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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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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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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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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TransAsia Won Delay of New Safety Rule Prior to Fatal Air Crash

By Tim Culpan and Clement Tan

Feb. 9 (Bloomberg) — Taiwan aviation officials agreed last month to TransAsia Airways Corp.’s request to push back enforcement of a new rule aimed at forcing them to have more time to conduct pre-flight checks.

Authorities delayed until March 1 their implementation of minimum transit time requirements, introduced this year after a fatal crash on Taiwan’s Penghu islands in July, because the airline had already published its schedule for January and February, Clark Lin, director of flight standards at the Civil Aeronautics Administration told Bloomberg News.

Enforcement of the new rule, which applies only to TransAsia and its fleet of ATR 72 aircraft, would not necessarily have prevented last week’s fatal crash, he said.

Flight GE-235, with aircraft registration No. B-22816, departed Taipei’s Songshan airport on Feb. 4 for the pilots’ second trip to Kinmen near China that morning before crashing four minutes later in the nearby Keelung River. A review of the aircraft’s Technical Log Book entries, which were kept by TransAsia and released by the CAA, show the pilots may have spent just 20 minutes at the gate in Kinmen while fuel was added, before returning to Taipei.

At least 40 people have been confirmed dead and three are still missing after pilots responded to engine warning alarms before the aircraft plunged into the water.

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China to Debut Fighter Jet as U.S. Brass Attends Airshow

By Clement Tan

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — China’s Air Force’s newest fighter jet made its debut at an air show attended by senior U.S. officers in an effort to showcase its rising military clout.

The J-31 stealth fighter gave a public demonstration of its capabilities at the Zhuhai Air Show that started today in Guangdong province, according to state broadcaster CCTV and the official Xinhua News Agency. The airshow coincides with a meeting in Beijing of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, including U.S. President Barack Obama.

Manufactured by the Shenyang subsidiary of Aviation Industry Corp of China, also known as AVIC, the J-31 is a test of the country’s ability to deliver cutting-edge defense technology. Still largely-shrouded in secrecy, the production of the fighter could add heft to China’s sea and air expansion in the region and its push-back against decades of U.S. economic and military dominance.

“It appears to be a fifth-generation fighter and so far of course only the United States has been able to produce those,” said Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “So in a sense, it’s kind of impressive on a superficial level.”

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Movie Stars Swap Limos for Subway in Hong Kong Protest

By Shai Oster and Clement Tan

Oct. 13 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong’s commuters are sharing crowded subway cars with some rarefied company these days: movie stars.

As pro-democracy protests enter their third week, blocking key roads and leaving swathes of the financial center mired in gridlock, action stars, Canto-pop singers and teen heartthrobs are ditching their Lamborghinis and chauffeur-driven Rolls Royces for mass transit.

Soon after students seized the streets Sept. 26 in a campaign for freer elections, Hong Kong’s cell phone-snappers began capturing some of this entertainment capital’s most famous faces among the huddled masses on the Mass Transit Railway, or MTR, the city’s subway.

There — in goatee, baggy sweatpants and low-slung baseball cap — is “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” star Chow Yun Fat. There’s television star Jessica Hsuan stepping out of the small screen and through the subway doors. Here’s matinee idol Aaron Kwok — he sings! he dances! his hair! — posting a selfie to commemorate his first subway ride in a decade.

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Pockets of Hong Kong Protesters May Defy Student Leaders

By Clement Tan, Cathy Chan and Jonathan Browning

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) — With Hong Kong’s student-led protests dwindling and rally leaders in talks to end their 12-day campaign, a small number of demonstrators are threatening to ignore any call to abandon their posts.

Pro-democracy protesters still on the streets of central Hong Kong increasingly don’t answer to the leaders from various student groups. As people drift back to school and jobs, those who remain pose a challenge to police under pressure to remove blockades and open roadways.

“These people come on their own, they make their own mind up, they don’t respond to anyone’s appeals,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong and democracy advocate. “The police understand this very well,” he said, and know the protesters are “unpredictable.”

The resolve of some remaining demonstrators may complicate efforts to bring the standoff to a peaceful end. Any attempt to remove them by force risks backfiring, as police saw when the use of tear gas on Sept. 28 brought thousands more onto the streets. When gangs attacked demonstrators at the Mong Kok and Causeway Bay sites on Oct. 3, the protests swelled anew.

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