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These are the ‘Greatest Leaders’ in Asia-Pacific

May 13, 2021, 10:43 AM UTC

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Fortune announced its annual World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list yesterday and I’m happy to report that Asia-Pacific is well represented. By my reckoning, people who live in or represent Asia-Pacific countries account for about a fifth of this year’s honorees—and that’s not counting five other leaders who live outside the region but have strong ethnic or cultural ties to it.

The math here is a little tricky since, in some cases, our list counts multiple individuals as a single “leader.” And, of course, one might argue that Asia-Pacific is actually under-represented given that people living in this region account for 60% of the world’s population.

Even so, the Asia-Pacific contingent is an inspiring group.

At the top of this year’s list is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whom Fortune praises for all but eliminating the coronavirus in her country, and adopting “world-leading climate and gender-equity policies.”

There are three Tans: Jessica, Anthony, and Hooi Ling. They’re not related, but each demonstrated remarkable determination and ingenuity in coping with the COVID pandemic. Jessica, a Singapore native, MIT alum, and former McKinsey partner, now serves as co-CEO of Ping An Group, the Chinese insurance giant, where she has led the company’s efforts to use digital technologies to deliver health services.

Anthony and Hooi Ling grew up in Malaysia, met at Harvard Business School, and co-founded Grab, the Singapore-based super-app that now serves 25 million users throughout Southeast Asia. Fortune credits the pair for re-training hundreds of thousands of ride-hailing drivers to function as a delivery drivers this past year, while dramatically expanding their Grab Mart grocery delivery service to help merchants connect with customers.

In India, Adar Poonwalla, head of the the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, wins praise for committing to deliver billions of doses of two low-cost vaccines for export to the world’s lower and middle-income nations as well as distribution in his virus-ravaged country. Dr. Aparna Hegde, founder of a non-profit that partners with the Indian government and NGOs to educate new mothers, revamped her organization to provide antenatal and pediatric care as Indian hospitals were overwhelmed by COVID patients.

Other Asia-Pacific honorees include: Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua; Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. CEO C.C. Wei; Afghani legislator Fawzia Koofi; and Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka.

The entire list is worth a look.

More Eastworld news below.

Clay Chandler

This edition of Eastworld was curated and produced by Grady McGregor. Reach him at

Eastworld news

WHO delays

A United Nations review board faulted the World Health Organization for taking too long to declare COVID-19 a public health emergency in a new report Wednesday. The board was tasked with providing accountability for COVID-19 responses in the pandemic, but U.S. officials criticized its report for not singling out China’s mishandling of the initial COVID-19 outbreak. Wall Street Journal

Variant of concern

This week, the World Health Organization declared India’s new B.1.617 a “variant of concern,” saying preliminary analysis suggested it may be more contagious than other variants. The WHO said that there has been no evidence that vaccines perform worse against the variant. Indian labs have ramped up efforts to track the spread of the variant, and are now sequencing 1% of daily positive samples after sequencing few samples previously. Amid the variant’s spread and India’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the European Union called on its member states to halt all non-essential travel to the country. Wall Street Journal

Religious freedom

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration criticized China for denying religious freedoms to Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic groups after the U.S. released its annual International Religious Freedom Report on Wednesday. Secretary of State Antony Blinkin said Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddists, and Falun Gong practitioners all face “severe discrimination” in employment, housing, and economic opportunities. China’s government has not commented on the report but has repeatedly denied discrimination due to religion or ethnicity. Associated Press

Back to earth

Tesla sold 10,000 fewer vehicles in China from March to April, as the EV giant came under public scrutiny in China after a customer staged a protest at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in April over the safety of Tesla's brakes. China’s government also banned Tesla vehicles this year from military bases over data security concerns. Amid the sales drop, Reuters reports that Tesla now plans to limit its production of Tesla vehicles in China and has halted plans to expand its Shanghai gigafactory. Reuters

Coronavirus by country


The World Health Organization will soon decide whether to approve a COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese maker Sinovac. In the meantime, a new study from Indonesia found that the vaccine may be more effective than previously thought. On Wednesday, Indonesia authorities released a new study of 128,000 health workers inoculated with China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine showing that the vaccine was 94% effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms and 98% effective in preventing against COVID-related death. Previous studies showed that Sinovac's vaccine was just over 50% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. The implications of the study may be crucial to developing nations around the world. Sinovac has shipped 380 million doses of its vaccine globally, second only to Pfizer. Bloomberg

Markets and movers

Xiaomi – The U.S. is removing Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi from its blacklist, reversing former President Donald Trump’s January decision to ban Americans from investing in Xiaomi due to alleged ties to the Chinese military. A U.S. federal court had temporarily agreed to block enforcement of the blacklist after Xiaomi challenged Trump’s order. Reuters

WeRide – The China-based autonomous driving start-up said it raised “hundreds of millions” of dollars in a funding round that valued the company at $3.3 billion. Backed by car makers Nissan, Renault, and Mistubishi, WeRide is testing its self-driving technology in places like California and China’s southern city of Guangzhou. Reuters

Huawei – Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant, is set to return to court in Canada for a final set of extradition hearings starting Aug. 3, a Canadian court said Wednesday. Meng has battled Canadian authorities for two years over her potential extradition to the U.S. for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Reuters

Evergrande – The Chinese property giant raised $1.4 billion by selling shares in its electric vehicle unit. Evergrande, China’s most indebted property developer, has not yet started production on electric vehicles even as shares in the unit, called Evergrande NEV, have surged 600% over the past year. Bloomberg

Glencore – The U.S. and Europe will fall behind China unless they secure more cobalt, chief executive Ivan Glasenburg warned on Wednesday. Chinese car makers have tied up much of the world’s cobalt supplies, which is used in car batteries, he said, leaving U.S. car makers vulnerable if China chooses not to export batteries. Financial Times

Tesla – CEO Elon Musk announced Wednesday that Tesla would stop accepting Bitcoin for car purchases, citing environmental concerns about how it is mined. China is a major contributor to Bitcoin mining, given the plentiful and affordable supply of dirty energy sources like coal in places such as Xinjiang. Nikkei Asian Review

Luckin Noodles – Chinese media outlets are reporting that Lu Zhengyao, founder of the scandal-plagued Luckin Coffee chain (which was delisted on Nasdaq last year amid fraud allegations), is back with a new venture—noodles. Lu now plans on opening 500 new noodle restaurants inspired by Luckin’s model. KrAsia

Final figure


China’s factory-gate prices jumped 6.8% in April compared to the previous month, the largest increase in three and a half years, according to data released Tuesday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. The price jump is sparking fears that inflationary pressures could spread globally, as a shortage of semiconductor chips and strengthening demand for raw materials like steel and lumber threatens to drive up consumer prices around the world. Wall Street Journal

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