Pesek on Asia: No More Manmohan
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
No more Manmohan for India.
Hardly anyone expected that India's 81-year-old Prime Minister would stand for a third term, even if his ruling Congress coalition somehow returned to power in elections that must be held before the end of May. Still, by officially ruling himself out and throwing his weight behind party heir Rahul Gandhi -- nearly four decades younger -- Singh has clarified the stakes in India's momentous campaign. Though widely acknowledged to be personally incorruptible, Singh has also come to be seen as meek and ineffective. The question is whether the diffident Rahul and Congress can stake out a credible new direction in the next few months. They'd better work fast: Polls show the opposition cruising to victory right now.
Australia is hot. I mean REALLY hot.
No, I'm not referring to the 15 percent jump in the S&P/ASX 200 Index last year, nor the economy's success in avoiding a recession yet again. Australia just had its hottest year on record, smashing its previous annual best with mean temperatures 1.2 degrees Celsius above averages seen between 1961 and 1990. Yet Prime Minister Tony Abbott still isn't likely to embrace his predecessors' proposals to tax the carbon emissions that are raising world temperatures and ocean levels. Never mind that "this event could not have happened without increasing greenhouse gases, without climate change," as University of Melbourne's David Karoly told the Sydney Morning Herald. Global warming is still just a theory to Abbott and his ilk.
FBI on case at China's San Francisco Consulate.
While details are sketchy, an apparent arson attack on China’s consulate in San Francisco bears close watching. If it's just an isolated attack, then Thursday's fire means little for America's relations with the mainland. (The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the case.) But if it's something bigger and darker, like the start of an anti-China campaign classified as domestic terrorism, then 2014 will be a tense and frenetic year. Should U.S. Senator Max Baucus get confirmed as the Obama administration's next ambassador to China, he may not have even the briefest of honeymoons.
Bangladesh braces for fresh unrest.
Investors looking for places to put their money tend to lock themselves in offices combing through statistics, bond spreads, stock valuations and central-bank policies. In Asia’s case, more success is often had by looking out the window at the street demonstrations below. Such is the case with Bangladesh ahead of Sunday's election. A boycott by the opposition ensures Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed will return to power. But this eventuality threatens even more unrest after the deadliest political violence since the country’s founding in 1971. The unrest is sure to undermine an economy whose rapid growth has pulled more than 16 million people out of poverty since 2000.
Why China gets "Sherlock" first.
China's goods pirates are perhaps the most innovative lot in Asia's largest economy. Just ask the folks at Wal-Mart doing damage control over contaminated donkey meat in China from a local vendor. It's but the latest food safety and labeling problem facing the world’s largest retailer, one reliant on one of the dodgiest of business environments. Now, the entertainment world thinks it's found a way to curtail its own Chinese piracy problem: show new content there first. That's what the producers of BBC's hit show "Sherlock" are trying as they stream Season 3 to Chinese viewers two weeks ahead of Americans. As corporate calls go, this one really does look quite elementary.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)