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 defends currency peg.
As Hong Kong gets swarmed by pro-democracy protesters, its monetary authority is being overwhelmed by hot money flows. As it intervenes to cap the currency for first time since December 2012, is the city's 31 year-old peg to the U.S. dollar under threat? Not necessarily. Optimism about the outlook for emerging-market economies is pulling large capital inflows into Hong Kong and putting upward pressure on the currency. Of course, this dynamic is as reminder that the peg has probably outlived its usefulness and authorities should mull an exit. But if you're worried about a massive speculative attack on Hong Kong, relax.
Thailand frees "Hunger Games" activist.
Who knew a Jennifer Lawrence movie could help put a Thai activist in police detention? That's been Sombat Boonngam-anong's lot over the last month after he led efforts to borrow the three-fingered salute inspired by "The Hunger Games" -- a silent, but effective protest strategy against the generals who grabbed power in a May 22 coup. As Sombat is released on bail, his plight is a reminder that Thailand's coup leaders aren't tolerating gestures they deem to be seditious in the slightest. Even those inspired by Hollywood's latest "it" girl.
Malaysia's Petronas economic indicator?
If you're looking for a litmus test for progress in Malaysia, the ability of Petronas CEO Shamsul Azhar Abbas to keep his job could be it. This Edge Weekly piece explores rumors of his possible demise at Malaysia's state oil company as he tries to maintain some semblance of independence from political meddling. "It's so difficult to do an honest day's job," Shamsul says of the "bureaucratic interference" all around him. "You spend a lot of time away from your true function" of running the company. Prime Minister Najib Razak pledges to rein in the cronyism that dents Malaysia's global competiveness. How things play out at Petronas could say much about that process.
Why Sushinomics is hard on New Yorkers.
From Big Macs to Starbucks lattes, to skirt lengths, skyscrapers and Freakonomics books, the world of economics is always on the lookout for quirky indicators. Anything to get numbers crunches' noses out of Excel spreadsheets. Here from my Bloomberg News colleagues is a look at the priciest U.S. cities through the lens of Japanese cuisine. New York, it seems is on a roll: it led our Sushinomics Cost-of-Living Index for a third straight year.
Asia's Islamic extremism worries.
Concerns about extremism remain pervasive in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia. This Pew Research Center poll found that "strong majorities in Bangladesh (69 percent), Pakistan (66 percent) and Malaysia (63 percent) are anxious about Islamic extremism. However, in Indonesia, only about four-in-ten (39 percent) share this view, down from 48% in 2013." Well-publicized spurts of violence, ranging from suicide bombings to civil war (and any number of lost civil-liberties) are keeping governments on their toes and the people on edge.
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