SCO Meeting – Another Photo-Op for Modi and Gang

Indian PM was Treated Like Just Another of Xi’s Cronies

Most conclaves are avenues for the leaders to toy with their individual fixations, a fetish that is dear to each, and mere photo opportunities.

No, I am not predicting the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit that gets under way in Singapore tomorrow morning.

This is my own indulgence – letting off steam on events that have little meaning. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) caucus that concluded yesterday, for instance, showcased Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the King with a lifelong crown with the rest merely his cronies.

The wide range of photographs available online, both formal and informal, from the SCO event, is testament to the media mileage the leaders got out of it. Great photo-ops for each of them – not much else.

Modi at SCO Meet

Modi Pushed to the Edge: Here is a photograph from today’s edition of The Straits Times that shows Indian and Pakistani leaders at the two ends of the line, with Narendra Modi appearing to sport a frown – perhaps unhappy he did not get to stand next to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

Xi’s message: “We should reject selfish, short-sighted, narrow and closed-off policies. We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization.”

As if China will do that if it was shortchanged by the rest of the world. China has a trade imbalance with the U.S. and almost every country it does business with.

Did China honour the ruling of the international tribunal at The Hague against its claims on South China Sea islands? It unilaterally declared the ruling null and void, with some of China’s friends, including in the media, saying the communist power was right in its rejection of The Hague verdict.

G Joslin Vethakumar


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Labour Issues Flare Up at Foxconn Again

Multinational companies perpetuate third-world labour mayhem and pretend to be patron saints of fair play.

Foxconn has consistently been in the news for suicides related to work conditions. Yet, MNCs continue to use them.

There is no need to single out companies such as Amazon and Apple as there are many others remaining blind to the issue.

When they are exposed by American entities such as Labor Watch, they come up with marketing-induced excuses that do not cut.

G Joslin Vethakumar

Foxconn says investigating labor conditions at China factory used for Amazon

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Thiem’s Meek Surrender Gives Nadal a Record Title Win

I am not convinced the better player won tonight as Rafael Nadal hung on to his reputation as the King of Clay by taking home his 11th French Open title, leaving an erratic Dominic Thiem of Austria in disappointment after what looked like a meek surrender.

All credit to Nadal, nonetheless, as he made light of Thiem’s formidable strengths – drop-shot tricks, electrifying serves and ability to withstand long rallies – with astonishing winners.

Just that he was not convincing with the breakpoints he converted and the volleys that earned him points. Nadal was brilliant with his well-angled smashes (so was Thiem), undone by the occasional weak finishes that cost him points.

Luck was not often on Thiem’s side with double faults alternating with mind-blowing, 200+-km aces and returns failing him at crucial stages of the game.

That often left him seething against himself, with inaudible four-letter expressions, showing a poor temperament that is best kept under check as he progresses in the circuit.

There was not a single ace from Nadal in the match. That hardly mattered as he coasted to a straight-set win.

With the curtains having come down on Roland-Garros, sports fans await a football extravaganza with the World Cup set to unfold in a few days in Russia.

While the World Cup coverage is a part of my SingTel Mio TV subscription, I doubt it will be a daily fixture for me. I will certainly not miss key matches.

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Singapore Beats the World in Holding Ground-Breaking Events

WTO Inaugural Ministerial Conference, World’s First Youth Olympics, China-Taiwan Meeting are just a few examples

The one thing that The Straits Times consistently does well is in the use of creative design and infographics. As it did today in a Sunday feature on the historic peace summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set for Tuesday.

There is no doubt that Singapore playing host to a significant peace initiative is a strong endorsement of the trust it enjoys worldwide. However, the over-reactions I see in Singapore’s media confound me as the country has proven strengths in holding such premium events.

Organisational Excellence: Singapore beats the world hands down in terms of organisational excellence, spanning all aspects of high-profile meetings, including security while keeping public disruptions minimal, perfection in execution, use of ground-breaking technology and top-notch entertainment for attendees.

In December 1996, Singapore organised the inaugural ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), drawing leaders from 120+ countries.

I had the opportunity to cover that first WTO ministerial meeting as a journalist – I was with Microsoft Magazine then and writing for Newsbytes, now owned by The Washington Post, a part of the Amazon group.

Suntec City was the venue for it, with celebrations at the Sentosa, which is where the Trump-Kim summit is to be held. Indian signer Sharon Prabhakar was among entertainers who performed at the WTO inaugural.

Coins, MRT Cards for WTI: Coins were minted and commemorative MRT cards were rolled out specially for the event. Media representatives were also given some of those goodies.

There were eager collectors willing to pay a premium price for them as I was stepping out of the conference venue. As someone keen on collectibles myself, I was not ready to part with that (though I will have to scour my home to trace them now).

Summit city 3Similar limited-edition mementos are also being sold for the June 12 summit.

Another event Singapore organised with aplomb was the World Bank–IMF conference in 2006, with participation from more than 300 Finance Ministers from every part of the world.

2010 – YOG vs the Commonwealth Games: Singapore also hosted the first-ever Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010, the same year when India completely messed up the Commonwealth Games. The planning was so poor that steps were afoot to move the Games out of the country – fortunately, some late action from India prevented what will have been a disaster for it.

Cloud computingwas used in a big way at the YOG in Singapore not just to minimise expenditure on costly equipment for a two-week event but also to demonstrate to the world the viability of emerging new technology platforms.

Earlier in 2005, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also held an important session in Singapore to pick the city that will host the 2012 Olympics. The honour went to London.

In 2015, Singapore also hosted the first summit between the leaders of China and Taiwan in nearly seven decades.

Given Singapore’s consistency in organising events that attract global attention, I am surprised at the fluff surrounding the Trump-Kim summit.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Trump-Kim Summit – Singapore’s Gain, Mongolia’s Loss!

While Singapore ministers (Iswaran, Shanmugam and Vivien Balakrishnan, to name just a few) have been gloating over the country hosting the Trump-Kim summit, they should pause to think that the historic event may well have been held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Both Singapore and Mongolia have good relations with the U.S. and North Korea, a key evaluation criterion for the choice of location along with a few other aspects of equal importance – such as security. It is quite another matter that some European cities – including Geneva and some Scandinavian countries – were also weighed in during the initial stages of consideration.

This piece in The Los Angeles Times nails it even more tellingly.

  1. Pariah nation: “Singapore has diplomatic ties with the pariah nation (referring to North Korea), which has an embassy in a downtown high-rise. Until recent sanctions kicked in, Singapore allowed North Koreans in on work visas, a key source of income for the cash-strapped government in Pyongyang.”
  2. A quote from a professor: “They admire the Singaporean system. It looks like an autocratic democratic system. Singapore’s restrictive laws on public gatherings and demonstrations would make it a comfortable venue for the North Koreans.”
  3. “Public gatherings without a police permit are illegal in Singapore.”
  4. “Singapore, a city state about half the size of Los Angeles and about 1.5 times its population, is no stranger to hosting high-profile meetings. In 2015, it hosted the first summit between the leaders of China and Taiwan in nearly seven decades.”

Capella for Trump summit, Reuters

A Reuters Photo

The report is not likely to resonate well with the Singapore establishment. The last point is the one that, to me, is the most striking as it highlights how overpopulated Singapore is.

That is something I have been repeatedly blogging apart as that has resulted in a deep slide in the quality of life in the country. It is something that can be dealt with even now as about 40% of its residents are foreigners.

Singapore will be least perturbed about it, being a country mostly inhabited by people from the most dense parts of the region, particularly China and India.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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A Grand Slam for Halep, Finally!

It was a boring final tonight all right at Roland-Garros, but everything was going well for Sloane Stephens when she suddenly started to falter, allowing Simona Halep to win her maiden Grand Slam.

Top-seeded at the French Open, but without winning a Grand Slam is a tennis dynamic. That’s beside the point. Well done, Halep.

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Austrian Thiem, the Best at the French Open

The absence of Roger Federer at the French Open did not deter me from watching key matches every night the last 10 days – on Mio TV in Singapore!

That experience also made me discover a new tennis favourite – Austrian Dominic Thiem, who just reached his first Grand Slam final with a straight-set win over Italian Cecchinato.

Best-Looking Player: A favourite with women for his looks, Thiem, to me, has been the best player at Roland-Garros and, possibly, one of the finest in the game today.

He hardly hits the ball aloft, with his smashes timed to just marginally sail over the net and land on the court with a spin strong enough to win points.

Having watched a few of his games at the Open, I have found him consistent with a regular stream of mind-blowing winners and less erratic than most.

In Sunday’s final, Thiem will be playing the winner of the Nadal-Del Potro semi-final that has just started.

Austria Closing Political Mosques: Thiem may have lost some fans among Muslims and fake liberals today with Austria’s decision to close mosques spreading hate and to expel imams with links to terrorists and playing a political game.

That’s fair game – if you are living in a country gratis the hosts you cannot wreck peace there with a virulent political campaign of hate and expect to be treated with kid gloves.

But on the tennis court, Thiem’s mastery will win love and fans.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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