Pesek on Asia: China's Economist Clampdown
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
China's economist crackdown.
It used to just be the Internet and foreign media, but China's censorship efforts now extend to economists try to shed daylight on the scale of its challenges. If this South China Morning Post scoop is right, and I'll bet it is, China is making a colossal blunder. China is already too much of a black box for an economy that could surpass the U.S. over the next decade. It will become even more opaque if researchers telling the truth about risks to the outlook are silenced. The International Monetary Fund and Group of Seven nations should publicly condemn any move by Beijing to hide its troubles from a world that needs to know.
Choking on Hong Kong's cars.
Hong Kong's bad-air challenge is unique. Aside from its proximity to China and tens of thousands of factories that enrich the city's tycoons, its traffic density is among the world's highest. And so many skyscrapers in close proximity creates a "street canyon effect,'' trapping pollutants. Eventually Hong Kong may end up being designated Asia's Venice, with a ban on all privately-owned cars. But for now, as this Bloomberg chart attests, the place is willing to continue choking on its gross domestic product growth. Hong Kong’s elite are jamming the city’s streets and hampering efforts to cut pollution levels at more than three times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit.
So, about that "Asian Dream."
The large and increasingly violent protests in Bangkok are only the most obvious manifestation of Asia's democracy growing pains. But they're also just one of five reasons Singapore analyst Sun Xi thinks excitement over the so-called Asia Dream is overdone. To him, the risks of Arab Spring-like movements, territorial spats, China-Japan tensions and North Korea's provocations make the idea of shared Asian peace and prosperity a long shot. "We in Asia can dream of a wonderful future," he warns. "But our big Asian Dream may just be a beautiful mirage."
It's the case of the missing American plutonium, or at least 330 disputed kilograms of the stuff given to Japan for research purposes during the Cold War. The U.S. wants the store of plutonium, which could be used to make between 40 and 50 nuclear weapons, back; Japan is dropping hints it's ready to comply. But here's an intriguing piece from the Diplomat about another 44 tons of lower-quality plutonium stores held in Japan and elsewhere. Let's just hope the U.S., Japan and other world powers are keeping track of the most powerful weapons materials humankind has ever seen.
India loses the gold to China.
The world's most populous nation has overtaken the second in gold consumption. According to the World Gold Council, Chinese households hoarded 1,066 tons of the yellow metal in 2013, compared to 975 tons in India. The interesting question, though, is why? Are Chinese losing faith in their banking system amid talk of bad loan crises? Are China's nouveaux riche loading up on golden bling to show off? Is this a means of moving ill-gotten funds around? If anyone has a good theory they'd like to share, my e-mail address is below.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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