Asia

In the pale sunlight of an unseasonably warm December day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday cut the ribbon to open the Mihailo Pupin Bridge, spanning the Danube in west Belgrade.

Logistically, the $170m, 1.5km bridge, built by state-owned China Road and Bridge Corporation, is intended to ease traffic in and around the Serbian capital. But Li’s visit to Belgrade has a considerably greater significance – the latest steps in China’s efforts to use the Balkans as a bridge to Europe. Read more

By Saurabh Mukherjea of Ambit Capital

As I finish my two-week year-end trip to meet our western clients (around 40 of them), it is obvious that enthusiasm regarding investing in India is at record highs. Over the past fortnight, I have met at least 10 western-hemisphere-based funds that have either just started investing in India or have applied to the Indian securities regulator for Foreign Portfolio Investor (FPI) status (which allows them to access the Indian stockmarket directly). Even more interestingly, half a dozen of the clients I met have moved to larger, better-appointed offices in money centres like London, New York, Zurich and San Francisco. Read more

It’s a few minutes into Marion Akinyi Onginjo’s social studies lesson at Bridge International Academy Gicagi in Nairobi and the class 4 teacher is being drowned out by loud cheers next door.

Bridge International Academy Gicagi, Nairobi. Photo: Tosin Sulaiman

Class 4 finally gets its chance to make some noise when one student, Margaret, correctly answers a question about subsistence crops. After Onginjo tells the class, “let’s give Margaret the cowboy cheer,” they stand up, spin imaginary lassoes in the girl’s direction and yell, “One, two, three, four, five, yee-hah.” Read more

By Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia

Serbia recently began its accession talks with the EU and is firmly dedicated to its European path. This is a blessing to a country like Serbia, since its geographic position places us at a key strategic juncture between Europe and the Orient – and this role is becoming ever more prominent.

The first character in the Chinese words for Serbia and Serbian is pronounced sai. It translates as ‘place of strategic importance’. As Chinese characters so often do, it offers a remarkably concise and meaningful description of Serbia’s relationship with China and the world more broadly. Read more

This month, the FT interviewed a senior executive at Uber in India about the US taxi-hailing company’s plans for rapid expansion in the country. But later that week, a 25 year-old woman said she had been raped by her Uber driver in New Delhi. The government banned the service from operating in the capital and asked state governments to ban all unregistered web-based taxi services.

Swept away by its bold ambitions, it seems Uber has fallen foul of local circumstances in its rush to recruit new drivers. The company declined to discuss this and related issues followed the alleged rape. But are Indian taxi services any more cautious in selecting their drivers? And assuming Uber gets past the rape case, can it go on to succeed in India? Read more

By Jukka Pihlman of Standard Chartered Bank

The Chinese currency’s path to internationalisation has been stellar so far but something may happen next year that could propel the renminbi (RMB) into the currency stratosphere.

The IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) – the IMF’s ‘virtual currency’ based on a basket of other currencies reviewed every five years – rarely warrant much excitement. But if the RMB gets included in 2015, alongside the dollar, euro, pound and yen, it could boost the Chinese currency’s fortunes overnight. Read more

By Joseph Dobbs, European Leadership Network

Russian aggression towards Ukraine this past year has seen Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, lambasted by Western leaders. China has desisted from such criticism and instead signed two major gas deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, co-operated in establishing a new development bank, and conducted joint military exercises. For some, Russia and China’s co-operation demonstrates their potential to challenge the global order. But in reality Russia’s pivot east faces too many hurdles to represent a viable alternative to working with the West.

Russia and China have much in common. Both states are increasingly nationalistic and share a common perceived threat of Western containment. In Russia’s case this threat comes primarily from the potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). China’s perception of US containment strategies derives mainly from the American military presence in East Asia. Leaders in Moscow and Beijing have both watched with unease as the West supported the Arab Spring and the so-called “colour revolutions” that rocked the likes of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Read more

The World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, released last month, presented some interesting findings about countries in the Asia Pacific region. Its Gender Gap Index measures progress in countries across four benchmarks: economic participation, education, health and political empowerment.

Despite political and cultural diversity across the region, there are definite signs the overall gender gap is shrinking. According to the report, 7 out of the 24 countries of Asia and the Pacific have closed over 70 per cent of the gap. In terms of economic participation, the Asean countries are now all above the world average. The Philippines, in particular, has closed the gap between male and female access to health and education and features in the list of top 10 countries worldwide.

Source: World Economic Forum, beyondbrics

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By Shumita Sharma Deveshwar of Trusted Sources

The Indian government’s sale of a 5 per cent stake in the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) was meant to serve as a gauge of investor sentiment towards public sector stocks before the bigger sell-offs of shares in Coal India and the ONGC oil & gas group. But it has left some doubts about the potential success of the record disinvestment programme and the consequent reduction of the fiscal deficit. Read more

How do you like your smartphones and tablets? Light or large? Black or white? For most consumers in emerging markets the question is: cheap or cheaper?

This is the market manufacturers should be focusing on, according to a new report by Gartner, a technology research company, which estimates that no less than 78 per cent of global smartphone sales will come from developing economies by 2018. Read more

By Andy Rothman, Matthews Asia

After two decades of 10 per cent GDP growth, followed by average growth of over 8 per cent, conventional wisdom is that China is on the verge of collapse. But that wisdom is based largely on many misunderstandings.

Let’s start with the consensus that China’s residential property market is about to replicate the U.S. housing crisis. But China has avoided most of the U.S. traps. For example, homeowner leverage is far lower in China than it was in the U.S. during the run-up to the crisis. By 2006, the National Association of Realtors reported that the median cash down payment for first-time homebuyers in the U.S. was only 2 per cent of the purchase price. In China, the minimum down payment is 30 per cent. Read more

A problem in a single electricity transmission line running between India and Bangladesh caused a nationwide blackout in Bangladesh on November 1. The outage lasted nearly 10 hours, making it the country’s worst incidence of power failure since a cyclone knocked out the national grid in 2007.

Insufficient energy production remains a major roadblock to Bangladeshi growth. Apart from such poorly maintained infrastructure, power generation is stifled by ancient land acquisition laws that impede mining and a severe shortage in the production of natural gas; coal and gas account for 70 per cent of energy generated in the country. Read more

Shares on the Shanghai stock exchange have climbed 22 per cent in the past month. fastFT’s Naomi Rovnick explains to Jonathan Wheatley, deputy emerging markets editor, how this is being driven by falling property prices and lower interest rates.

Photo: Bloomberg

As anyone who has tried to drive across Almaty at 6pm knows, Kazakhstan’s financial capital is no sleepy city on the steppe.

Car ownership in Almaty city and the surrounding region has soared on the back of Kazakhstan’s growing oil wealth, rising from 617,000 in 2007 to 936,000 in 2011. At rush hour, police regulate the number of vehicles entering the city and traffic on the glitzy Al-Farabi avenue grinds to a halt.

On Tuesday the Kazakh government will attempt to address the gridlock, launching a roadshow in London for tender to build a ring road around the city. Read more

When the IMF announced this year that China’s economy had overtaken the US economy at purchasing power parity, there was some skepticism about the usefulness of PPP calculations and widespread amazement about the speed at which China had made this transformation.

Both themes carry over in a note on Friday from HSBC, which examines the data more closely to conclude that, even after switching variables, the size and importance of the Chinese economy cannot be denied. Read more