Pesek on Asia: One Night in Bangkok
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Thailand heads to the brink -- again.
One night in Bangkok? Not if anti-government demonstrators setting up stages at five intersections around the Thai capital have anything to say about it. And not with protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former power broker with the opposition Democrat Party, using a four-letter word sure to set off alarm bells in Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's circle: coup. "We are staging a coup, but it’s a people’s coup,” he told reporters today. All I can say is that if you're in Thailand and hoping to get out anytime soon, good luck You could be in Bangkok for many, many nights.
Feeding 800 million Indians.
More mobile phones than toilets. That's the factoid most often presented to underscore the absurdities that confront officials in New Delhi, who are trying to revive rapid growth. The latest absurdity might be India's pledge to supply over 800 million people subsidized food at a time when credit-rating agencies are warning about public debt levels. This Time piece explores whether that goal is even achievable as India prepares for a national election in May. While it concludes the jury is out, the long list of challenges standing in New Delhi's way suggest the odds of success are low.
Tokyo Olympics gets colorful chairman.
For people who love to see public officials put their feet in their mouths, the gaffe-prone Yoshiro Mori is the gift that keeps on giving. In 2009, the former Japanese prime minister didn't much like contesting his parliament seat against a telegenic 33-year-old female travel agent. He said voters only liked Mieko Tanaka because she had a "nice body" and implored voters not to be fooled by her “sexiness.” Years earlier, Mori derided women as selfish for not having children sooner. Well, Mori has cheered journalists across the land by agreeing to chair the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizing committee. Time for a new Twitter hashtag: #latestmorigaffe.
Stiglitz sees advanced malaise.
Anyone worrying about aggressive Federal Reserve tightening should read this Joseph Stiglitz piece. The Nobel laureate doesn't explicitly argue that Fed tapering will unfold gradually. But his thesis that U.S. and European recoveries will underwhelm optimists suggests that Asia's worries about the Fed shaking up markets this year are overdone. "With Europe’s Great Malaise continuing in 2014 and the U.S. recovery excluding all but those at the top, count me dismal. On both sides of the Atlantic, market economies are failing to deliver for most citizens. How long can this continue?" Well, another 12 months at least, it seems.
China's untimely Titanic obsession.
As metaphors go, efforts to build a true-to-spec replica of the Titanic may not be a great omen for China. The nation's long-standing obsession with the giant vessel that sank in 1912 is inspiring the Sichuan Seven Star Energy Investment Group to drop some $170 million on a life-sized replica. Its reasoning is less than obvious: inspiring responsibility. That, at least, is what Sichuan Seven Chairman Su Shaojun is telling the Chinese media. The project is less about vanity or hubris (the original "unsinkable" Titanic's biggest sins) than the fallibility of humankind. Hopefully this isn't a sign China's titanically large local-government debt problem is about to sink the nation.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)