Singapore – 30th Happiness Country in the World (United Nations World Happiness Report 2013)


Singapore ranks thirty in the 2013 World Happiness Report issued by the United Nations, a ranking of nations’ well-being that includes measures such as GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support and freedom to make life choices.

The report edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs is an effort to provide a scientific basis to incorporate well-being as part of the consideration for countries’ sustainable development policy .


Understanding the Structure of the Chinese’s Government and its Agencies

The US-China Business Council has a useful resource to make sense of the current (2011) structure of the Chinese central government and the (direct and indirect) reporting chain for the major agencies, their work plans and bio to key leaders.

People’s Republic of China Central Government Structure

Outward Foreign Direct Investment from Emerging Economies

Recently, I have been doing research on the nature of China’s outward foreign direct investment and its impact on Australia. I found the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, Columbia University to be an invaluable source.

Between Karl Sauvant (former UNCTAD Director) and Ken Davies (former Global Relations Head, OECD), there have been numerous useful articles including:

Summary and reflection on China’s Internet policy

(Credit: Tim Yang)

On 8 Jun 2010, the China State Council published its Internet policy white paper. The white paper (available in English) was written for an international audience explaining China’s domestic Internet development and the state’s role in the management of Internet in China. On one hand, the white paper demonstrated a contemporary understanding and support and acceptance of the Internet’s contributions and impact on China’s economy and societal development. However on the other hand, the heavy rhetorical tone in sections of the paper masked the government’s internet policy inadequacies and blanket approach legislature response to manage the flow of information via the Internet.

The paper is divided into six sections. First, it introduced the historical origins of the Internet in China, the massive ICT infrastructure development undertaken since 1997 and the government’s target to raise Internet accessibility to 45% of its population by 2015. Next, it described the upcoming Internet-related economic growth sectors and briefly discussed the government e-governance efforts to satisfy the information demand of the country[1]. The section goes on to elaborate the role of the Internet particularly in among its urban population – currently the largest constituent of China’s Internet population.[2]

The third section iterated the Chinese government’s support to the development of news communication over the Internet. This support was in alignment to its citizen’s right to freedom of speech, access to a full range of information and societal participation “in accordance with the law”.  The Chinese government also recognised the Internet’s role as a conduit to facilitate communication between the government and its citizens. The government singled out the vibrancy of the citizenry societal discussion on BBS (bulletin board system) which enabled the leaders to become more aware of the grassroots situation[3] and indirectly increased the citizens’ supervision of the government.

The fourth section outlined a litany of legislations and regulations to enable the government “scientific and effective Internet administration by law”. These legislations and regulations covered the administration of Internet network infrastructure, the dissemination of illegal information online, online safety for minors, the protection of digital intellectual property rights and citizen’s online privacy. It also outlined a sweeping list of prohibited content online, established by the National People’s Congress[4]. While this list of content may looked comprehensive, the definition of these prohibited content are often loosely defined. The lack of clarity behind these terms and a non-independent judiciary hindered an accurate understanding how these offences may occur.

The fifth section highlighted “cyber security” as a crucial area of interest to the China government. The Chinese government recognised that the Internet is an important infrastructure for the entire country and therefore internet security is a matter of state security and public interest. Within Chinese territory, “the Internet is under the jurisdiction of Chinese sovereignty.” Therefore, all PRC citizens, foreign citizens and organisations within Chinese territory must obey the laws and regulations of China.

To further lend support for the case of internet security, the paper provided an unsubstantiated statistical reference (“incomplete statistics”) to more than 1 million IP addresses in China were controlled overseas.[5] A series of agencies, laws and regulations concerning administration of the Internet security in China were also mentioned. Interestingly, the government is placing the onus of monitoring the users’ usage and content on the ISPs “to prevent the transmission of all types of illegal information”[6] [7].

In the last section, the Chinese government outlined its willingness to engage multilateral and regional organisations to share the responsibility of maintaining global Internet security. It specifically expressed its support for the ITU (a United Nation agency) to hold the role of International internet administration and also provided a list of exchanges and agreements with regional organisations with ASEAN, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Interpol and specific countries like the UK and the US. In this section, China demonstrates an acceptance to norms of international internet administration.

In conclusion, the Chinese government demonstrated a contemporary understanding of the Internet and is eager to take advantage of its information sharing economical benefit, societal development, and electronic governance capabilities. But at the same time, it also highlights an uneasiness undertone with the wide availability of information exchange. In response to information which may fall under its list of prohibited content, the government employs a long list of laws and regulations to administer the Internet but questionably placing the heavy burden of responsibilities onto ISPs to monitor the users’ data. On the international front, the government expressed its willingness to support and cooperation in multilateral organisations to administrate and promote Internet security and development.

This piece was written in my personal capacity.

[1] The haphazard references to e-governance may indicate a lack of established formal e-governance policy.

[2] The white paper did not include specific ICT policy for the rural population.

[3] From the author’s personal perspective, middle level Chinese authorities have a tendency to micro-manage situations particularly those involves senior level authorities. This tendency which may led to “astro-turf” participation during the occasional senior level authorities consultations.

[4] Within the IV section of the white paper quoted, “The citizens’ freedom and privacy … is protected by law, which stipulates at the same time that while exercising such freedom and rights, citizens are not allowed to infringe upon state, social and collection interests or the legitimate freedom and rights of other citizens.” In absence of an independent judiciary, there is no institution apart from the CCP in China to determine the boundaries of the State’s interests.

[5] Researchers from University of Toronto and US’s Shadowserver Foundation uncovered a vast online espionage network based in China, (The Globe and Mail)

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald reported the Australian Federal Government proposed new ISP regulation to retain the private users’ certain web usage data. In doing so, the government may be able to bypass the need for court warrant to access these data, (The Sydney Morning Herald)

[7] Are private entities (ISPs) in the position to be trained and resourced to monitor private users’ data? Should they actually get involved in monitoring their customers?

A watch wearing river crab: Internet Democracy in China

I actually believe that China society at the grassroot is actually more open than under-reported by the international media. Nevertheless, I marvelled at the efforts and creativity of the Chinese netizen trying to overcome state censorship.

While researching on the state’s internet policy in China and the online civil society, I came across references to the terms and images of “river crab” and “wearing a watch” (and “grass mud horse” – a vulgar term involving one’s mother). These euphemistic terms were invented to avoid censorship that were established along the lines of state construct of a “harmonious society” (héxié shèhuì) and the ideology of “Three Represents” (sāngè dàibiǎo).

River Crab
The term “river crab” (héxié) which sounds similar to “harmony” is used when one’s posting had been subjected to online censorship (or being “harmonised”). Such is the popularity and acceptance of this term, that it made the leap from the internet and into mainstream lingo.

Wearing a Watch
The wearing of a watch (dàibiǎo) is pronounced in the same tone as “represents”, an acknowledgement of “The Three Represents”. The Three Represents mark an acceptance of the “advance productive forces” (other economical forces present in the Chinese socialist-market economy) in the CCP.

This phenomenon illustrates a missing meaningful and effective societal space in China to engage with the local and Central authorities. This gap forced the Chinese netizens to go underground to musk their opinions and grievances and often in doing so the complaint’s objectivity and purpose got lost in midst of this translation.

Related link:

An illustration of the Green Dam Youth Escort (a state-sanctioned censorship software) with Caonima (Source: Wikipedia)

Political Islam in Indonesia – A Threat to the Pancasila State?

Originally uploaded by isafrancesca

This essay argues that despite the rising Islamic manifestations among Indonesian society and the majority Muslim population, these conditions not do threaten the monotheistic nature of the Indonesia state espoused by the national philosophy – Pancasila. The secular-national parties’ victory led by the Democratic Party during the 2009 April General Election clearly affirms the view that the Muslim majority do not “see voting as ‘confessional behaviour’, explicitly linked to their faith” (Fealy 2009, Kadir 2004, Hefner 2000). Further examination of the election results also revealed uneven levels of support among the heterogeneous Islamic political parties. Until these disparate parties are able to consolidate their support bases, establish common political agendas and design viable socio-economic policies to attract the Muslim voters, their presence would not threaten the Pancasila state.

This essay begins with an introduction to Pancasila with a focus on its monotheistic nature, followed by the development of political Islam under Soeharto’s rule. Third, I will provide an introduction to the various Islamic political parties that have emerged following the demise of Soeharto’s regime. After which I will provide an analysis of the Islamic parties’ performance during the recent 2009 April General Election. Based on the latest voting trends, I will finally conclude if political Islam poses a present threat to Indonesia’s national philosophy.

The Indonesia’s national philosophy, Pancasila, consists of five principles. The first principle “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa” states that “the State shall be based on the belief in the one and only God”. Similarly in Article 29 of the Indonesia Constitution which set out the status of religion in the state, no single religion was officially acknowledged. In addition, “the government is [also] required to follow a policy of neutrality towards all religions” and “afford equal right to all citizen regardless of their religious persuasions” (Salim 2007). These two examples highlight the basis for monotheism and religious plurality to exist in the Indonesian state where non-Muslim form the other 13% of the population (Kadir 2004).

As the nation’s dominant religion, Islamic groups has always been featured extensively in Indonesia’s historical and political landscape. Islamic mass organisations such the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah had a history of political activism in the country ever since the independence and anti-communist movements. After seizing power from Soekarno in 1965, Soeharto saw these Islamic organisations as political challenges to his newly acquired state authority. Therefore he sought to “sideline all Islamic parties … and subjected all political activities to stringent state control” (Means 2009). Soeharto required all organisations to assert their acceptance to the national philosophy of Pancasila. During that period, he also sanctioned new an Islamic political party and state agency such as Partai Muslimin Indonesia (Parmusi) and Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), in efforts to further diffuse the Islamic vote and community leadership. For much of his rule, Soeharto was generally able to curb the influence of political Islam and but not totally emasculate its existence.

In 1999, following Soeharto’s resignation, Indonesia embarked on the electoral democracy path. The democratisation process led to a flurry of Islamic and Muslim-based political parties particularly after years of political marginalisation under Soeharto’s rule (Kadir 2004, Ufen 2009). More than twenty political parties contested in the 1999 General Election. By and large, these Islamic political parties fall under two broad categories: Islamic and Muslim-oriented parties (Kadir 2004, Ufen 2009). The Islamic parties officially proclaim their Islamic identity with the clear agenda to apply Shariah laws across the societal and political realms. Only Muslims are admitted into these parties. This list includes the United Development Party (PPP), Moon and Crescent Party (PBB) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

On the other hand, parties such as the National Awakening Party (PKB) and National Mandate Party (PAN) belonged to the Muslim-oriented category. These parties draw their support mainly from the Muslim communities, but they also espouse a “religion neutral state ideology” (Pancasila) and are inclusive towards non-Muslims along their membership (Kadir 2004). The large number of Islamic political parties’ existence illustrate the divisions and diversity of opinions among the Indonesian Muslims.

With an overwhelming Muslim population (87%), there is the hypothetical risk for the “tyranny of the majority” situation to occur in Indonesia (Salim 2007). What if the Muslim constituents decide to vote in overwhelming numbers for Islamic political parties? It could be seen as a mandate for these parties to apply Shariah laws across all spectrums of the state and society. The non-Muslim minorities would be numerically helpless to oppose it. However, thelow-level of support for Islamic political parties from previous elections persisted into the 2009 April General Election seem to offer some respite.

Despite evidence of growing conservatism and Islamic influence such as the 2008 Anti-Pornography Bill and the increasing numbers of Shariah provincial bylaws, the overall support for Islamic political parties actually fell to their lowest level in the 2009 April General Election since the post-Soeharto years (Fealy 2009). When this trend is viewed together with the Democratic Party’s runaway success in the same election, it became clear that Muslim constituents are not voting solely on their religious belief. There are two possible reasons for this occurrence: the constituent’s personal socio-economic concerns and the existence of serious internal divisions among the various Islamic political parties.

Over the last two years, Lembaga Survei Indonesia (Indonesian Survey Institute) surveys revealed the constituents’ “shrinking confidence in Islamic parties’ ability to address pressing socio-economic issues” (Fealy 2009). Compared to previous administrations, Indonesia achieved a period of stable economic growth under Yudhoyono’s first presidential term. Yudhoyono was politically acute to include members of Islamic political parties into his cabinet. The combination of his ability to deliver steady economic growth and inclusion of ministers from Islamic political parties in his cabinet enables him to capture the confidence of the majority moderate Muslims.

Second, over the recent years, serious internal cracks have emerged among the three of the four largest Islamic political parties. Since 2004, PKB was headed by four different chairmen and has been involved in legal exchanges with other rival groups. The PPP suffered from faction divisions and inapt leadership due to personality and sectional differences. The PAN was deeply divided among over its nomination for the 2009 July Presidential election. These splits do not aid the parties’ causes but has resulted in further alienation from their support bases.

This essay has demonstrated that there not strong correlation between rising religion fervour and its challenge to the Pancasila philosophy. It also highlighted that at the polling booth, the majority of the Indonesia Muslim constituents would both consider both the secular-nationalist and a wide range of Islamic political parties partially the parties’ abilities to address socio-economic issues. For the reasons, it is currently safe to assume that current state of political Islam in Indonesia does not threat the Pancasila state.

Fealy, Greg. “Indonesia’s Islamic parties in decline” Inside Story. May 11 2009. (accessed October 27, 2009)

Hefner, R.W. “Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000

Kadir, Suzaina. “Mapping Muslim politics in Southeast Asia after September 11” The Pacific Review, vol. 17, no. 2 (2004): 199-222.

Means, Gordon P. “Political Islam in Southeast Asia” 93-118. Malaysia: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2009.

Salim, Arksal. “Muslim Politics in Indonesia’s Democratization: The Religious Majority and the Rights of Minorities in the Post-Suharto Era” in Indonesia: Democracy and the Promise of Good Governance, McLeod, Ross and MacIntyre, eds., Singapore: ISEAS, 2007

Ufen, Andreas. “Mobilising Political Islam: Indonesia and Malaysia Compared” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, vol. 47, no. 3 (2009): 308-333.

Six Distinguished Alumni Describe how Monash University Influenced their Careers

When I graduated from Monash University in 2004, I received more than just a Computing education. The experiences and opportunities in Monash opened my eyes and spurred my desire to understand a larger and interconnected world of knowledge and disciplines. My time in Monash has also encouraged me to boldy pursue my interests and passion which is the manner I want to live my life.

I thought the distinguished alumni featured in this videos perfectly described the capability and potential of this young and fine institution – Monash University.

Related link: Honouring our distinguished alumni (Monash University)