August 8, 2016

ASEAN Summit 2016 organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy featured in The Straits Times

ASEAN Summit 2016 organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy featured in The Straits Times article titled "Consensus, centrality and relevance: Asean and the South China Sea".  The article was first published in The Straits Times on 6 August 2016. Consensus, centrality and relevance: Asean and the South China Sea This is an excerpt of Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan's speech at this week's Asean Summit 2016, organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 6 Aug 2016 Author: Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan Is Asean still relevant? This is not just a rhetorical question. Inability to reach consensus on the South China Sea (SCS) has exposed cracks in Asean unity to the glare of public scrutiny. Asean's relevance is being questioned by academic commentators and journalists, by Asean dialogue partners and even - sotto voce - by some Asean member states. Without a minimally credible answer to the question, Asean will be marginalised. Asean will not disappear: Regular meetings of leaders and ministers will still be held with pomp and ceremony; solemn statements will be issued. But will anyone take much notice? As far as the SCS is concerned, this is not to be taken for granted. The SCS is a major international waterway. Vital trade routes pass through it and the skies above the SCS are among the busiest in civil aviation. The SCS occupies a uniquely strategic position connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. This is an issue of international concern. If Asean cannot take a position on such a crucial matter in its own region, why should anyone take us seriously? WHY CONSENSUS MATTERS There is no evading the fact that on the SCS, Asean is divided. The media has laid primary responsibility for blocking consensus on Cambodia acting at China's behest. Shortly after the 2012 meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Cambodia had made a "strategic choice" in China's favour. Phnom Penh has not been shy about its position on the SCS. This year, before the Arbitral Tribunal announced its decision, Beijing had repeatedly and in often hectoring terms warned all Asean members against taking a common position on the award and Prime Minister Hun Sen said twice that Cambodia would not agree to a common Asean position. Cambodia is by no means the only Asean country that has been reluctant to incur China's wrath over the SCS. The unusual forthrightness of Cambodia's leaders in 2012 and after has been a convenient cover for the others inclined to duck. Cambodia was acting within the letter of its rights under the Asean Charter which makes clear that decisions will be made by consensus. Asean's disagreements over the SCS have led to the efficacy and relevance of the consensus principle being questioned. Frustration with the consensus principle is understandable, particularly at a time when the East Asian strategic environment is changing rapidly with the United States and China groping towards a new modus vivendi with each other and other countries in the region. Their competition in the SCS has become something of a proxy for the larger strategic adjustments that are under way. It cannot be denied that decision-making by consensus degrades Asean's ability to act on controversial issues. It is sub-optimal. But alternatives to the consensus principle are only theoretical propositions, advocated by those with no responsibility for where they may lead Asean. We are not the European Union and in any case it is now clear that the EU is not the most edifying of models for Asean to emulate. As an interstate organisation with a very diverse membership with different national interests, in practice Asean can only operate by consensus. Any other mode of decision-making could escalate even minor differences into major splits and risks the organisation breaking up entirely. Decision-making by consensus is a fuse that trips when differences of national interests surge to the point where the system becomes so overloaded that it could be torn apart. Prior to 2012, no matter how fiercely we disagreed, Asean members have been punctilious about reaching consensus. Asean's most basic consensus is a consensus on always having a consensus, even if it is only a consensus of form or on words to maintain a facade of unity. We have managed to do so even on sensitive bilateral disputes between members. A consensus on always having a consensus preserves Asean's fundamental and enduring purpose of ensuring civility and order in relations between its members in a region where this is not to be assumed. This is a crucial function. In South-east Asia, sovereignties are relatively new and often still tender; historical enmities not yet forgotten and the region lies at the intersection of major power interests. Asean is intended to allow the small states of South-east Asia - and the biggest of us is small compared to the major powers - to retain some modicum of autonomy through maintaining cohesion. This is one of Asean's under-appreciated successes: Today there are tensions in the SCS but as a whole South-east Asia is at peace with itself and the world and prospering. This is a situation that would not at all have seemed likely in 1967. If the consensus principle is repeatedly abused, the consequences could be unpredictable, not just for Asean but also for the major powers, including China. A repeat of what happened in 2012 could set Asean on a path to a dangerous destination. CONDUCT AT SEA It is not within Asean's competence to resolve the SCS disputes. In so far as the SCS has become a proxy for US-China competition, Asean is only a secondary player; as much arena as actor. Asean may have only a limited role but, potentially at least, again not an inconsequential role. The key word is "potentially". Here too the evidence is mixed. China has agreed to Singapore's proposal for a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea or Cues which is intended to reduce the possibility of accidents pending agreement on a Code of Conduct (COC) for the SCS. A draft declaration on an Asean-China Cues is under discussion by Asean and China. But China only agreed to discuss a Cues for its coast guard and not the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. This is a serious limitation. China claims substantial swaths of the SCS as Chinese territory since "ancient times" and has relied primarily on its coast guard to enforce its domestic laws in the SCS, for instance on fishing. But PLA Navy patrols and exercises in the SCS and has deployed assets on the artificial islands China has created. Over time, PLA Navy will certainly qualitatively and quantitatively step up its SCS deployments. What this means for Asean and in particular the Asean claimants whose navies are dwarfed by PLA Navy - in fact overshadowed even by the Chinese coast guard - is unclear. The US 7th Fleet is the only real balancer in the SCS. Still even a limited Cues is better than nothing and could supplement the Cues that the US and China have already agreed for the Pacific Ocean, but which China has apparently also complied with in the SCS where the commander of the US Pacific Command recently acknowledged dangerous incidents have been rare. The most potentially consequential Asean proposal on the table is a COC for the SCS. It has been under discussion for several years. Progress has been glacial. To be of real use, a COC must deal with many substantive issues. Only the surface of the substance of a COC has been skimmed so far. A disinterested observer might be forgiven for wondering whether China, or at least PLA Navy, is really interested in a binding COC which would limit the freedom of action of all parties to it, or whether the process of interminably discussing a COC is a means of constraining Asean. But that would be a churlish thought and let me make it clear that I am not a disinterested observer and so do not entertain such thoughts. At the Vientiane meeting, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that negotiations should be fast-tracked and that China wants a framework for a COC by 2017. This can be regarded as recognition that progress on the COC has been unsatisfactory, that the SCS disputes have dented China's reputation and if allowed to get out of hand, could seriously damage relations with Asean. Concluding a COC would be a strong positive signal that any foreign ministry would welcome. But we should not expect miracles. Negotiations over the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and its implementation guidelines took 20 years to conclude. The issues that a COC must engage are more complex than those in the DOC. ECONOMICS MATTER MORE The SCS issue should be seen in context. It is only one aspect of Asean-China relations. On the whole, Asean-China relations are positive. Sovereignty disputes nevertheless cast deep shadows because how a big country deals with small countries on matters of sovereignty is inevitably taken as an indication of the big country's intentions towards its neighbours. As the SCS is the locus around which US-China and Asean-China relations act and interact on each other in South-east Asia, it receives the most international attention and tends to be over-emphasised. But it is not the only issue or necessarily even the most important issue on either the US-China agenda or Asean's own agenda. Economic integration is in my view of greater long-term geopolitical significance to Asean. The root cause of divisions in Asean on the SCS is changes in the way some members now calculate their national interests. China is looming larger in the economic calculations of every country in East Asia, including formal US allies. The infrastructure and other investments now undertaken within the broad framework of "One Belt, One Road" are binding south-west China and mainland South-east Asia into one economic space. This is to be welcomed on economic grounds but undoubtedly also gives China political influence. Beijing cannot be blamed for exercising its influence. No major power in history has ever forsworn any instrument of influence. Asean members differ widely in their levels of economic development and hence in their economic options. For some, in particular the newer and less developed members, China represents the best - and perhaps only - hope of moving up the value chain. We must try to change their calculations of interests. This is the geopolitical significance of the Asean Economic Community (AEC). The bedrock of Asean's relevance and centrality must be economic. The AEC cannot replace China in the economic calculations of Asean members. An AEC that achieves its goals of a common market and common production platform could, however, broaden options, mitigate China's influence and enhance Asean's attractiveness to other dialogue partners, making it easier for them to continue to believe in Asean's centrality and relevance. It will not be easy. The key issues that must be confronted in the next phase of the Asean economic integration - non-tariff barriers, services and some form of labour mobility - are intrinsically difficult. Economic nationalism is running high in some Asean members. Others are experiencing buyer's remorse over the current level of AEC commitment. Some Asean members are undergoing complicated political changes. It will be difficult. But we must try.
August 5, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Partner Sandra Han quoted in The Straits Times

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s Real Estate Partner Sandra Han was quoted in The Straits Times article titled “askST: Does inheritance property attract Additional Buyers' Stamp Duty?”. The article was first published in The Straits Times on 4 Aug 2016. askST: Does inheritance property attract Additional Buyers' Stamp Duty? Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 4 Aug 2016 Author: Rennie Whang Reader Madam M Lee wrote in to askST to say that she co-owns a property with her husband. Her husband is due to inherit a separate property soon. She asked: "Will the inheritance property attract additional ABSD once the probate is done? "If it attracts additional ABSD as it is my husband's second property, does it help to sell off our first property? What can we do to avoid the additional taxes? "Does owning overseas properties also count towards additional buyer's stamp duties?" Business reporter Rennie Whang found the answer. Assuming the properties are all residential properties in Singapore, the property in question will neither attract Buyer's Stamp Duty nor Additional Buyers' Stamp Duty (ABSD), said Ms Jennifer Chia, executive director and head of corporate real estate at TSMP Law Corporation. But the property has to be inherited in accordance with any of the following conditions:  1. A will which specifically states that the property is to be inherited by the husband; 2. The Intestate Succession Act; or 3. The Administration of Muslim Law Act However, Sellers' Stamp Duty could be payable should the husband wish to transfer the inherited property in the future, depending on how soon he sells it after acquiring, Ms Chia added. Upon inheritance of the property, Mdm Lee's husband will have two properties to his name. Hence, if he subsequently purchases another property without selling off either the first property or the property he inherited, the new property purchased would be considered as his third property, said Ms Sandra Han, partner in the real estate practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. Assuming Mdm Lee's husband is a Singapore Citizen, the ABSD rate of 10 per cent would then kick in for the third property. ABSD is only applicable on residential properties in Singapore, Ms Han added. Overseas properties are not taken into account when calculating the ABSD rate to apply.
August 5, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing ASEAN Summit 2016 featured in The Edge Singapore article titled “Single ASEAN market will strengthen SMEs competitiveness”.

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing ASEAN Summit 2016 was featured in The Edge Singapore article titled “Single ASEAN market will strengthen SMEs competitiveness”. The article discussed about the goal of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) to create a single market within the bloc. This will benefit the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through improved supply-chain networks, allowing companies to do business in neighbouring ASEAN countries more easily, as well as enable SMEs to leverage on the attractiveness of a united ASEAN market to the global economy. Teng Theng Dar, Chairman of bartefli Holdings and Advisor at RHT Strategic Advisory commented, “SMEs look for a system where they are able to go… and they don’t have to worry too much about creating trouble, the single market approach [will mean that] when you cross borders, rules are the same. SMEs here have to combine resources
August 4, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing ASEAN Summit 2016 featured in Channel NewsAsia

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing ASEAN Summit 2016 featured in Channel NewsAsia article titled "Important to strengthen SMEs as ASEAN Economic Community takes shape: Ong Keng Yong" The article was first published in Channel NewsAsia on 4 August 2016. Important to strengthen SMEs as ASEAN Economic Community takes shape: Ong Keng Yong Source: Channel NewsAsia Date: 4 Aug 2016 Author: Calvin Hui SINGAPORE: As the ASEAN Economic Community continues to take shape, it is important to strengthen SMEs, Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong said on Thursday (Aug 4). Currently, Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) comprise almost all of private enterprises across the ASEAN region, but only account for around 10 to 30 per cent of total exports. Speaking as a keynote speaker at the ASEAN Summit 2016, organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, Mr Ong acknowledged that progress in ASEAN economic integration has been "quite impressive". However, he added that there are various challenges facing SMEs. These include a relatively lower level of labour productivity when compared to the United States, access to finance, a reluctance to internationalise and look beyond national borders, as well as cumbersome business requirements for SMEs. Mr Ong, who is also a former ASEAN Secretary-general, highlighted several recommendations to meet these challenges, including elevating the ASEAN SME Advisory Board to the level of ASEAN SME Ministers Meeting. This will mean more attention is paid to SMEs, which is separate from the ASEAN Trade Ministers grouping. He also suggested providing more support services to enhance the competitiveness of SMEs, as well as ensuring a systematic and flexible approach towards financing and capital. Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the event, Mr Teng Theng Dar, who is the chairman of Barterfli Holdings, said the AEC represents a market of 630 million people for Singapore. He added that the private sector should take a more proactive approach towards realising the vision of the AEC.