The fu­ture is bright and promis­ing for Malaysia, China and the world with OBOR

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is di­rec­tor, Asian Re­search In­sti­tute of Bank­ing and Fi­nance (ARIBF), Univer­siti Utara Malaysia

colourants from bio-waste ma­te­ri­als to sub­sti­tute syn­thetic dyes and chem­i­cal mor­dants. She ex­per­i­mented on cot­ton fab­rics un­til she got the right com­bi­na­tion of five ma­te­ri­als to pro­duce a dark brown colour.

The ex­pe­ri­ence at science fairs teaches par­tic­i­pants not only science, but, as it turns out, also about life when I in­ter­viewed some of the past In­tel ISEF win­ners in 2014.

Salma Yas­min Mohd Yu­sof, a par­tic­i­pant in 2000, who is now a doc­tor, said dur­ing the in­ter­view that she would not be as ad­ven­tur­ous in try­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences or push­ing her cre­ative self if it was not for In­tel ISEF.

Ijaz Khalif Ab­dul Malek, now a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer, who com­peted in 2007, said be­ing able to in­ter­act with so many tal­ented young sci­en­tists blew his mind.

With science be­com­ing in­creas­ingly cross-dis­ci­plinary and in­ter­na­tional, the ear­lier stu­dents start build­ing their net­work, the bet­ter. That net­work can be the key to stay­ing and suc­ceed­ing in science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing or math­e­mat­ics. It has also been an ex­cel­lent way for them to qual­ify for schol­ar­ships and dis­tin­guish univer­sity ap­pli­ca­tions from their ex­pe­ri­ence.

For Faye, it was even more mean­ing­ful. In 2015, the Lin­coln Ob­ser­va­tory Near-Earth Ob­ject Team named an as­ter­oid 31460Jong­sowfei (1999 CV19) to hon­our her suc­cess at In­tel ISEF in 2014.

Science re­search com­pe­ti­tions can nur­ture vi­tal learn­ing and life skills. They do it in a way that text­book learn­ing can­not. For the last 18 years, a small num­ber of our stu­dents have been lucky to ben­e­fit from the ex­pe­ri­ence of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion.

How­ever, early this year, In­tel an­nounced that it would stop back­ing the science fair af­ter nearly 20 years of part­ner­ship to rede­fine “what it means to be an in­no­va­tor by ex­pand­ing ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy skills and ex­pe­ri­ences and con­nect­ing more peo­ple to op­por­tu­nity”.

The So­ci­ety for Science and the Pub­lic is be­gin­ning its search for a new spon­sor for this global com­pe­ti­tion for 2020 and be­yond.

RE­CENTLY, in his first in­ter­view as United States pres­i­dent with mag­a­zine, Don­ald Trump ex­plained and laid down his eco­nomic vi­sion for the US and the global econ­omy. This is per­haps his most com­pre­hen­sive ex­pla­na­tion about what he wants to do for the econ­omy, though the United King­dom-based mag­a­zine still deemed it in­ad­e­quate and in­co­her­ent, and con­sid­er­ing it more like a busi­ness wish­list rather than an eco­nomic plan.

Be that as it may, Trump’s grand strat­egy for the econ­omy, or “Trumpo­nomics”, has three cru­cial ob­jec­tives: achieve fairer trade deals; re­duce taxes and dereg­u­la­tion; and, spur more in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing. All th­ese, he be­lieves, will cre­ate jobs, pro­mote growth, re­duce trade deficits and cre­ate an in­vest­ment boom for the US econ­omy. There are, of course, some is­sues with his pro­posal, like how he could get Congress to im­ple­ment his ex­pan­sive tax cuts and fund mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture projects.

Trumpo­nomics is also seen as self-con­tra­dic­tory and has been based on a mis­di­ag­no­sis of the root cause of the US’s trade deficit. The mag­a­zine ar­gues that the fo­cus on ad­dress­ing trade deficit with­out im­prov­ing sav­ings would jeop­ar­dise the US econ­omy with the pos­si­ble re­duc­tion in for­eign cap­i­tal flow­ing into the US in the long run.

While th­ese are is­sues that can be de­bated fur­ther, I think the cru­cial take­away from reading the in­ter­view is about his ex­po­si­tion, al­beit shal­low, on the eco­nomic phi­los­o­phy that un­der­pin his grand eco­nomic de­sign. In his own words, it is about “self-re­spect as a na­tion”. He fur­ther elab­o­rated: “It has to do with trade deals that have to be fair.”

Now, it ap­pears clearer that the US eco­nomic pol­icy un­der his watch will be one that is based on eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism and more of the “Amer­ica first” mantra, which he had pro­mul­gated dur­ing his in­au­gu­ra­tion speech ear­lier this year. This gives us, at least for now, a very brief vi­sion of what Trumpo­nomics en­tails, which is ex­pected to tilt more to­wards pro­tec­tion­ist and pop­ulist par­a­digms.

In the Far East, a dif­fer­ent vi­sion of the world has been of­fered. Led by China, it is called the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) ini­tia­tive. The fo­rum on OBOR was held about a week af­ter Trump’s in­ter­view.

An ini­tia­tive that be­gan about three years ago, OBOR is set to trans­form the 21st cen­tury global econ­omy in a sig­nif­i­cant way. It com­prises 65 na­tions and cov­ers 60 per cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, or around 4.5 bil­lion peo­ple, and a third of global gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP).

OBOR is sig­nif­i­cant in two fun­da­men­tal ways. First, it is an af­fir­ma­tion that the grav­ity of the global econ­omy has shifted from the West to Asia. Sec­ond, it is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of China tak­ing the man­tle of lead­er­ship on glob­al­i­sa­tion and free mar­ket from the US.

OBOR has cap­tured the “new re­al­ity” emerg­ing in the 21st cen­tury global econ­omy. And cer­tainly, from this point of view, Malaysia, un­der Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak, has read the de­vel­op­ment well and has po­si­tioned Malaysia vis-à-vis this “new re­al­ity”. It is about hav­ing the right vi­sion and fore­sight to an­tic­i­pate what might hap­pen and make the right move at the right time. This is rem­i­nis­cent of a sim­i­lar move by his late fa­ther, Tun Ab­dul Razak Hus­sein, who was Malaysia’s sec­ond prime min­is­ter, when he forged diplo­matic ties with China in 1974, the first coun­try in South­east Asia to do so.

Dur­ing his speech at the OBOR fo­rum, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping set a re­fresh­ing tone of a win-win co­op­er­a­tion in a world where pop­ulist, right-wing move­ments have gained trac­tion fol­low­ing the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and Trump’s pres­i­dency.

“We need to seek re­sults through greater open­ness and co­op­er­a­tion, avoid frag­men­ta­tion, re­frain from set­ting in­hibitive thresh­olds for co­op­er­a­tion or pur­su­ing ex­clu­sive ar­range­ments, and re­ject pro­tec­tion­ism”, he said. At the fo­rum, Xi also un­leashed an ex­tra fund of US$124 bil­lion (RM536.61 bil­lion) to con­nect Asia, Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa through in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment to bol­ster trade and in­vest­ment un­der the OBOR agenda.

Malaysia is in­deed one of the first ben­e­fi­cia­ries of OBOR through the East Coast Rail Line project, which is funded by China’s Exim Bank. This is part of the many fruit­ful re­sults of Na­jib’s visit to China in Novem­ber when RM144 bil­lion worth of in­vest­ments were signed.

In March, the first Dig­i­tal Free Trade Zone in Malaysia was estab­lished, the first in the world out­side China, with bil­lion­aire Jack Ma as dig­i­tal eco­nomic ad­viser to the gov­ern­ment.

Dur­ing the Belt and Road Fo­rum, the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween Malaysia and China was fur­ther en­hanced, es­pe­cially with the nine mem­o­randa of un­der­stand­ing signed in the con­struc­tion, agri­cul­ture and fi­nance sec­tors worth US$7.22 bil­lion.

All th­ese will boost pros­per­ity for Malaysia, China and the world. In other words, the fu­ture is bright and promis­ing un­der OBOR. The ac­cu­sa­tion that Malaysia will sell its sovereignty to China is base­less and un­founded. On the con­trary, this is about Malaysia not fall­ing into a trap of pro­tec­tion­ism and iso­la­tion­ism. It is about Malaysia’s com­mit­ment to open trade and eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, and the con­fi­dence to com­pete with the rest of the world as we march to­wards a high in­come and de­vel­oped na­tion sta­tus in a lit­tle more than three years.

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