Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
China's dicey balancing act for 2014
Can China have its cake and eat it, too? The South China Morning Post's Tom Holland attacks this most timely of questions in his latest column. While it's anyone's guess whether Beijing can maintain 7 percent-plus growth rates while implementing huge reforms, I have to agree with Holland's skepticism on the issue: "Unfortunately, these two aims -- stable growth and structural reform -- are mutually exclusive. China can have one or the other next year, but not both." We wish President Xi Jinping luck with this in 2014, especially as Chinese manufacturing unexpectedly fell to a three-month low in November.
South Korea braces for chaos up north
As the world wonders what fast-changing events in Pyongyang might mean for politics and markets, Seoul is an obvious place to look. South Korean authorities are preparing steps to stabilize financial markets if sudden changes in North Korea's situation worsen and spook investors everywhere. For the moment, though, ordinary South Koreans seem transfixed by the family drama surrounding Dear Leader Kim Jong Un, who had his uncle and unofficial No. 2 Jang Song Thaek executed last week. Neither Jang's wife -- the young Kim's aunt Kim Kyong Hui -- nor the Dear Leader's own young wife have been seen in recent weeks. At least the aunt seems safe for now: She's just been named to a committee arranging the state funeral for another (naturally) deceased top leader.
Thai army rebrands itself as peacemaker
Tanks in the streets of Bangkok and coup headlines are more common in Thai history than the nation probably wants to admit. Thailand has seen 18 coups in the past 60 years and one could be excused for wondering if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be the next elected leader to be shown the door, after massive protests have paralyzed the government. Fear not, the Thai military says, as it seeks to portray itself as a force for stability, not upheaval. Here's an interesting Wall Street Journal piece on the generals' makeover.
Fed tapering jitters hit Japan
Investors who drove the Nikkei 225 Stock Average up 45 percent this year suddenly have a big worry on their minds: a stronger yen. It's actually quite a colossal fear, given that the whole reason for being bullish on Japan Inc. thus far has been a weaker exchange rate. Now, as the Federal Reserve prepares to withdraw stimulus in the weeks ahead, the yen is under upward pressure. It doesn't help that in the latest "Tankan" survey, large Japanese businesses pared their projections for capital spending this fiscal year, signaling economic headwinds as a sales-tax hike looms in April.
Krispy Kreme goes egg-free in India
Taking a page from McDonald's (no beef or pork) and Pizza Hut (lots of veggie pies), America's increasingly ubiquitous Krispy Kreme donut chain is making an exception for India. By selling egg-free donuts, the company is the latest Western brand to give a nod to India's burgeoning middle-class consumer sector. While coming up with an easy-to-make egg-free recipe was a challenge, the effort should be worth it for the donut giant. It stands to make lots of, well, dough there.
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