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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

LETTERS AND COMMENT

"To report accurately and fairly the affairs of Asia in all spheres of human activity,
To see the world from an Asian perspective, to be Asia's voice in the world"
Mission Statement, 1975


WANT TO REACH ASIAWEEK?

THE MAKING OF A Classic: "The Opium War, says its director Xie Jin, will be China's Schindler's List -- an epic chronicling in brutal detail the suffering inflicted on China by British opium traders." -- CINEMA [April 18]

Millions of people all over the world are waiting for the greatest event in Chinese history -- the handover of Hong Kong. While it is a moment of political triumph for China, the fate of thousands hangs in the balance. The opium trade that Britain brought to China led to the resulting war in 1842 and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, after which Hong Kong became Britain's prized possession. It brought anguish and humiliation to the Chinese government ["In the Name of Honor," CINEMA, April 18].

The present boom owes credit largely to the mainland Chinese, who provided the labor and the finance in the late 1950s and 1960s. It is hoped that the minorities, who contributed to the economic success, are not forgotten, and that the handover will neither displace nor victimize those who have made Hong Kong their home and know no other.

Beena Giridharan

Miri, Sarawak

Malaysia


Supply and Demand

FIRST, CONGRATULATIONS FOR PROVIDING what I believe is the first comprehensive, yet realistic, picture of Malaysia's auto industry ["Proton's World Ambitions" and "Rising to the Occasion," AGENDA/ CARS, April 11].

The second point, and of more significance, is the articles' premise that a crisis situation appears to be looming with the coming of the ASEAN Free Trade Area and the WTO in terms of their likely competitive impact on Proton and Malaysia's automotive industry generally. Saleh Sulong, the new CEO of Proton's parent DRB-Hicom, is reported as saying "much as we would like [protective] tariffs to remain, this will no longer be possible after the year 2000." Your correspondents have put the situation bluntly. Proton "will have to match foreign rivals in quality and cost -- or die." In this connection it needs to be noted that at least one competitor -- the new Toyota -- is already on the roads in Bangkok waiting to roll down to Malaysia.

The question which must now be addressed is how well the local industry is preparing for this situation. In all humility, I refer to the findings of a very preliminary pilot study on the supply and demand situation of human resources at the basic level in the auto industry today.

Basically the supply lines we examined are totally inadequate. The existing automotive training centers of MARA [the People's Trust Council], F.I.T. [the Federal Institute of Technology] and the polytechnics can supply only an insignificant fraction of the total demand. Indeed, even here the "cream" is taken by foreign companies like Toyota. The private training institutions, such as F.I.T., produce a far greater number each year. But, as might be expected, most receive offers of employment in the private sector even before they graduate.

We were however impressed by the quality of training at MARA and the polytechnics we visited. Indeed, the dedication and commitment of both staff and students were admirable, considering the severe constraints they faced in terms of insufficient modern technology and qualified staff. The main problem brought to our attention was structural -- the staff had to cope with sometimes conflicting directives and outdated bureaucratic procedures as well as the bureaucratic mentality of some in officialdom.

Our observations for the future however are positive. We envisage a strategy which would begin with an intensive study covering the human resource situation of each and every plant within the DRB-HICOM group. Above all we strongly urge a completely new autonomous structure to involve all sectors of the industry, including even automotive workshops, to coordinate, plan and implement decisions made with the maximum participation by all groups.

As we see it the greatest danger in the present context (not necessarily confined to the automobile industry) is the tendency to minimize professionalism and to resort to the highly bureaucratized notion that all serious problems can be solved by in-house committees or task forces. It seems difficult to understand how individuals who do not seem to have ideas by themselves should suddenly get "brainwaves" when they sit together in committee.

Collin Abraham

Managing Director

Malaysian Agency for Skills Training and Development

Kuala Lumpur


The Name Game

IT HAS BECOME THE fashion nowadays to change the names of countries, cities and towns -- ever since Shah Reza Pahlevi changed the two-thousand-year-old name of Persia to Iran. But this does not mean that non-English speakers have the right to change English names (LETTERS & COMMENT, April 18).

I do not see why Siam should be Thailand or Ceylon should be Sri Lanka. Local rulers can call their countries, cities and towns whatever they like but they cannot impose such name changes on English speakers. Persia, Siam, Burma and Ceylon are part of the English language and literature. Such changes impose unwarranted hardship on English speakers, writers, cartographers, publishers, editors, newspapers, teachers and many others. They confuse children in their attempts to learn geography and history. Do you remember how Cambodia became Kampuchea and then again Cambodia when the regime changed?

Countries such as Germany, Sweden, Spain or Japan are known in their own native languages as Deutschland, Sverige, Espagna and Nihon. They are not making a beeline to your doors to change their names on your maps. So why this special treatment for some countries and cities? Bombay, Madras and Rangoon are English names and neither the Indian states nor the federal government nor the Burmese government can tell you to change what are essentially English names. Therefore I would not want you to lose any sleep over these games that the ruling elites play for want of anything better to do.

C.A.Christian

Honolulu

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