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Photo montage by Adam Connors

Rakesh Sahai for Asiaweek
Dream Leader -- A.B. Vajpayee

One Dream Team

What would a millennium "dream cabinet" drawn from Asiaweek's Power 50 2000 look like? First, the qualifications. The members must all be people who, over an extended period, have performed, and performed consistently, often in trying circumstances. Then they must all be exemplars of today's revolutionary new world -- in how they view technology and business, yes, but also how they see the future of society and politics. Now, the names. Assuming the candidates do not lapse into ego-clashing or inertia, then a nation blessed with this cabinet might well emulate Japan's economic efficiency, embrace Singapore's clean and ordered society, and yet permit its citizens the joy-inspiring liberties of Thailand. Hey, it's a dream cabinet, and sometimes dreams come true.

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Anyone who leads India could lead the world. Its ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversity is mindboggling. It has half a dozen insurgency movements and antagonistic -- if not openly aggressive -- neighbors. As well, its population has just passed the one-billion mark. The mere thought of trying to govern India is enough to induce terrifying nightmares. Yet the serene and honest (so far as we can tell) Vajpayee has run this behemoth with extraordinary restraint and astuteness. Indeed, of Asia's two giants, it is now India rather than China that is bursting onto the world's stage as the powerhouse to watch. It is also a flourishing democracy -- China has yet to mount that tiger, while India has managed it for more than 50 years. And with Vajpayee in the saddle, the nation has rarely looked stronger and more resolute. Vajpayee also continues to encourage India's computer geniuses, fanning out like worker bees, to take the world by storm. The man covers all bases.

Deputy PM and Finance Minister Zhu Rongji. His record and his ongoing commitment to reform China's monolithic economy is alone enough to justify his inclusion. Add his sheer political moxie and PR skills and he shows himself to be the perfect partner for Vajpayee. They would form an exquisite yin-and-yang power-complementary duo from Asia's two largest nations -- and that would augur well for the cabinet's stability. Okay, Zhu is autocratic and his tough talk on Taiwan backfired, but it was necessary for domestic reasons and every savvy minister who wants to survive knows that kind of thing is required once in a while. In the context of China, Zhu is his still-evolving country's most openly forthright, articulate and accessible leader.

Trade & Industry Minister Li Ka-shing and Science & Technology Minister Idei Nobuyuki bring to the cabinet an inestimable fountain of knowledge and experience about today's fast-changing, high-tech business world. Li is a super-sharp businessman uniquely positioned to forge lucrative trade ties globally. Technology czar Idei combines business sense with vision -- and the boldness to re-evaluate, regroup and change tack when needed.

Interior Minister Mahathir Mohamad would liaise well with Li and especially Idei (the Japanese love him and he them). Few Asian leaders have modernized their country as comprehensively as Mahathir has done for Malaysia over the past two decades. During most of that time, he was also interior minister so the portfolio suits him. Some may argue that Mahathir's authoritarian style and uncompromising attitude toward dissent should bar him. But his repeated re-election as leader and his commitment to the IT revolution confirm his stature.

Minister of Defense Goh Chok Tong. This supreme technocrat fits right into the defense portfolio, having held that post for a decade in supremely defended Singapore. Goh bestrides regional summits as the leader most likely to know the answers, give the most cogent speeches, have the best long-term strategies.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kim Dae Jung. In setting up a meeting with his reclusive and dictatorial North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Il, D.J. has brokered Asia's most historic summit to date. Add his initiatives in Indochina and enhanced rapport with Beijing and Tokyo, coupled with his pro-democracy credentials, and it's evident he is made for the dream team's foreign ministry. Equally ideal in his post is Justice Minister Chuan Leekpai, given that he is a trained lawyer, a staunch believer in democracy and human rights, and a confident conciliator. Chuan will have a soulmate in Health & Education Minister Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao. After his long incarceration and resistance struggle, Gusmao looks as fit, wise and statesmanlike as Nelson Mandela did upon his release. He rounds out perfectly this dream cabinet of proven achievers and innovators.

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The Asiaweek Power 50
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