Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Good news Down Under.
After two years of tepid growth, there are signs of better days ahead. Take the news that the January trade surplus widened to the most in 2 1/2 years and retail sales rose three times faster than economists had forecast. Or a surge in new-building approvals. "It almost seems the Australian economy is going from gloom to boom," Sydney-based economist Shane Oliver of AMP Capital tells the Wall Street Journal. I'll say.
Is 7.5 percent a soft target for China?
Turns out, the growth figure served up yesterday by Premier Li Keqiang is a flexible one. In the 24 hours after Li's announcement, economists and the international media fretted about another lending surge in China that will only make its eventual reckoning worse. China’s Finance Minister Lou Jiwei spent the day before the cameras reassuring the world that this year's target is “about” 7.5 percent -- emphasis on about. For Beijing to ease up on its obsessive pursuit of such yardsticks is progress as these things go. Just not enough.
Asia's worsening haze problem.
Residents of Kuala Lumpur could be excused for thinking they've suddenly been transported to Beijing. Malaysia’s air pollutant index climbed as high as 137 in Port Klang on March 3, with parts of Kuala Lumpur and the states of Selangor and Negri Sembilan recording levels above 100, classified as unhealthy. Singaporeans aren't happy either as forest fires brought on by drought in Malaysia and Indonesia worsen air quality in the city-state as well. Nations in the region often talk about their willingness to cooperate: Now's the time to prove it.
Osaka gives Tokyo a run for its money.
Tokyo's pride is about to get a slight downgrade as Osaka's skyline edges a bit higher, explains Bloomberg's Chris Cooper. Tomorrow, Asia’s third-biggest metropolitan economy opens Japan’s tallest building. The new 60-floor complex, which includes a Marriott hotel, will raise Osaka's stature. Even better, says Masayuki Kubota, from the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute, it might raise the city's ambitions. “Osaka," he says, "should try special economic zones and create new businesses from those zones.” That, too, would bring the city to even greater heights.
Asia's $24 million tennis gamble.
Serena Williams. Rafael Nadal. Novak Djokovic. Just some of the huge tennis names for which franchise owners in Bangkok, Dubai, Mumbai and Singapore are paying handsomely to host big tournaments in their respective cities. They're even wooing a who's-who of retired athletes like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Martina Hingis to up the star-power dynamic. Aces, as far as Asia's tennis enthusiasts are concerned.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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