Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Malaysia Air's finances in question.
Malaysian Air has another crash on its hands: its stock's. Only, unlike the mystery surrounding Flight MH370 that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, this 10 percent share plunge has a certain logic to it. Even before a jet went missing, CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya was struggling to restore profitability and raise productivity to compete with Asia's growing roster of budget carriers. The liability related to a tragedy that some speculate could have involved terrorism and lax security procedures would be financially ruinous.
Return of the currency wars?
News that Japan’s economy expanded less than estimated in the fourth quarter may seem quite unrelated to the ongoing decline in China's currency. But a connection might soon be made, particularly as officials in Tokyo struggle to boost economic growth and end deflation. Today, China's central bank cut its yuan fixing rate by the most since July 2012 amid signs exports are unexpectedly declining. Might that help touch off another round of the so-called currency wars that dominated Asia in 2010? I wouldn't rule it out at a time when Japan-China relations are as low as they've even been.
North Korea's 100 percent leader.
It's good to be the king, as comedian Mel Brooks always liked to say. Such is the life of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who over the weekend won what had to be modern history's least suspenseful "election." No one is surprised to learn that all voters of his constituency take part in voting and that fully 100 percent of them supported Kim. “This is an expression of all the service personnel and people’s absolute support and profound trust in supreme leader Kim Jong Un as they singlemindedly remain loyal to him,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. Okay, cue the eye rolling.
Cambodia's solar tuk-tuks.
Political pledges in Phnom Penh to transform Cambodia's economy and civil society consistently fall short. Strongman Hun Sen tends to be more preoccupied with extending his nearly 30-year reign over a nation that's become a one-party state in recent years. But here's an intriguing piece about how the private sector is working to fill the void in ways that could provide a growing number of good-paying jobs. Star8, an Australia-based energy company, is working with local interests to open solar factories that will focus on tuk-tuks, those ubiquitous auto rickshaws. Some rare sunny news from Cambodia.
Hints of Chinese smoking clampdown?
If you think New Yorkers took badly to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's smoking ban, I can just imagine how China's cigarette-obsessed masses would respond. Beijing isn't banning tobacco in public places; it's merely asking Communist Party apparatchiks to stop lighting up on public premises such as government buildings and sporting venues and at official functions. But China should go further given how surging health costs will dent public coffers in the years head -- not to mention the nation's almighty economic growth rate.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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