Pesek on Asia: Change in Malaysia?
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Are Najib's days numbered in Malaysia?
Mahathir nostalgia is gaining momentum in Southeast Asia's third-largest economy. For many, the age of the mercurial Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003) was a golden one of rising living standards and strong stances against the lecturing ways of the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund. The decade since saw one hapless prime minister after another pledge major change that didn't materialize, Najib Razak being the latest. Mahathir led a campaign to oust Najib's predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Are Najib's days numbered, too? Judging from how Mahathir and his people are circling, it's hard not to wonder.
Whither Obama's Asia pivot?
In symbolism-crazy Asia, it won't be missed that Barack Obama uttered the A-word just twice in his State of the Union address, and just in passing. It surely won't be missed in Tokyo that "Japan" was never mentioned. Nor will China miss that the U.S. president used its economy merely as a device to argue that America is back: "For the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is." Bottom line, if you believe these speeches are important in setting the White House's agenda for the next 12 months, Obama's much-ballyhooed pivot to Asia doesn't appear to be a big priority.
China's SAFE man is leaving.
You have got to have huge confidence in a team of wealth managers working for an operation called SAFE. While it's an acronym for China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange, government officials have long hoped it doesn't turn out to be a contradiction in terms. Departing Zhu Changhong oversaw, among other things, China's $1.32 trillion of U.S. Treasury holdings. Zhu was one of Bill Gross's most trusted managers at PIMCO before being recruited by Beijing in 2009. Zhu's term was scheduled to end this month, and whether by choice or not, was not renewed. Either way, just how safe China's state wealth is in the future will depend on who Beijing recruits next.
How Thai protests are splitting families.
When we consider the human element of Thailand's dueling political movements, it's often the odd fatality that comes to mind (another protester died this week, bring the total to 10 for this cycle). But the debate over ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is also driving some prominent families apart. One example is Singha beer heiress Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, a major personality in the latest demonstrations. Here's a thought-provoking New York Times piece about the exploits of Malinee Chakrabandhu, a bona fide member of the Thai aristocracy. It's hard not to warm to her view that “everyone should be equal, street vendors and me -- everyone.” But with Yingluck pressing ahead with a Feb. 2 election, expect many more wealthy Thai clans to line up on the other side.
New York Post bombs in Japan.
The tabloid paper's headline writers are, depending on your viewpoint, journalistic geniuses or professional buffoons. Many Japanese might vote the latter after a recent headline concerning the New York Yankees acquiring pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka. Next to the words "$155M Bronx Bomber" is a rendering of Tanaka piloting a World War II-era Zero. Even the Asian American Journalists Association is seeking an apology and an answer to this question: What in the world was the Post thinking?
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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