Pesek on Asia: India Welcomes Banks

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Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:

India rolls out welcome mat for foreign banks

Raghuram Rajan is wasting no time shaking up the banking system in ways that could raise India's place in rankings of global competitiveness. The Reserve Bank of India governor announced the most sweeping opening of the sector since 2004 by letting overseas lenders, led by Citigroup, set up branches. This step by Rajan will do more than just give the world better access to India's burgeoning middle class. If implemented well, it could do more to help the economy than anything politicians in New Delhi have achieved in years.

Hong Kong on lookout for women

The Asia-Pacific region's ninth biggest economy faces an age-old problem -- literally. By 2041, the elderly will make up 30 percent of Hong Kong's population. And even today, 57 percent of employers are having troubling finding the right staff. The solution? Women. Florence Hui, Hong Kong's undersecretary for home affairs, says the more than half a million female homemakers in the city between the ages of 30 and 59 represent a "huge potential" boost to the labor markets and the economy.

Abenomics has a drug problem

Each passing day seems to bring a new report about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reducing expectations for his much-heralded "third arrow" of structural reforms. Among the ideas that have been watered down: steps to compel companies to welcome women onto boards and add outside directors; to lower corporate tax rates; and to increase the number of sectors that would be included in free-trade talks. Now comes hints that a variety of drugs will be excluded from the online-sales program Abe's team previously touted as a vital reform. Call it Abenomics Light.

Things looking up in Indonesia ?

The last 12 months have been trying ones for Southeast Asia's biggest economy. A current-account deficit and policy drift in Jakarta have sent the rupiah tumbling more than 15 percent this year and precipitated a capital flight. Is the worst over? This Wall Street Journal piece explores the question and the best it can offer is a maybe. That should be a warning to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to roll up his sleeves and stabilize an economy that's come too far to be complacent now.

Amnesty International calls out Vietnam

"The government's alarming clampdown on free speech has to end." Amnesty didn't direct this comment at officials in Beijing, but Hanoi. You would think Vietnam would have bigger problems on its hands as its competitiveness wanes and it sits precariously on Asia's front lines as the Federal Reserve prepares to withdraw liquidity. Sadly, the one-party communist state is more concerned with passing new laws to muzzle dissent. If leaders want to maintain legitimacy they should spend more time raising living standards than barriers to free expression.

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Willie Pesek at