Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Pollution crowdsourcing, Alibaba-style.
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma plans to clean up. I'm not referring just to Alibaba's initial public offering, which could top $18 billion, but China's lakes and rivers, too. Ma's asking the 500 million-plus users of his e-commerce business to help map out China's most toxic sources of water. It's not just about altruism: Alibaba is selling water-testing kits so volunteers can measure pollutants and then upload the data on their smartphones. But this is an exciting and rather unpredictable scientific development -- one that might have Communist Party officials looking over their shoulders. I for one am hoping Ma's crowdsourcing revolution takes off.
Abe meets with moneyman Kuroda.
When investors ponder Shinzo Abe's meeting with Haruhiko Kuroda today, thoughts of monetary policy, inflation and bond yields probably came to mind. Me? All I could think about was poker. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has kept his timeline for implementing the structural reforms he's pledged very close to the vest. Nor is Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda keen to show his cards right now. If Kuroda makes it clear he will go further this year to increase liquidity, Abe might feel less urgency to do his part to enliven growth and end deflation. The question for the BOJ is whether Abe is bluffing or really does plan to play his hand. The stakes are rising as we speak.
Centrals banks are an addiction all their own.
All the hand-wringing over Federal Reserve tapering ignores how difficult it will be to move interest rates away from zero. If Japan taught us anything it's that central banks that begin quantitative-easing programs have a very hard time weaning liquidity-addicted political systems off them. Ultralow rates make monetary junkies of us all. In this Time magazine piece, Michael Schuman explores the extent to which governments from Tokyo to Washington have abdicated responsibilities to a bunch of unelected economists and the risks inherent to this arrangement. "We’ve come to rely so much on our central bankers," Schuman writes, "because politicians and corporate leaders are failing to fix what really is holding us back."
Jakarta, the city of the future.
Uncertainty is in the air as Indonesians prepare to vote for a new leader in July. Whither Southeast Asia's biggest economy? Will its hard-won political stability survive? Can President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successor eradicate corruption? Amid so many big questions, one thing is clear from the latest A. T. Kearney rankings of emerging cities: Jakarta is going places. The Indonesian capital topped the top-20 list, with Manila coming in second, New Delhi fifth and Mumbai eighth. Indonesia's young workforce and bevy of natural resources may continue to attract foreign companies, jobs and, with the help of forward-looking government policies, even raise living standards.
Happy birthday, Kim Il Sung.
OK, so it probably wasn't the most joyous of occasions as the Hermit Kingdom's top officials celebrated what would've been the 102nd birthday of founder Kim Il Sung. The master of ceremonies was, of course, his grandson Kim Jong Un, who, according to the official KCNA news agency, paid homage in the "humblest reverence for him." Kim also implored his nation's 24 million people to reaffirm their loyalty to the ruling Kim dynasty. Well, at least Kim didn't fire any missiles or purge any uncles to mark the occasion. There's always next year.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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