Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Kim executes his uncle
It's not every day that the Kim dynasty kills one of its own, as Kim Jong Un apparently did his uncle and de facto No. 2, Jang Song Thaek. Rarer still is the fact that the official North Korean media publicized the execution and explained some the rationale behind it. All of this can mean many things, but here are the two most intriguing scenarios. One, Jang was eliminated because he favored the kinds of market-economy reforms China recommends. Two, he was killed because he was standing in the way of them and Kim wanted a freer hand. While we may not know for sure anytime soon, big changes may afoot in Pyongyang.
Southeast Asia visits Abe's Japan
Shinzo Abe is hosting Southeast Asian leaders today and tomorrow in Tokyo in what couldn't be a more fortuitously timed summit. It's a perfect chance to court them after recent Chinese actions upset the neighborhood. First was Beijing's chintzy aid offering to the typhoon-devastated Philippines (its initial $100,000 pledge was raised to $1.6 million). Then came the imposition of China's air-defense identification zone, and a threat to create another in the contested South China Sea. Prime Minister Abe has been traveling the region and upping investments to hedge against China's success in wooing Asian leaders. Public broadcaster NHK reports that Japan may unveil a $20 billion assistance package for Southeast Asia.
India's 11 percent inflation problem
Few economic scenarios are more dreaded than inflation increasing at double the rate of gross domestic product. In India's case, make that more than double -- 11 percent for consumer prices and 4.7 percent for GDP. When central bank Governor Raghuram Rajan told reporters today that "we are very uncomfortable with the current level of inflation," understatement was the 800-pound problem in the room. Rajan will have to be extraordinarily creative in the months ahead to contain inflation without driving growth even further below 5 percent. If his staff at the Reserve Bank of India was hoping to take vacations in 2014, they can forget it.
China's smog has pilots back in training
The toxic air problem overwhelming China's biggest cities is reaching new heights -- literally. As Shanghai warns children and the elderly to avoid outdoor activities with PM2.5 readings hitting seven times the World Health Organization's recommended exposure levels, pilots are heading back to flight school. They must now report for smog training so they don't lose their way in the nation's blackening skies. If that's not a wake up call for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, I don't know what is.
Indonesia's president, Asia's peacemaker
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono may have carved out a role for himself after he steps down as Indonesian president next year: Asia's elder statesman. Last year, for example, Yudhoyono emerged at times as a regional powerbroker and spoke out about the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar and events in the Middle East. In Tokyo today, he reminded Japanese and Chinese leaders that their squabbles over the past, present and future are spilling over into Southeast Asia, too. His criticism was gentle but by diplomatic standards, direct: "It must be said that good relations between China and Japan are critical to the future of our region."
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