Asia's Crystal Ball For 2006

The Toyota i-unit prototype is put to the test in New York City, 11-16-05. The i-unit is a battery-powered personal transport vehicle with anti-collision technology, and is billed as being made of environmentally-friendly plant-based materials.

This story was written by correspondent Barry Petersen, who is based in Toyko and covers Asia for CBS News.

As the temple bells from New Year's celebrations fade into memory, and smoke from incense lit for New Year's prayers rises ever skyward, there are a few predictions that can be made for Asia in 2006.

Japan's economic prowess may be back on display - if Toyota makes history and becomes the world's largest carmaker, pushing General Motors into second place.

It's a good bet that there will be increasing controversy over China's economic power translating into increased military force. The reality on this issue is somewhat different. China's military budget, according to American estimates, is about $90 billion: still only a fraction of the more than $400 billion the U.S. spends annually.

It is North Korea's nuclear ambitions that worry Asians, and despite on-again, off-again talks, this member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil" shows no signs of making a deal on the issue anytime soon.

Even the poorest of Asian countries insist they can keep bird flu under control. The whole world hopes so.

Last year at this time, Asia was overwhelmed by the tsunami.

Thailand has made the most progress in rebuilding after the disaster and in some areas, it won't be long before the damage from the tidal waves will no longer be obvious. It will be repaired or rebuilt. With one notable exception: a police boat, that along with its crew, was lifted by the wall of water and dropped almost two miles inland.

They're just going to leave that boat right where it landed – as a reminder of what nature's force can do when it is unleashed.

The post-tsunami story in Indonesia is not so good. Aid workers there say it will take five to ten more years before many areas are back to normal.

But even that won't be time enough to heal the real pain.

Paul Dillon was one of the first aid workers on the scene

"The bottom line is every family in the province - a province of four and a half million people - was directly touched by the events of December 26," said Dillon, in Banda Aceh. "I think this will bear out over the generations."

Coming to grips with the loss of a wife or husband, or a child - measure that not in years, but in lifetimes.
By Barry Petersen