Photo montage by Adam Connors|
Good Times And Bad
Li's Falungong is losing members to jail, but in the long run, the faith may grow stronger
By RICARDO SALUDO
Timing, a stock market player would say, is everything. So might a
head of state, a battle commander, even a spiritual guru. Indeed,
over the past year, many a power move went well or haywire due to
good or bad timing.
Just ask Power 50 dropout B.J. Habibie. He lost Indonesia's presidency
to Abdurrahman Wahid (No. 7 in the ranking) partly because of the
mass mayhem that marred East Timor's referendum on independence last
August. And why did the vote get all blasted and bloody? Timing. Early
last year Habibie decided he'd like the East Timor problem resolved
by January, as if decades of conflict could be switched off on deadline.
He did meet his Y2K date, but even advocates of East Timor freedom
would have preferred a less explosive, if more gradual, transition.
Philippine President Joseph Estrada (No. 24) also set a date for ending
a separatist rebellion. He told Asiaweek in February that if there
was no peace pact with Muslim insurgents by June, his forces would
fight for victory by December. Now if you were on the receiving end
of Estrada's ultimatum, what would you do in the months before his
announced date for escalating hostilities? You got it: since they
couldn't win a conventional war, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
and the extremist Abu Sayyaf have intensified guerrilla attacks, bombings
You won't catch Velupillai Prabhakaran (No. 48) announcing war dates.
The dreaded leader of Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers knows the
advantage of surprise. That's what his forces employed last month
in their successful assault on the army's garrison at Elephant Pass,
gateway to the Jaffna Peninsula, which they aim to retake after five
years. The Tigers' timing was fearsomely perfect: President Chandrika
Kumaratunga (No. 49) was abroad; her troops were lulled by Easter
Li Hongzhi (No. 38), the shadowy head of China's Falungong spiritual
movement, also sprang a surprise with the unannounced rally of 10,000
followers outside the Zhongnanhai compound housing top leaders over
a year ago. Beijing eventually reasserted its power and cracked down
on the Falungong. Since then, its members have been more predictable,
protesting on well-known dates like Li's claimed May 13 birthday and
the anniversary of the April 25, 1999, demonstration. Is it a foolish
move for the Falungong to virtually march into the waiting arms of
Again, it's timing. In the short term, it does seem like a losing
battle for Falungong members to be beaten and arrested virtually every
day. But if they keep this up month after month -- Li claims to have
millions of followers across China -- the police and the government
could be worn down, if they don't run out of jail cells first. Meanwhile,
tales of Falungong defiance will inspire many more to greater faith.
The long and short of it are also key to other power moves the past
year. In the short term, the Sultan of Brunei (No. 46) took a hit
to his prestige with the financial probe of his wayward brother that
his government made. But taking Prince Jefri to task would help restore
the sultan's public standing in the long run.
Outgoing Taiwan leader Lee Teng-hui (No. 28) may have made a similar
trade-off. His clash with the popular James Soong cost their party
the presidency. But the victory of oppositionist Chen Shui-bian (No.
6) has ensured that Lee's vision of an assertive Taiwan will thrive.
Pakistan coupmaker Gen. Pervez Musharraf (No. 25) committed what is
arguably a monumental mistake in weighing short- and long-term geopolitical
interests. Two years ago, his country came out ahead of India in the
eyes of the world when both detonated nuclear bombs -- the Indians
starting that lap of the subcontinental arms race. But last year Pakistan's
intrusion into Indian-controlled Kashmir -- a Musharraf idea -- cast
his nation as villain and earned a U.S. rebuke. The general's October
coup further eroded Islamabad's favor with the West. When Bill Clinton
visited South Asia in March, India seemed set to replace Pakistan
as America's strategic ally in the subcontinent. What's worse, the
U.S. has cited Pakistan as a source of terrorism.
Sometimes a good move doesn't look so great if it is forced by outside
pressure. Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's anti-pollution
plan is laudable, but it came only after prodding from the business
community and alarming air quality reports.
Good timing, of course, is often thanks to good luck, and this year's
Power 50 topnotcher, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing had oodles of both.
From the sale of his group's cellphone operation in Britain to the
tom.com listing in Hong Kong and his son Richard Li's (No. 14) takeover
of the territory's telephone giant HKT, the family rode the dotcom
boom. Will the gains last? Naturally, only time will tell.
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