Pesek on Asia: India's Gandhi Clan Under Attack
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
In India, Gandhi family dynasty comes under attack
Narendra Modi is already proving himself to be a canny candidate for national office by attacking the Gandhi political dynasty. If anything unites and excites the millions of voters fed up with the country's corruption and drift, it's frustration with the family that has helmed the country for about four decades since independence in 1947. Modi's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party wants to stop Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul from taking his turn come next year's election. Of course, the election should be contested on the free-market reforms that Modi brought to his Gujarat state and the question of whether he can bring them national. Still, taking aiming at a Gandhi clan that can seem to be more interested in power than the lot of 1.1 billion people is a wise political move.
Is Vietnam really open for business?
Few economies are more susceptible to "pendulum economics" than Vietnam. Investor sentiment toward the place tends to swing wildly from heady optimism to dark pessimism. So when Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung assures Bloomberg News that he's leveling the playing field to attract more foreign capital, are we to take him at his word? The key indicator will be how quickly Dung ends Vietnam's China-like heavy reliance on state-owned enterprises. That requires considerable political will. Yet there's one good reason to think Dung is sincere: Vietnam is running out of options to compete in Asia.
Premier Li missing in action as Shanghai zone opens
Remember that Shanghai free-trade zone China announced with such fanfare? The place that's supposed to showcase Premier Li Keqiang's commitment to revolutionizing China's rickety state-dominated economic system? Well, when it opened Sept. 29, Li was nowhere to be found. In fact, none of China's top leaders bothered to attend to the opening ceremony, leaving the world to mull two possibilities. One, China's leaders must be really, REALLY busy. Two, they are trying to tamp down hype that this zone matters in the grand Communist Party scheme of things. My money is on door No. 2.
Korea finds economic gains from face lifts
As South Korea works to cultivate a bigger service sector, it's finding great potential in plastic surgery. This isn't the newest of industries, nor is medical tourism a new discovery. But here's a timely Bloomberg News piece about how the government of a developed nation is horning in on what's been the province of poorer ones like India and Thailand, by promoting Korea's nip-and-tuck clinics overseas, even finding a role for Psy’s “Gangnam Style” smash hit. Expect Korea's $14 billion tourism business to benefit from its own financial face lift in the years ahead. The economy, too.
Poverty in the city of millionaires
The number of millionaires in Hong Kong rose 35.7 percent to 114,000 last year, according to a report by Cap Gemini SA. Yet as the ranks of the ultra-rich surge, so has the percentage of the city's 7 million people living in poverty. About 1.3 million Hong Kongers, 19.6 percent of the population, are now below the poverty line. This should be a stark wakeup call for Hong Kong's Beijing-picked chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. Either take action now to narrow the rich-poor divide or see hundreds of thousands take to the streets to demand change and, no doubt, a new leader.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)