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When we first launched our Stars of Asia Special Report in 1998, the region was suffering through its worst economic crisis in half a century. Little did we know then how many determined, resilient, visionary, and dedicated personalities we would find who were shrugging off adversity to build for the future. Today, with our sixth Asian Stars report, we're beyond such surprises. Sure, Asia has just been hit with a double whammy -- the SARS epidemic on top of a global recession. But when Asia Editor Mark Clifford, Tokyo Bureau Chief Brian Bremner, and Senior Writer Rose Brady assembled a reporting team of 10 correspondents to produce this year's special, look at the people they found leading the region.
Mitsuru Haruyama of Japan is becoming a pioneer for the physically handicapped. Wang Chuanfu of China built one of the world's largest rechargeable battery companies from scratch. He started with power for cell phones and now aims to create fleets of battery-run taxicabs.
In Singapore, Jennie Chua has turned the legendary but local Raffles hotel chain into a global hotel-management company with major interests in North America and Europe. Indonesian financier Gustiaman Deru specialized in buying distressed debt in his home country, then created an Asian partnership that now buys distressed debt in the West, including WorldCom Inc. bonds. Kang Gum Sil, Korea's first woman Justice Minister, is leading an anti-corruption drive against some of her country's largest companies and has become an Asian champion for an independent judiciary.
Our most controversial choice is, of course, Chinese President Hu Jintao. Hu had barely squeaked into office before the SARS coverup engulfed China's leadership, of which Hu was part. Was he involved in keeping the deadly virus hushed up before he took power? No one knows. But faced with a crisis that threatened China's future, he donned the cape of a reformer and forcefully removed officials involved with the scandal, toured the countryside to calm anxious peasants, and let China's controlled press make SARS a front-page story.
If there's a common theme among this year's Stars, it's that confronting legal, cultural, educational, social, health, and welfare issues is becoming an important adjunct to building a strong core economy. Those are the costly but necessary areas where improvement attracts value-added workers. If we're right, Asia is headed toward a more sophisticated level of social advancement. That's a great way to attract and hold the talented Stars of the future. By Bob Dowling, Managing Editor, International