Australia’s Tantalizing Lessons on Privatizing Infrastructure

The White House is interested in modeling Australia’s approach to national infrastructure. Here’s how they do it Down Under.

Clement Tan | June 9, 2017 | CityLab

The White House’s “Infrastructure Week” didn’t offer many clues about how the Trump administration might approach its promise to “spend big” on ailing infrastructure in the United States. But when it comes to financing roads, bridges, and other projects through public-private partnerships, we know Trump advisers have one model in mind that Australia figured out nearly 10 years ago.

In July 2008, facing the fact that inadequate infrastructure could limit economic growth, the Australian government decided to do what it had never done before: infrastructure planning on a national level.

That month, the federal government created a statutory body—Infrastructure Australia—that brought together the public and private sectors to devise a long-term strategy and prioritize key projects for funding.

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Nanyang Girls’ Elizabeth-Ann Tan shatters 24-year 100m record

By Clement Tan/Red Sports, with additional reporting by Erwin Wong

National Stadium, Friday, April 28, 2017 — As she stood over the starting block amid the cacophony of screams, Elizabeth-Ann Tan looked straight ahead, arms akimbo, focused on the task at hand. There were the nerves, but she was mostly visualising the century sprint she’s about to run: the start that was always problematic for her, her shoulders, her arm swing, her stride rhythm.

The time Elizabeth had in mind: the 12.44 seconds she ran at a meet in Perth in March. She ran 12.71s in the semi-finals last week to break the electronically timed C Division girls record of 12.74s that Nur Izlyn Bte Zaini set in 2012 while representing Singapore Sports School. To go anywhere near 12.44s would mean bettering the 12.6s hand-timed record set in 1993 by Lim Joo Lee, then of Raffles Girls’ School.

“I was very, very nervous,” said Elizabeth, a Nanyang Girls’ High School secondary two student. “It was a bit more difficult to focus here than at Bishan Stadium because of the bigger crowd and the place, it’s quite scary though the adrenaline also pushed me along.”

She ended up crossing the finish line in the C girls 100m final in 12.41s, run with a slight tailwind of 0.1 metre/second. Teammate Bernice Liew, who finished second in a close 200m final last week, again claimed the silver in a personal best 12.72s. Both girls later combined to win gold for Nanyang Girls’ in the 4 by 100m relay.

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To preserve social harmony, Singapore has racial requirements for its next president

By Clement Tan | Feb. 14, 2017 | Quartz

At a time when right-wing nationalism is seeing a resurgence globally, Singapore’s move to ensure minority representation may seem almost progressive in comparison.

The city-state could soon have its first female Muslim president, after the government rubber-stamped changes last week that would see only the country’s Malay, Muslim minority—making up about 15% of its 3.9 million resident citizens—eligible to stand at September’s election to choose its head of state, a largely ceremonial role.

But since Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has in fact relied on a plethora of race-based innovations to maintain racial harmony between its majority Chinese population, and the minority Malay-Muslim and Indian ethnic groups. The latest move to designate that the president must be a Muslim is seen as another one of these measures.

“The government believes they have to engineer multiracialism,” said Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at Singapore Management University. “They regard the election of a minority as head of state as an important testament of Singapore’s nation-building journey. Attaining that end justifies the means.”

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Without Baggage of Legacy, China Budget Airlines Gain on “Big Three”

By Clement Tan

March 31 (Bloomberg) — Cheap fares and no legacy are helping China’s budget airlines beat state-owned carriers in the stock market.

With combined fleets exceeding 1,000 planes, $31 billion in market values, and up to 20 times more workers, state-controlled China Southern Airlines Co., China Eastern Airlines Corp. and Air China Ltd. on average provide just one-third the returns of Spring Airlines Co. and Juneyao Airlines Co., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Even the Chinese regulator has lauded Spring as a model of efficiency.

Investors have driven up shares of Juneyao fourfold since the stocks listed last year, while Air China, the leader by market value, has fallen 46 percent in the same period. The data also suggest the three carriers need to step up the pace of reforms to better exploit growth in the Chinese air-travel market, poised to become the world’s largest within two decades.

“Spring and Juneyao don’t have the baggage of legacy like the state-owned airlines,” said Cao Xuefeng, an analyst at Huaxi Securities Co. in Chengdu. “They were started as profit-driven businesses and cost-efficiency for them extends to all aspects of their operations, not just their smaller work forces and cheaper tickets.”

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Airbus, Boeing See Politics Make Good Business Sense in China

By Clement Tan

March 1 (Bloomberg) — China’s political leaders identified aerospace as one of 10 key industries in the country’s quest to become an advanced industrialized nation. Ahead of this weekend’s annual legislative session, Western planemakers — their future competitors — are helping them toward that goal.

Airbus Group SE will break ground Wednesday on a finishing center for its wide-body A330 jets in Tianjin, near Beijing, a decade after it opened an assembly plant there for single-aisle planes. Chicago-based Boeing Co. also is seeking a location in China for a plane-completion facility.

Opening plants in China, poised to become the world’s largest aerospace and air-travel market in two decades, is as much a political as an economic decision. One factor is proximity to customers: Chinese airlines order billions of dollars of planes from Airbus and Boeing every year, and doing some assembly locally eases the strain on the planemakers’ existing facilities. Equally important is the goodwill such investments earn.

 “It’s absolutely undeniable there’s been a communication of Chinese expectations for companies to build in China, to provide jobs in China, that they will be treated less equitably otherwise,” said Scott Harold, the Washington-based associate director of Rand Corp.’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy. “If you build in China, you’re a ‘friend’ of China.”

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Five Things to Look Out for When You Fly With Air Koryo, the World’s Worst Airline

By Clement Tan and Sam Kim

Feb 18 (Bloomberg) — Change is in the air in North Korea. After years of being ranked by Skytrax as the world’s worst airline, national carrier Air Koryo is undergoing a revolution, according to interviews with passengers and travel agents.

New planes, new in-flight entertainment options, smart new uniforms for the cabin attendants, even business class. It’s all part of supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s effort to boost tourist numbers 20-fold to 2 million by 2020 and supplement the nation’s meager foreign exchange.

Here are five reasons to book your ticket now, before the thrill of flying the world’s only one-star airline vanishes forever. (And as long as you don’t mind helping fund Kim’s nuclear-weapons program.)

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Chinese New Year: When Buying A Train Ticket Feels Like Winning The Lottery

By Clement Tan

Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) — In China, getting a ticket home for the Lunar New Year can feel a bit like winning the lottery. First, there’s competition for plane, train and other passenger seats for almost 3 billion voyages. Then there’s the quiz to prove you’re not a Web robot.

Beijing hairstylist Yang Mingyue learned how high the odds are in November, when she stayed up past midnight to buy train tickets online as soon as they became available. After finding the best fares for the 20-hour trip home to Heilongjiang province, Yang hit a snag: cryptic questions she had to answer correctly before her booking would be accepted.

The puzzles are part of new cybersecurity measures designed to thwart scalpers from snapping up seats to resell at inflated prices. But in attempting to block scammers, the perplexing process is catching innocent web users such as Yang.

“Those questions were so ridiculously difficult, and even when I managed to get them right after a few tries, the seats I wanted were no longer available,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s too late now. Even standing tickets on the dates I wanted are all sold out, economy class air tickets, too. Business class is too expensive.”

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Deal-Making Hits China Plane Leasing as Billionaire Li Jumps In

By Clement Tan

China is making the aircraft-leasing business a popular destination for mergers and acquisitions.

Plane-leasing companies in China have been involved in more than $16 billion worth of acquisitions since last year, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg. In addition, billionaire tycoons such as Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man, have entered the industry during that period.

Behind the recent flurry of activity is the Chinese government’s call in mid-2014 for local leasing companies to expand overseas and benefit from rising travel demand. Renting out planes to airlines has shown to be a stable business and is often more profitable than the carriers themselves.

“They want to grow big — and fast,” said Dewey Yee, head of aerospace finance and leasing advisory at Bridge Partners Capital in Hong Kong. “Aviation is really the only very, very long-term investment that you can make that gives you these really solid, steady returns.”

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With a Rail Merger, China Is Forging an Industrial Giant Second Only to GE

By Clement Tan

June 8 (Bloomberg) — China is forging the country’s answer to General Electric, combining two state-owned railroad equipment makers to create the world’s second-largest industrial company. And the giant isn’t planning to stay at home.

The merger of CSR Corp. and China CNR Corp. is now complete, producing a nearly $130-billion behemoth called CRRC Corp. with economies of scale that will allow China to compete even more aggressively for overseas rail deals. Shares of CRRC began trading Monday under CSR’s old tickers, gaining 4.5 percent to HK$15.68 in Hong Kong and rising by the daily limit of 10 percent to 32.40 yuan in Shanghai.

China is using its state-owned rail firms not just to win lucrative contracts but to project political influence abroad. CRRC will dwarf competitors like Germany’s Siemens AG and France’s Alstom SA as it targets emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia — often with sales pitches from Premier Li Keqiang — while bidding for high-profile contracts in the developed world.

“It used to be that CSR and CNR were competing against Bombardier and Alstom; now it has become China versus everybody else,” said Alexious Lee, head of industrials research for CLSA Ltd. in Hong Kong. “China’s products may not boast high-end specifications, but they provide value for money.”

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Made in Chindia: Two Paths Toward Industrialization

By Clement Tan and Siddharth Philip

June 1 (Bloomberg) — It may sound like another example of rivalry between the world’s most populous nations.

The Communist Party recently announced a Made in China program aimed at transforming its manufacturing sector, months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled his Make in India plan, also targeted at manufacturing. Look closer though and the signs point to a broad shift that could draw the two Asian giants closer economically in the years ahead.

Made in China 2025 is a 10-year campaign to push the country beyond labor-intensive work into more sophisticated sectors, from robotics to aerospace. Modi’s goal is to bring basic manufacturing to an economy that needs more decent-paying jobs. In short, China has set its sights on rivaling Germany or Japan, while India will happily settle for where China is now.

“Whatever industries China will be shedding over the years, India can capture,” said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economic research at HSBC Holdings Plc in Hong Kong. “The advanced guys will find that they finally have to compete head to head with China and I think it’s going to be a big, big headache for these industrialized countries.”

Besides sheer scale, China is years, if not decades ahead of its neighbor. According to International Monetary Fund and World Bank data, China’s gross domestic product per capita is almost five times that of India at $7,600 and its manufacturing sector is 10 times bigger at about $3 trillion. Still, China is losing workers by the millions, similar to what Japan experienced in the late 1990s.

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