“Young Chinese Have No Sympathy For Tibet” Monday, Apr 14 2008 

China’s Loyal Youth, Matthew Forney, Opinion, New York Times, 13 Apr 2008

Many sympathetic Westerners view Chinese society along the lines of what they saw in the waning days of the Soviet Union: a repressive government backed by old hard-liners losing its grip to a new generation of well-educated, liberal-leaning sophisticates. As pleasant as this outlook may be, it’s naïve. Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government’s human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you’ll meet.

As is clear to anyone who lives here, most young ethnic Chinese strongly support their government’s suppression of the recent Tibetan uprising. One Chinese friend who has a degree from a European university described the conflict to me as “a clash between the commercial world and an old aboriginal society.” She even praised her government for treating Tibetans better than New World settlers treated Native Americans.

It’s a rare person in China who considers the desires of the Tibetans themselves. “Young Chinese have no sympathy for Tibet,” a Beijing human-rights lawyer named Teng Biao told me. Mr. Teng — a Han Chinese who has offered to defend Tibetan monks caught up in police dragnets — feels very alone these days. Most people in their 20s, he says, “believe the Dalai Lama is trying to split China.”

Educated young people are usually the best positioned in society to bridge cultures, so it’s important to examine the thinking of those in China. The most striking thing is that, almost without exception, they feel rightfully proud of their country’s accomplishments in the three decades since economic reforms began. And their pride and patriotism often find expression in an unquestioning support of their government, especially regarding Tibet.

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China’s humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao’s tyranny was “30 percent wrong,” then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the “Dalai clique,” a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Then there’s life experience — or the lack of it — that might otherwise help young Chinese to gain a perspective outside the government’s viewpoint. Young urban Chinese study hard and that’s pretty much it. Volunteer work, sports, church groups, debate teams, musical skills and other extracurricular activities don’t factor into college admission, so few participate. And the government’s control of society means there aren’t many non-state-run groups to join anyway. Even the most basic American introduction to real life — the summer job — rarely exists for urban students in China.

Recent Chinese college graduates are an optimistic group. And why not? The economy has grown at a double-digit rate for as long as they can remember. Those who speak English are guaranteed good jobs. Their families own homes. They’ll soon own one themselves, and probably a car too. A cellphone, an iPod, holidays — no problem. Small wonder the Pew Research Center in Washington described the Chinese in 2005 as “world leaders in optimism.”

As for political repression, few young Chinese experience it. Most are too young to remember the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 and probably nobody has told them stories. China doesn’t feel like a police state, and the people young Chinese read about who do suffer injustices tend to be poor — those who lost homes to government-linked property developers without fair compensation or whose crops failed when state-supported factories polluted their fields.

Educated young Chinese are therefore the biggest beneficiaries of policies that have brought China more peace and prosperity than at any time in the past thousand years. They can’t imagine why Tibetans would turn up their noses at rising incomes and the promise of a more prosperous future. The loss of a homeland just doesn’t compute as a valid concern.

Of course, the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country’s corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical. It is received wisdom in China that people in their 40s are the most willing to challenge their government, and the Tibet crisis bears out that observation. Of the 29 ethnic-Chinese intellectuals who last month signed a widely publicized petition urging the government to show restraint in the crackdown, not one was under 30.

Barring major changes in China’s education system or economy, Westerners are not going to find allies among the vast majority of Chinese on key issues like Tibet, Darfur and the environment for some time. If the debate over Tibet turns this summer’s contests in Beijing into the Human Rights Games, as seems inevitable, Western ticket-holders expecting to find Chinese angry at their government will instead find Chinese angry at them.

Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for TIME, is writing a book about raising his family in China.

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Quick To Kiss China’s A**! Wednesday, Mar 26 2008 

The Singapore government has been quick to support China on its handling of the recent unrests in Tibet. I’m not surprised coz its pretty much the same here even when the protests are peaceful. The most recent example of course is the tak boleh tahan protests.

As for the unrests in Tibet, the Singapore government’s rush to support China without actually knowing what happened, especially what triggered the recent events, is quite pathetic, to put it mildly. Even then, blindly supporting China’s handling of the unrests, and Tibet in general, without acknowledging the underlying causes and roots of Tibetans’ anger, makes the Singapore government look like one of China’s biggest ass-kissers!

We do know what the Tibetans are generally frustrated, upset and pissed-off about as these series of videos show……

20 Mar 2008

5 Aug 2007

13 Mar 2008

15 Mar 2008

16 Mar 2008

17 Mar 2008

How Sovereign Wealth Funds Were Left Nursing Multibillion-Dollar Losses Monday, Mar 24 2008 

by Richard Wray, The Guardian, 22 Mar 2008

· Investments in banking stock rapidly go sour
· Singapore group pours £9bn into leaking coffers

The financial crisis enveloping the world banking sector has left the sovereign wealth funds, controlled by governments from Singapore and China to Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, nursing multibillion-dollar losses after helping to bail out major western banks.

In recent months, banks including Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and UBS have turned to investment funds, including the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC), its sister fund, Temasek, and China Investment Corp, for funding that western investors were unwilling to give as stockmarkets plunged.

But the dramatic fire sale of the US investment bank Bear Stearns and subsequent stockmarket run on HBOS this week have depressed banking stocks further and deepened the climate of fear in the world’s stockmarkets.

Singapore’s GIC, for example, which with funds of more than $330bn (£166bn) is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, spent more than £5.5bn on a 9% stake in UBS last year. Shares in the Swiss bank are down 46% so far this year. It spent a further $6.88bn in January as part of a $14.5bn funding round for the embattled US bank Citigroup,

Two months before, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), which with assets estimated at up to $900bn is reckoned to be the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, invested $7.5bn in Citigroup bonds that will convert to shares in 2010 and 2011 at prices from $31 to $37.

But since then Citigroup has become one of the most high-profile casualties of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US, and its share price has plunged as low as $20 – nearly 40% lower than when the ADIA made its investment.

The pain shows no sign of letting up. Two months ago, Citigroup announced it had plunged into the red over the past three months of 2007 and sliced its dividend almost in half as it wiped more than $18bn off the value of its assets because of exposure to sub-prime mortgages. But Wall Street analysts reckon the firm could record a further $15bn write-down for this financial quarter.

China Investment Corporation’s investment in Morgan Stanley, made just before Christmas, is also facing a significant loss. The securities it picked up for $5bn will convert to stock at $48 to $57 a share in two years’ time. At present, however, Morgan Stanley’s share price is closer to $42.

Another Beijing-backed money manager, China Development Bank, has also suffered as the stake in Barclays it bought in July has plunged in value. When it acquired the 3.1% shareholding, the bank’s shares were trading at about 680p each. On Thursday, they were at 429p.

The Singaporean fund Temasek is also nursing losses on the 2.1% Barclays stake it bought last year, although its investment in the London-listed bank Standard Chartered has fared better. The bank, which has little involvement in the US sub-prime crisis, has weathered the storm better than many of its peers.

The losses sustained by sovereign wealth funds are relatively insignificant when compared with the $3.2tr they are believed to have at their control. Morgan Stanley reckons that with the price of commodities such as oil set to remain high, this amount will balloon to $12tr by 2015. But the losses may dampen their appetite for further involvement in bailing out western banks.

Western politicians are increasingly concerned about the power of sovereign wealth funds in their markets. Earlier this week the US government agreed voluntary principles with ADIA and Singapore’s GIC to regulate their investments.

VIDEOS: Al Jazeera’s “The War In America” Wednesday, Mar 19 2008 

Five years on from the start of the war in Iraq Al Jazeera visited the USA to guage public mood towards the conflict. In a special four part documentary we talked to, among others, grieving mothers, politicians and the man widely regarded as coining the phrase “axis of evil”, who still supports the war.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Al Jazeera English news report – Iraq war enters sixth year

“We Are Haunted By a War Begun Under False Pretences” Friday, Mar 7 2008 

Q&A: “We Are Haunted By a War Begun Under False Pretences”

Chuck LewisInterview with Chuck Lewis, founder of the Centre for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (IPS) – Eight key players in the George W. Bush administration, including the president himself, made at least 935 false statements in the run-up to and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

These are some of the findings of a mammoth report just released by the Centre for Public Integrity, directed by founder Chuck Lewis.

Lewis asked his researchers to track every utterance by the top U.S. officials made from Sep. 11, 2001 through Sep. 11, 2003, regarding Iraq, “weapons of mass destruction”, and the alleged link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. These officials include President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.

What this report proves is remarkable, even though it is now a matter of public record that there were no WMD in Iraq and that the attacks against the U.S. in 2001 had no connection to Saddam Hussein.

Lewis concludes in a statement: “Clearly, this Iraq chronology calls into question the repeated assertions of Bush administration officials that they were merely the unwitting victims of bad intelligence. More broadly, consider the timeless words of the late historian and Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, in his classic 1961 work, “The Image”: ‘We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality.’ America went to war nearly five years ago after an orchestrated campaign of false statements by the nation’s top officials, a war begun under the illusion of an imminent national security threat. We are haunted by a war begun, in other words, under false pretences.”

Lewis spoke with IPS’s Editor in Chief Miren Gutierrez about what he says is “an unprecedented, 380,000-word, online searchable, public and private Iraq war chronology, the public statements interlaced with the internal knowledge, discussions, doubts, and dissent known at the time. What they said publicly juxtaposed against what they knew internally.”

IPS: You have tagged how many false statements were made by these top officials over the two years. How many exactly? Can you make any comparisons?

CL: We found 935 false statements… Bush made the most statements; McClellan the fewest. No one has ever done this for any other U.S. war, to my knowledge, a public and private chronology of what they said versus what they knew internally. There is no comparison to the past.

IPS: What do these statements tell us about their timing? Was it an orchestrated, systematic operation? How do you know?

CL: The statements were made most heavily in the weeks leading up to the Congressional resolution and midterm elections, and spiked up twice as high in volume between January and March. 935 false statements, 532 different occasions… Yes, it was a systematic operation. We know it now because the saturation of statements, officials, all saying essentially the same thing, 935 times, always on message. It could not possibly be inadvertent or coincidental.

IPS: Separately, you have gathered material from more than 25 government, whistleblower and journalist-reported books about this subject, published between 9/11 and the end of 2007. Do any clear patterns emerge from that exercise? Is there any consensus?

CL: The most disturbing pattern is that questions were raised internally, at the White House, Pentagon, State Department and intelligence community, about these officials’ statements and their ambitions for war, and most important, about the intelligence being asserted. There were dissonant views suggesting various key parts of the “evidence” were a hoax or simply inconclusive. Repeatedly the top officials were told not to say things in their speeches, repeatedly they said them anyway. The biggest news to me is that the “consensus” was anything but unanimous, as the White House would like everyone to believe. Certain pro-war intelligence was exaggerated and overstated, and cross current intelligence suggesting there was no imminent national security threat to the U.S. or other nations was ignored. All of this can be found searching and reading through the 380,000-word public and private Iraq war chronology.

IPS: Bush’s government had made lots of noises about Iran’s nuclear programme. However, a December 2007 U.S. intelligence report concluded that Iran halted work toward a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is unlikely to be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb until 2010 to 2015. Can you spot any similarities with the situation right before the invasion of Iraq?

CL: The human intelligence sources cited by Powell in his U.N. speech were not reliable, doubts had been expressed inside the administration, especially the intelligence agencies. But on with the show anyway… In the weeks before the Congressional Iraq vote, Bush and Cheney made flat declarations we now know were false about the WMD threat in Iraq — and no National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) had been done by the CIA in years, because it was not seen as a hotspot or front-burner problem. And the White House had not requested an NIE… Intelligence information in this and other past administrations is a commodity to be marshaled for political policy outcomes.

IPS: The report is part of a book on which you are working about “truth, power, the state of journalism today”. What is the state of U.S. journalism after the war in Iraq? Why has this war been different for journalism from other wars in the past?

CL: Not good, emaciated economically, thousands of reporters and editors fired since 2000, still too easily misled, not sufficiently sceptical of officialdom, of government, of power. This war based on false pretences played out over 18 months, before our eyes, with all the world to see, with nearly all of the U.S. news media stenographically repeating what the Bush administration had said, amplifying the misinformation with little scepticism or original reporting. In the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964, the false pretences about the U.S. being fired upon first (the opposite was true), the Congressional lockstep response to a president’s request for war legislation and fawning, uncritical media coverage, between “attacks” and war legislation signed into law, took exactly one week. Journalism didn’t have a chance — that war was remote, out on the water, often at night, no reporters nearby, solely reliant on the White House and Pentagon, coordinating their messages…

IPS: All this has happened a few years ago. Why is it relevant now?

CL: Because the full story of why the U.S. went to war has still not been fully told, memoirs and presidential legacies and mythologies will only grow over time. What we need are facts, who said what, when, what did they actually know before they spoke. This chronology sets that down in one place, accessible and updatable for years to come. And it is relevant because presidents make flawed, human decisions that affect the nation and the world, not to mention thousands upon thousands of lives, and there must be, in a democracy, independent accountability and factual scrutiny about what is true, was true, will always be true. What the world needs most, though, is real-time truth, not years later. Maybe, because of this debacle of the past five years, reporters and citizens will become more sceptical and discerning of politicians and those in power.

VIDEO: How to Break a Terrorist Thursday, Feb 28 2008 

FPTV, 28 Feb 2008

How do you make a terrorist talk? Veteran FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan has broken some of al Qaeda’s toughest operatives. In this special interview with FP, he shares some of his methods for making a terrorist tell all.

In the first video below, Cloonan explains that there’s more than one way to make a terrorist cry:

But what about the worst of the worst? And what about a ticking time bomb? If a terrorist has information that could save innocent lives, isn’t it time to take the gloves off?

Watch Cloonan’s response:

Story Behind An Iconic Image From Iraq Monday, Nov 19 2007 

James Blake Miller

“Marlboro Man” becomes another casualty of war

Am I to blame for his private war?

Enola Gay Saturday, Nov 3 2007 

I was very young when i heard this song by OMD. They’re one of my favourite pop groups from the 80s. I was reminded of the song again when Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr passed away on 1 Nov 2007.

Global Club of Democracies Decide Not To Invite Singapore Friday, Sep 7 2007 

Invitations for Global Club of Democracies Deemed “Largely Credible”, Freedom House, 6 Sept 2007

The Community of Democracies, a global club for the world’s old and new democracies, has decided which governments merit invitation to its meeting of foreign ministers scheduled for November in Bamako, Mali. The end result, after months of deliberations, is “largely credible,” according to a consortium of groups monitoring the process.

The final list of 126 participating and 20 observer states, issued by the Government of Mali as chair of the body’s steering committee, follows recommendations made in February by an independent panel of high-level experts, with some notable exceptions.

The diverse group of 16 governments that make up the Community of Democracies Convening Group, which is responsible for issuing invitations to the club’s fourth ministerial meeting, decided not to invite Thailand, Fiji, Singapore, Qatar, Venezuela, Bangladesh and Tunisia, all of whom had participated in or observed the last meeting held in Santiago in 2005. Their exclusion is consistent with the recommendations of the experts panel and underscores the Convening Group’s determination to keep out those governments which have failed to uphold the democracy and human rights commitments of the group.

Notably, the Convening Group decided to downgrade both Russia and Nigeria from participant to observer status for the upcoming Bamako meeting. Given the high profile of these two countries, this decision sends a clear signal to the international community that current trends of respect for democracy and human rights in both countries are on the decline.

To be credible, the Community of Democracies must hold all states to the same universal standards of democracy and human rights adopted by the Community itself. In this light, the Convening Group has not strictly upheld the association’s criteria for participation in its decision to invite both Afghanistan and Iraq as full participants. The experts panel had recommended Afghanistan be invited as an observer due to persistent governmental instability and its effect on advancing human rights; it advised that Iraq not be invited at all due to the continuing inability to establish an accountable state there.

Several other country invitations demonstrate that there is still further work to be done to ensure that all states are held to the same standards for future meetings. The Convening Group was lenient, for example, with regard to keeping some countries, such as Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia and Yemen, as participants despite a downward trend in democratic standards and human rights. They also maintained several questionable countries in the observer category (Egypt, Oman, Burkina Faso and Azerbaijan) despite recommendations by the experts panel to not invite, and moved several new countries that are not making sufficient progress (Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, and Uganda) to the observer category for the Bamako meeting.

The independent experts panel, composed of over a dozen former heads of state, parliamentarians, human rights experts and academics from around the world, delivered recommendations based on a comprehensive assessment of how well governments are meeting the club’s standards of democracy and human rights. The panel was formed on the belief that the value of the Community of Democracies rests largely on the character of its membership. By requiring a regular review of democratic principles and practices, the Community of Democracies process acknowledges that democracy is not an end-state but a process in which states may advance on or fall away from the path of democracy.

The experts panel, known as the International Advisory Committee (IAC), welcomes the Convening Group’s invitation to continue the fruitful relationship that has formed, and looks forward to continued collaboration to ensure that the invitations process for the Community of Democracies is transparent, credible, and legitimate.

The International Advisory Committee was supported by research and analysis conducted by a Secretariat composed of the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Germany), the Center for Democratic Development (Ghana), the Democracy Coalition Project (USA) and Freedom House (USA).

The Community of Democracies, a global grouping of democratic and democratizing states, was launched in Warsaw in 2000 as a forum for strengthening international cooperation for democracy and human rights promotion. Its participants also have established a Democracy Caucus at the United Nations for the purpose of coordinating common positions on democracy and human rights at the world body.

A chart comparing the Community of Democracies invitation status of all UN member states since the first meeting in Warsaw in 2000 can be found below. (Click here)

To read the International Advisory Committee’s recommendations, click here.

Click here for the PDF version of this press release

Click here for the International Advisory Committee country report on Singapore

Eaten By Singapore Sunday, Jul 22 2007 

by Stephen Mayne, 22 July 2007, Opinion, The Age

Image by TheAgeWHEN shareholders in Perth-based energy utility Alinta Ltd gather to vote on the $15 billion carve-up of the company on August 13, few of them will realise the remarkable historical event they will trigger.

In accepting $4.5 billion of cash from Singapore Power for a suite of Australian electricity and gas distribution assets, Alinta shareholders will lift the total value of Australian business assets controlled by the Singapore Government to almost $30 billion.

This will exceed the value of commercial assets owned by our own Federal Government, which is surely an unprecedented situation for any First World country. How can a foreign power own more of Australia than our own government?

While ordinary Singaporeans have limited democratic rights and still don’t enjoy benefits such as Australia’s minimum wage (the world’s highest), the Singapore state has amassed an empire worth more than $200 billion — and it has now put more of it into Australia than any other country.

The investments come from two discreet vehicles. The $100 billion-plus Government Investment Corporation (GIC) invests Singapore’s foreign reserves around the world while Temasek Holdings owns the shares in government-controlled businesses such as Singapore Airlines, Singapore Power, Singtel and the giant DBS Holdings financial conglomerate.

Few people realise how much these two vehicles have ploughed into Australia since 1995, buying many sensitive and prestigious assets such as Optus, Myer Melbourne and large parts of the old State Electricity Commission of Victoria.

This compares starkly with the Howard Government, which has raised about $65 billion from privatisation — the biggest chunks coming from selling 83 per cent of Telstra ($45 billion), 50.1 per cent of the Commonwealth Bank ($5.15 billion) and the nation’s airports ($8.5 billion).

With Medibank Private also slated for sale next year, the Government is left with only Australia Post, which made a net profit of $370 million in 2005-06 and is therefore worth about $7 billion. The residual 17 per cent stake in Telstra is worth $10 billion but the Government doesn’t control it.

While other nations such as China, Singapore, Russia, Korea, Kuwait and Norway build up huge sovereign funds, Australia, with its world-beating dowry of natural assets, still has a Federal Government with a negative net worth of $10 billion in the middle of an unprecedented commodities boom.

Even including the $52 billion in the Future Fund and all land and defence assets, these assets do not exceed the $50 billion in outstanding federal debt and $111 billion in unfunded superannuation liabilities as at June 30, 2007.

The contrast with Singapore is stark indeed. This island nation of just 4.4 million people in a land mass broadly equivalent to Melbourne has amassed vast public wealth, although its private wealth is nowhere near the $8130 billion that the federal Treasury and Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate Australia’s 21 million citizens have accumulated.

So how did this happen? It all started when Singapore Airlines wanted to buy the cornerstone 25 per cent stake in Qantas offered by the Keating Government in 1993, but lost out to British Airways. It took the defeat very badly.

Its first major successful move came in 1995 when a Singapore government body, Capita Land, bought a controlling interest in Australand, the property developer that built the Commonwealth Games village. This stake is now worth $1.1 billion.

After staying out of the original $30 billion energy sector privatisation program in Victoria, Singapore Power, which is fully owned by the state, picked up the monopoly electricity transmission business Powernet for $2.1 billion in June 2000.

This was quickly followed by Singtel’s $14 billion bid for Optus in 2001. Singtel is 56 per cent government-owned, so Optus is now more publicly owned than Telstra — albeit by a foreign power. I, for one, switched my mobile phone contract from Optus to Telstra as a small consumer protest when Australian drug trafficker Van Nguyen was executed by the immovable Singapore authorities in 2005.

The next big bite was Singapore Power’s $5.1 billion acquisition of TXU’s Australian energy portfolio in April 2004, although $2.2 billion of retail and generation assets were on-sold to China Light & Power in March 2005. Late in 2005, 49 per cent of the remaining Australian power assets were floated in a vehicle called SP Ausnet, raising $1.3 billion.

This reduced the total power sector investment to $3.8 billion, but now we have the huge Alinta deal in which Singapore Power is offering $4.5 billion in cash to become the monopoly gas distributor in NSW and the largest distributor of electricity in Victoria.

It will even own 50 per cent of ActewAGL — the company that keeps the lights on at Parliament House in Canberra.

Coinciding with the Alinta deal has been a recent splurge of property investments. Frank Lowy sold to GIC a 50 per cent stake in Westfield Parramatta, Australia’s third-most valuable shopping centre, for $717 million in May.

An even more prestigious purchase last month was the Myer Melbourne complex, which is now one-third owned by GIC after it teamed up with the Myer family and the Commonwealth Bank to buy it for $600 million.

GIC already owns the Park Hyatt hotel in Melbourne, along with Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building and the Strand Arcade, and there’s been recent press speculation that it will buy into Westfield’s Doncaster Shoppingtown to help fund a $400 million redevelopment.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Even child-care behemoth ABC Learning, which receives $3 million a week from Australian taxpayers to look after 40,000 children and has former children’s minister Larry Anthony on its board, this month issued 12 per cent of its shares to Temasek for $401 million.

In some countries, child care is provided by the state, yet our Government is now funding a company which has a foreign government as its largest shareholder to deliver this service. All this must make for interesting discussions when John Howard catches up with his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, or his autocratic father, Lee Kuan Yew, who is still “GIC chairman minister mentor” at the ripe old age of 83.

Peter Costello was busily showing Lee Kuan Yew around Federal Parliament a few weeks ago and, given the 2003 Free Trade Agreement, it’s fair to assume relations remain close.

The same can’t be said for Singapore and Thailand. In January 2006, Temasek bought control of Shin Corp — the family company of Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — for $US1.9 billion ($A2.1 billion) in a deal that sparked widespread protests and a military coup.

The generals have since crippled Shin Corp’s telecoms and satellite business to the point where Singapore has dropped well over $1.5 billion and relations between the two countries are severely strained.

Could Singapore’s financial imperialism ever cause tensions here? The only time Singapore has faced any takeover resistance in Australia was in 2000 when Peter Costello blocked a proposed bid for Westpac by financial conglomerate DBS Holdings, which is 28 per cent owned by Temasek.

However, Singapore Airlines remains bitter about losing almost $500 million in the Ansett collapse and being denied access to the lucrative Pacific route, which might explain why it is now funding Tiger Airways’ assault on the Australian domestic market in an attempt to damage Qantas.

Planes, child-care centres, shopping centres, department stores, satellites, hotels, power lines, gas pipelines and mobile phones: the Singapore Government owns all that and more in Australia yet this is barely mentioned in public debate.

Does anybody else out there feel a little uneasy about this phenomenon, especially given the secretive, autocratic and undemocratic tendencies of the Singapore Government?

Australian companies, let alone our Government, would never be allowed to buy equivalent assets in Singapore. And all this investment didn’t even give us the leverage to save Van Nguyen from the gallows.

Stephen Mayne was founder of Crikey.com and Kennett government spin doctor responsible for privatisation from 1992-1994.

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