hub’s electronics exports tumbled 31.4% year on year in May as the impact of US tariffs coursed through regional supply chains. Trade data released last month by Enterprise Singapore, a government agency, showed non-oil exports fell 15.9% in May, down from 11.8% in March and 10% in April.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Hong Kong teeters on edge of US sanctions

US legislation aims to penalize abuses committed in Hong Kong and could make the city’s special status a pawn in the US-China trade war


Hongkonger Hendrick Lui believes the United States should slap sanctions on those responsible for cracking down on recent mass protests against controversial legislation that aims to allow for criminal suspects to be extradited and tried in mainland China.

Lui was among hundreds of mostly young demonstrators involved in a June 21 sit-in at the city’s Legislative Council (Legco) building and nearby roads, where some held banners in support of a bill recently tabled by senior American lawmakers to sanction mainland and city officials involved in rights abuses.

The bipartisan legislation, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, was introduced on June 13 by hawkish Republican senator Marco Rubio and Democratic congressman Jim McGovern in the wake of recent violent clashes between protestors and security forces in Hong Kong.

If passed, the bill would impose sanctions and travel restrictions against individuals in China and Hong Kong found to be involved in human rights violations, and require the US president to certify annually that Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous” to continue receiving US trade privileges not afforded to mainland China.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

While Lam relents, Hong Kong calls massively for her ouster

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam backed away from a contentious extradition bill and issued a public apology but as many as two million demonstrated on Sunday calling for her resignation


Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam issued a public apology Sunday evening (June 16) as hundreds of thousands of protestors dressed in black clogged the city’s streets in another massive protest demanding her resignation and the scrapping of a contentious bill that would allow for the extradition of suspects to mainland China.

A day after Lam announced a surprise decision to indefinitely postpone the bill in a press conference on Saturday, the city’s leader vowed to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public” in a statement released at 8:30 pm as chanting crowds stood outside the gates of her office calling for her to step down.

“Carrie Lam’s press conference yesterday just made Hong Kong people angrier. We don’t think she will step down, but we must force her out,” said 27-year-old Chiew minutes before demonstrators began marching from Victoria Park in the scorching afternoon heat with the aim of forcing the government to rescind, rather than postpone, the controversial bill.

Gripped by a surge of mass dissent, the Asian financial hub has been thrust into political crisis amid the largest political demonstrations and some of the worst scenes of violence since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997. Organizers from the Civil Human Rights Front said almost two million people took part in Sunday’s march.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Friday, 14 June 2019

As China blames US, Hong Kong on a precarious edge

Beijing claims ‘external forces’ were behind recent mass protests in Hong Kong while US readies legislation that could strip the autonomous city of its special status


Hong Kong’s legislature building remains closed after mass protests over a proposed extradition law that would allow for suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial turned violent on Wednesday (June 12).

While the city’s center returned to normalcy on Friday, demonstrators are set to take to the streets again in the days ahead, setting the stage for new rounds of confrontation and a potentially more severe official response.

Clashes between police and tens of thousands of young black-clad protestors resulted in the hospitalization of at least 81 people in some of the worst violence seen in the former British colony since it was handed back to China in 1997.

The protests are already having diplomatic ramifications. Senior US lawmakers from both Democratic and Republican parties on Thursday introduced legislation that would require the US government to annually certify Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special business and trade privileges.

China, meanwhile, has rejected accusations it is throttling Hong Kong’s legally guaranteed autonomy and forcing legal changes on the city’s government. In response, Chinese state media has taken sharp aim at “external forces” it claims are trying to drive a wedge between the city and the mainland by creating chaos over the bill.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Protests set stage for historic clash in Hong Kong

Youthful demonstrators block talks on controversial extradition bill, paralyzing the financial hub


Throngs of youthful black-clad demonstrators with umbrellas, goggles and face masks blockaded major roads around Hong Kong’s legislature building on Wednesday, a surge of mass dissent against an extradition bill that, if passed, would allow city residents to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Leaderless but highly organized, protesters in their tens of thousands had been in an hours-long stand-off with riot police bearing shields and wielding batons in scenes reminiscent of the protracted Occupy Central democracy protests of late 2014. Police used pepper spray, beanbag rounds, tear gas and even rubber bullets against protesters who defied the show of official force and refused to retreat.

The protests have symbolically erupted just after the 30-year anniversary of China’s lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. How the protests, if sustained, will ultimately be handled is unclear, but the stage is now set for a pivotal clash of pro- and anti-Beijing forces in China’s special administrative region.

Mass opposition to the bill has fast spiraled into a political crisis for Chief Executive Carrie Lam with escalating street protests and strikes clogging key roads near government offices three days after Hong Kong’s biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 drew more than one million people, according to organizers.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Why Hong Kong won’t go quietly to China

One million Hongkongers protested, some violently, on Sunday against a pending extradition law many fear would undermine the city’s judicial and political independence


A protest march of more than a million people brought Hong Kong’s streets to a standstill on Sunday (June 9) in what organizers claim to be the city’s largest-ever rally. They gathered to voice mass opposition to a proposed extradition law that would for the first time allow fugitives wanted by authorities in China to be sent from Hong Kong to the mainland for trial.

Braving sweltering temperatures, throngs of demonstrators clad in white held placards and yellow umbrellas in defiance as they shouted slogans in English and Cantonese calling for the resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who critics say has tried to hastily push through the unpopular bill.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized the sprawling march, claimed a record turnout of 1.03 million people, a massive showing that raises pressure on local authorities to scrap the rendition bill. Police estimates down played the numbers, per usual, with security forces claiming attendance peaked at 240,000.

Though the China-backed extradition bill is a local government initiative, many here are wary that it would give authorities in Beijing a freer hand to target political opponents and foreign businesspeople on the self-ruled island with contrived charges to be heard in China’s politicized court system.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Thirty years on, Hong Kong fears its own Tiananmen

On the anniversary of China’s June 4, 1989 fatal clampdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong’s freedoms are quickly eroding away


A candlelight vigil commemorating the 30th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on student-led demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was attended by tens of thousands in Hong Kong, with young and old alike gathered to mark what many see as a seminal event in modern Chinese history.

Crowds gathered on the damp football fields of Victoria Park where they swayed to protest songs with candles in hand and chanted slogans. Some could be seen shedding tears or heard sobbing as a eulogy to the dead rang out over loudspeakers. Hundreds of miles away in the city where the violent events unfolded, however, it was as if nothing had ever happened, according to news reports.

Three decades on, mention of the violent repression is heavily censored in Chinese news and social media as perhaps the country’s biggest political taboo. Hong Kong, along with Macau, are the only places on Chinese soil where commemorations are held each year. The date continues to resonate with Hongkongers amid rising distrust of mainland authorities.

“The memory of June 4 scares me,” said Tiffany, a 23-year-old university student who attended the vigil. “Seeing these people still alive makes me very touched,” she said as a former student leader gave a stirring speech. “Being here reminds me that the Chinese government is so inhumane and, recently, they are tightening the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Fifty years on, fateful race riots still haunt Malaysia

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s political career was forged in the fires of May 13, 1969 race riots yet he remains reluctant to seek the truth about the violence


This month Malaysia commemorated the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest episodes of its post-independence history, a convulsion of racial violence that still haunts the multi-ethnic nation. The bloody race riots of May 13, 1969, saw explosive communal clashes between ethnic Malays and Chinese break out in the streets of Kuala Lumpur, leaving hundreds dead and a then young nation traumatized.

Five decades on, the date still looms large in the national consciousness and weighs like an albatross on the generations that lived through the carnage where as many as 800 may had been killed in an orgy of racial violence.

Then as now, race relations remain a delicate matter and at the center of multi-ethnic Malaysia’s long-enduring but controversial social contract that favors the ethnic Malay majority over minority Chinese and Indians, a construct that emerged in the riots’ aftermath with the 1971 New Economic Policy (NEP).

Over the years, various politicians have evoked the episode’s sectarian violence as a warning, often in the lead up to elections, that any challenge to the special rights and constitutionally-ascribed privileges enjoyed by Malays would upset the nation’s delicate balance and possibly lead to new bloodshed.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

US, Malaysia in a 1MDB quid pro quo

Malaysia’s extradition of ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to the US likely facilitated a first $196 million tranche return of recovered fund assets


When Malaysian authorities filed criminal charges in December against Goldman Sachs’ employees and subsidiaries for alleged misconduct in their dealings with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund, they sought from the outset to exact a high price.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng declared soon thereafter that Malaysia would seek a whopping US$7.5 billion in reparations from the American investment bank, a figure that exceeded market expectations and underscored the urgency his government placed on recouping billions of dollars lost in the now infamous global scandal.

While law enforcement officials in the United States, Malaysia and beyond have maintained pressure on Goldman Sachs, sources familiar with the matter told Asia Times that Malaysian authorities have voiced frustration with the perceived slow pace of the multinational effort to recover assets illegally acquired through funds diverted from 1MDB.

That could explain why Malaysian authorities ultimately allowed ex-Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng to be extradited to the US earlier this month on a warrant permitting him to remain in American custody for up to 10 months. His extradition was initially postponed by Malaysia as it sought its own legal proceedings against the banker.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Rapper, fugitive and lobbyists in new 1MDB twist

Malaysia scandal turns as US indicts financier Jho Low and American rapper Prakazrel Michel for illegal foreign funding in 2012 US presidential election


The United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ) has leveled election conspiracy charges against a fugitive Malaysian financier and an American rapper, the latest twist in the globe-spanning multi-billion dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal.

Unsealed on May 10, the indictment claims Malaysian businessman Low Taek Jho, also known as Jho Low, directed the transfer of approximately US$21.6 million into accounts controlled by music mogul Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, some of which allegedly went to campaign contributions for the 2012 US presidential election in violation of US law.

Low, a close associate of then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, and Michel, a founding member of the 1990’s Fugees hip hop group, both face charges of conspiracy to defraud the US government by making and channeling illegal foreign campaign contributions. Michel has also been charged with scheming to conceal material facts and making a false entry in a record in connection with the alleged conspiracy.

The pair reputedly masked the source of foreign money by funneling it through more than a dozen “straw donors” who made legal contributions in their own names, according to the indictment, which said Michel and Low hoped to “buy access to, and potentially influence with a candidate, the candidate’s campaign and the candidate’s administration.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

One year on, Mahathir’s grip starts to slip

On the first anniversary of Malaysia’s historic election, the honeymoon is clearly over


One year ago today (May 9), Malaysians from all walks of life went to the ballot box seeking change. Victory for Pakatan Harapan, a reform-oriented multi-party alliance led by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, stunned observers and brought six-decades of rule by the once-formidable Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition to a jubilant end.

At a time when many lamented democratic backsliding in the region and beyond, the unlikely election of a pluralistic ruling coalition bent on broad political reform imbued Malaysia with a newfound significance. Economic headwinds and widening sociopolitical polarization, however, have since complicated matters for the upstart leadership.

Though some argue campaign vows have been realized, perceptions of the government’s performance after a year in power are decidedly mixed. According to research by the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency, recent approval ratings for both the ruling coalition and the prime minister have suffered a significant slide.

Mahathir, an iconic political personality who previously served as premier for over two decades before his re-election, polled at 83% shortly after taking office last May. His popularity, according to a survey published last month, has almost halved to just 46%.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com.