Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Kenneth Bae asks, and he receives.
Even by the standards of North Korea, it's been a truly bizarre few months: Kim Jong Un having his uncle and No. 2 executed, Dennis Rodman visiting Pyongyang with increasing frequency and now Kenneth Bae's press conference. In an incredibly rare spectacle on Monday, the American missionary imprisoned in North Korea since November 2012 asked his government and family to seek his release. The U.S. State Department says it's ready to send an envoy for that purpose. Bill Clinton again? Or give George W. Bush a shot? Guess we'll have to stay tuned.
China main export will be pollution.
Japan and South Korean airports have been dealing with a new phenomenon thanks to China: sand storms. They're compliments of China’s boom, which has accelerated deforestation and overgrazing. Now a new study has shown that industrial pollution is being carried by prevailing winds all the way to the United States. Off-the-charts readings for “PM2.5,” or fine airborne particulates that cause disease and premature death in high concentrations, have the potential to stir public anger in China. Now the geopolitics of pollution, too, could turn toxic.
Japan's ill-timed war change?
Speaking of regional tensions, the Japanese blogosphere is convulsing with chatter about the Liberal Democratic Party tweaking their charter to scrap a pledge "never to wage war again." The change might come as a surprise to those who thought Shinzo Abe was focused on reviving the economy 24/7, but it would validate those who fear a rightward shift under the Japanese prime minister. The constitution remains a pacifist one, of course, thanks to the war-renouncing Article 9. But should the LDP confirm this semantic shift in the days ahead, nerves in the region will certainly jangle.
Charlene Chu, an analyst to follow.
OK, so the former Beijing-based analyst at Fitch Ratings isn't quite Asia's Meredith Whitney -- yet. Unlike the Wall Street analyst's big 2007 prediction on Citigroup's woes that were remarkably prescient, Chu has yet to be proven right on her worries about China's rickety finances. Still, while her warnings that the nation's debt could spark a huge crisis rankled Beijing, they also continue to color the view of many China investors. Chu is taking a new job -- this time in New York at Autonomous Research. And I, for one, can't wait to hear what she makes of makes of not just China's finances but all of Asia's from her new perch.
ANA learns a very remedial lesson.
It would seem to be an obvious tenet of Airlines 101: don't make racial generalizations that might offend your main customer base. In the case of All Nippon Air, that means Japan's 127 million citizens. Today, the airline pulled a ridiculous ad that became instant fodder for television newscasts, comedians and YouTube enthusiasts. The spot depicted two Japanese men lamenting the image of the Japanese as lacking emotion and public displays of affection. Their solution: don blond wigs and fake noses (all Westerners have huge ones, you know!). ANA apologized, but Japanese are still left wondering what the carrier could possibly have been thinking.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)