MANILA, Philippines -- Idols achieve fame and success through a combination of skills, talent, winning personality, good looks and sheer luck. Asia has many idols from politics, business, sports and entertainment. But in a sea of idols where many will be forgotten once their luster has faded, Asia News Network (ANN) focuses on those who not only achieved something exemplary in 2007 but also gained the reputation that they could shape or change their country?s and the region?s future. ANN is an alliance of 16 newspapers, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer, published in 14 Asian cities.
One of the biggest events in Asia in 2007 was the march of the monks in Burma. Under scorching heat, they protested in Rangoon and other urban centers for days demanding an end to military rule and restoration of democracy. The massive show of force was not a surprise because monks in the country have been at the forefront of political and social changes. But the junta?s bloody crackdown on the monks and other democracy activists is a sign that democracy remains elusive. Their show of courage has turned international attention to Burma once again.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, 43
The head of the Democrat Party is articulate, media savvy, handsome and intelligent. Born in England on Aug. 3, 1964, he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He earned his law degree from Thailand?s Ramkhamhaeng University. In 1992, he cut his teeth in politics when he won and became an MP for Bangkok. He served as a minister to the Prime Minister?s Office when the Democrat Party was in power in the late 1990s.
After the Democrats? disastrous outing in the 2005 elections, Abhisit was elected party leader. His only political currency, according to his critics, is his good looks. However, his supporters counter that Abhisit?s ammunition is pure decency and unrivalled talent. If the Democrats form the next government, Abhisit may become Thailand?s youngest prime minister in the post-war period.
Francis Escudero, 38
He has never made his ultimate dream a secret: of one day becoming president of the Philippines. Popularly known as Chiz, he comes from a political family. His father was a former congressman and agriculture secretary. As a young man, his public speaking and leadership skills were honed by helping out in his father?s campaigns.
At 29, he was elected to the House of Representatives and belonged to a younger generation of politicians dubbed the young Turks. He became known as a staunch supporter of deposed President Joseph Estrada and critic of President Macapagal-Arroyo. After finishing three terms as congressman, he ran for senator in the 2007 midterm elections, receiving the second largest number of votes. This early, the media are speculating that he may run for vice president in the 2010 elections.
Rahul Gandhi, 37
Rahul, a scion of India?s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, is seen as a pivotal figure in the ruling Indian National Congress party, able to enthuse young people that make up more than half of India?s 1 billion people. Educated at Harvard and Cambridge universities, Rahul was appointed general secretary of the ruling party in 2007, effectively taking over day-to-day running of India?s largest political group.
Coming from the Gandhi family, which has been in-charge of India for 40 of the 60 years since independence, it is no surprise that he is being touted as a future prime minister. His party is not hiding the fact that he is being groomed for the post, following in the footsteps of his father, Rajiv, his grandmother, Indira, and his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, the country?s founding leader.
Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, 27
He is the world?s youngest head of state. He assumed the throne as the fifth Dragon King of Bhutan on Dec. 14, 2006 after his father announced abdication and immediate transfer of the throne to his eldest son. The young king, dubbed ?Prince Charming? by overseas fans because of his charm and good looks, has a degree from Oxford University?s Magdalen College.
The new king?s coronation is not until this year, after which he will be head of state but won?t rule. His biggest responsibility is to oversee Bhutan?s shift from monarchy to a democratic system amid skepticism by its nationals. The country is holding its parliamentary elections this month and a general election will follow in February. While his role as king may be limited to ceremonial duties, Bhutan?s transition to democracy may as well be considered his most important legacy as monarch.
Shi Zhengrong, 44
In 2001, he came up with a bright idea?to create a leading solar energy company in China. In just five years, Shi steered Suntech to become the fourth-largest solar energy equipment-maker in the world. Suntech makes solar cells and modules used in applications, including street lighting, garden lamps and telecommunications relay stations.
The length to which he went in order to minimize costs has become legendary, including buying secondhand equipment from a bankrupt technology company to fit out his factories. In 2006, Suntech expanded overseas by buying two-thirds of MSK, a major Japanese rival, allowing Suntech to acquire technologies and sell into the Japanese market. Suntech is the second-biggest Chinese company outside the state sector listed on the New York Stock Exchange, with a market capitalization of $6.2 billion.
Tony Fernandes, 43
He is the favorite financial poster boy of many ordinary Malaysians. He sells air tickets but gets the attention and admiration like a pop star. Ordinary folks walk up to him to shake his hand and passengers insist on taking a photograph with him if he?s on board. He is easily one of the country?s most sought-after speakers. He often tells listeners: ?I am just an ordinary chap. When I wear the red Air Asia cap, they all recognize me. If I take it off, they think I am one of the foreign workers at the airport.?
To aspiring entrepreneurs, he is a hero who started one of the most successful airlines in Asia from nothing. He is also an anti-establishment figure of capitalism. He hates wearing ties, keeps a cubicle in the office and his flight attendants need not retire when they become mothers.
Tang Wei, 28
Chosen among 10,000 hopefuls to play the student spy in Ang Lee?s ?Lust, Caution,? she has created a lot of buzz at international competitions for her role. The first-time actress won the best new performer award at Golden Horse, dubbed the Chinese Oscars.
Born to an actress and painter in East China?s Zhejing province, Tang wanted to be a writer and director. It was only on her third try that she was admitted to the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, whose famous alumnae include Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. Will Tang follow in the footsteps of the two famous actresses who have successfully crossed over to Hollywood? Or will her star eclipse them?
Chung To, 40
He was born in Hong Kong and was already a successful banker when he decided to do something for those at risk from HIV/AIDS in China. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1995, he lived in the United States for 13 years, where he received a bachelor?s degree at Columbia University and a master?s degree at Harvard University. In 1995, he set up the Chi Heng Foundation in order to reach millions of gay Chinese men and inform them about the disease. Chung waged his battle through workshops, counseling, legal advice and by linking up with doctors.
Confronted with an AIDS epidemic caused by the sale of contaminated blood and moved by the plight of children orphaned by AIDS, Chung left his banking career to work full-time with the AIDS Orphans Project. Starting with 127 students in one village, Chung has now helped 4,000 AIDS-affected children in four provinces through vocational training and university schooling. Chi Heng?s project was named best practice model for China.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, 27
His fast balls at around 140 kilometers per hour has earned him the nickname, ?The Monster.? He was born on Sept 13, 1980. All baseball players in Japan born that year are referred to as the ?Matsuzaka generation.? In the United States, where he plays as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, he is known as Dice-K.
He was selected MVP of the 2006 World Baseball Classic and is an Olympic bronze medalist. Sportswriters and former teammates describe him as an oversized man-child who likes fast cars and loves going to barbecue restaurants in Tokyo to eat shabu-shabu. Red Sox?s $100-million man may have signed the biggest contract by a Japanese, but outside the field, he is just a simple family man who dotes on his wife and daughter.
Wayhu Susilo, 39
Cited as one of the heroes acting to end modern-day slavery by the US State Department?s 2007 trafficking in persons report, he has been working to protect and secure the rights of Indonesian migrant workers.
Because of the limited rights of these migrant workers, who are susceptible to abuses, he has campaigned for stronger regulations governing recruitment by employment agencies. In 2000, he established Migrant Care, an advocacy network of 80 organizations working to improve antitrafficking legislation.
The organization has documented thousands of Indonesian migrant workers who have disappeared overseas and lobbied the Indonesian government to locate them. His efforts have significantly raised national consciousness regarding the reality of human trafficking. In 2007, Indonesia passed a comprehensive law against trafficking in persons, a positive step in advancing migrant workers? rights.
Jay Chou, 28
At last year?s Golden Horse Awards, the film ?Secret? was recognized as the outstanding Taiwanese film of the year. Not bad for a movie handled by Chou, a first-time director. He is more known as a pop star who first started composing songs for Taiwan?s pop stars before recording his own album. He is known for fusing traditional Chinese musical instruments with R&B and rock. But not contented with being an acclaimed singer and concert artist, he debuted as an actor in ?Initial D.?
He also acted in and wrote ?Secret,? which reportedly impressed Zhang Yimou. In November, Chou launched his first concert tour in three years, packing stadiums in Taipei, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He earlier announced that this would be his last concert tour before he concentrates on his acting career. He stars in the forthcoming film, ?Slam Dunk,? which is based on a manga.
Zhang Zilin, 23
On Dec. 1, China finally achieved its dream: To produce a Miss World. The model brought her country that honor by winning over 105 other contestants at the 57th Miss World Contest, the third time the Chinese resort island of Sanya was hosting it. Zhang, the tallest contestant at 182 cm (6 feet), was an athlete who lists the 110-meter hurdles and triple jump as her favorite events. Zhang was unsure of entering the contest up to the last minute. She said becoming Miss World was not even one of her dreams.
Jeon Do-yeon, 34
She is not exactly one of those young, beautiful and famous Korean stars who steered the so-called Korean wave across Asia, but she has been regarded as one of her country?s real actresses. She gained international recognition when she won Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival for her role in ?Secret Sunshine? as a widow coping with the death of her husband. Jeon earned her acting credentials doing TV dramas before moving to the big screen.
She has been described as a ?chameleon? who can inhabit any role she is assigned to, whether as a schoolgirl or as an adulterous wife. She once said that she enjoyed acting a great deal that she had no desire or need to be called a great actress.
Siti Nurhaliza, 28
She is larger than life in Malaysia. Without a doubt, she is the icon of Malaysian entertainment. Her year-old marriage to businessman Khalid Mohamed Jiwa has not lessened her popularity and it has actually served to accentuate her strong hold as a successful brand name in the country. Siti, as she is popularly called, has collected more than 100 local and international awards.
In April 2005 she performed at London?s prestigious Royal Albert Hall before a packed audience of VIPs, businessmen, ministers, royalty and Malaysians living in Britain. Enthralled by her vocal prowess, the British media dubbed her Asia?s Celine Dion. And despite being a married diva, Siti continues to reign on the charts and the awards list. The Sultan of Pahang has given her the honorific ?Datuk.?
Kim Yu-na, 17
She is rewriting South Korea?s figure skating history by winning major championships across the world, the latest of which was at the Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy where she led in the ladies short program with 196.83 points. Born on Sept 5, 1990, Kim started skating at five years old. Like any typical teenager, she likes surfing the Internet and shopping, but on the skating rink, she is no middling young girl.
In November, she won first place at the Cup of Russia in Moscow with her performance to the music of ?Miss Saigon.? She received a score of 133.70?the best in the event?s history. When added to her short program score of 63.50, Kim had an outstanding score of 197.20. With the event, Kim took the highest score ever recorded in both free skating and short programs.
Gagan Thapa, 31
A vocal critic of the royal putsch of 2002, Thapa is among the prominent political activists who helped restore democracy in Nepal in April 2006. Known for his clarity of mind and ability to express thoughts in an uncomplicated manner, Thapa unknowingly entered into politics at the age of 14, during the people?s movement of 1990, which restored the multi-party system in Nepal.
He became the most wanted pro-democracy activist after the royal takeover of Oct 4, 2002. He was jailed several times for launching campaigns against perpetrators who pushed back the country into the path of regression. He also became the first person to be charged with sedition after 1990 for advocating the abolition of the monarchy.
His support for a republican state also made him a liability to his own party, Nepali Congress, Nepal?s largest political party, which sacked him from the post of general secretary of its student wing. But he eventually emerged a winner, as his party later had to accept a republican setup. The master?s degree holder in sociology is one of the most revered youth leaders, who many people believe, will rise to become the country?s prime minister if he steers his career well.