Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today.
Hillary Clinton's Myanmar problem.
It was arguably Hillary Clinton's crowning achievement as U.S. secretary of state: Myanmar's return to the global community and Aung San Suu Kyi's political resurrection. Clinton's 2011 visit to the lakeside villa where the Nobel laureate spent 15 years under house arrest made for one of modern history's iconic photo opportunities. But is this all unraveling, giving Benghazi-obsessed Republicans a foreign policy issue to beat Clinton up if she runs for president in 2016? As Catherine Traywick and John Hudson write in this Foreign Policy piece: "the promise of a free and democratic Myanmar is rapidly receding as sectarian violence escalates and the government backslides on a number of past reforms. That's causing genuine alarm on Capitol Hill among lawmakers from both parties."
China rocks Bitcoin.
The People’s Bank of China may not be able to rein in the nation's shadow banking industry, but it sure knows how to wallop the world's most notorious wannabe currency. China's monetary authority sent Bitcoin prices plunging amid reports that it is ordering banks and payment companies to close the trading accounts of more than 10 exchanges. Hong Kong regulators also are under pressure to take a clearer position on something America's Internal Revenue Service plans to treat as property, but not a financial medium. Talk about a tough couple of months for Bitcoin enthusiasts.
Ominous data out of Japan.
You know that pre-tax-hike spending surge that was expected to lift Japan's first-quarter growth rate? Well, forget it. Instead of surging ahead of the April 1 tax increase, data show consumers cut back in February (household spending fell 2.5 percent). It's an ominous sign for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge to revive Asia's No. 2 economy. The drop was shocking enough to bring Finance Minister Taro Aso before the microphones to pledge to speed up the deployment of government cash in coming months. Will it be enough to keep a 3 percentage-point sales-tax increase from scuttling growth? The odds aren't great. Another ominous sign: this Nikkei Asian Review story arguing that Japanese are hoarding gold.
Getting folks to do the "nasty."
That's Time magazine's preferred euphemism for governments' attempts to get their citizens to procreate, many of which seem to include curious choices of music. In Singapore and South Korea, for example, public officials have tried to boost birth rates with discounted childcare and television campaigns featuring rap songs espousing the patriotic merits of breeding. But a quick memo to officials in Denmark: If you're looking to put Danes in the mood, a "cheesy song from 'Grease 2,'" as Time puts it, probably won't have the intended effect.
Japan's death row soul searching.
Until yesterday, Iwao Hakamada was the free world's longest-serving death row inmate. But today, the 78 year-old former boxer is a cause célèbre in a nation pondering the fairness of a legal system that relies heavily on confessions, often coerced. The case against Hakamada, who spent nearly half a century in jail for allegedly killing a family of four in 1960s Japan, unraveled enough to warrant his release on Thursday. Now, as Hiroko Tabuchi details in this New York Times piece, he personifies the soul-searching of a democratic nation wondering how such a miscarriage of justice could have happened.
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