Pesek on Asia: If China and U.S. Are Reenacting 1914, Be Scared

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Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today.

Is Asia revisiting 1914?

If I can't sleep tonight, it's all Joseph Nye's fault. The former top U.S. defense department official draws some spooky parallels between the year the First World War began and the state of humankind 100 years later. Nye isn’t the first scholar to wonder if China's relationship with America could mirror that of Germany and Britain in 1914 -- that's a favorite discussion point of his Harvard colleague Niall Ferguson. But here Nye connects the dots and discusses what's at stake in Asia in ways that should have officials in Beijing and Washington planning a summit meeting as soon as humanly possible.

South Korea's museum arms race.

As Asia's fourth-biggest economy tries to rake in more tourism dollars, it's going a bit museum crazy. To understand just how much, consider Jeju Island off the peninsula's southern tip. It may be only half the size of Rhode Island, but Jeju alone has more than 100 museums and counting, most of them opening their doors in just the past couple of years. Sitting 110 miles from Japan and 300 miles from China, Jeju is working to morph itself from a quiet honeymoon spot for young Koreans into an international hub for art, history and giant facilities celebrating everything from food to Greek mythology to sex. Tacky or savvy positioning? Only time will tell. But Jeju's time may have arrived.

Kim Jong Un's basketball diaries.

Among the biggest question marks about the North Korean leader's history is how he came to study in Bern, Switzerland in the early 1990s and how formative that experience was. It was during his time in the West, as Kim Jong Un observers like to point out, that the thirty-something year-old developed a love of basketball, Jackie Chan films and all things Disney. Yet a new PBS documentary takes a crack at whether Kim might have left Bern with more international and enlightened viewpoints than his father or grandfather, ones that might prompt him to open Pyongyang up over time. While there's no firm conclusion, the documentary takes a timely shot at filling in some of the myriad blanks about Kim's life.

Japan loses another pitching ace.

It's enough to challenge a nation's self-confidence when yet another baseball star heads for the major leagues in America. That's especially true when the pitcher in question went 24-0 last year. Masahiro Tanaka's going to America for a big payday is also a business story, delivering a major blow to Internet billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani and his e-commerce company Rakuten. Mikitani's company is sure to take big hits on ticket revenue and advertising. The real drubbing, though, may be for Japan's baseball industry and its fans. Try as it may, baseball-obsessed Japan just can’t seem to hang on to its biggest talents anymore. Rather than sulk, perhaps it's time to explore ways to end the exodus, including by paying players more.

China's shadow loans leap.

Asian markets got all excited today over the news that China’s broadest measure of new credit fell in December, while money-supply growth and new yuan loans trailed estimates amid a cash crunch and government efforts to curb speculative lending. Aggregate financing was $204 billion versus $270 billion a year earlier. Great news, until you consider how much further China needs to go to get its vast shadow banking system under control. Last year, it accounted for 30 percent of aggregate financing (the most ever) compared with 23 percent the previous year. Bottom line: China's credit clampdown has only just begun.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)