Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Thai Air's bumpy ride tells a story.
One number sums up Thailand's economic plight: 26 percent. That's how much business Thai Airways lost from Chinese cancellations in the first quarter alone -- in addition to 17 percent from South Koreans and 8 percent from Japanese. The flagship carrier is on the front lines of the growing chill in an economy that used to be among Asia's most vibrant. That was before Thailand entered into a semi-permanent state of political upheaval. With no end sight to efforts to remove Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, giant protests, some violent, could flare up again at any moment. If you want to know what all this is doing to the economy, look no further than Thai Air's empty seats.
Inside Bitcoin's Mt. Gox collapse.
Mark Karpeles, the French founder of the failed Mt. Gox exchange in Asia, remains an enigma in the global media. Not to the same extent as Satoshi Nakamoto, the shadowy figure thought to have invented Bitcoin, but Karpeles's motivations and the machinations of his operation largely remain an international question mark. This expose offers a timely look at how the science fiction buff and proponent of "geek" culture (with passions for Japanese manga, video games and cosplay) rose to global infamy as the man who may have precipitated the end of the world's most popular virtual currency.
Abe heralds Japan's second opening.
Temple University's Jeff Kingston calls it "Abeland." In a Japan Times column, he defines this fantasy world as "Team Abe's alternative Kool-Aid" universe of spin and delusion. Here, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, proves Kingston's point when he argues: "To maximize its opportunities, Japan must open its economy further and become a country that actively incorporates capital, human resources, and wisdom from abroad. Japan must be a country capable of growing by channeling the vitality of a growing Asia." If Japan joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which seems dead-on-arrival in Washington anyway) it will come with all kinds of tariff exceptions. Abe isn’t strengthening corporate governance to better use capital, nor is he yet serious about empowering women or importing talent. And how do you channel Asia's vitality when you're alienating two of its biggest economies, China and South Korea? President Barack Obama should be aware that Kool-Aid is on the menu in Tokyo this week.
China's quiet electric bus boom.
Even as China's pollution crisis worsens, there are signs it’s emerging as a green technology power and innovator of alternatives to fossil fuels. This Atlantic piece looks at how BYD, the Chinese electric-vehicle and battery maker partially owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, is making inroads into the global electric bus market. It's even building some vehicles in Lancaster, California, taking a page from the Toyota's and Nissan's of the world in creating jobs in the U.S. -- a market it's working to penetrate. Good stuff all around. Now if only China could do something about all that coal destroying its air quality and water supplies at home.
Line offers Japan rare global tech success.
With 175 million active users around the globe, Line trails only WhatsApp and WeChat and offers Japan Inc. some bragging rights in the fast-growing free instant-messaging space. One of its strengths is early success in monetizing the service by selling a variety of cutesy "emoticons" and a broadening array of products, including games. That money-making heft makes Line a standout. So does the non-invasive nature of its advertising streams and its more private setting for intimate banter, offering a quirky alternative to Facebook. From the U.S. to Thailand to Spain, Line is increasingly taking off. If only the rest of Japan Inc. were this dynamic and innovative.
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