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Photo montage by Adam Connors
When Creators Arise

Who has more power over you: the head of your government, or the head of the company that shapes how you work, how you communicate, how you live and play? Let's put them head to head. more >>

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"What would a millennium cabinet drawn from Asiaweek's Power 50 2000 look like?"

Who has more power over the other: the political leader who sets economic policy, or the businessman whose investment decisions determine whether that policy will work -- or is even relevant? More to the point, at a time when globalization, computers and the Internet are erasing national boundaries and rewriting everything we had imagined about the future, who has more influence on tomorrow?

Of course, national leaders have certain advantages when it comes to a power showdown, like armies and judiciaries and taxpayer funds. The recent financial crisis and recession also starkly showed the limits of business. But in synchrony with the recovery taking hold in the region, enterprise is coming to the fore again. It is not the state-sponsored development that powered Asia in the past. Governments are no longer setting the business agenda. On the contrary, they are scrambling to meet the economic, educational, social and even environmental conditions that will attract New Economy entrepreneurs, without whom they know their countries are doomed to fade.

Yet, this being Asia, the break between the old and the new is not so clear. Unlike in the United States, where everybody seems to be obsessed with whatever "New New Thing" is being created by computer geeks tinkering in college dorm rooms, some of the swiftest, smartest, most self-assured masters of innovation turn out to be the ones who helped build the old Asian miracle. Not all, of course. Some tycoons are looking distinctly antique. And bright young newcomers are crowding in from below. But imagine a superman with Old Economy heft, New Economy vigor and some good-old fashioned friends in high places, and you have the picture of the man at the top of this year's Asiaweek Power 50 -- Li Ka-shing.

Li has always hovered near the top of the chart, but in the past year he and his family outdid themselves. The one-time plastic flowers maker turned property de-veloper continued to expand his empire across borders and business lines. His Brit-ish mobile phone venture Orange turned into a huge financial windfall and a 5% stake in Vodaphone, the world's largest mobile company, after a series of deals. His Hutchison Ports runs 18 container terminals around the world, including both ends of the Panama Canal, and handles a tenth of world trade. His Internet portal achieved a market value of $2.8 billion on the day its shares were listed. Most of all, Li's son Richard built his Pacific Century Cyberworks into one of Asia's top Internet conglomerates and is poised to take over Hong Kong's dominant telephone company.

Li Ka-shing is not alone in successfully building a bridge between the old and new. At No. 3 on the Power 50 is Sony chief executive Idei Nobuyuki, who by aggressively reinventing the audio-video pioneer as a software-hardware all-rounder is positioning it to shape the post PC era. Azim Premji, No. 15, turned Wipro from a maker of soaps and shoes into a global leader in software solutions. At No. 14 in his own right is Richard Li, who may surpass his father in the not too distant future. And there are the more purely New Economy entrepreneurs like Softbank founder Son Masayoshi (No. 8), who as Asia's premier Internet investor might have been No. 1 had not the recent downturn in technology shares shaved several billions off of his net worth (don't worry, he has plenty more), and Infosys Technologies chief Narayana Murthy (No. 40), who along with compatriots like Premji is making India a computer software superpower.

Of course government leaders have not faded away and the usual suspects are on the list. But here also the watchwords are change and new ideas. Debuting at No. 6 is Taiwan's incoming leader, Chen Shui-bian. He has yet to take office, but by breaking the Kuomintang's 51-year rule, he has already ushered the island into a new stage of democracy, and his record of supporting Taiwan independence has shaken Beijing to its core. Jumping into the top 10 is Abdurrahman Wahid (No. 7), who despite running an erratic administration has held Indonesia together as it gropes toward a more open society. And India's A.B. Vajpayee (No. 9) was boosted not only by old-fashioned power plays like Kargil, but by opening up his nation further to the world and presiding over its growing technology prowess. Everywhere, effective leaders are basing their strength on reform, not repression.

Of course "new" does not apply to everything. There is plenty that is consistent, or just persistent. The continuing clout of China, led by President Jiang Zemin at No. 2, is an example of the former. The resiliency of born-again crony businessmen like Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco (No. 45) and Lucio Tan (No. 47) may be a display of the latter. And some "new" things are not so welcome. The xenophobic gaffes of Ishihara Shintaro (No. 37) are like blasts from an unhappy past, overshadowing his positive achievements as Tokyo governor. But the trend is with the innovators, the reformers, the inventors. From a past in which power was too often used to control, Asia is moving into an era when power will be used to create.

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The Asiaweek Power 50
As business bounces back in 2000, the leaders of the New Economy rule

No. 1
Why "Superman" is flying ever higher

The annual listing of Asia's powerhouses

  The Full 2000 Ranking

Who was dropped, and why. Plus: How our 1999 predictions turned out

The ups and downs among the high and mighty - it is all in the timing

Hall of Fame
Life after the Asiaweek Power 50: what some retired stalwarts have been up to

Dream Team
A cabinet drawn from the current ranking

To 1975, a very historic year

Power 50 Poll
Who do you consider to be the most pwerful person in Asia? Vote now!

Asiaweek Power 50 2000
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