Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 21 Dec 2010 07:33 PM

Font Size

- Aa +

Facebook's Zuckerberg has nothing on money trio

Time magazine missed a trick by not looking east for its 'Person of the Year', says William Pesek

Facebook's Zuckerberg has nothing on money trio
Mark Zuckerberg saw off tough competition to land the title of Times Person of the Year

Julian
Assange must feel like he was robbed.

Time
magazine looked past the suddenly ubiquitous founder of WikiLeaks.org to name Mark
Zuckerberg “Person of the Year.” The founder of Facebook was the safe choice - honour
the internet celebrity connecting people, not riling them. Assange was
relegated to runner-up, as was Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former Alaska
Governor Sarah Palin.

Yet
Asia produced more than its fair share of contenders in 2010. Time hasn’t
chosen an Asian since Taiwan-born scientist David Ho in 1996 and that was after
a 10-year drought following Corazon Aquino’s nod in 1986. Here are four Asian
options that could easily have supplanted Zuckerberg this year.

Kim Jong Un: Little is
known about the twenty-something tipped to lead North Korea when his dad, Kim
Jong Il, dies. Yet the succession drama has gone global in a big way. The
timing of the North’s deadly attacks on the South this year isn’t a
coincidence; the Kim Dynasty is in self-preservation mode.

Kim
the younger would inherit an impoverished Orwellian state with nuclear weapons
and geriatric, reactionary generals who might harbor doubts about a
Swiss-educated Michael Jordan fan. At last month’s Group of 20 summit in Seoul,
I heard more than a few South Korean businessmen refer to Kim as the “nuclear
kid.”

How
that process goes will say much about the future of Asian markets, credit ratings
and regional cooperation - including China’s relationship with neighbors. Kim
Jong Un may just turn out to be person of the coming decade.

Liu Xiaobo: It’s hard to
think of an individual that China would rather the world talk less about.
Officials in Beijing are beyond enraged that the jailed activist won the Nobel
Peace Prize. It was a well-deserved honor and China’s over-the-top reaction was
as surreal as it was telling.

China
is racing ahead. Its economy grew at a 9.6 percent annualized rate in the third
quarter while Europe tries to stave off disaster, American unemployment rises
and Japan’s living standards slide. China also has done a far more impressive
job than rivals like India in reducing poverty. Its political development is
lagging far behind, though, and Liu’s Nobel put the issue in the spotlight as
rarely before.

On
the one hand, it demonstrated China’s leverage. It was shameful that almost 20
countries including Egypt and Vietnam avoided this month’s Nobel ceremony in
Oslo. On the other hand, China’s reaction to the whole business suggests the
Communist Party has few plans to loosen up on its 1.3 billion people. We can
credit Liu with providing that disappointing insight.

Aung San Suu Kyi: Never one to
mince words, Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew seems to have been extra candid
in conversations with US diplomats about Myanmar, according to classified
documents released by WikiLeaks. He was quoted as calling Myanmar’s junta
leaders “stupid” and observing that dealing with them was like “talking to dead
people.”

Well,
Suu Kyi’s recent release from seven years of house arrest pumped new life into
the chances of political reform in one of Asia’s most isolated nations. In her
first post- imprisonment speech last month, she said she’s willing to work with
Myanmar’s leadership and fellow democracy advocates.

No
one believes Myanmar is about to roll out the welcome mat for free markets.
Myanmar has been a consistent thorn in Asia’s side for decades. Its inclusion
in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations makes a mockery of the 10-member
group’s efforts to eliminate borders, European Union-style. With Suu Kyi back
in action, progress suddenly has a shot.

Xie
Xuren, Zhou Xiaochuan and Zhu Changhong: Xie is China’s finance minister, Zhou
runs the central bank and Zhu is chief investment officer overseeing the
nation’s $2.7 trillion of currency holdings. At a time when the world economy
is reeling, this trio will increasingly hold our attention.

Last
week, Portuguese officials could barely contain their glee over Chinese
statements of financial support. Jornal de Negocios reported that China is
willing to invest €4bn ($5.2bn) to €5bn in Portuguese government debt in the
first quarter of next year. The mere possibility of Chinese support was a tonic
for European markets.

Get
used to such news items involving cash-rich China. The International Monetary
Fund used to be the bailout king. China seems sure to grab that role for
developing and developed nations alike. Remember that when the US cuts taxes or
adds stimulus it’s effectively borrowing the money from China.

That
gives Xie, Zhou and Zhu remarkable leverage over global markets. The next time
a Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. is about to collapse, you can bet the troubled
firm’s executives will ask Beijing for a lifeline. The same goes for the next
European domino to fall.

An
argument can be made that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was Person-of-the-Year
material, along with Zuckerberg and Assange. Wen outmaneuvered the West again
and again - on clean energy, rare-earth metals, currencies, blame for global
imbalances, you name it. Yet China’s money trio is quickly rising in
prominence.

Get
ready for the mantra of 2011: Brother, can you spare some yuan?