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Tuesday, March 2, 1999

BOOK BITES


THE FUTURE OF ASIA AND THE PACIFIC, by Geoffrey Hawthorn. London: Phoenix, 1998, 57 pp., 2 British pounds.

This little volume is one of a series of 24 short books whose authors attempt to forecast the future across a range of social, economic and political subject areas.

The social sciences are generally ill-equipped for making predictions because people are complex beings whose individual and collective behavior is influenced by any number of natural and cultural factors. Making predictions about such a vast area as Asia and the Pacific is a tall order. But the author knows this and judiciously avoids projections about the continent as a whole.

In fact, most of his text concerns the past, a much safer territory than the vagaries of the future. And much of what he says about the region's rise this century puts the changing relations between East Asia and the West into perspective. However, he does offer some opinions about how things will develop over the next several decades.

Japan, he is convinced, will continue to dominate the region economically into the first quarter of the next century. China's economic ascent will turn into a serious threat to Southeast Asia's economies. Indonesia, because of grave policy mistakes under Suharto, will take longer to recover economically than any of its neighbors. On the political front, Hawthorn is guardedly optimistic that democracy will continue to progress, although China's transition to a market economy demonstrates that "relatively illiberal politics is perfectly compatible with a liberalizing economy."

Hawthorn's pronouncements are not very controversial, but by attempting to see Asia's future role he sheds some light on the present.



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