Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Asia's collision course.
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "reinterprets" Japan's pacifist constitution, focus is turning to Asia's unfolding arms race. In this Project Syndicate op-ed, Yoon Young Kwan, South Korea's former foreign affairs minister, explores "Asia’s military revolution" as an ascendant China, a resurgent Japan and a desperate North Korea vie for attention and geopolitical leverage. Bottom line, Yoon argues: "serious efforts and far-reaching compromises are needed to begin the process of building institutions for regional security cooperation. Otherwise, the much-heralded 'Asian century,' far from bringing economic prosperity and peace, will be an age of suspicion and peril."
In China, a bank killer on the rise.
Chinese banks have a Jack Ma problem on their hands. As Wall Street rejoices in Alibaba's initial public offering, the splashiest since Facebook in 2012, China's banks are grappling with an explosion of online savings products -- more than 50 since last year -- including Yu’E Bao, the money-market fund pioneered by Alipay, the online-payment affiliate of Ma's Alibaba. China's banks still have a huge 1.3 billion customer base at home to tap, but the Ma's of the world are increasingly ready to force them to work harder for assets.
Will Malaysian Air go private?
The company says it’s not aware of any privatization decision, but the Wall Street Journal's story to that effect has many placing wagers. Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund Khazanah owns 69 percent of an airline that's been on the receiving end of terrible press after one of its planes disappeared in March with 239 people on board. The government has been eyeing ways to resuscitate the flagging carrier. Pushing it fully into the private sector may just be the first step toward Malaysian Air regaining altitude.
China's anti-pollution drones.
The most populous nation seems as interested in using drones to attack pollution as to kill enemies. It's a fascinating strategy, one explored in this Time piece. "China has previously tested using drones to fight the country’s heavy atmospheric pollution — in March, China tested large drones equipped with parachutes that sprayed chemicals to disperse smog, though the country has yet to use these widely," Time writes. "China has also tested stealth drones and funneled billions into military spending to modernize its arsenal of aerial vehicles."
Viral outburst in Hyogo.
If there were a Scandal 101 course for wayward politicians and businesspeople, rule No. 1 might be: Once caught, lay low and don't make an international spectacle of yourself. Clearly, Japan's Ryutaro Nonomura didn’t take the course. After being accused of misusing almost $30,000 of public funds, the Hyogo Prefectural assemblyman held a tearful and wailing press conference that went viral on YouTube globally. You don't have to speak Japanese to enjoy this theatrical and farcical scene.
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