Pesek on Asia: Facebook's China Problem
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Facebook's China problem.
There's one big problem with Facebook's acquisition of mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp for as much as $19 billion: China. The world’s largest social network is blocked on the mainland, which could raise thorny questions about whether WhatsApp will, by extension, also find itself in the Communist Party's crosshairs. On the other hand, perhaps Facebook can harness the popularity of WhatsApp in China to push into the world's most populous nation at long last. That alone might justify the deal's startling price tag.
Obama's Dalai Lama problem.
Will Barack Obama get the David Cameron treatment? The Tibetan leader's May 2012 visit to London all but torpedoed Britain's relationship with China. When Prime Minister Cameron visited China last December, it was all fluff: ping pong with school kids and recommendations that the world stop learning French and pick up Mandarin. Obama's own meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2011 annoyed China plenty, but provoked a smaller outcry -- perhaps owing to America's economic clout versus England's. Will today's meeting at the White House provoke a different response, given the recent chill in U.S.-China relations? Obama should indeed meet with the Tibetan Buddhist leader. But don't be surprised if the confab sparks some diplomatic fallout.
Dissing Japan's Olympians.
No one in Japan is surprised to see Yoshiro Mori put his foot in his mouth. For journalists who subsist on public figures saying impolitic things about women and foreigners, the former prime minister is the gift that keeps on giving. It did surprise many, though, that Mori would publicly diss some of Japan's most popular Olympians -- seeing as how he's overseeing the planning for Tokyo 2020. Mori raised eyebrows by criticizing the Sochi performance of Mao Asada, a widely beloved figure skater. He also complained about naturalized Japanese citizens of American descent competing on the winter Olympics team. Let's just say this guy is going to be a hoot to cover between now and 2020.
Is emerging-market negativity overdone?
Count Nobel laureate Michael Spence among those who think it is. In this Project Syndicate op-ed, the New York University professor explores the herd mentality that still dominates investment flows in Asia, particularly as the Federal Reserve's tapering accelerates. "The most likely scenario," he writes, "is that most major emerging markets, including China, will experience a transitional growth slowdown but will not be derailed by shifts in monetary policy in the West, with high growth rates returning in the course of the coming year."
When anti-corruption officials are corrupt.
It would seem to be Good Governance 101: If you're helping to run a nation's anti-corruption agency, it's best not to indulge in graft. Singapore's Edwin Yeo forgot that lesson and will spend the next 10 years in jail for misappropriating almost $1.4 million of public funds. The case has even prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to issue a rare public rebuke of Yeo's agency. Just goes to show that even squeaky clean Singapore is susceptible to an ill that continues to undercut the benefits of economic growth throughout Asia.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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