The Year of the Tiger: The Chinese Century

Napolean once commented that China is a sleeping tiger, and he famously said that “let him sleep, for if he awakes, the whole world will be shaken”.

If the nineteenth century was the Century of the British Empire, the 20th the Century of the United States, this 21st century will probably be the Century of CHina. This is not my opinion, even though I concur; this is the opinion carried in the following article, published on CNY day by The Independent of UK. You can also read it here.

The Year of the Tiger: The Chinese century

Today, China celebrates its New Year. But how much do we really know about the economic powerhouse in the east – and what lies in store for the rest of the world? Rupert Cornwell, Clifford Coonan, Hamish McRae and Greg Walton hunt down the answers

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The pace and extent of China’s ascent among nations has been remarkable. Barely 20 years ago, it went virtually unnoticed. Today it is an economic superpower – if not (at least yet) a cultural and military one.

By every measure it is a rising power. It is now the world’s second- biggest economy behind the United States, and some experts predict it will overtake the US within two decades. It has overtaken Germany to become the world’s largest exporter. It holds the largest foreign-currency reserves on earth, more than $2 trillion (£1.3 trillion). Barring a collision between China’s authoritarian politics and its economic liberalisation – the paradox of “Confucian capitalism” – this momentum will surely continue.

Despite its progress, China certainly has great potential weaknesses: a poor rural population and ethnic tensions, to name but two. It is also the world’s greatest polluter. But its public infrastructure programme dwarfs anything in the West. In that sense especially, its centralised and authoritarian system is a source of strength, enabling decisions to be taken and vital projects to be launched without the delays that often hold up such investment elsewhere.

The West’s economic travails have, if anything, made China yet more confident and assertive, and more dismissive of criticism from abroad – be it of its human rights record or its manipulation of the yuan’s exchange rate. The fact is that money, not gunboats, gives huge muscle to a diplomacy whose goals are mercantilist rather than ideological. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the 21st, like the 20th, would be an “American Century”. Now, for the first time in almost a millennium, a Chinese century is on the cards.

Where does China rank compared with other leading economies?

Though China’s $8.8 trillion gross domestic product figure is the world’s third highest, its per capita GDP rank is far lower, at $127, only just above Ukraine’s. The US by comparison has the highest GDP of any economy and the 10th highest per capita. But China is growing fast. Many Western countries, including Britain, have barely increasing GDP figures, whereas Chinese officials expect an 8 per cent increase, at least, for 2010.

How many Chinese are there? What are the population projections?

China’s population is expected to peak at around 1.4 billion, but we could see the emergence of an enlarged population of urban, educated children – including long-out-of-favour girls – who will contribute to China’s ongoing expansion. China’s urban population right now is more than 540 million, which dwarfs the entire EU. This largely agricultural society is being rapidly transformed into a country teeming with megacities.

The country’s urban population is currently dispersed across 661 big, medium and small cities; more than 100 of these have the stated aim of transforming themselves into internationalised metropolises or megacities. By 2025, at least 220 Chinese cities will have more than one million people, compared with 35 for the whole of Europe. Some 300 million rural dwellers will migrate to the cities in the next 20 years.

How much of the world’s resources is China consuming?

China now consumes around 40 per cent of the world’s aluminium compared with only 2 per cent in 1970. Its appetite for natural resources is highlighted by the recent passage of laws banning the export of metals used in the manufacture of fuel cells for hybrid vehicles. The government has also amassed the world’s largest reserves of several precious metals – including indium, used in touchscreens – driving up prices and provoking fears of shortages.

What else are they doing with those resources?

While China’s export industry still takes the lion’s share of imported raw materials, domestic infrastructure projects and house building are also putting strain on a number of commodities. The country’s fledgling middle class is steadily establishing the world’s largest housing market, with forecasts indicating that China could have as many as 78 million new homeowners by 2013. The expansion of cities is driving up demand for cement in particular. Economists have forecast that China will consume 40 per cent of the entire global supply of cement during 2010, having maintained an average annual growth rate of 25 per cent over the past 10 years. The construction equipment industry grew by around 20 per cent in 2009, and 50 per cent of the world’s tall cranes are now to be found in China.

How much does China export?

China took the title of the world’s leading exporter from Germany only last week. In 2009, it earnt $1.23trn, relegating Germany to second place. The US buys close to 18 per cent of all Chinese exports, making it by far the largest market for China’s goods. The downturn resulted in a dramatic drop in US consumption, leading Beijing to reconsider the country’s reliance on the American consumer.

Much of China’s success as an exporter depends on low costs. What happens when, inevitably, China’s costs rise as living standards go up?

China has to go upmarket. Already the higher-cost regions of China, most notably Shanghai, are moving out of mass-manufacturing and into more complex manufacturing and high-added-value services. But for another couple of decades there will be a plentiful supply of labour as people move away from less-developed regions towards big cities, so it will be able to contain costs for some years yet. It is investing heavily in training.

What economic power does China have over other countries?

China’s power shows up in three main ways: as a purchaser, mostly of raw materials; as a supplier to the rest of the world; and as an investor of its spare cash.

In relation to the first, it has had a huge impact on Africa. It funds more infrastructure in Africa than all the aid of Western nations put together, much in exchange for raw materials. As supplier to the world, it has helped hold down living costs elsewhere by producing so many cheap goods. For example, it produces two-thirds of the world’s socks. As an investor, it has by and large bought financial assets – US Treasury securities in particular – rather than buying foreign firms. So it has not exerted its power in any direct way.

How much of the US commercial sector does China own?

Surprisingly little, given its vast exports to the US. Although China holds hundreds of billions of dollars of US government and corporate debt, as of 2007 its declared direct investment totalled barely $1bn, mostly in the wholesale trade sector. That figure almost certainly understates reality: a further $5bn may have been invested by offshore holding companies ultimately owned by China. But if protectionist sentiment grows in the US, and the gap in labour costs between the two countries narrows, then both politics and economics may well push China to boost its direct investment sharply over the coming decade.

Are relations with the US worsening?

Right now they are, and given that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is the one between Washington and Beijing, that matters to everyone. The most visible friction has been over US plans to sell $6bn of arms to Taiwan, but other issues fester. China is the biggest obstacle to genuinely tough UN sanctions against Iran, and Washington is suspicious of China’s moves to lock in long-term raw material deals with poor countries in Africa and elsewhere. The most serious US accusation is that China unfairly holds down the yuan’s exchange rate. A trade war is not to be ruled out.

What is it doing with its spare cash?

in addition to extensive investment in overseas projects, mainly mining and other raw materials, the Chinese state has cautiously invested in foreign companies and is now the world’s fifth-largest sovereign wealth fund. China’s $227bn of state investment in foreign companies includes a 1 per cent stake in BP, 1.7 per cent in the French oil giant Total, as well as stakes in IBM’s laptop division and MG Rover. A 30 per cent decline in the value of China’s investment in the US-based wealth management firm Blackstone only months after the initial venture triggered widespread criticism and partly explains China’s caution. China has also grown its stockpile of gold by 454 tonnes in 2003 to around 1,100 tonnes now.

Where is it investing?

China is expanding its presence in Africa and Latin America through joint ventures, as well as buying stock in US and European blue-chip companies, although, as explained above, Beijing’s strategy is cautious. Official figures show that there are more than 1,000 China-backed projects in Africa and 750,000 Chinese workers in Africa, but these numbers are thought to be an underestimate. China has also rapidly expanded its presence in Latin America, signing 20 oil deals with Venezuela and a $10bn loan to Petroleo Brasileiro in return for a long-term daily supply of 160,000 barrels. According to government figures, China established 59 new projects, which created 607 new jobs, in the UK between 2008 and 2009. Britain receives more Chinese direct investment than any other EU country, according to the auditors Ernst & Young. The tech company Huawei is the largest Chinese corporate investor in Britain, and conducts research and development of fibre optic technology with BT in Ipswich. Its European HQ in Basingstoke employs 750 people.

What benefits do we in the West enjoy because of China’s success?

There have been three main benefits. The first was clear-cut. Cheap goods from China not only boosted the standard of living in the West but also helped hold down inflation, putting downward pressure on prices everywhere and enabling the growth phase to continue without capacity shortages. The second and third were more nuanced. The positive result from this increased competition was that weaker producers in the West had to improve their productivity and quality to compete. But those that failed to lift their game went out of business or at least had to shed workers. The third result, increased competition for raw materials, brought benefits to many countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa. That region had its best economic performance for five decades. But elsewhere countries had to compete for more expensive commodities, and that created problems, too.

China’s currency is seriously under-valued. Might this change, and what would it mean for the dollar?

The yuan will rise against all other currencies, not just the dollar. But this will happen in a controlled manner as the Chinese authorities do not want to make their exporters suddenly less competitive. They will, however, welcome cheaper foreign raw materials.

What sort of banking system does China have? Are any of the problems we have had with banks being experienced there?

China’s banks are the world’s biggest by a long way. Based on market capitalisation, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is the world’s biggest bank. A casual glance makes these banks appear profligate, loaning about 100 billion yuan (£9.38bn) a day in the early part of this year, but China’s banks have been very smart in their choices. To start with, they have had a state guarantee, and are not betting on an absurdly inflated property market. Not yet, anyway.

The first 11 months of 2009 saw a record 9.21 trillion yuan (£860bn) of new bank loans, an influx of credit that fuelled a construction boom and a surge in business investment.

Is China’s economy becoming a true market one? Or it is still a command one with heavy subsidies?

China’s economy is not a market economy, and is a heavily subsidised one, but does anyone know what that means any more, now that the biggest banks in the world are owned by the US and British governments? The speed with which Western governments intervened to bail out the greedy banks of their respective countries gave the dirigiste government in China a lot of hope. No one knows what a subsidy means any more. You don’t have a big mortgage issue in China, for example, and to default on a loan is unthinkable for a Chinese family.

How does life expectancy in China compare with the West?

According to US government statistics, China’s average life expectancy stands at 71 for men and 75 for women, which is higher than that of EU members Hungary and Bulgaria. Despite this, there remains a significant disparity between the quality of life enjoyed by those living in wealthier urban areas, who earn on average 3.5 times more than those living in poorer, rural settings. Here, both life expectancy and infant mortality rates are significantly worse than the national average. The infant mortality rate fell by 39.5 per cent between 1990 and 2005 and currently stands at 20.25 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with 4.85 in the UK. China’s official poverty rate fell from 53 per cent in 1981 to 2.5 per cent in 2005, though around 11 per cent of people survive on less than $1 a day.

Just how big is the Red Army these days?

China’s 2.3 million strong People’s Liberation Army is the world’s largest military, and it is very much in the hands of the Communist Party. In addition, there are 800,000 reservists and a People’s Armed Police of 1.5 million.

In other countries, sudden prosperity has brought liberal reforms. Is there a tipping point when this will happen in China?

China’s tipping point is the world’s biggest gamble. Everywhere else in the Communist-ruled world in 1989, the government made a decision not to open fire on its democracy activists. In most Warsaw Pact countries, they held back, and were pretty much all transformed into democracies with varying degrees of success. China opened fire on its freedom demonstrators. It jailed, or exiled, most of its troublemakers, and then wooed the Western business community back. There is little sign that President Hu Jintao is keen to implement liberal reforms, although people are looking to the next administration to see what that brings.

As China does more business with the world, is there any sign that human rights are improving?

China constantly says that human rights issues are domestic matters and that foreign governments have no business interfering. There are no signs that human rights are improving. China doesn’t concern itself much with the issue: the rest of the world needs it too much, so the debates about human rights have largely gone out the window. Traditionally, foreign companies working in China have been slow to criticise the government on human rights and freedom of speech, and the prevailing ethos is that engaging with China is a way of creating a more favourable environment which will ultimately lead to greater freedoms.

And finally… Just how bad is China’s pollution?

China, the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases, has set an ambitious target to cut its carbon footprint, and pollution has improved in recent years. It is still bad – there are days when you would avoid going out if you could. But it leads the world in manufacturing sustainable energy products, so perhaps there is hope.

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Malaysian drivers and the tigers inside us

RTD director was reported to have expressed surprise that  many road users were flouting the laws during the CNY holidays season. He personally photographed 93 motorists cutting Qs, overtaking at double lines, using road shoulders and so on….

I was surprised too. But for a different reason. I was surprised that he had managed to get so few of the motorists on such a long drive. Every minute on  Malaysian roads,  there would be traffic rule breakers.  Anyway, it is good for him to be on the lookout even during his holidays, and for that he should be commended.

Anyone driving in Kuala Lumpur would have noticed the lawlessnes of our drivers. I have blogged so many times on this.

ANyone who drives in KL at any one time would have no trouble noticing at least some motorists flouting traffic rules. Cutting Qs are common and it has become a habit to many motorists. For these people, their time is so much more precious than others that they can gain time at the expense of the others.

If you have a chance to drive round a roundabout during rush hour, you would have noticed the dare-devilness inside Malaysian Drivers. Everyone would try to ramp through. There is no  such thing as  ‘the right side car has the right of way to pass first’ rule anymore.

Nevermind that risking your car and your life would only save you a few seconds of time. Nevermind that it would be faster for everyone to move if they observe the decency to let  cars from the right side pass first… Malaysians like to show that they are tigers on the roads, so what that in the end, everyone is late because of their behaviours in negotiating roundabouts? So what if their actions result in a gridlock when all sides cannot move and thus, everyone loses time? So what it has become a habit that is the cause of the jams that they experience on their way home from work? It is more important to let the tiger inside them out..

Like everything in this country, it is each for himself (or more recently herself).

When a culture has set in,  how is it going to be changed? It is easier to change from a strictly law abiding nation to one of lawlessness, but to change back would be a herculean task. This is because of human nature that dislikes being controlled , and human nature of kiasu-ness and selfishness.

Just to relate one recent incident before the CNY. I was travelling in Jalan San Peng which is a 4 lane city road divided by a central divider. In other words, there are 2 lanes to and 2 lanes fro. I was travelling in the slow lane on my side of the road, and suddenly I saw a car coming right stright at me, even though not at a high speed. I was shocked and shone my lights at the oncoming car-truck. The car-truck (it might be a Hilux, but I was too surprised to note the make of the car) just went straight at me, and I had no choice but to swerve to the fast lane to avoid a collision. The driver grinned at me and then passed into one of the side turning to the row of shop houses there.

This was the worse case of rule-breaking by a driver that I had come across, and mind you, I thought I had seen everything in KL.

How not to get depressed in KL, having to endure the endless and worsening traffic jams, and having to tolerate all sorts of nonsense in road driving?

Malaysians, it seems , would let the tigers inside them to rule once they get into the driver seats of their cars.

…………………………………………………………….

Someone told this to me just for laugh:

If you have a headache reading all these, apply some tiger balm

If you are thirsty for a beer, drink a tiger beer.

If you want to drive a car, Go Es*o and put a tiger in your tank.

But for your wife ‘s sake, please do not behave like Tiger W**d.

Welcome and wish each other a Happy and Uplifting Year

The New Year of the Tiger is just around the corner.

Festivities are the times to think of  family members, relatives and friends.

These are occasions to welcome each other into our common space. Mankind shares 99.5 to 99.9% genes, and as such, we are more similar to each other than two vases produced from a single factory.

It is the environment in which different races stayed that contributed to the differences in skin colour , languages and cultures. All these differences are acquired and not real.

The truth is we are all similar inside. Our brains are the same, hearts are the same, intestines are the same.

Even the religions we practice have similarities in which all urge to be tolerant to other faiths.

So on this eve of a festival, let u all ponder why we cannot be nice to others, why cannot tolerate others, why we cannot wish each other well.

I am posting a picture wishing all the people of this world, irrespective of different colours and faith, a very happy and uplifting Year of the tiger 2010. (Those who know me will say that my hereticity is showing up again!!) 🙂

(click to enlarge)

A local index to measure integrity and corruption

I had a chance to attend a discussion organised by the Institute of Integrity Malaysia, located off Jalan Persiaran Duta last month.

The session was attended by civil servants from some governments, NGOs and a few politicians like Tan S G (vp of DAP) .

This  was a nonpolitical discussion on how to improve the integrity of local councils in Malaysia.

I gave a proposal that perhaps it would be good to formulate an Index along the line of the Corruption Perception Index of Transparent International. We can call this CPI of local councils, or to make it more palatable, perhaps we can call it Performance Index of local councils , and it would be used to measure corruption, integrity and efficiency of our local councils.

I suggested that this index can be used to compare the efficiency and corruption levels of the various local council. Like the TI’s CPI, it should be made known and published in newspapers on a regular basis (once a year maybe), and let everyone in Malaysia knows about how their local council is performing, how corrupted or not corrupted are their councillors, and by having these indices, it would serve as a wakeup call for those councils that were ranked very low.  Comparison and competition will introduce motivation (to do better than others) as well as a shame factor (for those deemed very corrupted councils) , and hopefully, it would serve as an incentive for each and every council to try to compete and outdo the others.

There must be integrity at 3 levels. Macro level and that is at policies level; meso level, and that is at insitutions,  departments and councils levels,; and thirdly the micro level and that is the level of individuals – the politicians, civil servants and so on.

Only when there is integrity will there be morality, and both integrity and morality are precious commodities that are so lacking in our leaders, civil service and even many of the business people .

Is Najib on his way out – from anu.edu.au

Posting an article from New Mandala from the anu.edu.au site. The article has several links to blog articles on Malaysia, including my blog article on ‘Kill the chicken to warn the monkeys. (The link is in red)

Is Najib on his way out?

February 9th, 2010 by Greg Lopez

In recent months several events point to familiar UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) intrigue. This occurs whenever there is a tussle for power at the highest level. Is Muhyiddin (who just launched his blog – Muhyiddin Yassin for Malaysia), Prime Minister Najib’s Deputy, attempting to overthrow his boss? Najib, who only came into power in April of 2009, is in real danger of not completing a term as Prime Minister (read here).

Muhyiddin has taken some tangential positions to his “boss”. Muhyiddin’s stance on hot button issues such as the “Allah” Court ruling — insisting that Christians drop the usage of the word “Allah” and backtracking on the formation of an inter-faith council to resolve the “Allah” issue through dialogue — were ominous. In fact, Muhyiddin demonstrated his fundamentalist credentials as soon as he became Deputy Prime Minister in April 2009 but strengthened them further in October 2009 (he made racist statements against Anwar Ibrahim), when it was clear that fundamentalists were gaining the upper hand in UMNO.

The context to this is simple — UMNO has two different views on how to remain in power — to become a Malay/Muslim extremist party to capture the Malay votes or to return to the middle ground — which had served it well for the past 52 years. Muhyiddin represents the first view while Najib the second. Unfortunately, due to Najib’s indecisiveness, he is considered the new “Pak Lah” (the former Prime Minister) while Muhyiddin is seen as the new “Mahathir” (read here). Despite, Najib’s policy prescription of “Malay Leadership”, it appears that UMNO is still about “Malay Supremacy” as represented by Muhyiddin.

Najib’s 1Malaysia slogan and policy agenda (read here, here and here) has been systematically rubbished by UMNO hardliners with the support of key government Ministers such as Muhyiddin and Malay/Muslim civil servants and non-governmental organisations bent on ensuring continued “Malay Supremacy” (more here, here and here).

Then there were the fire-bombings of places of worship (mostly Christian) after the “Allah” court ruling which shattered Malaysia’s facade as a peaceful nation where people of different faiths and races live harmoniously. Furthermore, a recent forum organised by JAKIM (the Islamic Development Department) blamed Christians for tensions in the country and a forum panellist threatened Christians with a repeat of May 13 (race riot organised by certain UMNO members after losing 2/3 majority in the Peninsula Malaysia in 1969) — a view which is supported by Muhyiddin but not Najib.

Several startling events point to insiders sabotaging Najib. The story of two missing jet engines which occurred during Najib’s tenure as Defence Minister surfaced after being “…solved…”. It was surprising that the scandal resurfaced under the eyes of Najib’s once trusted ally, the current Minister of Defence, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Since the scandal broke, two individuals, believed to be scapegoats have been charged.

The biggest set-back came a few days ago when the Prime Minister’s special aide, Nasir Safar , allegedly called ancestors of Malaysians of Indian heritage beggars and thieves and women ancestors of Malaysian Chinese  prostitutes.  This happened at, of all places, a 1Malaysia forum attended by the UMNO’s partners from the Barisan Nasional.  Nasir also threatened to revoke the citizenship of non-Malays who challenged the limit of 12 subjects that a student can take at the SPM (Malaysia’s equivalent to O-level) examinations (Muhyiddin is the current Education Minister who came up with this ruling which reduces the value of subjects such as Tamil, Mandarin and Bible Knowledge).

Several commentators have already suggested that Najib is facing unprecedented resistance to his reform agenda and is being sabotaged in the process (read here) as his middle of the road approach goes against the very being of UMNO.

Najib’s position is weak — both in UMNO and nationally. His ruling coalition is unstable with all key component parties facing leadership crises. The economy continues to falter and Malaysia’s weakening reserves suggests capital flight. Anwar’s Sodomy Trial and the “Allah” issue may drive moderates further away as fundamentalists push UMNO further to the right.  Judging by previous UMNO intrigue (e.g. May 13, 1969; Operasi Lalang, October 1987; Reformasi, September 1998), it is likely that Najib will have to resort to underhand tactics to save his position in UMNO — and as always it is innocent Malaysians — mostly likely opposition leaders and democracy that will pay the price.

Malaysia and the story of Toyota

My first car was a Toyota Corolla, model KE 30, and I bought it new after my housemanship for a princely sum of Rm11,500 in 1978.

That car was  not equipped with air conditioner, although there was a very basic radio and cassette player. CDs was not invented yet.  During that era, we were still using turn tables to play records three times the size of a CD.

Proton Saga was not around yet and maybe that was the reason that car was still relatively affordable. But unlike now, when you can practically go to a new car dealer and just give a few hundred dollars for deposits and get almost 99% loan financing, we had to save up about 20% of the cost of the car for down payment, before any banks or finance companies would approve your loan.

The car ran superbly. Until the time when I sold it in 1986, almost 8 years later, it had never once broke down in the middle of the road. I had no worry; every morning I just jumped into the car and without fail, the car would star when I turned the ignition.

In 1982, I came down to KL and my Corolla was stolen in one of the Pudu back lanes. Since public transport was almost as bad as now, and I stayed 13 kilometers from where I worked, I had to get a second hand car, a European brand  (which I bought for only 3000, believe it or not).

Compared to my Corolla, this car  was horrible, breaking down so regularly that I had lost counts of the times that I had to leave it at road sides and took a taxi home.

The police took a few  months to finally recovered my Corolla , found in Jalan Brunei area by a vigilant policeman on beat, who found that the number plate and the number of the car on the road tax disc was different. (Just to side track, that is why it is important for policemen to go on beats).

I thanked God for getting the car back and faithfully used it until 1986.

The point I wanted to make is that Toyota, even though very basic then, was reliable and you can count on it to move from one place to another without fail.

Driving a Toyota , you will have the peace of mind that it would not break down  in the middle of highways where a stalled car can be such a nuisance and embarrassment, or in some remote areas where you would not be able to get help easily and you would worry about your own safety sitting inside a stalled car..

It is this peace of mind and reliability that become the hallmark of Toyota.

Slowly and steadily, Toyota built up a world wide network and reputation of reliability.

Until of course, recently, when the company started to face some very serious problems.  It has to recall 8 million cars world-wide to fix certain problems with the floor mats as well as the accelerator pedals.

Hearing the news of the recall, my first impression was that it has perhaps grown too big and bulky; in trying to make too many cars , its QC sections have failed to catch up and match up with its sales and marketing arms.

It is indeed dangerous to drive a car with an accelerator pedal glued to the floor. Little wonder that upon the announcement of  the recall, its sales plunged  and its share price dropped steeply.

However, do not write the company off.  It has a culture of excellence and even though excellence  has somehow been compromised, it  still practices transparency and accountability and volunteers to recall all faulty cars.

Malaysia too was growing steadily and impressively in the 60s, 70s and even the 80s. Together with other little tigers of Asia, we were the Toyotas of the World. We were looked upon as models of the Third World.

Like Toyota, we made impressive strides– until official policies skewed the whole economy and changed the whole culture from that of striving for excellence to that of ‘cronyism and patronage’, and the whole system becomes so corrupted that the Corruption perception index has deteriorated yearly until now we are deemed to be one of the most corrupted in Asia.

While Toyota has always practiced accountability, we have been sweeping everything under the carpets, including many instances of mismanagement and scandals.

While Toyota has identified the problems, been transparent about them, and announced to recall all faulty cars and fix them, we know about the problems but try to ignore  or at least belittle them.  We try to use gloss paints to paint over all our problems and telling the people that everything will turn out to be nice and good. We are not bothered that underneath the glossy surface, the rots have taken roots.

We try to use all sorts of methods, including compromising the integrity of our institutions,  to cover up the problems. By doing so, we  created more problems trying to cover up  the earlier problems. It has become a vicious cycle. The rots sink deeper and deeper. We do not have the determination or the political will to break the cycle.

We have been loitering around the middle rungs of the world economic ladder for a long time, while those who started at the same time as us have gone much further and higher , while those who were behind and below us have also levelled with us and some have gone past us .

I think we need to  learn a thing or too from Toyota. Perhaps we should really look East instead of just paying lip service.

We need to learn from the Toyota’s courage and determination to right the wrongs, to face its problems head-on, instead of trying to avoid them.

Toyota knows that for the short term,  the company’s fortune and shares would be affected by the massive recall of cars, but in the long run, by publicly admitting and rectifying the faulty areas, the company will  get to a even firmer footing to launch itself higher and further than its rivals .

Ironically, by admitting and rectifying the faults, it sends a message that the company practices good after sales service and that the company puts customers’ safety above all else, including the Company’s reputation and fortune.

We should do the same.

Perhaps it is time to convene  a National Consultative council, like the one we have in the seventies. Identify the problems in economy, education, race relationship, religious differences and other areas.

We must have the courage to do away with self denial and  stand up to face the problems. We must discuss frankly and wholeheartedly what have gone wrong and identify the problems  and rectify the wrongs.

Like Toyota, we should be prepared for temporary hardship in order to launch ourselves further and higher. Like Toyota, we should look further ahead. Like Toyota, we  should let the people know that we put their interests above all else.

Like Toyota, we should realise that to go back to excellence that we have lost, we need to be transparent and accountable, and overhaul the whole system with input from all quarters to right all the wrongs. We need to face all our problems head-on and solve them.

That is the only way forward, for without pain, there will be no gain.

Kill the chicken to warn the monkeys

The recent racist remark by a top aide to the Prime Minister may be a signal that all is not well in the dominant party.

A general in the field, no matter how brilliant he is, cannot win battles on his own. He needs to depend on his staff to plan, his subordinates to execute his orders, and most importantly, his foot soldiers to fight his war the way he wants it.

He can be as brilliant as Rommel, deemed one of the best tacticians in the Second World War, but without the support from the people around him, he will never be able to execute his war plans .

A prime minister likewise cannot transform his ideas into actions without the support of his staff and his ministry officials at all levels.

The Prime Minister may be very sincere in wanting to transform the whole political landscape with his 1Malaysia idea, but without the support of the people around him and the cooperation of the civil service, it would be like a general leading an army of discontented and disagreeing soldiers, each wanting to fight his own way.. Worse, this army may have  people bent on undermining the transformation plan. Maybe even a mutiny is possible.

The recent outbursts by this special officer, who is not new to politics, make us wonder whether there is any hidden agenda behind this.

This officer has been going round giving talks no less than 60 times over the past few months. Why the sudden indiscretion?

Any top leader knows that one of the worse things to happen to his image, other than perhaps a sex scandal,  is that of  his closest aide suddenly singing a different tune. It gives an impression that if  people closest to the leader and would thus be relied on to execute the orders of the leader are  not convinced of the 1Malaysia idea, how is this leader going to transform his ideas into action, and how is the whole transformation program going to work?

If there is resistance even at his sides, than it goes without saying that the resistance at party   level would even be greater.

It is natural for any change to be resisted, since it is human nature to resist change. But if there are resistance even at the level where the people are supposed to be handpicked by you and supposed to have sworn loyalty to you, than something is really very very wrong. It is indeed more than just embarrassment.

It is either that this aide is truly against the idea of his boss, or it could signal something even more sinister – that perhaps below the calm water, there are strong undercurrents ready to do havoc.  Either way, this is not a good sign.

It is bad to   lead an army that does not agree with your plan and tactics; but it may be worse if the whole army , under the influence of certain ambitious colonels or retired generals , try to sabotage and perhaps stage a mutiny.

It is up to the general to stand firm and start weeding out those singing a different tunes. An army must have certain discipline; and the general must exercise disciplinary action without fear or favour in order to send a strong signal to those who are in disagreement.

Sometimes, in politics as well as in battles, you need to kill a chicken to warn the monkeys to toe the line.

(This article appears in MalaysianInsider as well as Sin Chew online)

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