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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


In the next century, many more Asians may escape poverty

By Claire MacDonald

asia in the new millennium
Mapping the Future The future wealth and size of Asian nations

The 21st Century By Arthur C. Clarke

Asia Trends 2000 The promises and perils of one wired world

The Microchip Silicon will get into everything
The Power As the region prospers, chances for conflict may become greater
Essay by Fidel Ramos Ending repression was easy; now we must defend freedom
The Dynasty It's here to stay
The Classes Many more Asians may escape poverty
The People Democracy in Asia will become increasingly deep-rooted
Essay by Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo Shifts to new paradigms may include the "common good" and spirituality
The Mind Classrooms of the future will be virtually unrecognizable
Essay by Stan Shih The challenge of creating markets in a competitive world
The Body Science will soon deliver miracle cures, designer babies and new dilemmas
The Soul Asia seeks a new cultural identity
Essay by the Dalai Lama Balancing material progress with inner development to achieve true success
The Food Are the pushers of genetically modified edibles out to lunch?
The Vacation Inner and outer space are the destinations of the future
The Design Asia still has a place in the shape of things to come
The Metropolis Sweeping global changes are reshaping urban destinies
The Earth Environmental awareness is growing
The Jobs New and reinvented careers will fire the imagination
The Money The cashless society is on the way
The Investor Globalization and the Net will empower future shareholders and savers
The Sexes Democracy, capitalism and the Internet can lift women to the top
Essay by Marina Mahathir In Malaysia, we should change the way society looks at their roles
The Family The family promises to be much different than it is today
The Economy New ways of working call for new ways of thinking
Essay by Donald Tsang Financial well-being is a responsibility for each nation and the world
The Network The connection will go much deeper

The Asiaweek Round Table on ASEAN in 2020

Celebrations Asia is gearing up

Celebrities How some of the region's most visible personalities intend to welcome the New Year

Millenium Dictionary From pop anthems to dawn sites and midnight nuptials, a guide to 2000

WANNEE LOOKS OUT THE kitchen window of her apartment onto a well-kept garden, and remembers how it was 20 years ago. Back in 2005, Bangkok's Klong Toey slum was a mass of haphazard wooden shacks. There was no kitchen in the one-room hut where Wannee lived with her husband and three children - she cooked outdoors and took in sewing for $2 a day to help make ends meet. But things began to change in 2010 when governments signed the Asian Agenda to Eradicate Poverty. Slums soon became a textbook memory.

An idyllic take on the future? On the face of it, yes. After all, just months before the start of the new millennium, one-third of Asia's population - 1 billion people - still live in grinding poverty. Meanwhile, in the past four years, the world's 200 richest people doubled their wealth to more than $1 trillion, says the 1999 United Nations Development Report. Thirty years ago, the gap between the world's richest fifth and the poorest fifth stood at 30 to 1 - the elite was 30 times wealthier than the most downtrodden. Today the ratio stands at 74 to 1. The trend looks set to continue early into the next century.

Yet until recently, Asia was bucking the tide. The number of people living in poverty in rural areas in China dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 42 million in 1998. Poverty levels in Indonesia fell from 50% of the population to 20% in the same period. The proportion of the total population considered poor in Thailand plunged from 34% two decades ago to just 8% at its lowest. Then the Asian Crisis that erupted in 1997 began decimating the ranks of the middle class. The World Bank says there are now 20 million newly impoverished Indonesians - they live on $1 or less a day. Thailand? The incidence of poverty there has gone up again, to 13% of the population.

Now that economic recovery has begun, there is talk that Asia may get back on track in 10 years. "When the economies return to pre-1997 growth, the gap between the rich and the poor will once again start to narrow," says Ernesto Pernia, a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila. He concedes that it will be difficult to replicate the 8%-9% annual growth rates of the 1980s. Pernia predicts a more modest growth of 5%-6%. That is not necessarily bad. A steady pace would make markets and businesses less volatile and consequently help make the poor less vulnerable and the middle class more secure.

So it may be that slum dwellers like Wannee may eventually get to live in new houses as governments regain the ability to pay for social projects. But it will take longer for other aspects of their lives to improve. The fallout from the Crisis is not only financial. As incomes drop and public-welfare programs are cut back, medical care becomes unreachable. Poor families run the risk of rearing a generation of sickly children. These days, says Prateep Ungsongthan Hata, founder of Thailand's Duang Prateep Foundation for slum dwellers, "pregnant women don't have pre-natal consultations until the pregnancy is well advanced." Malnutrition among school-age children is another social cost.

Don't forget intellectual starvation. Over the past two years, many Asian children have been taken out of school and sent to work to contribute to the family income. Absenteeism in the classroom has increased along with the number of dropouts, with older children leaving school earlier and younger ones starting later. With cuts in education budgets in Crisis-hit countries, enrollments in overseas and local private-sector universities have decreased. In the information age, the future of the uneducated is bleak. Ten-year-olds who miss school today may well be the unemployed 20-year-olds of 2010, when the world - and Asia - will have become wired as never before.

Or maybe not. "People stay poor because of lack of education, but globalization and new technology offer marginalized people the chance to become better educated, trained and connected," argues Charles Myers, an economist with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Imagine hamlets and villages from Indonesia to India linked to each other and the world through the Internet. That assumes, of course, that the needed infrastructure - phone lines, computers, satellite dishes - and software are in place. They could be. Information-delivery systems that cost billions to put up today may become considerably cheaper in the new millennium because of economies of scale, competition and technological advances.

Governments should take the lead. They may build the networks themselves or else encourage the private sector to do so by offering tax incentives, say, or requiring those awarded lucrative city franchises to serve the rural areas as well. The state can do other things. "The relatively undeveloped status of most countries' social safety nets provides an opportunity to develop them from the ground up, drawing on the views and voices of the people," says the ADB's Pernia. Governments should fight corruption too, says Christine Wallace, the ADB's director for infrastructure, energy and finance, because it "slows the rate of economic growth and increases the gap between the have and the have-nots."

The UNDP's Myers expects a new Asian lower middle class to rise from 2010 "barring a war across the Taiwan Straits, the collapse of North Korea or the emergence of a new disease." Many of its members should be able to capitalize on natural talent and hard work to move on and up the economic ladder, especially if they have the means and the training to access the world's information networks. The same holds true for today's middle-class Asians, who can already participate in the burgeoning business and investment opportunities being opened up by the Internet and globalization. "They are more resilient than the poor," says Pernia. "Many quickly found new jobs [during the Crisis], albeit less rewarding ones."

And the upper class? Despite the 1997 collapse of Asia's financial markets, the collective fortune of Asia's rich - people with at least $1 million in liquid assets - rose 10% to $4.4 trillion last year. That is not entirely because the wealthy simply grew wealthier. It is also because Internet entrepreneurs and other people with bright ideas are joining the millionaires' club. "The revolution of the future is knowledge, particularly in computers and genetic codes," says the UNDP's Myers. It is not impossible for someone whose family had to get by on $1 a day in 1997 to make it big at 30 in 2020 on the strength of a new product or process backed by money from venture capitalists or global markets.

Not that everyone in Asia will become millionaires. The poor may always be with us. But they will not necessarily go without food or live on the streets as they do now. They will be "poor" only in the sense that they cannot afford to reserve a place at to experience space flight at $90,000 per person. Not too bad a prospect, really, viewed from the Crisis-weary Asia of today.


SPACE TRIP For $90,000, soar to astronaut altitudes of at least 100 km. Now taking reservations for 2002 and early 2003 flights at

HIGH FLYER Reach the edge of space in a Russian MiG-25 ($11,900), or defy gravity in parabolic flight in Russia's Star City ($4,980).

GREETING CARDS Send a birthday card from space or a video of a personal 3-min message recorded by cosmonauts aboard the Russian Mir space station ($11,900).

STRESSBUSTERS Aqua Massage full-body, water-jet massage ($15,900). Heart Mate computerized exercise bike with built-in color TV ($3,850). Putting Challenge desktop golf course with audio commentary and applause ($5,995). Treadwall, for rock climbing at home ($8,900).

MOVE IN STYLE Yacht comes with disco, spa, sauna and helipad, pre-owned by the Sultan of Brunei ($42 million). Rolls-Royce Silver Spur limo, 2000 model ($195,000). The Zip rechargeable electric scooter ($1,600).

HAIR-RAISING EXPERIENCE The Flap, available from Beverly Hills plastic surgeons Fleming & Mayer: "Hair-bearing scalp moved to the balding side."

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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