Monday, December 28, 2015

S. Korea, Japan reach deal on 'comfort women': Some dismiss deal; others say it's a chance to move on, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

S. Korea, Japan reach deal on 'comfort women': Some dismiss deal; others say it's a chance to move on, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

S. Korea, Japan reach deal on 'comfort women': Some dismiss deal; others say it's a chance to move on

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (far left) and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se after a joint press briefing in Seoul yesterday. Amnesty International said the agreement should not mark the end of the road in securing justice, as some

SEOUL • The deal yesterday between Seoul and Tokyo to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Japan's use of wartime sex slaves disappointed some of the "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II, while the Philippines said the agreement could serve as a model for any similar pact with Japan.

Up to 200,000 women and young girls mostly from the Korean peninsula, China, the Philippines and what is now Indonesia were taken to former Japanese military installations. Few of them survive, 70 years after the war's end.

"I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a ground- breaking achievement," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference in Seoul after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se.


  • • Under the terms of the agreement, the Japanese government will provide 1 billion yen (S$11.7 million) to a fund for compensating victims.

    • The South Korean government will establish a foundation to provide support for former comfort women. Japan's one-time contribution will provide funds for the foundation. Projects for recovering the honour and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former comfort women are to be carried out under the cooperation of both governments, the agreement says.

    • The Japanese government said the agreement means the comfort women issue is resolved finally and irreversibly, on the premise that the government will steadily implement the measures specified.

    • Both governments also agreed to refrain from accusing or criticising each other regarding the issue on the international stage, including at the United Nations.

"I am very pleased to declare the successful conclusion of the difficult negotiations before the year is out, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties," Mr Yun said.

China, which has been deeply critical of what it feels as Japan's lack of atonement for its past military aggression, gave a guarded response yesterday.

"We are aware of relevant reports. The comfort-women issue was a serious inhumane act by Japan during World War II. China has always urged Japan to view correctly and reflect on history, and handle related issues with a responsible attitude," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said at a briefing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday offered an apology and acceptance of "deep responsibility" for the treatment of comfort women.

A Philippine lawmaker said the terms of the deal, which also included compensation, would likely be acceptable to the Philippines.

"What is important is that Japan now is willing to accept 'deep responsibility', and to admit that its systematic use of comfort women was a wartime policy it employed, that it was a weapon it used in its imperialist war," said Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate of the Bayan Muna (Nation First) party, which has been helping dozens of Filipinos forced into wartime sex slavery seek justice.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye saw the agreement as a chance to build a new relationship, her office quoted her as saying to Mr Abe.

Amnesty International said the agreement should not mark the end of the road in securing justice. "The women were missing from the negotiation table, and they must not be sold short in a deal that is more about political expediency than justice," said Ms Hiroka Shoji, its East Asia researcher, in a statement.

Madam Lee Yong Soo, 88, one of 46 living South Korean victims, was dissatisfied with the agreement, telling reporters that she would dismiss all of what the foreign ministers agreed. She noted the absence of legal responsibility and requested war crime damages.

The deal, though, is a chance for South Korea and Japan to move on, some commentators said. Both countries needed to improve trade and work with the United States to counter the rise of China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

But in a move that could anger Japan's neighbours, Mr Abe's wife reportedly visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo. According to Kyodo news agency. Mrs Akie Abe detailed the visit in a Facebook post yesterday.

Past visits by Japanese officials to the shrine to Japanese war dead have riled South Korea and China and raised questions about the sincerity of official apologies.


• Additional reporting by Raul Dancel in Manila and Kor Kian Beng in Beijing

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Singapore-based scientist wins top science and technology award of Islamic world, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Singapore-based scientist wins top science and technology award of Islamic world, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Singapore-based scientist wins top science and technology award of Islamic world

SINGAPORE - A Singapore-based scientist has won the top science and technology award of the Islamic world, which comes with a $700,000 cash prize.

Professor Jackie Ying, 49, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), will be awarded the inaugural Mustafa Prize in the Top Scientific Achievement category on Friday (Dec 25), in a ceremony to be held in Teheran, Iran.

This prize is meant for individuals whose research has improved human life and "expanded the boundaries of our perception about the world".

Among her numerous scientific contributions, Prof Ying was recognised in particular for her role in developing glucose-sensitive nanoparticles that deliver insulin to diabetic patients only when their blood glucose levels are high.

The system does away with external blood glucose monitoring by finger pricks, and allows insulin to be delivered orally or by the nasal passage, instead of through injections.

Professor Hossein Zohour, head of the scientific committee of the Mustafa Prize, said the groundbreaking research is "an outstanding scientific approach of great promise for improving the quality of life of mankind in the near future".

The other top award winner, under the Nano Science and Nanotechnologies category, was Jordanian chemist Omar Yaghi, co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

The pair edged out 600 other nominees, including Nobel laureates and scientists in the top of their fields.

The Mustafa Prize recognises leading researchers and scientists of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, and Muslim researchers from around the world.

Prof Ying, who was born in Taipei, and raised in Singapore and New York, converted to Islam in her 30s.

She told The Straits Times that she intends to use a portion of the prize money to get more students intrigued about science, such as through exchange trips to renowned overseas science institutions and better-equipped school laboratories. She will start her effort at her alma mater Raffles Girls' School.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Experts welcome anti-harassment guidelines, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Experts welcome anti-harassment guidelines, Singapore News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Experts welcome anti-harassment guidelines

A clear policy on workplace harassment can save companies from low morale and possibly lawsuits.

A clear policy on workplace harassment can save companies from low morale and possibly lawsuits, said industry experts.

They were responding to the release of guidelines yesterday by the Manpower Ministry, the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress to help companies deal with harassment at the workplace.

Welcoming the advisory, Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan said that "it is timely to talk about the issue" as the current trend is for less hierarchy and a more relaxed culture at work.

"Teams are getting smaller and people may get 'overly friendly' and cross boundaries."

He described the advisory as a good platform for companies to talk about a sensitive topic typically seen as taboo since many prefer not to wash dirty linen in front of their other employees. But employees will be left demoralised if they do not get help, he said.

A group - comprising the Government, unions, human resource professionals and employers - aimed at preventing workplace harassment was set up after Parliament passed the Protection from Harassment Act in March last year.

In the 17-page advisory released yesterday, the group urged companies to adopt a zero-tolerance stance towards harassment and to put in place a prevention policy, which includes reporting and response procedures.

The experts whom The Straits Times spoke to all said that companies which do not have a detailed anti-harassment policy should take their cue from the guidelines.

Executive director of Aware Corinna Lim said companies often do not understand the need for an anti-harassment policy until a case rears its head. And even then "it is not easy for managers to handle complaints of sexual harassment", she said. Sensitivity and empathy are required, and "that is where external trainers will come in useful".

The advisory gives a list of organisations where employers and employees can turn to if they want help or need more information.

Mr Tan said that the guidelines are generic so companies can tailor them to fit job descriptions.

For instance, employees who need to travel often in groups for work should have guidelines spelling out what is considered non-acceptable behaviour. He advised human resource practitioners to "identify grey areas in current policies to clarify the procedures when an employee gets harassed".

Mr Ian Lim, a director at TSMP Law Corporation, said that "ultimately it is just an advisory though, so it will have limited effect if employers and employees only pay lip service" to harassment policies.

The managing director of consulting firm Great Place To Work, Ms Evelyn Kwek, said that it would be "more effective for organisations to create a culture where... the physical and psychological well-being of the employees are a priority".

"A safe and positive workplace culture does not happen by chance," she added. "It takes intentional effort on the part of the leaders and employees to make it a reality."

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No Sec 1 students in 2016 for 7 secondary schools due to 'insufficient demand': MOE, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

No Sec 1 students in 2016 for 7 secondary schools due to 'insufficient demand': MOE, Education News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

No Sec 1 students in 2016 for 7 secondary schools due to 'insufficient demand': MOE

SINGAPORE - Seven secondary schools were not posted any Secondary 1 students for the upcoming year as there was insufficient demand in their respective areas to open classes, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said in a statement on Wednesday (Dec 23).

The seven schools are Balestier Hill Secondary, Henderson Secondary, MacPherson Secondary, North View Secondary, Pioneer Secondary, Siglap Secondary and Si Ling Secondary.

MOE attributed this to the trend of falling cohort sizes of secondary school-going children, which has resulted in fewer students being posted to some secondary schools this year.


It added that it was looking at the possible need to merge a number of low enrolment schools with another school as it may be challenging for them to offer a wide range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities.

More details will be provided in early 2016.

With the 2015 Secondary One Posting Exercise completed on Tuesday (Dec 22), MOE said around 38,600 students have been successfully posted to secondary schools based on their merit and choice.

Classes are due to begin on Jan 4, 2016.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Landslide in Shenzhen industrial park leaves 59 missing, sparks gas explosion, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Landslide in Shenzhen industrial park leaves 59 missing, sparks gas explosion, East Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Landslide in Shenzhen industrial park leaves 59 missing, sparks gas explosion

SHENZHEN (AFP) - A landslide which swept through an industrial park in southern China buried more than 30 buildings in a sea of mud, left 59 people missing and triggered a gas explosion on Sunday (Dec 20), state media reported.

Witnesses described a mass of red earth and mud racing towards Liuxi Industrial Park  in the city of Shenzhen before burying or crushing homes and factories, twisting some of them into grotesque shapes.

More than 1,500 emergency workers were involved in the rescue.

In its latest update on Sunday evening, the official Xinhua news agency reported three injured and 59 still missing. It was unclear whether there had been any fatalities.

The disaster occurred at 11.40am on Sunday, Xinhua said, and seven fire engines were initially dispatched to the scene. By mid-afternoon more than 1,500 people were combing through the debris for signs of life.

The slide ruptured a natural gas pipeline and triggered an explosion at the Hengtaiyu industrial park which was heard about 4km away, the agency said.

It said debris covered more than 10ha.

About 900 people were moved out of harm's way before the landslide struck late in the morning in the city bordering Hong Kong, according to the Shenzhen Evening News newspaper.

The landslide buried 22 residential and industrial buildings including two worker dormitories, state broadcaster CCTV said. But it quoted Mr Ren Jiguang, deputy chief of Shenzhen's public security bureau, as saying most people had been evacuated beforehand.

The cause of the slide was unclear. A video posted by Xinhua showed a massive dust cloud and piles of rubble where buildings once stood. Rescue helicopters were in operation near the scene.

"I saw red earth and mud running towards the company building," one local worker was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

"Fortunately, our building was not hit, and all people in our company were safely evacuated," the worker said, adding that a fishpond broke the full force of the landslide.

A park worker identified only by his surname Tian told the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily that his boss and his family were buried in the rubble. Only Mr Tian and a driver of the family managed to escape.

Another man, a Mr Xiang, told the daily that a friend of his and his three children were trapped.

A woman surnamed Hu told the Shenzhen Evening News she saw her father buried by earth in his own truck.

"It's been hours after he was buried, and we are quite worried," she said.

President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang ordered immediate rescue efforts.

The State Council, or cabinet, sent a working group to coordinate rescue efforts, which involved almost 100 fire trucks plus sniffer dogs, drones and other equipment.

The Beijing Youth Daily, citing a local resident, reported that the soil in the area had been dug up in construction work over the past two years and piled up against a 100m-high hill.

A landslide last month that engulfed 27 homes in rural Zhejiang province killed 38 people.

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'Absurd' exam questions make sense in learning, AsiaOne Mailbox News

'Absurd' exam questions make sense in learning, AsiaOne Mailbox News

'Absurd' exam questions make sense in learning

Embedded in Mr Ezra Ho's point about how the emphasis on "holistic" and "creative" thinking has resulted in "absurdly" difficult examination questions is a "trade-off" that many of us have yet to realise.


Many people utilise buzzwords like "creative thinking" and "critical analysis" to describe what examinations should assess.

However, on many internationally recognised pedagogical models, such as Bloom's Taxonomy and The Structure Of Observed Learning Outcomes Taxonomy - which have been utilised in various educational literature in Singapore - the ability to properly analyse and evaluate concepts, or to integrate different concepts, has always been prized as "top-level" learning outcomes.

These require students to possess higher cognitive abilities to tackle more difficult questions.

In the context of examinations, "absurd" questions are not actually absurd, but merely questions which require candidates to look at concepts in a new way.

Such questions are, in fact, examples of the top-level learning outcomes of the aforementioned pedagogical models.

Many would like to believe that there is a middle ground, where examination questions are easy and also not ones that reward "rote learning".

Speaking from experience, it does not exist.

We should not go back to a system based on rote learning just so examinations can be made easier.

Rather, it is time for schools to engage in teaching and assessment methods which are formulated on assessment practices that are more progressive and formative, gradually getting students to move from point A to point B and eventually point Z.

These methods should achieve the learning outcomes in a more cumulative manner, rather than expecting students to go from point A to point Z in an instant during a summative examination.

Such methods are elaborated in educational literature in Singapore such as Alternative Assessment In Schools: A Qualitative Approach.

These methods that allow for greater depth of learning require time that schools often do not have owing to the rush to complete syllabuses, a separate issue in itself that requires greater attention.

Ng Chia Wee

This article was first published on Dec 20, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

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How $20 changed my life, Lifestyle News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

How $20 changed my life, Lifestyle News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

How $20 changed my life

If not for something that my friend Ho Kian Leong did 34 years ago, you would not be reading this column.

I doubt if I would be working for this newspaper too and probably would not even have been a journalist.

Heck, I very likely would not be living in Singapore, but in Kuala Lumpur where I was born and bred. And if that had been the case, my circle of friends and acquaintances would be radically different.

I would not have met, among many other people, film-maker Eric Khoo and helped to write the scripts for four of his films including Be With Me and My Magic.

Khoo's oeuvre and Singapore's cinematic history would be different; ditto the history of The Sunday Times.


I know what I am saying sounds terribly melodramatic and self-important, but I am just trying to show how beguiling and fascinating the Butterfly Theory is.

The term became well-known in 1972 when the late American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz presented an academic paper titled: Predictability: Does The Flap Of A Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off A Tornado In Texas?

It expounded the chaos theory he first came up with about a decade earlier, about how small differences in a dynamic and complex system such as the atmosphere could trigger big, powerful and unexpected results.

Technically, the butterfly does cause the tornado. But what it does when it flaps its wings is to move molecules of air, which in turn triggers a chain of micro changes in weather conditions ultimately determining when or where the tornado strikes.

The relationship between two things, in other words, is seldom linear and any reaction is often the result of a heap of other causes big and small, by chance or design.

Applied to humankind, the Butterfly Effect demonstrates just how simple choices or actions by any one individual can set off a chain of events which will significantly shape futures and affect lives besides his own.

So what did Kian Leong do to change my life and in doing so, also alter those of people he does not even know?

He just lent me $20.

We were hanging out in Ampang Park Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur one day in 1981, not long after we received the results of the STP, the Malaysian equivalent of the A levels.

On a whim, he suggested dropping into the nearby Singapore High Commission to get application forms for the National University of Singapore.

I needed some persuading.

The thought of studying in Singapore had not crossed my mind: I did not think my results were good enough and I knew it would be financially tough on my folks. More importantly, I did not have the $20 to pay for the forms.

But Kian Leong said: "Aiyah, try lah. I'll lend you the money."

And that was how I ended up at the National University of Singapore, majoring in English Literature and English Language, and eventually becoming a journalist.

More than a thousand years before Lorenz, ancient Chinese poet and philosopher Lao Tzu had already decreed that "everything is connected and everything relates to each other".

I have always been intrigued by the tapestry of lives, how different destinies are so inextricably linked.

It is what prompted me to start my weekly series It Changed My Life in The Sunday Times, interviewing people whose lives have been irrevocably shaped by people, events or circumstances.

My subjects have run the gamut from hawkers to tycoons, former criminals to do-gooders, go-getting activists to passionate artisans.

Their narratives are equally diverse: a moment's folly leading to decades of ruin, a brave decision reversing a life spent mostly in the doldrums, a chance encounter sparking a metamorphosis.

Doing the series has made me realise a few things.

American historian Henry Adams was right when he said that chaos was the law of nature, order was the dream of man.

It is human nature to crave control over our lives. But no matter how we plot and plan, our future will always be an unfinished canvas.

One of my interviewees reinforced this when we went out for lunch the other week.

Harold is the towkay of a thriving courier firm with an annual turnover of more than $4 million.

He lives in a swish condo on Sentosa and is chauffeured around town in a white BMW by a young man who used to be with the special forces in China.

Life, however, was not always so rosy. Harold's late father was a pimp and big-time gangster, his mother a nightclub singer.

His childhood and teenage years were troubled and he was fired from his first job as a policeman when he roughed up a drug addict. He hit upon the idea of starting a delivery service while helping out at a florist.

The business did not take off immediately. In fact, Harold was mired in debts of more than half a million dollars at one stage before he drastically restructured his business and built it into what it is today.

Over an omakase meal at a Japanese restaurant, he told me: "Let me tell you something. Having something today does not mean you will have it tomorrow. Having nothing today too does not mean you will not have anything tomorrow."

The reality is there is no escaping the Butterfly Effect. You cannot, for instance, hope that nothing will happen if you do nothing. The very act of doing nothing will trigger off something, which eventually will affect you and others.

What we can and should do is to be mindful about the possible consequences which could arise as a result of our actions. Hopefully, that will lead us to make better decisions.

I do not know what prompted Kian Leong to do so, but I will always be grateful for the $20 he lent me.

It played a key role in steering me to where I now am, at a job I enjoy not least because what I do sometimes impacts people in a good way.

Just take Barry whom I was surprised to see in the audience at a talk I recently gave at The Arts House. Now an artist, the 48-year-old was a hell-raising former drug addict who spent more than 20 years behind bars.

We caught up over coffee after the talk. At one point, he gripped my hand tightly and said to me: "Kim Hoh, you have no idea what you have done for me."

I said: "What have I done?"

Apparently on the morning my interview with him was published, his mother - whose heart he had broken many times and whom he had not visited for many years - called him up and told him: "Don't forget you still have a mother who is waiting."

His siblings, too, have welcomed him back into their fold, and Barry's Facebook account is now regularly updated with photos of meals cooked by his mother and outings with loved ones.

There is more, he said with a grin.

"I will be going to the ROM soon," he says, referring to the Registry of Marriages.

"Wow," I said, "with whom?"

"My ex-wife," he replied.

That really made my day.

It does not matter that these developments would probably have taken place, even without my interview.

But I would like to think the Butterfly Effect is why our paths crossed and because of that, I have helped to expedite the reconciliation with the people he loves.

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