Tuesday, 31 December 2019

How to live as long as Mahathir

Nonagenarian Malaysian leader shares his secrets on longevity, acuity and health


Whether one admires his political tenacity or abhors his often controversial candidness, it is beyond dispute that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad functions exceedingly well for a man of his age. At 94, the world’s oldest elected leader amazes people with his stamina and is frequently asked his secret to long life.

Mahathir, who worked as a physician in his home state of Kedah before entering politics in 1964, recently published two columns in local broadsheet the New Straits Times listing his habits and practices for keeping up a healthy lifestyle, touching on everything from practicing good posture to treating a receding hairline.

According to the nonagenarian political heavyweight, staying in the pink of health begins with self-discipline, particularly through conscious eating habits and controlling one’s desire for tasty foods.

“We should eat to live and not live to eat…the amount must not be more than what is needed,” he advises. “Obesity is not good for health or longevity.”

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Monday, 30 December 2019

Malaysia’s Mahathir to keep Anwar waiting in 2020

Succession politics will intensify but not likely be resolved in the year ahead


As Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition enters its second full year in office, uncertainty over whether Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will hand power as promised to a chosen successor will shadow and potentially destabilize the nation’s politics in 2020.

One near certainty, though, is that Mahathir will remain in power throughout 2020 and into the following year, leaving his nemesis turned ally veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim in waiting.

The 94-year-old premier said as much when in December he ruled out stepping down before Malaysia hosts a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in November 2020. Sometimes compared to a Shakespearean drama, the hot-and-cold relationship between the two politicians has shaped Malaysian politics for decades.

After being pardoned of what were viewed as politicized sodomy charges and released from jail last year, 72-year-old Anwar has maneuvered cautiously since re-entering politics, showing reluctance to rock the boat as a prime minister-in-waiting. Despite that, old plot lines have resurfaced.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Friday, 20 December 2019

Mahathir bids to bridge a divided Muslim world

Malaysian leader hosts a Muslim nation summit that could cause more division than unity


Can Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad bring together a divided Muslim world riven by conflict, oppression and under-development?

That’s the question observers will ask as Islamic world leaders and representatives convene in Kuala Lumpur for a four-day summit chaired by the outspoken 94-year-old Malaysian leader.

“Islam, the Muslims and their countries are in a state of crisis, helpless and unworthy of this great religion which is meant to be good for mankind,” said Mahathir in his opening address to the summit, at which he said Muslim nations had “lost the respect of the world” due to rampant terrorism and disrespect for human rights.

Billed as an opportunity to build cooperation on governance and sustainable development, tackle the threat of radicalism and push back against Islamophobia, the KL Summit nominally aims to be a results-oriented venue for Muslim cooperation.

But elsewhere, namely Saudi Arabia, there are clear signs of pique over the forum’s agenda and participants.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Mixed reviews for US-China partial trade deal

Phase one agreement is only a ‘baby step’ towards resolving wider trade war related issues and disputes


A US-China “first phase” trade deal has been hailed as a significant breakthrough and welcomed by global financial markets, but questions remain over the deal’s enforcement and whether subsequent phases on more substantial issues can be agreed in the foreseeable future.

US President Donald Trump hailed the hard-fought agreement, which will gradually rollback American tariffs on certain Chinese imports just days before a new raft of now-suspended 15% levies were set to come into effect on about $160 billion worth of Chinese goods, as “an amazing deal for all.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed Trump’s assessment, saying on Saturday that the deal is “good news for all” and will “provide stability in global trade.”

But weighed against the high economic costs already wrought by the trade war, witnessed in slowing global economic growth, critics have already panned the agreement for delivering little structural change to Chinese economic and trade practices Trump has persistently deemed as unfair.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

How Goldman Sachs could wiggle free of 1MDB

Wall Street bank set to reach favorable but controversial US settlement in multi-billion dollar Malaysia scandal


When Mahathir Mohamad returned to power last year, the world’s oldest prime minister vowed to claw back billions of dollars plundered in a globe-spanning corruption scandal involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund co-founded by his ousted predecessor Najib Razak.

The 94-year-old Malaysian leader recently said he was hopeful that an out-of-court settlement could soon be reached with Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank now under global scrutiny for its role in underwriting three bond issuances that raised US$6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013.

But while Malaysian prosecutors continue their pursuit, US authorities are said to be close to resolving separate criminal and regulatory probes into the scandal, with a settlement on the cards that could see Goldman pay up to $2 billion in penalties.

If so, it would be a much smaller punitive amount than many analysts anticipated. That, at least for now, isn’t likely to compel Mahathir to scale back his separate $7.5 billion demand of Goldman, but a lesser US settlement than expected would set a certain benchmark.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Monday, 9 December 2019

Malaysia’s politics as sex, lies and videotape

Malaysia’s top party is ripping itself apart on factional lines while an opposition alliance grows more firmly together


Veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim marked the two-decade anniversary of Malaysia’s reform movement at his party’s national congress over the weekend amid heated factional infighting that could threaten wider political stability.

The man tipped to become the country’s next prime minister delivered his first speech as president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) since being freed from jail and pardoned of a sodomy conviction last May, but political acrimony cast an ominous shadow over the event.

PKR, now the largest party in the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, is sharply divided between Anwar loyalists and others backing PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali. The factional divide broke into the open with Azmin’s supporters staging a dramatic walkout during the proceedings.

At the crux of the divide is a dispute over who will take the premiership after 94-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad steps down, as he has vowed to do before his five-year term expires in 2023.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

HK Act could impact US-China trade deal

Trump says ‘first phase’ trade deal could wait until late 2020 while Xi has increasingly little domestic room to compromise


When US President Donald Trump signed a new law last week authorizing Washington to level sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Hong Kong, he did so knowing the move would likely hinder his administration’s stated goal of sealing a “phase one” trade agreement with China that has thus far proved elusive.

The leaders of the world’s two largest economies say they want to end a 17-month tariff war that has stunted global growth, rattled supply chains and left investors hedging their bets. Trump’s remark on Tuesday that a trade deal may have to wait until late 2020, after US presidential elections, has sent markets swooning, ending a spell of market optimism that a deal would be reached within this month.

“I don’t have a deadline…In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal,” Trump was quoted saying while in London ahead of a NATO summit. No high-level meetings with Chinese officials are scheduled, the president claimed.

Adding to the pressure is separate new legislation to sanction Chinese officials involved in the internment of Uighur minorities in the country’s Xinjiang autonomous region. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives nearly unanimously passed the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act of 2019 on December 4.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Monday, 2 December 2019

Succession struggle tears at Malaysia’s stability

PM Mahathir Mohamad’s promised handover to one-time nemesis Anwar Ibrahim is increasingly in doubt


Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition is edging toward a breaking point as a widening schism over a planned prime ministerial succession threatens political stability at a delicate economic juncture.

A sharp factional divide is roiling the largest party in the coalition, pitting veteran political heavyweight and former political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim against Minister of Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin Ali in a tussle over who will next assume the nation’s premiership.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 94, has frequently reiterated his intention to step down after serving two to three years and accept Anwar, his one-time nemesis, as his successor. Mahathir was swept into power for the second time in May 2018 in a surprise election win against the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

Azmin and his supporters, however, have called for Mahathir to continue as prime minister for a full five-year term rather than making way for Anwar. According to Azmin, 55, the nonagenarian’s leadership is key to ensuring “stability, continuity and consistency” of government policies.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

All eyes on Trump’s HK democracy bill decision

Trump’s approval of Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act could scupper delicate trade talks


Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam faces renewed calls to accede to the demands of anti-government protesters after district council elections in the Chinese city delivered a landslide majority to pan-democratic candidates, in what was widely seen as a referendum on her polarizing handling of the city’s political crisis.

Sunday’s dramatic democratic rout arguably piles new pressure on US President Donald Trump, who has yet to signal whether he will sign punitive legislation backing Hong Kong’s protesters that passed Congress nearly unanimously.

With Beijing condemning the pending Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as tantamount to foreign meddling, analysts say its passage could complicate, if not scupper, ongoing and delicate US-China talks towards a “phase one” trade agreement.

On Monday (November 25), Beijing summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad to lodge its “strong protest” over the bill, the foreign ministry said in a statement that sternly asserted that the US would “bear all the consequences” if it did not scrap the legislation.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Mahathir’s reform dream fading away in Malaysia

Resounding by-election defeat and rising internal dissent signal ruling Harapan coalition is losing steam


Malaysia’s ruling coalition is reeling from a by-election loss that saw voters opt for an opposition candiate associated with ex-premier Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which was toppled at May 2018 polls after decades of consecutive rule.

Mired by factional infighting and uncertainty over a leadership succession plan, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government is increasingly perceived to be backsliding on promised reforms to advance inclusiveness and democracy. Critics had even cast the weekend’s poll, staged in the southern state of Johor, as a referendum on the 94-year-old’s premiership.

While political watchers did not expect his governing Pakatan Harapan (PH) to retain the parliamentary seat for Tanjung Piai, the stunning majority obtained by the opposition BN coalition – reportedly the largest seen in any by-election in Malaysia’s history – far exceeded expectations.

Wee Jeck Seng, a former two-term parliamentarian with the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a BN component party, won with 65.6% of the vote. Mahathir had personally campaigned for Harapan’s candidate, Karmaine Sardini, who took just 26.7% of the ballot.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Friday, 15 November 2019

Singapore imagines a brave new fintech future

Forward-looking city-state is fast emerging as Southeast Asia’s financial technology hub


With investment booming and regulation loosening, Singapore is rapidly emerging as a Southeast Asian hub for financial technology, or fintech. The wealthy city-state this month played host to the world’s largest fintech festival, underscoring its ambitions as a regional springboard for financial sector innovation.

Around 60,000 participants from 130 countries took part in the three-day Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) x Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology (SWITCH) event, according to organizers from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the nation’s central bank which has played a key role in promoting domestic fintechs.

Ravi Menon, managing director of MAS, recently described the sector’s innovations as “the way of the future” in media interviews. “At a time when traditional trade relationships are under strain, I think the opportunity ahead is to look at new ways of connectivity through digital means…that is where the next stage of liberalization needs to take place,” he said.

Fintech broadly seeks to improve and automate the delivery and use of financial services such as payments, transfers, lending and insurance. The term also encompasses the development and use of digital currencies as well as blockchain, a decentralized record-keeping technology with the potential to be utilized across multiple sectors.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Jho Low deal could pit US against Malaysia

US DoJ’s $1 billion settlement with fugitive financier will provide little near-term joy to Malaysia’s 1MDB recovery efforts


A milestone deal reached between fugitive Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho and the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) to recoup US$1 billion allegedly pilfered from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state investment fund has been hailed as the largest civil forfeiture settlement in US history.

The 38-year old better known as Jho Low who purportedly pulled off one of the biggest ever financial heists said he was “very pleased” with the deal announced last week, which does not constitute an admission of guilt or liability.

But for Malaysia, which seeks to extradite Low on money laundering charges and restore the country’s financial standing through the recovery of billions of dollars of pilfered funds, neither progress nor justice will likely come any time soon.

Widely seen as the mastermind behind the scandal, Low staunchly denies responsibility and says charges against him are politicized. Yet as part of the US DoJ settlement, Low and his family members have agreed to forfeit over $700 million in assets tied to the globe-spanning, multi-billion dollar corruption scandal.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Mother of all scams coming to light in Malaysia

While court hearings expose the extent of 1MDB corruption, authorities move to prevent a repeat of the massive scandal


Since hearings in the main 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund trial commenced in August, prosecutors have presented jaw-dropping accounts of alleged top-level corruption and abuse of power.

Ex-premier Najib Razak stands accused of looting hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB for self-enrichment and actively interfering with an anti-corruption probe launched after the first hints of the scandal broke in July 2015.

Prosecutors have leveled 42 charges against Najib, who faces the possibility of life in prison for graft, money laundering, abuse of power and criminal breach of trust.

The latest trial, one of a scheduled five, brings 21 charges of money laundering and four of abuse of power for receiving illegal transfers of about 2.3 billion ringgit (US$550.8 million) between 2011 and 2014.

While observers wait for justice to be served in what some have referred to as the biggest heist in financial history, Malaysia is slowly but surely putting in place new mechanisms to prevent a repeat of the massive scam.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

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

Thursday, 10 October 2019

As protests boom, Hong Kong’s economy busts

Hong Kong headed for recession amid triple whammy of civil unrest, US-China trade war and falling global growth


Hong Kong’s economy faces an unprecedented triple threat as four months of increasingly violent protests, an escalating US-China trade war and a dip in global growth all take a downward-pulling toll.

With tourism and retail sectors tumbling, analysts believe the semi-autonomous Chinese city may have already tipped into its first recession in a decade. Hong Kong stocks, meanwhile, have reportedly suffered their worst quarter in four years as wary investors count their costs.

Financial analysts still doubt that the Asian financial hub’s fixed currency system pegged to the US dollar could falter, if hitherto modest capital outflows accelerate in coming weeks. But recent market activity suggests certain speculation is rising, despite stability in the overnight call rate, about a still unseen liquidity crunch.

Speaking at a news conference, Chief Executive Carrie Lam on October 8 lamented that, compared to last year, visitor numbers to Hong Kong plunged 53.6% in the first six days of October, when mainland tourists usually cross the border for shopping deals during China’s National Day holidays, otherwise known as “golden week” for merchants in the city.

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, 3 October 2019

Hong Kong protests rain on China’s big parade

Escalated violence on Hong Kong’s strife-torn streets stole the show from China’s highly anticipated 70th anniversary event


As China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in Beijing, replete with a made-for-television gala military parade, Hong Kong’s strife-torn streets arguably stole the show with some of the worst violence seen since protests first erupted 17 weeks ago.

Turmoil engulfed the Asian financial hub with intense clashes and bloodshed in various areas and districts of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Street fires burned as masked protesters hurled petrol bombs at riot officers, tore down national banners and defaced portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Tens of thousands thronged the streets chanting slogans “Fight for Freedom” and “Stand with Hong Kong” at a peaceful march early in the day, which later descended into chaos after standoffs with police. Police pushed back against the crowds with volleys of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and water cannons laced with blue dye.

Marking a potentially pivotal escalation, an 18-year-old man wielding what appeared to be a metal rod was filmed being shot at point-blank range during a frantic altercation with police alongside other masked protesters.

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, 2 October 2019

As China celebrates, HK an island and people apart

While China proudly touts the 70th anniversary of its modern founding a poll shows only 11% of Hongkongers see themselves as Chinese


With celebrations underway to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the October 1 festivities are set to culminate in a massive, chest-thumping military parade down Beijing’s main ceremonial thoroughfare.

Some 1,200 miles away in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory in the throes of a historic struggle against the perceived erosion of its autonomy by Beijing, the occasion will more likely be marked by pitched street battles than patriotic pomp.

The former British colony faces its biggest political and constitutional crisis since returning to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, which in theory allows the city to have its own governmental system largely independent of Beijing.

But as China celebrates its emergence as a global power, the widening gulf of identity and ideology between those two systems looks more and more difficult to bridge, causing many Hongkongers to increasingly view their home as a place apart.

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, 29 September 2019

Umbrellas to firebombs, HK protests burn and rage

Black-clad protestors mark Umbrella Movement’s fifth anniversary with political graffiti, petrol bombs and flag burnings


Thousands of Hongkongers descended on Tamar Park on Saturday (July 28) evening for a rally to mark the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement. As anti-government unrest enters its seventeenth week, some believe the lesson learned is that past peaceful protests have failed to achieve the change that many here continue to agitate for.

Black-clad demonstrators spray-painted the phrase “We are back” along Harcourt Road, a reference to “We will be back” banners that marked the end of the Umbrella Movement, which unfolded over ten weeks in 2014 and saw peaceful civil disobedience protests demanding universal suffrage and mass sit-ins under the banner of “Occupy Central.”

What had then been the largest and most protracted episode of civil disobedience in Hong Kong’s history has since been eclipsed by this year’s ongoing political crisis, which has seen both record-breaking peaceful marches and often violent unrest and clashes between police and protesters shake the Chinese-ruled financial hub for nearly four months.

Saturday’s event, which featured musical performances and rousing political speeches, was cut short over safety concerns after protesters blockaded a road adjacent to the city’s legislature building, bringing traffic to a halt. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd outside of the Chief Executive’s Office in the evening.

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, 23 September 2019

Trump ambassador pick to test Singapore ties

Little-known US businesswoman Barbera Thornhill’s suitability for the top role already faces tough scrutiny


A little-known Californian businesswoman and philanthropist is tipped to be America’s next ambassador to Singapore, a crucial and overdue appointment to one of Washington’s closest strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific.

Barbera Hale Thornhill, president of Impact Design, a Los Angeles-based interior design firm, was nominated for the role by US President Donald Trump on September 19.

Thornhill’s nomination came two days before Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong began a week-long official trip to New York City, where he is due to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. 

Lee is expected to meet with Trump, and although no meeting has been announced, he could also be introduced to the president’s ambassadorial pick.

But there are already doubts as to whether the prospective envoy will be able to reaffirm relations with a long-standing ally that has been notably impacted by Washington’s trade war and openly questioned the Trump administration’s policy direction.

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, 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.

Friday, 9 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.

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.