I’m late in mentioning this as I’ve been on the road for a few weeks — and if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook this may be old news — but I wanted to link to a page 1 story I wrote with colleagues that ran earlier this month.
Uber driver Koh Seng Tian had just dropped off a passenger in a residential neighborhood in Singapore when he smelled smoke in his Honda Vezel sport-utility vehicle. Flames burst from the dashboard, melting the interior and cracking a football-sized hole in his windshield.
Mr. Koh walked away unhurt, according to the accident report filed with authorities. But the fire this January caused panic at Uber Technologies Inc.
The ride-hailing company had rented the Vezel to Mr. Koh after Honda Motor Co. recalled the model in April 2016 for an electrical component that could overheat and catch fire.
Uber managers in Singapore were aware of the Honda recall when they bought more than 1,000 defective Vezels and rented them to Mr. Koh and other drivers without the needed repairs, according to internal Uber emails and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people familiar with Uber’s operations in the region.
SINGAPORE—Uber Technologies Inc. is locked in major tussles with local rivals in China and India, but a homegrown upstart is also grabbing an advantage in the race for another Asia prize.
A startup called Grab is winning ride-hailing turf in Southeast Asia—home to 600 million people, almost double the population of the U.S. The startup serves more cities in the region than Uber and, according to mobile-app analytics firm App Annie, is beating the world’s most valuable startup in the race for users here.
The region’s ride-hailing market is forecast to grow more than five times to $13.1 billion by 2025 from $2.5 billion last year, according to a recent report on Southeast Asia’s internet economy conducted by Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Singapore state-investment firm Temasek Holdings.
There’s also a video, embedded at the top of the post, in the story, and online here. (You may recognize the narrator’s voice.)
Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.
Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015 Amazon link
Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.
One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.
The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.
Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.
The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.
Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.
Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”
Singapore-based online grocery-delivery service RedMart has scored some valuable new talent in its quest to conquer Southeast Asia.
The startup said Thursday it has hired a longtime senior executive at Amazon.com Inc. who once spent two years as a technical adviser to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.
Colin Bryar, a former Amazon vice president, has joined Redmart as the company’s chief operating officer, and will oversee issues such as engineering, marketing and operations, according to RedMarket Chief Executive Roger Egan.
Mr. Bryar has “such tremendous experience shadowing one of the top leaders in tech for two plus years,” Mr. Egan told The Wall Street Journal.
Singapore is, to use a word its leaders favour, an “exceptional” place: the world’s only fully functioning city-state; a truly global hub for commerce, finance, shipping and travel; and the only one among the world’s richest countries never to have changed its ruling party. At a May Day rally this year, its prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, asserted that “to survive you have to be exceptional.” This special report will examine different aspects of Singaporean exceptionalism and ask whether its survival really is under threat. It will argue that Singapore is well placed to thrive, but that in its second half-century it will face threats very different from those it confronted at its unplanned, accidental birth 50 years ago. They will require very different responses. The biggest danger Singapore faces may be complacency—the belief that policies that have proved so successful for so long can help it negotiate a new world.
I was traveling when Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, died Monday, and haven’t had a chance to blog about his passing until now. (Pictured above: a recent sampling of Singaporean newspapers’ front pages.)
Lee Kuan Yew, who dominated Singapore politics for more than half a century and transformed the former British outpost into a global trade and finance powerhouse, setting a template for emerging markets around the world, died Monday. He was 91 years old.
Singaporeans are a lucky breed—we do not have memories of coups or mass protests or riots or severe terrorist attacks in recent years, unlike most of our neighbors. In many ways, the passing of Mr. Lee is the deepest loss that the country has felt, together, in a generation. It is also a reminder of the fragility of the nation, and how its history could have gone in a completely different direction if not for Mr. Lee’s vision.
Elsewhere, The Economist charts the remarkable rise in Singapore’s per capita GDP — and low fertility rates:
Mr. Lee, who died at 91 on Monday, has been widely credited for turning what had been a malaria-ridden British trading post into a gleaming economic success story. Singaporeans now enjoy a standard of living comparable with Japan and advanced European and North American economies, albeit without a pluralistic political system, a free press or strong dissenting voices.
But what comes next? In many ways, Singaporeans have been quietly preparing for a future without the steadying influence of the republic’s founding father.
The past four years were the first for independent Singapore without Mr. Lee in government. He stepped down from his advisory role of “minister mentor” in the cabinet in 2011, just a week after the ruling People’s Action Party recorded its worst electoral showing in five decades—a result government officials and political observers have attributed to festering socioeconomic tensions in recent years.
He has been prime minister of Singapore since 2004, but Lee Hsien Loong was inevitably overshadowed by his celebrated father, Lee Kuan Yew, who died this week.
The younger Mr. Lee faces the task of carrying forward his father’s legacy in his own style at a time when Singapore confronts social and economic challenges that have seen support for the governing People’s Action Party erode more than at any time since it came to power in 1959.
Politically, Ernest Bower at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says:
Some of PAP’s leaders may pine for the old days, but hopefully they won’t pursue the path of their counterparts in Malaysia, where the ruling United Malays National Organization party seems to be trying to turn the clock back, betting on an ultra conservative approach.
It is more likely that over time, PAP’s well-educated and globally focused leaders will find there is new room to breathe and innovate in the new political space of the post-Lee Kuan Yew era.
Lee Kuan Yew not only made Singaporeans proud; he also made Chinese and other Asians proud. He was a master builder, a sophisticated Asian nationalist dedicated not only to the success of his own small nation but to bequeathing the world a new model of governance. Instead of trying to impose Western political models on Asian realities, he sought to make autocracy respectable by leavening it with meritocracy, the rule of law and a strict intolerance for corruption to make it deliver growth.
Though his country was minuscule, Lee was a larger-than-life figure with a grandness of vision. He saw “Asian values” as a source of legitimacy for the idea that authoritarian leadership, constrained by certain Western legal and administrative checks, offered an effective “Asian” alternative to the messiness of liberal democracy. Because his thinking proved so agreeable to the Chinese Communist Party, he became the darling of Beijing. And because China has now become the political keystone of the modern Asian arch, Beijing’s imprimatur helped him and his ideas to gain a pan-Asian stature that Singapore alone could not have provided.
As countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and even China continue to search for new models of development and governance that do not bear the stigma of their former Western colonizers, Lee Kuan Yew’s example is a tempting option. Even though he is now gone, the Venice-like republic he founded will continue to be extolled as a hopeful experiment, and the man himself, the progenitor of what has come to be known as the “Singapore model,” will doubtless remain an influential political evangelist.