Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Singapore's bad omen.
Now for a message from that trade weather vane known as Singapore. Its open and reasonably diversified economy is usually among the first in Asia to hit a wall when global demand drops, or to bounce back when growth returns. So it's hardly great news that gross domestic product rose a negligible 0.1 percent in the three months through March from the previous quarter, when it expanded 6.1 percent. Nor does it bode well for Asia that inflation worries have Singapore's central bank maintaining its tight stance on monetary policy. Stagflation, anyone? As omens go, this is a disappointing one.
As Narendra Modi and other leading candidates in India's ongoing election process release their policy manifestos, what about their womanifestos? The nation's "Womanifesto 2014" movement plans to shake up contests as rarely before in the world's second-most populous nation. Its leaders will be pressing parties for specific policies on female empowerment, political representation, access to education and the sexual violence that's made for so many ugly international headlines over the last couple of years. Women account for 49 percent of India's electorate. It's safe to say that politicians who ignore their needs and aspirations this year may be giving concession speeches.Where Beijing bests Seoul, Singapore.
Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore and Tokyo have a new Asian city to compete against when it comes to drawing business, investment and expatriate executives: Beijing. It ranked eighth in the latest A.T. Kearney ranking of 84 municipalities, leapfrogging over Seoul and Singapore. While Beijing's air pollution makes it a no-go zone for some, the city aced other metrics like access to international schools, broadband speeds, museum offerings and international commerce opportunities. There goes the neighborhood.Kabul's post-election brain drain?
U.S. officials can't wait to see the back of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His government's corruption and heavy-handed tactics including refusing to sign a bilateral security agreement has Washington eagerly looking ahead. America's mission in Kabul is less happy to see the backs of seasoned diplomats. As this Foreign Policy piece explains, soon "most of the mid-level and senior U.S. civilians with deep Afghanistan experience who would have the knowledge to help foster strong relations with the new government will be long gone. And, officials familiar with the matter said, they will be replaced by diplomats expected to have far less experience." Well, at least Karzai won't be in office.
Abe's energy plan from the past.
United Nations scientists might want to have a word with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At a time when they're urging world powers to triple the amount of energy they get from renewables, Abe's government is proposing a "new" strategy that can be summed up in three words: nuclear, nuclear, nuclear. Most Japanese have come to fear the reactors in their midst since the start of the ongoing Fukushima crisis. Abe makes clear his linear focus is restarting reactors that have been offline since Japan's record March 2011 earthquake. As for renewables? No specific or hard targets are being offered. This "new" plan is already looking very old to me.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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