Work has begun on the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, a 1,483km, €67bn thoroughfare. A high-speed train line will service 14 per cent of the total population and seven new cities along the route. The project has also benefited from €3.3bn coming from Japan.
China’s presumptive next leader, Xi Jinping, will never be seen chatting up locals in a Beijing noodle restaurant or railing against American economic policies in a speech to factory workers. China’s leadership changes, which occur every 10 years, are entirely programmed affairs and Xi has no need to court the public. “What makes Chinese leaders effective is a cultivation of ambiguity around where they actually stand. They want to keep people guessing,” says Patrick Chovanec, a political analyst and professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Xi, the 58-year-old current vice-president, has been so adept at keeping his cards close to his chest, he is a virtual mystery to most Chinese. His personal style seems intended to maintain the cloak of faceless officialdom as well. Xi is rarely seen in public wearing anything but a dull, corporate suit – uniformly black. He lacks the signature owlish specs of former prime minister Jiang Zemin or the comforting persona that has earned premier Wen Jiabao the nickname “Grandpa Wen”. Xi’s fashion sense is all about predictability and stability – watchwords for a government paranoid about losing its grip on power.
But Xi does have one attribute that sets him apart from his predecessors: youthful good looks. Whereas Jiang was stodgy and the current prime minister Hu Jintao is drab, Xi is tall and confident, with an easy, relaxed smile. He carries himself almost regally, in line with his status in China as a “princeling”, the son of a revolutionary hero who fought alongside Mao Zedong (before being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution). Outside China, he’s struck a more casual tone. He mingled so amiably with Iowans during a trip to the US in February that the China Daily newspaper declared he’d “charmed” the people of Muscatine. And when the basketball fan went tie-less to a LA Lakers game, it caused a flurry of posts on China’s Weibo microblogging service.
It also helps he has a glamorous wife in Peng Liyuan, 49. Peng is one of China’s most beloved folk singers. She’s not quite the Carla Bruni of China – her songs are high-pitched and patriotic, with names like “I Belong to China” – but she will certainly be the country’s most visible first lady since Mao’s much-loathed wife, Jiang Qing.
Hair: Grey hair is unheard of among Chinese leaders; most resort to the bottle in a vain attempt to look young. But unlike Hu Jintao’s bad dye job, Xi’s black locks look natural. His American counterpart, Joe Biden, is a fan. “I envy a lot of things about him, starting with his full head of hair,” he quipped.
Suit: Xi’s suits may be conservative but they are well cut and he typically pairs them with brightly coloured ties, sometimes choosing pink or purple. The look appeals to younger, business-oriented Chinese, says Yang Yifei, fashion feature editor of Modern Weekly. His suits appear to be tailor-made; luxury logos would be unbefitting a Chinese leader. And black is a safe choice when it comes to colour. “I think with the Chinese skin colour, when you try blue or brown, it may be a little risky,” Yang says.
Hair: Peng’s hair has always been big but her latest look with voluminous curls is more befitting a first lady, as well as the mother of a 19-year-old daughter (currently enrolled at Harvard University under a pseudonym). As well as the bouffant, some serious make-up remains from her gala days.
Dress sense: For 25 years, Peng, whose name means “great beauty”, wore flowing silk ballgowns to perform in the annual Spring Festival Gala before a TV audience of hundreds of millions. Perhaps sensing the need to project a less pageant-show look, she has become less visible in recent years, but when she does sing she frequently appears in military uniform, owing to her position as a major general in the Army’s musical troupe. Yang says the uniform is part of image control. “If you show too much glamour, maybe the Chinese people will link it to corruption,” she says.
Work has begun on a nine-runway airport near Beijing that will become the world’s largest. Opening in 2015, Daxing Airport will handle 370,000 passengers a day and will cover 54 sq km. It will aid China’s flourishing aviation industry, which last year reported profits of €4.08bn.
India’s most populous and politically important state Uttar Pradesh has a new chief: a 38-year-old Australian-trained environmental engineer.
Akhilesh Yadav is one of India’s youngest leaders, having taken the reins after his socialist Samajwadi party won elections earlier this year. His father, a former wrestler and founder of the party, served as UP chief minister three times. But Yadav’s first task will be to convince the lower castes that he understands their plight.
“The Yadavs carry a lot of baggage,” says Sanjay Kumar, from the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “They’re seen as aggressive. The major issue he faces is rebuilding the image of his party.”
Perhaps then he can sort out poverty, sanitation and the gender imbalance.
As China prepares for its new political leadership there is a growing consensus that it also stands on the threshold of a new era in its political and intellectual development.
Chinese intellectuals think in terms of three-decade blocks. The era of the managed economy inspired by Mao Zedong from 1949 and 1979 is China 1.0. The past 30 years have been China 2.0 – inspired by Deng Xiaoping’s embrace of the market and western ideas. But now many talk of the development of a new model for the next 30 years: China 3.0.
There are profound questions about the future of the export-led economic model. Should China’s next phase be about promoting private enterprise or reducing inequality? What kind of political reforms should it embrace? And what role should China play on the world stage – should it continue to seek a low profile or try to shape a global order in Beijing’s image?
Over the past year, there have been two potential models for China 3.0 – associated with the gleaming export super-power of Guangdong and the sprawling inland megalopolis of Chongqing. The first model was based on the idea of improving the rule of law and the representation of people by ngos.
The Chongqing model was promoted by the charismatic Bo Xilai. His campaign included appointing a “robo-cop” police chief to crackdown on organised crime, while promoting a Red campaign complete with patriotic songs and pro-Mao text messaging. But the key to the model was the mix of populist, egalitarian and free-market policies that he introduced.
The giddy experiment which led people to talk of a “Chongqing model” came to an abrupt end when Bo Xilai was sacked in March, unleashing what is possibly the biggest political crisis in China since the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.
It is still unclear whether the future China will embrace western-oriented reform or chart a new phase of authoritarian capitalism. But while Bo will no longer be part of the story, my hunch is that his ideas – veering China’s economic model to the left, using welfare, populism and repression to garner political legitimacy and reaching out to the world in a more self-confident manner – will be embodied in the post-financial crisis China 3.0 that the world will need to get used to.
The Tokyo Sky Tree will open on 22 May. Situated in quiet northeastern Tokyo, the monumental 634m broadcasting tower will be one of the world’s tallest freestanding towers. With its two observatory floors and adjacent commercial development, the tower is expected to bring in over 20 million visitors and ¥88bn (€795m) a year to the area.
Fed up with old-school politics and bickering between parties, the outspoken mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, has started an institute to groom a new generation of Japanese politicians. Two thousand aspiring Diet members turned up to the launch in Osaka at Ishin Seiji Juku (Political Restoration Institute) of which only a few hundred will make the cut.
Hashimoto’s group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), isn’t even registered as a political party yet but he plans to field around 300 candidates in the next election, which must be held by summer 2013. “The existing political parties can’t meet people’s expectations,” says the group’s policy chief Hitoshi Asada.
With Southeast Asia’s largest economy growing at a brisk 6.5 per cent a year, more of Indonesia’s new middle class are spending on cars. Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota and General Motors are among a number of firms cashing in. As Indonesia anticipates investment of at least €1.3bn in the country’s car industry, its government is also looking to benefit, proposing to raise fuel prices by a third.