Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today.
Downsides of Alibaba's U.S. listing.
For Hong Kong, losing what may be the biggest Internet offering in Chinese history to the U.S. is a huge blow. But listing in New York poses many risks to Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company, which is valued at as much as $200 billion by investment banks. Those risks include greater accounting scrutiny, increased exposure to lawsuits and far more stringent intellectual property rights laws. This Wall Street Journal piece nicely sums up the potential pitfalls to a company that may end up wishing it had just listed in the greater China region.
Anwar's flight 370 critique.
You'd think Malaysian officials would be too busy trying to find missing flight 370 to lash out at cartoonists -- but you'd be wrong. A Washington Post sketch depicting Najib Razak as "too weak" has the prime minister's government is full freak-out mode. From the 1997 Asian crisis to the sodomy and corruption trials of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to the March 8 vanishing of a Malaysian Air flight, the government has a well-documented tendency to blame the international media for its own failings. Now, even Anwar is taking digs as Najib's thin-skinned team, saying he'd do better in the glare of intense global media attention. And, frankly, when Anwar says "in my opinion, Najib is no longer fit to lead Malaysia," it's hard to disagree.
China's next boom: pollution insurance.
When Li Keqiang recently declared a "war against pollution," he set the stage for a major growth industry in the world's most populous nation. China's largest insurer, People's Insurance Company of China, or PICC, is wasting no time rolling out products in Beijing and beyond to protect against health risks inherent to the country’s smog-choked cities. Ping An Insurance and Ctrip.com also are joining to offer smog travel insurance to those visiting Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Though it's unfortunate such a market is necessary, its potential is nothing to cough at.
Japanese land returning from dead?
Any sign of life in Japanese land prices is stellar news for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic revival program. But let's not get carried away and think deflation has been defeated. It's great that the value of land in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya was on average 0.7 percent higher as of Jan. 1 from 12 months earlier. Just remember, though, that this rise is coming from a rather low base considering 20-plus years of falling prices. Also, consumer and business confidence remains in the doldrums, especially with a sales-tax increase set to kick in on April 1. That's not a great foundation on which to build a sustainable economic recovery.
Taiwan's China on backlash.
As President Ma Ying-jeou cozies up to China, students are letting him know where the boundaries lie. Hundreds of them stormed into the legislature overnight to protest the ruling party’s move to circumvent a transparent and detailed review of a trade deal with Beijing. Protest leaders are now demanding that Ma's government apologize for its heavy-handed maneuver, one they argue harmed Taiwan's democracy. All this means that to the list of geopolitical risks that could roil Asian markets in 2014, we must add Taiwan and China.
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