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How will Asia--its vast population, its swirling politics, its recently challenged economics--change our world?
Few Western political figures can answer that question as well as Christopher Patten. For five years, Patten was the governor of Hong Kong, and as China prepared to reclaim its people and its land, he struggled to put in place democratic institutions that would ensure Hong Kong's continued vitality.
In East and West, Patten draws on those struggles to give us an intimate portrait of the real Asia, in all its diversity, and to make a vital argument for the common interest of Eastern and Western powers. The result is a startling departure from the conventional wisdom about China, power, and the future of Asia.
Starting from his own experience as governor, his attempt to introduce democracy to Hong Kong, and his often difficult relationship with both Chinese and Western business and political interests, Patten addresses some of the most vital, and often confused, issues of the coming century.
Patten dismisses talk of a monolithic "Asian value system"--in the East as well as the West--as a self-serving excuse for authoritarianism. While tumbling currencies have silenced talk of "the Asian economic miracle," scholars and politicians still make a living touting Asian exceptionalism, many suggesting that what works for the West cannot work for the East. But Patten argues that it already has. What took place in Asia in the last thirty years, he says, was similar to the industrialization of Europe and the United States, only much faster.
Ultimately, Patten argues that free markets and free politics sustain each other. In the East and in the West, political liberty and economic freedom march together. "I believe a process has likely begun which is irreversible," Patten writes, "and which will ensure that the next century belongs not to Asia or America or any other continent, but to those values which best combine decency and a good life. A hundred years ago, A. E Housman's 'steady drummer' best a warning of death and misery to come. Today, on the threshold of another century, the omens seem better. Eastward as well as westward, the land is bright." Christopher Patten is modest about being the Last Governor ("a title invariably given capital letters to denote," he supposes, "its historic significance") of a British-ruled Hong Kong, and about his role in the transition of the colony to Chinese rule in 1997. The first third of East and West recounts Patten's struggle to leave the colony's residents with some assurances that they would have certain democratic rights once they became Chinese subjects, and he is frankly regretful about the extent to which those efforts failed. The tortuous diplomatic maneuvering of those years and the colorful players are depicted with vigor and humor, and Patten adds lively first-person anecdotes absent from Jonathan Dimbleby's detailed analysis of the handover in The Last Governor.
East and West then moves to a much wider arena. "I believed," Patten writes, "that the values Hong Kong represented were the values of the future in Asia as everywhere else." With common sense and a wealth of statistics, Patten refutes the notion that distinctly Asian values can explain the success of Asia's economic "tigers." The book becomes a well-argued and sometimes passionate exploration of the universal relevance of liberal democracy, human rights, and market economics. Patten is a sharp, well-read statesman, and though he downplays his role as that of a political functionary, one might well wish that higher-ups displayed some of his insight and clarity.