Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Bipolar World in the Making?

China’s rise has created a great deal of adverse feelings towards China by many in the western world, particularly in the US, the UK and Australia. The outbreak of Covid-19 has intensified the sentiment. In the US, you have people from the both sides of the political divide fighting head over heels to outdo one another to bash or demonize China at every opportunity they can find, regardless of truth. The very notable ones in politics are the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Marco Rubio, not to mention the very POTUS himself. In Australia you have Peter Dutton. There are also many in the UK, largely from the Conservative Party, and Europe. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and my once must-read The Economist are constantly churning out China-bashing articles, so are the Fairfax presses in Australia. John Garnaut is its standard bearer there. And from the TV channels, you have CNN, Sky News, Fox News, BBC and Al Jazeera to throw stones. BBC’s Tim Sabastian and Stephen Sackur are the obvious ones. Of course, we know some are controlled by billionaire China hating puppeteers like Rupert Murdoch and George Soros. And very sadly, many the people behind the articles or news coverage are ethnic Chinese! Amy Qin of the New York Times is a case in point, so are a couple of others in Al Jazeera.

Sure, sometimes China has been less forthcoming in many things. But they have their reasons which can only be appreciated by people who understand Confucianism. But by adopting a defensive posture, they allow these attack dogs to pounce even harder. And with their ability to reach readers and audiences all over the world, the western media shape opinions.

You cannot change the west’s prejudice about China and Chinese unless we act with greater dignity and exemplariness. We must beat them in their game; no amount of self-thumping can help. It is time for China to learn how to manage media relationship. Apart from Liu Xin and Zou Yue and a couple of others, most of CGTN presenters and reporters are not quite equipped to take on the world. Their narration can hurt your ears! (I hate to hear Tian Wei’s voice!) Since CGTN is an English channel, they should learn from Al Jazeera or NHK or KBS. Hire the best anchors and presenters!
Unfortunately, most of the guest commentators they bring in to speak are also unable to articulate their views well. They tend to begin their sentences with unnecessary baggage like “I think, you know” stuff. And their arguments or explanations can be quite incoherent, though we know many are great thinkers and scholars. They are several outstanding ones, though. Einar Tangen and Victor Gao are such examples. I still remember watching with great delight how Victor Gao literally tore Tim Sabastian into pieces in one of the Hard Talks the latter hosted. 

The best CGTN host Liu Xin
No nonsense Einer Tangen

Dr David Nabarro
I hate to see Stephen Sackur, another anchor in BBC’s Hard Talk series. I happened to tune into one of his earlier this week. I would usually change channel after seeing who his guest was. But this time, I had a pleasant surprise and watched until the end. His guest of the day was WHO’s Special Envoy Dr David Nabarro. Sackur’s biases and ill-intention towards China – centering on his accusation of China’s lack of transparency when corona virus first broke out and China’s revision of the fatality figure – were completely neutralized by Dr Nabarro, who was so cool and objective. Sackur looked very ill-prepared. China should have people like Dr Nabarro. It does not have to be defensive; just let the facts and figures speak for themselves.
The attack dog

Daniel Dumbrill of Canada

I had plenty of time to watch podcasts that are being circulated in WhatsApp during this lockdown period. I was particularly impressed by some of these two fake news slayers. Nathan Rich and Daniel Dumbrill are more effective than China’s CGTN!

Many friends must also be following the posers and answers in Quora. There are many of anti-China/Chinese rabble rousers there. But it is heartening to see many have taken pain to explain and clarify. Unfortunately, prejudices are so deep-rooted, and they thought to be agents of China!
I am a Malaysian Chinese and because of social and economic realities, I was largely educated in English and my wife and I speak English at home and with our children and grandchildren. (None of them can handle Mandarin or any of the dialects.) But we are proud of our Confucian upbringing. There is both merits and demerits in both the West’s insistence of liberal democracy and East’s emphasis on strong governance. There can be cross-fertilization, and not necessary a “West versus East” false binary that is being championed by many in the West now.  

The bipolar world that may result because of the West fear of China’s rise is indeed disturbing!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Flattening the Curve

Day in and day out we have been hearing experts saying we need to flatten the curve to manage the spread of Covid-19, citing countries or cities’ inability to cope with a huge influx of patients who need ICU or even specific ward beds if this is not done. But few have really explained well the gravity of this need. The impression that one generally gets is that by flattening the curve, you just postpone the numbers to a later date, as shown in Figure 1. Mathematically, the areas under both curves, which are the respective total number of people infected by the disease in each case, appear to be the same. This will mean regardless of measures taken, all countries or cities will suffer the same fate; it is only a matter of time. What is the big deal then?
Figure 1
Figure 2
 I am not a Mathematician, nonetheless, let me try to explain what I understand.

What many of us do not realise is that the vertical axis is not an arithmetic one; rather it is measured in a logarithmic scale. If the first step is 10, then the next is 100, after that, it is 1,000, then 10,000.

In the case of China, where draconian measures have been taken, the curve has behaved like the lower one, and as of today, after four months, confirmed cases are about 84,000 and death, 4,642. Countries where early preventive measures were taken have also demonstrated similarly or even better. Korea (10,000 and 240 respectively), New Zealand (1,400 and 16 respectively), Australia (6,600 and 67 respectively) and even Malaysia (5,600 and 95 respectively) are examples.

On the other hand, where countries which have allowed the wild horse to bolt, are now suffering the fate that is represented in the upper curve. They do not look frightening on logarithmic scale, but in reality, they are many, many times worse the former group. Classic examples are USA (850,000, 48,000), Spain (213,000, 22,000), Italy (190,000, 25,000), UK (135,000, 18,000), Iran (86,000, 5500) and Turkey (100,000, 2,400). 

Some are optimistic that their new daily cases have peaked; this may be true with most European countries, but I suspect the optimism is a little misplaced, especially in the case of USA, where politics in dealing with this pandemic seems to be tearing the company apart. And there also may be new epicentres cropping out of Asia, as in the possibility of Indonesia, and Africa and South America.

No model of early management is perfect. China’s pill appears most effective, but difficult for most countries to swallow. Korea, New Zealand and Australia are good examples to adopt. But no matter what model one adopts, economic and social costs are always there.

The consequences should have been explained and understood better by the masses before the fire went wild!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Covid-19 Blues

Malaysia introduced movement control on 18 March 2020. We have been holed up in our condominium unit at Serai Saujana since then. I have been marginally diabetic for some 20 years but with my wife’s “disciplining” in terms of diet and morning and evening walks, my doctor is happy that I can go without medications for diabetes. But with the lockdown, we are not even supposed to hang outside our apartment, which means I cannot do my usual morning and evening walks, even around the perimeter of our condominium grounds. I had literally become a couch potato, constantly watching TV channels searching for the latest on the pandemic. Many a time, instead of watching TV, I dozed off, and it was the TV that watched me!

I became pretty lethargic. To pass time, I would always ask my wife how I could help her or see what could be fixed in the house. But there is really there isn’t much for me to do. And my strong tendency to doze off triggered the alarm bell in me. I bought a blood glucose test kit online. I was a little apprehensive when I squeezed my fingertip blood into the first test strip.


All hell broke loose! I had never tested this high before!

My wife clamped down on my food immediately – hardly any rice, more vegetables, less sweetie fruits. I saw that the movement control order did allow outdoor therapy for the disabled and since the condition of my left heel medically requires me constantly exercise my leg muscles, I wrote to and obtained the building management’s greenlight to continue with my morning and evening walks around the grounds of the condominium. For safety reasons, my wife has also been permitted to accompany me. But I do not want to ruffle any hornet’s nest and only do the morning one when everybody is still fast asleep.

Every two hours or so, I also treat my living room as my walking rink. This gives me about 500 steps to cover each time.

I am keeping my fingers crossed!

And it is time for me to start blogging again!

I was overwhelmed by an air of resignation after the fall of the Harapan government in Malaysia. Dr Mahathir, the only person whom I thought could bring change to the country, had been showing his true colours since he took power after GE (general elections) 14 in May 2018. I was also disappointed with DAP (Democratic Action Party), particularly Lim Guan Eng. Not only some of the Harapan partners were sabotaging one another, one of them was actually imploding. Anwar Ibrahim was totally unable to rein in Azmin Ali. But one could never imagine that Dr M would shoot Harapan’s own foot and cause the government to fall and allow the power to be handed on a platter to Muhyiddin Yassin. Personally, I don’t harbour any negative views about Muhyiddin. We were from the same school (High School Muar) and graduated from the same university (University of Malaya). I always thought he was the more open-minded than most of the Malay leaders. But as an ethnic Chinese, I just fear his coalition – made up of more race- and religion-centric individuals from the ranks or UMNO and PAS. I believe most of the non-Bumiputras are feeling quite lost. Hence my air of resignation. Covid-19 has hampered the normal operation of the government. We are unable to tell if the new coalition can function at least with a satisfactory degree of fairness in the eyes of non-Bumiputras.

Again, let’s keep our fingers crossed!