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5i8 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 Richard Pomfret. Asian Economies in Transition: Reforming Centrally Planned Economies. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar, 1996. xiv, 155 pp. Hardcover $63.95, isbn 1-85898-291-x. Commencing with China nearly twenty years ago, leaders ofAsia's so-called "transition economies" have demonstrated both their willingness to relinquish Marx and their reticence to retire Lenin. That is, while political leaders in these countries have almost universally accepted the necessity of introducing some measure of market-oriented reforms into their economies, they have generally stopped short of taking measures that would seriously threaten their monopoly of political power. In this compilation of his writings on these Asian transition economies, economist Richard Pomfret does a good job of documenting and tracing this former trend; he does less well in accounting for the theoretical significance and empirical consequences of the latter. Pomfret argues that since the dramatic collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, "the most exciting topic" in economics has been the transition from central planning to a market-oriented economy (p. 1). He sets out to redress the Eurocentric imbalance of the literature analyzing this kind of transition by examining the experiences of the Asian transition economies (ATEs). These he defines as including the East and Southeast Asian nations of China, Mongolia, Vietnam , Cambodia, and Laos (he excludes North Korea, describing it as "the last unreformed Stalinist economy in Asia" ) and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) ofAzerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Brief, but useful, comparative introductory and concluding chapters sandwich seven chapters focusing on specific national experiences with economic reform (three devoted to China, one to Indochina, one to Mongolia, and two to the Central Asian republics) and two valuable topical chapters discussing the Central Asian republics' choice of either remaining in or exiting the ruble zone and efforts to forge regional cooperation among reformed, non-reformed, and capitalist countries in the Turnen River delta region of Northeast Asia. He acknowledges that rather than an exhaustive study of the ATEs, the book is "a collection of interrelated studies on the theme of 'Asian Economies in Transition '" (p. 9). This kind of compilation entails distinct tradeoffs. Pomfret has done field work in and has written on all eleven ATEs and is thus able to bring substantial firsthand knowledge and remarkable comparative breadth to the top-© 1997 by University ics at hand. His wide experience lends validity to his useful distinctions among ofHawai'i Presst¡ie "ßjg Bang" or fast-track strategies implemented in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the more gradual "agriculture first" model employed by China and Vietnam, and the more eclectic (and less successful) approaches adopted by Reviews 519 the other ATEs. He cautions, however, that the Chinese model of gradualism, emphasizing agrarian reform and export-oriented industrialization, may offer few lessons for the remaining ATEs. Many of these, he points out, are landlocked and have non-rice agricultural sectors (that were more efficiently collectivized). Moreover , he argues that fundamental issues ofeconomic development (as opposed to transition) and political stability will prevent many of these ATEs from attaining the kind ofresults witnessed in either China or Eastern Europe any time soon. However, the fact that nine of the eleven chapters comprise revised versions of earlier studies done by the author (as well as discrepancies in the availability and accuracy of data) detracts from the overall coherence and comparative utility ofthe volume. Well over one-third ofthe book is devoted to various aspects of the Chinese experience with economic reform (including chapter-length studies ofboth direct foreign investment and financial reform), while Laos is covered in three pages. Five of the Central Asian Republics are examined in a ten-page chapter while the sixth CAR, Azerbaijan, is analyzed in a separate, longer chapter. The justification for separating Azerbaijan—secessionist movement within, regional conflict without—is perhaps valid, but these are circumstances remarkably similar to the challenges posed to Cambodia, yet no effort of comparison between the two is made. Finally, the neoclassical focus of the book and Pomfret's insistence on clinging to the assumptions of this approach jaundice the analysis. Pomfret acknowledges that "most ofthe analysis in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 518-520
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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