Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Toyota turns on the robots.
Isaac Asimov would be aghast at the human uprising afoot at Toyota. In his novels and short stories, the "I, Robot" author conjured up a future of sweeping automation and artificial intelligence that for years seemed reflected in Japan Inc.'s instruction manuals. Toyota was among the most ambitious in turning science fiction into fact on its factory floors. But this Bloomberg piece suggests the movement is going full circle as Toyota restores some of the human element to is manufacturing operations. As Mitsuru Kawai, Toyota's craftsmanship ombudsman, puts it: “We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again."
Korea, Australia show Asia how it's done.
As Tony Abbott wades into the political minefield that is North Asia, he's not letting tensions between China and Japan get in the way of greater prosperity for Australians. Tomorrow, the Australian prime minister will be in Seoul to ink a free trade deal with South Korea. So while he's walking a diplomatic tightrope in Beijing and Tokyo, both of which covet Canberra's love, he'll know he'll be returning home with more than hollow communiques in his back pocket. Abbott's government says the deal should eventually boost exports to Asia's fourth-biggest nation by 25 percent.
Victory for Taiwan's student protesters.
Taiwan's democracy is looking a little less threatened today as the island's crusading student movement won a key concession from lawmakers. The legislature's review of a contentious trade pact with China was halted by Speaker Wang Jin-pyng until an oversight bill passes. The postponement is a chance to reduce tensions with voters skeptical about greater economic integration with China. It's also a second chance for Taiwan's trade negotiators to make sure they get such a momentous deal right.
Is Modi's "Gujarat Model" manifesto for real?
Think of them as the 52 pages standing between India's mediocre economic performance and a bright tomorrow. The manifesto unveiled by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party which leads opinion polls in an election process than began today, is quite the page-turner for economists. Question is, can the stronger-than-average growth in Modi's western state of Gujarat can be broadened to the national economy? Only time will tell if Modi can make good on his pledges to attack corruption, bring down one of Asia’s fastest inflation rates and expedite foreign investment. But one thing looks certain when you consider the magnitude of the task: winning this election will be the easy part.
Thailand's man in the middle
Think you've got it tough at work? Chances are, none of us have anything on Prasarn Trairatvorakul. The Thai central bank governor's days of holding the monetary reins (since October 2010) predate Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and they've been an unusually event-rich period. Prasarn has done battle with national leaders, finance ministers and anti-government and pro-government lawmakers alike -- some demanding lower interest rates to enliven growth, others bemoaning rising inflation. In this wide-ranging interview with The Nation, Prasarn explains what's it's like to be the ultimate man-in-the-middle as competing interests in Bangkok fight for power at all costs.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.) To contact the writer of this article:
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