Lord Patten, 'Fat Pang', on the 21st 'Asian Century'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/11/2012 08:29:00 AM
Though not always, expatriates often develop piercing insights into the often strange political economy of Asian nations as outsiders looking in. Lord Christopher Patten of Barnes should be familiar to all scholars of Asia as the last British governor of Hong Kong. He remains controversial to this day for, in so many words, attempting to enshrine democratic processes in the colony prior to the 1997 handover. Jaded Hong Kong residents even grew a fondness for him--well, at least outside the business community--for his instincts as a retail politician did not go away when appointed for the post. From Andrew Craig-Bennett's superb and much-recommended history of Hong Kong where he traces the backhanded nickname of endearment "Fat Pang":
Patten continued to behave differently to his predecessors; although, unlike his predecesors for many generations, he did not speak either Mandarin or Cantonese, he used to go for informal strolls in the streets, chatting to people and pressing the flesh. In fact, he was behaving like the seasoned democratic politician that he actually was. Trouble was, Hong Kong had never seen such an animal before. As my Taipan remarked, "When will he stop kissing babies in Mong Kok? Doesn't he realise he doesn't have to get elected in this job?" 

Patten also used to make political speeches at the drop of a hat - no mere cutter of ribbons with a few kind words, like earlier Governors, he would deliver a twenty minute oration and - people listened. He became the first and last Governor to acquire a Chinese nickname - Fat Pang - 肥彭 (Chinese nicknames were sought after amongst the gweilo [foreign] community because they were only bestowed (behind your back) if you deserved one, for good or ill, and it was usually very hard to find out what yours was.)
So it is that he retained that Tory British predilection of adopting strong democratic stances as governor when his country of course used to be the world's foremost imperialist and slaver. Needless to say, attempting to instil democracy in a colony that would soon be handed over to China did not go so well with the PRC. What's more, his actions have undoubtedly caused ongoing headaches for the Chinese leadership insofar as several opposition parties now responsible for organizing mass protests against the mainland and so forth sharpened their teeth during Patten's epoch-ending stint:
Legco [legislative committee--which retains its role post-handover] debates became very different; long diligently televised, they started to be watched. The subject of debate moved away from the usual municipal trivia and started to take on a broader view. Patten was a veteran of the House of Commons; Hong Kong's political class watched and learned.

The first group to take a serious dislike to Fat Pang was the business community. Legco was not meant to be a debating chamber; it was meant to be a rubber stamp for [commercially friendly] decisions arrived at over lunch. All this political activity had an effect which I must assume (since he is still active in politics, and has not settled down to write his memoirs yet) Patten intended it to have. Hong Kong developed political parties. Strictly speaking, there had been parties since soon after WW2, but with one exception they were informal and had little influence.
Very interesting stuff. In line with this bit of Patten-era Hong Kong history, RBS has an unsurprisingly rollicking interview with the man himself on the so-called Asian Century. To no one's real surprise given his advocacy as Hong Kong governor, he believes that how far the likes of China and India will go depends on the extent they internalize democratic values (especially China):
Yet Chinese consumption remains low as a proportion of GDP, as does domestic investment. If China is to make its growth sustainable, it must change its model from investment in low-cost manufacturing to investment in the domestic economy and personal consumption. This will mean offering more social entitlement programmes and investing more in education and health. Sustainable growth also requires political reform, an area in which the Chinese leadership has had to tread carefully. “The Chinese often claim that they can do things to the economy without having an effect on politics,” says Lord Patten. “I rather doubt that myself and so, clearly, do some Chinese leaders.”
Like me, he believes that prospects of Chinese global preponderance are wide of the mark:
Next year will see a change in China’s political guard. Xi Jinping is expected to take over the presidency from Hu Jintao, but comparatively little is known about the likely new leader’s agenda. There is an ongoing debate within China between the party hardliners and some of the modernisers.

“The hardliners’ argument is that if the party continues to allow the privatisation of state and enterprises, along with more foreign direct investment, it will sooner or later lose control over the state,” explains Lord Patten. “The modernisers say that unless they continue to stand back from the state and enterprises, and encourage the private sector, the economy won’t grow quite so fast and won’t create so many jobs, which would result in the party losing control. I think the Chinese dilemma is that both those propositions are correct.”

In light of these challenges, he questions the claim that the 21st century belongs to China. “It’s certainly the case that America and Europe won’t dominate the global agenda in the next few years in the way they have in the past century,” he says. “But I don’t think that we’re going to live in a Chinese century. It may be one in which the Chinese and Indians, like the Japanese, refuse to define modernity in entirely western terms, but I don’t believe that we’ve seen the end of western influence.”
Good stuff; and he's probably on target.