Pesek on Asia: Singapore Trumps Tokyo?
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Singapore's price surge accelerates.
It may be smaller than New York, but Singapore is now a giant in an area that's causing problems for the government: living costs. While I'm skeptical about the Economist Intelligence Unit's contention that it's more expensive than even Tokyo, there's no doubt Singapore has upward price pressures not being reflected in the official 2.8 percent average annual inflation rate over the last 10 years that even a surging currency can't explain. A better metric for economists is the public mood, one that is turning many locals against the wealthy bankers bidding up real estate prices and the migrant workers depressing average wages. Tiny Singapore has a costly problem on its hands.
China's role in Ukraine 's chaos.
So much for Chinese neutrality as Russia reasserts itself in the Crimea. The Russian incursion prompted immediate pleas from the U.S. and the European Union for Moscow to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, while China stayed mum. But is China now on board with Russia, complicating things for President Barack Obama and the United Nations? That's the contention of the Russian government after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi spoke on the phone. Most indications are that China's support for Russia's intervention is lukewarm, at best. Do the Russians know something about Beijing's feelings that the Chinese media don't know? Guess we'll have to stay tuned.
Japan's other World War II problem.
It was called "Unit 731" and it still haunts Japan's relations in Asia. That was the Imperial Army's covert biological and chemical research center in the northern Chinese city of Harbin, where untold thousands of prisoners suffered the most ghastly of human experiments. The place was run by General Shiro Ishii, who many called Japan's Josef Mengele. In this disturbing, yet persuasive Forbes piece, Eamonn Fingleton questions why the American media "has devoted acres of space over the years" to Japan's wartime sex-slave program and not its medical experiments. It's hard to disagree with him.
Abbott's Hawke-Keating moment?
As Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott rules out guaranteeing Qantas's debt and proposes allowing more foreign investment in the airline, he's calling on opposition lawmakers to "rise to the challenge of reform," invoking the Hawke-Keating era. Between 1983 and 1996, former leaders Bob Hawke and Paul Keating opened up the economy, freed trade and cultivated a world-class financial system. But Abbott needs to think much bigger than Qantas if he aims to enter the pantheon of great Australian leaders. Diversifying the economy away from mining and boosting investments in education, infrastructure and productivity-enhancing sectors is the way to go, not making an example of an embattled airline that's laying off 5,000 people.
Exploring Asia's hacker epidemic.
It's been a dismal couple of weeks for Bitcoin, what with the bankruptcy filing of Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox and no less than billionaire Warren Buffett dismissing the virtual currency as a mere fad. But in this Asia Sentinel piece, it's hard not to see the Mt. Gox debacle as a harbinger of giant, world-shaking hacker attacks to come. As Vanson Soo puts it: "This incident underscores once again that there is no such thing as a hack-proof computer system and anyone who still believes in that notion -- unfortunately I came across some bankers who do -- should join the Flat Earth Society." I'll be changing ALL of my passwords tonight.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
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