Pesek on Asia: China Tops Hong Kong

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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:

Where China tops Hong Kong.

Hong Kong may be the world's freest economy (or so says the Heritage Foundation), but it's no longer in the top three when it comes to competitiveness. It came in fourth in the IMD World Competitiveness Rankings for 2013, behind Singapore. Even more interesting to me, though, is another survey by consultancy ECA International showing it costs more for multinational firms to send staff to China than Hong Kong. Until now, the biggest hurdle for China in attracting foreign talent was pollution. Adding high, and rising, costs to the picture will complicate the global recruitment process for Beijing.

Modi's olive branch to Pakistan.

The first foreign-policy gesture by India's Narendra Modi is already warming Washington's heart: an olive branch to arch-rival Pakistan. It's a wise public-relations move by India's prime-minister elect, costing him zero political capital today. Even if relations between New Delhi and Islamabad devolve further or terrorism strikes anew (distinct possibilities, sadly), Modi can always say he tried.

What first-class travel says about inequality.

In case you missed it, here's an intriguing Economist roundup of a recent preoccupation of news editors: the widening gap between those at the front of the airplane and those shoehorned into the back. Turns out, it's about consumer choice. Travels could shell out a few extra bucks for slightly wider seats and better meals, but most simply won't. Bargains have eclipsed concerns about the flying experience. Simply put, we are bringing this increasing fuselage divide on ourselves. The Economist's conclusion: "Until it makes business sense for airlines to treat economy-class passengers better, they won't."

A change at Japan's most maligned school.

Few Japanese suffer from more unfortunate lost-in-translation moments than students, graduates and staff of Kinki University (yes, it's pronounced kinky). But the school with the much-maligned name (which refers to a region of Japan, not an amorous disposition) has had enough of hearing giggles at international conferences. It will now be known as Kindai University, and there's nothing racy about that.

The power of agriculture.

The World Economic Forum is meant to assemble thought leaders from everywhere to mull the big problems of the day. In Asia, none looms larger than poverty. Here, WEF officials serve up what literally is food for thought when they assert that growth generated by the agriculture sector is four times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other areas. The problem? "Due to persistent underinvestment in agriculture infrastructure (research and development in particular), we are seeing slower growth in productivity and, in many cases, declining profitability and transfer of benefits to the producers." Sounds like it's high time for greater agriculture investment.

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Nisid Hajari at