Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Indonesia's fragile economy.
Investors are really paying Indonesia a compliment when they take for granted its transition from basket case to success case. But as outgoing Finance Minister Chatib Basri tells Bloomberg News, the nation's next leader faces an economy that's becoming increasingly fragile. Nor does it help that the two frontrunners in next month's election, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, have struck a protectionist tone in campaigning, including renegotiating some contracts with foreign investors. For all the progress Indonesia has made since the darkest days on the 1997 Asian crisis, there's no guarantee it will stay the course. Here's a timely reality check on what's at stake.
Hollywood trashes Hong Kong.
Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and Nicola Peltz brought some serious Tinseltown buzz to Hong Kong, which hosted the world premiere of Michael Bay's latest "Transformers" flick. Fitting, considering the cast's extensive filming in the city. But I can't help but be fascinated by Hollywood's love of destroying the place. This newest Transformers movie follows other recent flatten-Hong Kong scenes in "Pacific Rim," "Battleship" and a host of other big-budget action films, including "Deep Impact" in 1991 and a "Godzilla" installment in 1995. Should Hong Kong be tickled by this penchant for leveling its skyline? At the very least, it makes for some very cool computer-generated imagery.
China probe Hu Jintao's orbit.
Mainland investigators have Ling Zhengce in their sights, and following the money could bring them to very politically sensitive places. Ling isn’t just one of the top officials in China’s coal-rich Shanxi province -- he's also the brother of Ling Jihua, a close ally of former president Hu Jintao. In explaining its big scoop, the South China Morning Post said "the move underscores the widening crackdown against corrupt officials in coal-rich Shanxi province and suggests investigators could be closing in on Ling Jihua himself." For Hu and his inner circle, President Xi Jinping's anti-graft efforts may be about to get too close for comfort.
Is India whiskey-ed out?
Trivia: which nation is the world's biggest market for whiskey? Until recently, that was India, which, according to this Quartz News item, was the No. 1 consumer by volume between 2007 and 2012. But Indians appear to be losing their taste for the spirit, as sales plummet. Blame it on high taxes, sluggish economic growth and demographic trends that have many turning to wine and beer instead. You can read all about it in this spirited report from International Wine and Spirits Research.
Australia can't get enough of China.
Australia's strategy to raise growth and income in recent decades can be summed up with one word: China. Now, Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government is offered its own blueprint for prosperity: even more China. As the Financial Times points out, China has long complained that officials in Canberra forced all deals involving state-owned companies to be referred to Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. "But in a sign of deepening economic links, Canberra will reassure Beijing that its companies are welcome," the FT says. And that's fine, so long as Abbott also remembers to diversify his economy so that Australia doesn't become little more than Beijing's filling station.
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