Wednesday, 29 June 2016

South China Sea arbitration abuses international law, threatens world order

A seminar on the South China Sea Arbitration and International Rule of Law was held on Sunday in the Hague, the location of the Permanent Court of Arbitration's arbitral tribunal. At the seminar hosted by both Chinese and Dutch academic institutions, experts from various countries warned that the unilateral filing of the South China Sea arbitration case by the Aquino administration of the Philippines and the arbitral tribunal’s overreach and abuse of power is a desecration of the spirit of the rule of law and pose a threat to current international order.

Exclusive interview: Limitation of UNCLOS Dispute Settlement System

A legal expert at the University of Oxford has published a paper on resolving disputes in the South China Sea. It relates to the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines against China.

With this move, the Philippines is just adorning itself with borrowed plumes. First of all, estoppel is a basic principle of international law. As is known to all, China and ASEAN countries, including the Philippines, signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, in which all sides agreed to settle disputes over the South China Sea through friendly negotiation and consultation by parties directly concerned.

Experts call for reasonable and effective dialogue on China South Sea issue

A group of experts on international law have called the arbitration that was unilaterally filed by the Philippines against China over the South China Sea "questionable".

In 2011, the Philippines and China issued a joint statement, reiterating their respect and observation of the DOC. However, just two years later, the Aquino administration unilaterally submitted the South China Sea case for arbitration in spite of its previous commitments.

Secondly, the Philippines ignores basic historical facts by presumptuously claiming that the Chinese people never lived or conducted activities in the South China Sea region, thus bearing no sovereignty over the islands in the region.

Cambodia criticizes arbitration filed by Philippines

Cambodia's ruling party has spoken out against the arbitration court's upcoming decision over the South China Sea issue.

Yet no one can deny the historical fact that those islands have been part of China’s territory since ancient times. Successive Chinese governments have continued to govern the islands through multiple approaches including setting administrative divisions, military patrols and conducting salvages at sea.

Respecting historical fact is an important principle of international law. Through its lack of respect for the facts, the South China Sea case violates this principle.

Chinese Foreign Ministry condemns Japan

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has condemned Japan's remarks over the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally launched by the Philippines. He urged for Japan to stop making such irresponsible remarks.

Moreover, the Philippines’ interpretation of the legal status of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea is not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) and other international laws.

South China Sea FAQ ep12: Why does Beijing reject Manila's arbitration case?

The requests raised by the Philippines in the arbitration case are, in essence, about territorial sovereignty and maritime demarcation.

The Southeast Asian nation claims that the Huangyan Island and the Nansha islands cannot be considered islands as such no one can establish exclusive economic zones or claim the continental shelves there. Such an argument flies in the face of objective reality.

  • South China Sea FAQ ep13: China's solution for resolving the disputes

  • South China Sea FAQ ep13: China's solution for resolving the disputes. As tensions in the South China Sea region continue, China continues to insist on a dual-track approach to resolve disputes. This is governed by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea made in 2002 between China...

The Philippines deliberately misrepresented factual information about the islands and reefs in the South China Sea during the trial and carelessly negated the integrity of the Nansha islands as well as the island status of Taiping Island and other large islands in area. However, its claims are not only inconsistent with reality, but also incompatible with UNCLOS and other international laws.

The legal representatives of the Philippines also withheld necessary information concerning other islands in the South China Sea (not included in its arbitration request) on purpose, and refused to present them to the court. It is safe to say that the Philippines’ argument concerning the South China Sea islands and reefs lacks basic credibility.

Taking this into consideration, the arbitral tribunal has clearly violated UNCLOS, abused the UNCLOS settlement procedure and exceeded its jurisdiction by accepting the unilateral request of the Philippines and even trying to deliver a verdict on the South China Sea issue. Its self-proclaimed “jurisprudence” and “normative power” demonstrate great irony.

The core of the South China Sea issue between China and the Philippines are territorial and maritime delimitation disputes. Territorial issues do not fall within the scope of UNCLOS authority. Additionally, as early as 2006, China has excluded compulsory settlement procedures from maritime delimitation disputes in accordance with Article 298 of UNCLOS.

As a temporary institution founded on UNCLOS, the tribunal has zero jurisdiction over this case. Arbitration and other international judicial methods to resolve disputes means resorting to third-party settlement. However, this option has already been excluded by internationally binding bilateral agreements between China and the Philippines.

The tribunal chose to ignore these binding documents and breached the premises, exclusions and exceptions for compulsory settlement procedure stipulated in UNCLOS to establish jurisdiction on its own.

The tribunal’s blatant disregard for the agreement China and the Philippines made concerning settling disputes has irresponsibly broken the consensus reached between the two states and has seriously violated China’s right as a sovereign state and UNCLOS signatory to choose its own dispute settlement method.

What’s more, by repeatedly referencing UNCLOS and extending the convention’s coverage to all maritime issues, the tribunal has in fact turned a blind eye to conventional international law.

Any practitioner of international law is aware that articles in UNCLOS are a summary of the historical maritime practices and common will of all countries. UNCLOS shows nothing but respect to conventional international law. However, the tribunal today has discredited all previous practices, contradicting the basic purpose and spirit of UNCLOS.

International law has played a significant role in maintaining a relatively stable international order after World War II. In the decades after the war, hundreds of international treaties were drafted to regulate the conduct of states and people’s lives.

From the planet where we live to outer space, from security to arms control, from economic development to environmental protection, from human rights to judicial cooperation and other areas, these international laws are ubiquitous. The diplomatic actions of every county call for international law. In other words, it is a commonly recognized standard for the international community. The world would fall into chaos without it, and the law of the jungle would once again dominate.

Therefore, the abuse of international law by the Philippines and the tribunal has undermined the authority of the law, which will in turn greatly impact the stability of international order.

It is worth mentioning that the US, a country outside the region, has been eager to play a hand in the issue. Those who are familiar with the “America-style” of dealing with international affairs know that “safeguarding the integrity of international law” is a catchphrase for the country when it comes to international dealings.

However, as a country that attaches such importance to the protection of international law, why has the US supported the illegal acts of the Philippines and the tribunal? The answer is simple: The US only protects those international laws that benefit itself. In the eyes of the US, any illegal act can be considered “an act that protects international law” so long as it benefits its own strategic interests.

A scholar at the seminar pointed out that what the Philippines has done to China today could happen to other countries in the future. If the tribunal comes to a conclusion that does not conform to the facts and the law, then the same twisted logic could be misapplied to other countries with territorial disputes.

Such apprehension is not without merit. If the irresponsible actions of the Philippines, the US and the arbitral tribunal are not faced head on, they will severely affect the authority of international law. From this perspective, China's fight against the abuse of international law is not only the country safeguarding its territorial sovereignty, but also a contribution to lasting peace and stability in the world. - People daily


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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Young adults in developed countries rent, we buy for good

While young adults all over the world are renting homes, Malaysias prefer to own homes as soon as they get their first pay cheque.

Instead of blowing their cash on pricey gadgets, young Malaysians are saving up for their first home.


While most Gen Y shy away from owning property in developed countries and big cities, demand from millennials here is still holding, especially with parents assisting them with the downpayment, Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia (Rehda) president Datuk Seri F.D. Iskandar said.

(Gen Y, also known as millennials, are commonly referred to those who are born in the early 1980s to 2000s. They are sometimes referred to as the strawberry generation).

Demand from first-time buyers, including the younger generation, remains strong although housing affordability is a challenge, said Bank Negara.

The central bank added that they accounted for 75% of 1.47 million borrowers.

Owning and investing in a house remains a priority for many Malaysians.

This is reflected in the household borrowing trend where the buying of homes continues to be the fastest growing segment of household lending, with annual growth sustained at double-digit levels (11% as at end-March 2016), said Bank Negara in a statement.

Those who cannot afford it themselves, and do not have parents to help, turn to their friends.

In his 30s, Daryl Toh, and two of his college mates own a condominium in Penang; they pooled their resources to purchase the unit five years ago.

“It’s in a premium area and since we couldn’t afford a place on our own – at least not prime property, we became joint owners.”

Financial adviser Yap Ming Hui said it makes perfect sense to own.

“Of course the Gen Y here are still keen on buying. You pay the instalments and eventually own a home. Only those who can’t afford to buy are forced to rent.”

Association of Valuers, Property Managers, Estate Agents and Property Consultants in the Private Sector of Malaysia adviser Wong Kok Soo said property prices in Hong Kong have escalated beyond the purchasing power of the Gen Y but the trend hasn’t caught on here – yet.

Wong, who is also a consultant with the National House Buyers Association, however, said there were signs that the Gen Y could no longer afford to live in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang Island, Johor Baru and Sabah.

“Parents are chipping in for the downpayment. And, commuting from the suburbs to the city centre is still an option.

“But when prices get inflated far beyond their means, the same will happen here (as in Hong Kong),” said Wong, who, however, felt that even if demand dropped, it would not be substantial.

Iskandar agreed, saying that although the property market was slow now, the drop was manageable. “Like everything else, it’s cyclical. “The property market goes up for years and after some time, begins falling before rising again.”

He said the market would pick up with the completion of infrastructure development and public transportation facilities.

Rehda, he said, was working closely with the Government to find ways to facilitate home acquisition especially among first-time buyers.

“We proposed a review of the financing guidelines that have negatively impacted buyers’ ability to secure financing,” he said. - The Star/Asia News Network

Demand from first-time buyers still strong despite affordability challenge


PETALING JAYA: Instead of blowing their cash on pricey gadgets, young Malaysians are saving up for their first home.

While most Gen Y shy away from owning property in developed countries and big cities, demand from millennials here is still holding, especially with parents assisting them with the downpayment, Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia (Rehda) president Datuk Seri F.D. Iskandar said.

(Gen Y, also known as millennials, are commonly referred to those who are born in the early 1980s to 2000s. They are sometimes referred to as the strawberry generation).

Demand from first-time buyers, including the younger generation, remains strong although housing affordability is a challenge, said Bank Negara.

The central bank added that they accounted for 75% of 1.47 million borrowers.

Owning and investing in a house remains a priority for many Malay­sians.

This is reflected in the household borrowing trend where the buying of homes continues to be the fastest growing segment of household lending, with annual growth sustained at double-digit levels (11% as at end-March 2016), said Bank Negara in a statement.

Those who cannot afford it themselves, and do not have parents to help, turn to their friends.

In his 30s, Daryl Toh, and two of his college mates own a condominium in Penang; they pooled their resources to purchase the unit five years ago.

“It’s in a premium area and since we couldn’t afford a place on our own – at least not prime property, we became joint owners.”

Financial adviser Yap Ming Hui said it makes perfect sense to own.

“Of course the Gen Y here are still keen on buying. You pay the instalments and eventually own a home. Only those who can’t afford to buy are forced to rent.”

Association of Valuers, Property Managers, Estate Agents and Property Consultants in the Private Sector of Malaysia adviser Wong Kok Soo said property prices in Hong Kong have escalated beyond the purchasing power of the Gen Y but the trend hasn’t caught on here – yet.

Wong, who is also a consultant with the National House Buyers Association, however, said there were signs that the Gen Y could no longer afford to live in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang Island, Johor Baru and Sabah.

“Parents are chipping in for the downpayment. And, commuting from the suburbs to the city centre is still an option.

“But when prices get inflated far beyond their means, the same will happen here (as in Hong Kong),” said Wong, who, however, felt that even if demand dropped, it would not be substantial.

Iskandar agreed, saying that although the property market was slow now, the drop was manageable.

“Like everything else, it’s cyclical.

“The property market goes up for years and after some time, begins falling before rising again.”

He said the market would pick up with the completion of infrastructure development and public tran­sportation facilities.

Rehda, he said, was working closely with the Government to find ways to facilitate home acquisition especially among first-time buyers.

“We proposed a review of the financing guidelines that have negatively impacted buyers’ ability to secure financing,” he said. - By Christina Chin The Star

A pricey priority



Wary of big, life-changing purchases, the ‘Strawberry Generation’ – those ‘easily bruised’, coddled young people in their 30s – prefers to rent, global reports say. Malaysians, however, are bucking the trend despite steep property prices. Mainly thanks to supportive parents, it seems.

BEST friends Leh Mon Soo, 38, and Brandy Yu, 39, are finally buying their first home.

After months of serious scouting, the two managers found units that matched their budget and needs, coincidentally, in the same condominium in Petaling Jaya. Leh is getting a three-bedroom unit while Yu is happy with a 48sqm studio apartment.

Yu feels that the RM365,000 she’s paying is affordable as she can still save about RM1,700 monthly after paying the loan instalment.

“I’m only paying RM400 more a month than what I’ve been forking out for rent. And unlike the rental, this unit will be mine one day,” she says.

Leh ended up forking out a whopping RM690,000 even though she dreads the long-term commitment. While “not a bargain, and at the upper limit of what I can afford”, she says that it’s still a pretty good price, as other, smaller, units were going for higher prices.

“I was only willing to pay RM500,000 initially. Then I saw a two-bedroom in the same condominium going for RM680,000. So I bit the bullet and got this. Property prices won’t be dropping any time soon and our ringgit’s shrinking. It’s now or never. I’ll have to cough up even more later if I don’t get a place now,” she says pragmatically.

The soon-to-be neighbours think property is still in demand, even among Gen Y-ers, aka Millennials (those born in the 1980s and 1990s, typically perceived as brought up and very familiar with digital and electronic technology).

But they’re more privileged because their parents have either already invested in property for them or are helping them buy it, Leh offers. Renting is not for the long-term, she says firmly, and even the younger ones know that.

The Malaysian mindset, Yu quips, is that everyone must own at least one property.

Gym owner Chip Ang, 26, agrees. He got the keys to his new 78sqm unit in Shah Alam last week.

Although it was his parents who suggested he get the RM168,000 place under the Selangor Government’s affordable housing scheme, Ang says property ownership is always a hot topic between him and his friends. Young professionals want to own property. The issue is affordability, he thinks.

“Many are unrealistic. They want their ideal home in the ideal place. Of course that’s unaffordable. Most affordable homes are in up and coming townships, not prime locations.”

The experience of getting his own place was a “blur” because it happened so fast, he says, though he does recall that, “because it’s affordable housing, I had to fulfil a number of requirements including proving that I’m a bachelor”. While the RM700 monthly mortgage payment is doable, he’s still nervous about being “tied down”.

Writer Teddy Gomez, 29, doesn’t think people have given up on owning property but sees a new trend emerging.

“Buying property is still big here but I see more renters because it’s cheaper and more flexible,” says Gomez, who got “a little help” from his dad buying a 83sqm apartment in Kuala Lumpur last year. Although the cosy RM400,000 unit is “not really affordable”, he says it’s time to leave the nest.

Like Gomez, a blogger who only wants to be known as Robyn, 24, thinks it’s nice to have your own space. She’s moving into an apartment in Petaling Jaya soon. The fresh graduate admits being lucky because her dad’s the owner. She’s getting the three-room unit for less than RM140,000 although it’s valued at over RM750,000.

“For the next three years, I’ll pay the RM3,800 monthly loan instalments. Now, I’m only contributing RM2,000 because I just started working. Dad’s helping until I can afford to take on the full amount myself.”

She knows she’s better off than most her age and is thankful for her family’s support – many of her friends are also looking for properties to buy but are resigned to living outside the city in places like Bangi and Kajang in Selangor. Still, with a RM200,000 budget, they’re willing to travel and own property rather than pay rent indefinitely.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj says it’s unfair to tell consumers to live on the outskirts of city centres because public transportation is still a problem in the Klang Valley. Unless the homes are accessible, living far away from the workplace isn’t practical.

National House Buyers Association (HBA) honorary secretary-general Chang Kim Loong sees a very strong demand for affordable properties in Malaysia because of our young population and urban migration.


For instance, the Government’s First House Deposit Financing (MyDeposit) scheme that was launched on April 6 received more than 6,000 online registrations within a week, a sure sign that Malaysians are still keen on owning property.

Fomca’s Selvaraj says property is a priority for most Malaysians because it’s a sound investment. They just can’t afford it in most urban areas.

“If you’re living on bread and water after paying your loan, then the house is unaffordable. For most young families, RM300,000-plus is affordable but it’s RM600,000 homes that are being built.”

Property is the best hedge against inflation so demand will always be strong, says HBA’s Chang. But there’s a “serious mismatch” between what’s classified as affordable by developers and the rakyat’s definition. To developers, an affordable property for first-time buyers is RM500,000. For upgraders, it’s up to RM1mil. Definitions on the ground are much lower. First-time buyers deem RM150,000 to RM300,000 affordable while those looking to upgrade can only pay between RM300,000 and RM600,000.

But if you can afford it – with family help, perhaps – M. Rajendran, 53, says invest early. The air traffic controller got his double-storey home in Kajang 21, Selangor, years ago for RM146,000. It’s worth at least RM600,000 now.

“If I hadn’t bought it then, I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford it now with the financial commitments I have. And at my age, no bank is going to give me a loan. Buy when you’re young because it’s cheaper and you can settle your loan faster.”

However, he warns that current economic challenges could result in a rise in the number of abandoned projects, so those looking at new properties should be cautious and do their homework.

“Scout around. Choose locations with infrastructure and amenities so that the potential for property prices to appreciate is higher.” - By Christina Chin The Star

Don’t bank on the banks


RELAXING lending conditions won’t help more people buy their own homes. It will only worsen the situation as developers increase prices further to match the lending surge, predicts Chang Kim Loong, honorary secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association (HBA).

Datuk Paul Selvaraj also doesn’t think it’s a good idea. The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association secretary-general says home ownership is a right, and it’s the Government’s responsibility to make it a reality. The Government, he stresses, must either build more affordable housing or force developers to cater to the neglected market. It’s wrong to force banks to take bigger lending risks by calling on them to relax lending conditions, he feels.

“Banks will only lend money if they can get it back. It’s unfair to expect them to do otherwise. Also, if the borrowers cannot pay, they themselves will end up with a big headache.”

Banks are rightly stringent as times are uncertain, says Wong Kok Soo, an adviser to the Association of Valuers, Property Managers, Estate Agents and Property Consultants in the Private Sector of Malaysia and consultant to the HBA.

Lenient policies encourage purchases that are beyond one’s means and are not a good idea; instead, the margin of financing should be increased or the loan tenure extended, for first home buyers. For existing loans, there should be some flexibility in extending tenures and adjusting debt servicing ratio, he feels.

Last year, housing in Kelantan, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak and Selangor, as well as Kuala Lumpur, were listed as severely unaffordable by market experts. Nationwide, only Malacca made the affordable category with housing in the other states deemed either seriously or moderately unaffordable.

Bank Negara’s “Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2015” showed an increasing supply of homes above RM500,000 while those priced below RM250,000 accounted for less than 30% of the total launches in the first nine months of last year.

Deputy Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique has since called on developers to build more houses priced at RM300,000 for Malaysians.

The next generation won’t be able to own property without financial help from their parents unless concrete measures are taken to increase the supply of properties costing between RM150,000 and RM300,000 and to stem the steep rise in existing property prices due to excessive speculation, says HBA’s Chang.

A Khazanah Research Institute report reveals that Malaysia’s housing market is considered to be “seriously unaffordable”, with a median house price of more than four times the median annual household income. This problem, Chang notes, surfaced a little under a decade ago but if prices continue to soar, the situation could worsen.

Not that there aren’t affordable schemes and funding plans in place to help – in the last 50 years, scores have been introduced but information on them is scarce, he observes. Details of projects by developers, state agencies and federal bodies must be available in a public database, he suggests. And a single umbrella body under the Federal Government must coordinate the distribution and availability of such units.

Chang stresses also that there’s no place for racial profiling when it comes to housing. Whoever deserves a house must get a house, he insists.

There’s never a wrong time to buy property but one must balance the risk of buying with renting, he advices. Owning a house is riskier as buyers take on enormous debts, sign multi-year loan agreements and become responsible for homeowner costs, he cautions.

“Flip through the newspapers – you’ll see many proclamations of sales of units for public auction that are below RM50,000. Some even dip below RM10,000. On bank websites, you’ll find property foreclosure cases.”

A list of properties put up for auction by CIMB bank showed 35 units in Selangor at reserved prices of less than RM42,000 – that’s the price of a new low-cost unit, notes Chang.

Low-cost units auctioned off for half of the purchase price is an alarming trend, he says. Unfortunately, there aren’t any official statistics on how many low income earners have lost their homes or are struggling with their monthly loan commitment. Where do these homeowners and their families end up living, Chang wonders.

Foreclosures can devastate a family’s economic and social standing, possibly leaving them poorer than before they bought the property. Financiers, local authorities and communities benefit from homeowners being better informed of their rights and responsibilities as borrowers. Ensuring that lower income households have sufficient personal financial management skills and support is crucial.

It’s not enough just to provide homes for the low- and medium-income group. Chang recommends that a homeownership education programme be set up to raise financial literacy and prepare households for the responsibilities of owning a home.

“Manuals, advice or information given via telephone, workshops or counselling to help households maintain their homes and manage their finances must be given before first-time buyers sign the sale and purchase agreement. Public housing schemes are only successful if buyers can hold on to their property.”

Specifically, Chang says education should cover:

> Pre-purchase period – understanding the various types of available housing, the process of buying a house, loan process, and financial preparation needed; and evaluating household needs.

> Post-purchase period – budgeting monthly expenses; making payments promptly; avoiding loan defaults; living within a community; social responsibility; property taxes, assessments, insurance, service charges and sinking fund; home maintenance; and handling problems with the property.

Educate yourself and learn from the mistakes of others to avoid being disappointed or, worse, becoming “house poor” (when most of your income goes towards home ownership), Chang advises. Aspiring buyers must get something that’s within their budget. It could be an older or smaller unit but start small and slowly increase your property portfolio, he says.

“Don’t let friends or family influence you into getting something that’s above your budget, as home ownership is a long term investment. You must be able to service the loan while maintaining an acceptable standard of living.”

The majority may prefer to rent while waiting for the market to soften but it’s better to have your own shelter, says HBA consultant Wong.

The average Malaysian, he insists, can still own property. Consider buying at auctions. Research is a must, though, as inspections aren’t allowed at auctions. It’s an “as is, where is” bid, he stresses. Find out about the surrounding units and the neighbourhood, he suggests.

Better to own but...


PROPERTY investment helps maintain our socioeconomic well-being and must be encouraged, says Datuk Seri F.D. Iskandar, president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association Malaysia (Rehda).

Property – a wealth-creation instrument without the volatility of stock markets – has consistently out-performed traditional investment options like bonds, he points out.

But to invest, one must study the property and its market potential. With the right location and strategy, property can be a very profitable investment. The value will appreciate over time, he says.

To many, the most important aspect of owning property is to secure a home. In current conditions, most developers are coming up with attractive packages to close the deal, so it’s a good time to buy. Securing a bank loan now, though, is one of the biggest barriers, he says.

Rehda’s recommendations to the Government and Bank Negara are:

> Encourage innovative home financing packages like the developers interest bearing scheme (better known as DIBS).

> Allow flexible or accelerated tiered payments (longer loan tenure so you pay less now but more later when your salary has increased).

> Relax loan approval criteria with higher financing margins (up to 100%).

Also, banks, he says, shouldn’t just focus on a loan applicant’s current net income; future prospects of higher salaries and other incomes and bonuses must be taken into account.

He dismisses talk that the average Malaysian has been priced out of owning his or her first home.

There’s still a range of prices and options in both the primary and secondary property markets, he says.

With new launches, developers usually offer special incentives, rebates or discounts that will help buyers reduce their initial payment. In the secondary market, however, what you see is what you get. Depending on what you’re looking for, factors like location, surroundings, facilities, transportation and infrastructure will help you decide.

“Property prices in city centres are high because of land value but there are many cheaper options in less-urbanised areas. There are many affordable houses, including those by PR1MA (the 1Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme). The average Malaysian can definitely afford these.

“With an improving transportation system and connectivity, these places are now easily accessible from city centres.”

We are paid enough

Property price and value to Income per country in SEA 20014

WAGES are rising in tandem with the country’s consumer price index (CPI), which is a broad measure of inflation and our productivity.

Both criteria are used to determine wages here, says Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan, executive director of the Malaysian Employers Federation.

While Malaysians lament how their salaries aren’t enough to cope with soaring costs of products and services, their grouses aren’t reflected in the low CPI numbers, he says.

“Measured against the CPI, our average salary growth isn’t lagging. In the region, our salaries are second only to Singapore. Of course, you must consider the currency exchange. Singaporeans earn an average of S$3,000 (RM9,000) while Malaysians take home RM2,800 monthly.

“But bear in mind that the productivity of Singaporeans is 3.8 times higher than ours. Their per unit cost of production per employee is lower than us. In the United States, the productivity level is seven times higher than ours. So when you say we aren’t earning enough, you have to consider our productivity level too,” he states, pointing to how in some of our neighbouring countries, the average salary is less than US$100 (RM400).

However, he acknowledges that houses are beyond the reach of most – and fresh graduates in particular – and adds that even when both husband and wife work, they still may not have enough for the down payment and are forced to rent.

It’s tough, he admits, even for those who have already been working for a decade, to own a house now without financial support from parents.

Related: Renting is OK too

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Monday, 27 June 2016

Brexit boosts bitcoin price, Is bitcoin a safe haven?


'Brexit' Boosts Bitcoin Price, But Too Early to Call it a Safe Haven


Despite the increase in the price of bitcoin amid the UK’s recent EU referendum, a new research note from Needham & Company asserts it might be too early to call the digital currency a “safe haven” asset.

Global bitcoin prices have risen nearly 6% over the day’s trading to reach a high of $680, a figure up more than $100 from a low of $561.46 on 23rd June. Market observers were quick to assert the increase, which occurred as sentiment in the 'Brexit' vote shifted, was a sign this uncertainty had encouraged new investment in the digital currency markets.

However, Needham said its researchers are "hesitant" to call bitcoin a safe haven alongside gold, US Treasurys, yen and USD.

The note reads:

"For one, calling it such obfuscates the fact that bitcoin is a high-risk and volatile investment and, second, bitcoin's correlation to other traditional safe-haven assets has fluctuated significantly."

Still, Needham called the ‘Brexit’ a positive for the digital currency market, as it shows that bitcoin has the potential to rally around marcoeconomic uncertainty and on developments within its own technical ecosystem.

“On the one hand, bitcoin is performing like a safe-haven asset but, on the other hand, its newness and dynamism do not resemble US Treasurys or gold,” the note reads.

Ultimately, the note concludes bitcoin might not fit into any existing asset definitions, concluding:

"We believe that bitcoin is something entirely different that does not fit into the normal buckets that investments are typically bracketed into." - http://www.coindesk.com

Is bitcoin a safe haven against mainstream money mayhem?

We unlock the mystery of the digital currency with a cult following



bitcoin/ n. A type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.

Eh? No wonder so many people are confused about bitcoin. What you see above is the Oxford Online Dictionary definition of what is probably the most fashionable currency in the world. I realise that’s not saying much: currencies don’t usually have cult followings. But if the euro is the nerd no one wants to be seen with, bitcoin is the coolest kid in the class.

Perhaps part of the attraction of bitcoin for techie types is the very fact that it’s such a mystery to everyone else, accustomed as we are to traditional currencies. That makes the bitcoin club very exclusive.

So what is a ‘digital currency’ anyway? How can any kind of real money exist only in a digital form? Well, the two things that enable it to work are a) the fact that there are a finite number of bitcoins in existence, and b) the clever bit of technology that underpins it: the blockchain.

The blockchain is, in a way, the best thing about bitcoin. Safe to say that whatever may happen to bitcoin in the ephemeral world of digital fads, blockchains have a serious future in the technology of payments and money transmission: central banks are already working on what that future might be. Essentially, a blockchain is a record of digital events: in the case of bitcoin, any change in ownership of any one ‘coin’. This record is impossible to change, so it can’t be edited after it has been confirmed. The only way of altering the blockchain is by adding to it, rather than erasing previous entries. And the record is not stored in just one place, but shared across hundreds or thousands of networked computers, making it harder to hack.

The other interesting thing is that the system is anonymous. Unlike a bank or Paypal, which request all sorts of personal details from you, bitcoin doesn’t care who you are. That makes it popular with people who don’t want their financial activities traced, whether because they are extreme libertarians or because they have something to hide. Many users feel a political affinity with the bitcoin concept of a currency that functions independently of any bank, government or institution full of men in suits. As one user told me: ‘Bitcoin doesn’t have a CEO; it has no ability to care either way about who uses it or why.’

But beyond those who want to hide, is bitcoin flourishing among everyday consumers? Well, it’s certainly a growth market. Plenty of people have given it a shot to see what the fuss is about, but it’s the drug-dealing and cybercrime fraternities that allegedly make up a large proportion of bitcoin turnover.

When, for example, the first Silk Road online market-place (a site which mostly sold drugs on the ‘dark web’, the part of the internet inaccessible through normal search engines) was shut down in 2013 by the FBI, the price of bitcoin saw a short-term crash because so many coins had been seized by the US authorities.

But one aficionado who has lived off bitcoin trading for the last two years told me: ‘It’s very convenient to paint the whole [bitcoin user] group as one homogenous entity. But I’ve met people from all sides of the political spectrum in bitcoin forums on the internet.’

What else is bitcoin good for? Charities are keen to use it, especially when transferring money to, say, Africa, because the transaction costs are much smaller than with services such as Western Union. A number of places and websites also accept bitcoin payment (full list at www.wheretospendbitcoins.co.uk), including the Pembury Tavern in Hackney, which was the first British pub to join this new marketplace.

But bitcoin, as with any other currency, is still at the mercy of exchange-rate fluctuations. Even the most dedicated bitcoin users agree on this point: it’s no more reliable than any other currency, and possibly less so. In the past, bitcoin prices against US dollars have fluctuated massively in short spaces of time — and with no central authority in control, its market is vulnerable to manipulation.

The same applies to bitcoin as an investment: will it stand the test of time? One benefit — so it is said — is that once 21 million bitcoins have been released, production will stop, meaning that your virtual cash could hold its value, on grounds of scarcity, more than a traditional currency. But some devotees have already raised the question of removing or raising that cap.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has also been showing more interest in the currency, with a bitcoin index introduced on the New York Stock Exchange last year. It also has been gaining traction in countries with unstable currencies or weak banking systems. If the mainstream financiers who brought the world to its knees in 2008 decide to embrace bitcoin, who knows what will happen to it.

So how about bitcoin as a hedge against the Brexit result, or a safe haven in the current round of financial turmoil? Whichever way the EU vote goes, it looks like sterling is in for a torrid time in the short to medium term, and shares have already gone into a bear market. So if you’re looking for somewhere safer to keep your cash, is bitcoin an option?

It’s certainly a volatile proposition: you might make money if your timing is exactly right but if there’s a sudden panic over bitcoin’s future, the bottom could fall out of this market very quickly indeed. There’s always a risk of cyberattack too, especially given that so many bitcoin users tend to be high-level techies.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that this is the first digital currency to go large — and just look at the fate of other web firsts. Few of the earliest social media networks are still going today; everyone in the digital arena is always looking for the new, new thing.

Bitcoin is an intriguing phenomenon, for sure, but its fate hangs in the balance. Would I risk putting my savings into such a mysterious thing? No, probably not. But a small punt? Well, in an uncertain world, it’s got to be worth a try.

Source: By Camilla Swift The Spectator
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Sunday, 26 June 2016

China's new generation carrier rocket blasts off in Wenchang, Hainan province





A Long March-7 carrier rocket lifts off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, south China's Hainan Province, June 25, 2016. [Photo: Xinhua/Li Gang]

Insight: Successful rocket launch gets China one step closer to own space station


WENCHANG, Hainan, June 25 (Xinhua) -- China on Saturday successfully blasted off its new generation carrier rocket Long March-7 from Wenchang space launch center in south China's Hainan province.

In a cloud of white smoke, the rocket ascended against the dark sky, trailing a vast column of flame. Space fans in specially set up viewing areas erupted with applause.

Minutes later, Zhang Youxia, commander-in-chief of China's manned space program, declared the launch a success.

The rocket's payload separated from the rocket 603 seconds after blast-off, and entered an oval orbit with a low point, or perigee, of 200 kilometers, and a high point, or apogee, of 394 kilometers.

The launch is the first by the Wenchang site, and the 230th of China's Long March carrier rocket family.

Its mission is to verify the design and performance of the new carrier rocket, to evaluate mission execution capacity of the Wenchang launch site, and to check coordination and compatibility of project-related systems.

NEW CARRIER

The Long March-7 is a medium-sized, two-stage rocket that can carry up to 13.5 tonnes to low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Earlier reports said the rocket now uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel, rather than the highly toxic propellant, making it more environmental friendly and less expensive.

Experts forecast that the 53.1-meter-long, 597-tonne rocket will become the main carrier for China's future space missions.

Its 13.5-tonne LEO payload capacity means it can carry 1.5 times as much as the country's current launch vehicles.

"The more our rockets can lift, the farther we can venture into space," said Ma Zhonghui, chief designer for the rocket.

"Long March-7's successful maiden flight will greatly lift up China's comprehensive space capacity, and give the country a hefty boost in building itself into a space power," he said.

In many senses, the blast-off of the Long March-7 is of key importance to China's space programs, deemed by many a source of surging national pride and a marker of its global stature and technical expertise.

The rocket's payload includes a scaled-down version of "a reentry module of a multi-function spacecraft," said Wu Ping, a deputy director with China's manned space program.

Wu said the 2,600-kg re-entry module is expected to return to Earth on Sunday afternoon, some 20 hours after the Long March-7 launch.

It is expected to land in a desert in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, close to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Data collected from the re-entry experiment will help with future research on a new generation manned spacecraft, Wu said.  

WHAT'S ABOARD

Also onboard the Long March-7 rocket are an "Aolong-1" space debris clearer, two "Tiange" data relay spacecraft, a CubeSat designed to study Earth's gravitational field and space radiation, and a space refueling device that could be used to resupply satellites and space stations to extend their operating life spans.

After being separated from the Long March-7, they will be carried into different orbits onboard an upgraded "space shuttle bus" Yuanzheng-1A, tasked to send these spacecraft in the next 48 hours using its own power system.

Saturday's launch also marks a key step towards China's plan to eventually operate a permanent space station in the final step of the country's three-phase manned space program.

The country launched its first manned spaceflight in 2003, and blasted off its first space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011.

The next and final step will be to assemble and operate a 60-tonne space station around 2022.

To do that, Chinese engineers have planned four space launches within ten months till April next year, of which the Long March-7 mission is the first.

A second mission in late September will put the Tiangong-2 space lab into orbit, and the third one will see the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft, which will carry two Taikonauts, dock with Tiangong-2 in October.

In April 2017, the country's first cargo ship Tianzhou-1, which literally means "heavenly vessel," will be sent to dock with Tiangong-2 in the final mission.

NEW LAUNCH SITE

Wenchang will be the main launch site for future space station missions, including the launch of Tianzhou-1.

Completed in 2014, the Wenchang launch site is the the fourth of its kind in China.

Among the other three, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Dessert is currently the nation's only manned spacecraft launch center, while Xichang in southwest China's Sichuan Province is mainly used to launch powerful-thrust rockets and geostationary satellites.

The third, Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province, is capable of launching satellites into both medium and low orbits.

Being the closest site to the equator, Wenchang boasts considerable latitudinal advantages - Satellites launched from low latitudes are expected to have a longer service life as a result of the fuel saved by a shorter maneuver from transit to geosynchronous orbit. That extra fuel can later be used to regulate and sustain orbit.

This means rockets launched in Wenchang could will allow their payload to be increased by more than 300 kg, 7.4 percent more than from any of the other three centers.

By Wang Cong, Fu Shuangqi Xinhua

China's New Carrier Rocket to Launch 1st Cargo Spacecraft in 2017


The latest version of China's carrier rocket, the Long March-7, has been successfully launched from the Wenchang launch center in Hainan.

Long March-7 is going to be used mostly to transport cargo to China's future space stations, as well as satellites and other spacecraft.

Saturday's launch marks a key step towards China's plan to eventually operate a permanent space station, which is the final step of China's three-phased manned space program.

The Long March-7 rocket has been designed as a cargo spacecraft, and is set to haul most of the components for China's planned space station.

Wu Ping is deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

"The Long March-7 project began in January 2011 as a baseline model for China's latest generation of medium-sized carrier rockets. According to the plan, the Long March-7 is expected to launch China's first cargo spacecraft in April 2017. During the construction and operation of the space station, the rocket and the cargo spacecraft will serve as a transport system to replenish supplies and propellant for the station."

The 53-meter, 597-ton, liquid-fueled rocket can carry up to 13.5 tons into low-Earth orbit.

Wang Xiaojun, General Director of the Long March-7 Project, says getting the Long March-7 active is critical in meeting the goal of getting a space station running by 2022.

"The Long March-7 carrier rocket uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel and a low-temperature pressurization system. Powered by six engines, it has a takeoff thrust of 730 tons and can carry 1.5 times as much as the current launch vehicles, which means a significant step forward in our country's rocket development project."

The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center is the fourth of its kind in China, after the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan and the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi.

Located on China's southernmost point, the Wenchang center allows better access to geostationary orbit for Chinese satellites.

It will be the main launch site for most future space station missions.

Wang Jingzhong, CPC chief of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, says the Wenchang launch site in Hainan will help relieve a lot of pressure off their facility.

"The center will be used for the launch of geosynchronous satellites, large polar orbiting satellites, low and medium Earth orbit spacecraft, cargo spacecraft, space stations, as well as deep space exploration and other missions. It will also be used during the third phase of China's lunar exploration program and the launch of the Chang'e-5 probe."

Meanwhile, Chinese space officials are suggesting the Long March-5 rocket series is also going to make its debut later this year from the Wenchang facility.

Those rockets are designed for long-range space missions.

It's expected to carry the Chang'e-5 lunar probe into space sometime next year, which will finish China's three-step -- orbiting, landing and return -- moon exploration program.

China will also send its second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 into space this year, as well as launch the Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft.

As part of China's space lab program, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will carry two astronauts on board to dock with Tiangong-2.

The two astronauts have already been chosen and are currently under intense training. - (CRI Online)

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Saturday, 25 June 2016

Britain steps backward as EU faces decline: chaos but no negative impact, a windfall for children studying in UK



Britain steps backward as EU faces decline


The UK voted to leave the EU, with the Leave supporters beating Remain by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent. The slight victory is likely to have opened a Pandora's box in Europe, pushing the continent into chaos.

A lose-lose situation is already emerging. The British pound fell 10 percent at one stage on Friday. The euro fell 3 percent.

David Cameron announced he would quit as British prime minister. Scotland may start a new independence referendum.

There are also calls in the Netherlands and France for a similar exit referendum.

The UK is just over 300 years old. In its heyday it was known as an empire on which the sun never set, with colonies all over the world (Britain was the former imperial power - whose military forces repeatedly invaded China in the 19th century - and the rising Asian giant, now the world's second-largest economy)

Now it is stepping back to where it was.

Britons are already showing a losing mind-set. They may become citizens of a nation that prefers to shut itself from the outside world.

The Leave advocates had been calculating whether their pensions were guaranteed or migrants were encroaching on their neighborhood. Bigger topics such as the country's aspirations or its global strategy were overlooked.

Britain has been a special member of the EU. It has not joined the eurozone, nor adopted the Schengen agreement. France and Germany have been resentful of Britain's half-hearted presence in the EU. In a sense, Britain's exit may be a relief for both sides.

However, such relief is in effect a major setback for European integration. Such setbacks don't happen in good times. Britain's exit reflects the general decline of Europe.

The world's center used to lie on the two sides of the Atlantic. Now the focus has shifted to the Pacific. East Asia has witnessed decades of high-speed growth and prosperity. Europe stays where it was, becoming the world's center of museums and tourist destinations. Unfortunately, Europe is also close to the chaotic Middle East. Waves of refugees flood into Europe, coinciding with increasing terrorist attacks.

Europe is not able to resolve the problems it is facing. The public are confused and disappointed and extremism is steading.

The Leave grouping beat out the Remain supporters by only 4 percentage points, which could have resulted from some temporary reasons. Is it really fair to decide Britain's future this way?

Such changes will benefit the US, which will lose a strong rival in terms of the dominance of its currency. Politically it will be easier for the US to influence Europe.

There is no direct political impact on Russia and China. For the Chinese people, who are at a critical time to learn about globalization and democracy, they will continue to watch the consequence of Britain's embracing of a "democratic" referendum. - Global Times.

No negative impact from UK vote for Malaysia



Britain is still a hugely important economy in Europe, says Liew

KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysian property firms with developments in the United Kingdom say that their ventures will not be negatively impacted as a result of the June 23 referendum whereby British citizens voted to exit the European Union.

Eco World International Bhd executive vice-chairman Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin said that while the decisive win by the Brexit camp was unexpected, the group is optimistic that the results hold a silver lining going forward.

“Now that the results of the EU referendum are known, the long uncertainty which has caused many investors to hold back on decision making is finally over. Britain is still a hugely important economy in Europe with highly principled, professional and competent leaders,” he said in a statement.

Liew added that he has every confidence that the British government will do their utmost to take proactive measures to assuage post-Brexit concerns and move the UK forward on every front.

London’s position as a prime destination for global real estate investment is unlikely to change given that many of the fundamental drivers of demand are still intact. Chief among them are transparency of laws, sesurity and ease of ownership, and shortage of supply, among others, Liew noted.

EWI, which is en route to listing on Bursa Malaysia, has three projects in London, namely the London City Island Phase 2 in East London, Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, and Wardian London facing the Canary Wharf. All three were launched last year.

“For EWI specifically, it should be noted that through our proposed initial public offering we will be raising equity in ringgit. Now that the sterling has dropped it means that the cost we have to inject into the UK to pay for the developments there will be lower,” he points out.

Meanwhile, in a statement reacting to the results of the UK referendum, Sime Darby Bhd, which is undertaking the Battersea Power Station project has reiterated its long term commitment to the venture.

“The results of the referendum is not expected to impact the viability of the project.

“We are confident the iconic development will continue to generate interest in the longer term and that London will continue to remain a key investment destination and financial centre,” it said.

Sime Darby has a 40% stake in Battersea. The other joint venture partners are SP Setia Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund with 40% and 20% respectively.

A research note by MIDF Research said global capital markets may take some time to adjust to the Brexit vote which could have adverse repercussions on businesses.

Its group managing director Datuk Mohd Najib Abdullah said that as a result of Brexit, the world is moving into a period of elevated uncertainty, with risk appetite plunging in a flight to safety and security.

As the UK is an important market for Malaysian exporters and an important source of foreign direct investments, any economic malaise from Europe will inevitably affect Malaysia in the longer term, Aboth directly and indirectly, MIDF said. - By afiq Isa The Star

Windfall for Malaysian parents of children studying in Britain 


Parents with children studying in Britain are heaving a sigh of relief because the pound has weakened following Brexit.

The ringgit closed at RM5.66 to the pound yesterday, a drop of 4.67% compared to a month ago when it was RM6.03.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahman said tuition fees would be more affordable.

“For parents who couldn’t afford it initially, they may change their minds now,” she said when contacted.

She added that one should look at the positive instead of focusing on the negative implications.

A parent, who asked to be identified only as Auntie Chris, has a son studying biotechnology at Imperial College London, and said: “We are liquidating our accounts to take advantage of the drop in the pound, which is great news.”

She said her son, who is in his second year, planned to pursue his master’s in Britain after graduation but had put his plan on hold due to the strong pound.

“We asked him to work first, after graduating, due to the financial constraints but with the pound dropping significantly, going for his master’s may be back on the table,” she said.

Another parent, Azura Abdullah, said she did not expect her son’s tuition fees to increase any time soon.

Her son is a second-year law student at University of Exeter.

Some parents were fearful of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Despite the weakened pound, Azura felt the price of goods may increase in the short term because Britain could no longer leverage on EU trade deals, which could increase the cost of living there for her son.

“But we hope to offset this with the lower currency rate as the pound will devalue in the short to middle term,” Azura added.

Auntie Chris said she was worried that Britain’s decision may affect job prospects for Malaysians over there.

“If Britain goes into recession, it will affect job prospects for new graduates,” she said, adding that immigration controls may also be tightened following Brexit.

Chief executive officer and provost of the University of Nottingham Malaysia campus Prof Christine Ennew said parents should expect cheaper education.

“Students should be able to do more with their money in the UK, at least in the short term, say over the next couple of years,” she said.

Prof Ennew admitted that there could be some concerns over the issuing of student visas.

“However, Boris Johnson, one of the leading figures in the Brexit camp, has always been very supportive of international students and this should give some reassurance that the visa regime will not necessarily become harder for students from outside the EU,” she said.

She added that it was likely that EU students would be more affected than those from outside the union. - The Star

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