Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Greenspan may drive Bitcoin rally
"It's a bubble," Alan Greenspan says, which means the virtual currency called Bitcoin is probably a screaming buy. Really, could there be a better contrarian indicator than the former Federal Reserve chairman? You know, the guy who said central bankers can't recognize asset bubbles, only to preside over the financial excesses that blew up so spectacularly in 2008. Now, as Greenspan, the onetime "Maestro," says the value of Bitcoins are irrationally exuberant, some investors -- China's government, too -- might be tempted to profit from his knack of being 180 degrees off on markets. Greenspan's views are a dwindling currency all their own.
Japan's Abe wants summit with China's Xi
"It is all the more important to have a leaders' meeting." Obvious words, perhaps, from a Japanese prime minister. But coming from Shinzo Abe at a time of fast-rising tensions in North Asia, they could prove as comforting as they might be important. They came during an interview today in Tokyo with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler, where Abe added: "The relationship between Japan and China is one that can never be severed." While it seems a bit too late for that, the key is for Abe to match his words with actions to tamp down regional tensions and woo President Xi Jinping to the discussion table.
Qantas cut to junk status
It's always dicey to try to connect the dots between an airline and an economy, even one as closely tied to the national image as Qantas is to Australia's. But the move by Standard & Poor's to cut Qantas to junk dovetails with signs the Aussie economy is losing altitude. The 0.6 percent third-quarter growth rate amid weak household demand has economists predicting Australian growth will remain sub-par in the year ahead. Qantas's prospects, too.
Biden versus Cameron in China
Is it better to for Westerners to play nice with Chinese leaders or get in their faces? Henry Kissinger has gotten a book or three out of this age-old question. It's worth asking anew considering the very different approaches taken by British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. In Beijing this week, Cameron played ping pong with school kids, opened a microblogging account and implored the world to study Mandarin over French. Biden slammed China's new air-defense zone and its treatment of foreign journalists and encouraged children to question their government. Time will tell which approach worked best, but this much is probably true: Cameron should expect loads of holiday cards from Beijing. Biden, not so much.
Plot thickens with North Korea's Kim family
North Korea has always been a Kim family affair. This week, tongues wagged among Pyongyang watchers as Kim Jong Un's uncle and de facto deputy, Jang Song Thaek, was suddenly removed from his post. Kim seems big on personnel tweaks. In October, he replaced his chief of general staff for a third time since taking over the North's 1.2 million-strong army after his father died in 2011. But Jang's removal amid reports of the public execution of two of his confidants last month raised many questions. Reuters reports that a man who managed funds for Jang has fled and is seeking asylum in South Korea. Now I don't know what all this means and, frankly, neither does anyone outside Kim's circle. But suffice it to say 2014 could be a fascinating year on the Korean peninsula.
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