Pesek on Asia: Australia Tests Gravity
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Australia tests economic gravity.
All economies experience a recession now and again. That is, unless we're talking about Australia, where an expansion that's 22 years old is still going strong. The 1.1 percent advance in first-quarter gross domestic product comes as inflation remains under wraps and fiscal and monetary policy makers have considerable latitude to safeguard growth if need be. Funny, Americans thought they'd found the "Goldilocks Economy" back in the 1990s -- not too hot, not too cold, just right. Turns out, that feat has been pulled off Down Under.
Asia's next "South China Sea" problem?
As regional leaders step up efforts to link economies and geopolitical realities, tiny Laos isn't having this Asian brotherhood stuff. It's pushing ahead with an ambitious hydroelectric dam project that's upsetting the Mekong River neighborhood, irking Cambodia and Vietnam in particular. With the budding controversy threatening to pull China in, too, observers like Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies worry the dustup is "the next South China Sea" crisis. As if Asia needs another one of those.
Paranoia 2.0 blankets Beijing.
In most nations, leaders are judged by their actions during crises. China's are graded on the obsessiveness of efforts to avert them. By those standards, Xi Jinping is one for the history books. Along with silencing the usual suspects of dissidents and chat rooms as the world remembers the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, Xi's government even went after Google Translate, Gmail and more SMS services that you could count. Of course, Xi is acting more out of weakness than strength in fearing the Internet even more than predecessor Hu Jintao. Call it Communist Party Paranoia 2.0. Not a great sign for Chinese civil liberties -- or for the regime.
Korean banks bet on rich Chinese.
As the domestic population ages, South Korean banks are eyeing a growth industry: catering to wealthy Chinese tourists. Here's a Korea Herald take on how banks like Woori are scrambling to open new branches in resort areas popular with mainlanders. Hana Bank is even tossing in some Korean pop culture, opening shops in Nohyeong-dong, a Jeju Island town known as the "Gangnam of Jeju," a reference to the trendy Seoul neighborhood that surged to global stardom with Psy's "Gangnam Style."
Line tiptoes toward IPO.
Japan's most popular mobile messaging application, Line, plans to go public as observers reckon its market value is almost $10 billion. The initial public offering could be the splashiest since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began his economic restructuring drive in December 2012. It's also a rare chance for Japan to shine in the global tech spotlight. After all, most of the focus in recent years has been on the bloodletting at onetime giants like Sony and Sharp. Will the Line IPO excite Japanese investors? We'll know if they're getting the message soon enough.
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