Pesek on Asia: Limits of Sushi Diplomacy

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Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:

Limits of sushi diplomacy.

The long hoped-for Trans-Pacific Partnership deal during Barack Obama's Tokyo visit isn't happening. For all the superficial chemistry between the U.S. president and Shinzo Abe, the differences on agriculture, autos and other no-go sectors seem beyond the Japanese prime minister's grasp. All of which should worry the pro-reform crowd. If ever a Japanese leader were presented with a Trojan horse to smash vested interests, TPP is it. Abe seemed happy today to hear Obama say the U.S. commitment to Japanese security is "absolute," including islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing. But breaking the trade impasse and raising Japan's living standards requires more than sushi diplomacy. It calls for genuine grit on Abe's part.

Asia's troubling poverty trajectory.

Even as growth in developing Asia-Pacific nations far outpaces richer ones in the West, extreme poverty is on the rise. In this region alone, an incredible 1.6 billion people are vulnerable to being pushed back into this dreaded category, according to the Asian Development Bank. Risks abound, from Federal Reserve tapering to inflation to crop failure to natural resources. For governments thinking their job is done when gross domestic product is zooming along, it's time to think again.

Good news for Hong Kong- Philippines relations.

The city of 7 million people lifted sanctions against Manila after the two governments agreed to resolve a dispute over the handling of a 2010 hostage crisis in the Philippine capital that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead. The Hong Kong government accused the Philippines of botching the rescue operation and had demanded an official apology, compensation and accountability for Philippine officials. The thaw in relations means visa-free access for some Philippine diplomats and officials resumes immediately, as do trade and commercial ties between two key Asian economies. It's about time both governments came to their senses.

Ferry probes begin in earnest.

The more South Korean media learn about the Sewol ferry tragedy, the more troubling the questions that emerge. As government probes gain momentum, considerable focus is on the vessel's huge haul of cargo -- 3,608 tons, according to the Wall Street Journal -- and whether improper storage caused it to list and sink. This Time piece offers a useful reality check on a tragedy that's still unfolding before the world's eyes, not to mention grieving families still waiting for bodies to be brought to the surface.

Michelle Obama disappoints Japan.

America's First Lady has never been huge on accompanying her husband on long, official trips. More often than not, President Barack Obama does extended overseas trips stag. But that's cold comfort for a Japanese media pulsating with indignation that Michelle Obama wasn't in Tokyo today with her husband. Tongues are wagging in part because of Michelle's recent jaunt to China with her two daughters. Why China and not Japan? Are the Obamas sending a message of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's nationalistic policies? Is Tokyo's special relationship with Washington caput? Inquiring media minds are dying to know and spilling way too much ink getting to the bottom of Michelle-gate. Chances are, it's nothing personal.

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To contact the author on this story:
Willie Pesek at

To contact the editor on this story:
Nisid Hajari at