Pesek on Asia: China's Invisible Superbank
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Pakistan peace talks in jeopardy after bombings
So much for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s bold plan to initiate dialogue with militants, including thePakistani Taliban. Two suicide bombers killed at least 78 people in northwestern Pakistan during a Christian church service, posing a stark challenge to Sharif's hopes of reducing violence as a cornerstone of economic-revival plans. Sunday marked the second major attack since Sharif’s three-month-old government began talks with militant groups on Sept. 9. The question now is how he reacts: stay the course or launch a fresh crackdown on extremism? Pakistan's economic outlook, and indeed South Asia's, depends on the answer.
Time to buy Asian currencies?
Ben Bernanke's decision to delay the Federal Reserve's exit from ultra-loose monetary policies did more than give Asia breathing room: It also gave markets a moment to rethink their sudden negativity toward the region. It might even be time to buy currencies in a region that's awash in challenges, but also resilient in the face in global turmoil. The Philippines is a case in point. "The market got ahead of itself in dumping Asian currencies and being risk-averse," Adam Gilmour, Citigroup's head of Asia-Pacific foreign-exchange sales, told Bloomberg News. Risks remain, of course, including dangerous current-account deficits in India and Indonesia. But in world of tepid growth and financial imbalances, Asia is still a growth standout.
Aung San Suu Kyi's sobering take on Myanmar
Multinational companies clamoring for stakes in Myanmar are finding the nation's Nobel laureate hero to be a surprising killjoy. A year ago, as the opening of capitalism's latest frontier was gathering momentum, fellow Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz called Suu Kyi too pessimistic after she warned against "reckless optimism." Now, she's again warning that the world is ignoring the very real risk Myanmar could return to military rule. In Singapore on Sunday she urged only "responsible investment" that doesn't enrich vested interests to accelerate the country's economic development. "I cannot guarantee that there will not be backslides," Suu Kyi, who hopes to rewrite the military-backed Constitution so she can run for president in 2015, warned.
Asia's hunger timebomb ticks away
The world has experienced three food-price spikes in the last six years that pierced the veneer of progress. All the rapid growth the region can muster can't hide the fact that Asia is home to a critical mass of those living on $2 a day or less. Governments should heed a warning from charity Oxfam, which finds in a new report that those at risk of hunger may climb by 10 percent to 20 percent by 2050 as a result of climate change. The Arab Spring movement, remember, was partly about food inflation. Any income gains enjoyed by hundreds of millions of Asians could be erased in an instant as costs of basic foodstuffs like corn, wheat, rice and dairy products surge.
Where has China's "superbank" gone?
China Development Bank isn't just the nation’s biggest policy lender -- it's the core of China Inc. The institution that finances everything from domestic highways, dams and solar fields to China's efforts to gain influence from Africa to Latin America is simply called "superbank." The question is, where is China Development Bank this year? It's been noticeably absent from the kinds of big deals that made it an even bigger power in the developing world than the World Bank. Theories as to why abound. One that possibly deserves more scrutiny is whether China's superbank is running into serious problems with local government loans that may be turning sour. If so, China's global expansion plans may be in for a reality check.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)