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Asia’s Reform Trinity?

SINGAPORE – Asia is poised to enter a historical sweet spot, with three of its most populous countries – China, India, and Indonesia – led by strong, dynamic, and reform-minded leaders. In fact, China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, and Indonesia’s Joko “Jokowi” Widodo could end up ranked among their countries’ greatest modern leaders.

In China, Mao Zedong united the country in 1949, while Deng Xiaoping was responsible for engineering its unprecedented economic rise. For Xi to join their ranks, he must create a modern, rules-based state. That requires, first and foremost, slaying the massive dragon of corruption.

Over the years, corruption has become endemic in China, with regional party leaders and bosses in state-owned enterprises wielding their vast privileges and authority to accumulate personal wealth. This has severely undermined the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy, while hampering the kind of market-based competition that China’s economy needs to propel the country to high-income status.

So far, Xi seems to be up to the challenge. He has been boldly pursuing major figures who were previously considered “untouchable,” such as General Xu Caihou, a former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, and Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest government body.