Pesek on Asia: Rahul Rides In
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Rahul to the rescue?
Just when fiery opposition leader Narendra Modi had issued a blistering attack on the ruling Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that runs it, scion Rahul Gandhi grabbed back the spotlight in India. He did so clumsily, crashing a press conference last week to condemn an ordinance passed by the Congress-dominated cabinet, which would have allowed convicted criminals to continue serving in Parliament. But, however embarrassing to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the move achieved some good: The cabinet voted last night to rescind its appalling decree. The knock on Rahul has always been that he's a well-meaning dilettante. Now he has a chance to show that he can not only seize the narrative, but hold it.
Philippines leaves junk status in the dust
Moody’s Investors Service completed President Benigno Aquino's quest to raise the Philippines from junk status to investment grade, and it's about time. Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings made the upgrade earlier this year, as Aquino's efforts to eradicate corruption and raise competitiveness produced growth on par with China. At Baa3, the Philippines now shares a rating with Turkey and Spain. Yet Aquino's job is far from done. He must redouble efforts to end graft, boost public investment, woo foreign direct investment and improve corporate governance. Aquino would be wise to harness today's news to accelerate reforms, not rest on his laurels.
Fukushima springs yet another radiation leak
As Tokyo pops the champagne corks over bullish economic data and winning the 2020 Olympics, events 135 miles to the north offer sobering reminders of risks facing the nation. Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant found yet more highly-radioactive water leaking from storage tanks. Heavy rains also are compounding Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s difficulties at the wrecked atomic station as ever more contaminated water overflows. Shinzo Abe has pledged to accelerate efforts to end the Fukushima crisis. How about a bit more action, Mr. Prime Minister?
South Korea mulls U.S. government shutdown fallout
With no end in sight for Washington's shutdown, Asian policy makers are trying to assess the economic implications. The longer it continues, the more it will dent U.S. growth and complicate the Federal Reserve's tapering process, never mind the specter of default if the showdown prevents raising the debt ceiling. The Korea Herald has a timely look back at how the 1996 U.S. shutdown affected its markets. Back then, the Kospi stock index lost about 9 percent. The losses this around are anyone's guess. The longer it lasts, though, the more Korean economists fear Washington's drama will hurt their export-driven economy, as well as the rest of Asia.
Lego builds on China's urbanization boom
Multinational companies have long salivated over the day China would become not just a production site, but a vibrant and key market for their goods. Lego, Europe’s biggest toymaker, thinks that moment is upon us. It's now building factories on the mainland to feed demand from Chinese consumers. “Asia is not a supply base, it’s a market and a growing market,” Chief Executive Officer Joergen Vig Knudstorp told Bloomberg Television, hailing a growing middle class "that will look to great schools, great infrastructure but also play, as an important part of childhood.”
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)