Pesek on Asia: Abe's Nazi Problem
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Abe's Nazi problem in Davos.
Shinzo Abe was reminded that no matter where he goes, anger over Japan's wartime atrocities follow. In Davos, Switzerland, Abe basked in the honor of being the first Japanese prime minister to give a keynote address at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting. There, he warned that increased military spending in Asia threatens the region’s economic growth and called for curbs on defense outlays at a time of heightened tensions. Beijing pushed back, arguing that Abe's nationalistic tendencies are actually fueling the arms race. It also referred to Abe's much-criticized visit last month to Yasukuni Shrine, denouncing the Class-A war criminals honored there as the "Nazis" of Asia. Hardly the kind of headlines Abe's people wanted.
Does jargon hurt Asia's poor?
In case you missed it, a recent Asian Development Bank piece makes an interesting argument for why the broader public lacks understanding of global poverty and the forces perpetuating it: jargon. Albert Einstein said that “if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.” So when politicians, journalists and economists toss out buzzwords and phrases like "inclusive growth" and "sustainability" and "development" and "green growth," shouldn't we do more to explain specifically what we mean and with anecdotes? Using such shorthand can even muddy Google searches, limiting the depth of information one finds easily. It's a thought-provoking argument that gives new meaning to the idea of the power of words.
SEC's China accounting clampdown.
While China is an adept exporter of everything from textiles to pollution, it may find corruption harder to transport across borders. That's the upshot of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's move to bar Chinese affiliates of the four largest accounting firms for six months from leading audits of U.S.-listed companies, after a number of alleged improprieties. And it's really a good thing, even if Beijing can't see that right now. For all the talk of transparency and reform in China, its business culture still thrives on opacity. A small army of bankers and accountants move complex, Dali-esque deals faster than even they can follow. It’s not just that the average investor can’t make sense of these transactions; they aren’t supposed to. The SEC's action is a big wakeup call for China to scrap practices that will undermine the economy in the long run.
Porsche owner disses Singapore's "poor."
Memo to Singapore wealth manager Anton Casey: stick to the investment stuff, ditch the social commentary. It's a sentiment sure to be shared by Singapore's 99 percent, whom the Briton seems to define as those who use mass transportation. Casey, a 39-year-old married to a former Singaporean beauty queen, provoked a cyber-outcry by calling the public-transport set "poor people" on Facebook and referring to washing off their "stench." Casey apologized, but not before learning a very valuable lesson: avoid offending the citizens of your adopted city, or at least tighten those Facebook privacy settings. Jeez.
Wanna marry a tycoon's gay daughter?
As euphemisms go, it's hard to beat “marriage bounty.” That's how Hong Kong property tycoon Cecil Chao is characterizing his $130 million offer to a male suitor for his gay daughter Gigi. "I don’t want to interfere with my daughter’s private life," Chao reportedly said. "I only hope for her to have a good marriage and children as well as inherit my business." I'm assuming his daughter believes that's exactly what dad is doing by pimping her off. Why stop there? Reality television show, anyone? It would make the Kardashians in America seem almost classy by comparison.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)