Pesek on Asia: Girl Power, Please
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Some girl power, please.
As Asia obsesses over China's slowdown, Japan's currency and Federal Reserve tapering, the region's development bank thankfully is addressing an even bigger problem: women, and the lack of them in schools, corporate boardrooms and the halls of government power. "The impact of this disparity is profound," the Asian Development Bank says in a new report. The region "loses as much as $47 billion a year due to women's restricted access to job opportunities and $16 billion to $30 billion due to gender gaps in education." It's time for Asia's leaders to take this most fixable of problems seriously.
China might let investment fail.
We may be on the verge of the first tangible sign that Xi Jinping is matching his talk of financial reform with action. That would be the upshot of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China refusing to bail out a troubled $495 million product, one distributed by ICBC and sold by a trust company to raise funds for Shanxi Zhenfu Energy Group. A key reason why China's runaway credit growth is so hard to slow is the belief banks and big investments will always be bailed out. Now, with the nation’s first default on high-yield investments looming, that moral-hazard-inducing dynamic is in question. Your move, President Xi.
Gandhi Dynasty hedges on campaign.
India’s Sonia Gandhi is betting against her ruling Congress party winning an election due by May. She didn't say that, of course, but her refusal to allow her son Rahul Gandhi to be named as the party's official candidate for prime minister amounts to the same thing. Heading off a challenge by the charismatic Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party would be difficult in the best of times. But with Asia's third-biggest economy flagging, inflation surging and polls turning against Gandhi's government, a BJP victory is looking more and more likely. So, Gandhi probably figures, why let the family name get dragged through the mud if defeat is virtually assured? There's always next time, Rahul.
Could Japan be a Chinese spoiler?
China's rise is a huge problem for Japan's designs on remaining a key Asia power, experts say. Beijing's diplomatic efforts and deep pockets are rendering Tokyo irrelevant. But what if the opposite is true? "The conventional wisdom may be wrong. Japan's strategic and economic resurgence is a game-changer for the Pacific century," Dan Twining writes in this fascinating Foreign Policy piece. "It will not be possible for China to enjoy dominion over Asia as long as its claim to leadership is challenged by an offshore power of Japan's weight -- in the same way that aspiring hegemons like Napoleon and Hitler found that they could not control Europe as long as Great Britain opposed them and formed the core of a balancing coalition."
A Vietnam mom's TPP gambit.
The mother of a jailed labor-rights activist has a message for U.S. President Barack Obama: please use the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to free Do Thi Minh Hanh. "This would give a great occasion for the U.S. to impress on Vietnam the need to release political prisoners including my daughter and to improve conditions for workers and labor rights," Tran Thi Ngoc Minh told a news conference at the U.S. Congress building. It's an interesting gambit and Obama should indeed put in a good word for a labor advocate who in 2010 was sentenced to nine years in jail. But given how hell-bent the administration is to ram through TPP, this brave Vietnamese mom can probably forget it.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)