Mahathir, K-pop stars BTS and India’s LGBT ‘beacons of hope’: Asia’s most influential make Time 100 annual list

Gigi Choy
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Mahathir, K-pop stars BTS and India’s LGBT ‘beacons of hope’: Asia’s most influential make Time 100 annual list

Time Magazine named an award-winning Asian actress, Malaysia’s resurgent political “warhorse” and K-pop megastars among this year’s 100 most influential people.

Now in its 16th year, the Time 100 Most Influential People 2019 list categorises listees as a pioneer, artist, leader, icon or a titan, and is based on both readers’ votes and editors picks. And despite there being a strong Asia presence on this year’s list, some say there are a few notable absentees.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad all featured among the world’s most influential leaders.

Mahathir, a veteran politician now aged 93, pulled off a shock victory in the May 2018 election, defeating disgraced ex-premier Najib Razak and ending his ruling coalition’s decades-long rule.

Clare Rewcastle Brown, founder of Sarawak Report, which broke the US$4.5 billion 1MDB corruption scandal that led to Najib’s downfall and arrest, penned Mahathir’s profile for Time. She described him as a “formidable old warhorse [that] dazzled during a gruelling campaign”.

“His reliance on core values united electoral groups, and his age inspired trust in a grand man of politics,” she wrote.

Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, praised Mahathir for leading “the transformation of Malaysia from an illiberal democracy … into a more full-fledged one, turning yet another chapter in Southeast Asia’s slow march toward democratisation”.

But there were a few Asian political leaders that were unexpectedly missing from the list, said renowned commentator on political affairs, Choi Jin.

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Neither North Korean leader Kim Jong-un or South Korean President Moon Jae-in were named in this year’s list – after they were included last year.

“It’s a bit surprising that neither Moon nor Kim was mentioned in the list even though the two, together with President Trump, were major players in the hectic diplomacy concerning [North Korea’s] nuclear issue,” he said.

Ahead of talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, North Korea ramps up pressure on the US, asking Mike Pompeo to step aside in future nuclear negotiations

Jin said the failure of the latest meeting between Donald Trump and Kim in Vietnam to reach a deal on the North’s denuclearisation may have cast doubt in observers’ minds as to whether a peaceful resolution can be reached.

But the same essence of doubt cannot be said for South Korean boy band, BTS, which has taken the world by storm in recent years.

Winning the Time 100 reader poll for the second consecutive year, the seven-member band was praised for spreading “positive messages of self-confidence” among their millions of fans.

Since debuting in 2013, BTS has amassed 16.8 million followers on Instagram and 19.3 million on Twitter. They became the first Korean music group to present at the Grammy Awards, perform on Saturday Night Live, and to address the United Nations General Assembly.

The BTS story: how K-pop’s superstar boy band conquered the world

Their latest music video Boy with Luv broke YouTube records, exceeding more than 100 million views in just 38 hours.

Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Halsey, who collaborated with the group on the latest track, wrote the profile for BTS in Time.

They have shown us that we as a society must continue to make progress, even after laws are changed, and that we must make an effort to understand, accept and love

Priyanka Chopra

She said: “With positive messages of self-confidence, intricacies of philosophy hidden in their sparkly songs, true synergy and brotherhood in every step of their elaborate choreography, and countless charitable and anthropological endeavours, BTS have put their 14 best feet forward as role models to millions of adoring fans.”

Other notable listees from Asia on the Time list include Indian litigators Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy, who were lauded for spearheading the fight for LGBT rights in the world’s largest democracy.

The two lawyers were instrumental in the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which upheld a 157-year-old ban on consensual gay sex.

Award-winning actress Priyanka Chopra praised Katju and Guruswamy for being beacons of hope for the Indian LGBT community.

“In their committed fight for justice, they have shown us that we as a society must continue to make progress, even after laws are changed, and that we must make an effort to understand, accept and love,” she wrote.

Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh, best known for her roles in the hit television show Killing Eve and drama series Grey’s Anatomy, was among the listees featured on one of the magazine’s six covers.

She was both the first person of Asian descent to win and host the Golden Globes Awards, and made history as the first Asian woman to receive an Emmy nomination.

“Now, the power of her talented presence makes space for others. And that is a gift to every artist of colour who followers in her footsteps,” Emmy-nominated producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes wrote in her profile of Oh.

Additional reporting by Park Chan-kyong

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