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Australian Journal of politics and history, vol. 46 (2000) issue 3 p 455-456

Michael D. Barr

Book Reviews

ASEM: A Window of Opportunity. By Wim Stokhof and Paul van der Velde eds (London: Kegan Paul International in association with the International Institute for Asian Studies, 1999), 179 pp. Hardcover 55.00.

The conference from which this book was derived brought together academics and politicians from Europe and Asia to talk about the forthcoming (as it was then) 1998 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM II). The result has been a collection of eleven papers about doing business between Asia and Europe.

Although the quality of the contributions varied considerably I found many aspects of the book educative. The de facto debate on the role of cultural awareness in international business was worth reading, as was the piece on corruption in Japan. The British Labour politician's description of politicians as spokespersons and apologists for big business was particularly illuminating, especially since this was not intended as a criticism of his peers. This was part of a slightly broader debate over the relationship between politics and economics, much of which was a coded discussion on the correct response of Europeans doing business with regimes that abuse human rights. One chapter was effectively a guided tour of websites that might be useful to people doing business between the two continents.

I thought the most substantial academic contribution came from Zhao Gancheng, a Chinese academic who was arguing his nation's case for the PRC's admission to the World Trade Organisation despite its record on human rights. The PRC appears to have put many of its top people into this field during the 1990s.

Unfortunately the book suffers some significant defects. The conference on which it is based was held in September 1997: slightly too late to acknowledge, let alone deal with, the Asian financial crisis which in fact dominated the proceedings of ASEM II. Yet all of the papers still speak of ASEM II in the future tense, giving the book a slightly surreal edge. Nevertheless, the book could have been improved with a little editorial work. An index would have been nice, but it is particularly galling that the editors did not include a list of ASEM Members, since the question of ASEM membership and the criteria for admitting new members was a major point of consideration in several papers.

Michael D. Barr
Community and Cross-Cultural Studies, Queensland University of Technology