Generation 40s – 四十世代

Good articles for buddies

Leave a comment

777: A lesson in numerology for those who hate Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam

CommentInsight & Opinion
Yonden Lhatoo breaks it down for those who are fixated on their unflattering nickname for the chief executive-elect and will not give her a chance

So, Hong Kong has a nickname for its newly elected leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. It’s “777” – stemming from the number of ballots she secured from a small circle of 1,194 voters.

Never ones to miss the slightest opportunity to play with phonetics and sexual innuendo, the sparkling wits about town have pounced on the number with absolute glee. The pronunciation of the word “seven” in Cantonese matches the slang for male genitalia.

Forget the fact that, at the end of the day, we’re still talking about a highly accomplished person of integrity, sincerity and dedication to public service, a top administrator in one of the most efficient and corruption-free governments in the world. Forget about taking pride in the prospect of a woman leading Hong Kong for the first time in history. Let’s just wallow in the gutter of negativity and resort to vulgar name-calling.

The irony of it all is that, out in the wider world, beyond the limited scope of Cantonese semantics, the number seven is and has always been considered auspicious, lucky, mystical or magical.

A devout Catholic like Lam could welcome the nickname, given its religious connotations.

In the Judeo-Christian world, seven is a number that denotes perfection and completion. The Bible is loaded with references to it.

The Book of Genesis, for example, postulates that God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe – hence the Jewish tradition of observing the Sabbath on the last day of the week.

In Christianity, 777 is projected as the numerical representation of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – and the antithesis of 666, the devil’s number.

Other religions, too. The Koran has repeated references to seven heavens, and Muslim pilgrims in Mecca walk around the Kaaba seven times. When the Buddha was born, the story goes, he walked seven steps portending his achievement of the seven stages of enlightenment.

If religion is not your thing, the everyday occurrence of the number seven in a positive context should help you elevate your opinion of it. We all follow seven-day weeks. We marvel at the Seven Wonders of the World. There are seven colours in a rainbow, seven notes on a musical scale. And humans need an optimum seven hours of sleep a day. Still think it’s a dirty number to be sniggered at?

Back to Lam, Hong Kong’s reluctant “saviour”. Let’s not forget that she never wanted the chief executive’s job, but was simply not allowed to go gently into the night. The powers that be in Beijing decided she was the one they trusted the most and it had to be her in the hot seat, a torture trap that no one in their right mind would otherwise want.

When I spoke to her recently in a one-on-one interview, I found her to be very different from the aloof, elitist technocrat we had imagined her to be over the years. She was friendly, chatty, lucid and sincere. She came across as a person of conviction, but still willing to listen.

Maybe she’s been arrogant in the past and upset a bunch of administrative officers, the pillars of the civil service, but she’s clearly learning lessons in humility during her transformation from career bureaucrat to politician. Out of touch with the person on the street? Again, she’s learning, and we’re all teaching her the hard way, aren’t we, vulgar nicknames and all.

Hong Kong should seriously give her a chance. Let her prove what she can do for us, and let’s be realistic in our expectations. Until then, he that is without sin among us, let him cast the first stone at her.

For the rest of us, here’s a lovely thought: “If women ruled the world there would be no wars, just a bunch of angry countries not talking to each other.”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post

Leave a comment

America’s hidden role in Chinese weapons research

NewsChinaDiplomacy & Defence
Many scientists have returned to China after working at Los Alamos and other top US laboratories

China’s efforts to lure its scientists back from overseas institutions have been paying off militarily, with more than a little help from the United States.

Military projects they have been involved in include China’s development of hypersonic weapons capable of penetrating missile-defence systems and the design of new submarines able to patrol quietly along the US west coast, researchers familiar with the programmes told the South China Morning Post.

For more than a decade, China has been ramping up efforts to lure back talented scientists working at laboratories in the US linked to America’s nuclear weapons programme and other military research, as well as those working for Nasa and companies such as Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing.

Many of the scientists returning to China have worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which plays a key role in today’s US nuclear weapons programme, or the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

While the numbers remain unknown, so many scientists from Los Alamos have returned to Chinese universities and research institutes that people have dubbed them the “Los Alamos club”.

The Los Alamos laboratory, home to a wide range of defence research facilities, including a supercomputer and particle accelerator used for weapons research, has hired many foreign scientists to compensate for a shortage of American science and engineering talent. Its website says more than 4 per cent of its nearly 10,000 employees are of Asian origin.

In 1999, the US accused Taiwanese-American nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee, who worked at Los Alamos, of giving the design of America’s most-advanced nuclear warhead to China. The charges were dropped by 2006 due to a lack of evidence but the incident sparked widespread unease among ethnic Chinese scientists at the laboratory, according to media reports.

China has been trying to woo foreign-trained scientists back home since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, with one early success being Qian Xuesen, who returned to China from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955 to lead the country’s space and military rocket research.

But it has stepped up its efforts in recent years, using financial incentives, appeals to patriotism and the promise of better career prospects to attract scientists with overseas experience in defence research.

One scientist who returned from Los Alamos was Professor Chen Shiyi, who as director of the State Key Laboratory for Turbulence and Complex Systems at Peking University played a key role in the development of China’s hypersonic glide vehicle, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing told the Post.

China tested the hypersonic glide vehicle, capable of travelling at speeds of up to 11,000km/h – about 10 times the speed of sound – in April last year. At those speeds it could deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere on the planet in just over an hour – too fast for any existing anti-missile system to respond to.

The development of the weapon required sophisticated testing facilities, including high-speed wind tunnels. Chen’s laboratory built the first such wind tunnel in China.

Chen was formerly deputy director of the Centre for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos but he quit the high-ranking job in 1999 and returned to China in 2001.

He’s an expert on turbulence, one of the most challenging problems in physics. An object passing through air or a fluid generates chaotic disturbances but modelling them on a computer is extremely difficult. The faster the object, the harder it becomes.

The CAS researcher said Chen played an important role in convincing the Chinese government to build a wind tunnel for hypersonic vehicle development.

“I don’t think he brought back a blueprint of a wind tunnel or a hypersonic vehicle design from Los Alamos,” the researcher said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

“His research there was mainly theoretical, dealing with science problems rather than technological details. But he might have seen and heard things, which prompted him to come up with a solid proposal to the government after he returned.”

When the completion of the hypersonic wind tunnel was announced in 2010, it was the third facility of its kind in the world and the only one operating outside the US, according to the laboratory’s website.

Chen did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In 2015, the central government appointed Chen, then a vice-president of Peking University, to lead Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech), with an ambitious mission to turn the young research university in Shenzhen into “China’s Stanford”.

One of the first things he did was to found a Los Alamos club, which researchers said had already been growing rapidly at other top research institutes on the mainland including Peking University, Tsinghua University, CAS, the University of Science and Technology of China, Harbin Institute of Technology and Fudan University.

Dr Zhao Yusheng, a former senior scientist and team leader at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Centre, joined SUSTech as professor of physics in 2015 after 16 years at the US laboratory and oversaw the university’s development planning as director of research.

Dr Wang Xianglin left Los Alamos in September last year and became a chair professor in SUSTech’s chemistry department. Wang had spent more than 18 years at Los Alamos, working his way up from a post-doctoral researcher to project manager of its chemistry division, where he developed new materials for security applications such as energy storage devices and bio-sensors. He won many awards for his research and worked as an expert for the US Defence Department’s Homeland Defence and Security Information Analysis Centre in 2015, according to his résumé on the university’s website.

Dr Shan Xiaowen, head of SUSTech’s department of mechanics and aerospace engineering, is another Los Alamos alumnus. He’s also a senior scientist involved in the development of China’s first passenger jet, the C919.

The list goes on … Dr He Guowei, a researcher with CAS’s Institute of Mechanics, left Los Alamos shortly after Chen. Also a turbulence scientist, his team is now developing computer models for submarine development, according to the institute’s website.

A recent breakthrough allowed them to predict the turbulence generated by a submarine more quickly and accurately. The technology will allow China to build quieter submarines and better detect foreign ones.

He declined to talk about his work at Los Alamos, saying: “It was long time ago. What I knew is no longer relevant.”

Not all of those to return from Los Alamos were involved in military research. Li Ning, dean of the school of energy research at Xiamen University, was a nuclear physicist at Los Alamos’ accelerator facility in the 1990s. Now he’s a lead scientist in China’s programme to develop a new generation of clean, safe and highly efficient nuclear power plants.

Dr Hang Wei, who worked at Los Alamos for eight years becoming a professor of chemistry at Xiamen University in 2005, said the scientists’ return to China was “just a job”, and it should not be regarded as a threat to US national security.

“When I was there, there could have been hundreds Chines scientists in Los Alamos,” he said. “Most of us are foreigners. We are not US citizens.

“Our security clearance level is the lowest. Los Alamos operates one of the most detailed and sophisticated security systems in the world. We had absolutely no access to military secrets.”

But Hang admitted his research and that of other Chinese scientists had both civilian and military applications.

“The line (between civilian and military applications) can be grey,” he said.

A mainland national security expert told the Post the US government was well aware of the reverse brain drain but could do little about it because scientists had the freedom to choose where they worked and for whom.

“Even [US President Donald] Trump can do little about it,” he said. “If he bans foreign scientists, most US research institutes will shut down immediately because not many Americans are interested in becoming scientists.”

James Andrew Lewis, vice-president of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Chinese scientists were “targets of Chinese espionage recruitment, and this requires extra attention”.

The success of China’s efforts to lure people had been “mixed”, he said.

“Many return and then leave again, for the same reasons so many wealthy Chinese are buying houses overseas – Vancouver or Sydney are nicer than Beijing,” Lewis said.

“If people are working on science, there is little security risk. This is a normal practice and the science community is international. If they are working on weapons, there is a risk, but foreigners usually don’t have access.”

Leave a comment

No Carrie, education doesn’t need more money. It needs less


[Chief executive-elect Carrie) Lam said she would discuss her plan to inject an additional HK$5 billion into education with lawmakers from across the political spectrum in the coming three months …

— SCMP, March 28

I entirely agree with this plan provided we make one small adjustment in the statement above. Let’s change the words “with lawmakers” to “for lawmakers”. They could use some education.

It’s otherwise a waste, and worse than a waste.

The chart tells the story. Twenty years ago, the number of job holders with a degree from a tertiary institute of education was pretty much matched on the job rolls with the number of managers, administrators and professionals, the people who might need a degree in their work.

Then again, a good number of them might not have needed that degree. The best administrator under whom I ever worked never went to university. He joined the army instead. And, no, he never gave us orders. He led.

None of the other occupation categories our statisticians list require degrees. Associate professional is a fancy word for technician, and then come clerical, service, sales and craft workers. Ordinary secondary education will do along with on-the-job training, plus a better dress sense than any university can teach.

But there was a rough match between degree holders and degree needers 20 years ago. Get yourself a degree — outside of it being one in fine arts and flower arranging — you could be pretty sure of putting that degree to work in the job market.

Not now. More than 30 per cent of job holders now have degrees, up from 12 per cent 20 years ago, and, as the chart shows, we have 440,000 more degree holders than we have jobs in management, administration and the professions.

How many years of education does it take to walk the aisles of an Airbus and say, “Chicken or vegetarian, sir? We’ve run out of the beef option.” Count yourself lucky if it is what you can do with a degree these days.

There is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing and education is an excellent example of it just now.

When you put more money into formal education for a population that is already formally educated beyond its needs you do not get more or better educated people, but only people who are seriously stressed out.

They have wasted the best years of their lives in classroom boredom, are often heavily burdened by debt and the only way to make something of it is to throw even more good years after bad in an academic scramble over the heads of their classmates. A bachelor’s degree will no longer do. It must be a master’s now.

I find it ironic, that within one paragraph of our Tuesday mention of Carrie’s HK$5 billion education plan, our report stated that “one of the most agreeable subjects will be the abolition of a Primary Three compulsory test that is widely seen as a burden on children, parents and teachers.”

Poor kids. Whatever is abolished, that HK$5 billion promises an even worse burden yet of competitive pressure. If you want to relieve children’s burdens, Carrie, I suggest fining any school that permits its pupils to carry more than five kilograms in their schoolbags.

Yes, I agree there is more to learning than getting a good job. But how did this odd notion arise that it can only be done in a classroom? In fact, how much real learning is done in classrooms at all, when it largely consists of scoring points on tests that measure your ability to memorise artificial distinctions?

Education does not need more money. It needs less.

Leave a comment

China’s global ambitions can wait while it rebalances its economy

CommentInsight & Opinion
Stephen Roach says while the Chinese economy is more resilient than widely believed, the country isn’t yet ready to seize the reins of global leadership
Another growth scare has come and gone for the Chinese economy. This, of course, is very much at odds with Western conventional wisdom, which has long expected a hard landing in China. Once again, the Western perspective missed the Chinese context – a resilient system that places a high premium on ­stability.

Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) said it all in his final comments at the recent China Development Forum. I have attended this gathering for 17 consecutive years and have learned to read between the lines of premier-speak. Most of the time, senior Chinese leaders stay on message with rather boring statements about accomplishments and targets, toeing the official line of the annual government work report on the economy that is delivered to the National People’s Congress.

This year was different. Initially, Li seemed subdued in his responses to questions from an audience of global luminaries that focused on issues such as trade frictions, globalisation, digitisation and automation. But he came alive in his closing remarks – offering an unprompted declaration about the Chinese economy’s underlying strength. “There will be no hard landing,” he exclaimed.

The all-clear sign from Li was in sync with official data in the first two months of 2017: solid strength in retail sales, industrial output, electricity consumption, steel production, fixed investment and service sector activity (the latter signalled by a new monthly indicator developed by the National Bureau of Statistics). Meanwhile, foreign-exchange reserves rebounded in February for the first time in eight months, pointing to an easing of capital outflows.

At the same time, the People’s Bank of China took its cue from the US Federal Reserve’s rate hike this month, boosting Chinese policy rates by about 10 basis points. The PBOC would not have taken that step had it been overly concerned about the state of China’s economy.

But the icing on the cake came from the trade data – namely, annual export growth of 4 per cent in January and February, following a 5.2 per cent contraction in the fourth quarter of 2016. This underscores a key contrast between the latest and previous Chinese growth scares.

Call it the Trump effect: the revival of the global economy’s “animal spirits” in recent months has provided important relief for a Chinese economy that is still heavily dependent on exports. Whereas earlier growth scares were exacerbated by chronic downward pressures from sputtering post-crisis global demand, this time external headwinds have given way to tailwinds.

But, while the near-term prognosis for the Chinese economy is far more encouraging than most had expected, an eerie sense of denial, bordering on hubris, appears to be creeping into China’s strategic groupthink. With the US looking inward, Chinese decision-makers seem to be pondering the opportunity that might arise from a seismic shift in global leadership.

I was repeatedly asked about the possibility of a China-centric globalisation – reinforced by Chinese leadership in multilateral trade (the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP), pan-regional investment (China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative), and a new institutional architecture (the Chinese-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Develop­ment Bank). It’s as if China had been preparing to fill the void being left by President Donald Trump’s “America first” US.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a bill signing event this month in the Roosevelt room of the White House in Washington. Trump, the great disruptor, has changed the rules of engagement for what had long been a US-centric globalisation. Photo: Reuters

The Chinese are keen students of history. They know that shifts in global leadership and economic power are glacial, not abrupt. Yet I get the sense that they view the current circumstances in a very different light: Trump, the great disruptor, has changed the rules of engagement for what had long been a US-centric globalisation. Many in China are now wondering whether this may be an opportunity to seize the reins of global power.

Anything is possible – especially in a world where uncertainty is the only certainty. But there is another lesson of history that the Chinese must bear in mind. As Yale historian Paul Kennedy has long maintained, the rise and fall of great powers invariably occurs under conditions of “geostrategic overreach” – when a state’s global power projection is undermined by weakness in its domestic economic fundamentals. Global leadership starts with strength at home, and China still faces a long road of rebalancing and restructuring before it reaches the Promised Land of what its leadership calls the “new normal”.

Here there is another important disconnect between the view inside China and perceptions in the West. The view from outside is that Chinese reforms, the means to rebalancing, have stalled over the past five years under President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ). The same view prevailed under the prior 10-year leadership of Hu Jintao ( 胡錦濤 ). But is this really what is happening in China?

Results matter more than grand pronouncements. Since 2007, when former premier Wen Jiabao ( 溫家寶 ) laid down the rebalancing gauntlet for a Chinese economy that had become “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable”, China’s economic structure has, in fact, undergone a dramatic transformation. The gross domestic product share of the so-called secondary sector (manufacturing and construction) fell from 47 per cent in 2007 to 40 per cent in 2016, whereas the share of the tertiary sector (services) increased from 43 per cent to nearly 52 per cent. Structural shifts of this magnitude are a big deal. The key point missed by reform deniers is that China is actually making rapid progress on the road to rebalancing.

All of which brings us back to the questions raised at this year’s China Development Forum. The combination of near-term resilience and an inward-looking US appears to offer a tantalising opportunity for China. But China should resist the temptations of global power projection and stay focused on executing its domestic strategy. The challenge now is to realise the “tremendous opportunity” that Li touted in ruling out a hard landing.

Stephen S. Roach, a faculty member at Yale, is a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.