When Hong Kong cuts down on its gambling, things must be getting serious. With bad news piling up day by day, it was perhaps inevitable that the Jockey Club should report the first fall in betting for more than 20 years and warned of a further decline because of the economic crisis. But the real scale of the crisis was shown by the forecast from a senior World Bank official yesterday that Asia was probably entering a depression which could be very long-lasting if not handled 'very, very carefully' - and that the Asian crisis could spread. Coming amid worries over whether China will be able to stick to its policy of not devaluing yuan, and at what cost, this stark prediction sums up the extent of the dangers the world faces. There are a number of reasons why the crisis has grown so severe, and a number of looming dangers that could make it worse, notably a sudden ending of the bull market on Wall Street. But there is one clear and present danger to the world economy which has been identified for weeks if not months - the failure of Japan to play its role as the motor of Asia's economy and its readiness to let the yen decline. This is partly a matter of psychology: Japan has to be seen to be taking action which signals its willingness to recognise and play its part as the world's second largest economy in pulling Asia out of its worst economic crisis in living memory. So long as it fails to do so, there will be a gaping hole at the heart of any attempt to rescue Asia's economies. A far larger effort is then required. Whatever the action of central bankers behind the scenes, it is still extraordinary that, one year after the economic crisis began in Thailand, there has not been an international summit called specifically to produce effective concerted action. Plenty of words, but scant action, leaving the impression that policy-makers in the United States and Europe have either not grasped the severity of the crisis or don't care too much so long as their own economies are not hit too hard. But the crisis risks taking on a dynamic of its own from which the West will not be able to escape. The challenge is becoming political, as well as economic. Failure by the West to rise to the occasion could help to destabilise democratic governments in South Korea and Thailand. Economics may usually be best left to the markets, but if the continuing buoyancy of the US economy is all that stands between the world and recession, there is an urgent need to stop wishing on the Japanese star and to initiate strong multinational measures to turn back the tide, and to give Asia reason to hope.