Pesek on Asia: NHK Makes News
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Japan's own government mouthpiece.
On a day when NHK was covering Sony's downgrade to junk status and Japan's biggest trade deficit ever, the state broadcaster made even bigger headlines. Few thought NHK was 100 percent independent -- not when the government pays the bills. But it comes as a surprise to many that NHK is true to the dictates of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan almost interrupted since 1955. In a truly shocking interview with Asahi Shimbun, new Chairman Katsuto Momii said it's only natural for NHK to parrot the positions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government ("If the government says 'left' we can't say 'right'"). What's more, when asked about the World War II sex slave issue that continues to bedevil relations with South Korea, Momii wondered what the big deal was. "[The issue of] 'comfort women' is bad by today's morals," he said. "But this was a fact of those times." And this guy still has a job?
Asia on a hiring binge at unexpected moment.
Wall Street getting you down? Jobs scarce around Canary Wharf? Asia might have a gig for you. Even as emerging nations prepare for a year of crisis, Asian banks are hiring again. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Whether poorly timed or a sign Asia will ride out this year's chaos as well as it did 2008's, investment banks are clearly optimistic about the roster of initial public offerings and bond deals. That includes the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which may be headed toward the biggest IPO since Facebook. Get your resumes ready!
Li Na wins one for Asia.
With her win at the Australian open, Chinese tennis sensation Li Na is becoming as a big a force in business as she is in sport. Singlehandedly, she has prompted a rapid increase in the number of Women's Tennis Association events in the world's most populous nation and inspired more Chinese to take up the sport. This dynamic will boost sales for apparel and equipment makers such as Adidas and Nike, as well as for retailers. It may even spawn a new travel genre for upwardly-mobile Chinese sports fans with the yuan to check out tennis contests from New York to Paris to Wimbledon. Call it Li Na Inc.
Australian's unconventional offer to Pakistan.
Africa has its "blood diamonds" and Pakistan has its "blood bricks." Numbers on Pakistan's system of bonded labor are rough, but the Asian Development Bank reckons that some 1.8 million people -- largely lower-caste men, religious minorities, women, the disabled, Afghan refugees and children -- toil in the nation's brickmaking sector for negligible pay, if any. Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest has had enough of it. As this fascinating Time pieces explains, the founder of Fortescue Metals Group is offering the government a deal: in exchange for his mining technologies, Islamabad must outlaw child labor and impose a minimum wage. And good on him.
Chinese dissent crackdown could backfire.
China's deepening crackdown on dissent landed legal scholar Xu Zhiyong in jail. Xu, 40, is the most prominent activist imprisoned since Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in 2009 and was sentenced to four years for allegedly gathering a crowd to disturb public order. But here's an interesting Foreign Affairs piece on China's real social-unrest challenge: the nation's Uighur ethnic minority. It argues that Beijing's hardline policies against those seeking the independence of the western region of Xinjiang are fomenting anger that will explode in the Communist party's face in years to come.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)
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