Friday, December 9, 2016

History in Motion

Chris Patten

When is secession legitimate, and how should the world recognize new states? Should governments really never negotiate with terrorists? Do East and West confront an unbridgeable cultural divide or simply a developmental time lag?

Rival historical narratives lie at the heart of many of the disputes that are sowing fear and conflict in today’s world, from Russia’s bullying of its neighbors to territorial clashes in the Himalayas, the Middle East, and the East and South China Seas. Some of these historical quarrels are unfamiliar, while others – morally complex and seemingly intractable – pose enormous strategic risks. Small wonder that only a few statesmen have the breadth of vision to tackle them.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, former EU Commissioner for External Relations, a one-time British cabinet minister, and Chairman of the Conservative Party and of the BBC, has spent most of his career around addressing such challenges. Currently Chancellor of the University of Oxford and a member of the British House of Lords, Patten is one of our era’s most seasoned, informed, and cosmopolitan observers of the international scene.

Lord Patten’s struggle to preserve Hong Kong’s liberal features – while confronting the West’s view that relations with China should not be disturbed – helped to ensure the survival of democratic expectations two decades after the colony’s transfer to China. Prior to his appointment to the EU Commission, he brought the same analytical clarity and political skills to the peace process in Northern Ireland. As chairman of the Patten Commission, he oversaw the transformation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary into an inclusive and genuinely civilian police force.

From the Far East to the Middle East, from Belfast to Brussels, Chris Patten commands attention. Every month, History in Motion, written exclusively for Project Syndicate, brings his lucid brand of practical wisdom to bear on problems that others would rather avoid.

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