George Wehrfritz

Opinion: Power for Three

On the eve of the milestone East Asian Summit in Malaysia, China's state media last week trumpeted Beijing's "constructive attitude" toward the meeting. Yet in a briefing on prospects for the confab, senior diplomat Cui Tiankai declared it "impossible" for Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to sit down with his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, for a sideline chat.

Vietnam Revs Up

They troll Hanoi's industrial fringe by the thousands, piloting scooters or pedaling bikes in search of help wanted signs outside foreign-invested factories.

Second Thoughts

Steel is the measure of an industrial economy. Or so thought Chairman Mao when, to achieve his utopian Great Leap Forward in 1958, he ordered the masses to quit their communal fields and instead melt woks and teakettles to forge pig iron in farmyard blast furnaces.

A Costly Disease

The remote Danube delta village of Ceamurlia de Jos in Romania is a busy place these days. Squads of men in surgical masks, gowns and booties are going door to door, gathering up chickens, ducks and other domestic fowl, then stuffing them into trash bins where they're gassed.

HONG KONG BULL RUSH

Investors eager for a piece of China have traditionally had to buy the whole hog. Yet as China Yurun Food Group illustrated last week, it is now possible to grab a thin slice.

A Bit Too Much Mickey

Hong Kong Disneyland swung open its doors last week in a gala celebration marred by an ironic distraction: smog. Under the year's dirtiest skies, in air so unhealthy that visitors with respiratory ailments should have stayed indoors, dignitaries and Disney execs inaugurated a $3.5 billion project. "The park will provide thousands of direct and indirect jobs and, over the long term, bring billions of dollars of economic benefit to our economy," opined Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang.

The Big Backfire

Energy, or the lack of it, is in the news across Asia. Gas lines in China. Record losses for India's state-owned oil companies. Jakarta's fruitless struggle to staunch the outflow of foreign reserves now being spent to meet Indonesia's energy needs.

THE BIG BANK CHASE

Hardly a week goes by without news of a banking deal in China with lots of zeroes attached. On July 5 Singapore's official investment arm, Temasek, made headlines by confirming that it would invest $1 billion in the China Construction Bank when the latter lists in Hong Kong later this year.

GLORIA'S LAST STAND?

In Philippine politics, it's often the relatives who stand out in a crisis. In the 1980s Imelda Marcos's penchant for designer shoes defined the excesses of her husband Ferdinand's dictatorship.

Frugal Is So Over

In the pie-chart world of macroeconomics, it is once again fashionable to bash Asia's "absent" consumers. Americans, we are told, tap easy credit to live beyond their means.

Tax The People

Hong Kong financial secretary Henry Tang did something truly remarkable last week: he cut government spending in the city of 7 million for the first time in half a century.

SUCCEEDING AT SEWING

John Cheh sells the shirt on his back. As chairman of Esquel China Holdings in Hong Kong, he runs a top producer of men's woven cotton shirts--or category 340Z under the World Trade Organization quota system that expired last week. "It's a high-end shirt with high yarn count.

Building Sea Bridges

It's New Year's Day, and 55-year-old Australian surf guide Rick Cameron is barking into three phones. "Syringes, needles, stitching thread" he conveys to partner Jane Liddon, who has called from the pharmacy in town. "Presumably, they have refugees," he surmises into another handset linked to an Australian diplomat planning a relief mission to Sibolong, a port town just south of Aceh's devastated west coast.

STEALTH REFORMER

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi knows the danger of taking credit for success in Japan. Two years ago he appointed a tough new bank regulator, Heizo Takenaka, who declared in a NEWSWEEK interview: "No bank is too big to fail." This heretical attack on one of the traditional pillars of Japan Inc.

WORKERS FOR THE WORLD

Galicano Solares lives beneath a highway overpass in a dank Manila slum. His on-again, off-again construction job pays $4 a day, considerably more than he earned in the gold mines of Bicol before he moved to the city in the late 1980s.

A DYING ZOMBIE

Daiei came to epitomize the industrial sclerosis that befell much of Japan Inc. in the 1990s, a condition summed up in the phrase "too big to fail." The term describes bloated companies that couldn't be allowed to die because they'd bring down their banks, trigger massive unemployment and cause heads in government to roll.

DOWN BUT NOT YET OUT

For the gray-suited men who control Japan Inc., UFJ Holdings was a disaster waiting to happen. The weakest of the country's four megabanks carries billions in bad debt on its books, boasts dangerously wobbly "zombie" clients like the crumbling retailer Daiei and habitually seeks capital injections from its best customers to stay afloat.

HOW CHARMING

Crab season is always tense along the world's most heavily defended frontier. Each June, as rival fishing fleets from North and South Korea begin to harvest their tasty haul, they risk sparking a clash across a de facto sea border called the Northern Limit Line.

Blockbuster Nation

Orcs, elves and hobbits may rule Middle-earth, but they've proved no match for Korea's hunky heartthrobs. Opening in December, the final episode in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy sold 6 million tickets to become the most popular foreign film ever screened in South Korea.

ASIANS GET GOING

WITH ALEXANDRA A. SENO IN HONG KONG, SUDIP MAZUMDAR IN NEW DELHI, MARK RUSSELL IN SEOUL AND HIDEKO TAKAYAMA IN TOKYO Zhe Lijuan has grown fat on Chinese dumplings--so much so that she recently opted to spend a bit of the proceeds from her successful Shanghai restaurant on a short overseas holiday.

Taiwan: Another Florida?

A contested election in Taiwan has dashed expectations of a quick improvement in its relations with rival China. President Chen Shui-bian unexpectedly won re-election the day after being shot and wounded during a campaign rally.

GOING GLOBAL

Nestled deep in Kwun Tong, Hong Kong's gritty factory district, China's leading cell-phone manufacturer is plotting to conquer the world. Hatched in 1992 to make pagers in its namesake coastal city, Ningbo Bird sold more handsets on the mainland last year--nearly 11 million--than Nokia or Motorola.

THE FIRST SIGNS OF LIFE

The Japanese investor had once considered the incessant propaganda blaring on his factory floor a cost of doing business inside communist North Korea. Yet when he recently asked his joint-venture partner to pull the plug--a request indignantly rebuffed in the past--his counterpart's response was stunning. "Politics is now separate from economics," the North Korean foreman told him.

ALONE ON THE SIDELINES?

The Japanese diplomats traveled to North Korea on a secret mission. Ostensibly, these envoys to the Hermit Kingdom--the first dispatched by Tokyo since 2002--arrived last Tuesday to extradite a suspected drug smuggler.

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