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As Pakistan army chief's tenure nears end, PM faces key choice

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces a key choice in the coming weeks about who should run Pakistan’s powerful military, one that will have a major influence on the country’s often strained relationships with the United States and nuclear rival India.

With Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif saying he will step down when his tenure ends in November, the top post is up for grabs, and the prime minister decides who gets it.

Overshadowing the process has been speculation in the media and by some government officials that the general, no relation to the premier, may seek to hold on to some or all of his powers even after his term is finished.

The general is immensely popular among ordinary Pakistanis, who see him as a bulwark against crime, corruption and Islamist militant violence.

He has also strengthened the military’s grip over aspects of government, including the judiciary and areas of security policy.

Yet the military flatly rejects the possibility of an extension.

“I will request you to avoid speculations, because we have already taken a position very clearly,” Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, the army’s main spokesman, told a recent press briefing.

The military declined to comment further and said General Sharif was not available for interview.

In a country prone to military coups, including one in which Nawaz Sharif himself was ousted from power in 1999, suspicions that the general will remain in his post persist, including among some of the prime minister’s senior aides.

Reuters has no independent evidence to corroborate this view.

“Army chiefs soon begin to think they are invincibles-in-chief,” said a close aide to Nawaz Sharif, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak about military appointments.

What happens at the top of Pakistan’s armed forces will be closely watched overseas.

With nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan fighting the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups, Washington is losing patience with what it says is Pakistan’s failure to hunt down insurgents who launch attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistani territory. Pakistan denies this.

India has ratcheted up rhetoric against Pakistan, alarmed at an escalation of violence in the disputed region of Kashmir, including an attack on an army base there that killed 18 soldiers. Islamabad denies accusations it was behind the raid.

LIST OF CONTENDERS

According to three close aides to the prime minister and a senior military official, the military high command has sent the prime minister the dossiers of four main contenders.

The premier’s favourite, the aides said, was Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal Ramday, commander of XXXI Corps who led a 2009 operation to drive the Pakistani Taliban militant movement from Swat Valley near the Afghan border.

The three other dossiers are for Lieutenant General Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad, commanding officer in the eastern city of Multan, and Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who heads the army’s Training and Evaluation Wing.

Ramday is considered among the front-runners, in part because his family has been associated with Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) party for many years.

He is also seen by some security officials as popular with General Sharif.

“He’s perhaps as liked by Raheel Sharif as he is by Nawaz Sharif,” said a senior security official based in Islamabad, declining to be named.

Neither the prime minister nor General Sharif have commented publicly on his chances.

Hayat oversees intelligence and operational affairs at the army’s General Headquarters, and before that headed the Strategic Plans Division (SPD), which is responsible for Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Retired and serving officers who have served with Hayat see him as a compromise between the military and civilian government.

Ahmad has extensive experience with military operations, especially against Pakistan’s Taliban insurgency, and was previously the Director General Military Operations.

Several past army chiefs had served as DGMOs before being promoted to the top post.

A serving brigadier who has worked with Bajwa said he was the general “most similar in temperament to General Raheel”, adding that: “His chances are also very good.”

The army’s media wing did not respond to requests to interview the four contenders.

WRESTING BACK POWER

If Nawaz Sharif appoints a new army chief, it could allow him to claw back some of the influence he has ceded since coming to power in 2013, analysts said.

In 2014, the prime minister emerged in charge but weakened after protests demanding his resignation, and that year the army also went against his wishes for a negotiated settlement with Taliban militants by sending troops into North Waziristan.

“Nawaz has lost a lot of ground to the military during Raheel’s tenure,” Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst said. “He will try and retake certain space by asserting himself. I think he would like a change in leadership.”

Sharif has been quiet on the issue of the military’s ascendancy in public.

But a statement from his office late last year, issued after the military urged the government to match its efforts in fighting militancy, said “all institutions have to play their role, while remaining within the ambit of the constitution.”

Under Raheel Sharif, the army tightened control over the battle against militants, including creating military courts that have sentenced dozens of people to death.

The courts have been criticised by lawyers and families of defendants for denying basic rights, and some are challenging the courts’ rulings through the civilian judiciary.

The military has also taken a lead role in policing the southern city of Karachi, a broadly popular operation that has reduced rampant crime but also been denounced as heavy-handed and open to abuses including extra-judicial killings.

“If Raheel Sharif hadn’t been chief, these militants and criminals would have destroyed Pakistan,” said Bismillah Khan, a bus driver in the southwestern city of Quetta. “I hope whoever replaces him will be just like him.”

(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Kay Johnson)

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Channel NewsAsia Asia Pacific News

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Scoot and Tigerair integration: What it means for travellers

TOKYO, Japan: Long-haul flights to Europe, integrated transportation packages including land and sea transfers, and leveraging the Scoot-Tigerair network to move more people in and out of Southeast Asia – these are some plans Budget Aviation Holdings CEO Lee Lik Hsin has his eye on, since taking the helm four months ago.

Announced in May, the integration of Singapore budget carriers Scoot and Tigerair under one holding company – Budget Aviation Holdings – is seen as a step towards an eventual merger of the two Singapore Airlines (SIA) subsidiaries.

While SIA has said that the move aims to realise “commercial and operational synergies” between the two airlines, what does this translate to, in terms of benefits to travellers? CEO Lee Lik Hsin explained this, and more, to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on Monday (Sep 26).

Q: It’s been four months since you took the helm at Scoot and Tigerair. What were your priorities, and are you happy with the progress?

Lee Lik Hsin: The very first thing that we did was merge our reservation systems. That may sound like a backroom event, but it actually also made things more seamless for our customers. Previously… customers couldn’t buy a complete package on a Scoot and Tigerair connection. This is not so much for Singapore-based customers, but (it affected) customers in say, China, booking a Scoot flight to Singapore, and then booking a Tigerair flight to Bali or Phuket. They could buy the ticket but not the ancillaries – the baggage or the meals. So we’ve solved that now, and they can make the complete purchase in one transaction, saving them time.

The other benefit is that we are able to manage our network between the two airlines. Why is this a benefit for the customer? As individual airlines we may make a decision to stop certain flights, which then mean the customer has less choice, in terms of flights. One good example is Hong Kong, where Scoot used to have just one flight, and Tigerair, three. Truth be told, the single Scoot flight was struggling, it was very difficult to sustain. Had we continue to be independent companies, Scoot probably would just have withdrawn the flight. But now we are able to substitute with a Tigerair flight instead. We are starting this later in the year, and so in terms of choice to the customer, there are still four flights to Hong Kong, from the group.

Q: The integration of Scoot and Tigerair is seen as a step towards merger. When’s the soonest can you give an update?

Lee: We need more time. We’ve said this from the start, ever since the announcement in May, that there are many considerations that we have to take into account, both commercial as well as regulatory. It’s not a simple process and it is our responsibility to go through the proper due diligence on every single aspect before we make any kind of decision.

Q: Could this take years?

Lee: I think I would safely say that it is not a very long-term objective, so – not “years”.

Q: Scoot has been rapidly expanding new routes and flights in the last year or so. Which new geographies are you eyeing next?

Lee: We are open to all possibilities. Our expansion is going to be fairly rapid, over the next few years. We have eight more aircraft coming into the fleet, over a period of three years – so that’s 20 aircraft in total, against the current 12 that we have. That’s a very, very high average growth rate. So we obviously will need to fly to new points in this timeframe.

Our flights to Europe (starting with Athens) is basically the realisation of a dream. We started out saying we’re going to be a medium- and long-haul airline, but circumstances have restricted us to flying mainly medium-haul over the last four years or so. The introduction of the (Boeing) 787 into our fleet since 2015 and also the recent integration with Tigerair, has boosted our confidence in our ability to go long-haul. (This is) mainly because for long-haul travel, it will be very difficult to be just carrying passengers to and from a location to Singapore. This is where Tigerair’s short-haul regional network comes into play. We can now channel passengers from Europe to many, many points in Southeast Asia and vice versa.

Q: Given that fares for full-service airlines are relatively affordable these days due to lower fuel costs, are you concerned about the competition on Singapore-Europe routes?

Lee: We will be even more affordable. Our promotional rate for a return trip from Singapore to Athens is about S$ 600.

Q: To better fulfil the role of moving travellers in and out of Southeast Asia, will you look into offering integrated transport packages, including land and sea transfers?

Lee: We are looking to explore how we can allow our guests to seamlessly be able to book such transport options, through a single purchase, when they come onto our website. It is not directly related to the integration between Scoot and Tigerair per se. This is more (related to) partnership agreements, with possibly ferry services. But that is something that we are exploring.

Q: Is this a trend among travellers, or something they would want because of the convenience?

Lee: It will certainly be advantageous for us to be able to provide this. But at the same time, I think travellers today are very savvy and they can find options for themselves. So while we try to do it and make it more convenient, it’s not something that is necessarily a must-have in every single destination.

Q: How do your plans tie in with the recently announced alliance between Asia-Pacific budget airlines, which Scoot and Tigerair are a part of?

Lee: Basically the very first benefit of that alliance is the power of the individual airlines’ brands in their own markets. We in Scoot and Tigerair are obviously well-known in Singapore, but we’re not so well-known in the Philippines – Cebu Pacific is very well-known in the Philippines. So if we’re able to showcase our products on their website, we will gain from that strength of distribution. That’s the primary and most important aspect of the alliance.

The second aspect is connectivity – being able to carry passengers from the alliance partners’ networks onto our networks. This could be a connecting flight – using Cebu again as an example – from a domestic point in the Philippines, through Manila, to Singapore. So this is more (to facilitate) connection outside of the Singapore hub. 

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore Business News

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Workers' Party calls on Government to 'reject' online betting applications

SINGAPORE: The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) has called on the Government to “reject” applications for online betting services, in a statement released on its website on Tuesday (Sep 27).

The party expressed concerns over the applications submitted by Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club (STC) last year.

In its statement, the WP said it goes against the Government’s plans to tackle remote gambling.

“When the government decided to clamp down on remote gambling in 2014, it cited concerns about addictive behaviour and easy access to these games. Should the Government approve their applications, Singapore Pools and STC will have 24/7 virtual betting outlets available in almost every home and mobile device,” said the Party’s Assistant Secretary-General Pritam Singh.

“During the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014, the Government rejected the Workers’ Party call to send the Remote Gambling Bill – specifically the clauses that dealt with exemptions – to a Select Committee of Parliament for further scrutiny and oversight,” the statement added.

WP said it “opposed the granting of exemptions to any organization to operate remote and online betting services”.

The Government is currently evaluating the applications by Singapore Pools and STC to be exempted from the Remote Gambling Act which was passed in 2014. The Act prohibits remote gambling via websites, phones or smart devices.

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore News

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California dreamin' for Chinese investors in US

LOS ANGELES: From real estate, to high-tech firms to entertainment giants, Chinese investments in the United States, notably California, are moving at a dizzying pace and are on course to smash records again this year.

Chinese companies shelled out a record US$ 15 billion last year in the US and that figure could more than double in 2016, according to research firm Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations.

California, especially the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, has been at the forefront of China’s appetite to invest overseas, with billions of dollars going into the technology, renewable energy and entertainment sectors, and increasingly into real estate.

China has pumped US$ 8 billion into California businesses since 2000, more than in any other state, a recent Rhodium Group study said.

It added that there were 452 Chinese-owned businesses that employed more than 9,500 people in the Golden State as of the end of last year, among them the online commerce giant Alibaba Group and the Internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.

BUYING SPREE

Cash is also flowing into Hollywood, with the Beijing-based Wanda Group paying US$ 3.5 billion earlier this year to acquire the film studio Legendary Pictures, the largest-ever cultural takeover by China.

The buying spree is showing no signs of abating for the foreseeable future, experts say, despite tumult in China’s economy and mounting rhetoric during the US presidential campaign.

“Chinese investment in the US – and California in particular – will almost certainly multiply in the coming years,” said Matt Sheehan, who consults and writes about Chinese investment in the Golden State and whose forthcoming book is entitled “Chinafornia.”

While the political climate isn’t helping, cities across America are welcoming Chinese investments with open arms, drowning out the campaign rhetoric and anti-China sentiment in Congress.

“If the domestic Chinese economy continues to boom, firms will have the loose cash to make strategic investments and vanity purchases abroad,” said Sheehan.

“If the Chinese economy and RMB currency go into a nosedive, you’ll likely see a large capital flight disguised as overseas investment.”

One sector increasingly on the Chinese shopping list in the US is real estate, with buyers snapping up expensive homes and high-end commercial properties at a record pace.

Chinese investors pumped nearly US$ 11 billion into US real estate in the first five months of 2016, outpacing last year’s total of US$ 4.37 billion, according to a report by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.

CHANGING SKYLINE

The West Coast has proven a major draw with Chinese investments literally changing the skylines of downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Of the four mega development projects currently underway in Los Angeles, three are by Chinese firms, including a US$ 1 billion condominium and hotel development by Beijing-based Oceanwide Holdings and a similar project – Metropolis – by Shanghai-based Greenland Holding Group.

Once completed in 2018, Metropolis will be the largest mixed-use complex on the West Coast.

In San Francisco, Oceanwide has acquired land that will house the city’s second-tallest tower and several other Chinese-backed developments are on the books.

Residential property is also part of the real estate buying frenzy, with sales more than doubling in the last three years.

“In 2016, we had $ 27.3 billion in volume of sales to Chinese buyers compared to US$ 7 to US$ 13 billion up until 2013,” said Danielle Hale, an analyst with the National Association of Realtors.

She said roughly one third of those buyers found their way to California, more than to any other US state.

Increasingly, however, buyers are no longer purchasing homes purely as investments but rather as primary residences.

“We have seen a shift from people buying vacation or investment type property to people buying more primary residence type properties,” Hale said.

She said Chinese buyers purchased US$ 27.3 billion in US residential property in 2016, with roughly one third of those buyers finding their way to California.

“The momentum is clearly in place for there to be a substantial number of Chinese buyers in the market going forward,” Hale said.

“And their average purchase prices – US$ 936,000 – are much higher than typical average purchase prices (US$ 266,000) of domestic buyers.”

Sheehan predicted the US agriculture and food sectors will be next on the shopping list for Chinese investors.

“Years of food scandals in China have really frightened Chinese parents … and Chinese firms know they can charge much higher prices for American imports,” he said. “And this is another area where California is in a prime position.”

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Channel NewsAsia Asia Pacific News

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Want to trade like the big boys? This homegrown app could help you

SINGAPORE: Just like any other avid investor, Mr Clemen Chiang has always been on the lookout for a winning strategy to beat the stock market.

A keen investor in US equities since the early 2000s, the Singaporean took interest in analysing the investment styles of American billionaires such as Warren Buffett after noticing that the legendary investor had steered clear of US technology stocks, which were the darlings of the market back then.

“I was looking at many hot technology stocks … for example, when Google (debuted) at US$ 100 on the Nasdaq in 2004, I invested in it,” said Mr Chiang, founder and CEO of homegrown financial technology (FinTech) start-up Aly. “But after some time, I noticed that many of these tech stocks were just too volatile … and Warren Buffett never invested in them, apart from IBM.”

Mr Chiang believed that by knowing the trades of these “big boys”, who have abundant resources to conduct due diligence and access to exclusive information, could help the common man on the street understand the sudden spikes in stock prices and make better investment decisions.

“After 15 years of investing, I’ve come to believe in the thesis of standing on the shoulders of giants such as Warren Buffett … After all, (he) has consistently outperformed the S&P 500 and I’m just not as smart as him,” the entrepreneur, who is in his early forties, told Channel NewsAsia.

“While investors like him won’t reveal their secrets, they have to reveal whatever they invest to the public and I realise that is the path for me to identify which giant I should (follow),” he added.

And that is why Mr Chiang came up with the app Spiking that helps him to do just that. However, on the back of advice from local accelerator Startupbootcamp FinTech, the entrepreneur decided to shift his focus from Wall Street to the local stock market.

Since its official launch in early April, the homegrown app has worked on enlarging its database and now provides information of 11,000 company directors and substantial shareholders in Singapore such as Banyan Tree founder Ho Kwon Ping, tycoons Oei Hong Leong and Peter Lim, as well as DBS Group chief executive Piyush Gupta.

Via Spiking, users can choose to follow these sophisticated investors and track updated disclosures of transactions and stock holdings. This information is obtained by machine-reading algorithms that scan through publicly-available stock exchange filings and verify them against various sources such as Bloomberg to check for anomalies, explained Mr Chiang.

While targeted at retail investors, the founder noted that Spiking has received positive responses from the senior executives of public companies as well as remisiers. 

“Some remisiers told me they can now tell their clients that there’s information about these big shots buying and so what are they waiting for. It’s like a sales kit for them. Previously they relied on analyst recommendations which can sometimes be difficult for retail investors to understand.” 

The local bourse operator also extended a helping hand, by expressing its willingness to provide the app with more data to work with. “That was a validation to our work,” Mr Chiang said.

Previously backed by China’s Quest Ventures and the National Research Foundation, Spiking announced on Monday (Sep 19) that it secured S$ 1 million in seed funding. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

“I LEARNT AND MOVED ON TO BE A BETTER MAN”

The successful conclusion of a S$ 1 million seed-funding round earlier this week was also a form of validation for the founder himself, who was in 2008 embroiled in a well-publicised expose by The Straits Times for touting qualifications from an unaccredited university.

After the expose, participants who attended Mr Chiang’s seminars on options trading sued him for refunds.

“I learnt a lot from that and I moved on to be a better man,” the entrepreneur told Channel NewsAsia. “It was a test of whether you can still stand up after a fall. I picked myself up … and I moved on to do other things.”

That included the starting up of female shopping portal CozyCot with his wife, and organising the Singapore edition of the Diner En Blanc pop-up picnic from 2012 to 2014.

When asked whether he was ever worried about investors turning him down due to his past, Mr Chiang answered: “The good thing is that when investors look at a start-up or entrepreneur, they have a completely different perspective from a retail investor. They look at what drives the company and the founder, and whether he can stand the test of failure. I think I’m a standing example of that.

“Investors from the capital markets know about my past and I share with them very openly. In the end, they said, ‘We still want to invest in you and we believe in how you’re going to take the company forward’,” he added, with a smile.

NEW FEATURES AND MOVING BEYOND SGX

Now, flushed with fresh funding from prominent capital market investors such as Sakae Holdings chairman Douglas Foo, the start-up is gearing up for a packed schedule ahead. Some of the plans include the addition of an online trading platform for users to place their trades via the app.

But before that, new features such as a forum page which will aggregate recent news headlines, announcements and market activity, as well as an expansion of data coverage to 10 stock exchanges will be rolled out in early December.

Apart from the SGX, Spiking is looking to ramp up its services to include data from the stock exchanges in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as the two stock exchanges in Vietnam and India, respectively.

Among the overseas markets, Mr Chiang singled out India as the biggest challenge given the sheer number of companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and National Stock Exchange.

“There are about 10,000 companies listed in India and for each company, we will have to (identify) the blue whales who are people putting money on the table, the board of directors who make strategic decisions and then the management group,” he explained.

But Mr Chiang remains upbeat about the expansion plans and has his ultimate goal set on Wall Street.

“We are still a start-up and if we go to the US now, we are just killing ourselves. So let’s start off with 10 exchanges in Asia-Pacific and if that works out, we’ll go for another round of funding and go after the US market,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore Business News

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Prepare for waves of change by allowing young to have diverse experiences: DPM Tharman

SINGAPORE: Rapid technological advancements will see Singapore’s economy constantly navigating uncharted waters and Singaporeans will need to prepare themselves for changes that will likely come in one wave after another, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday (Sep 25).

Speaking at a post-National Day Rally dialogue at Bukit Batok Community Club, Mr Tharman said: “You can’t forecast well in advance before the waves come. You can’t forecast exactly which wave it is – is it going to be life sciences? Is it going to be the last in information technology?

“But you got to stop the emerging wave early, and be ready to ride on them and know that every wave will disrupt some things, displace some jobs, but we want to make up for it by creating new jobs and being part of the new opportunities that are created,” he added.

And one way to achieve that is to allow the young to have the opportunity to accumulate diverse experiences, and that will involve significant changes in education and culture, said Mr Tharman who is also coordinating minister for economic and social policies.

“It can’t be all about study or academic study. This is a complex change, easily said but actually very complex in how to implement it in our education system. But we have to move in that direction.

“And it means, as individuals, each young Singaporean must have a chance to have very different experiences when they grow up,” Mr Tharman added.

Speaking to about 200 young people at the dialogue session, he noted that the society would have to adopt a cultural shift that is about growing through life together. More free play for the young, especially in schools, would also be necessary to foster entrepreneurship, Mr Tharman added. 

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Channel NewsAsia Singapore News

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Engine shut down as smoke fills cabin of Jetstar flight

SYDNEY: A Jetstar pilot shut down an engine and diverted to Brisbane as smoked filled the cabin on a passenger flight from Sydney to Cairns in an incident passengers said was “terrifying”.

The Airbus A320 was en route to the northern Queensland city on Thursday evening when the pilot took action to deal with what the carrier said was “a technical issue with one of its engines”.

“The captain decided to shut down one of the engines as a precaution and divert the aircraft to Brisbane,” a spokesman for the Australian budget airline said. “Engineers are looking into the cause.

“While it’s rare for something like this to happen, our crew are trained to deal with these type of situations and they handled the situation very professionally.”

Video taken on board the plane, shot by a passenger and broadcast by the ABC, showed smoke in the cabin.

“The most terrifying moment of my life,” passenger Aundra Thompson wrote on Facebook.

“I was just on the flight that caught fire and filled the cabin with smoke.”

Another passenger Wendy Perkins told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she heard a loud explosion, and smoke came into the cabin about an hour into what was supposed to be a three-hour flight.

“Within seconds smoke came up under my seat under my legs and up into my face and the man who was next to me,” she said.

“We both said that stinks, that absolutely stinks and then we lost pressure in the plane.”

Jetstar, which is owned by Qantas, disputed this, claiming smoked only appeared after the plane landed safely in Brisbane.

“The hazy smoke seen in the video happened when the aircraft had landed safely in Brisbane and shortly before the passengers disembarked,” it said.

“The smoke would have entered the cabin through the air conditioning unit, which runs via air from the engines.”

No-one needed medical attention with passengers transferred to another flight later Thursday evening.

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Not just a start-up space: Foreign firms embrace co-working in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Content delivery network and Web security firm Cloudflare was on the lookout for a new office in Singapore earlier this year and even though there were cheaper office spaces available in the rental market, it decided to move into JustCo – a co-working space located in the Central Business District (CBD) along Robinson Road.

“It was just much easier without having to deal with getting furniture and outfitting the office,” general manager of Cloudflare’s Asia operations, Grace Lin, told Channel NewsAsia. “The time spent on doing all that will also mean that I’m not expanding the company, or meeting potential partners and clients.”

“There were cheaper office options for sure, but a co-working space saves us time and allows us to continue growing quickly,” she added.

The San Francisco-based company has been swiftly expanding its team since venturing into Singapore last July, growing its headcount from just one person to 16 within a year. With plans to double the team’s size over the course of 2017, the firm needed a new space that could accommodate that growth flexibly.

Given its hiring spree, renting a traditional office which typically comes with two-year leases, would not have made sense, Ms Lin said.

As such, Cloudflare has decided to take up half a floor at JustCo for now, but should it decide to grow its team in Singapore further, it would be able to do so comfortably as an entire floor at the shared office accommodates up to 64 people, she explained.

COLLABORATIVE CULTURE, PROXIMITY TO OTHER BUSINESSES A DRAW

Even though co-working spaces – premised on the concept of having multiple companies or individuals sharing the same working environment – have typically appealed more to start-ups and freelancers, bigger enterprises, particularly from overseas, have latched onto the trend.

For example, Japanese messaging app provider Line Corp and popular cloud storage firm Dropbox are understood to be working out of JustCo.

According to Cushman and Wakefield’s research director Christine Li, foreign companies tend to opt for co-working spaces during the initial stages of venturing into a new market. “They are not prepared to take a long-term lease in a traditional office yet as their businesses have yet to stabilise and the workforce is not sizeable enough to push them to rent a traditional office space,” said Ms Li.

Apart from being able to enjoy flexibility as they expand into Singapore and the region, bigger companies are also attracted to the open-concept, vibrant collaborative culture and easy accessibility to other businesses at these trendy shared offices.

Said Cloudflare’s Ms Lin: “In Singapore, a lot of the traditional offices for rent don’t have an open concept … and that doesn’t work for us because we have a Silicon Valley culture where no one sits in separate offices. Even our CEO sits next to an employee, and we are able to sit together, talk and work.”

And this culture of collaboration extends to partnerships between members of a co-working space. For instance, Cloudflare has been in discussions with a recruiting firm on the same floor at JustCo, to lend it a helping hand in its expansion plans.

For Braintree – a payment platform acquired by PayPal three years ago – being located in another co-working space, The Hub Singapore, gives it a leg-up when it comes to growing its client base and recruiting new talent.

The Hub Singapore’s second facility at Cuppage Terrace, which aims to provide more professional facilities for later-stage start-ups. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

“You are connected with a network of people and businesses so it was very easy for us to grow our business with like-minded people who are sitting next to us,” said Ms Monica Acree, Braintree’s head of business development for APAC. “When it comes to recruiting people, the people we want are often attracted to this flexible and fun environment.”

That is why the Chicago-based firm prefers to stay put in a co-working space, when asked whether it has considered working out of PayPal’s office instead, given that the online payment giant recently launched its first start-up incubation programme in Singapore.

“Not that you can’t get these brands and people at PayPal … but we have more exposure to other people here than we would at the confines of an office space,” added Ms Acree.

Meanwhile, with many of these shared working spaces situated in the CBD area, they also act as cheaper alternatives for businesses.

US-based business accelerator Plug and Play told Channel NewsAsia that it was enticed to become a member at the hospitality-inspired co-working space, The Great Room, partly due to its prime location at One George Street. Prior to that, it was based out of the start-up community set up at Block 71, Ayer Rajah Crescent, as well as the newer adjacent Block 79.

“We already have a presence in the west but we also wanted somewhere central … but for us to take on our own space by ourselves is very high cost and doesn’t make sense for us in the short run,” said senior vice president of global operations Jupe Tan, adding that the US firm is keen to pursue its interest in financial technology (FinTech) further in Singapore.

“There are start-up hubs all around Singapore but for FinTech, you want to be in or near the CBD to connect to the banks and the regulator,” he added.

The Great Room prides itself on being a “hospitality-inspired workspace”. (Photo: The Great Room)

ARE BIGGER NON-TECH CORPORATES, SMES HOPPING ON THE BANDWAGON?

While interest in shared working spaces from bigger corporations mainly stem from the tech industry for now, there has been a change in sentiment among non-tech-focused companies, according to industry observers and co-working space operators that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

“Even just four years ago, corporates are very wary of start-ups and vice versa but gradually, more corporates realise that they could potentially innovate faster by learning from and partnering with start-ups,” said Ms Grace Sai, co-founder and CEO of The Hub Singapore. “That’s why I like to call them the ‘unlikely allies’.”

Ms Sai noted that bigger corporates have reached out to The Hub and they tend to “test the waters” by sending their innovation teams down for a finite period of time to “be educated about the culture” of a co-working space.

Local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also opening up to the idea of co-working spaces, according to JustGroup’s founder and chief executive Kong Wan Sing.

Mr Kong told Channel NewsAsia that he has received some queries from local SMEs looking for alternative office spaces as they consider downsizing amid the gloomy economic outlook. Apart from that, JustCo’s in-house services such as IT are additional draws for these SMEs.

“It’s a new trend that we’ve noticed this year,” said Mr Kong. “We’ve received some enquiries from SMEs who say they don’t need so much space as before. Meanwhile, they are also interested in our in-house IT team, which means they can also save on IT expenses.”

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Man arrested for using 'criminal force' against public servant after Eunos accident

SINGAPORE: A 38-year-old man has been arrested “for using criminal force against a public servant” following an accident at the junction of Eunos Link and Ubi Avenue 2 on Friday morning (Sep 23). 

Police said they were informed of the accident at about 7.30am, and the incident involved a bus and a car. No injuries were reported, and investigations into the cause of the accident, as well as the man’s actions against the public servant, are ongoing.

Police added that the man who was arrested was the driver of the car. Channel NewsAsia understands that he was uncooperative and deterred a public servant from carrying out his duties. 

The car appeared to be badly damaged and mounted a kerb following the accident. 

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it despatched an ambulance to the scene after being alerted to the accident at 7.30am. 

“A man in his 30s was assessed by the paramedic. Subsequently he was handed over to the police,” a spokesperson for SCDF said. 

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Syrian children's art on display in Shanghai shows impact of war

SHANGHAI: A non-governmental organization (NGO) in China opened an exhibition in Shanghai this week of paintings by Syrian children to raise awareness about the migrant crisis in the war-torn country.

The Chinese Initiative on International Law, an independent NGO, obtained the paintings when its founder Liu Yiqiang and his team researched Syrian refugees in Greece and Turkey.

Migration flows are not new, but a wave of more than 1 million migrants last year prompted bitter divisions among European countries over how to share responsibility for them.

After a request from a refugee centre, Liu’s team brought 50 paintings by Syrian children back to China and put 30 of them on display in Shanghai on Monday.

“I was shocked when I saw these paintings,” Liu said. “The bright colours used in each one of these paintings and the illustration of every side of the war and of their lives can directly bring you into the world of the children who have suffered the war.”

One of the children painted a giant green dinosaur towering over a child running away from it in fear.

At the United Nations General Assembly’s Summit for Refugees and Migrants, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced that China will provide US$ 100 million of additional humanitarian aid to help solve problems brought about by the mass movement of refugees and migrants.

“Shanghai received Jewish refugees during World War Two. Now as an international metropolis, would Shanghai be able to do something for these refugees?” asked Li.

But one visitor to the exhibition disagreed.

“At this stage … China itself has many problems in its underdeveloped regions,” said Wang Le. “I do not think that China is suitable to receive refugees now.”

Another visitor Li Yan said she was moved by the art.

One of the painters “said that she would grow up into a happy woman,” she said. “However, they are living far away and becoming refugees now and don’t know that many countries are not willing to accept them.”

Liu said there will be an charity auction for the paintings in October. Funds raised from the auction will be donated to a special project at the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund which aims to educate young people in doing charitable work.

The exhibition will be on display until the end of September.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; writing by Melissa Fares, editing by G Crosse)

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