Commentary: Six influential Asians changing their part of the world
By William Pesek Jr. Bloomberg News
Thursday, April 21, 2005
The Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world includes
some worthy Asian picks. Manmohan Singh, the Indian economist who became prime
minister, is on it, and for good reason. The same goes for President Hu Jintao
of China. The men are charged with leading a third of humanity into the global
economy, with all its benefits and risks.
Visionaries like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and the Dalai Lama are there, as is
one known for the opposite quality: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Taiwanese
President Chen Shui-bian is on the list, and so are business magnates like Lee
Kun Hee of Samsung Electronics. Celebrated Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi are there, too.
Yet the Time 2005 list is equally noteworthy for the Asians it overlooked.
Admittedly, it is quite a task picking 100 people out of the billions of
possibilities, and space is an issue in any publication. While many come to
mind, here are six Asians to keep an eye on in the year ahead.
Haruhiko Kuroda, head of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank. The former
Japanese vice finance minister used to spend his time manipulating the global
foreign exchange markets. Now his task is to help more people in the most
populous region out of poverty and work to make Asian markets world class.
Kuroda, 60, is at the center of the push to create deeper Asian bond markets.
In the short run, that will help Asia hang on to more of the cash it parks in
U.S. Treasuries. In the long run, it will move Asia closer to creating its own
single currency. Talk about changing the world as we know it.
Takafumi Horie, founder of the Japanese Internet portal Livedoor.
Single-handedly, the 32-year-old has shaken up Japan's clubby business culture
as never before with his attempted hostile takeover of Nippon Broadcasting
System. His punk rock instinct for questioning the establishment sent shock
waves though Tokyo.
While Horie backed down, reaching an alliance with Fuji Television Network, he
set off an entrepreneurial bomb in an economy badly in need of ground-up
innovation. There is no doubt that scores of Horie wannabes are perched before
laptops wondering how they, too, can take on Japan Inc.
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia. Few would envy running the
fourth most populous nation at a time when more than half of its 238 million
people live on less $2 a day and rampant corruption keeps investors from
entrusting capital to the economy. That Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim
population and the occasional terrorist attack by religious extremists hardly
simplifies things for its first directly elected president.
Yet Yudhoyono, 55, seems to be just what Indonesia needs. The former general
promises to clean things up and tend to a long neglected and highly indebted
economy. Indonesia is just too populous to fail as an economy. Markets from New
York to Tokyo have much riding on a Yudhoyono success.
Mechai Viravaidya, Thai AIDS activist. Few may aspire to see their name become
slang for "condom." Mechai, 64, could not be happier when he hears young Thais
asking for "mechais" at the local drugstore.
Africa is the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS problem. Scientists believe Asia, a
region far more connected to the global economy, will be the center of a
HIV/AIDS crisis in the next 10 to 12 years. The world needs more people like
Mechai who are not afraid to take on governments and religious groups who think
abstinence alone will stop AIDS.
BoA, omnipresent South Korean pop star. Asia has never been more connected
economically. Trade is thriving and helping to float most boats. Far from
keeping pace, political ties are moving in the other direction amid
disagreements over World War II.
Oddly, the most promising connection between Japanese and Koreans is
entertainment. Cultural exports are thriving. For all of Korea's challenges,
its films, musicians and celebrities are taking Asia, if not the world, by
storm and creating a lucrative industry for cultural exports.
The economic effects are multiplying and offering a ray of sunshine for the No.
3 economy in Asia that has grown sluggishly in recent years. And BoA, 18, has
much to do with the trend. Her face is popping up on billboards throughout
Asia. She may just be this region's global face in the years ahead.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the 65-year-old prime minister of Malaysia. In
modern-day Malaysia, miniskirts exist next to women in Muslim head scarves.
Decadent night life unfolds down the street from opulent mosques and
hypermodern skyscrapers. It is a country that tests the limits of coexistence
between the modern world and traditional Islam.
The world has much riding on Abdullah's ability to maintain peace and
prosperity among his nation's 24 million people. Markets, too, have a lot
riding on him, because Abdullah wants to turn Kuala Lumpur into a global
financial hub. When you consider the growth of Islamic finance, Malaysia has a
better shot at succeeding than many may appreciate.
At the same time, Abdullah, like his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, is a
leading voice in the search for a more equitable and balanced global economic
and financial system. His ideas on how to spread prosperity to the poor as well
as the rich are likely to be among the most interesting anywhere.
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