Once upon a decade

We take a look at some of the high and low moments of the past 10 years in Asia.

When FinanceAsia launched its website the internet revolution was still in full swing, China was yet to become a full member of the global economy and you could take a bottle of water on to a plane. Much has changed, some of which is detailed below:

The turn of the millennium did not cause computers around the world to crash, as a few Y2K crackpots had feared, but dot.com hysteria soon proved itself to be a formidable infection in its own right. Silicon Valley financiers assumed that access to the worldwide web would encourage people to spend all of their money buying online package holidays for their pets. The truth turned out to be quite different: Given the ability to surf the web, people looked for naked photos of Britney Spears until their computers were so infected that they might as well have been connecting to the internet with a yoghurt pot and a bit of string. And with that realisation, the hopes of the dot.coms died.

Even so, the massive over-investment and wild optimism inspired governments and businesses around the world to build a global broadband network in half the time it should have taken, which in retrospect was a good deal (and not just for the porn industry).

Goldman Sachs did great service to both China and India's emergence with its famous Brics report that put forward the case for long-term growth in Brazil, Russia, India and China, which joined the WTO that year. The report didn't quite say it, but hinted that Turkey had been excluded based mostly on the fact that its name did not start with a K or an N.

China's entry to the global economy was a big deal, to be sure, but that development was nothing compared to a shiny little oblong of joy called the iPod, which was also introduced to the world in 2001. With just a few clicks of a mouse, a whole generation discovered how easy it was to lose their entire music collection.

Trumping even the launch of the iPod, however, were the events of September 11, which changed the world in an instant. There was a defining moment in the Philippines too, with the People Power II uprising that kicked out Joseph Estrada.

Was it really eight years ago that Ronaldinho fluked that cross over David Seaman's head? The Football World Cup in Japan and Korea (or was it Korea and Japan?) brought the usual disappointment for England fans, but there was a silver lining courtesy of Senegal's humiliation of France in the opening game. There was also plenty of entertainment in the run-up to the tournament as the co-hosts squabbled about everything from the name of the competition to who would host the final. Korea won the left-hand role, but Japan got the final. Brazil won, apparently.

Japan had to deal with another confusion over names in 2002 when the deutschemark changed its name to the euro. It was also a year of continued violence as Hindu-Muslim clashes worsened in India, terrorists bombed a tourist hotspot in Bali and President Bush won authority to invade Iraq.

Asia ground to a halt in 2003 with the arrival of the Sars pandemic, which is now thought to have originated in bats. In a matter of weeks, severe acute respiratory syndrome spread from a Guangdong wet market to infect people in 37 countries, killing close to one-in-10 of the 8,000 known cases. It will be remembered by many survivors as a terrifying reminder of how fragile humanity is, but to most of our readers it will be remembered as the time they missed out on the property opportunity of the decade.

Sars demonstrated the challenge facing China's new president, Hu Jintao, who took over the reins from Jiang Zemin in the country's first smooth transition of power since the founding of the Communist Party in 1949. The disease was first reported in China in November of 2002, but Chinese officials did not inform the WHO of the outbreak until February 2003.

The Sars outbreak also put a lot of strain on expat families working in Asia, many of whom chose to send loved ones back to Europe or the US. Indeed, this separation was cited as a factor in the deterioration of the relationship between Robert and Nancy Kissel, which resulted in the Merrill Lynch banker's murder at the family home in Hong Kong in November 2003.

India was shining in 2004 when Sonia Gandhi, an Italian who married into an Indian political dynasty, unexpectedly won the election with the overwhelming support of the country's poor -- and then sensationally turned down the job, claiming that she had never really thought she would win. That paved the way for Manmohan Singh to become an even more unexpected prime minister.

Scientists announced the discovery of the fossil skeleton of a tiny new species of human in Indonesia in 2004, which caught a free wave of publicity on the back of Peter Jackson's hobbit movies. A more deadly wave hit Indonesia -- and elsewhere on the Indian Ocean -- on Boxing Day; the height of the holiday season in resort areas such as Phuket in Thailand. The tsunami is reckoned to have killed 200,000 people.

China's rapidly growing economy came to global prominence in 2005 with several mega deals, including the IPO of China Construction Bank, which was the world's biggest IPO in five years. More surprising, it came from China's banking industry, which had seemed bankrupt just a few years earlier. That deal came hot on the heels of Lenovo's acquisition of IBM's laptop business, which remains to this day the most prominent foreign acquisition by a Chinese company.

Hong Kong sought to capture some of China's growing wealth with the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland on the auspicious day of September 12, 2005. The park's design also incorporated feng shui principles, but all the wizardry couldn't prevent the park from underperforming. Perhaps a nation of one-child families isn't the goldmine that Disney and the Hong Kong government had hoped for.

Fears about a bird flu pandemic spiked in 2006, with doomsayers predicting millions of deaths that have so far failed to emerge. Thailand was one of the worst-affected countries thanks to the size of its poultry industry, but dead chickens became the least of its worries when the military seized power from the democratic government and kicked out prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a coup led by forces loyal to the king. The whole sorry mess started from the controversy surrounding SingTel's acquisition of Shin Corp, which was arranged by Goldman Sachs and Siam Commercial Bank.

After the success of Thailand's armed coup, rebels in the Philippines tried to overthrow Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by taking over the second floor of the Peninsula Hotel in downtown Manila. (Credit Suisse, by comparison, takes over two hotels in Hong Kong each year in the week before the Sevens.) The military responded by driving a tank into the lobby.

A more serious global threat reared its head in 2007 in the shape of the subprime crisis. After years of easy credit, American mortgage brokers had perfected the art of eliminating risk by packaging it up and selling it to investors -- a financial innovation that allowed people with no jobs and no income to own their own trailers, and which allowed investors to use borrowed money to buy the loans that the mortgage brokers were desperately trying to get rid of. Then the housing market collapsed and everyone went bankrupt.

The continued shock from the housing market collapse in the US led to the end of the big investment banks in late 2008, with Lehman Brothers going bankrupt, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch sold for old rope, and Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley converting to commercial banks. The world did not end, and neither did fat banker bonuses.

One thing did change, though: American voters kicked out the Republicans and voted in Barack Obama as their first black president. Fox News retaliated by letting Glenn Beck loose on the world. On balance, a McCain presidency would surely have been more humane.

In China, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics with all the pomp and circumstance (and medals) of an emerging superpower -- after years of Olympic mediocrity, the Games were once again an expression of political superiority. Sport and politics crossed swords again that year when Singapore got one over Malaysia by winning back its place on Formula One's grand prix calendar -- its first since independence.

Cementing its place as an economic powerhouse, China surpassed Germany to become the world's top exporter in 2009 (though only because its 16% collapse in exports was less severe than Germany's). Economists forecast that China will surpass Japan to become the world's second-biggest economy in 2010, less than 10 years after it joined the WTO.

The world's financial woes hit a new low early in 2009 when Iceland's banking system collapsed. India's Tata Motors captured the austere times perfectly with the launch of its Nano, a tiny car that is priced cheaply enough to entice Indians off their mopeds -- though sales have disappointed.

Despite the financial crisis, Hong Kong bounced back to become the world's biggest IPO market in 2009 and economies around the region continued to show resilience.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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