Pesek's View From Asia
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
The ghosts of 1998 are looming over Indonesia.
Christopher Koch's 1978 novel about the downfall of dictator Sukarno, "The Year of Living Dangerously," was plenty scary. So was Richard Lloyd Parry's non-fiction "In the Time of Madness," which detailed how Indonesia unraveled in 1998, the year after Asia's financial crisis began. Commentators in Jakarta are now warning of a repeat, as money continues to flood out of the Southeast Asian nation. The Jakarta Composite Index has plummeted more than 20 percent since May 20; rising yields are pressuring government borrowing costs; and forex reserves have dwindled 18 percent this year. Indonesia's political system has matured exponentially since 1998. But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had better stabilize the economy quickly unless he wants start living dangerously again.
But it may be time to buy other Asian stocks.
Vietnam is one example of a market that has fallen into undervalued territory as economic fundamentals improve. Investor Kevin Snowball in Ho Chi Minh City is among those loading up on Vietnamese shares. His PXP Vietnam Fund Ltd. is up 39 percent in dollar terms this year, versus 13 percent for the nation’s VN Index. What's more, after a dismal August for Asia, the worst may be over, Steve Ashley, London-based head of global markets at Nomura, told Bloomberg News: “We remain relatively positive on the longer term performance of risk assets in Asian emerging markets.” And not a moment too soon for a region experiencing billions of dollars of outflows.
Beijing confronts a Syria dilemma as Obama prepares to act.
China has long pursued a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach to foreign policy, getting into bed with most unsavory regimes to advance its global interests: Sudan's Umar al-Bashir, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, and, of course, Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Nowadays it's more about energy than ideology: China is expected to surpass the U.S. as the world's largest importer of crude oil by October. U.S. threats of military action against Assad's regime present China with a geopolitical dilemma. Beijing has long resented the projection of U.S. power, yet doesn't have the ability itself to promote stability in the vital Middle East. Chinese leaders can only issue a familiar plea -- for a diplomatic resolution to Syria's bloody civil war.
Fake mall in China takes counterfeiting to a whole new level.
If only China's economy displayed as much innovation as its legion of counterfeiters. Recent months have offered fresh reminders that neither intellectual property rights nor human safety mean much in the nation of 1.3 billion -- from phony Apple stores that fooled even the staff to bogus medicine to 20,000 tons of fake mutton made from rat and fox meat. Now an entire mall has opened up in the city of Shenyang, offering all-knockoff luxury goods in bogus boutiques. China tolerates piracy because it creates jobs, and people making money are less apt to congregate in Tiananmen Square. But this bubble in fakery is hurting China more than the multinational companies. Until entrepreneurs can bring their products and ideas to market and make a profit from them, the country will never develop the innovative culture needed to progress up the economic ladder. You can't scam legal certainty.
Guns N’ Roses star turns up volume in Japan's dolphin drama.
Many Japanese still seethe over "The Cove," an Academy Award winning 2009 film about the annual dolphin hunt in the otherwise quaint fishing village of Taiji. What animal-rights group call inhumane, Taiji fishermen call part of their heritage. Well, the anti-dolphin-kill movement has a new celebrity on the case: former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum. The renewed publicity comes at a sensitive moment for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he tries to persuade his Liberal Democrats to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and open up the Japanese economy. Abe needs to the support of nationalist lawmakers, who view Taiji as a litmus test for Japanese sovereignty. Without it, his reform efforts may be dead in the water.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
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