First-time visitors to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur are astonished to observe a pair of twin towers thrusting up above the surrounding buildings into the clouds. The Petronas Towers rise 1,483 feet from ground level, leading to claims by Malaysian officials that they are the world’s tallest buildings, at least for the time being. More than an architectural achievement, the towers announced the emergence of Asia as a major player on the international scene. It is probably no accident that the foundations were laid on the site of the Selangor Cricket Club, symbol of colonial hegemony in Southeast Asia. “These towers,” commented one local official, “will do wonders for Asia’s self-esteem and confidence, which I think is very important, and which I think at this moment are at the point of takeoff.” 1 Slightly more than a year after that remark, Malaysia and several of its neighbors were mired in a financial crisis that threatened to derail their rapid advance to economic affluence and severely undermined the “self-esteem” that the Petronas Towers were meant to symbolize. Today, several years after the buildings were completed, many of their offices remain unoccupied. The Petronas Towers, then, serve as a vivid demonstration in steel and glass of the dual face of modern Asia: a region seeking to compete with the advanced nations of the West while still struggling to overcome a legacy of economic underdevelopment and colonial rule. As Asian leaders have discovered, it is a path strewn with hidden obstacles.