Tuesday, November 20, 2012
JOHOR BARU: The proposal to develop the intra-city commuter train (ICCT) service for Iskandar Malaysia is still open and interested parties are invited to submit their proposals on the project. Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) chief executive officer Datuk Ismail Ibrahim said there were no reasons to stop those interested in the project from doing so. He said although Irda had received a proposal on the project by Metropolitan Commuter Network Sdn Bhd (MCN), the Federal Government had yet to make a decision on it. “There is no exclusivity on the part of MCN and we do not deny other interested parties from proposing the project to us,” Ismail told StarBiz.
He said the high-speed train (HST) project has attracted many potential investors, and companies could submit their proposals for the intercity rail project in Iskandar Malaysia. The feasibility study on the HST project will be completed by the end of the year and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) will submit its findings on the project to the Government in the first quarter of 2013. It will only take 80 minutes on the high-speed train from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Baru and 90 minutes to Singapore.
“We (Johor and Irda) have done our part to support the proposal, but supporting does not tantamount to agreeing to the project to be implemented in Iskandar Malaysia,” said Ismail. He recalled last year when several newspapers had misquoted Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, who is also Irda co-chairman, as saying that Johor had agreed to the MCN’s project.
MCN is a joint-venture company between KUB Malaysia Bhd and Malaysia Masteel Works (KL) Bhd and the company had proposed to the Government to construct and operate the rail transit network in Iskandar Malaysia. The company had proposed to develop the RM1.23bil rail network covering 100km to serve all the major suburbs in the country’s first economic growth corridor. Under the proposal, seven new stations will be built along the route together with 16 halts and the rail network will also include a shuttle service from JB Sentral in the city centre to Woodlands in Singapore. Among the areas to be covered by the service are Nusajaya along with major developments such as Legoland Theme Park, EduCity, the Johor Premium Outlets and the Senai Hi-Tech Park. The ICCT is expected to start operations by 2013, with total deployment of 19 three-car trains.
“The Johor state government is not the approving authority of the project as it comes under the purview of agencies in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya,” said Ismail.Johor and Irda supported the proposal by MCN as well as those from other companies as there is demand for the project.
Ismail pointed out that approval of the project had to be given by the Transport Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Economic Planning Unit, the Public-Private Partnership Unit of the Prime Minster’s Department and SPAD. He said more details and review were needed by the approving parties before a decision could be made on the ICCT project to ensure its viability. Ismail said other than supporting the proposal, Irda could not say more on the intercity rail transit network.
“Nevertheless, we noted the high implementation cost for the project while coverage is somewhat limited compared with the other public transport system,” he said. Meanwhile, SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar had said in September that there was no study conducted on the ICCT project in Iskandar Malaysia. “No study is as good as not having such a project in Iskandar Malaysia, but we always welcome those who are interested to send their proposals to us,” he said.
Friday, November 16, 2012
A new report sees South-East Asia as the strategic venue of a possible great game' by two superpowers - again.
CHINA'S irrepressible rise amid US continued pre-eminence has been reverberating around the globe, spewing truckloads of issues for dissection and debate.
Among these issues is South-East Asia as a regional theatre for economic integration, diplomatic engagement or military entanglement. Despite declarations of the best intentions by all, the events that result may not always be desirable.
The New Geopolitics of Southeast Asia, released this month by the London School of Economics' (LSE) IDEAS, a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy, focuses on the region in this context. So what is one to make of China-US or US-China relations in this regional “theatre”?
Part of the first section, dramatically titled “The Clash,” and the Conclusion are by Malaysian banker Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, a doctoral student at the LSE back in 1978. Dr Munir is also the only South-East Asian among the three contributors in this section.
He begins by sketching the regional scenario as it develops: China's rise, followed by US scurrying to make up for a perceived lack of attention to East Asia after its preoccupation with West and South Asia. Washington's “relative neglect” is now embodied in its “pivot” strategy of moving 60% of its naval force to East Asia by 2020.
Interestingly, 2020 is also the target year for this region first Malaysia, then Asean as a whole, and then China to achieve peak economic performance. And there lies the rub: while East Asian planners emphasise economic development, US planners stress military force.
The economic dimension remains paramount in East Asian thinking in times of plenty and adversity. As Dr Munir notes, during the devastating 1997-98 financial crisis China stopped its planned devaluation of the renminbi as a lifeline to stricken regional economies, while the US was “conspicuous by its inaction”.
However, he also finds that US moves have not entirely neglected economics, such as Hillary Clinton's regional roadshow towards the end of 2010. Nonetheless, these efforts are still seen as belated, few and far between.
The larger issue is whether the US can accommodate China's rise with wisdom, maturity and equanimity. Prickly talk in Washington about branding China a “currency manipulator”, or a tendency to resort to military manoeuvres, is not encouraging.
Dr Munir recounts US strengths and weaknesses, but includes among the former a “military force without equal”. But having to spend half the entire world's military expenditure each year is more a weakness than a strength, particularly when the US is also the world's biggest debtor nation.
The only “strength” there resides in the US military-industrial complex, since the military sector is unproductive and can conceivably “profit” only through war and conquest. Recent developments however suggest that such gains tend to be temporary or illusory.
Meanwhile, the political strategy behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes some countries but excludes others, the latter being the newest Asean countries and notably China, is likely to weaken Asean. Such divisiveness in a supposedly economic entity is illogical, counter-intuitive and ultimately counter-productive.
But that is consistent with US refusal to adopt a more internationalist outlook on the conflicting claims in the South China Sea. Dr Munir says the US should, instead of simply repeating outdated mantras, consider the deep seabed the common heritage of mankind and form US policy on this basis.
That approach would engage China positively and win support and confidence among other countries. But in his own recent experience in Washington, senior senators and policy researchers were predictably uncreative in their approaches.
On the recent South China Sea spats between China and the Philippines and then Vietnam, Dr Munir refers tellingly to Washington's ambiguity in extending protection to security allies in the region. Where treaties or some formal understanding exist, what can the declared US “neutrality” mean or be taken to mean?
This ambiguity applies also to the East China Sea, where Japan's security treaty with the US is often assumed to cover outbreaks of conflict over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with China. Some US officials, like the US Congressional Research Service that informs policymakers, reject such disputed areas as distinctive national territory covered by categorical security guarantees.
Much of Dr Munir's contribution centres on issues arising from conflicting maritime claims, which represent the most likely flashpoint in today's South-East Asia, despite there being other important issues to consider. The key question is whether any country can conceive of a rising China in the context of today's realities, as distinct from ideological preconceptions and national prejudices.
Dr Munir finds the economic data showing that far from China swamping other countries by “its” exports, these are really mostly exports of its major investors based there. It is a China “at the centre of regional and international division of labour” and of regional and international economic integration.
Between 2009 and 2010, imports into Asean countries from the US declined sharply while imports from China rose even more sharply. It gives a whole new meaning to “import substitution” in South-East Asia, apart from everything else.
Complex situations framed with delicate issues require sensitive and nuanced responses. A hyperpower anxious to even the score in the region will only act like the proverbial bull in the china shop, upsetting everybody's applecarts to nobody's benefit.
The rapid pace of changes is undisputed.
Dr Munir says China's economy may become the world's biggest by 2030, but others like the IMF now put it earlier at 2016.
JOHOR BARU: Malaysia and Singapore have a year starting from next month to make their decision on the Malaysia-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) link project.
Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda) chief executive officer Datuk Ismail Ibrahim (pic) said the feasibility study on the project would be completed by the end of this month.
He said phase one of the joint-engineering study would focus on the various alignments, customs, immigration and quarantine-related matters and multimodal terminal locations and other critical perimeters.
“Although both countries have a year to discuss the matter, they don't really have to wait to complete the cycle before making the announcement,'' Ismail told StarBiz.
He said a joint-announcement could be made any time from December until November 2013, if they found the study was good and the project was viable.
Ismail said the announcement could either be made in the first or third quarter of 2013, or even a month after the study was submitted to the respective government.
“This one year time-frame doesn't mean a delay. We are giving ourselves ample time to study the project, but it must be running and operating by 2018,'' he said.
He said Malaysia and Singapore need to consult their respective agencies and discuss the project at the top level, before cascading it to the implementing agencies.
“There are three possibilities or options for the RTS project linking Johor Baru and Singapore,'' said Ismail.
He said the first option was to build another Causeway or a land bridge, while the second one was an elevated bridge and the last choice was to build a tunnel.
Ismail explained an elevated bridge could be a low bridge with an elevation of below 15m and impassable by boats or a high bridge of at least seven storey high or more than 35m high and passable to large vessels.
He said the third option was a tunnel a tube tunnel made elsewhere and sank from the surface of the sea or a bore tunnel involving drilling work like the Smart tunnel in Kuala Lumpur.
“Which is the better choice (the RTS link) will depend on the recommendations of the study, engineering point of view, costing as well as environmental impact,'' said Ismail.
He said the undersea tunnel was more favourable as it would have minimal disruptions to traffic movements during construction as the project would be located near to the CIQ complexes of Malaysia and Singapore.
However, Ismail said the final outcome on what kind of link was the prerogative of both governments, adding that Johor and Irda would welcome any of the choice made by the two countries.
“The main idea of having the new link is to cater for the people's movement and to accommodate for bigger volume and improve connectivity and accessibility between Johor Baru and Singapore,'' he said.
Ismail hoped that the final choice made on the link would result in a permanent solution in solving the current congestion on the existing Causeway.
In May this year, Malaysia and Singapore had announced that both countries would undertake a project to improve connectivity by opening a RTS from Singapore to Johor Baru by 2018.
The joint Singapore-Malaysia statement said that the terminating stations of the link would be in the city of JB Sentral here and the vicinity of Republic Polytechnic in Singapore.
It added that the RTS link was targeted to be up and operating by 2018 and to have a co-located facility in Singapore and Johor Baru so that commuters needed to clear immigration only once for each way of travel.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Steel Works (KL) Bhd's joint venture for a proposed commuter train service has been offered 14.31ha in Kempas, Johor for its Iskandar Malaysia commuter train depot.
Masteel said on Tuesday its JV company -- Metropolitan Commuter Network Sdn Bhd (MCN) -- had received the offer from the Transport Ministry to build the depot. It would submit the application to Perbadanan Aset Keretapi for the land.
"The size of the land is sufficient for MCN's depot construction and is strategically located in Johor for the efficient operation of MCN's proposed commuter train service," it said.
MCN is a joint venture with KUB Malaysia Bhd.