Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Bad news at China's Davos.
Talk about bad timing. There Premier Li Keqiang was today in the southern province of Hainan giving the keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia, which China fancies as its Davos, when yet more bad news on the economy rolled in. Overseas shipments plunged 6.6 percent in March from a year earlier, prompting Li to insist China won't be tossing more stimulus at Asia's biggest economy, and a flagging one at that. Few in attendance probably bought Li's argument, though. The odds favor even more pump-priming by Beijing in the months ahead.
India's Modi, meet Italy's Berlusconi.
As attempts at political analogies go, India's Narendra Modi sharing something pivotal in common with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi might seem particularly creative. But as this Quartz piece argues, "both Berlusconi and Modi rose to national power in the wake of big corruption scandals that called into question the party that reigned for decades in their respective countries." In Berlusconi's case, it was a 1994 corruption scandal involving Italy's Christian Democracy Party; in Modi's it might very well be myriad graft allegations against the Congress Party. Of course, one can hope Modi does a better job of steering clear of dirty dealings as India's leader than Berlusconi did as Italy's.
Japan-China air skirmish risks on the rise.
The next time an expert argues cooler heads will prevail in the North Asian seas, consider this number: 415. That's how many times Japanese jets were sent up to pursue Chinese aircraft in the past year. In total, Japan scrambled jets 810 times in the year ended in March, a sizable increase from 567 the previous year (51 percent of those episodes were to face off with Chinese planes). All it would take for Asia's two biggest economies to spiral toward outright armed conflict is for one of those aerial exchanges to go badly. A China plane accidentally clipping a Japanese aircraft, or vice versa, could change the geopolitical calculus and shake world markets at any moment. The numbers were released just as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel makes his way around a region that's getting too hot got comfort.
Park says no more Abe meetings.
Nor are relations with Korea improving. Last month's brief trilateral meeting between Korean President Park Geun Hye, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama was on one-time-only event, government officials told the Korea Times. Park, it seems, is waiting for Abe to show more contrition for Japan's wartime atrocities. On that one, I fear Korea's government will have a long, long wait.
Flight 370 costs Malaysia tourists.
The moment Prime Minister Najib Razak's government feared is nearing: when anger over the missing Malaysian Air jet hits gross domestic product. Investigators are optimistic that they can soon locate wreckage from the plane in the Indian Ocean after reacquiring acoustic pings two days ago that may emanate from the flight recorders. But as this story suggests, the Chinese, aggrieved over Malaysia's handling of the crisis, are turning their back on the nation's all-important tourism industry. No firm numbers are being offered yet, but expect them to be ugly indeed.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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