Tuesday, 12 December 2017

lite cream soda


1. Jazz.

Kalau kau berminat untuk bermula mendengar Jazz, aku sarankan kau bermula dengan album "Kind Of Blue" dari Miles Davis.

Well, it's a gem in jazz world, a pretty good start, it is said as to be the greatest jazz record of all time.

Artist yang terlibat :-
1. Trumpet - Miles Davis
2. Piano - Bill Evans
3. Piano - Wynton Kelly
3. Saxophones - John Coltrane
4. Saxophones -  Julian Adderley
5. Bass - Paul Chambers
6. Drum - Jimmy Cobb.

Dan Dream Team Jazz ni, setiap artist masing pun selepas kejayaan album Kind Of Blue ni, berjaya dengan karier solo masing2. Aku suka Bill Evans dan John Coltrane, dan sekarang dalam misi mengeksplorasi setiap album dari Bill Evans dan John Coltrane.

Selepas itu, baru selesa untuk bermula dengan Chet Baker dan Theloniious Monk (dia ni cover album dia hebat2) dan lain2 artist jazz.

Dan selepas itu, kau mungkin akan berasa Norah Jones atau Adele itu sebagai pop music mainstream.


Oh aku masih lagi mendengar punk dan metal, guitar driven aggression adalah sesuatu yang menarik dan sukar dilupakan. Jazz ni, seperti yang aku kata, meluaskan skop pendengaran.

Secara terus terang, aku mula mendengar Jazz, pada tahun ini 2017.

Entah mengapa, aku kurang suka dengan Rap, seperti kau harus berkata2 banyak hanya untuk prove kau bling bling atau something special,

bila Jazz hanya, just play the music and feel the emotion without feeling overwhelming, just felt it as elegant as it can be.



2. PHD dan Statistics

Aku tulis ini semata-mata nak menyangkal fikiran "cause and effect" sesetengah orang.

Masalah ini aku rasa bermula dengan sistem pendidikan KBSR, (for most 80's and 90's kids), yang mana konsep "cause and effect" diajar dalam Pendidikan Islam dan Pendidikan Moral bagi pelajar2 Darjah 1,2,3. (Pendapat aku saja lah)

Pada aku, ini sedikit silap, kerana cause and effect ni tak disentuh sangat dalam subjek Alam Dan Manusia pada waktu ini (Aku rasa zaman Sains diperkenalkan di Sekolah Rendah, dah mula nak sentuh konsep ni sebab ada belajar konsep inference, cuma masih terlalu asas)

Jadi, konsep "cause and effect" kita lebih pada holistik dan kurang saintifik.

Maka jadilah pikiran seperti,

"Trump jahat dengan mengisytihar Jerusalem capital Israel, jadi effectnya kebakaran besar di Southern California = balasan Tuhan"

"Penang banjir sebab Oktoberfest, cuba menentang kuasa Tuhan"

Habis itu banjir kat Kelantan?

"Ubat tu berkesan kat pakcik kanser tu, jadi ni ubat kanser".


Untuk selesaikan masalah ini, Barat, atau kuasa2 Timur, Jepun, Korea, yang berjaya dalam Sains dan menguasai teknologi ni, sebab mereka faham dan berdisiplin dalam satu benda iaitu, kaedah fikiran saintifik.

Dan dalam metodologi saintifik, benda yang paling penting dalam satu2 kajian, ialah bagaimana nak establish "cause and effect" tu benar2 tepat.


1. Strength (effect size): A small association does not mean that there is not a causal effect, though the larger the association, the more likely that it is causal.


2. Consistency (reproducibility): Consistent findings observed by different persons in different places with different samples strengthens the likelihood of an effect.


3. Specificity: Causation is likely if there is a very specific population at a specific site and disease with no other likely explanation. The more specific an association between a factor and an effect is, the bigger the probability of a causal relationship


4. Temporality: The effect has to occur after the cause (and if there is an expected delay between the cause and expected effect, then the effect must occur after that delay).


5. Biological gradient: Greater exposure should generally lead to greater incidence of the effect. However, in some cases, the mere presence of the factor can trigger the effect. In other cases, an inverse proportion is observed: greater exposure leads to lower incidence


6.Plausibility: A plausible mechanism between cause and effect is helpful (but Hill noted that knowledge of the mechanism is limited by current knowledge).


7.Coherence: Coherence between epidemiological and laboratory findings increases the likelihood of an effect. However, Hill noted that "... lack of such [laboratory] evidence cannot nullify the epidemiological effect on associations".


8. Experiment: "Occasionally it is possible to appeal to experimental evidence".


9. Analogy: The effect of similar factors may be considered.

Dia tak semudah "A jadi, B terjadi, maka A jadi akibat B".

Sebab essence dalam metodologi ni ialah "correlation does not imply causation".


Dan kesemua PHD student yang aku tahu dan kenal, dalam kajian mereka, dalam mereka nak menentukan "cause and effect", dalam apa2 bidang sekalipun, sains atau bukan sains,

mereka perlu membuktikan nya secara statistik, 

untuk mengetahui adakah disebab kan A, dan hanya oleh A, maka B terjadi.

Bidang statistik, ni antara cerita2 best dunia sebenar mengenai kegunaannya, adalah seperti satu cerita bila Pihak Bersekutu menjalankan kajian statistik untuk mengetahui kekuatan industri Jerman menghasilkan kereta kebal, maklumat penting sebelum mereka decide untuk landing D-Day di Normandy June 1944.




In summary, kalau kau Muslim, tolong lah, jangan kau keluarkan statement "fenomena alam / kejadian/kemalangan ini terjadi sebab menyalahi agama" atau seperti itu, melainkan kau ada dalil yang directly cakap ini terjadi maka itu terjadi,

atau kalau tidak, kau nampak lekeh,

atau, kau menunjukkan agama kau seperti lekeh,

atau, orang akan berkata, "kau ni wakil Tuhan ke kau boleh tahu bencana itu bala Tuhan atau ujian Tuhan?"

Pada aku, kalau boleh faham konsep ni, banyak benda yang minda kau boleh terbebas, 

seperti orang bukan2 yang claim bukan2, orang politik yang guna dalil agama untuk main sesuatu isu, 

orang canang ubat-ubat atau perubatan-perubatan tertentu,

kau akan faham, apa itu kebetulan, takdir atau benda tu benar2 satu fenomena.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

filled bun-dumpling


https://monoskop.org/images/7/7e/Arendt_Hannah_The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism_1979.pdf

"In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true…Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness." ..............

................"Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries."

— The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt



Asalnya aku bercadang mahu mendapatkan auto-biografi Robert Kuok pada akhir minggu lepas, tetapi Sabtu lalu ada kenduri kahwin sepupu ku di Perak, dan dengan tidak disangka, Jumaat lalu (aku cuti dari Jumaat hingga ke Ahad) terlalu sibuk dan kekangan yang tak dapat dielakkan, 
aku tak dapat pergi dan membeli auto-biografi tersebut.

Namun, ada bacaan menarik atas talian (online), Hannah Arendt - The Origins of Totalitarianism, yang seakan akan "kena" dengan iklim politik minggu ini, a.k.a. Persidangan UMNO,

tapi,

aku tak mahu ulas tentang Persidangan tersebut.




Politik Malaysia dan Football Hooliganism

Terus terang, aku masih belum habis membaca buku tersebut, aku masih lagi di awal bab asal usul Anti-Semitism dalam buku tersebut,

namun,

apabila aku melihat Persidangan UMNO di TV baru baru ini, dan kecoh kecoh bingit bising di media sosial,

tiba tiba aku tersedar sesuatu,

"Kebanyakan borak politik di kalangan orang ramai di Malaysia ini tak lebih dari mentaliti football hooliganism sahaja".

Ada kawan2 se-universiti aku, yang selalu "aktif" tentang politik, ada seorang bekas rakan sekelas aku yang menjadi teman media sosial pada AmenoWorld, dan kebanyakan yang aku kenal,

sebenarnya cara fikir dan mentaliti yang ada tak lebih seperti seorang penyokong bola EPL Manchester United, Arsenal, atau Chelsea, atau apa apa kelab.

Ianya sebenarnya tak lebih daripada menganjing kelab orang lain, dan menyokong kelab sendiri, atas dasar "aku dalam team ini".

Yang malang selalunya, ia berselindung di balik kata2 seperti "pencerahan minda", "perbincangan matang politik", mengupas itu ini tentang pro and cons sesuautu tindakan politik oleh seseorang atau sesebuah parti,

tapi sebenarnya, tak lebih dari menjatuhkan pihak satu lagi dan menaikkan status atau "martabat" pihak satu lagi.

Dan selalunya, pada akhiran-nya, selepas habis memaki, dan merasa seronok berjaya "mengalahkan" pihak satu lagi (sebenarnya tak lebih dari ego-soothing sahaja), perbualan itu habis begitu sahaja.

Kemungkinan ianya berulang lagi pada satu tempoh akan datang.

Dan seperti biasa, bising2, bergaduh jatuhkan orang lain dan berasa seronok dengan kebijaksanaan sendiri memilih parti (sama seperti memilih team bola), dan akhirnya tiada apa konstruktif atau tindak positif yang akan lahir dari bingit bingit itu.

Sebenarnya ia seronok dilakukan kerana, kau tak perlu melakukan sesuatu yang aktif, kau tak perlu melakukan tindakan susah payah, kau hanya perlu pilih "team" yang baik,

dan selebihnya, kau menganjing team satu lagi.

Ketika ada orang yang benar2 melakukan sesuatu, baik NGO, atau pun apa2 organisasi, baik Unit Amal parti PAS pun, sekurang2nya orang2 ini ada melakukan sesuatu,

kebanyakan hiruk pikuk yang bergaduh politik itu,

banyak yang tidak berdaftar sebagai apa2 ahli dalam mana2 badan politik atau badan amal,

banyak yang sebenarnya hanya bercakap sahaja,

Ramai yang hanya football hooliganism sahaja pasal politik ni.

Bahaya nya fenomena ini, kerana,

|The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness|

sebab kesedaran politik yang wujud bukan kerana nak membantu orang atau kesedaran masyarakat, tetapi lebih kepada rasa seronok diri berjaya memilih "team" yang hebat. Team aku hebat kerana aku bijak memilih = aku hebat.



Filled-Bun Dumpling

Satu lagi yang aku jelik, ialah sesuatu yang aku temui ketika di dunia construction.

Pau. Sikap suka mengepau.

Sebab itu saja2 aku letak title "filled bun dumpling", kerana ia adalah translation kepada kuih pau.

Sayangnya, benda ni sebenarnya adalah corruption, tetapi entah mengapa, aku berasa jelik kerana ramai yang "mengepau" dan "mahu mengepau" ni kebanyakannya yang aku perhatikan di dunia construction,

ialah mereka yang mengucap dua kalimah syahadah, dan berbangsa majoriti di Malaysia ini.

Waktu aku bekerja di satu syarikat konsultasi M&E lama dahulu,
ada satu lelaki, yang dari satu parti politik,
selalu datang ke office dan "mengepau" bos Cina aku,
selalunya diminta sponsor jamuan, atau majlis keraian orang2 politik,
dan dijanjikan projek itu projek ini,
dan selalunya, tak dapat pun projek itu.

Aku jelik,
sebab,
ada kerani akaun yang hanya bergaji bawah RM1,000,
ada budak fresh baru habis belajar yang bergaji Rm1,800,
tetapi,
orang yang berbangsa sama dengan mereka,
dengan nada suara ego dan pandang rendah,
"mengepau" bos aku dengan minta duit untuk sponsor sesuatu,
dan bos aku membayar lelaki itu,
dengan aku tahu yang dia sentiasa menilai harga bangsa,
bangsa yang sama di-upah kerja, yang sama bangsa dengan geng poilitik yang mengepau dia.

Waktu aku jadi PM acah acah dulu (jadi Project Manager, tanggungjawab PM, tapi gaji aku bawah RM4k je bang),

yang banyak "mengepau" aku ialah kebanyakan bangsa yang sama yang "mengepau" bos lama Cina aku tu.

alasan, gaji sediikit, sedangkan gaji kebanyakan yang "mengepau" aku itu ada yang 200 peratus lebih tinggi,

tapi memandangkan,

"ah ini PM Melayu, boleh pau ni"

maka diberi lah pelbagai alasan, pelbagai benda yang melecehkan kerja,
yang mana kalau tak mahu kerja itu leceh,
"belanja pelincir" perlu di beri.

Dengan alasan aku boleh claim., dan sebenarnya, aku dengan  tangga gaji engineer, walaupun claim aku kadang kala lepas, tapi aku perlu menunggu 2 bulan lagi untuk dapat balik duit belanja itu.

Celaka sungguh.

Ada yang meminta terus dari bos aku. Kadang kala, paperwork aku dikatakan kurang teliti, ini claim, ini dokumentasi tak boleh lepas, melainkan.....

Jelik.

Dan menambah jelik aku, ada yang mengepau ini, pro dengan politik kerajaan,

dan satu petang ketika minum,

sambil berbual,

diberitahu aku, GST ni sebenarnya sangat2 bagus, kerana dia benar2 mencukai peniaga bangsa Cina, Melayu yang miskin tidak meniaga ini mana perlu membayar GST.

"Yang teruk sebenarnya business-man Cina, diorang untung juta juta selama ini, memang patut sistem GST ni kerana ianya adil bla bla bla".

Aku jelik kerana yang bercakap itu seorang yang "mengepau" bos aku.


Summary

Mungkin aku nampak terlampau marah, jadi maafkan aku jika tulisan ini menganggu emosi.

Tapi, apa yang nak aku sampaikan ialah,

1. Mungkin perlu retrospective tentang apa yang kau pernah percaya tentang politik atau kepartian.

2.    Aku pernah cerita juga dahulu, ada satu staff Main-Con yang asyik mengutuk aku,
     "Kau ni tak percaya ke Tuhan bagi rezeki", bila mana aku share yang aku dan isteri aku ada family
      planning kami.
      Lepas kutuk2 aku, lebih kurang 2 minggu selepas itu,
      dia menghubungi aku pada malam hari,

      "Firdaus, boleh pinjam RM300.00?"

       Dalam Quran, surah As-Saff pun ada mention betapa Tuhan benci orang yang kata benda yang
      dia sendiri tak lakukan.

       Aku yang makhluk ni pun benci.

       Dan banyak manusia yang begini, berharap Malaysia ini sesuci bersih dari corruption,
       Tapi dia sendiri pun filled-bun dumpling.


         Aku tak mengatakan NEP atau dasar bumiputera tu satu ke-tidak-adil-lan.

         Aku cuma jelik dengan orang meminta corruption dengan alasan NEP/Bumiputera entitlement.

         Dengan kau bising2 pasal tawakal rezeki Tuhan dan sebagainya, tapi in action apa yang kau
         bercanggah, itu adalah jelik.

         Jadi tolonglah, hentikan lah corruption ini dengan mengubah mentaliti bahawa it's ok to take
         from others, atas alasan politik atau ini tanah asal maka aku ada hak untuk menge-pau.

         Kerana,
   

“You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein. 

The first-born is Malay, the second-born is Chinese, the third-born is Indian. 

What we have been witnessing is that the first-born is more favoured than the second or third. Hussein, if you do that in a family, your eldest son will grow up very spoiled. 

As soon as he attains manhood, he will be in the nightclubs every night because Papa is doting on him. 

The second and third sons, feeling the discrimination, will grow up hard as nails. 

Year by year, they will become harder and harder, like steel, so that in the end they are going to succeed even more and the eldest will fail even more.” 

 - Robert Kuok to Tun Hussein Onn

Aku sedih bila mana ada saudara aku sendiri yang berkerja di dunia construction, yang merasakan OK untuk menge-pau.

Kadang kala dia saja bagi susah sedikit untuk sub-con untuk buat kerja, atas alasan, yang mana akhir niatnya itu untuk menge-pau.

Aku yang bekerja di bawah Cina Cina ini tahu apa rasanya, dan tahu pandangan mata mereka bila menghadapi perkara sebegini.

They will grow hard as nails.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

robert kuok


Below here is much of the article clippings from Robert Kuok and his anticipated auto-biography which will be released soon.

Pertama, banyak orang, terutama kenalan dan relatives Melayu, yang merasakan aku pro-Chinese.

Kau yang membaca ini mungkin merasa begitu.

Bahkan isteri aku sendiri merasakan begitu, rak2 buku di rumah aku ada satu kawasan khas untuk buku2 berunsurkan Chinese, samada kisah2 perang Cina dahulukala, Confucianism, Buddhism atau Tao-ism.

Pada aku mudah. Ambil tahu view orang lain. Dan sehingga kini, Alhamdulilah tak terfikir lagi nak tukar agama.

Lecturer aku di Universiti di Fakulti Kejuruteraan UM dahulu, ada yang Chinese (ajar Fluid Dynamics), ada yang bangsa Tunisia (thermodynamics), ada pelbagai bangsa, pelbagai agama.

Bukankah peribahasa Melayu mengatakan "Buang yang Keruh, ambil yang jernih"?

Apa saja agama, bangsa dia, aku akan ambil manfaat yang ada padanya, selain dari pada itu,. aku tak begitu peduli.

Lagipun, sebahagian mereka yang anti-Chinese, yang mengeluarkan kata nista tentang Chinese,

well,

aku banyak melihat mereka mengomen di laman Siakapkeli dan blog2 seangkatan di FB, berkenaan perkara remeh temeh dan leceh leceh.

Kedua, dengan mengambil semangat dari "Buang yang keruh, ambil yang jernih", aku rasa ini satu bahan bacaan yang menarik. Then be critical about it.

Sekurang2 nya, meluaskan pandangan hidup kau, agar tak terbatas pada benda2 remeh, seperti terlalu kecoh tentang kahwin Fattah Amin/ Fazura contohnya?


Ketiga , Robert Kuok yang kaya bilionaire ni pun tak menggelabah bagai, hina2 orang berpendapatan rendah, buat kisah2 makan di tepi jalan di Eropah sebab kena halau restaurant dan sebagainya.

Something about inferior minds.

Keempat dan teraskhir, kau boleh pilih bahan bacaan kau.

You can actively choose what goes into your mind.





https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2017/11/26/kuok-recalls-sweet-memories-sugar-king-weaves-tales-of-great-msian-leaders-in-memoir/

HONG KONG: “Sugar King” Tan Sri Robert Kuok has released his memoir, giving a glimpse of his ties with Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussein Onn.

Describing the first Prime Minister as someone who had “tremendous rhythm”, he wrote:

“If you talk of brains, Tunku was brilliant, and very shrewd.

“His mother was Thai, and he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not.”

“Tunku was like a strategist who saw the big picture. He knew where to move his troops, but actually going to battle and plotting the detailed campaign – that was not Tunku. He’d say, ‘Razak, you take over. You handle it now.’ In that sense, they worked very well together.”

As for Hussein Onn, he wrote that both of them were in the same class in school in Johor Baru in 1932.

“My father would often spend weekends with Dato Onn.

“Two or three years later, Hussein returned to Johor Baru and we were classmates again at English College from 1935 to 1939.”

The Malaysian tycoon also shared his views on race relations and affirmative actions with South China Morning Post which published extracts from Robert Kuok, A Memoir, out in Malaysia on Dec 1.

Kuok recalled his conversation he had once with Hussein.

He told Hussein that “the best brains will come, in all shades and colours, all religions, all faiths.

“They may be the whitest of the white, the brownest of the brown or the blackest of the black.

“But Hussein, the foreigners must never settle in the driving seats. The days of colonialism are over.

“They were in the driving seats and they drove our country helter-skelter.

“We Malaysians must remain in the driving seats and the foreign experts will sit next to us.”

Kuok said that he implored to Hussein to “use the best brains, the people with their hearts in the right place, Malaysians of total integrity and strong ability, hard-working and persevering people.”

“Use them regardless of race, colour or creed.”

Hussein, Kuok recalled, spelt out to him that it was going to be Malay rule.

“He was saying that he could not sell my formula to his people.The meeting ended on a very cordial note and I left him.

“I felt disappointed, but there was nothing more that I could do. Hussein was an honest man of very high integrity.

“Before going to see him, I had weighed his strength of character, his shrewdness and skill.

“We had been in the same class, sharing the same teachers.

I knew Hussein was going to be the Malaysian Prime Minister whom I was closest to in my lifetime.

“I think Hussein understood my message, but he knew that the process had gone too far.” — South China Morning Post






https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/11/26/kuok-there-are-very-big-crooks-among-chinese/

PETALING JAYA: While praising Chinese contribution to South East Asia, Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok (pic) said some ruthless Chinese had also devastated many parts of the region.

In excerpts of his memoir published in South China Morning Post, Kuok said he remembered being invited to a brainstorming seminar in Jakarta when Indonesia was under General Suharto and he talked about the migrant Chinese.

He said there were about 30 people who sat around a big oval table. From Malaysia, there was (foreign minister Tan Sri) Ghazali Shafie and himself. From Singapore, there was Devan Nair, who later became President of Singapore. The topic of one session was economic development.

Kuok said he spoke about the South East Asian Chinese who were playing sterling roles everywhere and were entrepreneurs blessed with business brains, though many of them lack financial backing.

“Should not the leaders of this brand-new Indonesian nation harness more of the Chinese entrepreneurs’ energies to develop the country? The Chinese can do it, and they will do it economically, not the bulldozing, multinational way. Use the overseas Chinese, shoestring-economy style and build up your economy like that. That’s my plea,” he said.

Kuok said he concluded his discussion with "one strong caveat.”

“Some of these overseas Chinese will become very big crooks, and if you let them run rampant they could ruin your nation.

“Therefore, it is vital that you also build up an executive monitoring arm, one armed with teeth.

“Where there is abuse and crimes being committed, you must come down very fast and very hard and punish the crooks severely.

“You should make examples of them so that the honest Chinese will help your country and the dishonest ones will be deterred,” Kuok said.

In the ensuing years, Kuok said Indonesia (and most other countries in the region) didn’t heed his warning about the need for watchdog institutions with bite.

“The decent Chinese have helped to build up Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and made these countries what they are today.

“But you also had the rise of the unscrupulous and ruthless Chinese, who in turn have devastated many parts of Southeast Asia.

“Why were these people allowed to wreak havoc? It is because the leaderships have been weak.

“If the leaders were strong, all these devils would have disappeared overnight.

“Singapore had the same number of Chinese crooks, but you try and find one today. They are all hidden, camouflaged, or dormant.

"The crooks were held on steel leashes by two hands: Lee Kuan Yew’s left hand and Lee Kuan Yew’s right hand. With the unsavoury elements under control, look what Singapore has been able to accomplish by harnessing the energies of the overseas Chinese.”

"Robert Kuok, A Memoir’ is set to be released in Malaysia on Dec 1.




https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/11/26/chinese-are-the-unsung-heroes-of-southeast-asia-says-kuok/

PETALING JAYA: The overseas Chinese were the unsung heroes of the region, having helped to build South East Asia to what it is today, said Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok.

He said that it was the Chinese immigrants who tackled difficult task such as planting and tapping rubber, opening up tin mines, and ran small retail shops which eventually created a new economy around them.

"It was the Chinese who helped build up Southeast Asia. The Indians also played a big role, but the Chinese were the dominant force in helping to build the economy.

"They came very hungry and eager as immigrants, often barefooted and wearing only singlets and trousers. They would do any work available, as an honest income meant they could have food and shelter.

“Robert Kuok, A Memoir’ is set to be released in Malaysia on Dec 1.

Kuok said the Chinese immigrants were willing to work harder than anyone else and were willing to "eat bitterness", hence, were the most amazing economic ants on earth.

In the extracted memoir published by the South China Morning Post, Kuok, pointed out that if there were any businesses to be done on earth, one can be sure that a Chinese will be there.

"They will know whom to see, what to order, how best to save, how to make money. They don’t need expensive equipment or the trappings of office; they just deliver.

"I can tell you that Chinese businessmen compare notes every waking moment of their lives. There are no true weekends or holidays for them. That’s how they work. Every moment, they are listening, and they have skilfully developed in their own minds – each and every one of them – mental sieves to filter out rubbish and let through valuable information.

"Good Chinese business management is second to none; the very best of Chinese management is without compare. I haven’t seen others come near to it in my 70-year career," he said.

"They flourish without the national, political and financial sponsorship or backing of their host countries. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese are often maltreated and looked down upon. Whether you go to Malaysia, Sumatra or Java, the locals call you Cina – pronounced Chee-na – in a derogatory way," he said.

He added that the Chinese had no "fairy godmothers" financial backers.

"Yet, despite facing these odds, the overseas Chinese, through hard work, endeavour and business shrewdness, are able to produce profits of a type that no other ethnic group operating in the same environment could produce," he said.

Kuok ultimately attributed the Chinese survivability in Southeast Asia to its cultural strength.

"They knew what was right and what was wrong. Even the most uneducated Chinese, through family education, upbringing and social environment, understands the ingredients and consequences of behaviour such as refinement, humility, understatement, coarseness, bragging and arrogance," he said.




https://www.thestar.com.my/news/regional/2017/11/28/starting-malaysias-own-shipping-line-kuok-talks-about-the-founding-and-early-years-of-misc/

In 1967, word reached my ears that the Blue Funnel Group was coming to set up the national shipping line of Malaysia.

Blue Funnel was probably the largest shipping conglomerate in Britain at that time.

It owned Blue Funnel, Glen Line, Straits Steamship Co in Singapore and many other lines.

The executive chairman, a man whom I recall walked with a bad limp, was making frequent lobbying trips from London to Kuala Lumpur.

They agreed that I should put in a similar application to be considered for the right to establish the national shipping line.

My interest was partly patriotism – a desire to help Malaysia to launch its own independent shipping line and not be tied to the apron strings of the ex-colonial government of Britain through Blue Funnel.

I had become interested in shipping from about 1964, due to our large scale buying of sugar for our refinery, wheat for our flour mill and our international commodities trading activities.

For example, we bought free-on-board sugar from India and delivered it to the government of Indonesia on a cost-and-freight basis (sellers only wanted to sell on the basis of delivery at their own ports; buyers wanted the sugar delivered to their ports. Thus, covering the span of the ocean was my risk).

In those days, shipping was quite volatile and freight rates could sometimes shoot up 25%-30%.

Since margins on sugar trading were small, you could easily make money on your trade, but lose on the freight.

There was one problem: I knew nothing about shipping. I did know that in any business, unless you know the tricks of the trade, you can be badly burnt. I couldn’t even submit a decent memo for the application. So I looked for a partner.

On one trip to Hong Kong, I had been introduced by a Malay civil servant friend to a man called Frank WK Tsao.

I remembered that Tsao was a shipping man, chairman of International Maritime Carriers, so I telephoned him.

I said I would like to come and see him to discuss a business proposal.

He gave me an appointment and I flew to Hong Kong. When I went to his office, Tsao was only mildly friendly.

I was quite humble in my approach. I told him that we had met.

He said, “Oh yes, we have met, we have met.”

In business life, you learn early on that you must swallow your pride.

I told him that some Malay civil servants, who wanted to stir up competition, were encouraging me to submit an application to set up a national shipping line.

I said, “I can’t differentiate between the front and rear ends of a ship”, which was a bit of an exaggeration, “so why don’t you come and help me to set up the Malaysian national shipping line? You’re well known in the shipping business. Are you willing to become my partner?”

Without thinking for a second, he retorted, “Do you know, so and so and so and so have also approached me. They are Tan Sris, and I turned them all down.”

He was virtually saying “And who are you? I’ve turned down people way ahead of you in the pecking order in Malaysia”.

When I heard these remarks and saw his body language, I said, “I’m sorry then. I thought I would give you first crack. I am going to go at it.”

I didn’t tell him what a determined man I am in life.

I concluded, “Never mind, nothing has been lost by this little chat we’ve had. Thank you for receiving me.”

I got up and was walking out when he shouted, “Oh, no, no. Please, Mr Kuok. Don’t go! Don’t go! Sit down, sit down.”

To this day I don’t know what made Tsao change his mind.

I had one shipping expert on staff, Tony Goh, a Singaporean-Chinese who was running my plywood factory.

Goh had been a manager at Ben Line, a Scottish liner, before he joined me in 1964.

So I sent Goh to draft the memo with Tsao.

I rewrote certain parts to suit the reading style of the Malaysian civil servants, and we submitted the memo in the joint names of Kuok Brothers and Tsao’s International Maritime Carriers.

A little later, I heard that we were one of the leading contenders.

I asked Tsao to meet me in Kuala Lumpur. I had made up my mind that we should pick one day to call on as many important ministers as possible.

From eight in the morning we whipped around Kuala Lumpur at a furious pace, such as you can’t do today due to the traffic, and saw seven ministers by lunchtime.

Some of them gave us good time and good hearings, and we told them the same story.

In the afternoon, we visited one or two more.

I remember calling on the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Home Minister Tun Dr Ismail, Finance Minister (Tun) Tan Siew Sin, Minister of Works (Tun) V.T. Sambanthan and Minister of Transport (Tun) Sardon Jubir.

Within two or three weeks, we were picked at a Cabinet meeting to start the national shipping line, Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC).

We were like a dark horse coming from behind in the last furlong and pipping the favourite at the post!

I was chairman of the board and provided business management guidance.

Tsao’s side provided the shipping expertise.

Just around the time of MISC’s formation in 1968, my dear friend Dr Ismail resigned from government when he found that he had cancer. I immediately invited him to be the first chairman of MISC.

Tsao already knew Dr Ismail through a textile mill investment Tsao had made in Johor (Dr Ismail resigned from MISC after the May 13, 1969 riots to return to the Cabinet. I then took over the chairmanship until the 1980s).

Our first two ships came from the Japanese.

Simultaneous with our moves to start the shipping line, there was an initiative by MCA to demand war reparations from Japan.

The Chinese community was angry about the Japanese massacre of innocent Chinese and was seeking compensation for this blood debt.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian Prime Minister, supported the demand and raised the issue during official trips to Japan.

The Japanese finally agreed to give two blood-debt ships to Malaysia, which the Japanese called “goodwill ships”.

MISC started with these two cargo ships and paid for them on a monthly bare-boat, hire-charter basis.

Tsao’s ship architects and engineers in Hong Kong supervised the design and construction in Japan.

Tunku made some very cogent suggestions about the design of the flag for this new national flag carrier.

MISC had an initial paid-up capital of RM10mil.

Since Kuok Brothers led the show, we took 20%; Tsao took 15%.

As the ships were reparation from the Japanese to MCA, not to the Malaysian nation, the vessels were assessed a reasonable value and MCA was given MISC shares in lieu of payment.

MCA and other Chinese associations, combined, took 20%-30%, so in the beginning the holding of Kuok Brothers, Tsao and the MCA group together was easily over 50%.

We had a fairly united board in the beginning.

MISC started business in the second half of 1969 and quickly flourished.

Much of the credit must go to Tsao, the deputy chairman, who recommended capable managers such as Eddie Shih.

Shih, another Shanghainese who had settled in Hong Kong, ran the show with Goh.

Very early on, Goh recommended his one-time colleague in Ben Line, Leslie Eu, who at the time was manager of Ben Line Bangkok.

Eu, the son of Burmese Chinese who had settled in Malaysia, quit Ben Line and came in as managing director of MISC.

Within a year of our launching MISC, Tun Razak, who by then was Prime Minister, sent for me.

Razak said, “I want you to make a fresh issue of 20% of new shares. I’m under pressure because there is not a high enough Malay percentage of shareholding.”

I said, “Tun, are you quite serious about this request?”

He answered, “Yes, Robert.”

So, I replied that I would do it.

I went back and, with a little bit of arm-twisting, persuaded the board to pass a resolution waiving the rights of existing shareholders to a rights issue (MISC was not yet a public company).

Razak allocated all the new shares to government agencies.

So, I was diluted to 20 upon 120 – the enlarged base – and Tsao became 15 upon 120.

One or two years later, Razak again sent for me.

He said, “I’m under a lot of pressure at Cabinet meetings. You know, Robert, it’s just the price of your success. MISC is doing well, people are getting envious. But now, instead of giving in to those factions, what I’ve decided is this: Issue another twenty per cent, five per cent to each of four port cities in Malaysia.”

This entailed enlarging the capital base to 140 from the original 100, making the Malaysian Government the largest single shareholder and relegating Kuok Brothers to second position. And he again wanted the shares issued at par – the original issue price.

I said, “Tun, I have always cooperated with you, but it’s getting very difficult. Three, four years have elapsed from formation, but I would be loath to ask you for a premium since we are a growing company. So I will go back and ask the board again to issue shares at par to you. But Tun, can you please promise me that this is the last time?”

He smiled and very gently signified his agreement, without saying the words.

Then Tsao and I decided that we should go public.

Before we listed in 1987, I made quite a radical move, adopting a practice that I had used within Kuok Brothers. I explained to my Kuok Brothers senior directors that the MISC shares were now worth a lot of money, but only because of the great effort put in by other members of the board and many of the very deserving staff.

I wanted to take about 15% of our shareholding and sell the shares at par to deserving directors, staff and ship captains.

Quite a number of people benefited from this move. I have always believed in some degree of socialism when you have made money. You know very well that you alone didn’t make it; it was a joint effort.

I was inspired by the example of Genghis Khan, who, when he conquered cities, usually turned the spoils over to his generals and soldiers.

He was not selfish, and that is why he became the greatest general the world has ever seen. — South China Morning Post

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from Nov 25. It will be released in Malaysia on Dec 1 and in Indonesia on Jan 1, 2018.



Article year 2011.

Recently, the government offended Robert Kuok, as a result, the Malaysian economy suffered great blow! After the official Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Malaysia, the Najib government now really understands Robert Kuok’s influence on China!

In order to benefit their cronies, they arm twist to swallow Robert Kuok’s sugar empire. The cronies get richer by 10s of billions, but it caused a national loss of more than 200 billion! Those who has insider info can only curse: PKHKC it!

Malaysia sugar king left forced to leave Malaysia, but became the world’s sugar king! He bought the world’s largest sugar mills in Australia, invested USD10 billion, It is the world’s largest sugar cane sugar refining industry, living up to the name of the world’s sugar king.

On the other hand, the Malaysia government benefited cronies at the expense of national interests. For those who know the insiders info, Kuok offered much help to the Malaysian government in the past few decades, he had done everything possible; but what the government did was like what you will get when you turn over a pig stomach: feces. In other words, Najib Government is UNGRATEFUL!

In the “Confidential” news, is about the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Malaysia recently, it hit a snag with Najib.

Prior to Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Malaysia, Najib and his cabinet on more than one occasion, hinted that he hoped China will double the amount of palm oil with Malaysia.
We all know that China is the largest consumer of palm oil from Malaysia. Rapid economic rise in the recent years, China became the largest palm oil market for Malaysia, but Malaysia is also strong competition from Indonesia, trying to sell palm oil at lower prices to China and India, diluting Malaysian market share. This is most worrying got Najib.

Najib hoped to sign a new palm oil trading contracts with Premier Wen Jiabao to sign in order to more than double the average 10 million tonnes monthly exports to China. But Wen Jiabao came to a Malaysia, told Najib, it is impossible. It was an utter disappointment.

Najib knows the Chinese market demand. Even to import one million tonnes of palm oil monthly, is not a problem. So, where is the problem?

The problem lies: Sugar Kuok does not agree!

Why Sugar King Kuak was able to influence China’s decision to buy Malaysian palm oil?

Who is the monopoly of Chinese national oil market? China national oil market leader is “Arowana oil” cooking oil, accounting for nearly 40%! The Arowana oil cooking oil boss, is Robert Kuok!

Think about it, Premier Wen Jiabao on behalf of the Chinese government to buy Malaysian palm oil. Who is to refine it into cooking oil? Of course, it is the privatized enterprises! With 40% market share, if Arowana oil cooking oil company refuse the supply, how the Chinese government going to utilize the supply?

Najib was insensibly from the outset, and did not know Kuok has such big influence with China. He had helped cronies, forced Robert Kuok to give up the Malaysian sugar king throne, and didn’t expect to have such quick retribution

Kuok was forced to leave Malaysia, the heart is of course very unhappy. People of Malaysia must know, during the early days of Malaysia, we do not have aviation professionals, the BN government requested Kuok’s father to help set up Malayan Airways.

1970 Malaysian maritime shipping industry is also a vacuum, the Malaysian government sent representatives to Hong Kong to personally invite Kuok’s help. Kuok for national development, he put aside the Group’s business, came back to Malaysia to assist the Government to establish a national maritime shipping industry, this has the later MALAYSIA INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING COPERATION, referred to as MISC.

Robert Kuok was a big help when Malaysia was repeatedly faced economic difficulties. Even MCA Tan Koon Swan’s case, it was Robert Kuok who paid the bail! Malaysia successive governments, from BN to the National Front, owed Robert Kuok hell lot. But the Malaysian Government was ungrateful, using the hard arm twisting excuse to forcefully take over Kuok’s empire. This is not ungrateful?

Deng Xiaoping made a comeback in the 70s, announced China’s reform and needed most generous help of overseas Chinese entrepreneurs; Robert was first to take actions to help Deng. Among the entrepreneurs of Chinese economic miracle are Henry Fok and Li Ka-shing Hong Kong. Malaysian entrepreneur Robert Kuok is the first to response of Deng Xiaoping in Beijing and built China’s first five-star hotels: Shangri-La!

With over 30 years of deep relationship with the Chinese government and leadership, Kuok has great influence. Najib failed to foresee that. This is why the quote at the start of this post : “For the interests of their cronies, they arm twisted to take over Kuok’s Sugar Empire, cronies get rich by the 10s of billions, but it caused a national loss of more than 200 billion!”

Kuok’s sugar empire was eaten by the fat vampire’s family abruptly. Imagine, a world renowned international trade business personality, what humiliation he received in return for his single-minded help all this while for his own country & government? And Najib would never think the consequences of offending the Sugar King will be so so serious.

Right after Sugar King left Malaysia, he immediately announced the acquisition of Australia’s biggest sugar factory. This is the world supplier of raw material for sugar manufacturing. Of course, this includes supplying to the family of the fat vampire woman’s Sugar factory in Perlis.

Early this year, Kuok announced plans to invest USD 10 billion in Indonesia for development of the world’s largest sugar cane growing areas, as well as advanced refinery. The world economic was facing downturn, the Malaysian government travel around the world to solicit investment. How much was Malaysia foreign investment? Kuok’s single investment in Indonesia is equivalent to as USD10 billion dollars! Don’t you want to screw the couple: PKHKC!?

At the moment, Kuok’s take towards China’s palm oil contract with Malaysia was to remain with the agreed terms. There won’t be any increase. Indonesia has more palm oil than Malaysia. It is cheaper too. Now that Kuok had invested so much money in Indonesia, the Government of Indonesia would have treated him as their God of Wealth. Certainly, open to negotiate anything with him. Moreover, Indonesia has been eyeing to take over the China palm oil supply contract from Malaysia.

The CONSOLATION China gave in return for not increasing the purchase of palm oil was buying frozen durian. Do the Chinese people have the habit of eating durian it? How much time and effort needed to market frozen durian from Malaysia? Thai durian may not sell well in China, let alone Malaysia frozen durian?

Business is business, who would supply millions of dollars’ worth of frozen durian into a brand new market with no durian eating habits? Should the Chinese people is not receptive of it. How to deal with return stocks? A total lost with capital. Is this how to do business? Do not be silly!

Earlier this year, when the news hit the papers about Kuok announced to invest USD 10 billion in Indonesia. Many criticized Kuok for unpatriotic, preferring to take so much money in Indonesia instead of Malaysians. What an injustice! You have arm twisted to take over other people’s empire, forcing Kuok to leave Malaysia in much hurt & humiliation; now that Kuok ignore Malaysia market, and you have to criticize him?

For him to bring his huge investment to Australia & Indonesia instead of Malayia, who is to be blamed?

Incidentally, Kuok is not just Chinas’ hotelier, king of cooking oil, the world’s sugar King; he is also the patent owner of coca cola soft drink brand in the Chinese market. Kuok involved in a diversity of businesses in China. He created many job opportunities for China. The Chinese central government and leaders have great respect for an entrepreneur. He spoke a word, the weight will never lower than some foreign leaders.

So far, Kuok is the only one who never accepts the honors of the Malaysian Royal Malaysian entrepreneurs. Many people address him as “Tan Sri Robert Kuok,” In actual fact, he did not have these honors, he doesn’t need those honors. To put the record straight, he neither “Tan Sri” nor “Dato”.


Robert Kuok (Sugar King of Asia & Hotel King) interview with CCTV "Dialogue" - Chinese Business Leaders series (1st broadcast) on 5th Jun 2011.





COMMUNIST DEVILS? PLEASE, PRIME MINISTER

Malaysia has had six Prime Ministers since independence. I have known all six. The first, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had tremendous rhythm. He was a well-educated man, having graduated with a law degree from Cambridge. If you talk of brains, Tunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. His mother was Thai, and he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not. Tunku was less mindful about administrative affairs. But he had a good number two in Tun Razak, who was extremely industrious, and Tunku left most of the paperwork to Razak.
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Tunku was like a strategist who saw the big picture. He knew where to move his troops, but actually going to battle and plotting the detailed campaign – that was not Tunku. He’d say, “Razak, you take over. You handle it now.” In that sense, they worked very well together. In my meetings with Tunku, he demonstrated some blind spots. He had a bee in his bonnet about communism. One day, when we had become quite close, he said to me, “Communists! In Islam, we regard them as devils! And Communist China, you cannot deal with them, otherwise you are dealing with the devil!” And he went on and on about communists, communism and Communist China. I responded, “Tunku, China only became communist because of the immense suffering of the people as a result of oppression and invasion. I think it’s a passing phase.” He interjected, “Oh, don’t you believe it! The Chinese are consorting with the devil. Their people are finished! You don’t know how lucky you Chinese are to be in Malaysia.” I replied softly, “Tunku, as Prime Minister of Malaysia, you should make friends with them.”


TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN HAD A BEE IN HIS BONNET ABOUT COMMUNISM

Years later, when Tunku was out of office, he was invited to China. Zhao Ziyang, then Premier, entertained him in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Tunku travelled with a delegation of 15 Chinese businessmen who were good friends of his. On his way to China, Tunku stopped in Hong Kong and I gave them dinner. Then on his way out of China, he stopped in Hong Kong and we dined again. I asked him for his impressions. All of his old prejudices had vanished! He didn’t even want to refer to them. He just said the trip had been an eye-opener. “They are decent people, like you and me,” he said. “We could talk about anything.” From then onward, you never heard Tunku claim that the Chinese Communists were the devils incarnate.


FRIENDS, NOT CRONIES

One thing I will say for Tunku: he had friends. His friends sometimes helped him, or they sent him a case of champagne or slabs of specially imported steak. He loved to grill steaks on his lawn and open champagne, wine or spirits. His favourite cognac was Hennessy VSOP. Tunku would also do favours for his friends, but he never adopted cronies.

When Tun Tan Siew Sin was Finance Minister, Tunku sent him a letter about a Penang businessman who was one of Tunku’s poker-playing buddies. It seems the man had run into tax trouble and was being investigated by the tax department, and he had turned to Tunku for help. In his letter, Tunku wrote, “You know so-and-so is my friend. I am not asking any favour of you, Siew Sin, but I am sure you can see your way to forgiving him,” or something to that effect.



TUNKU WOULD DO FAVOURS FOR HIS FRIENDS, BUT HE NEVER ADOPTED CRONIES

Siew Sin was apoplectic. He stalked into Tun Dr Ismail’s office upstairs and threw the letter down. “See what our Prime Minister is doing to me!” Tun Dr Ismail read the letter and laughed. “Siew Sin,” he said, “there is a comic side to life”. Ismail took the letter, crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the waste-paper basket. He then said, “Siew Sin, Tunku has done his duty by his friend. Now, by ignoring Tunku, you will continue to do your duty properly.” That was as far as Tunku would go to help a friend. Cronyism is different. Cronies are lapdogs who polish a leader’s ego. In return, the leader hands out national favours to them. A nation’s assets, projects and businesses should never be for anyone to hand out, neither for a king nor a prime minister. A true leader is the chief trustee of a nation. If there is a lack of an established system to guide him, his fiduciary sense should set him on the proper course.

A leader who practices cronyism justifies his actions by saying he wants to bring up the nation quickly in his lifetime, so the end justifies the means. He abandons all the General Orders – the civil-service work manual that lays down tendering rules for state projects. Instead, he simply hands the projects to a Chinese or to a Malay crony. The arms of government-owned banks are twisted until they lend to the projects. Some of these cronies may even be fronting for crooked officials.

Tunku was unnerved by the riots of May 13. After the riots he was a different man. Razak managed to convince him and the cabinet to form the National Operations Council, a dictatorial organ of government, and Razak was appointed its director. Parliament went into deep freeze. By the time the NOC was disbanded, Razak had been installed as prime minister. Tunku felt bewildered. He had helped the country gain independence and had ruled as wisely as he could, yet the Malays turned against him for selling out to the Chinese. In fairness to Tunku, he had done nothing of the sort. He was a very fair man who loved the nation and its people. But he knew that, if you favour one group, you only spoil them. When the British ruled Malaya, they extended certain advantages to the Malays.

Malay Sultans along with then Malayan High Commissioner Donald MacGillivray sign an agreement creating an independent Malaysia on August 5, 1957 in the official residence of the British high commissioner of Malaya. File photo

When the Malays took power following independence on 31 August 1957, more incentives were given to them. But there was certainly no showering of favours. All of that came later, after 1969. The riots of May 13, 1969, were a great shock to the system, but not a surprise. Extremist Malays attributed the poverty of many Malays to the plundering Chinese and Indians. Leaders like Tunku Abdul Rahman, who could see both sides, were no longer able to hold back the hotheads. The more thoughtful leaders were shunted aside and the extremists hijacked power. They chanted the same slogans as the hotheads – the Malays are underprivileged; the Malays are bullied – while themselves seeking to become super-rich. When these Malays became rich, not many of them did anything for the poor Malays; the Chinese and Indians who became rich created jobs, many of them filled by Malays.



ON PRO-MALAY POLITICS

I vividly recall an incident that occurred within a few months after the May 1969 riots. I was waiting to see Tun Razak when a senior Malay civil servant whom I knew very well came along the corridor of Parliament House and buttonholed me. He asked, “What are you doing here, Robert?” I replied, “Oh, I’m seeing Tun.” He snarled, “Don’t be greedy! Leave something for us poor Malays! Don’t hog it all!” I could see that, after May 1969, the business playing field was changing. Business was no longer clean and open. Previously, the government announced open tenders to the Malaysian public and to the world. If we qualified, we would submit a tender. If we won the contract, we would work hard at it, and either fail or succeed. I think eight or nine times out of ten we succeeded.




DON’T BE GREEDY ROBERT. LEAVE SOMETHING FOR US POOR MALAYS!

But things were changing, veering more and more towards cronyism and favouritism. Hints of change were there even before the riots. I was hell-bent on helping to develop the nation: that’s why I went into shipping, into steel – anything they asked of me. Even among the Malays there were those who admitted their weaknesses and argued for harnessing the strength of the Chinese. Mind you, that may have created more problems. If they had harnessed the strength of the Chinese, the Chinese would ultimately have owned 90 or 95 per cent of the nation’s wealth. This might have been good for the Malaysian economy, but bad for the nation.

Overall, the Malay leaders have behaved reasonably in running the country. At times, they gave the Malays an advantage. Then, when they see that they have overdone it, they try to redress the problem. Their hearts are in the right place, but they just cannot see their way out of their problems. Since May 13, 1969, the Malay leadership has had one simple philosophy: the Malays need handicapping. Now, what amount of handicapping?


The Government laid down a simple structure, but the structure is full of loopholes. Imagine that a hard-working, non-Malay Malaysian establishes XYZ Corporation. The Ministry of Trade and Industry rules that 30 per cent of the company’s shares must be offered to Malays. The owner says, “Well, I have been operating for six years. My par value of 1 ringgit per share is today worth 8 ringgit.” Then the Ministry says, “Can you issue it at 2 ringgit or 2.50 ringgit to the Malays?” After a bit of haggling, the non-Malay gives way. So shares are issued to the Malays, who now own 30 per cent. But every day after that, the Malays sell off their shares for profit. A number of years pass and then one day the Malay community holds a Bumiputra Congress. They go and check on all the companies. Oh, this XYZ Corporation, the Malay shareholding ratio is now down to seven per cent. That won’t do. So the Malays argue that they’ve got to redo the shareholding again. Fortunately, the ministry usually acts as a fair umpire and throws out such unscrupulous claims.



THE MALAYS’ ZEAL TO BRIDGE ECONOMIC GAP WITH THE CHINESE BRED UGLY RACISM

It’s one thing if you change the rules once to achieve an objective agreed to by all for the sake of peace and order in the nation. But if you do it a second time, it’s robbery. Why is it not robbery just because the government commits it? And when people raise objections, it is called fomenting racial strife, punishable by three years in jail. As a Chinese who was born and grew up in Malaysia and went to school with the Malays, I was saddened to see the Malays being misled in this way. I felt that, in their haste to bridge the economic gap between the Chinese and the Malays, harmful short cuts were being taken. One of the side effects of their zeal to bridge the economic gap was that racism became increasingly ugly. I saw very clearly that the path being pursued by the new leaders after 1969 was dangerous. But hardly anyone was willing to listen to me. In most of Asia, where the societies are still quite hierarchical, very few people like to gainsay the man in charge. As in The Emperor’s New Clothes, if a ruler says, “Look at my clothes; aren’t they beautiful?” when he is in fact naked, everybody will answer, “Yes, yes sir, you are wearing the most beautiful clothes.”



THE EAR OF THE PRIME MINISTER

I made one – and only one – strong attempt to influence the course of history of Malaysia. This took place in September 1975 during the Muslim fasting month. Tun Razak, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, was gravely ill with terminal leukaemia, for which he was receiving treatment in a London hospital. My dear friend Hussein Onn, son of Dato Onn bin Jafar, was Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and acting Prime Minister in Tun Razak’s absence. He was soon to become Malaysia’s third Prime Minister. I went to Kuala Lumpur and sent word that I wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk. On the phone Hussein said, “Why don’t you come in during lunch time. It is the fasting month. Come to my office at about half past one. There will be no one around and we can chat to our heart’s content.”

Hussein and I go back to 1932 when we were in the same class in school in Johor Bahru. Shortly afterwards, his father fell out with the then-Sultan of Johor and the family moved to the Siglap area of Singapore.


My father would often spend weekends with Dato Onn. Two or three years later, Hussein returned to Johor Bahru and we were classmates again at English College from 1935 to 1939. Hussein’s father, Dato Onn, did not have a tertiary education. But he read widely and was very well informed. He was a natural born politician, a gifted orator in Malay and in English. He was a very shrewd man with a tremendous air of fine breeding even though he was not from Malaysian royalty. When you were in his presence, you knew you were in the presence of someone great. Dato Onn would go on to found UMNO, the ruling party of Malaysia, and become one of the founders of the independent nation of Malaysia. He set a tone of racial harmony for the nation – and he practised it. Our families were close.

So, I went to call on his son, my old friend Hussein Onn in 1975. His office was in a magnificent old colonial building, part of the Selangor Secretariat Building. In front of it was the Kuala Lumpur padang, where, in the colonial days, the British used to play the gentlemen’s games of cricket and rugby. I climbed up a winding staircase and his aide showed me straight to his room. There was hardly another soul in that huge office complex. After greeting one another, I warmed up to my subject with Hussein very quickly. I said, “Hussein, I have come to discuss two things with you. One is Tun Razak’s health. The other is the future of our nation.” I said, “You know, Razak has been looking very poorly lately. We all know he has gone to London for treatment.” Hussein interrupted: “Tun doesn’t like anybody discussing his health. Do you mind if we pass on to the next subject?” I said, “Of course not.” I continued, “I had to raise the first subject because that leads to the next subject. Assuming Razak doesn’t have long to live – please don’t mind, but I have to say that – you are clearly going to become the new Prime Minister in a matter of months or weeks.”

“I’m listening,” he said. “Hussein, we go back a long way. Our fathers were the best of friends; our families have been the best of friends. In our young days, you and I always felt a strong passion for our country, which we both still feel. Whatever has happened these past years, let’s not go backwards and ask what has gone wrong and what has not been done right. Let’s look at the future. If there was damage done, we can repair it.”

Hussein listened patiently. I pressed on, “First, let me ask you a few questions, Hussein. What, in your mind, is the number of people required to run a society, a community, a nation with the land mass of Malaysia?” This was 1975, when the population was about 12.5 million. He didn’t reply. For the sake of time, I answered my own question. “Hussein, if I say 3,000, if I say 6,000, if I say 10,000, 20,000, whatever the figure, I don’t think it really matters. We are not talking in terms of hundreds of thousands or millions. To run a society or a nation requires, relatively speaking, a handful of people. So let us say six or seven or eight thousand, Hussein. And of course this covers two sectors. The public sector: government, civil service, governmental organisations, quasi-governmental bodies, executive arms, police, customs and military. The private sector: the economic engines; the engines of development, plantations, mines, industry.

“The leaders of these two sectors are the people I am referring to, Hussein. If we are talking of a few thousand, does it matter to the masses whether it becomes a case of racially proportionate representation, where we must have for every ten such leaders five or six Malays, three Chinese, and one or two Indians?” I continued, “Must it be so? My reasoning mind tells me that it is not important. What is important is the objective of building up a very strong, very modern nation. And for that we need talented leaders, great leadership from these thousands of people. If you share my view that racial representation is unimportant and unnecessary to the nation, then let’s look at defining the qualifications for those leaders.

“Number one, for every man or woman, the first qualification is integrity. The person must be so clean, upright and honest that there must never be a whiff of corruption or scandal. People do stray, and, when that happens, they must be eliminated, but on the day of selection they must be people of the highest integrity. Second, there must be ability; and with it comes capability. He or she must be a very able and capable person. The third criterion is that they must be hard-working men or women, people who are willing to work long hours every day, week after week, month after month, year after year. That is the only way you can build up a nation.”

I went on, “I can’t think of any other important qualifications. So your job as prime minister, Hussein – I am now assuming you will become the prime minister – your job will then be from time to time to remove the square pegs from the round holes, and to look for square holes for square pegs and round holes for round pegs. Even candidates who fulfil those three qualifications can be slotted into the wrong jobs. So you’ve got to pull them out and re-slot them until the nation is humming beautifully.”


THE BEST BRAINS COME IN ALL SHADES AND COLOURS, ALL RELIGIONS, ALL FAITHS.

“We do not have all the expertise required to build up the nation,” I added. “But with hard work and a goal of developing the nation, we can afford to employ the best people in the world. The best brains will come, in all shades and colours, all religions, all faiths. They may be the whitest of the white, the brownest of the brown or the blackest of the black. I am sure it doesn’t matter. But Hussein, the foreigners must never settle in the driving seats. The days of colonialism are over. They were in the driving seats and they drove our country helter-skelter. We Malaysians must remain in the driving seats and the foreign experts will sit next to us. If they say, ‘Sir, Madame, I think we should turn right at the next turning,’ it’s up to us to heed their advice, or to do something else. We are running the show, but we need expertise.



YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE LEADER OF A NATION, AND YOU HAVE THREE SONS, HUSSEIN … YOUR ELDEST SON WILL GROW UP VERY SPOILED

“You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein. The first-born is Malay, the second-born is Chinese, the third-born is Indian. What we have been witnessing is that the first-born is more favoured than the second or third. Hussein, if you do that in a family, your eldest son will grow up very spoiled. As soon as he attains manhood, he will be in the nightclubs every night because Papa is doting on him. The second and third sons, feeling the discrimination, will grow up hard as nails. Year by year, they will become harder and harder, like steel, so that in the end they are going to succeed even more and the eldest will fail even more.”



I implored him, “Please, Hussein, use the best brains, the people with their hearts in the right place, Malaysians of total integrity and strong ability, hard-working and persevering people. Use them regardless of race, colour or creed. The other way, Hussein, the way your people are going – excessive handicapping of bumiputras, showering love on your first son – your first born is going to grow up with an attitude of entitlement.” I concluded, “That is my simple formula for the future of our country. Hussein, can you please adopt it and try?” Hussein had listened very intently to me, hardly interrupting. He may have coughed once or twice. I remember we were seated deep in a quiet room, two metres apart, so my voice came across well. He heard every word, sound and nuance. He sat quietly for a few minutes. Then he spoke, “No, Robert. I cannot do it. The Malays are now in a state of mind such that they will not accept it.”

He clearly spelt out to me that, even with his very broad-minded views, it was going to be Malay rule. He was saying that he could not sell my formula to his people. The meeting ended on a very cordial note and I left him. I felt disappointed, but there was nothing more that I could do. Hussein was an honest man of very high integrity. Before going to see him, I had weighed his strength of character, his shrewdness and skill. We had been in the same class, sharing the same teachers. I knew Hussein was going to be the Malaysian Prime Minister whom I was closest to in my lifetime. I think Hussein understood my message, but he knew that the process had gone too far. I had seen a picture developing all along of a train moving in the wrong direction. During Hussein’s administration, he was only partially successful in stemming the tide. The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. Hussein wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.



THE TRAIN OF THE NATION HAD BEEN PUT ON THE WRONG TRACK

The capitalist world is a very hostile world. When I was building up the Kuok Group, I felt as if I was almost growing scales, talons and sharp fangs. I felt I was capable of taking on any adversary. Capitalism is a ruthless animal. For every successful businessman, there are at least 10,000 bleached skeletons of those who have failed. It’s a very sad commentary on capitalism, but that is capitalism and real capitalism, not crony capitalism. Yet, I’ve always believed that the rules of capitalism, if properly observed, are the way forward in life. I know that, having been successful, I will be accused of having an ‘alright Jack’ mentality. But I am just stating facts: capitalism is a wonderful creature – just don’t abuse its principles and unwritten laws.


 




FROM SEA TO AIR

It was likely that some people in the government thought that it was shameful for Chinese Malaysians to run the national shipping line. When I sensed that this was their attitude, it was time for me to call it a day. Kuok Brothers eventually sold all their MISC shares and pulled out of the national shipping company completely.


ADVERTISING

In the early 1970s, the Kuok Group started its own shipping company, Pacific Carriers, in Singapore. By then I was a semiexpert on shipping. Any business can be learned through hard work, honesty and adherence to basic principles. There are qualified technical people for hire in the world. You can easily employ captains, ship engineers and architects. But most important are your businessmen.


During Pacific Carriers’ infancy, we carried mainly our own cargo. Bogasari was already very big, with a ravenous appetite for imported wheat; MSM, the sugar refinery, melted 1,600 tons of raw sugar a day and was steadily expanding its capacity. Our internal demand alone required the chartering of more than 250 vessels a year, including some time charters. I also saw in shipping the potential for a new line of business, another ball to toss, because shipping is a major world industry.

Shipping, of necessity, becomes global once you buy bigger ships. The minute you go into 20,000-ton vessels and upward, you can sail the Pacific, the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope. In the past 20-odd years, we have carried ore, bulk and oil – whatever freight generates a good profit. Around the time we were launching MISC, one more job landed in my lap, this time initiated by the Singapore Government.


SAYING NO TO SINGAPORE

Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s deputy prime minister, asked if I would serve as chairman of Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA). The Malaysian Government had proposed Dr Lim Swee Aun, the former Minister of Commerce and Industry, who had failed to get re-elected in the elections of May 1969. “We do not like him,” said Keng Swee. “But he’s not a bad fellow,” I replied. “Oh, never!” thundered Keng Swee. I said, “No, no. I’m overworked and underpaid by my own company.”



I’M OVERWORKED AND UNDERPAID BY MY OWN COMPANY

I was joking, though it was true that I hardly had a moment’s rest in those days. I told him I couldn’t take the job, because I didn’t have the time to do it justice and didn’t know the airline business. I don’t think anybody had talked to Singapore Government leaders like that. They were already known to be very fierce. As I walked towards the door, Keng Swee said, “Well, you know there are hardly any links left between Malaysia and Singapore. If you don’t want to serve, then this link will also go.” It was just like a scene in a Hollywood film. Two steps from the door, I wheeled around and asked, “Are you telling me that if I take the job, that link will be preserved?” “Yes.” Again, I felt I had no choice. “If I agree to take the job, what do I need to do?” “Simple things. First, go to see Tunku Abdul Rahman and [Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein] and tell them we gave you an indication that you’re acceptable to us.” “You mean I have to sell myself to my own leaders?” When he replied in the affirmative, I said, “Give me time to think about it. This is getting very sticky.”



MOTHER’S ADVICE … AND SAYING YES TO SINGAPORE

So I went away and called up mother. I explained the situation to her. She said, “Well, if you can help preserve the link, then do it, but for one term only.”

We belonged to a generation when Malaya and Singapore was one homogenous territory, and felt very strongly that ties should be preserved. So I called Keng Swee and told him that, subject to securing approval in Malaysia, I was prepared to accept the MSA chairmanship for one three-year term. A day or two later I made appointments in Kuala Lumpur and went up.

Relations between Singapore and Malaysia have always been uneasy. I saw signs even during my Raffles College days. Nine out of every 10 students from Singapore could be called city-slickers. They were keen to know who your parents and grandparents were, and whether they were rich. By and large, those students who came from Malaya had rural backgrounds. They were usually very charming and uninterested in your wealth or status in life. They were at college just to study and to make friends.


I THINK TWO-THIRDS OR THREE-QUARTERS OF THE TOP CIVIL SERVANTS IN MALAYSIA HAD BEEN AT RAFFLES COLLEGE WHEN I WAS THERE

Those of us Chinese from Johor had learned to live much more comfortably with Malays. There was far more give and take. Now relations between Singapore and Malaysia were strained. Singapore felt that I could play a diplomatic role; they knew that I was well connected with the Malaysian Government. I was in Raffles College when Razak was there. In fact, I think two-thirds or three-quarters of the top civil servants in Malaysia had been at Raffles College when I was there; many of the others were in school with me in Johor Bahru.

I first went to see my very close friend Tun Ismail in Kuala Lumpur. He said, “Robert, if you’ve decided to take it on, take it on, but I don’t know whether you can push it through with Tunku.”

I went to Tunku’s house at 9am and was kept waiting for about half an hour. He was a late starter. Then Tunku emerged – it was a big, rambling house – and entered the living room where I was waiting. “Ah, Kuok, Kuok. I know you. Your brother [Philip] is one of our ambassadors.” I said, “Yes, Sir.” “What’s this about?” he asked. “You want to become Chairman of MSA?” I responded, “It’s not that I want to, Tunku …”

He didn’t sound too enthusiastic about my taking on this role. He made some remarks about the problems he was having with Singapore. I kept quiet, since it was not for me to say anything. Then I prodded him a bit. “Sir, do you mind if we come back to the subject?” In the end, he said, “OK, Kuok. If you want the job, take it. It doesn’t matter to me.” So I accepted the position of Chairman of MSA.



THE JOB – AND THE BICKERING – BEGINS

The board of 15 directors comprised one chairman, four directors nominated by the Malaysian Government, another four by the Singapore Government, one director from Straits Steamship (then a British shipping company controlled by Blue Funnel Group), two directors each from British Airways and Qantas Airways and the managing director, who was on loan from British Airways.
YOU COULDN’T HAVE HAD WORSE BICKERING THAN BETWEEN THE SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIAN GOVERNMENT-NOMINATED DIRECTORS

So there were six white men, eight Malaysians and Singaporeans, and myself, a Malaysian. You couldn’t have had worse bickering than between the Singapore and Malaysian Government-nominated directors. If one side raised a point and asked for a resolution to be passed, the other side would object. Each side tried to peel off the skin to see what hidden agenda existed under that resolution. The meetings would start at 9:30am, and quite often I couldn’t wind them up until 7:30pm, this at a time when I was in the thick of my sugar business. I was fortunate that my health held up. I was not just chairman of the Board. I constantly had to make peace between the directors from the two governments. I tried every fair and reasonable device I could think of. The evening before a board meeting, I would host a dinner for just the eight government directors and the company secretary.

During dinner I would work on them to make peace. “Tomorrow, these are the thorny items on the agenda,” I would explain. “Please try to understand both sides.” Sometimes, I would obtain a semblance of agreement, only to have bickering erupt at the board meeting the following day. The articles of incorporation granted each of the eight a veto, so I was running a company with eight vetoes. It was horrendous! But I stuck with it for nearly two years. I should mention that some of the conflicts I had were with one Western director in particular. When I was chairman, the managing director and CEO was David Craig, who came from British Airways. I had acrimonious exchanges with him. He tried very hard to ingratiate himself into the good books of the Malaysian directors, since the Singapore directors were very rigid and severe managers.


EXPENSIVE EUROPEAN EXPATS

Whenever David wasn’t performing, they were severe, and so he ran to the Malaysian side for protection. He found the Malaysian directors by and large convenient pillars behind which he could hide. I tried to haul him out from hiding, and our relationship soured. One day, I was in the MSA office on Robinson Road in Singapore, which was a much grander office space than my own humble sugartrading cubbyhole. David spoke to me about engaging expensive European expatriates for the airline. I asked what was wrong with engaging pilots from Burma, which at that time, under the military regime of Ne Win, was training pilots and sending some of them to aeronautical schools in England. He retorted, “Oh, no, no. Only British pilots are safe.” I pointed out that some of our commanders here were Chinese from the Malay Peninsula. He responded that there were too few. Then I suggested he try Indonesia, since Garuda was a relatively seasoned airline. He responded, “Ah, these guys land their planes in the ocean and in jungles and kill all their passengers.” I rounded on him: “Aren’t you being racist?” I noted that a Qantas or British Airways plane piloted by whites had crashed in Singapore’s Kallang Basin Airport. We had a very rough exchange. He had his agenda. When I took the job, I had no agenda whatsoever. I just wanted harmony between Malaysia and Singapore.


WHEN I TOOK THE JOB, I HAD NO AGENDA WHATSOEVER. I JUST WANTED HARMONY BETWEEN MALAYSIA AND SINGAPORE

Meanwhile, the Singapore Government, which was very good with its abacus, was analysing the economics of the airline industry. They began to realise that the Malaysian domestic routes were profitmaking, but looking into the future, they could not see such air travel as big-scale business. The international airport in Singapore, and the international traffic, was really the jewel in the crown of the airline industry in the Malaysia/Singapore region. So the Singapore Government felt it would be useful to break Malaysia-Singapore Airlines into two and let each country go its own way. The Board meetings grew increasingly acrimonious. I made an appointment to see Goh Keng Swee to appeal to him to hold back his aggressive Singapore directors. I hinted that the game was getting very one-sided. I was acting as referee, but I was seeing the poor Malaysian directors slaughtered at every meeting because the Singapore directors had minds as sharp as razors. In fairness, I must say the contribution to running the airline properly and efficiently came almost entirely from the Singapore side. The Malaysian side was too subjective and often allowed their feelings to influence their comments. The writing was on the wall: the airline would separate. Now, I’m sort of a bulldog. When I want to do something, I am very tenacious. But serving as chairman of MSA was a thankless task and I was working like a slave, virtually day and night, in addition to juggling all my other balls.


TIME TO RESIGN

Moreover, I had been under the impression that this link between the two countries would be preserved. Now that the decision to split was imminent, I decided to pen a resignation letter that they could not refuse. But how do you write two lines of English words which say just that and nothing more? It took me two days to come up with those two lines. Then there was silence for three or four months.

The Minister of Finance of Singapore then was Hon Sui Sen, one of the finest men to serve as a cabinet minister from the creation of the island state of Singapore to this day. Born in Penang, he graduated in science from Raffles College about two years before I entered the school. Then came one of the nicest letters I have received in my life. It was penned by Hon Sui Sen himself, and said words to this effect: “I apologise for taking so long to reply. The reason it took so long was we could not find the right successor. This in itself is a compliment to you and what you have done for all of us. Following considerable discussion between the two governments, we have finally come up with a formula of one Chairman from each side to co-chair the board.”

They could not have asked for a more classic mongoose and cobra arrangement. The individuals they picked fought each other tooth and nail. When I stepped off, I stepped off completely. I even shut my mind to the whole matter.

The Malaysian Government chose Tun Ismail Ali, then Central Bank Governor. The Singapore side picked Joe Pillay, who had been a Singapore director of MSA from the day that I joined the board. In one sense, you could say Joe Pillay gave me the most trouble. In another sense, you could say he was the single most efficient director on the board. I admired his tremendous intellect, an intellect that had no superior in the Singapore/Malaysia region. His grasp of economics and cost accounting was fantastic.

I learned from him, watching the way he worked at his job. But he was rather highly strung. Joe is a lovely human being and a gentleman, but when it came to protecting his nation’s interest and discharging his job, he could come out unnecessarily aggressive. I remember one unpleasant exchange between Basil Bampfield, a British Airways-appointed director, and Joe Pillay at a board meeting. Joe told Basil that he should go back to British Airways and Qantas and tell them that some of the existing arrangements were unfair, and that the two airlines should make concessions to MSA. At the next meeting, Basil reported that, on behalf of British Airways and Qantas, he was authorised to agree to every request made at the preceding meeting.

I said, “This is amazingly good news. May I on behalf of all of us make a motion to express our thanks to them?” Joe Pillay interrupted, “No! It is ours by right and we should have got it long ago.” I appealed to Joe. Why cry over the past, I thought. Basil Bampfield was a fine English gentleman in an invidious job. He must have gone back and argued MSA’s case forcefully. What the two co-chairmen presided over was like a funeral. To dismantle and separate the whole company was like performing surgery on Siamese twins. It took them a long time to carry out the operation.





MOTIVATION, NOT MONEY

Tim Dumas, one of the senior partners in ED&F Man, once asked me, “Why do you want to go on battling the odds in the business world, Robert? You’ve made your pile. Why don’t you retire?”

My answer may have sounded strange to him: “Tim, can’t you see we come from two different worlds? The British Empire spanned the world; wherever the sun rose, there was a Union flag fluttering in the breeze. You had colonies for over 200 years. Even today, Britain punches above its weight because of that history. I belong to a developing Southeast Asia. And now there is China, the land of my parents and ancestors. As long as I can still contribute, I cannot rest.”



I BELONG TO A DEVELOPING SOUTHEAST ASIA. AND NOW THERE IS CHINA, THE LAND OF MY PARENTS AND ANCESTORS. AS LONG AS I CAN STILL CONTRIBUTE, I CANNOT REST

My 1958 sugar barter deal with India and Mitsui almost led to disaster after the Chinese entered the market as a seller of sugar at the exact same time. However, in the end, it was a blessing in disguise. Through this deal, I got to know the Chinese trading companies based in Hong Kong. They decided that they would rather work with me than against me, and Kuok Brothers gradually built up a strong trading relationship with Chinese-affiliated trading firms in both Hong Kong and Singapore.

Business is about one individual getting to know another individual and then another, and so on. We did sugar, we did rice, and then we went sideways into miscellaneous small things like photographic film and dyestuffs. From 1965, I began travelling to the mainland itself. My first trip took me to the Canton Trade Fair, with a side trip with several busloads of overseas Chinese to a commune outside the provincial capital. We had a good lunch of simple village-style food at a village community hall. In my early visits, I sensed that the people in China were highly moral and decent. I never felt like a stranger.



MOTHER, MAO AND DENG XIAOPING

China went into a self-imposed period of isolation during the Cultural Revolution, and the China that I returned to in the mid-1970s was a very different place. There was a lot of red tape laced with a high degree of suspicion. Many cadres did not have experience of business, and they feared that every capitalist was coming to try to rob the nation of its national treasures. The cadres didn’t know how to develop a business; but neither were they prepared to let you develop it. Mother warned me against investing in China: “You are going in too soon, my son, too soon. You will meet brick walls. Why bang your head on a brick wall? Your head will only bleed, and you won’t achieve anything. Worse still, if you achieve something, then they will take it away from you and you will be back at zero.”

Mother knew the Chinese make-up and the mindset of her generation. However, I saw that China was pitifully backward. I felt that the country must wake up and join the modern world. It was much poorer than the Malaya into which I was born. I felt that I wanted to help China and, if possible, push the country to develop faster.

Thank God there were good people, and standing above them all was Deng Xiaoping. I have Mother to thank for my lifelong interest in the birthplace of my parents. Mother always retained a strong and deep emotional tie to her homeland. Yet, she was very objective and critical of all the Chinese faults, including the foibles of successive governments and leaders. She was travelling regularly between Malaya and China in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She welcomed the victory of Mao Zedong and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.



THANK GOD THERE WERE GOOD PEOPLE [IN CHINA], AND STANDING ABOVE THEM ALL WAS DENG XIAOPING

Mother always stood up for the poor. In 1951, on one of her trips back to China, she collected all the title deeds for her properties in Shandong province and went north with an assistant. They identified each tenant farmer and made a gift of the land to those who had tilled and maintained it. Until her death, she said Mao’s pluses far outweighed his minuses. But, from early on, she knew that mistakes were being made. She saw the harm that the Great Leap Forward did to the rural areas.

I think that, today, we would say Mao didn’t really understand how to run an economy. During the war years you needed heroic acts. The tales of daring during the Long March and the call to fight the Japanese resonated with the people. But once all the battles are won, you have to focus on building up the economy and bringing up the standard of living of the people.


Mother was a strong critic of the bad and bullying behaviour of local bureaucrats towards their fellow Chinese. This was particularly so during the Cultural Revolution, which she saw as the dark period in China’s history. In the early 1970s, she made a trip to Fuzhou after many years away. She was required to deposit her passport with the Public Security Bureau of Fuzhou. After staying for a few months and feeling unhappy at what she saw around her, she decided it was time to go back to Malaysia. She went many times to retrieve her passport, but the Public Security Bureau always gave her some kind of stupid answer and wouldn’t return it to her. One day, she got really angry. She went to the bureau, pounded on the desk, and said, “I am an overseas Chinese citizen of Malaysia. The Chinese Government told us to go overseas and become worthy citizens of the countries of our adoption. Why do you keep my passport? What have I done wrong? Why are you treating me like this? I shall go to Beijing to lodge a strong complaint.”


MOTHER ALWAYS RETAINED A STRONG AND DEEP EMOTIONAL TIE TO HER HOMELAND. YET SHE WAS VERY OBJECTIVE AND CRITICAL OF ALL THE CHINESE FAULTS

Within a few days of that incident, an official brought the passport to her home, and she booked a flight and returned to Malaysia. Many poor Chinese from Fujian had left to seek a better life abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia, and when they went back to China to visit relatives and asked for assistance, they would often find the bureaucrats at the Overseas Chinese Bureau officious and unsympathetic. On her other trips home to Fuzhou, the bureau would send someone to greet her who would say, “Madame Kuok, I have come to welcome you. What can we do for you?” Her response would be: “I have come back to see relatives and to worship at the temples here. I do not need any help from you, but you could offer your help to the many returning overseas Chinese who are poor and illiterate and who really need your help.”

She assessed Deng Xiaoping quite correctly from the beginning. She told me, “Nien, China will go back to capitalism in your lifetime. It’s already moving in that direction. I can tell you, son, man can only be driven by the selfishness in his heart and the betterment of himself and his children’s well-being. Only that can propel him to achieve more things, to be more creative and productive. China will and must continue to be driven by this.”

But in her mind, the ultimate goal of society should be true socialism, where man truly works for all his fellow beings on a totally selfless basis. But that stage is a long way off. Before that, man must complete the long march to becoming truly civilised, and we have only travelled the first few of ten thousand miles.




HONG KONG, A BIGGER (TAX-SAVVY) POND AND SINGAPORE’S FOUNDING FATHER

The principal reason that I elected to move to Hong Kong in the 1970s was taxation. At that time, it almost appeared as though the Singapore and Malaysian governments were competing with each other to see which could levy the highest taxes on those who were generating wealth for the nations. Both were taxing our profits at punitive rates. If you earned a dollar, you barely kept fifty cents. My main business at the time was in commodities. I was a substantial trader, taking large positions. Three thousand lots is the equivalent of 150,000 tons of sugar. A movement of one US cent a pound would bring huge profits or losses. If I went long and wrong, or short and wrong, margin calls could easily wipe me out. So it was imperative for me to build up my company’s cash reserves.



HONG KONG WAS A MUCH BIGGER POND THAN SINGAPORE – OR MALAYSIA

Because of Singapore’s steep tax rates, I was handicapped in my effort to build up cash reserves. And without deep reserves, I would be dangerously vulnerable to margin calls if our trading positions went sour. Although Singapore did not tax offshore trading profits, officials imposed extremely onerous conditions on you to prove that your profits were generated offshore. They essentially regarded you as guilty until proven innocent. A tax audit was a bit like the Spanish Inquisition. By comparison, Hong Kong’s tax environment encouraged business. You only paid 17 per cent corporate tax, so you were better off by 33 cents on every dollar of profit.
I SHALL STRESS THAT I HAD NOT – AND INDEED, HAVE NOT – LOST ONE IOTA OF MY AFFECTION FOR SINGAPORE

Since I was in the international sugar-trading business, with mobile operations it seemed almost irresponsible not to trade sugar from a low-tax base. Tax policy plays a very important role in encouraging or discouraging business. Hong Kong’s policy is very straightforward. Why would I want to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to avoid taxation? I should stress that I had not – and indeed, have not – lost one iota of my affection for Singapore. It is simply that it made more sense to base my operations in a low-tax jurisdiction like Hong Kong.

In fact, from about the mid-1970s, I often met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in a sitting room next to his office. His office would call my office at short notice when he had free time. In an early session, Kuan Yew explained that he wanted to have chats with me because I had a good feel for the scene in Malaysia. He had an embassy in Kuala Lumpur, but he wanted a different perspective. I was always very frank with him. If he asked questions for which I had no answer, I would tell him so.

We had many pleasant such sessions, sometimes over lunch. Unfortunately, these informal sessions ended when I moved to Hong Kong, as I could no longer pop around at a moment’s notice. Hong Kong was a much bigger pond than Singapore or Malaysia. I began to see very clearly that the CEOs of the top American, Japanese and European corporations were visiting Hong Kong, if not once a year, then once every two or three years. The senior VPs would go to Singapore and the VPs or departmental managers would visit Kuala Lumpur. That was the pecking order. Today, of course, CEOs are more likely to frequent Beijing and Shanghai. We had considered relocating part of our operations to Hong Kong from the 1960s. I finally made the plunge in 1974, deciding that I must form a Kuok Brothers Hong Kong.

I summoned several of our executives in Singapore: Richard Liu, Lee Yong Sun, James Lim, Kenny Yeo, and one or two others. I told everyone that we had to act quickly: “I have made up my mind that we will open a branch in Hong Kong. I ask for volunteers. Please give me your answer today. Two weeks from today, I want you to be in Hong Kong, ready to work. On the plus side,” I concluded, “anyone who follows me to Hong Kong will be well rewarded.”



THE MORE I HEARD PEOPLE CALL CHINA BACKWARD, THE MORE I FELT WE MUST SHOW THE REST OF THE WORLD, SOME DAY, THAT CHINA CAN BE ADVANCED

Lee Yong Sun, Kenny Yeo and James Lim all put up their hands. I asked Richard Liu to commute back and forth, like I was planning to do, to look after both sides of the business for at least a year. I spent about seven to ten days a month in Hong Kong from 1974, and then gradually it became 15 days a month, 21 days, until eventually I moved there in 1979.

Robert Kuok at his office in Hong Kong, c 2000. Photo: Robert Kuok, A Memoir

We started with about HK$10 million when I formed Kerry Holdings Ltd, the name that we chose for our Hong Kong operation. The executives who relocated to Hong Kong were allowed to apply for the first allotment of shares in the company. Trading, of course, migrated with me; that was unavoidable, as I was the main trader. Within 20 years, Hong Kong has blossomed into by far the largest of our three group companies of Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.




THE RISE AND RISE OF HK PROPERTY

I saw great potential in China, but I can’t claim to have had a crystal ball on the momentous changes that would follow the death of Mao Zedong. Luckily or unluckily, I was born Chinese, and I have always remained very proud of being Chinese. The more I heard people call China backward, the more I felt we must show the rest of the world, some day, that China can be advanced. I felt that I had something to offer my fellow Chinese: modern ways of thinking and management, and respect for the value that both sides brought to a business relationship.

However, our focus was most certainly not on China during the first few years after we moved to Hong Kong. Kerry Holdings focused on supplying sugar and rice to Indonesia. That was when Yani Haryanto had his magic arrangement with President Suharto, under which all that vast land’s sugar and rice imports passed through Yani’s hands. My first major investment in Hong Kong came in November 1977, when I bought a piece of land in Kowloon at auction and built the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel. It is still a very important jewel in the Group’s hotel crown more than 40 years later.


After that, I plunged into the Hong Kong property market, then into warehousing and local stock-market investing.

It is well known that Hong Kong property has created quite a few billionaires. In the hindsight of history, it is not hard to see why. My first visit to Hong Kong was in 1947, when Joy and I were there on honeymoon. We drove with a friend, Eddie Cheung, past the old Peninsula hotel in Kowloon. When we were maybe a few hundred metres down Nathan Road from the Peninsula, Eddie said, “Robert, if you have spare money you should buy land here. I think you can buy empty land at about HK$5 a square foot.” Well, that is probably the greatest missed opportunity of my life!




I SAW GREAT POTENTIAL IN CHINA, BUT I CAN’T CLAIM TO HAVE HAD A CRYSTAL BALL ON THE MOMENTOUS CHANGES THAT WOULD FOLLOW THE DEATH OF MAO ZEDONG

Fast forward to the late 1970s, when we had been in Hong Kong for three or four years. We had established a small office, and we rented apartments so that those of us who periodically came over from Singapore would have a place to stay. When a two-year tenancy expired, the rent would always shoot up. The rising rents were creating a strong headwind for our business. So I called several of our executives into my office, and said, “If rents keep going up like this, we will never be able to gain a foothold here. We have to go into property investment.” So, we established Kerry Properties Limited, which is now a public company, and which has been our primary company for investment in Hong Kong and mainland China real estate since 1978. Even I did not see how important this decision would be. In the 1970s, despite the rising rents, the cost was not that steep. But, as China developed, it became very apparent that rents would continue to soar and soar. We decided not to stop at buying just one or two floors of office space or one or two apartments. We branched into development. We built entire buildings, and then major integrated commercial and residential complexes. We have never looked back.







ON CHINA’S CULTURAL STRENGTH

At a very young age, perhaps four or five years old, I was becoming conscious of mother’s stories, and her frequent exhortations to me and my brothers. Father, his associates, and even the Chinese labourers working in the shop also had wisdom. I learned from them and from their behaviour that I belonged to a people with a very rich culture.

As I grew older, through the 1930s and 1940s, I began to realise that what the Chinese lacked most of all was discipline and unity.

With our continuous culture going back thousands of years, I think that there are certain good qualities as well as certain defects in the marrow of our bones.

The Chinese are very hard-working. Wherever they go they will try to earn their own living. Some of these migrants started life in their new homes as rickshaw pullers. So the natives of those regions connect the Chinese with the odour of sweat and say they are a miserable lot. I never got taken in by that nonsense. You have to learn to distinguish between form and essence. If your eyes are always glued to form, it is doubtful that you will ever succeed in life.

The teachings of Confucius are part of Chinese culture. Photo: Alamy

The Chinese today don’t have to learn about Confucius and Mencius from books. The teachings of Confucius and Mencius are part of our culture; these teachings have been with us since birth.

Why, then, are so many Chinese running around today in China and all over the world setting bad examples? It is because of greed.



IF THE JOURNEY TOWARDS THE GOAL OF CIVILIZATION IS TEN THOUSAND MILES LONG, I DOUBT WE HAVE GONE EVEN ONE HUNDRED MILES

If the journey towards the goal of civilization is ten thousand miles long, I doubt we have gone even one hundred miles. People make a lot of mistakes in their rush. China has been transformed in 30 years. I have seen many mistakes along the way, but I have also seen a serious effort to turn back and correct mistakes when they are made.

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ON MODERN CHINA AND ENLIGHTENED LEADERS

In its 5,000-year history, I doubt that China has had as enlightened a group of leaders as during the past 30 years. They wanted their country to grow, and their people to prosper. Few leaders today compare with China’s in terms of true patriotism, selfless devotion to duty, and complete willingness to dedicate their lives to the causes of nation-building and raising the peoples’ standard of living.


There was a period where I think the Chinese leaders misunderstood Confucianism, or they deliberately did not want Confucian values passed on to young people. They eschewed every religion, and Confucianism was seen as the religion of old China. Mao wanted the people to replace their old thinking with communist idealism. However, in the process, he overlooked the barbarism that still exists in man’s hearts and minds. It is easy to talk about all human beings being equal, but all men are not equal, and barbaric instincts still course through our veins.

In my business travels around China, I often came across incompetent or bigoted officials. Nearly every time I had a major tussle with one, or I met a dubious vice governor or mayor, I would come back and, in my judgmental way, tell my colleagues, “How can that man run such-and-such a city?” And sure enough, the next time I visited the place, say a year later, the man had been removed and a better man was in his place. I began to note to myself and to others that in Southeast Asia, a bad egg gets promoted; in China, a bad egg is removed.


Still, I think more can and should be done to root out nonperformers. I have a wonderful colleague named David Pang who helps out with our companies’ efforts to lift the poor around China from conditions of extreme poverty. We are trying to open up the sky above their heads and offer them hope. Through this effort, we have come into contact with many local village officials.

The quality of these officials varies greatly; the more corrupt ones are all talk and no action.

David Pang told me a sad story about a very bright young man from a small village who made it to the top university in China.

After graduating, he went back to his village to share his knowledge.

He is a man with a good heart, but after 20 years, he had lost all his vigour and energy and dreams. He became a forgotten soul captured by the bureaucratic web. His superiors think poorly of him because he challenges their intellect. He is bullied and ignored.

There are many individuals like him throughout China, individuals who want to do good things and improve the lives of those around them but who are stymied by vain and arrogant officials.

ON DENG XIAOPING

I was invited to meet Deng Xiaoping in the autumn of 1990.

He impressed me as a very fine and humble human being. He was by then an elderly man, but from the moment he saw me, his whole behaviour – his smile and his body language – was like that of an eager young man seeking to make a new friend. In none of his actions or words was there a hint of: “I am a great leader of a great nation. Who are you?” You could sense that the man was never thinking of himself. He was all for the people, his people.


When we sat down, his first words were to thank and to praise the Overseas Chinese for their contribution to the birth of the new China, and for the major role they had played and were continuing to play in China’s economy. Then he said several things that still stick in my mind. One was: “In 30 years’ time, China will be the most important and strongest nation in Asia, which will by then be the strongest continent in the world.” There was no hint of arrogance in Deng’s voice. It was as if he were a wizened sage looking into his crystal ball and describing what he saw. He stated it very humbly, and then he added words to this effect: “I shall not live to see that day, but I have no doubt that it will become true.”


THERE WAS NO HINT OF ARROGANCE IN DENG’S VOICE. IT WAS AS IF HE WERE A WIZENED SAGE LOOKING INTO HIS CRYSTAL BALL AND DESCRIBING WHAT HE SAW

He also said, “Mr Kuok, they all say I am the one that is bringing this huge and rapid development to China. They are wrong. When I opened the door for China, they were all pushing me from behind. They are still pushing me.” He wasn’t trying to gain more credit by trying to divert the credit. He just said the truth. The people want economic progress.

Then Deng spoke at length on the Taiwan issue. He said, “I have offered them more than I was prepared to give Hong Kong. They will be given everything that I gave Hong Kong, in addition to which they can maintain their armed forces, and renew and update their weaponry. All I ask is that we are one unified nation again; one flag, one foreign ministry, one people. There can be no other way forward for China!”


He smiled throughout the meeting and I thought he was a very kind, friendly man, totally unselfish. But when he spoke on Taiwan, for the first time I saw in the man a sense of extreme frustration.

That was the first and only time I saw Deng. I later heard through Chinese friends in Beijing that mine was the last official meeting granted by the government. After that, a curtain came down and his only visitors were family or close friends.

China is still transforming. When you talk of the transformation of a nation of more than 1.36 billion people, it is too great for one single human mind to follow. Imagine an elephant that is so enormous in girth that if you are standing right in front, you cannot imagine it in its entirety.



[DENG XIAOPING] WAS A VERY KIND, FRIENDLY MAN, TOTALLY UNSELFISH. BUT WHEN HE SPOKE ON TAIWAN, FOR THE FIRST TIME I SAW IN THE MAN A SENSE OF EXTREME FRUSTRATION

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When I saw what Deng Xiaoping was doing, I virtually worshipped the man. I have often told overseas friends that, throughout China’s 5,000-year history, there has rarely been a period when the leadership has been as committed to providing for the people and nation-building as that since Deng came to power. It has now been more than 35 years since Deng set the country on its current course, and the present leadership continues to put the people first.

We met obstacles and small-minded people in China. Some think you have come to rob them; others just think about themselves, and when you won’t line their pockets they turn their backs on you. In some of the provinces, you meet bigoted, narrow-minded officials who are envious before they have given away anything. All you can do is to avoid those places.

Overall, I think my relative success has been due to my willingness to give way. If you were operating in Singapore or Hong Kong, you would not meet with that situation.

In China, I was willing to flow with the currents. I was not expecting to make a fortune. I think, in the main, I felt I was there to help the country. But because of all my years of business training and sense of fiduciary values, there were times when I could not compromise. If they were not willing to be reasonable, I could not accept it, and those frustrations sometimes got to me.

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The years of experimenting with extreme left-wing communism have had adverse side effects on Chinese society. One effect is that many grew up without a strong moral compass. They acted as though your wealth should be shared with them. While they professed to share their wealth with you – they knew full well that they had nothing. I used to tell Chinese cadres: “That is not communism; it is highway robbery! You people are even indecent in not telling the truth to yourselves.”

To my mind, the two greatest challenges facing China are the restoration of education in morals and the establishment of the rule of law.

Top President Suharto of Indonesia (middle) with Yani Haryanto and Robert Kuok in the President’s country home in Chiomas, outside Jakarta, c 1970. Photo: Robert Kuok, A Memoir

A moral society cannot be attained through policing. You must begin at the beginning, and infuse the young with a strong sense of morality from a young age, both at home and at school. For centuries, Confucian principles provided China’s moral compass; they can do so again.



THE TWO GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING CHINA ARE THE RESTORATION OF EDUCATION IN MORALS AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RULE OF LAW

The second important point is that China must strive to understand and implement the rule of law. This is more important than implementing democracy. It is a basic principle of the rule of law that everyone is equal before the law. In China today we have rule by man. Under the rule of law, even the General-Secretary of the Communist Party is not above the law.


I know many believe that it is impossible for a communist party to accept the rule of law. But I think that, if the Chinese Communist Party is to survive, the leaders of the Communist Party must adapt.

Otherwise, the people of China will reject them and cast them out.

I only hope that the Communist Party will take the lead in implementing the rule of law. It will require a gigantic effort, as the culture must change and the legal infrastructure must be created.

You have to train upright judges and lawyers to uphold the legal system. This may take 20-30 years, but it must start today. If the party succeeds in this monumental task, then the road ahead for China is filled with hope for all mankind.

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XI JINPING’S CHINA

The world is now witnessing a spiritual rejuvenation in China led by Xi Jinping.

In my lifetime, I have followed the astonishing transformation of China. I grew up hearing daily tales of the country being in a horrible state. After many decades of misrule, internal strife and foreign oppression, the country was ripe for a revolution. The People’s Republic of China was founded by Mao Zedong and his amazingly able colleagues on 1st October 1949. But Mao was no genius at economics or commerce, and when the economy suffered setbacks, he was criticized by those around him. Mao got mad and thought he would use a fire torch to burn the pestering ants along the edges of the house, not realising that the house was bone dry, and that it would burst into flames and set off the Cultural Revolution, which eventually left the nation shattered.


After a period wracked by extreme instability and political intrigue, Deng Xiaoping came to power. He saw the right direction for his people and personally led them for about fifteen years. I met him in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in September 1990 and was struck by his humility. He said that he did not deserve the peoples’ acclaim that he was responsible for the country’s booming economy and rising prosperity. He said: ‘All I did was to open the door, but it was the people charging up behind and they pushed me through the door’. I found Deng to be a wise and compassionate leader: a great man indeed.

After Deng had ushered in a time of increasing prosperity, there developed the disease of greed and decay. Fortunately for China and its people, Xi Jinping assumed leadership of the country in November 2012. What he has accomplished in just five years is truly amazing. He has greatly reduced corruption in the government bureaucracy, in state-owned enterprises and in the armed forces. The economy had been developing in too uncontrolled a manner (excess capacity in steel, cement, and aluminium, etc.), and some of the agonies due to enforced adjustments are now being felt.



XI IS EFFECTIVELY BRINGING CHINA INTO THE MODERN AGE BY DISMANTLING, STEP BY STEP, THE FEUDAL ATTITUDES AND OFFICIOUS PRACTICES WHICH HAVE BEEN DEEPLY INGRAINED IN CHINESE SOCIETY

Xi realized it was not just the body but also the mind and spirit where decadence had entered Chinese society and systems. He is fostering mental, physical, moral and spiritual rejuvenation. It is a difficult job because China is relatively affluent now. Leaders have an easier job when the people are poor and have nothing to lose.

Xi is effectively bringing China into the modern age by dismantling, step by step, the feudal attitudes and officious practices which have been deeply ingrained in Chinese society.

From my knowledge of Xi Jinping, he is selfless, compassionate, patriotic, with a profound knowledge of Chinese history and culture. He is putting good practices in place, which will further transform China. He may need several more years to put his imprint on the country, but I firmly believe that history will honour him as one of China’s greatest leaders.



THE PERMANENCE OF PRINT AND THE SCMP

In 1993, we bought a controlling interest in SCMP Group Limited of Hong Kong, which publishes the leading English language newspaper in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post, from Rupert Murdoch. I feel that an independent media is a crucial component of a fair and orderly society. Perhaps I am old fashioned in believing that print media is important, given all the new media that have emerged. But I believe in the permanence of print, recording events day in and day out. I don’t see that books or newspapers will ever become obsolete, although their form may change.



FOR  EVERY SLANTED OPINION PIECE, THERE SHOULD BE A PROPONENT FOR THE OPPOSITE VIEW

When I read the Post in the morning, I wouldn’t agree with everything. But that had never prompted me to try and change the contents. However, if the paper ever printed something libellous, I would have come down very fiercely and told them, “If the paper is sued for libel, you have to be responsible and meet the cost, because the owners did not personally print that news.”
A paper must publish news, not speculation. For every slanted opinion piece, there should be a proponent for the opposite view. Give the reader a choice, and let the reader decide who has the better argument.

In March 2016, a decision was made to sell the South China Morning Post to Jack Ma of Alibaba. I was pleased for Jack to take over, as the Post is a strategically important newspaper and I felt it should be in good hands. When the sale was completed, friends asked me how I felt after having owned the Post for 24 years. I replied by wiping my brow in relief and saying, “pheww!”

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on December 1 and in Indonesia on January 1, 2018