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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Singing and dancing to world domination

https://youtu.be/1erLHgqYtX0

https://youtu.be/dH2VyAJ0wbw

This year's CCTV Spring Festival Gala shows off China's power, both soft and hard.


 

"China now intends to lead the world in just about everything."


BY the end of the show, there was no doubt left in my mind that China is ready for world domination.

This was the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, an immensely popular national event by China Central Television that is telecast live on the eve of Chinese New Year. I watched a day later on YouTube.

The gala, which started in 1983, has all the elements of a variety show with lots of singing, dancing, acrobatics and comedy skits. This year’s edition followed the same mix and ran for more than five hours.

Thanks to livestreaming, for the first time, it hit an all-time high worldwide viewership of a billion people, according to China Global Television Network (CGTN), CCTV’s international arm.

The gala is therefore an extremely important platform for China to present itself at its best. Clearly, a great deal of planning, with no expenses spared, went into the production that showcased Chinese creativity and culture, as well as the country’s military might and technological advancements.

The result: an awesome spectacle that would have put the 2008 Beijing Games opening ceremony in the shade.

Most of the action was in CCTV’s auditorium in Beijing supported by performances staged in four provinces: Guizhou, Guangdong, Shandong and Hainan.

These four stages were outdoor and unique. Guizhou, one of China’s most diverse provinces, showed off its minority groups like the Miao and Hmong in their elaborate traditional costumes in a hi-tech setting.

The Guangdong show took place on a section of the magnificent Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the world’s longest sea bridge that is slated for opening the middle of this year.

Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius and Taoism, chose a citadel-like building as its backdrop. Finally, Hainan, famed for hosting several Miss World pageants, presented itself as a balmy tropical paradise.

Apart from the skits, which seemed very 1970s but obviously still very popular with the audience, the other acts were extremely elaborate and performed by what seemed like a million people, who danced in perfect precision, sang in total harmony, aided by dazzling use of LED screens and special effects.

In keeping with the joyous occasion, the venues were so brightly multi-coloured and busy, it was almost eye-watering. There was never a dull moment.

I couldn’t help comparing the show to the dance and acrobatic performances from the 1980s. That was when China started opening up and sending out performing troupes in cheap tracksuits and canvas shoes who excelled in contortions, twirling plates and bowls, balancing on ladders and chairs, and creating formations on a single bicycle in motion.

The performers were certainly well-trained and competent, but they hardly smiled and came across as rather soulless and robotic.

Well, how things have changed. The Chinese people are no longer poor, suppressed and grim. That’s long gone.

When it comes to national pride, the Chinese are beating out the Americans, who made flag and country a Hollywood staple.

When you have the likes of Jackie Chan singing a patriotic song about Chung-kuo, backed by a whole pride of stylishly clad smiling young people and footage of gorgeous scenery, modern cities and wind tur­bines, it sure does make the heart beat faster.

Over the Guangdong bridge, drones and acrobatic planes weaved magic in the night sky, while off Hainan, a flotilla of boats lit up the waters.

And when it comes to culture and heritage, China has it in spades, from Chinese opera to kung fu and wushu to traditional dances and songs.

A jaw-dropping performance featured a huge ensemble of women dressed as bodhisattvas moving in unison so fluidly they were like one body; their entire performance made more mesmerising by the play of lighting that changed their costumes from yellow, to white to fuchsia.

One of my favourite acts was singer Jay Chou performing with a blend of virtual reality magic that was beautifully choreographed and synchronised with his movements.

I was also happy that among the foreign guest artistes was my dear boy from Kazakhstan, singer extraordinaire Dimash, whom I wrote about in my April 19, 2017, column which brought me the most number of e-mails from around the world.

What I liked about this year’s gala was its restrained presentation of China’s armed forces. Usually, the stage is filled with uniformed military personnel doing formations or singing a martial song.

This time, it was a more arty performance and China’s military might subtly conveyed by a strongman doing incredible handstands.

As with previous galas, the meaning of Chinese New Year was beautifully conveyed in a heart-tugging video of people returning for and preparing for the reunion dinner that brought home the importance of family and traditions.

Except for one misstep – a dreadful segment that tried to showcase Sino-African relations that critics have savaged as “a racist blackface” skit – CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 was a truly spectacular show that fuelled nationalistic pride among China’s citizens and left the rest of the world gobsmacked. It paid homage to the nation’s rich past, revelled in a confident present and announced an ambitious future.

I shut down my PC at almost 4am and as I lay me down to sleep, I recalled what I wrote in a commentary in June 2016 in which I described China as a shy superpower that actually tried to pretend it wasn’t one.

Not anymore. On Oct 18 last year, President Xi Jinping announced at the 19th National Communist Party Congress that China now intends to lead the world in just about everything, be it military presence, economic and development policies like the Road and Belt, technological innovations and artificial intelligence or even sports and entertainment.

Don’t believe me? Consider this then: China is the world leader in applications for inventions with 1.36 million patents and it has been the leader for seven consecutive years.

When it comes to investing in research and development, it ranked second in the world last year.

It’s all part of China’s blueprint for world domination. And that’s no song and dance!

So aunty, so what? June H.L. Wong

Aunty wished she could highlight more of the five-plus hour-long gala. If you haven’t watched it, you should check it out on YouTube. Feedback: aunty@thestar.com.my

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Singapore budget 2018: hiking its sales tax, but not until 2021 or later

https://youtu.be/QbytAqqXiCk

http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2018/
https://twitter.com/MOFsg



Higher GST: A file picture showing people walking along busy Orchard Road in Singapore. The country says its sales tax will rise to 9% but the change will come sometimes between 2021 and 2025

 

 Singapore is hiking its sales tax, but not until 2021 or later

 

 SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore said its sales tax will rise to 9 percent from 7 percent, but the change will only come “sometime” between 2021 and 2025, making it likely that the increase would kick in after the city-state’s next general election.

Instead of getting a GST hike soon, Singaporeans aged 21 and above will get a “hong bao”, or Lunar New Year red packet, as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a “one-off” bonus in 2018 of up to S$300 ($228.50), depending on their income.

The bonus comes after Singapore’s trade-reliant economy grew 3.6 percent in 2017, its best pace in three years. 

Global economic growth, plus comments by policymakers on the importance of raising revenue to meet future spending needs for Singapore’s ageing population, led many analysts to expect that the Goods and Services Tax, kept at 7 percent since 2007, would increase as early as the coming fiscal year. 

“The surprise for us was that the planned increase was for a much later period,” said Jeff Ng, chief economist Asia for Continuum Economics. 

“This eases the need for a future government or administration to announce the GST,” Ng said. 

Singapore’s next general election is due to be held by January 2021. In the last one in 2015, the ruling People’s Action Party won 70 percent of the vote, a strong improvement from the 60 percent garnered in 2011. 

After announcing the planned GST hike, the finance minister said “the exact timing will depend on the state of the economy, how much our expenditures grow, and how buoyant our existing taxes are. But I expect that we will need to do so earlier rather than later in the period.” 

Singapore introduced a GST in 1994, with a 3 percent rate. This was raised to 4 percent in 2003 and 5 percent in 2004, then to 7 percent in 2007. The current rate is among the world’s lowest for a consumption tax.

CARBON TAX COMING 

 

Besides the plan for raising GST, Heng unveiled other tax measures. 

These include increasing the top marginal buyer’s stamp duty on residential property worth more than S$1 million effective from Tuesday, raising the excise duty on tobacco products and introducing GST on imported services from 2020. 

Coming in 2019 is a carbon tax, which will be S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions until 2023. The plan is to increase it to between S$10-S$15 per tonne by 2030. 

Heng said spending needs will rise across various sectors in coming years, including in healthcare, infrastructure and security. 

The government expects average annual healthcare spending to rise from 2.2 percent of GDP currently, to almost 3 percent of GDP over the next decade, he added. 

“With an ageing population and an increasing chronic disease burden, the demands on families and Government will rise,” the finance minister said. “We will need to spend even more on healthcare.”
Heng, one of several cabinet ministers considered a possible successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in the speech “We must anchor Singapore as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise.” 

Song Seng Wun, an economist for CIMB private banking, said the one-off “hong bao” bonus was a product of Singapore’s economy having a “better than expected outcome” in the last year.

(For a graphic on Singapore's ageing demographics click reut.rs/2BzapNH

Reuters Graphic

($1 = 1.3125 Singapore dollars) 

Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Richard Borsuk

Top stories

 Singapore announces one-time bonus of S$100-S$300 for adult Singaporeans - ASEAN/East Asia



The Straits Times

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pooch and prejudice: years of the Dog 2018 and Pig 2019

No puppy love: To immortalise Hachiko’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands near the Shibuya train station.

I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year away from Malaysia this year, so my wife and I chose Tokyo as our destination.

We wanted somewhere that was a short flight’s distance for a brief getaway to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary, an occasion marked auspiciously by Valentine’s Day and of course, this time around, the Chinese New Year holidays too.

Now, the problem with Tokyo is the absence of any form of Chinese New Year mood there since it is not observed by the Japanese. But the cool weather was a refreshing change from the stifling heat currently enveloping Malaysia.

That said, the Year of the Dog would not be complete without tipping the hat to Japan’s most revered dog at Tokyo’s Shibuya metro station.

There, a statue of the faithful and fabled canine Hachiko has been erected as a homage, where selfie opportunities are mandatory for anyone visiting Tokyo to realise their trip.

The dog, from the Akita prefecture, has long become a symbol of faithfulness, a trait familiar with dog lovers.

This legendary canine was born in the city of Odate but ended up being owned by university professor Hidesaburo Ueno, who lived in the Shiba neighbourhood.

Hachiko would wait patiently at the same spot in the train station for his owner to return on the 4pm train from his workplace, the Tokyo Imperial University.

But one day in May 1925, the professor never returned to greet his loyal friend after suffering a fatal cerebral haemorrhage on campus.

A forlorn Hachiko would return to that same spot for the next 10 years, hoping to be reunited with his master.

“It is said that the dog would wait outside the station every evening – a model of fidelity and patience,” the Japan Times reported.

To immortalise the canine’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands at the Shibuya station. The art fixture was put up in 1934 and has since become one of the area’s main tourist attractions.

The story inspired the 2009 film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere. And less known, perhaps, is Hachiko Monogatari from 1987, which relates the same tale.

The body of golden-brown Hachiko, which has been described as the most faithful dog in history, was found in a Tokyo street in 1935. He had died of old age. To keep his memory alive, he was preserved and placed on display at the National Science Museum.

He also has his own memorial beside his master’s grave at the Aoyam cemetery.

In 2015, a new statue was installed at the University of Tokyo, the new name of the imperial university, to mark the 90th anniversary of Ueno’s death and the 80th of his dog’s.

“The statue depicts a joyous image of the professor and his loyal dog being reunited. It tells a happy tale of master and dog reunited forever at last,” a news article reported.

As we celebrate the Year of the Dog, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department must be applauded for assuring Muslims that using images of dogs for Chinese New Year celebrations “is something that must be respected by all” and “according to the Islamic concept of co-existence, as well as Malaysia’s practice of moderate Islam”.

Jakim director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha’s statement was certainly welcome and was even a pleasant surprise for many non-Muslims, who often view the authority as conservative.

After all, this is the same agency that insisted popular pretzel chain Auntie Anne change the name of its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage”.

Non-Muslims have always been respectful of how Muslims consider dogs unclean under Islamic tradition.

Some have gone to ridiculous lengths to ensure that such sensitivity is observed – even leaving out the likeness of two animals, the dog and pig, from the Chinese zodiac!

Believe it or not, a T-shirt maker printed tops like these to represent the 12 zodiac animals for the Chinese New Year recently.

And some malls even chose not to use image of dogs in their Chinese New Year decorations.

Not surprisingly, the over-reaction of these business entities have irked their Chinese customers, judging from the response on social media.

It may seem surprising that Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has produced some of the best veterinary doctors in this country, the majority of them Muslim.

My late dog Jezz, a gorgeous white Spitz, lived for 16 years and endured that long because of the loving affection of a Muslim vet at UPM.

She showed her care, not just as an animal doctor, but as someone who consistently reminded her students and visiting pet owners that dogs are also God’s creations.

A young tudung-clad Muslim vet from a clinic in Aman Suria, Petaling Jaya, has also been doing a wonderful job of looking after the health of my poodle, Paris.

In all my visits to consult these two doctors, neither has ever displayed any apprehension or disdain in handling my pets. They have always been professional and are true animal lovers, even graciously accepting dogs.

Next year, the Chinese will celebrate the Year of the Pig. For whatever reason, we have become more afraid these days, a situation far different from the past.



Well, the last time we celebrated the Year of the Pig in 2008, nothing untoward happened and the chubby animal didn’t disappear into thin air then either.

I have always had complete faith in the sense of reasoning and maturity of our people, and I believe no one will lose their head over a zodiac sign.

Wong Chun WaiBy Wong Chun Wai


Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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Thursday, February 15, 2018

When tongues wag and tales grow: be aware of politicians gone to the dogs!

With the GE imminent, politicians are already snarling at each other, hoping to score points early.



I love dogs. I’ve always had one, from since I was a child, and now, I have three – two Siberian huskies and a poodle.

Despite their differences – in age and breed – they truly love each other, and it’s a real blessing to have this trio of girls in our family.

But I can’t echo that sentiment for some of our politicians. Politics in Malaysia has gone to the dogs. The concerned players are already in dog fights and the general election hasn’t even been called yet.

It’s still early days, although everyone reckons polling is on the horizon. And we’re all too familiar with the dog-eat-dog nature of politics.

Politicians are already snarling, slobbering and barking at each other. Everyone seems to be calling each other liars and running dogs daily.

Therefore, this has left many of us confused. Who is telling the truth? The incessant snapping doesn’t seem to be seeing an end. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

Well, it was the Penang undersea tunnel that got the ball of nastiness rolling. There’s no resolution in sight, for sure, and if you think we should only cross the bridge when we get there, forget it. It’s under-utilised, at least one of them, anyway.

Well, as the saying goes, every dog has its day, but at some point, it’s going to be dog-gone for any politician who can’t stick to the truth or remember the lies he told. For certain, it will be one hell of a dog day afternoon when that happens.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has been criss-crossing the country telling his audience that Malaysia will go to the dogs if Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak remains Prime Minister. Yes, those are his exact words – go to the dogs.

There’s still plenty of fire in his belly, like a dog with a bone on issues, although he called off a few functions last week, presumably because of health reasons.

On Friday night, he was admitted to the National Heart Institute. Guess he must be dog tired. He’s still a crowd puller and has the knack of explaining issues in simple language and in a low, calm voice, as opposed to the thunder and lightning approach favoured by his DAP partners.

His deadpan expressions and trademark sarcasm are enough to draw laughter and keep the crowds entertained. But he has been continuously dogged by the ghosts of his past. The palaces are in an unforgiving mood for what he has done previously, when he was at the helm for 22 years.

It was Dr Mahathir who launched the campaign to amend the Federal Constitution to remove the Sultans’ immunity in the 1990s.

Dr Mahathir has also been asked to return his DK (Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat Dihormati) title, the highest award in the state, which was conferred on him in 2002. The move by the Kelantan palace to revoke the Datukships of two top Parti Amanah Negara leaders from the state has sent ripples through political circles.

Amanah vice-president Husam Musa and his state chief, Wan Abdul Rahim Wan Abdullah, returned their titles to the palace several days ago after being instructed by the State Secretary’s office to do so.

In December, Dr Mahathir returned the two awards he received from the Selangor Sultan, a move believed to be related to the palace’s outrage over his remark on the Bugis, whom he describes as pirates, irking many, including several Sultans.

The chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) was the recipient of two medals of honour from then Selangor Sultan in 1978 and 2003. One of them was the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Paduka Mahkota Selangor (SPMS) (First Class).

Dr Mahathir reportedly told a Pakatan Harapan rally that Malaysia was being led by a prime minister who is a descendant of “Bugis pirates”.

That comment triggered outrage from the Johor Palace, Bugis community and associations in Malaysia, and even from some parts of Indonesia.

Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah was also incensed by Dr Mahathir’s remarks in an interview with The Star.

Last January, the Sultan of Johor said he was “deeply offended and hurt” by the political spin used by certain politicians against mainland Chinese investments in the state, saying if left unchecked, would drive away investors. A visibly upset Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar singled out the nonagenarian for “putting political interests above Malaysian interests, particularly Johor”.

To put it simply, it appears that Dr Mahathir has run into serious problems with the powerful Rulers, and anyone who understands Malay politics will surely appreciate the relationship between the executive and the Rulers.

The Pakatan Harapan may feel that they should unleash our former PM since he was their top dog to best reach the Malay audience, but plans have run aground somewhat.

Politicians come and go, but Rulers remain, at least for longer than politicians. Rulers determine the laws, in many ways, and it would be foolish for a politician to take on these highly-respected royalty.

It will be hard for Dr Mahathir’s younger party colleagues to communicate with him – he comes from another generation all together. And as the adage goes, it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. He’s known to be stubborn and one who will doggedly talk about the issues of his choice.

The odd situation is that it is unlikely that any of the Pakatan Harapan leaders will come out openly to defend him. It’s a classic case of tucking their tails between their legs, with the whining kept private.

It’s truly the Year of The Dog. Let’s hope the GE will be called soon because most Malaysians just want to get it over and done with. We have already let the dogs out, and we hope to bring them home soon!

A happy Chinese New Year to all Malaysians celebrating. Gong Xi Fa Cai.
Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.


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