The 8.6 magnitude earthquake off Aceh, Indonesia, today is the biggest since the 9 magnitude Tohoku quake in northern Honshu, Japan, on March 11, 2011. That is what I found on checking the United States Geological Survey’s Significant Earthquake and News Headlines Archive. The 8.6 magnitude earthquake was followed by an 8.2 magnitude quake, also off the west coast of northern Sumatra. There were two major earthquakes in the same region today. The 8.6 struck at 8:38:37 UTC and the 8.2 at 10:43:09 UTC, just two hours later. That’s devastating. Here’s what I read on Twitter about tremors being felt in places as far apart as Kolkata, in India, and Singapore.
Singapore now has 5.07 million people. But the population is growing more slowly – by 1.8 per cent this year, down from 3.1 per cent last year – with fewer new permanent residents and a lower intake of other foreigners. Several Asian countries have even lower growth rates, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and India.
The number of Singapore permanent residents has gone up by just 1.5 per cent to 541,000 this year, after an 11.5 per cent increase last year. There are now 1.3 million non-resident foreigners, up 4.1 per cent this year after a 4.8 per cent increase last year and an astounding 19 per cent jump in 2007.
The Singaporean population has grown only 0.9 per cent to 3.23 million after a 1.1 per cent rise last year. China's population (1.33 billion) has an even lower growth rate (0.5 per cent in 2008 and 2009 ) and so does Hong Kong (population 7 million after 0.4 per cent growth in 2008 and 0.7 per cent in 2009). Taiwan's population (23.8 million) increased only 0.4 per cent and South Korea's (48.7 million) just 0.3 per cent in both 2008 and 2009 while Thailand's (63.9 million) went up by merely 0.7 per cent in 2008 and 0.6 per cent in 2009.
Singapore has the fastest growing population among all the countries I checked on the Asian Development Bank Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2010. You will find it here on the bank's website.
I didn't check Samoa and Vanuatu and a few other Pacific islands on the list. But, among all the other countries, Singapore posted the biggest population increase in 2008 and 2009, according to the figures given by the bank. It shows by what percentage the population increased in each country. Those are the figures used here in the chart and the following table, which includes all the countries I checked.
Indonesia, Malaysia and India sent the largest number of visitors to Singapore in June, followed by Australia and China. The Singapore Tourism Board reported, as the number of visitors reached 950,000, the highest figure since last December and the highest ever for June:
Fourteen out of the 15 top markets registered positive year-on-year growth in June this year.
In June 2010, China ( up 65.8 per cent), Malaysia ( up 51.3 per cent), and Hong Kong (up 48.2 per cent) registered their highest growth out of the top 15 markets.
Visitors from India rose 6 per cent to 83,000.
Indonesia sent the most visitors: 214,000, up 34 per cent. Malaysia sent the second biggest contingent, 93,000; India, third; Australia, fourth, 75,000; and China, fifth, 69,000.
The Singapore economy lagged behind East Asia as a whole at the end of last year. Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia all grew more than Singapore in the fourth quarter. And so, of course, did China. Only Hong Kong and the Philippines posted weaker growth. This chart is based on the World Bank report released this week.
Download the report from the World Bank to see how the Asian economies performed against one another in various ways. See how the Singapore foreign reserves, stock market and exports compare with the other Asian economies.
Singapore experienced the sharpest drop in trade last year since records began to kept in 1964, says the Economic Survey of Singapore 2009 released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry yesterday.
Singapore's total trade plunged 19 per cent to $747 billion in 2009, down from $928 billion in 2008. Trade declined with all top 10 trading partners: the European Union, Malaysia, China, America, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.
But exports to China exceeded imports for the first time in several years. I have included only figures for 2008 and 2009 in this chart because anything more would have made it difficult to read.
One does not have to go beyond 2008 to understand the trading pattern with the other major partners. Imports exceed exports to America, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan while exports surpass imports from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. In fact, Singapore exports far more to Hong Kong than it imports from there. The sharpest drop has been in exports and imports from Malaysia, America and the European Union.
The Economic Survey says:
Singapore’s export recovery has in fact lagged the other East Asian economies, growing by just 4.9 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2009, after four consecutive periods of double-digit declines.
Professor Tommy Koh in the Straits Times today noted a difference between Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his former deputy, the late S. Rajaratnam, the country's first foreign minister.
Raja, as he was known, "saw himself simply as a Singaporean and not as a Ceylonese Singaporean or an Indian Singaporean." wrote Prof Koh. "Minister Mentor Lee, on the other hand, saw himself first as a Singaporean, and second, as an ethnic Chinese proud of his cultural roots."
This sense of ethnic and cultural identity, and how it is reshaping the world, is the theme of Samuel Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Published in 1996, after the fall of Soviet communism, the book looks at the growing importance of race and religion in international affairs.
This lies behind the rise of China, according to Huntington. It has become an economic giant with generous help from overseas Chinese investors. He quoted Minister Mentor Lee on how they were drawn together by their common culture and ancestry.
Talk about moving the goal posts. With the Singapore economy likely to grow slower than before, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wants the country's economic performance to be judged not only by the gross domestic product but also by Singapore companies' overseas investments.
"We have to look at multiple indexes," he said. "I don't think you can look at just one. GDP will remain important, but perhaps we should look at GNP together with it."
While GDP or the gross domestic product is the income earned inside a country, GNP or the gross national product includes projects and investments abroad whose benefits flow back to Singapore, he said, reports the Business Times.
"If we focus only on developments within Singapore, we are physically constrained. There are limits to our space and manpower," he said.
He is right.
The only problem is the GDP is the standard measure of economic performance. The World Trade Organization lists a country's GDP, not GNP.
Here is Singapore's economic performance over the past nine years compared with its neighbours and a few other East Asian countries.
Singapore remains the least corrupt country in Asia for the 10th year in a row. That’s according to a survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (Perc) group based in Hong Kong which offers business information and analysis for companies operating in East and Southeast Asia. But it adds: "Singapore is increasingly vulnerable to corruption in other countries."
Oh yes. Even the Singapore government-linked Temasek Holdings has been affected since it bought the Thai communications giant, Shin Corp, last year. Thai authorities are investigating whether former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra made ill-gotten gains from the sale.
There is dirty money floating around in Singapore too, reports The Straits Times. It says that "foreign individuals who have profited from corruption elsewhere in Asia sometimes park their ill-gotten gains here". It adds, quoting from the survey, "Many wealthy Indonesians, for example, have invested heavily in Singapore real estate…"
Is that why Singapore is yet to sign an extradition treaty wih Indonesia? Because the wealthy Indonesians’ investments benefit the local property and finance industries?
I wouldn’t have asked that question unless The Straits Times said the Indonesian money might be helping those industries. But it didn’t say why Singapore had yet to sign the extradition treaty wanted by Indonesia. It should have addressed that question because Singapore is known to be tough on crime. Singapore has extradition arrangements with several other countries, so why not with Indonesia?
The fact is, Singapore will sign an extradition treaty with Indonesia — if Indonesia signs a defence cooperation agreement with Singapore at the same time. Singapore wants a package deal covering the two issues.
How many words did I use to explain that? Thirty-three. I think The Straits Times, too, should have explained that when it said the Indonesian money might be helping the local economy. Otherwise, it might look like a case of who wants to kill the golden goose.
US State Department report
Incidentally, the US State Department also says that "Singapore… as a major regional financial and transportation center is an attractive target for money launderers and drug transshipment." But it adds, "Corruption cases involving Singapore’s counter narcotics and law enforcement agencies are rare" and "narcotics trafficking and abuse are decreasing in Singapore". The words are taken from the State Department’s 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released earlier this month. The report says:
"Singapore is one of the busiest seaports in the world. Approximately 80 percent of the goods flowing through its port are in transit or are transshipped and do not enter Singapore’s customs area. Due to the extraordinary volume of cargo shipped through the port, it is highly likely that some of it contains illicit materials. Singapore does not require shipping lines to submit data on the declared contents of transshipment or transit cargo unless there is a Singapore consignee to the transaction… (Singapore) officials have been reluctant to impose tighter reporting or inspection requirements at the port from concern that inspections could interfere with the free flow of goods, thus jeopardizing Singapore’s position as the region’s primary transshipment port."
Here I am blogging away in Singapore, but guess what, I should be even more careful than someone writing in Afghanistan — if you believe what the media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has to say.
Singapore is ranked 140th — up seven places — in the fourth annual Press Freedom Index which looks at 167 countries and was released on May 3, World Press Freedom Day.
Even Afghanistan ranks higher — 125th — leave alone Singapore’s neighbours, Indonesia (102nd) and Malaysia (113th), and other South-east Asian nations such as Cambodia (90th), Thailand (107th) and the Philippines (139th). Hong Kong (39th) is way ahead even after handover to China, though China itself (159th) trails far behind. North Korea ranks last.
It isn’t clear exactly how the countries are ranked.
"After Iraq, the Philippines is the most dangerous country for journalists," says the report, adding that seven journalists were murdered there.
There have been no such incidents in Singapore. So why is Singapore ranked even lower than the Philippines?
"Singapore… still has a very low ranking because the government headed by the son of the founding father Lee Kuan Yew keeps its grip on the media and uses drastic laws to crack down on the few independent journalists," says the report.
It’s true the country’s leaders have sued various publications for defamation and a few bloggers were prosecuted for racist screeds.
But if people are afraid to speak up, how come Singapore has a large active blogging community?
We can freely surf the Net and I have read The Guardian and The Times among other papers in at least one branch of the National Library.
The rankings get even more interesting when you compare them with a recent opinion poll carried out for Reuters and the BBC. People in 10 countries — India, Indonesia, South Korea, the USA, Britain, Germany, Russia, Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil — were polled to find out whether they trusted the media or the government more.
And the media is trusted most in the countries which rank lowest in the Press Freedom Index!
Trust in media is highest in Nigeria (88% vs 34% gov’t.) followed by Indonesia (86% vs 71%), India (82% vs 66%), Egypt (74%, gov’t. not asked), and Russia (58% vs 54%). But Nigeria ranked 123rd in the Press Freedom Index, Indonesia 102nd, India 106th, Egypt 143rd and Russia 138th.
Only in three of the 10 countries is the government trusted more than the media — the USA (59 per cent trust the media, 67% the government), Britain (47% vs 51%) and Germany (43% vs 48%). Germany ranks 18th in the Freedom Index, Britain 24th and the USA 44th.
The US was the biggest loser, dropping more than 20 places in the Freedom Index "mainly because of the imprisonment of the New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources," says Reporters Without Borders. But American bloggers and newspapers have probably uncovered more scandals than their British (I don’t know about the German) counterparts.
And I can’t believe India ranks so low in the Freedom Index.