Letter from Asia: Looking Back On 2006

CBS News' Barry Petersen takes a look at 2006 in Asia. CBS

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from Tokyo.

It has not been a great year in Asia, and for that, blame one country - North Korea - the newest member of the club of nations that have nuclear weapons.

For Kim Jong Il, testing a nuclear device last October means the man who is so short he wears elevated shoes now believes he stands eye to eye with the world's major nuclear power: the United States. And while there is plenty of bargaining going to get Kim to trade his nukes for things like economic aid, on this one, he's trapped by the generals who keep him in power.

According to Prof. Kenneth Quinones, who carefully monitors North Korea, "I don't see him telling his generals, 'Give up your nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,' unless he gets something really big. Otherwise, he could have his generals jump back at him and say, 'No way, we won't do that.' He's got to avoid it."

The North Korea issue has Japan talking about acquiring its own nuclear weapons. Shinzo Abe is the first prime minister born after World War II, and has also become the first to suggest that Japan abandon its pacifist constitution.

Japan's military now is restricted to self-defense. If it expands its capabilities, it could hit a missile on a North Korean launch pad that may be aimed at Japan.

China faces its own crises: it needs energy. Earlier this year, it hosted a summit of African leaders with the real agenda of getting at Africa's oil reserves. And in 2009, the Three Gorges Dam will start generating electric power. And yet, it's already dwarfed by China's energy demands.

Building a dam blocking the mighty Yangtze River meant two million people were forcibly relocated to make way for a huge reservoir. Whole cities, with all the oil and gas and chemicals and sewage that cities contain, are now underwater.

And that is the challenge China faces well beyond 2007: what to do about pollution.

In its single-minded pursuit that progress is everything, China may condemn its population to a land where the air is unfit to breathe and the water is too dirty to drink: a country in danger of ruining itself in its rush to riches.
By Barry Petersen
  • Erin Petrun

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