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  • East Asian Visions: Perspectives on Economic Development
  • Robert L. Curry Jr.
East Asian Visions: Perspectives on Economic Development. Edited by Indermit Gill et al.Washington, D.C. and Singapore: World Bank and Institute of Policy Studies, 2007. Pp. 358.

The volume contains eighteen policy studies authored by twenty senior policy-makers, statespersons and scholars who represent eight Asian countries. The studies focus on an array of themes and questions related to them. First, what factors explain East Asia's growth and development, and will all of the countries that have experienced success continue to do so as the powerful impact of China either benefits them or crowds some of them out of markets and leaves them behind? Second, will the forces of integration build stability and efficiencies or will some East Asian economies be plagued with persistent inefficiencies and become both economically and politically vulnerable? Third, can East Asian countries avoid domestic disintegration given growing public concerns about increasing inequities, persistent poverty, environmental pollution and degradation, and official and private sector corruption and cronyism? Fourth, will East Asia find a new generation of leaders andwilling followers who can set aside national myopia and internal differences in favour of more effective and widely supported view of regional cooperation and integration?

The authors discuss a generally shared vision that the answers to the above will be "yes" but only following a great deal of hard work that eventually will lead to sound economic structures and practices throughout East Asia, and they will be based upon effective regional integration and economic openness, able and corruption-free leaders and the influence of China. With this in mind, the opening chapter makes two telling points. The first is that the growth of production sharing networks (featuring horizontal and vertical linkages among firms) has meant that "East Asia's share of world trade has increased from 10 per cent in the 1970's to more than 25 per cent today. Intraregional trade … has increased from 35 per cent to 55 per cent" (p. 11). Even with the rise of China, "[w]ith such a wide range of factors at play, so no single country within East Asia can dominate the production chain, but with much of the activity centered in China as the assembly plant of the world" (p. 11).

The second telling point is that finding effective change agents who will continue to lead this process both internally and externally is crucial. Effective leadership and management requires making "the important transition from paternalistic top-down governance structure to a pluralistic and open market economy structure since no small elite can no longer manage large complex market economies (featuring production sharing networks)" (p. 19).

Leadership in some form or other is a central feature of the book's many chapters because, [End Page 345]according to some of the contributors, leaders must also find ways to avoid domestic disintegration by dealing effectively within civil societies. Such societies flourish when market management is efficient and when public officials operate in the absence of corruption, when they practise responsive decision-making, and when they do not tolerate polluted cities, impoverished rural and urban areas and excessive inequities. Ambassador Tommy Koh's essay makes the point that corruption poses a massive challenge because it "distorts economic decision-making. It leads to injustice. Corruption undermines the integrity of public institutions. Asian leaders and thinkers should be united in condemning and combating corruption (and) … in increasing transparency, accountability and integrity" (p. 143).

Haruhiko Kuroda echoes Koh's points by declaring that the avoidance of corruption is essential especially since the primary obligation of leaders is to eliminate, or at least substantially reduce, poverty which "remains the single most urgent challenge for many East Asian developing countries. Development gaps are widening across some countries and with some parts of countries" (p. 149). Kuroda goes on to contend that "regional cooperation and integration in East Asia are desirable and necessary to maximize the region's potential and achieve a vision of an integrated, poverty-free and peaceful East Asia" (p. 149).

The contributors to the book present a vision of the pursuit of progress for East Asian people that calls...


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