Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Something else in the Beijing air.
The Chinese capital saw a 10.3 percent plunge in tourist arrivals from January to November and worsening air pollution is just one reason why. Add weakness in the global economy and a stronger currency to the list of reasons why Beijing is attracting fewer and fewer visitors. That could be a harbinger of pain to come for Asia's biggest economy. The yuan this week advanced to the strongest level in 20 years, a dynamic that will make it harder for President Xi Jinping to maintain rapid growth and retool the economy. The year ahead is getting more challenging for Xi with each passing day.
Gates dishes on China, too.
Between jabs at U.S. President Barack Obama, former defense chief Robert Gates found time in his new book to weigh in on Xi's military ambitions. In "Duty," Gates argues that tensions between Washington and Beijing have grown since the Obama White House stepped up military and political engagement in the Pacific, the so-called Asia pivot. He also sees China faring better than the Soviets did. “Beijing learned from the Soviet experience, I believe, and has no intention of matching us ship-for-ship, tank-for-tank,” and “thereby draining China financially in a no-holds-barred arms race,” Gates writes. Rather, “they are investing selectively in capabilities that target our vulnerabilities, not our strengths.” The upshot is that in Asia, 2014 will be more challenging for Obama, too.
Imelda's aide busted with a Monet.
Close enough. President Benigno Aquino could be excused for thinking just that, as the former secretary to onetime Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos was sentenced to two to six years for tax evasion in New York. Vilma Bautista was scheming to sell a Monet painting that Manila lists as its property for around $30 million. In 1983, Aquino's opposition leader father was assassinated while trying to unseat Imelda's husband, Ferdinand Marcos. For decades, the government has tried to wrestle back billions of dollars of state assets from the Marcos family. A single, lesser-known Monet is a drop in the proverbial bucket. But it belies the Marcos's contention that the loot Manila seeks doesn't exist.
Hong Kong's abused maids.
The title of a recent Amnesty International report on migrant women says it all: “Exploited for Profit, Failed by Government.” This disturbing Wall Street Journal piece explores the underside of globalization through the lens of a young Indonesian woman allegedly brutalized in Hong Kong. Eleven years ago, Arlie Russell Hochschild and Barbara Ehrenreich explored the issues of domestic violence and the economic costs of migration in "Global Woman." "Each year," they wrote in 2003, "millions leave Third World countries for jobs in the homes, nurseries and brothels of the First World. This enormous transfer of labor results in a risky displacement, in which the same energy that flows to wealthy countries is subtracted from poor ones -- easing a `care deficit' in rich countries, while creating one back home." Clearly, the problem has only gotten worse, not better.
A $250 iPhone for India?
The Times of India is reporting that Apple may resurrect its discontinued iPhone 4 line to increase market share in the world's second-most populous nation. Apparently, Apple is tired of losing ground to rival Samsung and is ready to break with tradition in the effort to cater to India's burgeoning middle class. Reviving an old line would be a departure for Apple, and one it could easily replicate elsewhere across rapidly developing Asia. Your move, Samsung.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)