Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Hong Kong's toy wolf problem
The city's unpopular chief executive Leung Chun-ying is beset with challenges: a giant property bubble, rampant pollution, widening income inequality, keeping his Communist Party bosses in Beijing happy. But a stuffed animal? Yes, an Ikea toy wolf is selling like mad in the greater China region and becoming a powerful protest tool against Leung's hapless government. The toy wolf's star turn began when one was tossed at Leung over the weekend. Now Ikea stores can't stock enough of them. As fresh headaches go, this one's a real howler.
Can Leo sell Chinese cars ?
It's sounds like a gift from the marketing gods: A-list Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio coming to China to try his hand at the electric-car-racing circuit. The question is, can the actor do for China's nascent green-vehicle industry what the government can't -- get people to buy these new cars. "The glitz and glam surrounding the electric Formula car racing might just have enough panache to attract young Chinese to the electric car market," Namrita Chow of consultancy IHS Automotive, told the Wall Street Journal. "If an electric car can be seen as 'cool,' then the trends will develop with people aspiring to buy electric vehicles." Electric cars becoming cool? Now THAT would be a racy idea.
Bali boost is just a sugar high
Perhaps what's most interesting about the supposed breakthrough in global trade talks over the weekend is how little press it's gotten in Asia. This Asia Sentinel op-ed by Jean-Pierre Lehmann of Hong Kong University hazards a reasonable guess why: "The spirit of global cooperation and development orientation disappeared before the ink was dry." The agreement in Bali to smooth commerce at borders and safeguard food was little more than a face-saving exercise for the World Trade Organization as governments shun big, multilateral economic deals.
Is everyone wrong on China's air defense zone ?
World powers are tripping over themselves to take sides over China's new Air Defense Identification Zone. In their haste to react, are the U.S. and Japan getting things just as wrong as China did? That's David Welch's take in a thought-provoking Foreign Affairs piece, in which he concludes: "China is on record as having established an East China Sea ADIZ; the United States and its allies are on record having rejected it. Let the public conversation end there. At the end of the day -- as far as sovereignty is concerned -- it is all much ado about nothing anyway."
Japan's immigration failure
Dec. 26 marks the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's revival program, so-called Abenomics, and the report cards have already come in. One of the biggest demerits is Abe's failure to embrace even the most obvious of steps to liberalize Japan's notoriously limited immigration policies: let in more domestic helpers. Abe seeks a bigger role for women in the labor force as the population ages. Welcoming women from, say, the Philippines and Indonesia to enable Japanese women to balance work and childrearing -- as they do in Hong Kong and Singapore -- would help achieve that goal. But, as this timely Reuters feature explains, Abe's government has made zero progress.
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