Archive for July, 2012

McYale with the death penalty – and no backtalk

July 21, 2012

Progress continues toward the debut of the Yale branch campus in Singapore. The Asian liberal arts education experiment in partnership with the National University of Singapore is scheduled to begin holding classes next year.

As plans for the new campus emerged, Yale president Richard Levin and his administration assured all that the university would uphold its values despite Singapore’s illiberal political and social climate, including strict limits on free speech. But many faculty and alumni have expressed doubts about putting Yale’s centuries old reputation on the line in anti-democratic Singapore.

Yale international relations graduate student Shaun Tan has documented compromises Western universities make to accommodate repressive regimes. The article, titled Dangerous Liaisons, also noted that Yale received no special license to stretch Singapore’s boundaries.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported Yale’s Singapore campus will severely limit political activity. Political protests will be barred on campus, and students will be prohibited from forming partisan political groups.

The new college’s president, Yale professor of English and comparative literature Pericles Lewis, insisted that Yale in Singapore students “are going to be totally free to express their views.” Just don’t express them too loudly or widely, kids. Call it liberal education with Singaporean characteristics.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau bribe tale winds toward Beijing, Vegas

July 18, 2012

Last month, just after the great and good of the casino industry gathered for Global Gaming Expo Asia in Macau, the Wall Street Journal showcased the world casino capital’s shady side. The newspaper reported that Macau lawyer and legislator Leonel Alves passed along a $300 million bribe request to casino operator Sands China from a “high ranking” Beijing official.

I wrote that the report raises more questions than it answers. Among other things, I suggested the Beijing angle on the bribe could be camouflage for local graft; Alves, who’s been all over the place in his explanations, said in a recent radio interview that there was a Macau developer involved. My Asia Times article also suggested potential legal troubles for Sands China and parent company Las Vegas Sands stemming from the incident, even though it’s clear that the proposed bribe was not paid.

Answers are emerging thanks to a ProPublica investigation of Alves and his relationship with Sands China. The probe leads straight to Sands China chairman, Las Vegas Sands founder and my press conference pal, Sheldon Adelson, a key Republican and Likud Party benefactor. Stay tuned.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com, follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Holiday in Cambodia no longer a joke

July 6, 2012

Cambodia has come a long way since the days of the Khmer Rouge and the Dead Kennedys. A recent visit to Phnom Penh showed several sides of Cambodia’s renaissance.

I made the trip to see NagaWorld, the casino resort in Phnom Penh. The hotel features five-star rooms for US$60 a night, an epic breakfast buffet, and a variety of casino designs ranging from a Chinese garden to Dave & Buster’s inspired NagaRock. The whole package comes wrapped in Khmer hospitality with the kind of service you expect in Asia but is increasingly hard to find. NagaWorld recorded a net profit of US$92 million last year, and welcomed 490,000 visitors in the first quarter of this year.

NagaWorld has boosted Cambodia’s national rebuilding efforts. The company provides 3,600 jobs, nine out of ten to Cambodians. Parent NagaCorp became the first Cambodian company to list publicly when it raised US$95 million on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2006. That listing and NagaWorld’s success have helped encourage fast growing tourism and foreign investment. A meeting with one due diligence consultant yielded a roll call of visiting New York money managers.

Cambodia’s main attraction for overseas visitors remains the ancient Angkor Wat complex, 188 miles (314 kilometers) from Phnom Penh. However, more than half of overseas visitors to Cambodia included the capital in their itineraries for the first time last year. Phnom Penh has plenty of charms. The Royal Palace and National Museum provide reminders of the country’s grand past, with many stunning pieces from Angkor. Opposite the palace begins a wide promenade along the Mekong River that visitors and residents enjoy. The city’s burgeoning nightlife district runs off the promenade, and there are still reminders of the French colonial past, from ochre mansions to baguettes.

Phnom Penh also has two key memorials to Khmer Rouge genocide under Pol Pot that killed up to 2 million people in late 1970s. Tuol Sleng, the prison known as S-21, and Cheoung Ek, the so-called Killing Fields, are deeply moving, no matter how cynical and heartless you may think you are. They also serve as reminders that similar madness can strike anywhere, even absent the race and religion multipliers, even in countries where the people seem as gentle and kind as they are in Cambodia. It’s a great place to visit that gives you a lot to think about.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.

Next Hong Kong handover due in 2017

July 1, 2012

Fifteen years ago today was the apex of Hong Kong’s time as the center of the universe. My novel Hong Kong On Air recalls that incredible time.

Fifteen years later, you can debate whether China has become the center of the universe or whether Hong Kong is better or worse now. What’s certain is that Hong Kong has become far more dependent on China. The Asian economic crash of 1997 that immediately followed the handover – but had its causes elsewhere – and the 2003 SARS epidemic combined to turn the tables on the relationship between Hong Kong and China. It may have been a coincidence brought about by events, or it may be the product a calculated strategy by Beijing, but today Hong Kong needs China far more than China needs Hong Kong.

CY Leung takes the helm today as Hong Kong Chief Executive as the unelected head of the territory, chosen by a handful of handpicked Beijing loyalists. Beijing has promised that five years from today the chief executive being sworn in will be chosen in a free, democratic election by all the people of Hong Kong. If Hong Kong and China hope to enjoy a new version of the golden times Hong Kong On Air describes, that promise must be kept. Everyone who loves Hong Kong and everyone who loves freedom should join hands to convince Beijing to keep its word.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com.


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