Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today.
Tamping down expectations for Abe and Park.
Tuesday's chat between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye is a reasonably big thing in Asian geopolitical circles -- it's the first between two leaders known more for trading barbs about the events of World War II than joining hands. Even if it is arranged by the White House and President Barack Obama will be in the Netherlands to chaperone the event, this is a chance at a fresh start for Japan-Korean relations. Just don't expect huge strides, as Kim Tae Gyu explains in this Korea Times analysis. What's more important is where Abe and Park take things after they leave The Hague. And here, it's hard to be optimistic.
Taiwan's protest problem.
President Ma Ying-jeou would be foolish not to think this is over. Just before riot police cleared student protesters from Taiwan’s cabinet compound with water cannons and police batons swinging, Ma declared “regional economic integration is an unstoppable global trend. If we do not face this and join in the process, it will only be a matter of time before we are eliminated from the competition.” Perhaps, but Ma would be spectacularly tone deaf to think his increasingly vocal youths will easily go along. Suffice it to say, Taiwan's desire to integrate with China's economy is running into a serious roadblock.
Is being clean enough in Indonesia?
Should Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo manage to succeed President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he faces an equally big challenge: keeping clean amid Indonesia's notoriously corrupt political culture. Here's a sobering look at the rent-seeking free-for-all that is Southeast Asia's biggest economy, from anti-corruption activist Todung Mulya Lubis. He should know; he's been fighting graft since the days of Suharto, who was ousted in 1998 by huge public protests. Widodo could very well succeed, but not without an epic battle against entrenched interests.
Michelle Obama surprises in China.
"Women hold up half the sky,” as Mao Zedong famously said decades ago. This oft-quoted aphorism came to mind as U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama met in Beijing with President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan. The Chinese media ate up the rare and relatively intimate contact, calling it a kind of "soft diplomacy" as their husbands struggle to avoid a Sino-U.S. Cold War. But far more fascinating was Obama's call to young Chinese to challenge their leaders. Her statement that “when it comes to expressing yourself freely, and worshiping as you choose, and having open access to information-we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet” certainly kept China's state censors busy. And good for her!
How feeding tubes affect Japan Inc.
Smart idea here by Japan to limit the number of bedbound elderly people kept alive by feeding tubes, often for years. Never mind the obvious quality-of-life argument; this is a fiscally-necessary step, as Bloomberg News reporter Kanoko Matsuyama explains. For a nation that already has the world's biggest public-debt burden, curbing Japan's fast-growing $376 billion annual health bill for its elderly masses is a no-brainer. By 2060, about 40 percent of the population will be older than 65, up from a quarter today. Go ahead and cue the conservative backlash among pro-lifers around the globe, but Japan's feeding-tube reform makes eminent economic sense.
China's manufacturing slowdown.
Oddly, Chinese stocks felt fit to surge on bad economic news: the manufacturing industry weakened for a fifth consecutive month, deepening concern the nation will miss its 7.5 percent growth target this year. Why the rally? Investors reckon Beijing will be forced to pump even more stimulus into the economy. Yet that would only exacerbate the risk that China will experience a bad-loan crisis down the road. Who says markets are rational?
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