Pesek on Asia: Pandas for Malaysia
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
All's well with Malaysia's panda request.
Anyone worried that ties between China and Malaysia will be permanently severed by the controversy over Flight 370 should think of the pandas. These majestic and widely-coveted creatures are as much a part of China's foreign policy as an endangered segment of the animal kingdom. Often, the surest way to know if a government is on Beijing's hit list is when requests for pandas go unheeded. Just ask officials in Tokyo and Taipei. So, news China still plans to ship two bears to Malaysia suggests there's hope for the governments to make a mends amid anger over the so-far-fruitless search for the missing plane.
Is China different ? Not as much as it hopes.
Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf plays out a fascinating mental exercise: What it you showed an investor China's national balance sheet and didn't tell them it was China? Surely, they would look at that unnamed country's soaring investment, runaway credit, hints of hidden debt everywhere and steer clear. But things get complicated when it's China, a place deemed the future of everything, run by efficient leaders sure to figure out all problems from financial excess to demographic strains to rampant pollution. For many, the mere thought China COULD crash is unfathomable. But as Wolf points out, credit can't outpace gross domestic product forever. Not even in China.
Is Indonesia a natural regional leader?
When observers mull which nation leads Southeast Asia, Singapore often comes to mind first. Not only is it the most stable and prosperous nation in the region, but it had the outspoken Lee Kuan Yew to keep it in the spotlight as a global player. Is Indonesia setting itself up as the geopolitical heir apparent? After all, outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has hinted at taking on a role as senior Asian statesman or powerbroker. This timely Asia Sentinel piece looks at not only how far Jakarta has come these last 15 years, but where its leadership ambitions might take it over the next 15.
Samsung's Lee faces Indian arrest warrant.
Lee Kun-Hee spent the last few years trying to put legal troubles behind himself and his conglomerate, Samsung Group, in his native South Korea. In 2008, he resigned after being charged with criminal tax evasion. Now he faces a fresh legal mess in India, a vibrant market on which Samsung has increasing focused. A dispute over a $1.4 million payment prompted India's Supreme Court to order Korea's richest man to appear before judges within six weeks. Here we go again.
Thai premier in constitutional hot water.
Will Thailand's Constitutional Court succeed where street protesters failed? This question is raging in the nation of 67 million people after the court opted to hear a case against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The allegation that she erred by transferring a government official in legally-questionable ways could in theory pave the way for her removal from office. The court ordered Yingluck to present a defense within 15 days. Is this the beginning of the end of her family's hold on Thai power, after her brother Thaksin Shinawatra was himself ousted in 2006? The odds are increasingly turning against her.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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