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ASIAWEEK Power 50 1999 > The Spotlight Passes On
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TO OUR READERS: Power in the Making (of a Special Issue)
THE GENERALS OF REFORM: The reformers call the shots

NO. 1: Two leading the charge for change
RANKING: Our annual listing of Asia's power players

KINGS: Above it all, the monarchs of Thailand and Cambodia
DOWN AND OUT: Who was taken off the list and why
CLOUT: The best and worst power movers in 1999
UP-AND-COMERS: The ones to watch in coming years
By Jonathan Sprague

A doctor only does so much. After surgery is completed and the followup treatment is prescribed, it is the patient who swallows the pills, observes the diet, does the rehabilitation exercises and gradually recovers. The time is past when the doctor dictated what the patients of the Asian Economic Crisis had to do. This year, power lies with the patients, with their ability and willingness to complete their own healing - some according to the doctor's prescription, some according to home remedies.

So Michel Camdessus, who as managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) strode through Asia last year prescribing drastic operations and bitter medicines and topped Asiaweek's list of the region's most powerful individuals, is rarely seen in the ward these days, passing through only occasionally as a consulting physician. Gone also is the man who many regarded as the virus carrier who helped bring on the Crisis, financier George Soros (No. 12 last year). The IMF of course remains very influential in Asia and its regional chief, Hubert Neiss, ekes into the top 10 on this year's Power 50 list as a sort of post-operative nurse. But no longer does the IMF wield power beyond that of Asian leaders who are making sure that their own countries will regain and retain their economic health.

Job/position and 1998 ranking
Michel Camdessus,
IMF managing director
George Soros,
U.S. investment banker
Kumazaki Katsuhiko,
Japanese prosecutor
Hashimoto Ryutaro,
Japanese prime minister
Robert Kuok Hock Nien,
Malaysian tycoon
L.K. Advani,
Indian home minister
Liu Tai-ying,
Taiwan political investment czar
Okuda Hiroshi,
Toyota Motor president
Chi Haotian,
Chinese defense minister
Kim Jong Pil,
South Korean prime minister
Sonia Gandhi,
Indian Congress Party leader
Mohammad Omar,
Taliban leader
Dhirubhai Ambani,
Indian tycoon
Jaime A. Zobel de Ayala II,
Philippine tycoon
Cardinal Sin,
Philippine Catholic leader
Dhanin Chearavanont,
Thai tycoon
Dalai Lama,
Tibetan spiritual leader
Kim Woo Choong,
Daewoo Group chairman
Prince Alwaleed al-Saud,
Saudi Arabian investor
The Crisis is still the main determinant of the Asian power equation this year, meaning prowess in economic policy is a plus while straight political and military strength are less important. Thus Chinese defense minister Chi Haotian (No. 33 in 1998) drops off the list, while Vice President Hu Jintao and National People's Congress chief Li Peng both saw their rankings erode. South Korean PM Kim Jong Pil (No. 35 last year) was crucial in getting President Kim Dae Jung, this year's co-No. 1, into office. Today the president and his economic team seem to be calling all the shots.

Of course politics still matters. Just ask former Japanese prime minister Hashimoto Ryutaro (No. 17 last year), now out of office after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was trounced in parliamentary upper house elections last July. But then his demise was largely due to his dismal record on the economy. In a more traditional powerplay, Sonia Gandhi (No. 42) toppled the administration of A.B. Vajpayee. But Gandhi herself fell off the power list by failing to put together a coalition that could take over the government after that. Vajpayee on the other hand remains on the list, albeit 35 places below his nuclear-powered ranking in 1998, for being caretaker prime minister and still being in position to retake his former office.

Business leaders suffered mixed fates. While tough times are giving economic policymakers a chance to shine - for better or worse - many executives have their hands full simply navigating the day-to-day. Thus tycoons like Robert Kuok Hock Nien (No. 18 in 1998), Dhanin Chearavanont (No. 47) and Kim Woo Choong (No. 49) are out of the Power 50 and Rupert Murdoch took a dive in his ranking not so much because the Crisis battered their businesses but because they did not do anything to make people sit up and say "wow." In contrast, still-listed business leaders like Sony's Idei Nobuyuki and Samsung's Lee Kun Hee are wowing investors with their bold restructuring plans.

Making people say "wow" was what catapulted Kumazaki Katsuhiko (No. 14) onto the Power 50 last year, and as the top-ranked Japanese. The Tokyo prosecutor sent his investigators into the hitherto untouchable Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan to ferret out corruption. His bold actions shattered the reputations of the powerful financial bureaucracy and helped spur the current trend toward limiting its authority. But exercising such power can be dangerous to the exerciser - Kumazaki was "promoted" to head a rural prosecutor's office following his successes in Tokyo. This year's top Japanese, bank reform chief Yanagisawa Hakuo, may also grace the Power 50 just briefly, if only because the better he does his job, the less reason for his job to exist.

The constitution of power changes all the time. The gun is powerful at one moment; the surgeon's scalpel at the next. Expertise may be key in many circumstances; willpower may be more important in others. But always essential is the ability to do what is necessary when it is necessary. The time is past for some, or perhaps not yet ripe; 19 individuals dropped off the Power 50 in 1999. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, whose authority is impossible to compare to those of politicians and businessmen, was profiled separately this year. Twenty new names joined the list this year. Their time is now.

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