Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Are China's latest data too good to be true?
They may indeed be. Somehow, China's economy raced ahead in January at a time when the global economy walked in place, at best, and the central bank clamped down on credit. Also, figures in South Korea and Taiwan suggest Chinese demand for their goods is sliding. China's data are puzzling, to say the least. But are they complete fiction, with China officials returning to their old double-counting ways? As this Quartz analysis points out: "The good news: Last month’s Chinese trade data is defying signs of a slowdown in the world’s second largest economy. The bad news: the improvement might be completely fraudulent."
Vietnam, the next Silicon Valley?
OK, this mere suggestion sounds like a reach. A communist nation overwhelmingly dominated by state-run enterprises and an education system that impresses few development economists seems an unlikely site for an innovative big bang. This Atlantic piece penned by Elisabeth Rosen challenges the conventional wisdom, shining a favorable spotlight on the Communist Party's multimillion-dollar ambitions to create the world's next technology hub. Should South Korea and Taiwan being watching their backs? Not yet, but stranger things have happened in an increasingly dynamic Asia region.
DeNA's struggle could help Japan.
Starting new companies from the ground up doesn't tend to be part of the collective DNA of the Japanese people. The economy is still about corporate giants at the top, not scrappy entrepreneurs. Yet struggling gaming Web site DeNA is jumping into the world of venture capital, and the timing couldn't be better for Japan. An aversion to risk-taking is just one side of Japan's startup drought; the other is a lack of funding. If DeNA can help fill that void its troubles could be great news for Japan in the long run.
Asia's growth industry: military hardware.
Political satirist Bill Maher joked last year that Kim Jong Un had better watch his step: America's military-industrial complex is looking for its next war and North Korea could be it. Tensions between Japan and China and Japan and South Korea have U.S. defense companies flocking to this region now that business in Baghdad and Kabul is winding down -- a trend Singapore's airshow this week has thrown into stark relief. It should worry Asians that executives at Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are racing this way with the intensity of heat-seeking missiles. Investors, too.
Is the U.S. betting on Modi ruling India?
The Washington-New Delhi communications lines are ablaze with denials and intrigue over U.S. Ambassador Nancy Powell meeting with Narendra Modi tomorrow. He heads the Bharatiya Janata Party's effort to unseat Sonia Gandhi's Congress party in elections due by May. Modi has been persona non grata with the U.S. since 2005, when Washington revoked his visa amid allegations he bore responsibility for anti-Muslim violence on his watch in the western state of Gujarat in 2002. The U.S. is scotching speculation the meeting is a big deal. But reaching out to Modi, and doing so now, is an intriguing step by the U.S. Perhaps the White House assumes it will soon be dealing with a Modi government in India.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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