Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Bitcoin's existential crisis.
Today saw big trouble in the virtual-currency world as Coinbase, a Bitcoin wallet operator, and other industry peers alleged Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox had violated the trust of users when it halted withdrawals. If you're wondering what that means exactly and what went wrong, good luck: Mt. Gox's Web site went offline. And Japanese regulators aren't quite sure what, if anything, they can do about it. Not a great trust enhancer, as these things go. Bitcoin already faces any number of existential crises, most of which involve fears your money will just up and disappear one day without a trace. Just like Mt. Gox's Internet presence.
Call it Asia's axis of democracy.
While Asia has many democracies, the three most important from the standpoint of the West are India, Japan and South Korea. In this Project Syndicate op-ed, India's Jaswant Singh considers one big reason why three of Asia's four biggest-economies should be cozying up more than they are: China. Singh's past as a minister of finance, foreign affairs and defense makes for an interest lens through which to view the mainland's fast-rising influence. As Singh writes, "bilateral relationships alone will be inadequate to counterbalance China. Achieving an internal Asian balance of power will require India, Japan, and South Korea to build a tripartite security arrangement."
Honda's boost to Abenomics.
Way to go Honda! While I'm not in Shinzo Abe's brain, the prime minister must be gratified that the auto giant hired its first female board member and gave a promotion to a Brazilian national (to serve as its first foreign operating officer). Last year, Honda also made English the company's official language. Honda has now taken three high-profile steps to help diversify a corporate culture that needs more women and outsiders and better English proficiency. While one company's actions do not make a trend, Abenomics now has a role model within Japan Inc.'s inner circle. Let's hope others follow Honda's lead.
Indonesia's troubling "bureaucratic mafia."
Talk in the world's fourth-most-populous nation used to be about the "Berkeley Mafia," that crowd of U.S.-educated economists who returned home in the mid-1960s to revitalize the nation. Unfortunately, chatter now focuses on a "bureaucratic mafia" of corrupt candidates vying for parliament seats this year. Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has attacked graft since 2004, this warning from the Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center is sobering. Indonesians must choose very carefully when they go to the polls in April and in July.
Pope's Australian money man.
Well, the unpredictable pontiff has done it again with a surprising personnel choice, this time to run the Vatican's economy. Anyone betting on Pope Francis's selection probably lost big on news Australian Cardinal George Pell had gotten the job. Among the first tasks for the new finance czar will be overhauling a Vatican Bank awash in allegations of mismanagement, waste and money laundering. Why an Australian? It's that rare developed nation that has avoided a recession over the last 20 years. A little expertise from Down Under could be just what the Vatican needs to end the careerism that undermines the Roman Catholic Church's governance.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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