Author Archives: wcw

A tip of the hat, please

A boost to TAR UC, with five decades’ worth of producing stellar graduates.

IT was a red-letter day for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) and the Chinese community when MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong announced the institution would receive RM58mil from the Finance Ministry.

Subscribing to MCA’s politics is besides the point, and even if detractors split hairs over the quantum and disbursement of the funds, it remains the best recent news for all concerned.

Truth be told, MCA built the institution from scratch with the support of ordinary Malaysians, encompassing everyone from hawkers to tycoons.

TAR UC is now 51 years old. Through those years, it produced more than 200,000 graduates, with its alumni even including present DAP leaders.

Millions of ringgit have flowed into the college, and anyone who has run an institution of higher learning would know that it hardly sets the cash registers ringing. Just survey the market – many private colleges and private universities are up for sale.

TAR UC, a non-profit private university college named after Tunku Abdul Rahman, was set up in 1969 by the MCA. In 2013, it was bestowed university college status. It’s 75ha main campus is located on Jalan Genting Kelang, Kuala Lumpur. It has five branches, one each in Penang, Perak, Johor, Pahang and Sabah, with an accumulated enrolment of more than 28,000 local and international students. With the upgrade to university college (UC) status, it can now offer bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate programmes.

But what has made TAR UC so special and tugged at the heartstrings of the Chinese is higher education becoming affordable and accessible to the community.

It was set up at a time when places were limited in the mere five public universities in Malaysia – Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Pertanian Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.

Today, we can barely keep count of the number of public and private universities and colleges. But even with the plethora of options, TAR UC remains a top choice because its graduates can quickly secure jobs, since its array of courses are practical and marketable.

TAR UC is supported by seven faculties in undergraduate degree programmes, namely the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Computing and Information Technology, Faculty of Accountancy, Finance and Business, Faculty of Engineering and Technology, Faculty of Built Environment, Faculty of Communication and Creative Industries and Faculty of Social Science and Humanities.

There is also the Centre for Pre-University Studies and the newest, the Centre for Postgraduate Studies and Research, which offers a variety of master’s and PhD programmes.

Having interacted with many TAR UC graduates, I’ve found them humble, hungry and hardworking, a sentiment echoed by many employers, too. They may not be extroverts or the most eloquent, seeming a little timid and quiet even, but they compensate with their other qualities.

Honestly, employers are looking for quality workers and not just smooth talkers only good at presentation and public relations, with little to show in the end.

The RM58mil from the Finance Ministry is important because it will go a long way in helping TAR UC and its students who need financial aid.

Most significant is, the RM58mil will no longer be channelled through a third party.

This departs from the decision made by the Pakatan Harapan government, when former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng insisted that TAR UC founder MCA must cede control of it to continue receiving government funds.

Explaining the RM58mil allocation, Dr Wee said the Finance Ministry retrieved the remaining RM18mil of the RM40mil that Lim had allocated to TAA’s trust fund previously. The fund, Tarcian Alumni Association Education Trust Fund (TAA-ETF), has seen some of Lim’s critics claiming it even includes businessmen close to the DAP.

Although there are five alumni associations dating back to 1980, only TAA – which was set up only in 2012 – was selected.

The other alumni associations include the Federation of Tunku Abdul Rahman College Alumni Associations (founded in 1989), the Tunku Abdul Rahman University College Engineering Alumni Association, the Tunku Abdul Rahman College School of Arts & Science Alumni Association, both established in 1982, and the Tunku Abdul Rahman College School of Business Studies Ex-students Association, set up in 1980.

Dr Wee said the allocation by Lim to TAA-ETF was on an ad-hoc basis, an arrangement that wasn’t detailed in the national budget.

“To carry out the government’s commitment since the establishment of TAR UC, previously known as TAR College, a matching grant of RM40mil will be channelled to the university college through the Higher Education Ministry this year under Budget 2020, ” said Dr Wee, who is also TAR UC Education Foundation Board of Trustees’ chairman.

To cut a long story short, Lim wanted the MCA to severe ties with TAR UC, which the party set up and supported financially for over 50 years. It was to punish the MCA, basically.

For many Chinese, the act was simply unnecessary and even seemed vindictive.

The result was the Chinese voters revolted, lucidly reflected in the Tanjung Piai by-election, where MCA’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng won with a 15,086 majority.

According to a news report, Chinese voters – who overwhelmingly supported Pakatan Harapan (Pakatan) in 2018 – were the most unaccepting of the pact during the Tanjung Piai by-election, revealed findings by independent research firm Ilham Centre.

It said voters were disenchanted with Pakatan’s unfulfilled pledges, poor communication and leadership, and were generally unhappy with the state of the economy.

It said the Chinese votes switched despite expectations that Barisan Nasional’s precarious partnership with PAS and scandals involving Datuk Seri Najib Razak would alienate non-Malay voters.

“The biggest sway or protest votes came from the Chinese, which was 34.5%, while Pakatan only lost about 5.1% of votes from the original votes during GE14.

One sore point was Lim’s refusal to hand TAR UC its RM30mil allocation, but the final straw was his slashing of its government allocation from RM5.5mil to RM1mil under Budget 2020.

One of the most unfair criticisms of MCA in many elections has been its perceived lack of contribution to the Chinese community, with finger pointers even including parents and graduates of TAR UC and Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar).

The irony is, TAR UC’s main campus and five branches are all located in pro-Opposition areas. Even Utar in Kampar, Perak, is in a pro-DAP parliamentary constituency. Some Utar academicians are, in fact, anti-establishment, and are often consumed by the excitement of general elections, which proves the point that although these institutions are linked to the MCA, freedom of thought has always existed.

Few are aware that VTAR, a private vocational college set up in 1992, offers skills courses including beauty therapy, automotive, furniture technology and engineering.

The MCA is also behind the Institute of Child Education Studies and Community Education, which is a non-profit and private early childhood education college (founded in 1993), and the only such institution of this nature focusing solely on pre-school teachers’ training. Over the past two decades, more than 2,500 pre-school teachers graduated with recognised professional accreditations from this institution.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the MCA, given how it has been chastised and rejected by the Chinese community, for whom the party was founded to serve and represent in the first place. These criticisms, painful as they are for its leaders, have also come from those who have benefited from these programmes.

As with all things, it’s always much easier to cast aspersions than to build and run these institutions which have produced many graduates.

The loudest politicians include those who haven’t even set up a kindergarten, let alone college or university.

So let’s give credit where it’s due.

Fragrant Harbour still raising a stink

CHINA’s introduction of security laws is likely to sound the death knell for Hong Kong, at least that’s the general impression.

However, in a case of shooting itself in the foot, the island’s rioters – dubbed pro-democracy protesters – killed its economy through their protests in March last year.

Their year-long rampage has led to the former Commonwealth territory’s worst economic results, which consequently tipped it into recession.

The Covid-19 pandemic was the last nail in the coffin and the fresh protests, which began a few days ago, will be the final rites for the ailing island.

So, let’s not kid ourselves into believing that the introduction of laws to stop secession, sedition and terrorism is the tolling of the bells for Asia’s World City.

These laws are, in fact, long overdue, because the HK government had tried to enforce its own security measures.

No government, be it in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia or Canada, would tolerate year-long protests, where forms of violence have included people being bashed, Molotov cocktails employed and shop fronts on main streets desecrated.

Try doing that every weekend at Oxford Street in London and Fifth Avenue in New York, and see if their policemen will just sit back and applaud these actions in the name of democracy.

And if cops even gently patted these protesters to stop, it would constitute police brutality.

It’s not just China tourists who have stayed away from HK, but holidaymakers from many parts of the world, too, especially those from nearby South-East Asia.

No one wants to be inconvenienced by road closures, especially those leading to the airport, or subway stations near protest areas. After all, HK is such a tiny place.

These protesters, encouraged by the West, have driven tourists away and decimated businesses. It’s common knowledge that rentals there are sky high and when operating hours are shortened, it simply means less revenue for business owners.

On the contrary, these new security laws will bring stability and hopefully end this situation once and for all, especially the secessionist and terrorist behaviours.

Why should the US or UK worry, or even care, about what’s unfolding in China, which is often described as the Far East? Yes, HK is that far from them.

If democracy is the focus here, let’s talk about several Arab ally nations that have blatantly violated democracy. The point is, the West seems to turn a blind eye to this because these nations are on their team.

It’s mind-boggling that security agencies (like our Special Branch) are forbidden by law to operate in Hong Kong. With the introduction of the law, intelligence gathering on the island will be more effective.

We have seen how a man was torched, a policeman slashed in the neck, an elderly cleaner killed, police stations fire-bombed, subway stations and streets vandalised, and campuses trashed.

On Sunday, a lawyer who heads the Law Society, was beaten up by a mob clad in black at Causeway Bay.

Unbelievably, these violent acts have been carried out in the name of democracy.

Not all HK citizens share the view that it’s the protesters who are often beaten up, and it’s acceptable having the names of policemen and their families exposed on social media.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has long been stationed in Hong Kong but has confined itself to its garrisons. So, we have a situation where China’s army can’t be used in its own territory because of the potential hysterics that could ensue should armed personnel be summoned to the island’s streets.

So, as the mayhem continues, the police can only politely hold banners to warn protesters to disperse before water cannons and tear gas are used.

No doubt that HK is still important to China since it still has extensive capital controls and often intervenes in its financial markets and banking system, because after all, the island is one of the most open economies in the world and one of the biggest markets for equity and debt financing.

Under the one country, two systems formula agreed as part of Britain’s handover of the territory to China, HK is guaranteed liberties.

These freedoms give HK a special status internationally, allowing it to negotiate trade and investment agreements independent of Beijing. For instance, it doesn’t have to pay the tariffs imposed by the US on Chinese imports.

But the size of HK’s economy is now only equivalent to 2.7% of mainland China’s, down from 18.4% in 1997.

Even with the introduction of these security laws, the elections of HK’s legislative council are not going to disappear.

WhatsApp and Twitter won’t be replaced by WeChat, and freedom of speech will continue to exist.

What most people don’t want is the continuous violent street demonstrations.

HK has degenerated into a state of anarchy with marauding gangsters. Realistically, no government, in any part of the world, will allow such actions to prolong.

The destruction of public property, police stations and shops with home-made bombs are nothing more than acts of terrorism.

The future of HK lies with China. The young can’t change that. Waving the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack won’t help one bit, and certainly won’t earn them the passports of these countries.

HK is part of the planned Greater Bay Development Area, including Guangdong and Macau, and the people of the island should take a more positive and realistic outlook on their future.

A celebration like no other

Though marked with muted pomp this year, Hari Raya will still instil the spirit of the festive season for Muslims and the rest of Malaysia.

THIS is surely the most unusual Hari Raya, with many of my Muslim relatives and friends unable to join their loved ones at the family home. This is a Hari Raya with no balik kampung, basically.

Even if they are at home with family, there will neither be open houses nor visits to other homes to take in the festivities.

The past week, recently reopened shopping malls in the Klang Valley remained near deserted and practically devoid of Raya decorations.

Even the melodious Raya songs have vanished from the air. Sudirman’s evergreen Balik Kampung seems incongruous with the ban on interstate travel.

The streets in the city and its surroundings are bereft of the decorative lights which have always brightened the festive mood.

I’ve sorely missed the buka puasa feasts and Ramadan bazaars which never fail to bring Malaysians together.

Over the past two days, while conveying Raya greetings, I learnt that many of my Muslim friends are celebrating alone since they’re unable to make that much desired and customary annual trip home.

Many of these singles are maintaining a brave front and have even conspired to cook Raya dishes themselves for the first time.

They have sportingly sent me pictures of their efforts, though some confess that their experiments may be better visually than gastronomically.

But as much as they miss their ageing parents, many have advised their siblings and friends against visiting them, in case they unwittingly contract and pass the dreaded coronavirus to their loved ones.

Every Hari Raya message now ends with the de rigueur “Stay Safe” advice, following the traditional Maaf, Zahir Dan Batin, which translates to requesting forgiveness for physical and emotional misconduct.

This festival isn’t just for celebrations but also a time to seek atonement for sins committed through words, thoughts, deeds and actions, done wittingly or otherwise. So this is the best time to ask for forgiveness, which is the most beautiful part of this festival.

Above all else, though, this season is also perfect for saluting the frontliners who’ve had to continue working during Hari Raya. It’s a testament to their dedication that many have been working since the movement control order (MCO) period began on March 18.

When I took my mother-in-law for a Covid-19 test on Friday at a hospital, in preparation for a minor procedure, I chatted with some of the Muslim nurses and doctors. They said they would be back at the hospital to continue working tomorrow.

Likewise, our policemen, soldiers, firemen, Immigration and Custom officers, Rela volunteers, council enforcement officers and non-governmental organisation workers who will be out on the streets while other Malaysians celebrate in their own ways.

Their hard work and heroic efforts in fighting the pandemic have earned worldwide recognition and praise.

Yes, brickbats are par for the course too, especially from those who look down on Malaysia and its work, ignorantly believing that anything Western is always superior.

These are the sceptics of daily infection reports, those who question Malaysia’s reasons for not testing its 32 million population yet who have also barely raised an eyebrow over why China isn’t doing the same for its 1.43 billion people.

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible and is, in fact, a waste of resources because tests should be done on a targeted basis.

It’s lame and pathetic that there are people questioning the motives of a video by an American dentist lauding the Malaysian government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Dr Dustin Pfundheller had to refute allegations that he was paid to produce the video, which has spread across the world.

In fact, he isn’t the only foreigner who has applauded our country for its efforts in battling the pandemic, since many scientists have documented Malaysia’s success in academic journals.

A US academic who was here during the MCO period, has praised our response to the spread of Covid-19. Dr Jason Hassenstab, an associate professor of neurology and psychological and brain sciences at Washington University, Missouri, said the United States could emulate measures adopted by other countries, including Malaysia.

More importantly, in an online survey supported by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia involving 4,850 Malaysians conducted between March 27 and April 3, most of the respondents viewed positively the successful control of Covid-19, with an 83.1% approval rate.

The study found Malaysians had confidence in the health authorities’ ability to combat the disease (with a 95.9% rate) and the way in which the Malaysian government is handling the crisis (reflected by an 89.9% approval rate).

The survey also found that Malaysians had adopted safety measures, where “most participants were also taking precautions such as avoiding crowds (83.4%) and practising proper hand hygiene (87.8%) in the week before the movement control order started. However, the wearing of face masks was less common (51.2%).

“This survey is among the first to assess knowledge, attitudes and practices in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia. The results highlight the importance of consistent messaging from health authorities and the government, as well as the need for tailored health education programmes to improve levels of knowledge, attitudes and practice.”

The report, “Public Knowledge, Attitudes And Practices Towards Covid-19: A Cross-Sectional Study In Malaysia” was written by Arina Anis Azlan, Mohamed Rezal Hamzah, Tham Jen Sern, Suffian Hadi Ayub and Emma Mohamad, in PLOS ONE, an internationally-reputed peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science in the United States.

The extensive report, which was published on May 21, was edited by Wen-Jun Tu from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College of China.

The results overwhelmingly indicate that Malaysians have strong belief and trust in the work of Health Ministry director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and his team of medical staff who have worked tirelessly from day one.

We believe in all of you. Thank you!

As Malaysians celebrate this auspicious day, I wish to dedicate this column to all the frontliners who continue keeping us safe.

To all Muslims, Selamat Hari Raya, and Maaf, Zahir Dan Batin. And Stay Safe, too.

A matter of priority

I CAN’T be certain if Malaysians share my sentiments, but I get indigestion from the intense politicking in our country currently. Most of us are emotionally and financially drained from 60 days of the movement control order (MCO), in which time most businesses have taken a beating.

We’ve bled billions of ringgit, jobs have vanished, salaries have been slashed and companies are upending.

The real impact, in fact, will only be felt in the coming months. So the worst has yet to come even, since no one can predict the duration of this economic meltdown, with the coronavirus still living a charmed life.

Malaysia is weathering its worst recession ever, while other developed nations are facing deep downturns due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz has said the recession has not only affected the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), but also contributed to a rise in unemployment.

“The important thing here now is how fast we can manage this (Covid-19) pandemic situation. If we can manage the situation swiftly, our nation’s economy and development could also recover.”

So the last thing the country needs, especially during this time of uncertainty, is more politicking.

While the rest of us are trying to hang on to our jobs, these politicians are preoccupied with trying to overthrow each other.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will continue to face the stigma of helming a “backdoor government” with the legitimacy of his government in question. This will be harped on by his critics until the next general election.

He faces a motion of no confidence filed by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, ahead of the Dewan Rakyat meeting tomorrow.

But the latest is that the meeting ends after the opening address by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, with no other government business scripted for the day.

Predictably, opposition members have cried foul since the no faith motion has already been submitted.

The criticism now is that the PM has made a mockery of the parliamentary process and fears he’s unable to demonstrate his majority.

But even if it were a full day or week, it’s debatable if the motion would even be reviewed, since government matters always take precedence in the order of the day.

It’s the government which decides and informs the Secretary of the House on matters of priority.

Many have forgotten that the Private Members Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1975 – also known as RUU355 – tabled by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang has not seen the light of day until now.

If the no faith motion isn’t addressed, it would basically be a move to stain the Prime Minister’s record, and if it does, it’s unlikely Muhyiddin will be defeated because he has the majority support, slim as it may be.

Opposition Members of Parliament have privately acknowledged this to the media, although they won’t go on record to say so.

But it looks like Malaysians and MPs will have to wait until Parliament meets in July to find out the true numbers as mind games are played by his (PM’s) opponents to cast doubt on his hold on the numbers.

The sitting arrangement tomorrow will be illuminating, though.

While there is ire from the opposition bench as well as voters who put Pakatan Harapan into power in the 2018 General Election, it was, in fact, the leadership of PH which opened the door for Muhyiddin to form the current government.

More specifically, it was Dr Mahathir who opened the door for Muhyiddin. It’s academic now but the truth is Dr Mahathir, for whatever reason, quit as PM and caused the collapse of his own government.

He had no intention of passing the baton to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as is widely known, and neither was he comfortable with the DAP. Politics is cruel and as philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli famously said, “the end justifies the means”.

As Dr Mahathir became more indecisive, Muhyiddin and his men took advantage of that door left ajar.

But over the past weeks, we’ve seen that door turn into a “revolving door” as these politicians showed little interest in Covid-19 and its economic implications and instead were more into who should control the various state assemblies by becoming Mentri Besar and Speakers.

While most of us wish that these Houses will sit for more than a day, I doubt important issues are on the minds of these lawmakers besides destructive politicking.

Look at Melaka, where these politicians couldn’t even sit for more than half a day.

Last week, it was reported that then Speaker Omar Jaafar, who is aligned with PH, was prevented from reciting a prayer, which was the opening agenda of the sitting.

These impatient state assemblymen lack the decency and patience to even wait for prayers to begin.

A book was supposedly thrown at the Speaker, which led to chaos in the hall. Omar had to adjourn the sitting twice, and still, it degenerated into a war of disparaging words designed to demean fellow legislators.

For a while, some of these state assemblymen seemed to have forgotten that we’re in the fasting month.

Words defy when a state assemblyman walks to the other bench to confront his fellow lawmakers, and relentlessly hurl words like “babi” (pig) at DAP lawmaker Low Chee Leong, who responded with “kau pengkhianat” (You’re a traitor).

It reflects badly on independent assemblyman Datuk Norhizam Hassan Baktee, a former DAP representative, who has a history of controversies. His behaviour is disgraceful and reeks of racism.

It’s doubtful this meeting would be meaningful even if it were to stretch for three more days.

In Perak, Perikatan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan assemblymen ruffled each other’s feathers over the state assembly’s position.

I hope that the lawmakers keenly paid attention to Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah’s speech when he graciously and thoughtfully put on record his tribute to the frontliners fighting Covid-19, during the opening of the assembly last week.

He acknowledged it was due to their dedication and professionalism that most of those infected were able to recover. He then led the state assemblymen in giving the frontliners a standing ovation.

The Sultan of Johor expressed his unhappiness over the spread of a “disunity virus”, citing the “turmoil and power grabs which have caused concern among the people and threatened the political and economic stability of the country”.

Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar said those infected by the “disunity virus” tended to lose themselves and forget the welfare of the people. His Majesty has certainly said it right.

Malaysians want to know our lawmakers’ ideas in dealing and living with Covid-19’s destruction and continuing threat, and the practical steps adopted to improve our daily lives.

We’re curious about their sense of charity stretching beyond dispatching food and aid to their constituents, assuming they even did that.

In fairness, the one-day Parliament meeting and the disruptions to the state assemblies would have deprived the more rational lawmakers from raising positive ideas and questions.

But I’m not sure if anyone really wants a fresh General Election because the 2018 polls cost us between RM500mil and RM600mil, and it’s safe to assume it would cost more now. Malaysia is broke and we simply can’t afford to burn that kind of money.

With Covid-19 still lurking, the last thing we need is listening to politicians high on promise but low on fulfilling their election pledges.

We are already busy fending off the coronavirus so we don’t need the addition of a political virus, which fascinatingly, never dies in Malaysia.

The truth is out there

While the world continues to battle a deadly threat, two superpowers seem to be making Covid-19 a pawn in their fight for supremacy.

MOST of us take US President Donald Trump’s words with a pinch of salt. We all know he is inconsistent, temperamental, erratic and well, some would say, even unstable.

It must be difficult to work at the White House, given the continuous dismissals of key staff, and even more arduous for its diplomats worldwide.

Then there is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is resolutely on a war path with China. The rivalry with another big gun is understandable, but the obsession is unnerving because Pompeo indulges in daily tirades against the republic. But for the rest of the world, it’s unsettling because no country would fancy being caught in the crossfire.

The Americans and Chinese are equally important to the world, so taking sides is the last thing we need to be doing. But the blame game isn’t helping anyone, especially when we’re all still battling the dreaded virus. The back and forth between them has left us none the wiser and bewildered.

So, where did the virus come from? The wet market in Wuhan, which sells exotic animal meat, or a laboratory not far from it? Either way, the devastating consequence is over 276,000 deaths and 4.02 million infected across the globe.

The answer remains unknown, but Pompeo claims he has “enormous evidence, ” although he has yet to back his claims. Trump, without divulging details, has also claimed he has seen evidence the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source.

If you read some of the media reports, the laboratory is often depicted as a secret lab, like some kind of Cold War setting from a James Bond movie. However, it isn’t because it was set up with the help of France and is widely known to the science community.

Ironically, both Trump and Pompeo seem to have conveniently ignored the US Director of National Intelligence, who said its analysts were still examining the origins of the outbreak. The gist is that there is “wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”

The editor-in-chief of The Lancet, Richard Horton, had said it’s “not helpful” and “unfair” to blame China for being the source of the Covid-19 pandemic, and added “China isn’t responsible for this pandemic. It just happened.”

The Lancet is a reputable weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal and the world’s oldest and best-known of its kind.

Then, there’s the recent CNN report which said intelligence shared among Five Eyes nations indicates it is “highly unlikely” that the coronavirus outbreak was a result of an accident in a laboratory, and instead, originated in a Chinese market. CNN quoted two Western officials, who cited an intelligence assessment that appears to contradict claims by both Trump and Pompeo.

The countries in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing coalition is made up of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These nations share a broad range of intelligence in one of the world’s tightest multilateral arrangements.

The problem with leaders like Trump and Pompeo, who have been bashing “Communist China” in their rhetoric ahead of the US presidential election, is that they like to think, or try to convince their listeners, that China runs inferior, sub-standard laboratories. This is just a well-orchestrated political and media campaign, with the support of its allies in Europe, Australia, and some say, Taiwan and India, too, to cast aspersions on China.

But the Wuhan Institute is a top-notch laboratory which has, for years, collaborated with its global counterparts. One significant cooperation is with James Le Duc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas, one of the largest active biocontainment facilities on a US campus, which was closely involved in training the Wuhan institute’s staff from before it opened in January 2018.

Le Duc, who toured the lab just before it began operations, said scientists from the Wuhan institute had been active in ongoing dialogue facilitated by science bodies from the US and China, via participating in discussions and sharing their work. He also defended the institute’s deputy director Shi Zhengli, whose work in researching viruses in bats made her a target for conspiracy theorists, according to the South China Morning Post. She is the research scientist who discovered the link between bats and the original SARS virus which afflicted the world in 2003.

“She has participated in each of our dialogues; in every session, she has been fully engaged, very open and transparent about her work, and eager to collaborate, ” Le Duc was quoted by the SCMP.

It’s common knowledge now that Trump didn’t take the virus seriously initially, dismissing it as a type of common flu and completely ignoring its deadly threat.

Putting a timeline to his series of follies, on Feb 26, Trump was reported saying, “It’s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we’ll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.” Then on March 27, he still defined the coronavirus “a flu, ” or a germ.

China has naturally faced criticism for its lack of transparency with its initial slow response to the outbreak first reported in December. It’s undeniable that bureaucratic China doesn’t practise the kind of openness and swiftness in dealing with information like other democratic nations.

But scepticism remains rife over the details of confirmed cases and fatalities in other highly populated countries, even if they are democracies. Inexplicably, no accusations have been hurled at them.

Its either they have not been open – for economic reasons – or they have simply not conducted sufficient testing. Or, they just can’t afford it. Take your pick.

Let’s not deliberate integrity and credibility here. The world is acutely aware of the infamous confession, or rather, boasting by Pompeo at a talk in Texas A & M University on April 15,2019.

“When I was a cadet, what’s the first – what’s the cadet motto at West Point? You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. (Laughter.) It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses, ” Pompeo told the audience.

When the US and its allies attacked Iraq in 2003, they justified the war with accusations that Iraq had developed weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s government’s purported links with terrorist organisations, particularly Al-Qaeda. Of course, we’ve known for a while now there were no such weapons as it was spin doctoring at its finest, and Osama bin Laden wasn’t remotely close to the scene of the “crime” either, but instead, hiding somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Likewise, the problem the US has with China isn’t about bats, viruses, tariffs, spies, technology theft, Hong Kong protests, Taiwan, South China Sea, WHO membership or Huawei, but economics and the fear of being displaced at the top.

But the world is worried that as decibels from the White House increase, the flu will degenerate into nothing more than a Cold War between two superpowers.

Here comes the sun

Finally, the real thing: Nasi kandar is one of the things that not everyone can cook from watching YouTube lessons. A nasi kandar restaurant in George Town, Penang, preparing to reopen tomorrow.

IT’S been the best news after 45 days of the movement control order (MCO), where we were mostly in lock down. However, we will never get back to what our lives were before.

The killer virus is still lurking out there. There is neither vaccine nor cure yet, and we know that confirmed cases and fatalities will continue for a long time more.

But the returning freedom, beginning tomorrow, is still cause for celebration, even if it come with caveats.

Unless we are recluses, most of us long for the companionship of our colleagues and friends.

We’ve had to be brave in the face of adversity, claiming we enjoy working from home when we’ve, in fact, pined for some space, which ironically, is away from home. Strangely, that space constitutes the office.

Of course, family bonding is good, but being stuck together for 24 hours, day in and day out, has ended up being “family bondage” (of the wholesome variety) for many.

And as much as staying safe at home can be a blessing, those staying in small flats can tell you how it can just as much be a curse. Like the rest of us, they’ll be itching to get out of their homes the very first thing tomorrow.

I can’t wait for the joy of being stuck in a traffic jam again and listening to the same lame lines from radio deejays, with their tried-and-tested flat jokes, and the condescending tone of personalities appearing on a business station. So much love from so much dislike – that’s life.

I’m not sure what to expect tomorrow, though. I suspect there may be quite a few who will call in sick or take emergency leave. Through no fault of theirs, they’ve probably developed some psychological problems, or they could simply have valid reasons. Ultimately, being cooped up isn’t fun.

Or maybe their car batteries are dead, if they had obediently abided by the MCO, and have not “ke sini dan ke sana” (gone here and there).

Some may just turn up after lunch because they need to handle “urgent matters, ” like meeting clients and collecting overdue payments. And with room still left to stretch the truth a little, given the situation, getting their hair done could likely be another excuse, except that barber shops and hair salons will still be closed.

I guess I will be seeing caps and head scarves. Then again, who’s had the opportunity for self-grooming in a time like this?

I’m not sure if human resources managers or safety officers have devised seating arrangements, especially for those of us whose desks are side by side, which is the setup in many newsrooms.

There will be those who will call up and explain that it’s better for them to work from home.

They probably have sound reasons as some, interestingly, have become more productive since the MCO began. There will be the usual suspects, whom I think still have two or three more seasons of a Netflix show to complete. Sound familiar?

Of course, casualties will abound, too. There will be missing faces who are on no-pay leave or, worse, have been asked to leave their jobs while their bosses struggle to keep the company afloat.

From tomorrow, many employers will be busy looking at how they can restart and pick up the pieces.

For these affected Malaysians, they will have nowhere to go since their companies have either shut down temporarily or permanently. It’s going to be a heart-wrenching story.

Where daily living is concerned, we can no longer leave home without wearing face masks. We’ve become like the people in China, Hong Kong and South Korea, who have been wearing them for a long time now because of the smog, as well as the SARS epidemic from years ago.

I will be wearing the mask daily from now because I want to protect myself and others. Basically, everyone must feel secure and safe.

I can’t wait to take my dogs out for a walk tomorrow. The three of them have been locked in for just as long and they, too, are feeling anxious and frustrated. Two of my beautiful canines are powerful animals which require daily exercise.

Like their master, they, too, have overgrown hair, and long nails which need clipping.

I don’t know when we can travel out of the country again. I haven’t requested refunds from the airlines, preferring to defer my scheduled dates, instead. I’m not even sure if these airlines will still be around in the coming months, though I hope they will.

As for now, with restaurants starting to open and us being allowed to go out, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with all the food I hoarded in my refrigerator.

One lesson I’ve learnt during the MCO period is, not everyone can cook from watching YouTube lessons. Nasi kandar time finally, and a banjir one, please.

We can’t deal with an exodus of refugees

THERE has been a strong shift of opinion in Malaysia towards the Rohingya refugees since the outbreak of the pandemic, especially among the country’s Muslim majority.

If in the past, there were sympathies and support for them on Islamic solidarity grounds, all that has disappeared overnight.

The same politicians who corralled support for them have also changed their tune now.

That’s simply because they have gauged the pulse of the ordinary Muslims well. The outpouring of anger, especially on Bahasa Malaysia social media, has been fierce and loud.

A Rohingya who posted a strong message on Facebook against Malaysians, found his identity and home address immediately exposed, receiving angry retaliatory messages swiftly.

A TV station sent its crew to investigate how a group of Rohingya could have stayed in Malaysia for more than 10 years.

A video of a kopiah-clad Rohingya has also gone viral. In it, a trader selling books on Islam was challenged to recite Islamic prayers by a Malaysian but he could not.

It’s estimated there are more than 100,000 Rohingya in Malaysia. Incredibly, they are regarded the largest stateless population on earth.

In 2016, Datuk Seri Najib Razak led a gathering of Muslim leaders to show support for the Rohingya, but last week, the former prime minister backed the authorities for turning back about 200 Rohingya refugees trying to land on Malaysian shores recently.

The incident has drawn criticism from human rights groups and individuals, but Najib understands the sentiments of many Malaysians, who feel the government needs to prioritise the health, security and livelihoods of Malaysians first and foremost.

Unfortunately, most Malaysians feel the Rohingya have become a burden to the country.

Najib took the issue further when he said they had taken advantage of Malaysia’s generosity.

In declaring Malaysia’s acts of kindness for them, he said: “Sudah diberikan betis, nak peha pulak,” a Malay proverb equating to, ”Give them an inch and they take a yard,” in English.

”We are not cruel, but until when do we need to resolve this problem which began in the 1990s?”

His remarks, expectedly, have drawn the knives from his political nemeses, but Najib understands the grassroots Malay psyche well.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has spoken up about the plight of the Rohingya, and at the United Nations last year, he criticised the UN and Myanmar government for their inaction in resolving the Rohingya crisis.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of slaying thousands of Rohingya in western Rakhine state since 2017, resulting in the mass exodus of this Muslim minority group to neighbouring countries, which led to the world’s largest refugee camp at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh.

But Malaysia has been turning away Rohingya refugees since 2015, when they started turning up here and in Indonesia. This isn’t news.

As their numbers grew exponentially, Malaysia and Indonesia decided on May 20, 2015 to provide temporary shelter for more than 3,000 of the refugees who landed on their shores.

But after the UN appealed to the two nations to take in more, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to shelter 7,000 of them.

Malaysia made it clear that the international community had to play its part in dealing with the crisis, but somehow we ended up cradling the baby.

Despite our help, then-UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein still criticised Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand for turning the refugees away.

The general sentiment among Malaysians is that we have far too many immigrant workers. Official registered foreign workers were estimated at a hair under two million in 2019, while other reports claimed that unofficial estimates showed up to six million of them, or 18.6% of the country’s 32.6 million population.

As of end February 2020, there are some 178,990 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Malaysia.

Some 154,080 are from Myanmar, comprising 101,010 Rohingya, 22,810 Chin, and 30,250 others.

According to the UNHCR website, there are about 24,900 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, including 6,660 Pakistanis, 3,680 Yemenis, 3,290 Somalis, 3,290 Syrians, 2,590 Afghans, 1,830 Sri Lankans, 1,270 Iraqis, 790 Palestinians, and the remainder from miscellaneous countries.

Let’s be realistic. We have little choice but to turn away refugees because once we accept them, word will spread at the camps, and soon, we’ll have a massive influx on our hands.

Malaysia just can’t afford to cope anymore, and neither can Thailand nor Indonesia.

No European, Arab or Asean countries have come to Malaysia to embrace the Rohingya and offer them passports.

How long can we house them, and how many more of them do we want landing on our shores?

If our borders are shut, as per the movement control order, it doesn’t make sense that our shores are gateways for refugees. We are grappling with a pandemic that has infected over 5,800 Malaysians and killed 100. The last thing we need is a new wave of Covid-19, with new clusters formed.

No one should condone racist attacks of any form against minorities or the less fortunate, and those who speak up for refugees.

But we should be aware that unrestricted acceptance of these refugees is certainly not a viable and sustainable solution to the Rohingya issue.

Malaysians have become poorer, and we simply can’t afford to have thousands of refugees turning up here, vulnerable as they may be.

Lest we forget, Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees and migrant rights because we already have our hands full dealing with this mass of humanity.

We have become poorer, live with it

UNLESS you are in the businesses of selling masks, surgical gloves, ventilators and supplying boxes for food deliveries, the reality is that the rest of us have become poorer.

And if you haven’t had your pay cut, gone on unpaid leave, or at least, asked to clear your annual leave, it could only mean that you must be working in the civil service or for employers with excessively deep pockets.

Harsh reality has set in after almost five weeks of the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia. It’s the same all over the world, actually, as businesses grapple with the effects of the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last week, a list of hotels in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Perak that have been forced to shut down or that have asked their staff to accept pay cuts began to make its rounds on social media.

Hundreds of budget hotels around the country are also at risk of closing down as owners struggle to pay rentals and other operating costs, against zero revenue.

Workers in the hospitality industry, including tourist operators, were among the earliest to be hit hard. The impact on these workers will not just be for the next few months but for the rest of the year, and probably early next year. Airline staff faced the brunt earlier, actually.

The income of most Malaysians has been reduced and this will be worsened by the depreciating value of our ringgit, with food items becoming more expensive eventually.

So, even if the MCO is lifted by the end of May, businesses will still struggle to get operational again.

There will be less demand for some supplies, in any form, and delivery itself will continue to be a problem.

The pay cuts at most companies aren’t just for the next three months but will last until December as employers continue to struggle to earn revenue.

While larger companies, with stronger financial positions, would be able to spare employees on the lower earning bracket, it is much more difficult for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Government aid may be a relief for some in the next few months, but it may just be too late for most SMEs, and unlikely to help them stay afloat.

The biggest problem for many businessmen is the collection of money from clients who themselves are suffering a similar predicament. It’s a vicious circle.

If small-time bosses cannot collect the money, then they cannot afford to pay their workers – it’s that simple, and letting their staff go would be the hardest part, as such talents are among their assets.

Running a business is not running a charity house, and even non-governmental organisations need to find money to pay their full-time staff.

It’s much worse if workers refuse to accept a pay cut, ignoring calls to make voluntary sacrifices, because they are only making it harder for their employers to sustain their business.

Employers have been forced to rethink their spending in order to stay afloat and inevitably staff wages are high on the list.

Once these workers lose their jobs, it will be harder because most employers have imposed a recruitment freeze.

The moral of the story is that it is better to hold on to our jobs, with a lower pay, than to accelerate the closure of our companies.

At some big companies, staff at the highest levels have found their salaries slashed by between 25 and 50 per cent, with the scale and quantum for the rest being fixed accordingly.

As all of us become poorer, it means cutting down meals at restaurants and eating much simpler fare at home. Stop grumbling and be thankful that there is still food on the table.

Many will remove non-essential expenses, reduce fixed expenses, defer holidays, reschedule loan payments, review insurance schedules, downgrade credit cards with annual fees, freeze or terminate club memberships, and seriously take stock of our pantries.

The last thing that we should worry about isn’t getting out of the homes, like the Americans and Britons who seem more concerned about getting their tan or going for walks in the park, but whether we will keep our jobs.

We have no choice but to live much simpler lives from now because we have all become poorer.

Busting post-MCO blues

THE movement control order (MCO)will eventually be lifted, so Malaysia must resume rebooting its economy, while simultaneously calculating losses.

It’s certainly not going to be easy drawing up a post-MCO business strategy, especially since many of our customers and partners have either sunk or are struggling to stay afloat in an unprecedented environment.

There are no business models to fall back on. So, it’s time to fly by the seat of our pants as the world thwarts an unseen enemy against the backdrop of a vaccine remaining a mere vision. Malaysia will recalibrate its economic model, where we must continue with our lives knowing the virus lurks out there freewheelingly.

Ultimately, businesses must resume. While much has been written, sentimentally, about how we have taken the planet and our lives for granted, Covid-19 has also given employers a chance to have a real hard look at their staff, and for the government to test the mettle of their ministers and civil servants.

It’s all hands on deck now. For business organisations, the MCO has provided the opportunity to reveal their staff’s tenacity, determination and resolution to ride through the crisis together as a team.

Unfortunately, drawing up a post-MCO strategy is not for the fainthearted. Instead of pitching in, some of the workforce has resigned to negativity with their employers’ plans for a way out.

This is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff – selfish ones refusing to make sacrifices, and those going the extra mile to ensure their company’s sustainability.

As we pore over our reboot plans, China is obviously a model we should consider because they have much to share with us. Our country is certainly not out of the woods with businesses only feeling their way out.

China’s industrial production reopened smoothly, and even life in Wuhan – the original epicentre of the pandemic – has resumed, though with numerous restrictions still in place. For example, no one can even take a train ride without the “green approval” on their mobile phone. Checks are stringent and the offence is serious.

BMW China resumed operations with its offices opening from Feb 3 and its plant operating since Feb 17. In fact, Xinhua reported that about 85% of its dealers are open.

The report also said that since Feb 10, French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, gradually reopened its operation sites in China, while adhering to strict precautions. It said around 80% of retail locations has reopened, and that traffic has been progressively returning since last month.

Hermes created world headlines recently when the French brand’s Guangzhou store opened and bagged US$2.7mil (RM11.8mil) on its first day, the highest daily haul for a single boutique in China.

So, the purchasing power of many rich Chinese remains intact, and given the number of them out there, it’s a stark reminder to the world of their economic clout, too.

Chinese restaurant chain Haidilao welcomed customers once again after being shut in late January. However, customers reacted angrily when they found that prices had jumped by nearly 6%, sparking outrage in Chinese social media platform, Weibao.

The South China Morning Post reported that Haidilao had to issue an apology and restored prices to pre-closure rates. It ended up offering discounts of up to 33% on takeaway orders.

Likewise Xibei, another Chinese restaurant chain, went down the same path initially, only to put its plan into reverse later. It too had to issue an apology.

Yes, not everything is rosy, particularly in a key sector like automotive, where plants have only slowly been re-opening since March. Production rate is still low due to poor orders and supply chain issues, according to a Roland Berger study.

Automotive sales plunged by 82% in February 2020 compared to Feb 2019. Travel restrictions have been lifted, but for Chinese airlines, there are still no signs of recovery, what with a pessimistic forecast for Q2 2020. On the manufacturing front, 96.6% of large and medium enterprises resumed work from March.

But it’s a good re-start by China, which can best be described as a silver lining because it’s the largest market for many countries, including Malaysia.

Last year, Malaysia and China’s bilateral trade hit another record high, rising to US$124bil (around RM503bil) for the full year 2019, said China’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Bai Tian, in a report.

Citing Chinese customer statistics, Bai said this is a 14.2% increase in bilateral trade from 2018’s figure of US$108.66bil (RM443bil). China remains Malaysia’s largest trading partner, followed by Singapore and the United States.

“Part of the huge bilateral trade is linked to the investments coming in, because when Chinese investors come to Malaysia to set up factories, they buy equipment from China. Once production increases, a portion of those products are then sold back to China in large percentages.”

For tourism, China has been Malaysia’s third biggest tourist source after Singapore and Indonesia since 2012, displacing Thailand from the top three.

According to the latest statistics, Malaysia has consistently welcomed over two million Chinese tourists a year since 2016. That figure hit a record high of 2.94 million people in 2018. While travel will be down in the doldrums for a while, what needs focus is how well our Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry and the related stakeholders have prepared for once the boom gate is lifted.

Yes, Visit Malaysia 2020 is dead and buried. There will be near-nil international travel for a while.

But the hunger for travel, after months of being locked in, has never been greater, and with airlines struggling to stay afloat, it’s a good time to plan for that eventuality. China could well provide our first arrivals. So, we’ll have no shortage of competitors in Asean who would want to be first to benefit from the initial wave of Chinese tourists.

According to Travel Weekly Asia in an April 2020 report, Thai tourism has already started laying the groundwork.

In a China Thailand Travel Sentiment Survey 2020 conducted in mid-April, based on 1,000 travellers, it found that 71% of respondents indicated a preference to visit Thailand. It found that August, October and December were the most popular months for trips in the remaining half of the year, with Chinese tourists expected to be younger and more independent.

No doubt, the road to recovery will be rough and twisting. Consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) encapsulated that prognosis perfectly by saying governments must develop a resilient and adaptive strategy for re-opening, allowing for adjustments as events unfold and new information emerging.

The weeks of lockdown isn’t a holiday at home, but a time for political and corporate leaders to reflect and think of how to remain in shape, eager to be at the starting blocks and be the first to take off.

So, cut the whining and fight to survive.

Hung dry over wet markets

This photo taken on April 15, 2020 shows a man wearing a face mask while walking at the Wuhan Baishazhou Market in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. – AFPpic

Little knowledge is dangerous, and the way the west wields it makes it damning for the rest of the world.

THERE’S growing outrage in the West following a report that China is re-opening its wet markets. Though erroneous, in the eyes of westerners, these places are inextricably associated with wild animal markets.

Most of the discontented have never been to a wet market, which is just a place for fresh produce. In fact, this is probably the first time they’ve even heard of the description.

So, when they stumble on the term “wet markets”, their minds immediately race to the infamous Wuhan market where Covid-19 was first reported.

The news involving these wet markets have added fuel to the fire of China bashing, courtesy of the killer virus.

Wet markets are commonplace all over Asia, especially in South-East Asia, because consumers know the produce at these places is fresh.

Unlike the farmers markets in the West, wet markets in Asia mostly have wet floors, hence the name. The climate in this region necessitates the use of copious amounts of ice to maintain food freshness, and coupled with the use of fresh water to keep the place constantly clean, wet markets can seem a chore to navigate.

Markets in the West, even those with street stalls, don’t deal with live, fresh seafood. There are no tanks or tubs filled with live fishes, shellfish or crabs.

Basically, “fresh” sea food in the West comes dead. In fact, most times, prawns are already boiled even. This doesn’t sit well with Asians in general, especially the Chinese.

Asians prefer wet markets over supermarkets for fresh seafood because the difference of their freshness and choices is stark.

In Hong Kong, most wet markets – located on the ground floor of flats – are clean, and they sell an impressive array of Asian seafood.

In China, I’ve even seen live stingrays, squids and octopuses in tubs, which isn’t a sight here.

The largest choice of sea food in Malaysia can probably be found at Sabah’s markets, which have fishes I’ve never seen before in peninsula wet markets.

Yes, I agree sanitary is a concern in wet markets all over Asia, especially at the poultry sections. The pong and poor hygiene in slaughtering chickens, for instance, needs overdue attention by the authorities in the wake of the pandemic. It should be banned, like what Malaysia and Singapore have done.

But the bottom line is – wet markets are not animal markets. Most wet markets don’t sell snakes, dogs, cats, wolf cubs or baby crocodiles.

And certainly, most mainland Chinese, and ethnic Chinese elsewhere, don’t dine on these animals. In fact, as China becomes more affluent and tuned in with the times, there is growing pressure to ban dog meat because it’s simply cruel and unacceptable.

It’s poor argument when some Asians resort to the “culinary tradition” defence to justify their consumption of these animals. Pets are not food for human beings. It’s uncivilised – period!

Thanks to some bizarre food shows on TV, the perception formed is that Asians consume a lot of exotic meat, which is furthest from the truth. So, likewise, not all westerners eat rabbit meat, pheasants or garden snails, either.

And Foie gras – the liver of duck or geese fattened by being force fed corn via a feeding tube – surely can’t be staple food, too.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting wet markets in the Asian countries I’ve been to, because I like the feel and smell of these places. It’s a meeting place for people who go about their lives and a melting pot of local culture and charm.

But young Asians prefer the cleaner and air-conditioned supermarkets, as they regard these outlets healthier and more sustainable.

Affluent Asians find supermarkets more comfortable and in line with their lifestyles. Besides, parking is also more organised than at the often-congested wet markets.

The supermarkets’ ability to buy food produces in large volumes directly from farmers has also made their prices more attractive than those at wet markets.

According to a Euromonitor International report, supermarkets now account for about half of all grocery spending in China, going up about 36% from 1995.

“Add in convenience stores and the like, and so-called modern grocery has about 68% of China’s retail wallet, giving wet markets less than a third.

“Still, that store-based spending is overwhelmingly concentrated in packaged, rather than fresh produce. Foreign retailers that once hoped to dominate China’s staple goods sector such as Carrefour SA and Metro AG have struggled and sold out of local ventures – but wet markets are still going strong.”

Research by N. Chamhuri and P.J. Batt, from Curtin University of Technology Perth, Western Australia, on Malaysians’ preferred source for fresh meat in the Klang Valley, uncovered startling results. Despite the increase in supermarkets and hypermarkets, traditional markets have ably coexisted with modern retail formats and remain the choice for fresh meat.

But Asian governments must clean up their wet markets, even if they aren’t animal markets, since past virus outbreaks have been linked to these places, where the potential for zoonotic transmission (disease that can spread from animals to humans) is gravely higher.

What’s deplorable is that the confusion over wet markets and wildlife markets has led to xenophobia among some US leaders, celebrities and the media, who are all calling for the closure of these food resources in China.

They have ignored, or missed, reports that since Jan 26, China has banned the trade and consumption of wild animals for food, but with news of wet markets being re-opened, old pictures depicting the sale of these animal meats have been recycled as visuals to accompany the news reports.

The truth is, it’s easier to buy wild animals online. Go figure.

And this may come as a surprise, but international wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated US$10 – 20bil (RM44bil – RM88bil) annually, with the US a chief consumer of wildlife products (legal and illegal).

Yet, a poll commissioned by WildAid found that 80% of Americans know little or nothing about illegal wildlife trade within the US.

Perhaps, after watching Joe Exotic in Tiger King on Netflix, Americans would know better, and be stunned to learn that there are more lions in the US than in the whole of Africa.