Forest City: China’s New Limits on Money Outflows Hit a Would-Be Paradise

NEIL GOUGH and CAO LI New York Times 24 Mar 17;

HONG KONG — China’s intensifying efforts to keep money from leaving the country have cast doubt over big Hollywood deals and other marquee investments.

Now, they are blocking Kitty Zhu from buying her dream home.

The 39-year-old Ms. Zhu, who runs a cosmetic center in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, is one of hundreds of Chinese investors who have bet money on an ambitious but troubled residential project in Malaysia. More than 1,200 miles from China, the $40 billion Forest City housing complex — when completed — will combine lushly green beachfront property with amenities for children and the elderly alike, according to its developer.

But while the developer is Chinese, the payments must be made in Malaysia. Ms. Zhu and other buyers now say they have run into problems making payments on their Forest City apartments.

“I‘ve lost confidence in this project and I don’t want to pay any more,” said Ms. Zhu, who has already paid nearly $44,000 of the $334,000 purchase price. “I told my salesman that I want a refund, but he just avoids me.”

Chinese officials are scrambling to keep money in its borders, and the efforts are hitting big companies and people like Ms. Zhu alike. China spent $1 trillion shoring up its currency since 2014 as big companies and regular investors shifted their money out of the country over worries about slowing economic growth and the prospect of better returns elsewhere. In response, China has put new limits on the ways Chinese can invest and use their credit cards abroad.

The limits now appear to be hitting Chinese efforts to buy real estate globally. In December, China’s currency foreign-exchange regulator said it would take a harder look at how some were buying property, among other investments. On Friday, the overseas arm of UnionPay, the state-owned firm that dominates bank card payment processing in China, said it would prohibit the use of its cards for cross-border property acquisitions.

The moves could hit a large group: The Chinese invested $33 billion in overseas commercial and residential property deals last year, according to Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm. Building homes in overseas markets like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia or New York City and marketing them to investment-minded buyers back home has become a cottage industry for China’s larger property developers, who also promote the strategy as a way to help export China’s industrial overcapacity.

“It is a major problem for some developers that have megaprojects overseas, as it appears they sell, and were intended to sell, mainly to Chinese investors rather than local buyers,” said Nigel Stevenson, an analyst at GMT Research in Hong Kong. “Anecdotally it does seem much harder for Chinese buyers to transfer money offshore to pay for properties,” he added.

Country Garden, the Chinese developer building Forest City in Malaysia, has also been affected. In a Chinese-language statement sent this month to the Reuters news agency and reviewed by The New York Times, Country Garden said it decided to temporarily close its international property sales centers in mainland China for repositioning and upgrading “in order to better meet the existing foreign exchange policies and regulations.”

A Country Garden spokeswoman said the closure of the sales centers was “not a knee-jerk reaction” to the policy and reflected a shift to selling internationally. Speaking to reporters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Yeung Kwok-keung, the chairman and founder of Country Garden, skirted the question and struck the same point.

”This project is for sale to the entire world,” Mr. Yeung said.

Forest City bills itself as “a dream paradise for all mankind.” A promotional video for the project highlights a special duty-free shopping zone and its proximity to Singapore, and includes video of tropical fish and sea turtles swimming in turquoise waters.

It is also surrounded by freighters. Just to the west of Forest City is Malaysia’s Tanjung Pelepas container port, which is busier than the ports of Los Angeles or New York. Across the water in Singapore lies an industrial district.

The four artificial islands of the Forest City site cover nearly eight square miles. Recent drone video shows a handful of apartment towers under construction, while completed buildings include the spaceshiplike sales showroom and a hotel.

Videos show beaches sprinkled with white sand covering the newly reclaimed shorelines. In front of the showroom, dozens of life-size sculptures of seals perch incongruously in the equatorial heat.

Last year, Rafael Liu and his father were in the showroom of a Country Garden development in China’s eastern Jiangsu province when they learned about the Forest City project in Malaysia.

“We felt that it could be a place for my father to go in the winter,” said Mr. Liu, a 27-year-old banker from Nanjing. His father went on a buying tour last year to Malaysia and liked what he saw. When he came back to China, father and son went to a Country Garden sales office and paid more than 30 percent down on an apartment costing over $130,000.

Since then they have been transferring payments once every three months to a bank account in the southern city of Foshan, where Country Garden is based. But recently, the developer told Mr. Liu he could not make payments in China any more, and instead gave him details for accounts in Malaysia or Hong Kong to use. Mr. Liu balked, worried about violating China’s restrictions on foreign currency transactions.

“I am not paying any more,” he said.

But now he and his father are in limbo. They do not want to forfeit the 30 percent penalty for a refund. And pursuing arbitration could also result in steep legal fees.

Like many other Chinese developers, Country Garden has borrowed money from overseas, which could leave it vulnerable to any weakening in the Chinese currency and to higher interest rates in the United States. For companies, a weaker currency makes paying back debt more expensive. More than half of Country Garden’s $12.8 billion in debt is denominated in American or Hong Kong dollars, though the company said on Wednesday that its overall cost of borrowing had declined.

In domestic Malaysian politics, Forest City has also become something of a political lightning rod.

The country’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has taken to his blog repeatedly to criticize the project — and the administration of current Prime Minister Najib Razak — for allegedly selling land, residency and other benefits to relatively affluent mainland Chinese and bringing little economic benefit to locals in return. Mr. Najib has rejected these criticisms, saying Malaysia is merely taking a page from Dubai’s playbook by building giant projects to attract outside investors.

In a blog entry March 13, Mr. Mahathir said he recently visited Forest City for the first time.

He noted the impressive landscaping, including the large swimming pool and “beautiful” beach. But he renewed his criticism, saying the project is the equivalent of selling off land to foreigners.

“Indeed, Malaysia is very generous,” he wrote. “Anyone can stay here.”

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LTA’s bike-sharing scheme shelved as private players enter market

KELLY NG Today Online 24 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Plans for a government-funded bike-sharing system in Jurong Lake District have been scrapped amid the recent influx of private operators.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it decided not to award a tender for a 1,000-bike system it called in July last year, given that these private operators have plans to roll out “many thousands” of bicycles to more locations in the next year or two.

“The ongoing plans by the private dockless bicycle-sharing system operators have obviated the need for a Government-run system backed by Government grants,” it said in a press release. “LTA will continue to monitor developments in the bicycle-sharing landscape, and introduce new plans if necessary.”

The tender to build, own, operate and maintain the system with 100 docking stations closed in December last year with 13 bids from local and foreign entities proposing both docked and dockless systems, the LTA revealed on Friday. Their price proposals will be unopened, it added.

Since the beginning of this year, fully privately-funded dockless bicycle-sharing services have sprouted here.

ofo and Mobike — both players headquartered in China — and homegrown firm oBike are among the firms to offer stationless bike-sharing models.

Riders can unlock Mobike and oBike bikes using QR codes on their respective mobile apps, while ofo sends users a unique four-digit code once they have booked their rides.

oBike’s vehicles can be rented at S$1 for 30 minutes, while ofo bikes are available at S$0.50 per trip. Mobike, which officially launched on Tuesday, is offering a promotional rental rate of 50 cents for 30 minutes’ use — half the standard rate. The firm was unable to say when the promotion will end.

In its release, the LTA also cautioned riders against indiscriminate parking of bicycles, and encouraged operators to “put in place penalties and incentives” to encourage proper behaviour.

The Government will also take action against indiscriminately parked bikes, such as by impounding the vehicles and imposing “heavy fines” on operators or the culprits involved, it added.

“(Operators) should remove any indiscriminately parked bicycles or derelict bicycles expeditiously, whenever alerted by the public or any government agencies. Strict enforcement action will be taken against all indiscriminately parked bicycles,” the LTA said.

A bike-sharing pilot was first mooted in 2013 to support the Government’s vision to improve first-and-last-mile connectivity and encourage cycling for short trips.

Jurong Lake District was chosen for the pilot because it is set to be re-developed into Singapore’s second Central Business District. Just last year, the Government also said it was mulling expanding the scheme to Tampines-Pasir Ris, as well as Marina Bay with the city centre.

National bicycle-sharing scheme scrapped
Channel NewsAsia 24 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: A national self-service bicycle-sharing scheme which was slated to be piloted in the Jurong Lake District by the end of this year has been scrapped, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced on Friday (Mar 24).

In a media release, LTA said it reassessed its bicycle-sharing plans after several privately funded dockless bicycle-sharing services emerged in Singapore since the beginning of 2017. These operators include local start-up oBike as well as China-based firms Ofo and Mobike.

“The ongoing plans by the private dockless bicycle-sharing system operators have obviated the need for a Government-run system backed by Government grants. The price proposals submitted by all 13 participants of the tender will be unopened,” LTA said.

Earlier this month, Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng during the Committee of Supply debate had said that Transport Ministry is assessing the bids tendered for the bicycle-sharing service in Jurong Lake District "carefully".

LTA had put out a tender to appoint an operator for the pilot bicycle-sharing scheme in July last year, with options to bid to operate a bicycle-sharing scheme in the Marina Bay/City Centre area, as well as Tampines and Pasir Ris. The tender closed in December 2016 and attracted a total of 13 bids from local and foreign participants, LTA said, adding that the proposals were a mix of both docked and dockless bicycle-sharing systems.

LTA added that it will continue to monitor developments in the bicycle-sharing landscape and introduce new plans “if necessary”.

- CNA/dl

Major issues with bike-sharing apps
Isabelle Liew, The New Paper AsiaOne 24 Mar 17;

Two days after its formal launch in Singapore, Chinese-owned bike-sharing app Mobike still has some major issues to iron out.

The New Paper tried the three bike-sharing platforms - Mobike, ofo and oBike over two days.

Eight out of 10 times, those who tried Mobike could not find the bicycle.

The team combed areas like Tampines, Clarke Quay, Bras Basah and Kallang, and while the app indicated the bikes were at spaces like MRT stations and along pavements, they would be missing from these locations, even after a "reservation" had been made on the app.

Some of the bike icons on the app would even indicate the bicycles were inside private residences, hospitals, storerooms and construction areas.

Although the TNP team managed to find a Mobike at Tampines and Kallang Leisure Park, the bike icon on the app showed it was a distance away from where the two bicycles were supposed to be located.

Mobike uses a dockless bike-share system and users can unlock its bicycles by scanning a QR code on it.

Each bicycle comes with a proprietary "smart lock" containing GPS technology.

In response to TNP queries, Mr Florian Bohnert, head of international expansion at Mobike, said: "If the bike icons are not showing up correctly, we advise users to look around their surroundings and across the streets to locate the bikes, as the marker on the map may be affected by the surrounding environment such as buildings and other possible obstructions affecting the accuracy of the GPS signal on the map view."

A spokesman said the company has more than a million bikes in operation. As it can monitor the location and health of Mobikes in real time, "the number of bikes that are lost or damaged is negligible".

He added: "When necessary we can intervene, for example when a bike is damaged or parked in an unsuitable location."

Mobike had a team studying the local market to prepare for its launch from last October and have ramped up the deployment since Tuesday's launch.

There were similar struggles with China-based ofo, which does not use a GPS system. Users would have to find a bike and enter the bike number in the app.

It will return a combination code which can be used to release the lock on the bike.

The New Paper team searched various MRT stations from the heartlands to the CBD area, parks and Housing Board void decks, but none of ofo's bright yellow bikes were spotted.

Based on the team's two-day mission, local venture oBike seems to have the least issues.

Bicycles from oBike could easily be found, with many parked at various MRT stations.

Unlike Mobike, oBike tracks its bicycles through the GPS system on the user's app, and a bicycle was found at the first attempt, near the McDonald's outlet at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

Read more!

11 puppies seized at Woodlands Checkpoint

Today Online 24 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Eleven puppies were found smuggled in a Malaysia-registered car, following further inspection upon its arrival at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Thursday night (March 23).

The puppies were found hidden in a modified fuel tank of the car by officers from the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA). The car was driven by a lone 43-year-old male Malaysian.

The driver, the puppies and the car were referred to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA). Investigations are ongoing.

Meanwhile, the 11 puppies have been kept for and quarantined at AVA’s facilities. They are being observed for signs of infectious or contagious diseases, including rabies, which can be fatal to both humans and animals.

Responding to TODAY’s queries, the AVA said the puppies will be quarantined for a minimum of 100 days and it will work with its rehoming partners to rehome them after the quarantine period.

The importation of any animals or live birds without an AVA permit is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of S$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.

The public can refer to the AVA’s website or download the agency’s mobile app SG TravelKaki for more information on bringing back animals from other countries.

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Best of our wild blogs: 24 Mar 17

Share your bamboo shark sightings in Singapore
wild shores of singapore

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2016 hottest year in Singapore, overall rainfall less than normal

Today Online 23 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — Singapore experienced its hottest year on record last year as rainfall fell slightly below normal levels, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) said in a report released on Thursday (March 23).

The annual mean temperature of 28.4°C last year was higher than the climatological average of 27.5°C (taken over the 1981-2010 base period). This breaks the previous joint record of 28.3°C set in 2015, 1998 and 1997.

As for annual rainfall, overall, the 1,956mm recorded last year measured below the climatological average of 2,166mm.

Last December, the MSS already gave an early indication that 2016 would be the hottest year since temperature records were collected in 1929.

Temperatures soared in the first half of last year due to the effects of a very strong El Nino phenomenon, giving rise to warmer and drier weather conditions in the South-east Asia region. El Nino gave way to La Nina in the second half of the year, resulting in wetter conditions.

New monthly records were also set last year, with January (28.3°C), April (29.4°C) and August (28.9°C) being the warmest months. The month of May was the second warmest May since May 1998, while December was the second warmest December after December 2015.

Last year also saw the driest March ever in Singapore, with a monthly rainfall total of 6.2mm recorded at Changi climate station.

However, the western parts of the island experienced well above normal rainfall in June and July, with the year’s highest monthly rainfall (434.4mm) recorded in July over Jurong.

In its Annual Climate Assessment Report 2016, the MSS also said that a relatively wet start of the South-west Monsoon was part of the reason why there were fewer and less severe occurrences of transboundary haze affecting the region last year compared to the year before.

“Singapore was affected by only one significant episode from 26 to 28 August 2016 when haze from fires in central Sumatra was blown in by the prevailing westerly winds. The 24-hr Pollutant Standards Index reached a high of 143 (in the unhealthy range) at 8am on 27 August 2016, before gradually returning to normal levels in the late afternoon on 28 August 2016,” the report said.

The MSS also pointed out that eight of Singapore’s 10 warmest years happened in the 21st century. All the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997, consistent with ongoing global warming.

Worldwide, last year was also the warmest year on record, as recently confirmed by the World Meteorological Organisation, the MSS said.

The release of the report by the MSS is in conjunction with the World Meteorological Day, which is observed yearly on March 23.


El Nino occurs every three to five years on average, when the sea surface tempareture in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer than normal, causing disruptions to weather patterns globally. La Nina is the reverse of El Nino, when the sea surface temperature in the same parts of the Pacific is much cooler than normal.

2016 was warmest year on record for Singapore: MSS
Channel NewsAsia 23 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: Last year was the warmest on record for Singapore, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) announced on Thursday (Mar 23), breaking the previous joint record set in the years 2015, 1998 and 1997.

2016 saw an annual mean temperature of 28.4°C, exceeding the climatological average by 0.9°C, MSS stated in its Annual Climate Assessment Report.

Eight of Singapore’s 10 warmest years have occurred in the current 21st century, with all the 10 warmest years occurring since 1997, consistent with ongoing global warming, MSS said.

January, April and August set new records for being the warmest of each month in Singapore's history. In addition, May and December 2016 were the second warmest May (after May 1998) and December (after December 2015).

Based on Annual Climatological Report 2016, some temperature stations omitted due to incomplete dataset.


In addition to ongoing global warming, natural climate variability also played a major part in these record warm years, with all the years connected to El Nino events, said MSS.

A strong El Nino emerged in the second half of 2015 and started to decline in early 2016. According to MSS it had a significant impact on temperature and rainfall across Singapore and the surrounding region, which experienced hot and dry weather spells in March and April 2016.

El Nino is a recurring climate pattern caused by interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean in the tropical Pacific. During El Nino, the central-eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean is warmer than usual, leading to drier and warmer conditions especially during the June to October period over Southeast Asia.

The second half of 2017 also saw a high frequency of Sumatra squalls, which brought moderate to heavy thundery showers and gusty winds to Singapore, according to the MSS report.

El Nino gave way to its reverse, La Nina, in the second half of 2016, resulting in wetter conditions over the region, it added.

- CNA/nc

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Rare bid by tenants to conserve building

Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Mar 17;

Most building conservation efforts in Singapore are led by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which decides what to add to the country's stable of 7,000-plus protected structures.

In a rare case, a group of heritage enthusiasts, including executives from a property company, banded together to have the building they rent - The Quadrant in Cecil Street - gazetted for conservation by the URA.

About $1 million of the company's money was spent restoring it. It started off as just another project for Homestead Group chief executive Low Jeng-tek, portfolio asset director Sue Ann Lim and design lead Sue Lynn Oliveiro, whose company specialises in refurbishing heritage properties for new uses.

As master tenants, they were sprucing up the dilapidated building in the Central Business District and turning it into a tech office complex after taking over from a childcare operator in 2012. They had signed a nine-year lease with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

Read also: Homeowner forced to move out after tenants skip rent for 3 years and refuse to leave Hougang flat

They soon began uncovering stories about the 1930s low-rise landmark's history and architectural merits, prompting them to question why it had yet to be protected.

Last month, Mr Low's former classmate, heritage enthusiast Gareth Lee, sent a letter to the URA proposing its conservation.

The letter by Mr Lee, 49, the vice-president and Asia-Pacific general counsel of an American healthcare company, described The Quadrant as an "art deco structure which sits at the gateway to Raffles Place and Marina Bay", and a "lone relic" of pre-WWll Singapore in an area dominated by skyscrapers.

The Homestead executives had shared their findings with him:

•The Quadrant had served as the South-east Asian headquarters of the Kwangtung Provincial Bank, which was used by immigrant Chinese to remit money, and its original banking hall layout and bank vault were still intact.

•It was set up by finance minister T.V. Soong of the Republic of China, brother-in-law of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat Sen.

Read also: Experts want more say under heritage blueprint
Their year-long restoration also brought back to life its original iron-gate traction lift - one of the few remaining in Singapore.

Mr Low told The Straits Times: "Our lease expires in 2021. Our worry is that the historical and architecturally unique building could one day be torn down and replaced by a skyscraper, given the value of land in the district.

"While we are still the stewards of this property, while it is still in our care, we must do something to ensure it stays beyond this date."

A Facebook group, Conserve The Quadrant, has been set up.

Read also: Penang ups landed property threshold

Most ground-up efforts to conserve buildings are usually led by owners of private buildings under the URA's voluntary conservation scheme. A URA spokesman said there have been "a handful" of such cases over the last decade, including the Parochial House at St Joseph's Church in Victoria Street.

Independent conservation bids by non-owners are even rarer.

Experts whom the group contacted, including cultural geographer Lily Kong, expressed surprise that The Quadrant had yet to receive conservation status.

A possible reason is that a road reserve line runs across the building.

Professor Kong said the private sector stepping forward to propose its conservation would belie a nation coming of age "in which our values include pride in our history and heritage". She said: "As Singapore matures, it would be great not to rely only or largely on the Government for conservation. There is certainly a prima facie case for this building to undergo assessment."

Read also: Property expert cautions against stalling market

The URA said it welcomes the suggestion, adding however that as there are no immediate plans for the site, "the merits of conserving the building will be studied as part of the larger plans for the area".

As custodian of state properties, SLA has been opening up places with "heritage value and historical charm" to optimise their use, said chief executive Tan Boon Khai.

Mr Low said juxtaposing older heritage buildings with modern skyscrapers is an internationally proven "sure-fire way to attract creative techies like bees to honey".

He added: "Conserving The Quadrant will educate the public about our yesterdays, and also connect us to an innovative new tomorrow."

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MAS to offset cost of issuing green bonds with new grant scheme

Calvin Hui Channel NewsAsia 23 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will introduce a Green Bond Grant scheme this year to offset the cost of companies issuing sustainability-oriented bonds, Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong announced on Thursday (Mar 23).

Green bonds are debt instruments with proceeds earmarked for projects with environmental benefits, such as those to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking at the Investment Management Association of Singapore’s 20th Anniversary conference, Mr Wong said the new grant comes as the central bank is looking to promote the development of a wider range of sustainability-oriented benchmarks, funds and products to cater to growing demand.

The global green bond market has grown rapidly over the years, reaching more than US$80 billion (S$112 billion) in 2016, the minister noted, adding that the market was starting to take off in Asia.

According to Mr Wong, MAS recognises that green bond issuers may have to bear additional costs as they engage external reviewers to ascertain their green bond status.

The Green Bond Grant scheme will be able to offset 100 per cent of the cost of obtaining an external review for green bonds for qualifying issuances, up to S$100,000 per issuance, he said.
Issuers will also be able to receive the grant multiple times. The funding period will take place between Jun 1 this year, and May 31, 2020.

Qualifying criteria states that the bond has to be issued and listed in Singapore, have a minimum size S$200 million and tenure of at least three years. The bond can be denominated in any currency.

While green bonds might incur higher costs with the need for an external review, PwC Singapore’s Asia-Pacific Asset and Wealth Management Leader Justin Ong said the focus of green bonds is not necessarily on higher returns, but on investment decisions that are environmentally sustainable.

“The world as I see it is starting to change. A lot of the investors today are much more focused around 'What am I putting my money in? Would I be prepared to forgo some returns to make sure that I am happy with the kind of structures and kind of policies the company is making?' And we are starting to see that to change.”

The introduction of this grant scheme has also been welcomed by industry watchers.

Calling it a “positive development” for Singapore’s capital markets, Tony Lewis, who is head of HSBC Securities Services, Singapore, said: “Green finance is a rapidly growing field, spurred on by consensus that more needs to be done to combat climate change. Encouraging more issuers to tap into the green bond market should help kick start interest in this asset class and foster the growth of green bonds’ issuance in Singapore.”

PwC Singapore’s Mr Ong agreed, saying events like haze and pollution in the Asia-Pacific has put the focus on sustainable development.

And while it is still early days, the development of the green bond market in Singapore will help strengthen Singapore’s position as a financial services hub, said Mr Ong. “I would say we are still taking baby steps. It’s a very new area around the world, but it’s a long-term thing and will build a strong foundation for our future.”


Meanwhile, Mr Wong also announced the launch of a public consultation to gather feedback on a new corporate structure called the Singapore Variable Capital Company (S-VACC).

S-VACC seeks to complement existing corporate structures for investment funds and allow asset managers to further consolidate their operations in Singapore by domiciling more of their funds here, alongside their fund management activities, Mr Wong said.

“This will spur demand for fund servicing activities, such as accounting, legal, custody and tax in Singapore, hence creating more jobs in the broader professional services sector," the minister said.

According to MAS, there are three types of structures used by investment funds in Singapore, namely unit trusts, companies formed under the Companies Act and limited partnerships. The S-VACC seeks to complement these existing structures with one that is tailored for investment funds.

Mr Wong added that the new corporate structure would provide greater flexibility and cost efficiency to asset managers by allowing for both open-ended and close-ended fund structures. It also allows for investment across all asset classes and may be used by both retail and private funds.

By consolidating administrative functions at the umbrella fund level, asset managers can also harness economies of scale, Mr Wong said. “This means that sub-funds, with varying risk levels, different investment objectives and classes of investors can be housed under the same umbrella as a single legal entity,” he explained.

The public consultation will end on April 24, said MAS.

- CNA/mz

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Malaysia: Gua Musang hydroelectric projects to comprise 20k+ of flooded areas

JUNE MOH New Straits Times 23 Mar 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The proposed Lebir Hydroelectric Power Development Project in Gua Musang, Kelantan, will have a total flooded area of 15,400 hectares, Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Datuk Seri Panglima Maximus Johnity Ongkili said today.

Ongkili (BN-Kota Marudu) said the total area to be flooded is based on Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB)’s feasibility study.

“The government is still studying the proposal to build a dual-function Lebir dam, which will act as a flood mitigation project, as well as an electricity generator,” he told the Dewan Rakyat today.

Another dam, the Nenggiri Hydroelectric Power Development Project, which is located in the same district, will have a total flooded area of 5,834 hectares.

“The feasibility study on this project was conducted by TNB. At this juncture, TNB is conducting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), design and engineering studies of the dam,” he said.

Ongkili was replying to questions from Ahmad Marzuk Shaary (PAS-Bachok) on latest studies on the Lebir and Nenggiri dam projects, and the total area to be flooded for the two projects.

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Malaysia: Check impact of shrimp farms on ecology

The Star 23 Mar 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) wants the state Fisheries Department to study the pollution impact of aquaculture ponds, especially those at shrimp farms, on the west side of Penang island and publicly disclose the findings.

It is concerned that the state’s mangrove forests and fisheries resources would be destroyed if more shrimp farms are constructed without a thorough study of their impact on the environment.

“Our recent survey found that the ditches on the west side of the island were filled with sludge and debris from residential areas and aquaculture ponds. The smelly water is black and frothy,” said SAM president S.M. Mohamed Idris.

He said there were several drains and canals in the area through which the black water flows directly into the sea.

“This pollution threatens marine life and the livelihood of about 2,000 fishermen in Kuala Sungai Pinang, Pantai Acheh, Kuala Sungai Burung and Pulau Betong who have complained of smaller catches of fish, shrimp, crabs, mussels and clams.”

Mohamed Idris said Consumers Association of Penang and the affected fishermen had complained to the state government and the Penang Island City Council but claimed no action had been taken.

“SAM believes that if this pollution is not taken seriously and allowed to continue, not only will the environment here be destroyed in twenty years but the fish will die off, causing the fishermen to lose their livelihood.”

Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said he would seek more information from the state Drainage and Irrigation Department before commenting.

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Record-high sea levels along China’s coast ‘could spell disaster’

State Oceanic Administration warns of increased damage from flooding and stronger typhoons as oceans rise
Kinling Lo South China Morning Post 23 Mar 17;

Scientists have warned of rising risks from natural disasters such as storm surges and typhoons, with record high sea levels reported along China’s coast.

In its annual reports on the state of the nation’s marine environment, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said on Wednesday that in 2016, the average sea level was 82mm higher than that from 1993 to 2001. Last year’s figure was also 38mm above the 2015 average.

The rising sea level would aggravate the damage caused by natural disasters, which the SOA said cost 5 billion yuan (US$726 million) last year and left 60 people dead or missing.

Using the average between 1993 and 2011 as a base, the reports said the coasts of Shanghai, Zhejiang and Fujian last year recorded their highest increase in sea level, up more than 100mm over the benchmark.

In Yancheng, Jiangsu province, the rising sea level aggravated coastal erosion, with the water line moving as much as 59 metres further inland last year, the reports said.

While in many cases climate change and El Nino and La Nina events were to blame for the rise in sea levels, subsidence was also a big factor the northern city of Tianjin. The SOA estimated the port city’s sea level would rise by 80 to 180 mm in 30 years.

Rising sea levels also aggravated storm surges, erosion and salt tides in Guangdong.

The SOA said the average rise from 1980 to 2016 was 3.2mm per year. Nasa has reported a global rise of 3.2-3.6 mm per year, based on satellite observations.

“A rise of a few millimetres may seem small, but if you think about how big the ocean is, the changes make a huge difference when sea water hits land,” said Professor Huang Gang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Atmospheric Physics.

Huang led a research project in 2015 that predicted water levels would rise by as much as 1.2 metres in the Pearl River Delta by the end of this century. This would have a catastrophic impact, such as flooding low-lying areas like Hong Kong and Macau.

“The adverse impacts could come earlier if sea levels rise faster,” he said.

SOA reports in recent years have warned that the thermal expansion of seawater and glacial melting due to climate change were contributing to an accelerating rise in global sea levels.

On top of this global trend, Huang said pollution in China’s coastal areas was also contributing to a rise in the water level.

Last year, signatories to the Paris Agreement on climate change vowed to limit the rise in the average global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. China signed the deal with 191 other states and the European Union.

But Liu Zhonghui, associate professor in earth sciences at the University of Hong Kong, was not optimistic about the target.

“Past global efforts to cut greenhouse emissions have not been too successful,” Liu said. “The rising trend in sea levels, the effect of global warming, will continue in the foreseeable future.”

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South China Sea: Shock mass coral die-off in Asia sounds alarm for world’s reefs

Alice Klein New Scientist 23 Mar 17;

It’s even worse than we thought. An unexpected coral bleaching event in the South China Sea shows that reefs can heat up substantially more than the surrounding ocean, making them more vulnerable to climate change.

The finding suggests that efforts to limit global warming to 2 °C under the Paris Agreement may not be sufficient to save the world’s tropical reefs.

In June 2015, the South China Sea warmed by 2 °C in response to a normal El Niño weather pattern. The moderate temperature rise was not expected to cause significant coral damage.

However, at Dongsha Atoll in the northern part of the sea, the sea surface temperature soared to 6 °C above average, killing 40 per cent of the coral.

This temperature blow-out occurred because the atoll’s shallow water was able to heat up more than the surrounding ocean, research led by Thomas DeCarlo at the University of Western Australia shows. This amplified the El Niño effect.

In addition, unusually weak winds during the same period slowed the spread of heat into the surrounding ocean, so that it became trapped within the atoll.

“Ocean temperatures are already warming due to climate change,” says DeCarlo. “But what we’ve shown is that on top of that, local weather anomalies or processes like reduced wind can drive reef temperatures even higher,” he says. “That compounds the risk that corals are facing.”

The findings fit with emerging research from other coral reefs, says Bill Leggat at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. “The evidence suggests that we’re going to get these local conditions pushing corals above bleaching levels a lot more often.”

Triple threat
Sea surface temperatures around the world have been increasing by an average of 0.07 °C per decade over the last century due to human-made climate change. This has increased the risk that El Niño and local weather anomalies will tip reef temperatures into the danger zone.

Tropical coral reefs are sensitive to small temperature anomalies – as little as 1 °C, DeCarlo says. Warmer waters strip away the colourful photosynthesising algae that nourish corals, leading to bleaching and often death.

To examine whether previous El Niño events have caused bleaching at Dongsha Atoll, the team analysed 22 coral skeleton cores. They looked for stress bands along the cores indicative of earlier bleaching events.

The results showed that less than half the coral was bleached during El Niño events in 1983, 1998 and 2007. But during the 2015 El Niño, 100 per cent of the coral was bleached. This implies that the 2015 bleaching event was the most severe to hit Dongsha Atoll in at least the past 40 years, and possibly much longer, DeCarlo says.

Most future projections for coral reefs in a 2°C global warming scenario only take into account background ocean warming, rather than local weather effects on reefs, says DeCarlo. “They may be overly optimistic.”

“The only hope now is to minimise carbon dioxide emissions as much as possible and try to protect reefs as best as we can on a local scale,” says Leggat.

'Devastating' coral loss in South China Sea - scientists
Helen Briggs BBC News 24 Mar 17;

Scientists are warning of another "devastating" loss of coral due to a spike in sea temperatures.

They say 40% of coral has died at the Dongsha Atoll in the South China Sea.

Nothing as severe has happened on Dongsha for at least 40 years, according to experts.

Anne Cohen of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, US, said the high water temperatures of 2015/16 were devastating for reef systems globally, including Dongsha.

Coral bleaching - where corals turn white and may die - was the worst on record for Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef in 2016.

The barrier reef has absorbed a lot of the attention, but other reefs around the world were also severely affected, said Dr Cohen.

"The 2015/2016 El Nino was devastating for reef systems in other parts of the world as well, including Dongsha Atoll and reefs in the central Pacific, where some of the most pristine coral reefs are located and of course, the US Pacific Remote Marine National Monument," she said. "We observed devastating bleaching in that area as well."

Only last week, scientists published observations of three major die-offs of coral at the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, 2002 and 1998.

They concluded that the only way to preserve the world's coral reefs is to take drastic action to reduce global warming.
The study of the Dongsha Atoll, reported in the journal, Scientific Reports, echoes this finding.

"Based on what we observed on Dongsha, a 2 degree cap on ocean warming may not be enough to save coral reefs," Dr Cohen told BBC News.

"This is because coral reefs are shallow water ecosystems and a tweak in the local weather can turn that 2 degrees Celsius into a 6 degrees Celsius warming."

The Dongsha Atoll, located in the South China Sea, near south-eastern China and the Philippines, is rich in marine life and is regarded as one of the world's most important coral reefs.

The researchers said on its own, a 2 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region.

But, a high-pressure system caused temperatures to spike to 6 degrees, leading to the death of 40% of coral over the course of six weeks.

They argue that predictions of the future of coral reefs may be "overly optimistic" for some reefs in shallow water.
Bleaching happens when high water temperatures cause corals to expel the algae they depend upon.

The Australian government confirmed in March that widespread coral bleaching is happening on the Great Barrier Reef for the fourth time in history.

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Best of our wild blogs: 23 Mar 17

Giants in our waters
BES Drongos

How Birds are Fooled by Ladybird Mimicry and Why Spiders are Amazing
Macro Photography in Singapore

Green Drinks March: Let’s Recycle Together!
Green Drinks Singapore

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