The crisis in the Persian Gulf is set to spur an economic realignment in Asia, with important implications for businessmen on both sides of the Pacific, analysts say.
The troubles already have clipped the wings of Asia's "Little Dragons," slowing economic growth in the world's fastest developing region. Financial markets have plummeted throughout East Asia, led by an 80 percent plunge in Taiwan's main exchange.But in the long term, analysts say, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait could mark the beginning of a new era - with an emerging Vietnam, improved economic ties between longtime enemies Taiwan and China, and the tapping of Siberia's natural resources.
"The crisis could spark a major change in capital flows throughout Asia," said Robert Broadfoot, a regional economic consultant. "Many of them will promote greater stability."
Right now, however, the crisis threatens one East Asian country with instability: the Philippines.
Philippine President Corazon Aquino's government, already reeling from an earthquake in July and a coup attempt in December, suffered another hit with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
It is totally dependent on foreign oil, and its factories could grind to a halt if energy prices rise. Add to that the tens of thousands of Filipinos fleeing home from jobs in the gulf and the outlook for unemployment, already at 12.6 percent, is even grimmer.
"It doesn't take much to stimulate political unrest in the Philippines," said Ranjan Paul, an economist at the Hong Kong-based consultant Business International. "The gulf crisis could be the last straw."
Four countries in East Asia - the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong - have cut their growth forecasts after the Iraqi attack.
South Koreans have been stocking up on kerosene to heat their homes. Several Taiwanese investors have committed suicide. In Thailand, also highly dependent on foreign oil, Bangkok's bourse (stock exchange) began broadcasting news bulletins to stop rumors from affecting the volatile Thai stock market.
Japan, one of the engines of the region, has so far churned through the crisis without much trouble. Gasoline prices are up only slightly. But rising interest rates and a 28 percent slide of the already bearish stock market since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion have sparked some concern.
Analysts say the immediate beneficiaries of the crisis will probably be Malaysia, Indonesia and China, the only substantial oil exporters in the region.
But their gains could be offset by a decrease in export earnings if countries in the West, especially the United States, suffer a recession.
In the long term, Vietnam and its increasingly market-oriented economy are being hailed as a possible winner in the region if the crisis continues.
Iraq's attack rekindled interest in tapping new sources of oil. Since July, Vietnam has opened up five concessions for drilling rights to its offshore oil fields to Western countries.
Calls are also rising in the United States to end America's 15-year-old economic boycott of Vietnam. A bill before the U.S. House of Representatives would exempt oil and gas exploration from the embargo.
"The return of Vietnam to the international community could be a byproduct of this mess," said Samuel Moon, of the Hong Kong American Chamber of Commerce. "We're hoping the U.S. government will allow us to do business with them."
Analysts also see the gulf crisis as prodding Japan to improve ties with the Soviet Union.
The vast, untapped natural resources of the Soviet Far East could provide Japan with another source of energy, timber and minerals for decades.
Tokyo's chilly relations with Moscow warmed slightly during the September visit to Tokyo of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Analysts say the longer the crisis in the gulf continues, the less importance will be placed on Japan's political problems with the Soviet Union.
Some officials think Broadfoot and other analysts exaggerate the effect the gulf imbroglio could have on Japan-Soviet relations.
"That is really looking for a silver lining on a dark cloud," said Robert C. Fauver, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian Affairs, in a telephone interview from Washington. He said he foresees little change in Tokyo-Moscow ties.
A final offshoot of the gulf trouble could be closer economic ties between China and Taiwan, technically at war since 1949, when Communist forces chased Nationalist troops from mainland China.
Relations improved between the two after 1979 when China's leader, Deng Xiaoping, launched market-oriented economic reforms. Since then Taiwanese businessmen have invested millions of dollars in China and thousands of Taiwanese have traveled there.
More Taiwanese investment in China would increase stability in Asia as the threat of a Communist attack to unite the two countries recedes into the past.