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Pesek on Asia: India's Mad Mission to Mars
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today.
Malaysia takes a step backward to help the privileged.
So much for Prime Minister Najib Razak, the great reformer. The spin from the Malaysian leader since taking office in 2009 was about dismantling the four-decade-old affirmative-action program favoring ethnic Malays introduced by his prime-minister father Abdul Razak. It turns off foreign investors and undermines productivity. Far from scrapping race-based policies, Najib plans to expand them and further marginalize Malaysia's Chinese and Indian minorities. The announcement, due September 14, comes as markets are scrutinizing Asia's economies more than at any time since 1997. It may play well domestically, but it won't win Malaysia new fans among overseas investors.
Does India really have room for space?
As the rupee crashes, investors flee and malnutrition abounds, Indian officials can't help buzzing and boasting about the most peculiar of things: a mission to mars. The Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organization is frantically preparing for the November launch of its unmanned Mars orbiter mission. The program's cost -- $71 million -- is paltry by NASA standards in the U.S. But does a nation in which more than two-thirds of 1.2 billion people eat less than the minimum target set by the government really have time, or resources, for a space program? With all due respect to physicists and engineers, it's a very valid question for a government with enough troubles in this world.
Twitter eyes IPO, China's Alibaba remains coy.
Jack Ma is either a market-timing genius or the billionaire founder and chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba is missing an ideal window of opportunity. Markets are aflutter with Twitter's planned initial public offering, which will be the biggest since Facebook's in May 2012. China's own IPO drama is hitting a fever pitch, as the South China Morning Post reports that Alibaba may postpone its $12.9 billion IPO until 2015. As punters wonder what, oh what, Ma is thinking, Twitter's market debut will offer clues about investors' appetite for risk in a decidedly uncertain world economy.
A "soft landing" for North Korea's economy?
The more someone insists they know what Kim Jong Un is doing, thinking or feeling, the more skeptical you should be. North Korea is the ultimate black box. Basketball great Dennis Rodman (he recently visited Kim for a second time) probably possesses more intelligence on the state of play in Pyongyang than the CIA. So when Jaewoo Choo, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul who has meticulously studied German reunification, sketches out a scenario in which a "slow and steady" engagement on the Korean peninsula leads to peace and prosperity, it's worth considering. Sure, he could be dead wrong. But then so has virtually every so-called Korea expert over the last 20 years.
Cuteness pays off for Hello Kitty -- for now.
She is one of the world's most recognizable fictional characters and a staple of the "kawaii," or cute, segment of Japanese popular culture. And Hello Kitty has now made the 85-year-old founder of Tokyo-based Sanrio, Shintaro Tsuji, a billionaire. The company's shares have doubled this year, a gain outpacing the more than the 38 percent gain in Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average. But what about an Act II? Sanrio is still trying to diversify beyond Hello Kitty, and with limited success. For now, the company is winning the hearts and wallets of girls, women and the likes of Lady Gaga. Cute has its limits, though. It's time investors ask Sanrio what's next?
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)