Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Asia rises - even as disaster tests its mettle

January 7, 2005

In 2004, the world marveled at fast-rising China and India. A quarter-century after China embarked on market reforms, the country has emerged as the world's factory. Meanwhile, its neighbor, India, is capturing a growing share of America's office work. Yet at year's end, the tsunami disaster put the spotlight on the region's poor and fragile areas - and the interaction of regional players looking to help.

Skip to next paragraph
Can China slake its thirst for oil?

China's economic rise has made it something like Asia's sprouting teenager - outgrowing its clothes every few months, and in constant need of new energy supplies. Chinese leaders now tour the globe regularly, cutting new deals in almost every energy market they can visit.

In December alone, the president of Venezuela came to Beijing to strike a deal with the world's No. 2 oil market. And Russia hinted that one of the mystery players in the buyout of its oil giant Yukos is China National Petroleum Corp.

China's thirst has created disputes with Japan over a Russian oil pipeline and natural-gas reserves under the East China Sea. Another head-turner came this fall when China signed a $70 billion deal with Iran for oil and gas. Possible agreements with Australia, Africa, North and South America, and the Middle East could create further tensions among market competitors.

"If China doesn't import oil, it would need four more Three Gorges Dams, 20 Dayawan nuclear plants, 26 Yanzhou coal mines, and six Daqing oil reserves," says Zheng Jianchao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, speaking of China's largest domestic sources of energy.

One early indicator: A Sino-Canadian oil deal could be struck as early as this month. Canada is the chief source of oil for the US; how Washington reacts could set the tone for a new age of resource rivalries.

- Robert Marquand, Beijing

N. Korea: the black box

Rumors since the death of founder Kim Il Sung in 1994 have described North Korea as on the brink. In 1997, headlines spoke of a popular revolt, a coup attempt, and an economic collapse. But not even devastating famine in the 1990s sparked a collapse. And leader Kim Jong Il may weather 2005 as well, despite talk of unhappiness and defections among the officer corps.

North Korea gets the attention of the West because of its nuclear-weapons programs, the focus of six-party talks that have stalled. In Washington, hard-line Pentagon forces are converging with the hard-liners in the State Department associated with John Bolton, the under secretary for arms control, following the departures of Colin Powell and Richard Armitage. This year could decide whether the US and China can arrange a deal the North will accept, or whether Kim Jong Il will "weaponize."

"North Korea is now in a foot race with the Iranians over who will get the best deal, or get the bomb," says James Mulvenon of the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis in Washington.

What to watch:

• On Feb. 16, Kim Jong Il's birthday, government ministries will gather to consider economic reforms. The outcome could give some indication of the regime's willingness to engage with the outside.

• Will six-party talks resume in 2005? So far, the North has resisted.

- R. M.

Afghanistan: a fresh start

In 2004, Afghanistan moved past 25 years of war and held its first presidential election with remarkable calm. The victor, Hamid Karzai, has chosen a new cabinet that largely freezes out warlords. The move, an important symbolic step away from rule by gun, could backfire since little progress has been made in disarming the private militias of top figures, some of whom represent sizeable ethnic minorities. Curbing the burgeoning poppy cultivation will be another delicate problem for Kabul.