SINGAPORE, 10 Dec 2013 - Every December, the editors of The Straits Times pick a person whose work or actions have significantly impacted the Asian continent in the 12 months past. Last year, the inaugural award went to President Thein Sein of Myanmar, the key figure behind the reforms taking shape in that vital nation.
This time around, the editors were split around two personalities who, in spite of being relatively new leaders of their nations, have already left a mark on Asia -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In the end, they decided to name them joint winners.
Mr Abe, 59, is in his second stint as prime minister. He has visited every Asean nation since taking office a year ago. When Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, he ordered one of the biggest peacetime mobilisations of troops to aid his Asian neighbour. In May, he announced that Japan would cancel the government debt owed it by Myanmar and went on to offer that country a fresh US$500 million loan.
Mr Xi, 60, was appointed party and military chief in November 2012, and President in March this year. Sharing his travels with Premier Li Keqiang, he too has criss-crossed Asia. In October, he had the honour of being the first foreign leader to address the legislature of Southeast Asia's biggest nation, Indonesia. China is also offering to be a significant partner in Asia's infrastructure development.
At no time in recent memory have the two big Asian powers lavished so much attention on their continental peers.
On the decision to award them joint winners this year, Mr Warren Fernandez, Editor of The Straits Times, said: "While the big economies of Asia are showing lethargy, political tensions are on the boil over land and water, even over the contours of trade agreements. In many key countries, social unrest is rising. As the region heads into a year of living dangerously, immense wisdom is required on the part of those entrusted with guiding the destinies of their nations.
"In Asia currently, no two leaders have greater responsibility -- to build up their economies, protect the global commons and preserve the peace that has paved the way for Asian prosperity -- than President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Both men have unveiled sweeping reform agendas at home, while building up influence abroad. Their economic policies, if implemented successfully, could impact millions of lives in wider Asia. Indeed, the effects are already showing as a rising flow of Japanese investments and Chinese infrastructure projects flow into Asia.
"At the same time, we do not seek to ignore their differences, which are by no means trivial, given the traumas of their shared history."
Mr Fernandez noted that the recent flare-up of tensions over the announcement of a new Air Defence Identification Zone is evidence of the deep seated anxieties on both sides. These explain, and fuel, nationalistic fervour in both countries, which if not well managed, could give rise to popular pressures that might spiral beyond the control of political leaders.
"This joint award, therefore, is as much a recognition of Xi's and Abe's commitment to fulfil national aspirations as a means to highlight the critical importance of both leaders working together to avoid a clash between Asia's two biggest powers," he added. "We would be delighted if this award spurs both men to consider meeting, or at least sending a congratulatory note or placing a call to each other."
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About The Straits Times
The Straits Times, the English flagship daily of SPH, has been serving readers for more than a century. Launched on July 15, 1845, its comprehensive coverage of world news, East Asian news, Southeast Asian news, home news, sports news, financial news and lifestyle updates makes The Straits Times the most-read newspaper in Singapore. Quality news, in-depth analyses, impactful commentaries and breaking stories are packaged to give readers riveting accounts of events in Singapore, the region, and beyond.
The Straits Times' key strength is in its world class coverage of news outside Singapore. With 20 bureaus in major cities around the world, The Straits Times correspondents bring world news to readers on a Singapore platter, helping them appreciate world events from a Singaporean perspective.
In keeping with the times, The Straits Times introduced weekly supplements such as Digital Life (DL), Urban and Mind Your Body (MYB) to complement The Straits Times as well as IN and Little Red Dot to cater to young readers in schools. Its many efforts have won multiple international awards from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, as well as the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association.
The Straits Times also has an online presence at www.straitstimes.com. The site features top stories, blogs and online forum threads. Also under The Straits Times' umbrella are citizen journalism site Stomp and online television service The Straits Times RazorTV.
The Straits Times has won many accolades and awards, including being named Singapore Newspaper of the Year 2013 by Marketing magazine and voted Singapore’s favourite newspaper 2013 by Superbrands. The Straits Times’ website straitstimes.com also won gold in “Best In Online Media” at the 2012 Wan-Ifra Asian Digital Media Awards.