Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Hong Kong's Mercedes problem.
It used to be that the main concern for expatriates considering a move to Hong Kong was the high costs of rent, international schools and life in general in Asia's "world city." Now, health is surpassing all other concerns. As my Bloomberg News colleague Natasha Khan explains, toxic-air readings are rising along with demand for private-car registrations and new Mercedes-Benzes, a lethal mix for a place that sits just across from the Pearl River Delta and China's tens of thousands of coal-burning factories. As Khan puts it, Hong Kong's low taxes and hassle-free regulations make it as attractive a place to do business as any. Just as long as you don’t breathe too deeply.
South Korea's still unfolding ferry tragedy.
The latest crisis to test South Korean President Park Geun Hye is a domestic one: A Jeju Island-bound ferry sank with 476 people onboard, many of them high schoolers. As indelicate as it sounds -- an unknown number of passengers are still unaccounted for -- her government's handling of this tragedy will be closely tracked and scrutinized by the media. Crises so far have mostly come from North Korean missile launches and geopolitical tensions with Japan. Park ordered all government resources to help in rescue efforts. The success and competence of those efforts will inevitably be judged in the days and weeks ahead.
I want to vote. Where's the suitcase?
Not a question you'd hear in America, but one that will be coming up lots in India as the world's biggest democracy heads to the polls. Humankind has never seen anything like it: About 815 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in nine rounds of voting over five weeks to pick 543 lawmakers. Results will be known on May 16 in the nation of 1.2 billion people, where some two-thirds live on about $2 per day. That's prompted a bit of ballot-box innovation, as this Atlantic piece details. "Central to this undertaking," writes Matt Ford, "are India's 1.7 million electronic voting machines, or EVMs, the portable, affordable, and highly durable systems that help this massive exercise in democracy run smoothly."
Australia's "Lone Granger" resigns.
It's the kind of news item that Communist Party leaders in Beijing won't understand: Barry O’Farrell, the premier of Australia’s most-populous state, having to resign over a bottle of wine. Seriously? Well, the grog in question is nothing less than Penfolds Grange, vintage 1959 (the same year he was born) and costing $2,800. Xi Jinping might want to direct the state-run media to publicize O’Farrell's downfall as the Chinese president tries to clamp down on the pricey gifts that are the currency of corruption in Beijing. In Australia, O’Farrell's story lit up the Internet with voters calling him, among other things, the "Lone Granger." He claims to have no recollection of receiving the offending bottle. Yep, that Grange is potent stuff.
Japan's dwindling population.
The calculus facing Japan's debt managers is changing with each passing year as the workforce shrinks and debt grows. In 2013, Japan even broke the global record for the highest proportion of people over the age of 65 as its population slid for a third straight year. The trajectory -- a 0.17 percent decline as of Oct. 1 -- underscores the challenge Japan faces as it works to end deflation without unnerving bond traders. Demographic trends are already rapidly expanding health and social-security costs and adding to the debt load. If officials in Tokyo think time is on their side here, the worsening ratio of people to bonds should have them thinking again.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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