Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Now the hard part begins, Mr. Modi.
“There’s a lot of work that God has put me on this earth for.” So said incoming Indian leader Narendra Modi over the weekend to thousands of supporters in one of Hinduism’s holiest cities, as he pledged a clean break from past governments. He'll need help from more than just the gods, even after winning the nation’s biggest electoral mandate in 30 years. It's great that Modi will be able to dispense with some of the horse-trading that a messy governing coalition would've necessitated. But now comes the really hard part as he sets out to modernize a rickety and inefficient economy: navigating around a political system that likes things the way they are.
Make way for Thailand's protest recession.
Investors often flee a nation in protest as recession nears. In Thailand's case, investors are faced with what to do about a protest-driven downturn. Thai gross domestic product shrank 0.6 percent in the three months through March, a sign the nation's political turmoil is wreaking greater damage on the economy than analysts had estimated. You'd think this economic fallout would encourage the nation’s two main political camps to reach an accommodation. And you'd be dreaming. Expect Thailand's downturn to deepen.
As Asia seethes, is China listening?
Chinese officials have been quick to call for restraint in Vietnam as protests there turn deadly and economically damaging. But events in Hanoi are a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping: Beijing's policies are shaking up the neighborhood in ways that will damage China's soft power. Recent actions in Southeast Asia are actually a plus for Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe. China's provocations are sure to have Asia cozying up anew to the U.S. and Japan as Xi flexes his muscles in a region that wants China's business, not its bluster.
What's this? Kim Jong Un has a heart?
It's in times of tragedy when a national leader's true character is revealed. That old adage comes to mind in North Korea, where an apartment building that was home to 92 families collapsed. Not only did Pyongyang issue an incredibly rare public apology, but the official government mouthpiece reported that a distraught Kim Jong Un “sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident.” What's that about? Is Kim suddenly feeling pressure to be nicer to his people amid worries of rising discontent in the Hermit Kingdom? No one outside Kim's inner circle knows for sure. But suffice it to say, Pyongyang's reaction to this human tragedy is a fascinating one that deserves greater analysis.
Fukushima whitewash even hits manga comics.
It seems Shinzo Abe's penchant for revisionist history is encroaching on current affairs, too. What else can we conclude as a popular manga comic series warning about health risks in Fukushima is pulled off the shelves the same weekend Japan's prime minister declared radiation levels near the crippled Fukushima reactors to be perfectly safe. It's an amazing coincidence and raises troubling questions about government censorship. That's particularly true at a time when Japan's Jiji Press and others are reporting that radiation 135 miles northeast of Tokyo is at an all-time high.
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