12 soldiers die in clash with Islamist militants in the Philippine south

MANILA: Twelve soldiers, including a young lieutenant, were killed in a clash with Islamic State-linked rebels on a remote southern island in the Philippines, an army spokesman said on Monday as the army offensive entered its fifth day.

Major Filemon Tan said five soldiers were also wounded in an 1-1/2 hour firefight in the jungles of Patikul town on Jolo island as troops pursued a large formation of the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group.

“The fighting was really intense, we lost 12 men,” Tan said. “You can really expect heavy casualty from both sides due to volume of fire from both sides. We don’t know how many from the enemy died but there could be more than 30 rebels.”

A young army lieutenant leading the troops was killed in a rebel ambush.

More than 20 Abu Sayyaf rebels had died since Thursday when the military launched an air-and-ground offensive in Patikul, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold, after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered troops to “destroy” the militant group.

The Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnapping and beheading captives, has dogged successive Philippine governments, entrenching its network with vast sums of ransom money in what has become one of Asia’s most lucrative kidnapping rackets.

Security experts say the Muslim rebels are motivated less by Islamist ideology and more by the tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings.

Two Canadians and a Filipino teenager were executed this year by the Abu Sayyaf. Last week, two Indonesians escaped captivity but there was speculation the Abu Sayyaf freed them after their families paid their ransoms.

Eight Indonesians, eight Filipinos, five Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher and a Norwegian resort manager are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf, It was not known the hostages were in Patikul jungle when the assault began on Thursday.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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SGX appoints new chairman to succeed Chew Choon Seng

SINGAPORE: The directors of Singapore Exchange (SGX) have elected a new chairman of the Board to succeed Mr Chew Choon Seng from September this year.

In a news release on Monday (Aug 29), SGX said Mr Kwa Chong Seng will succeed Mr Chew when he retires at the conclusion of SGX’s Annual General Meeting on Sep 22.

Mr Chew joined the Board in December 2004 and has been the chairman since January 2011.

According to SGX, Mr Kwa was elected to the Board in September 2012. He was appointed the lead independent director in December 2013, and has been the chairman of the Nominating & Governance and the Remuneration & Staff Development Committees since September 2013.

Said Mr Chew: “The exchange is an important component of Singapore’s financial system. It has been an honour to be of service and I am thankful for the support and cooperation of my fellow Board members and all the people, inside and outside the organisation, whom I have worked with.

“I trust that Mr Kwa will enjoy the same. Mr Kwa’s capabilities, experience and accomplishments in industry, business and public service are well known and highly regarded. SGX will definitely be well steered.”

Mr Kwa added: “”I am honoured to have this opportunity to contribute. Filling Mr Chew’s big shoes will be difficult as SGX has many stakeholders who all want SGX to succeed. I will do my best to serve these important stakeholders.”

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Teen arrested for crashing Nissan GT-R into Toyota

SINGAPORE: An 18-year-old was arrested on Monday (Aug 29) for dangerous driving after he crashed a Nissan GT-R into a Toyota car. He is under suspicion for taking part in an unauthorised speed trial at the open car park near Stadium Road, police said in a media statement.

The accident took place on Saturday at about 6.30pm. According to police, the Nissan GT-R was believed to have been accelerating and travelling at high speed prior to the collision.

Both vehicles were seriously damaged as a result of the accident and the 65-year-old Toyota driver reportedly sustained injuries to his ribs.

Police said the suspect was arrested on Monday and his driving license suspended with immediate effect. The GT-R involved in the collision has also been impounded by Traffic Police.

(Photo: Singapore Police Force)

Motorists found guilty of taking part in unauthorised speed trials can be jailed for up to six months and fined between S$ 1,000 and $ $ 2,000.

Repeat offenders can be jailed up to 12 months and fined between S$ 2,000 and S$ 3,000. 

Motorists convicted of dangerous driving can be fined up to S$ 3,000 or jailed up to 12 months, or both.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to S$ 5,000 or jailed up to two years, or both.

“The Traffic Police takes a stern view on such dangerous road behaviour as it puts the lives of the drivers and other road users at risk. Such errant motorists will be taken to task and can be expected to be dealt with to the full extent of the law,” police said.

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Three Thai royal insult prisoners freed after pardon

BANGKOK: Three Thai women convicted of insulting the monarchy were released from jail Saturday after receiving royal pardons, a human rights lawyer said, following years spent behind bars for violating the draconian law.

Thailand’s lese majeste law is among the world’s harshest, punishing any perceived criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years per offence.

Cases have skyrocketed under the ultra-royalist junta that seized power in 2014, with more than 60 people facing trials since the power grab, mostly in military courts.

The law has also been interpreted with an increasingly broad sweep, with one man arrested for making sarcastic comments about the king’s late dog.

Media must self-censor when reporting on royal defamation cases to avoid falling foul of the law.

On Saturday three lese majeste convicts were included in a royal pardon that saw over 100 female prisoners released from a Bangkok jail.

“Three women prisoners who were jailed for lese majeste were freed today,” Weeranan Huadsri, from the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, told AFP.

They included Daranee Charnchoengsilapakul, an activist sentenced to 15 years in 2011 for speeches delivered at political rallies.

Known as “Da Torpedo” for her hard-hitting rhetoric, the activist was a fervent supporter of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra — the leader of a political faction loathed by the kingdom’s military rulers.

Porntip Mankong, a 29-year-old activist arrested in 2014 for her role in a satirical play, was also released Saturday, the lawyer said.

She had around two months left of her 2.5 year sentence.

The young activist was prosecuted alongside Patiwat Saraiyaem, a male university student who also participated in “The Wolf Bride” play.

Patiwat was released earlier this month after receiving a royal pardon on Queen Sirikit’s birthday.

The third lese majeste prisoner set free Saturday was Thitinan Kaewjantranont, an elderly woman jailed for insulting a portrait of the Thai king.

The court that sentenced her in 2015 noted she suffered from mental health issues but said her behaviour was “so evil” it warranted jail time.

The monarchy has become an increasingly sensitive subject in Thailand as 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej enters his twilight years.

Analysts say anxiety over his ailing health has exacerbated the kingdom’s decade-long political crisis, as competing elites wrestle for influence.

But open discussion of the monarchy and its future is impossible due to the royal insult law.

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Singapore's manufacturing output falls 3.6% in July, first contraction in 5 months

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s manufacturing output slumped 3.6 per cent in July from a year ago, contracting for the first time in five months, underlining concerns surrounding the country’s economic outlook.

July’s reading also marked the biggest slump since Dec 2015, when factory output shrunk 11.9 per cent on a year-on-year basis, according to figures released by the Economic Development Board (EDB) on Friday (Aug 26). Economists polled by Reuters had expected a rise of 0.9 per cent on-year.

On a month-on-month and seasonally adjusted basis, factory output plunged 4.0 per cent in July, significantly higher than a forecast of minus 1.1 per cent.

The weaker-than-expected number “reinforced our negative view on the Singapore economy”, said Credit Suisse economist Michael Wan. He added that Friday’s economic data implied a weak gross domestic product (GDP) figure for the third quarter at around 1 per cent year-on-year, a moderation from economic growth of 2.1 per cent in the second quarter.

For Citi economist Kit Wei Zheng, “the risks of growth undershooting the already downshifted official expectations may have increased”. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) had narrowed the growth forecast for Singapore’s economy in 2016 to between 1 and 2 per cent, down from the initial range of between 1 and 3 per cent.

Such anaemic growth would mean that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) could ease monetary policy in October, by re-centering its exchange rate policy band lower, said Mr Wan.

Earlier this year, the central bank unexpectedly eased monetary policy in a move to stoke growth momentum, but had reiterated in July that there was no need to change its current monetary policy stance unless there was a marked deterioration in the global economy, or a significant shift in the inflation outlook. 


Excluding biomedical manufacturing, factory output fell 2 per cent year-on-year in July. Output from the biomedical manufacturing cluster had contracted 9.7 per cent compared to a year ago, with a 6.3 per cent rise in the medical technological segment unable to make up for the 14.1 percent fall in the pharmaceuticals segment.

Among the worst performers, the transport engineering sector’s output shrank 21.8 per cent, as the marine and offshore engineering segment contracted 33.4 per cent on the back of weak rig-building activities and demand for oilfield and gasfield equipment amid low oil prices.

The chemicals cluster’s output fell 3.2 per cent on a year-on-year basis, while the precision engineering cluster decreased 4.9 per cent in July. Output from the general manufacturing industries cluster fell 10.2 per cent compared to the year-ago period.

Lower level of rig building activity continued to weigh on transport engineering, while precision engineering remained downbeat due to fewer machinery orders, analysts said.

Bucking the downtrend, output from the electronics sector rose 16.2 per cent on-year, boosted by a 34 per cent surge in the semiconductor segment though this was partially offset by declines in the rest of the electronics segment.

However, Credit Suisse’s Mr Wan noted that even the strength in the electronics sector is showing some signs of moderation from the previous month’s 19 per cent gain.

As such, analysts largely tip a gloomy outlook for the all-important manufacturing sector, which has been a huge drag on Singapore’s economic growth.

Given ongoing tepid external demand conditions, OCBC Bank’s Head of Treasury Research & Strategy Selena Ling expects third-quarter domestic manufacturing growth to see a contraction of 1.7 per cent on-year, a reversal from the 1.1 per cent growth in the April to June quarter.

Data from last week also revealed a deepening export slump, with non-oil domestic exports (NODX) plunging 10.6 per cent on-year last month, widening from a 2.4 per cent drop in June.

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Rights for women were hard-fought and must be preserved, improved: Aline Wong

SINGAPORE: Ms Aline Wong made headlines in the 1980s as one of the first women MPs to enter Parliament after a 14-year hiatus.

A sociologist by training, Ms Wong came to Singapore as an academic with a focus on issues affecting women. As a politician, she was intent on walking the talk by continuing to champion women’s rights, and led the People’s Action Party (PAP) women’s wing until her retirement in 2001. She also made her mark in leading policy on other issues, as Minister of State for Health, and in the mid-1990s, as Senior Minister of State with the additional portfolio of Education.

Recently, she made headlines for blazing the trail for women again, being appointed as Chancellor of UniSIM – the first female Chancellor in Singapore’s educational history.

She went On the Record with Bharati Jagdish about her past political life, women’s rights and politics today. But first, they spoke about what brought her to Singapore from Hong Kong all those years ago.

Aline Wong: In the 1960s, my husband and I were already lecturing at two separate universities in Hong Kong but we didn’t particularly like the British colonial system there. And we had strong feelings about issues of our citizenship and giving our children a country to call home. So when we came to Singapore in late 1969, on our way to a conference in Australia, some friends we knew from a long time ago, talked to us and said: “Why don’t you just come and make a career here, make a life here?”

Singapore was young and independent and needed people. So that was the time that the university here was looking far afield for foreigners who had the qualifications to be academics. So we both happened to already have our PhDs and have a career in academia, so we went for interviews and we landed two jobs at the same time. So it was a very natural thing for us to come but it meant uprooting. We did it, and we have never really turned back since then.

Bharati: Why did you enter politics?

Wong: I think the simple answer to that was that it was really answering a call to duty. I say duty because by then I had lived in the country and had been a citizen for so long. I had always been teaching social issues, political issues, and so on. I received that call to tea, interviews. And so I said: “If you are asked to serve, what’s the reason for saying no?” I had no reason whatsoever. Also, I had to walk my talk. I was advocating very much for women’s participation in all aspects of the nation’s life – economic, political, social and so on.

So when I was asked to serve, I really could not say no to Mr Goh Chok Tong then. I think they probably had noticed me in my work, in my publications, and I was quite active in serving on various Government committees. I was very outspoken then, so I think they must have spotted me. 

Bharati: What influenced you? You’ve mentioned your father before.

Wong: My father just wanted me to think of a larger purpose in life, and to do something for others and for society. He never asked me to be outspoken, but it’s my personality. And as a lecturer, I taught theories and knowledge. So I spoke my mind, and was critical. I saw inequalities and I spoke my mind. 


Bharati: You were one of three women who entered Parliament after a 14-year hiatus. While it was a great opportunity, I’m sure there were challenges as well.

Wong: We were hailed as a pioneering batch of women MPs, which is not quite true because before us, there were already women legislators, but this hiatus of 14 years did make it a very special opportunity, a special kind of a challenge. But the three of us took it in our stride. I think we were professionals in each of our own fields, and it’s not that we were afraid of speaking in public or afraid of connecting with the people on the ground, so the challenge wasn’t really being the first women to enter Parliament but actually how we would carry out our role, so as not to disappoint.

Bharati: Was it a lot of pressure?

Wong: I think much of the pressure was actually brought upon us by ourselves. At least it was so in my case. I needed to show and prove to myself and to my friends that women parliamentarians make a difference, should make a difference. We had our different viewpoints. We had our issues of concern and we brought our experience, our viewpoints to bear on policy issues, and therefore having women represented in Parliament should make a difference. I consciously had to prove myself as a speaker, as an elected member in the constituency. I had to prove I could lead, that I could gel the team together, the community. I had to prove I could do all these things as a man could.

Bharati: Was it at all challenging to get the men in Parliament to take you seriously? Or was there no issue at all?

Wong: Our views were well-considered among the professionals. We did not make flippant remarks. We were well-prepared. In fact, I noticed that the women MPs tend to do a lot of homework when they speak in Parliament, they ask follow-up questions, they institute projects and so on, so why should the men not take us seriously?

I think even in the 1980s in Singapore, when the three of us entered Parliament, we did not encounter a patronising attitude towards us. So there was no overt negative feeling targeted at us. If anything, I think they began to realise they had to watch their language a little bit more, be respectful and so on and so forth. Altogether it was positive.

Bharati: Even among the constituents?

Wong: Constituents, the grassroots leaders – definitely. You should look at some of the old pictures I kept when I first entered Parliament. When we took pictures with grassroots leaders, I was the only woman there in the centre. I don’t think it was bad at all because I think first of all, if you had a good education, they respected you. If you worked and you were serious, they also had to be serious with you.

Bharati: I’m sure politics was quite different then. These days, I’m sure you would have noticed that people are more outspoken, more demanding of their MPs.

Wong: They also have their own views which are well-considered. They are well-educated. They can talk about policies and give you views on the same level as you. Politics in contemporary society is a bit more complex, and not just because people are better-educated, but because there’s more diversity. And now there’s social media to contend with, so politics is more complex and more challenging now.

Bharati: Would the young Aline Wong enter politics the way it is today?

Wong: If I were a young person of this contemporary age, I would still do it. But thinking back, I was just suitable for that period when there were burning issues to be settled in the area of women’s representation for example, and they were settled on very reasonable grounds. 


Bharati: Why was there this long hiatus? You’ve mentioned some theories before.

Wong: Well, I had written and speculated about it in my previous publications. I think ever since the Women’s Charter was passed in 1961, there was a mini-victory of sorts that there was equal pay between men and women in the civil service in 1960s. Then the start of the women’s movement in the early 1960s – in those days the focus was on women’s right to vote, women’s right to education, and legal reforms in the marriage institution and they got it.

So after that, the women’s movement actually cooled down a lot. Then as people were getting better-educated, there was the emerging middle-class. As such, the interest of women also turned to issues of lifestyle. There was actually a network of women’s committees at the community centres already, in the 1960s. But the women there were focused on social, recreational, cultural activities. So the tenor of the women’s concern became very much focused on daily life, social participation and so on.

Bharati: What about workforce participation?

Wong: Oh, I mean in the intervening years, since the 1960s and 1970s especially, you see a steady increase in the female labour force participation rate. There was not much of a problem. Except that if you noticed at the beginning, they were semi-skilled workers in the semiconductor industry, in the service industry. Then they rose through the ranks to be executives and professionals.

Bharati: But not so much politicians clearly.

Wong: Not so much politicians. But then I remember very clearly that in 1984, Mr Goh Chok Tong was asked why there no women candidate at the previous election. His answer then… I think he has changed his stance tremendously since then. So, good of him.

Bharati: What did he say then?

Wong: He said that the women should or have to ask the husband’s permission. I remember that.

Bharati: Did you ever have to ask your husband for permission? 

Wong: I discussed with him of course, because he is my husband.

Bharati: But you didn’t ask him for permission.

Wong: No, no the decision was mutual and was really even with some consultation with our growing-up kids. So 1984, he (Mr Goh) was looking out for women candidates earnestly. In ’88 he put in more time and effort but still, he netted only one more women MP which was Dr Seet Ai Mee.

Bharati: Why do you think Mr Goh changed his mind about this?

Wong: I don’t want to hold it against him that much, now that things have changed a lot. He came from a generation of Singapore men who were brought up in the traditional way of looking at men being necessarily the head of household. But since then, women have advanced so much in status. It is not right now to even say such things, and certainly such things are no longer said.

Bharati: You say things have changed. Indeed they have, but if we’re talking about women’s participation in politics, it is still quite concerning relative to what’s happening in other parts of the world or even based on what’s in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

We currently have 22 women in Parliament out of a total of 92 seats. This is 24 per cent of the House. Better than what it was before, sure, but still lacking according to a lot of activists. More recently, of course we have Ms Grace Fu who is Culture, Community and Youth Minister, the first female full minister to helm a ministry. For a country that has advanced economically, where women are highly-educated, why are we still lacking in this arena? And as you said earlier, Mr Goh tried harder in 1988 to get more women candidates, but ended up netting only one.

Wong: It’s still tremendous progress. Even if you look back 10 years ago, I think the number was in the teens. Now we have more than 20. So it’s tremendous progress. If you look around at the percentage representation of female parliamentarians in Singapore, our percentage is very respectable. It is better than the average of many Asia-Pacific countries. Now if you are talking about previously communist countries, yes, they had more women representation but since they opened up, the percentage declined.

If you talk about the Scandinavian countries, yes they are still leading the world, but also they have a conscious policy, some with quotas for their parties to nominate a certain percentage of female candidates at each election.

But I think no country in this world has yet stated its target is 50 per cent. My point is we have made such tremendous progress, so what’s still holding women back? 

Not every woman really wants to go into politics. It’s the same for men, not every man wants to go into politics. 


Bharati: Yet there are more men than women, so how would you account for that?

Wong: This is a long-term kind of an analysis that women are still responsible for the family, for the household management, for taking care of children and of the elderly relatives. So these are the multiple roles that women still play in our society that do not give them that much time and opportunity to devote to public life. They’re already struggling with their professions and careers.

Bharati: It’s about gender roles and certain mindsets within the household as well. Men need to step up a little bit more and get more involved in running the household, so that you both can have fruitful careers outside if that is what you desire.

Wong: But also, some women are now opting for sequencing their priorities in life. They’ve got the education. They’ve started brilliant, very good professions, but after they get married, they want children and when they have children, some of them want to devote more time, if not all their time to the children. So they are now sequencing what’s important in their life. Previously, people were trying to be supermoms, superwomen. Then I think by and by, we realised that it is very difficult, because you have to sacrifice something, you cannot have it all at one go. 

Bharati: But men never have to worry about that. It is entrenched ideas of gender roles that has led to this, isn’t it? Women might only be making those choices because their husbands won’t. How can such mindsets be changed?

Wong: It is true. It takes time, but I think in some countries like the Scandinavian countries, men and women’s roles are blurring. It is very common to find men tending to young children and perhaps stopping work. Meanwhile, the wife is devoting her time to her career. This happens quite naturally and without raising eyebrows anymore. So this may happen one day, but by and large I think we are still an Asian society. It will take much longer for us. But actually if you want to enter politics, there are so many more avenues now for you to do that. You can join a committee, make a contribution and make an impact even before you enter Parliament, and then you’ll be noticed. I don’t think there are barriers as such. If women are concerned about public life, what’s there to stop them?

Bharati: We discussed entrenched ideas in regard to gender roles. Did you get support from your husband in your political and academic career?

Wong: Yes, he was very helpful. He accompanied me a lot of times to my constituency functions, so that when I went home in the late evening, he could drive and I won’t be too tired. He also took charge of household management, especially in terms of grocery shopping, what we get to eat on the table and so on and so forth. In those days in the 80s, he was considered quite an unusual person.

Bharati: Some might say: “So what if there are not too many women in politics. It’s not important.” How would you respond to this? Why is it important to get more women in?

Wong: Let me be reflective on this. In the 1980s, when the first few of us entered Parliament, there were still quite a few burning issues that affected women that had to be settled. Things like citizenship for children born to Singapore women overseas, medical benefits to civil servants, the quota on female students in the medical school, and amendments to the Women’s Charter. So once those things were addressed over the next one, two decades, if you talked to women and asked them – what are the burning issues that affect women status in Singapore today – they may not be able to tell you very much.

Perhaps one or two things, the proportion of women in politics and secondly, the proportion of female representation on the boards of companies. This, you can still work on, and other countries have been doing it so Singapore should not be too far behind.

As for politics, I think it is a very different kind of a dedication of your life to public interest. But if you say that are there other burning issues…yes, women want their husbands to be more forthcoming in helping them to share the burden of making a home, being a father to the children and so on. But do you think the Government can do anything about that?

Bharati: The Government can encourage it by mandating even more paternity leave, and so on.

Wong: We have done that, and of course you can keep on expanding that, but somewhere you’ll hit the bottom-line of companies, and you’ll also have to pay attention to where the jobs are coming from.

Bharati: You mentioned the burning issues that affect women’s status today – there are not many and it could be that’s why women don’t feel the need to join politics in order to effect change. Ultimately though, women shouldn’t enter politics just to talk about women’s issues, or feel like that’s all they are good for and if there are no such issues, they don’t need to participate. Wouldn’t you say that any policy would benefit from a woman’s perspective?

Wong: You’ll have to think very hard. If you speak from your professional knowledge, your expertise from your knowledge of global issues, your knowledge of your particular competencies. So if you say women are different from men not only biologically, but maybe attitude-wise, women are much more for peace, much more for cooperation, more caring for social relations.

Bharati: That’s gender stereotyping too though. If we talk about the importance of female political representation, shouldn’t it be considered that certain Government policies may affect women differently from how they would affect men, and perhaps because of that, women need to be represented at that level?

Wong: Yes, there is some truth to that. But if you talk about competencies, I think there are universal standards.

Bharati: To have a say in policies across the spectrum – why don’t women feel the need to do this, to the extent of entering politics? I’ve heard you say before that you feel women in Singapore take women’s rights for granted. Could this be the reason?

Wong: I do think that our younger women who enjoy so many opportunities, so much support for what they want to do in education, in their careers, in their lives, have forgotten that all these rights and opportunities were hard-won by the women who were before them. Even in terms of the parliamentary process, it was more than 20 years before those anomalies in gender inequality were finally abolished.

There are still some issues to be addressed, and I hope the young women will take them up as their responsibility. But I also think that having obtained all those rights that they now enjoy, the question is: Do they feel responsible for handing them over to the next generation of women? How are they going to preserve those rights and make the world even better for the next generation to come? My fervent hope is that they would take a look at what has been accomplished and what lies ahead, and also bring up the next generation to be as brilliant, as accomplishing as they themselves are.


Bharati: Let’s move on to other aspects of your political career. Tell me about a time when the sort of decisions you had to make as Minister of State, or an MP, collided with your conscience?

Wong: Politics is actually a practical science. You really have to be practical. You may have your ideas, your ideals, and this may clash sometimes with what is going on, but then you have to realise that perhaps the time hasn’t come for your ideas. I’ll be very frank. I can think of one area that I felt quite uncomfortable with, when I was in the Ministry of Health, as a Minister of State. I think in those days, the Government, as a matter of economic growth policy, wanted to develop Singapore into the medical hub of the region. Because of our medical expertise and excellent facilities, we could service foreign patients from around this area – Indonesians, Thais, South Asians and even farther afield. And I felt uncomfortable, because I thought it might be putting the wrong emphasis on the issue of excellence in our medical services. I thought the focus really should be our citizens first, and foreigners later.

You could see a period during which restructured hospitals devoted quite a bit of resources to expanding this kind of service for foreign patients. But now they have much toned down, turned back, and I think the Government has emphasised and rightly so, that medical excellence is really to be for our own people first. For everything else, it should be in the private sector coming in and that would be a bonus to the Singapore economy. Was it against my conscience? Well, it was somewhat against my principles at the time that I agreed to certain policies and to implement them. But I also knew there was a time for everything.

Bharati: How did you justify it to yourself at that point though?

Wong: You get frustrated, but you just realise that well, if this is the choice that is to be made, then we will see what happens. Hopefully, one day it will change.


Bharati: You held the Education portfolio for a period and now you are the Chancellor of UniSIM, so we should talk about education-related issues. A lot has been said about education in Singapore – PSLE, stress, our university graduates not being prepared enough for the new economy. What do you think needs urgent attention at this time?

Wong: Education is so much a concern of everybody. I don’t think it is really entirely within the Ministry of Education to change things. I think definitely the world is now so uncertain. Competition is so fierce and keen. We should not look at university education or an undergraduate degree as the be-all and end-all of the education process.

On the one hand I think, definitely we need to encourage life-long learning. And this thing goes beyond schools, beyond the university. Then secondly, I think we need society to look at education in a different manner. Previously we all hung our hopes on children’s educational attainment as a sure ticket to a life of stable jobs, a good standard of living. Then (you) don’t have to worry ever after.

But I think we all realise now this is not going to be the case anymore. Nobody can look forward to just one job. There could be several changes of careers in your lifetime. You cannot just depend on one set of skills that you acquired in school or acquired at the university. You’ve got to upgrade. You’ve got to change your skill set and learn new things all the time. Thirdly, it calls for a change in our definition of success in life. What is it? Is it happiness? Is it a sense of purpose? And last of all, should all these be equated with having an education with certification? It’s not that we should not value skills or qualifications, but we should look at different ways.

There are so many things that you can do in life. You do not need to just narrowly focus on certain professions. Go follow your passions. Go follow your talent. Go follow your opportunities. That’s the important thing to do. And if the definition of success is happiness in what you do, pursue your passions. It is possible. But how do you define happiness? Or do you really want a purpose in life? Then you can do what you enjoy and at the same time, help others and contribute to society. I think that you have to think.

Bharati: Would you say the important thing is that people are given choices and feel free to make them?

Wong: Not just individual choice. I think individuals can go a bit off tangent also. I think we value what a person can do as a member of society. It’s not just about what you want to do for yourself. Yes, you can have the choice. Yes, you can pursue this kind of life if you want, and you should not be discriminated against. But in the end you should ask yourself: Am I being useful to others?


Bharati: We talked about your involvement in women’s rights earlier. You have been known to be against quotas for women in politics. What about when it comes to race though? Recently, in light of a survey that showed most people in Singapore would be more accepting of a President of the same race as they are, has given rise to a debate about whether there needs to be a mechanism in place to ensure that a minority race President is elected from time to time.

Wong: Yes, all these studies still show some distance between people in terms of what kind of friends you make, whether you mind people who are of different races as colleagues, marrying people of a different race. So the racial distance studies have consistently showed it still exists, and I think it’s very difficult to completely eradicate. There are cultural differences that you have to accommodate when you enter into intimate relationships like marriage.

Bharati: That may be understandable, but when it comes to choosing political leaders, if the study is to be believed, isn’t it concerning that race would overpower merit?

Wong: In a society where it’s a meritocracy, the question of how people accept a person of a different race to be at the head of the government is really not just about race. It is a matter of politics and politics in a democracy is about numbers and majority. We have to consider how that plays into choices. And there’s a natural tendency for people of the same kind, same characteristics to group together. So the basics of representation have to be taken care of, but when it comes to race and the higher political offices, as Prime Minister Lee himself said before: “The time will come. When the time comes it comes.” So if you ask me if there will be a woman Prime Minister in Singapore, I would say when the time comes it will come. There’s a lot more mixed marriages now if you notice.

Bharati: Than before, certainly. Things might have improved, but we pride ourselves on being a multi-religious, multi-racial society, on being well-integrated and living in harmony. But is this just a superficial harmony that we’re talking about here? Shouldn’t more be done to deepen race relations so that race doesn’t overpower merit?

Wong: I wouldn’t belittle superficial harmony. In human interaction, how close are you to your neighbour? You may not be close, but you obviously want a harmonious relationship. You don’t want anymore than that perhaps. We are being civil. We want to be able to accommodate each other, so that we can live with each other.

Bharati: Is that good enough? Lots have been said by political leaders about this possibly fragile climate of tolerance being easily ruined.

Wong: Maybe good enough to some, but not good enough for others. Some people want to be more actively involved and try to make things better. They can work towards community bonding and so on so forth. Nothing to stop them.

Bharati: Your view seems to be that steps to improve should come from the community, or what will happen, will happen with time. But should the Government be doing more, or doing things differently in order to create a truly harmonious and accepting society. Not just one in which we tolerate each other? In Singapore, we have been known to create structures, and to create systems to ensure integration. For instance, the racial quotas in HDB estates.

Wong: In terms of racial integration, I was fully behind the quota system in HDB housing. I think that you must mix the various races. Otherwise they don’t get to mix. Even when they live next door to each other, the interaction is still, as you say, superficial, but harmonious. But then there’s nothing the Government can do to force it to be closer. But the policy was necessary. Otherwise, we may not even have what we have today.

Bharati: Some might say that if the racial quota system had worked, you wouldn’t need it anymore. People would be naturally and organically already interacting with each other and perhaps there wouldn’t even be the possibility of a rejection of minority races in positions of power.

Wong: I hear now that new immigrants are already coalescing into noticeable clusters. So should the Government enforce this more rigorously? Or should it relax it? I think it’s really a very different call. So does this work better towards racial harmony? I think not. But then the flip side of it is almost like segregation.

With regard to whether there would be a Prime Minister or President of a certain race in the future, or whether there should be more women MPs by setting up a quota system – that’s where I believe what will happen, will happen. Through interaction. Through evolution. I believe those things, we shouldn’t force.

Bharati: But some might say that the quotas or mechanisms would be designed merely to compensate for people’s racial or gender biases.

Wong: It will raise too many questions for the individual as well. I think there is also a question of whether you really want to do it. For example, when it comes to women, let me put it this way: Each person actually should enter Parliament in her own right, have her own contribution, and you do not need a special place, a special vacancy reserved for you to be able to play that role. You enter, you fight an election, and you do your job. But certain things we must do to prevent other things from happening, and that’s one of those things (the racial quotas in HDB estates) – encouraging and working to mould a community that binds together.

Bharati: What sort of legacy would you like to leave behind?

Wong: I have never really worked in order to leave a legacy. I have had a number of changes in my academic career even after stepping down from politics. I just hope that I will be looked at together with my former women parliamentary colleagues, as a trailblazer in terms of women who came forward to serve in the interest of the nation. I would be very happy and contented if people look at us as role models for the young women who aspire to contribute their talents, their abilities to a larger cause than themselves.

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Powerful quake hits Myanmar, damaging famed Bagan temples

YANGON: A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar on Wednesday (Aug 24), killing at least three people and damaging nearly 200 pagodas in the famous ancient capital of Bagan, officials said.

The quake, which the US Geological Survey said hit at a depth of 84 kilometres, was also felt across neighbouring Thailand, India and Bangladesh, sending panicked residents rushing onto the streets.

Two girls, aged 7 and 15, were killed in Magway region where the quake struck, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.

A collapsed building in a nearby town also killed a 22-year-old man and injured one woman, local police told AFP.

Heavy damage was also reported in Bagan – Myanmar’s most famous archaeological site and a major tourist destination 30 kilometres north of the quake’s epicentre.

Some 171 of the city’s more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments were damaged by the tremors, according to a statement posted by the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs on Facebook.

“Some were seriously damaged,” Aung Kyaw, the local director of Bagan’s culture department, told AFP.

Photos showed clouds of dust billowing around some of the site’s larger temples, with bricks crumbling down their tiered facades.

A police officer from Bagan said a Spanish holidaymaker was slightly hurt when the quake knocked her from the temple where she was watching the sunset.

Scaling Bagan’s ancient structures to watch the sun set over the vast plain of pagodas is a daily ritual among tourists and local pilgrims.

The temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, are revered in the Buddhist-majority country and a top draw for its growing tourism industry.

Myanmar, which has opened its doors to a rising tide of visitors since emerging from junta rule in 2011, is eager to see the ancient capital designated a UNESCO world heritage site.


Soe Win, a local politician from Chauk – the riverside town closest to the epicentre – said the tremors were the worst he had experienced in years.

“More than eight pagodas in town collapsed,” the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to Chauk. “Two buildings collapsed as well, while some others were cracked. People in town are still scared.”

Damage was also reported in the capital Naypyidaw some 200 kilometres away, with MP Thiri Yadanar posting photos on Facebook of cracked glass windows inside a parliament building.

The earthquake caused high-rise buildings in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon to sway, as well as those in the Thai capital Bangkok and the Indian city of Kolkata.

“Services of the underground railway have been suspended fearing aftershocks of the quake,” Kolkata Metro Railway spokesman Indrani Banerjee told AFP.

The quake was also felt throughout south and southwestern Bangladesh close to the border with Myanmar, with residents running outside.

At least 20 people were injured as workers tried to flee a building in the Savar industrial district outside Dhaka, ATN Bangla television reported.

“All of us ran to the streets leaving the houses and shops unsecured as the quake seemed very dangerous,” Nazmus Sakib, from the southern city of Chittagong near the Myanmar border, wrote on his Facebook wall.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar, although the country has not suffered a major one since 2012. That powerful tremor – also of 6.8 magnitude – struck the centre of the country, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds.

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Upsized, stylish and going niche: Co-working spaces bloom in Singapore

Co-working spaces in Singapore have evolved over the years, with a new wave of shared offices going posh or targeting niche groups. Channel NewsAsia speaks to five industry players to find out how they are coping with the segment’s rapid growth.

SINGAPORE: With its lavish interior designs and custom-made furnishings – including Italian hand-dyed rugs and handmade lamps sourced from New Zealand – The Great Room could be mistaken for the lobby of a brand new boutique hotel, instead of a co-working space.

And that is what the founders set out to achieve.

“This luxurious design concept came from observing how people like to meet in hotel lobbies. There’s a certain energy about hotel lobbies, almost like a sense of something purposeful or exciting is going to happen, and we want to replicate that,” chief executive officer Jaelle Ang, an ex-hotelier with training as an architect and artist, told Channel NewsAsia.

Officially launched two months ago, the 15,000-square-foot space, which overhauls the typical industrial chic image associated with most co-working spaces, is perhaps a reflection of how shared offices in Singapore have evolved since the sector’s first entrant Hackerspace.SG nearly seven years ago.

Then, the concept of having multiple companies or individuals sharing the same working environment was innovative and untested, but there are about 30 co-working spaces around the city-state now, with nearly one-fifth located in the Central Business District (CBD), according to figures released by property services and investment group JLL in July.

Experts say a host of supportive factors have facilitated the mushrooming of such facilities, including a thriving start-up scene in Singapore, as well as willingness from developers and landlords to partner co-working operators amid a softening commercial property market.


At The Great Room, which takes up the entire 10th level at One George Street, members can pick and choose their workspace from a variety of options including hot desks and private offices.

But eye-catching hardware isn’t the only factor that founders of The Great Room are banking on.

“Design can always be copied so we cannot rely on that. Our intent is to be a hospitality-inspired workspace,” said chief financial officer Yian Huang, adding that the team organises frequent business and social events such as its “Lunch & Learn” sessions which dish out advice on help available from government agencies, and curates its members to ensure a well-fitted community.

Hotdesking workspaces at The Great Room’s Conservatory. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

Three-week-old Collision 8 is the other new kid on the block, which boasts of having top-of-the-line workspaces alongside paranomic views of Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. On top of that, the 8,600-square-feet space, housed within High Street Centre, also runs on a “private member” concept.

“We have a set of questions to assess members based on their desire to innovate and collaborate,” said co-founder Michelle Yong, who is also the fourth-generation leader of homegrown construction firm Woh Hup. “We want to see if our members have the mindset of wanting to do something different, and preferably in collaboration with others.”

Inspired largely by her own partnership with co-founder Mr John Tan who is a serial entrepreneur and partner at two micro venture capital funds, Ms Yong wants to replicate an environment where “like-minded people” from varying backgrounds can come together.

“I started looking at this segment because the residential market has been pretty subdued and I was in search of new growth opportunities. I thought about targeting the healthcare professionals, given how crowded the co-working space is, but John suggested bringing together his investor community and my traditional corporate connections,” Ms Yong said. “So we believe in being an expert in one area while trying to find experts in other areas to piece together the best value chain.”

(Top) Members of Collision 8 seen hanging out at the bar. (Below) Dedicated workspaces overlooking Boat Quay. (Photos: Tang See Kit)

Meanwhile, Trehaus, which opened in February, is Singapore’s first shared office with child-minding facilities. The concept of the space, which houses workspaces such as hotdesks, dedicated desks, private offices and meeting rooms, as well as a children’s play area manned by trained facilitators, stemmed from co-founder Rachel Teo’s own frustrations from juggling the responsibilities of a working mother.

Thus far, the space has resonated well with parents, which account for 70 per cent of Trehaus’ members. During Channel NewsAsia’s last visit, the co-working area within the 3,800-square-feet space was more than half-filled while two childminders tended to three children at the play area.

“Certainly, we are not hipsters and neither do we have the cool vibes of Block 71 (the start-up space at Ayer Rajah Crescent), so we can’t and aren’t appealing to people looking for that. Our target group remains parents,” Ms Teo said. “We are also smaller but compared to other bigger spaces, we have a warm, homely feeling of a ‘modern village’.”

Industry experts say this growing trend of co-working spaces being centered on exclusivity and catering to niche groups comes on the back of an uptick in competition.

“These new operators can be considered as ‘start-ups’ themselves and unlike global co-working and serviced office brands such as WeWork and Just Office, these new co-working spaces would have to carve out a niche and differentiate themselves in order to capture a certain market share from the major players,” said Cushman & Wakefield’s research director Christine Li.

Nonetheless, there are other players who believe in diversity. JustGroup’s founder and chief executive Kong Wan Sing, which owns two sprawling co-working spaces along Robinson Road and Raffles Quay, believes that meaningful collaboration hinges on numbers.

“I feel that collaboration will only be achieved when you have a big pool of members,” said Mr Kong, who added that members at JustCo hail from a wide range of industries such as public relations, fashion and hospitality. Apart from start-ups, bigger corporates including teams from Japanese messaging app LINE and American file-sharing site Dropbox also work out of Just Co’s shared offices.

“In fact, we are planning to become even bigger next year, with two new spaces spanning 100,000 square feet ready over the next six months,” added Mr Kong.

JustCo’s co-working space along Robinson Road spans across 35,000 square feet and occupies five levels. (Photo: Tang See Kit)


And that optimism and willingness for further expansion, be it locally or overseas, is a common tune echoed by co-working space operators that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

One reason is the lingering glut of office space in the CBD area, which has given co-working spaces more options to choose from and better negotiating power for leases with landlords, players said.

For Collision 8 which has plans for a café and additional space in the works, the co-working space still “has a long way to go before being saturated” despite rapid growth over the past years, Ms Yong said.

Ms Grace Sai, who spearheaded one of the city-state’s pioneer co-working spaces The Hub Singapore, agreed, noting that “cannibalisation within the industry” has not occurred just yet.

“It’s still early days to say (saturation). I think we will continue to take customers away from traditional office space, rather than from each other, so the cannibalisation within the industry isn’t happening yet,” said Ms Sai, who opened her second co-working facility at Cuppage Terrace earlier this month.

However, that is not to say that players, particularly the newer and smaller ones, will continue to enjoy an easy journey. “New entrants will either have to be more cost-competitive or more relevant to the target market they want to serve. Smaller players also will find it challenging because they may not enjoy the economies of scale in the market so there are a couple of us who are predicting a consolidation in the industry within the 18 to 24 months.”

Similarly for softening rents which have played well to the cards of co-working spaces, the gradual absorption of office supply may see rents recovering in the longer run, Cushman & Wakefield’s Ms Li said.

Occupying a row of 10 heritage shophouses, The Hub Singapore’s second facility at Cuppage Terrace aims to provide more professional facilities for later-stage start-ups. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

As such, some players like The Hub Singapore are rolling out future plans to offer more than just physical space.

“We have just closed our own venture fund to invest in great ideas and entrepreneurs out of our community. We have also signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) with 10 of the venture funds in the region like Golden Gate Ventures, so that they can have access to the deal flow from our community,” Ms Sai said.


As the segment continues to evolve, industry watchers say users of co-working spaces will be on the winning end as they benefit from the wider range of concepts and product offerings over time, said industry watchers.

For Ms Bibiana Neo who is working out of Trehaus at the moment, the family-friendly co-working space is a dream come true. “I wasn’t able to get any infant care or childcare services previously as the ones that I was looking for were all fully taken. If this didn’t come along, I would probably have to travel to an infant care that’s a distance away,” said Ms Neo, who is a business solutions account executive at local firm Xintesys.

“Now, as and when I finish work, I can walk over to the Atelier to feed (my daughter) or spend time with her. I think I’m really blessed that my employers allowed me to work out of the office.”

Members of Trehaus have the option of dropping their kids off at the Atelier, which offers child-minding services, as well as various lessons and programmes. (Photo: Trehaus)

Businesses also have the option to pick and choose co-working spaces according to their needs.

For travel and social networking app Roammate, the availability of mentors under The Hub Singapore’s “coaching and mentoring” program was a key attraction.

“When we moved over to Singapore, we left behind all our networking connections so we opted for one of the memberships that gave us access to very frequent and accessible time with mentors across a lot of different types of industries, and it has proven to be a good place for us to start and build up our community again,” co-founder Hannah Ryan told Channel NewsAsia.

And it’s not just tech-related start-ups that have tapped into the benefits of co-working spaces. Public relations firm The Umami Collective, for instance, chose to work out of JustCo so as to have a business community at its door step.

Co-founder Suzy Goulding said: “When you are a small business, it’s good to have other entrepreneurial businesses around you to share ideas and collaborate on projects, and there’s always so many things to learn from so it’s always good to have a business community at your doorstep.”

Follow See Kit on Twitter @SeeKitCNA

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New conditions for foreign workers' factory-converted dormitories

SINGAPORE: Staring next year, all operators of factory-converted dormitories (FCDs) will have to meet four new conditions when seeking approval to use their industrial premises to house foreign workers, announced the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

In a press release on Wednesday (Aug 24), MOM said the new rules follow consultations with industry stakeholders and calls earlier this month to operators to raise housing standards. These will take effect from Jan 1, 2017.

“FCD operators, like other dormitory operators, have a legal obligation to ensure that they provide some 80,000 or so foreign workers with a safe and secure living environment,” said MOM.

The four new conditions imposed will add on to the existing ones. They are:

  • The provision of a feedback channel for workers to report issues related to the housing conditions of the FCD;
  • The provision of a personal locker for each worker;
  • The provision of at least one sick bay in the FCD. Alternatively, the operator can develop a contingency plan to deal with cases of infectious diseases;
  • And the provision of Wi-Fi within the FCD.

Documentary proof will be need to show all conditions have been met, said MOM. FCD operators will also need to adhere to these conditions at all times during their operation.

MOM said it will conduct regular inspections and take enforcement action against operators who fail to meet the conditions.

Speaking at a seminar covering good and bad practices observed during MOM’s inspections at FCDs over the past year, Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck said of the additional conditions: “It’s not to try to add cost to the operators, but it’s really for the long-term benefit for the operators as well, because if you take care of the well-being of these workers, they will work harder, they will be happier, and they wouldn’t have medical problems or any social issues. That’s exactly what we’re looking for on a long-term basis.”

At the seminar, Mr Teo – who oversees foreign manpower management matters – also announced that MOM is planning to introduce a dormitory awards initiative to commend exemplary FCDs and purpose-built dormitories. More details on the award will be revealed in due course, said MOM.

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China investigates Tianjin vice mayor for corruption

BEIJING: China is investigating the vice mayor of the city of Tianjin, the anti-graft watchdog agency said on Monday (Aug 22), the latest senior official to be implicated in a crackdown on corruption.

Yin Hailin, 56, a long-time city planning official who became deputy mayor in 2012, is being investigated for “serious violations of discipline”, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement on its website.

It did not elaborate.

President Xi Jinping has made rooting out corruption a cornerstone of his administration. He has warned that the problem was so severe it threatened the survival of the ruling Communist Party.

The party’s anti-graft body has brought to book dozens of senior officials in the crackdown, including many of Xi’s top political opponents.

Several other Tianjin officials have been taken down in the campaign, including Wu Changshun, a former public security boss there.

Yang Dongliang, the former work safety agency chief who was a vice mayor in Tianjin before Yin, was investigated for corruption days after big explosions at a chemicals warehouse in the northern port city killed about 170 people in August 2015.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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