EAST ASIA leaders come out trumps in Time magazine’s list of the world’s most influential people with China’s Xi Jinping, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Japan’s Abe, and North Korea’s supreme leader all making the cut.
The list, released Thursday, also contains a record number of women and people under 40. In a statement detailing how the top 100 are chosen, Time Editor in Chief Edward Felsenthal said this is because the list serves as a “reflection of its moment,” adding, these days “influence increasingly knows no single zip code and no minimum age.”
The main criterion for this list is not necessarily wielding great power, although many do. Instead, it is whether this was their year, Felsenthal said. And after the last twelve months of turmoil, it’s unsurprising to see some of East Asia’s strongmen making an appearance.
After decades of stalemate with its neighbours and escalating rhetoric of nuclear war, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown signs of thawing international relations for his regime. The 33-year-old dictator reached out to South Korea in the Winter Olympics, extended an offer to meet US President Donald Trump, and has suspended missile and nuclear tests.
But these actions count for little to Hyeonseo Lee, the North Korean defector who wrote Kim’s appraisal for Time. Lee claims Kim is “even worse than his father,” citing the torture and murder of his own people in forced-labour camps and regular public executions as reasons he is “the most dangerous person on the planet.”
A key player in North Korea’s venture out into international diplomacy has been South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.
He not only welcomed a delegation from the North at the Winter Olympics, and was integral in brokering what could be a first-ever US-North Korea summit later this year, but his influence in the upcoming negotiations could “help define the future of the Korean Peninsula, Asia and the world.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote about his admiration for Shinzo Abe’s “confident and dynamic leadership,” crediting him with reviving Japan’s economy and resuscitating the Trans-Pacific Partnership after the withdrawal of the US.
The last year was undeniably Xi Jinping’s year. Positioning himself as China’s ruler for life, ushering in a “new era” for China, taking a lead in the fight against climate change and capitalising on the turmoil and confusion in Washington to cement himself as “the most powerful man on earth.”
Jacinda Ahern was the only other Asia Pacific leader to make the list. As New Zealand’s first female prime minister, and the youngest female prime minister in the world, she is proudly progressive in her policies.
“In a world that too often tells women to stay small, keep quiet – and that we can’t have both motherhood and a career – Jacinda Ardern proves how wrong and outdated those notions of womanhood are,” writes Facebook COO Sharyl Sandberg.
“She’s not just leading a country. She’s changing the game. And women and girls around the world will be the better for it.”