Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Is pot in America good for China?
Does the mainland stand to gain economically as more U.S. states take a match to anti-marijuana laws? Tina Brown's question is causing lots of buzz. She kicked things off with a tweet: "Legal weed contributes to us being a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with China." The news peg, of course, was the brouhaha over columnists like David Brooks of the New York Times writing about their own youthful pot smoking. Odd, considering it would only be newsworthy if one of us journalists had NOT experimented a bit with miracle weed. But America's pot boom is indeed an opportunity for China in at least one way: selling more cheap munchies to the American masses. At Wal-Mart, or course.
A little junk-bond sobriety.
After a frenetic 2013 -- an astounding $33.3 billion of issuance of high-yield debt in ex-Japan Asia alone -- this year is already looking very different. Along with global uncertainty, the Federal Reserve is expected to step up its tapering process, while the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan lean toward more monetary action to fight weak inflation. As those crosscurrents wash across Asia in 2014, companies will take their time and investors will be far more finicky about taking on risk. "That's 180 degrees different from almost no new issue premium 12 months ago," Morgan Stanley analyst Viktor Hjort told The Wall Street Journal.
Rodman's Pyongyang return .
Great news for the Obama White House: It can now get the lowdown on how Kim Jong Un really killed his uncle. NBA star Dennis Rodman is as close as Barack Obama is going to get to an envoy quizzing the North Korean leader about whether he really did have powerful uncle Jang Song Thaek fed to a pack of rabid dogs -- alive. Strange as it is, Rodman's bromance with Kim is one of Washington's best windows into whether the North Korean leader is in control of his faculties or foaming at the mouth with his finger on the nuclear launch button. Hopefully the White House can debrief Rodman and the NBA has-beens traveling with him to see if Kim is a, well, basket case.
Call it China's pork bun revolution.
Restaurateurs would normally kill for a visit by their nation's president -- the glare of the media spotlight, photos with a world leader, the kind of buzz money can't buy. That is, unless you are the proprietor of Qingfeng Restaurant in Beijing. A Dec. 28 visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to eat some pork buns has turned into an unambiguous nightmare as more and more protesters arrive to air grievances against government officials. History is replete with protester sit-ins -- but an eat-in? Well, at least there are lots of snacks on hand for all those hungry demonstrators.
In the Philippines, a typhoon dividend .
Nothing good comes from the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. That's especially true in the Philippines, which gets a disproportionate number, including devastating Typhoon Haiyan in November. But economists are sensing a silver lining of sorts: 7 percent growth this year, even as global output remains tepid and the Fed withdraws liquidity. The economy has grown at least 7 percent in the last five consecutive quarters and investors can expect more of the same. As typhoon dividends go, this is a nice one for officials in Manila.
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