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Chris Patten

Chris Patten

Associate Director of Design Thinking, Henry Ford Learning Institute. I use design to make complex issues more tangible and build empathy among stakeholders.

Articles by Chris Patten

China Is Holding the Planet Hostage

November 25, 2021

China’s inadequate efforts to tackle climate change will likely undermine the credibility of governments in open societies. And if the world fails to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the resulting extreme weather will further strain relations between elected governments and citizens, possibly jeopardizing democracy itself.

LONDON – The verbal emissions at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow were understandably extensive but fortunately less environmentally damaging than the energy path on which the world remains set. Governments reached a fragile agreement that still just about keeps in play the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s main target of limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius

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An Interview with Chris Patten

November 16, 2021

This week in Say More, PS talks with Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, a former EU commissioner for external affairs, and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. 

Project Syndicate: You’ve long urged liberal democracies to come together to “defend their belief in a global order based on credible international agreements and the rule of law.” And you recently wrote that the AUKUS security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States represents a positive and necessary step forward. But you say this “should not be the last agreement between like-minded powers to counter Chinese aggression.” What should come next?Chris Patten: In the security arena, the AUKUS submarine deal

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The Necessity of AUKUS

September 24, 2021

The diplomacy surrounding the recent agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States left much to be desired, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson should now lead efforts to mollify the French. But this should not be the last agreement between like-minded powers to counter Chinese aggression.

LONDON – The basic text making the case for an international-relations rulebook was provided by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides in his account of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in the fifth century BCE. During that struggle, the inhabitants of Melos, the only significant island in the Aegean Sea not controlled by Athens, insisted on retaining their neutrality despite intense

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The Wages of Defeat in Afghanistan

August 31, 2021

The hasty and chaotic Western retreat from Afghanistan provides several lessons. If the United States and Europe fail to heed them, the cause of liberal democracy in the twenty-first century could could go the way of the country they just surrendered to the Taliban.

LONDON – The recent terrorist bombing at Kabul airport that killed more than 100 Afghan civilians and 13 US troops has added more horror to an awful summer. It also shows that Voltaire was not always correct. An enthusiastic gardener, he occasionally gave the impression one could forget about the world’s troubles by weeding a herbaceous border or strolling through an orchard. No such luck these days, alas, even on holiday in August.

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Little England’s Own Goal

July 23, 2021

The recent European football championship unexpectedly focused attention on some fundamental political issues regarding English identity. Most voters appear to have sided with England team coach Gareth Southgate’s decent patriotism, rather than the Conservative government’s knee-jerk and racially tinged nationalism.

LONDON – Few English voters, and even fewer members of the United Kingdom’s political establishment, expected the recent European football championship, deservedly won by the most experienced team, to focus attention quite so clearly on some fundamental political issues. But, like the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, the tournament once again forced the English – and our UK compatriots in Scotland, Wales,

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China’s One-Way Diplomacy

June 1, 2021

A good relationship between free societies and China is not something that the communist regime in Beijing bestows. It is something that China must earn by respecting the rules and norms of international behavior and by recognizing other countries’ sovereignty instead of just asserting its own.

LONDON – The late George Shultz, US Secretary of the Treasury under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, was one of the finest public servants in recent American history. When I was the last British governor of Hong Kong, he once offered me wise advice about dealing with the People’s Republic of China.

European and African Leaders Call for a New Deal for Africa

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Defending the Free World Again

April 27, 2021

The overwhelming consensus within liberal democracies was that the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with it Soviet communism, was a victory for the free world. But today, open societies again face huge challenges in defending their values and rebuilding a global order that Russia and China will accept.

LONDON – We have not heard the expression “the free world” for some time, and we certainly didn’t hear the president of the United States referred to as “the leader of the free world” when Donald Trump was in office. But when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, these terms were commonplace in discussions of international politics. Despite having fallen into disuse, they are no less relevant today.


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The UK’s Hard Brexit Choices Have Arrived

March 22, 2021

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government recently spelled out how Britain will use its supposed freedom outside the European Union. But the country faces a growing number of tough choices that Johnson will not be able to avoid for much longer.

LONDON – Since the United Kingdom left the European Union, relations with its continental neighbors have gone from bad to worse. On both sides, a toxic blend of distrust and nationalism increasingly infuses almost every contentious issue.

The Shape of Global Recovery

Viktor Morozuk/Getty Images

The Enduring Populist Threat

PS OnPoint

Jon Cherry/Getty Images

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Biden’s Good Start on China

February 18, 2021

With US President Joe Biden restoring American support for multilateralism and international partnerships, the world’s democracies should be better placed to halt the Chinese government’s bullying. But China should be welcomed when it is prepared to be constructive on issues like climate change and antimicrobial resistance.

LONDON – US President Joe Biden’s new administration has begun to show its hand regarding its policy toward China. So far, three encouraging developments stand out, suggesting that the United States will regard the huge, Leninist surveillance state not just as a competitor, but as a determined threat to all free societies.

No Time to Waste

PS OnPoint

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Boris Johnson Must Change His Act

January 21, 2021

The United Kingdom may struggle to forge a close and productive relationship with US President Joe Biden’s administration. After all, Prime Minister Boris Johnson still has much to do to persuade the world that he does not regard Donald Trump as a fitting role model for a twenty-first-century liberal democracy.

LONDON – Some of the United Kingdom’s right-wing newspapers – supporters of both Brexit and its principal advocate, Prime Minister Boris Johnson – have been quick to assure us that US President Joe Biden has already forgiven the Conservative government for its obsequious cheerleading for the departed Donald Trump. The new Democratic administration, they claim, will want to do business with a UK that is now

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My Man of the Year

December 17, 2020

By jailing fearless Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Jimmy Lai on charges of breaking its new national security law, the Communist Party of China intends to reinforce the new limits to the rule of law, dissent, and autonomy in the city. But imprisonment often ennobles fighters for democracy and bolsters support for their cause.

LONDON – On December 12, Jimmy Lai, a successful businessman and brave campaigner for freedom and democracy, was led into court in Hong Kong in handcuffs and chains, accused of breaking the national security law recently imposed by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The Chinese authorities’ goal in charging Lai was to reinforce the new limits to the rule of law, dissent, and autonomy in the city.

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America’s Fifth Column

November 25, 2020

Authoritarian states such as Russia and China have argued for years that core liberal-democratic principles are hypocritical and hollow. By undermining them in America, President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Fox News are giving them a big helping hand.

LONDON – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1970s was a product of the Cold War standoff between the liberal democratic West and the communist Soviet bloc. The body’s name accurately described its role. As the Soviet empire crumbled, the OSCE turned to nurturing countries’ transition to democracy, including by helping them run free and fair elections.

America’s Political Crisis and the Way Forward

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America’s Tarnished Supreme Court

October 26, 2020

For those who have only ever known America as a champion of democracy and the rule of law, it has been tragic to witness the country’s descent into corruption and bad-faith partisanship. And nowhere is the rule of "dark money" more evident than in the rushed confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

LONDON – Born in 1944, I grew up in a world largely made – and made pretty well – by America. The post-war settlement established institutions, global rules, and an alliance of free societies that enabled most of us to thrive in peace.

The Everlasting Mao

PS OnPoint

Tao Zhang/Getty Images

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Saving Liberal Democracy

August 26, 2020

Advocates of free and open societies must not only stand up to assaults on their values by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other like-minded leaders. They also must show that they still believe in liberal democracy themselves.

LONDON – I belong to a fortunate generation. Born in the United Kingdom in 1944, toward the end of a world war that killed between 70 million and 85 million people, I have neither been bombed nor had to fight on any battlefields.

The Post-Pandemic Economy’s Barriers to Growth

PS OnPoint

Peter Zelei Images/Getty Images

The Master and the Prodigy

PS OnPoint

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Democracy and Decency

July 20, 2020

Whatever their Western apologists may claim, Russia and China are clearly trying to weaken liberal democracies by attacking the values that underpin them. Open societies – including the United States under a president who believes in alliances – must unite in defense of what they know is right.

LONDON – We have long been dangerously slow to recognize, let alone resist, the undermining of liberal democracies by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s post-KGB thugocracy and China’s more economically successful version of aggressive Leninism.

America’s Compromised State

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Toward a New Fiscal

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The China “Constrainment” Doctrine

June 25, 2020

Liberal democracies must defend their belief in a global order based on credible international agreements and the rule of law. So, although democratic governments should be prepared to offer China incentives for good behavior, they must be prepared to deter bad behavior vigorously.

LONDON – It is necessary to know some history in order to draw the right lessons from it. All too often, alleged parallels and similarities seem far-fetched on close examination. So, when it was suggested recently that China’s recent behavior – bullying, lying, and violating treaties – was similar to that of Germany prior to World War I, I was doubtful.

The Main Street Manifesto


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We Are Hong Kong

May 31, 2020

With his recent decision to impose a draconian new security law on Hong Kong, Chinese President Xi Jinping has ridden roughshod over the Joint Declaration and directly threatened the city’s freedom. Defenders of liberal democracy must not stand idly by.

LONDON – In my final speech as Hong Kong’s governor on June 30, 1997, a few hours before I left the city on Britain’s royal yacht, I remarked that, “Now, Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakable destiny.”

The Lonesome Death of Hong Kong

PS OnPoint

Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images

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The Lonesome Death of Hong Kong

May 25, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, and its effects reverberate around the world, Project Syndicate is delivering the expert scientific, economic, and political insights that people need. For more than 25 years, we have been guided by a simple credo: All people deserve access to a broad range of views by the world’s foremost leaders and thinkers on the issues, events, and forces shaping their lives. In this crisis, that mission is more important than ever – and we remain committed to fulfilling it.
But there is no doubt that the intensifying crisis puts us, like so many other organizations, under growing strain. If you are in a position to support us, please subscribe now.
As a subscriber, you will enjoy unlimited access to our On Point suite of long reads and book

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Truth and Viral Consequences

March 20, 2020

Proper surveillance of potentially catastrophic public-health threats requires knowledge and transparency, both within and between countries. As the deadly COVID-19 pandemic once again shows, telling the truth saves lives.

LONDON – Of all the challenges that humans have faced over millennia, disease has always been a particularly brutal and resourceful enemy.
The COVID Wake-Up Call

The False Crisis Comparison

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Three Essential Questions about COVID-19

Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty

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Liberal Democracy and Its Enemies

February 28, 2020

The challenges facing Western liberal democracies today are serious enough to recall Europe’s descent into tyranny in the 1930s, and should inspire sensible Americans and Europeans to mobilize to prevent any recurrence. While crying wolf is rarely recommended, sometimes there really is a wolf skulking through the wood.

LONDON – When the German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote that, “All power comes from the people,” he went on to ask the rather important question, “But where does it go?”
Solidarity Now

PS OnPoint

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When China Sneezes

Xinhua/Zhang Ailin via Getty

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Britain Enters the Unknown

January 30, 2020

Compared to the threats posed by climate change and China’s hostility to liberal democracy, the consequences of Brexit may seem far less significant. But the United Kingdom has chosen an odd and dangerous time to decide to go it alone.

LONDON – A history teacher at my school believed that every great event in the past should be approached on the basis of a tripartite analysis of its causes, pretexts, and results. He would list these in columns on the blackboard, and we would then have to learn them by heart: the causes of the eighteenth-century War of the Spanish Succession, the pretexts for the French Revolution, the results of the American War of Independence, and so on.
Britain Enters the Unknown

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How Truth Survived 2019

December 26, 2019

The "truthiness" of US President Donald Trump and other world leaders cast a dark shadow over public life in 2019, and probably will continue to do so next year. But fortunately for those who care about both democracy and the planet, the actual truth remains a powerful force.

LONDON – “Truthiness,” a concept coined by the American comedian Stephen Colbert, involves saying things that you want to believe are true even if there is no factual evidence to support these assertions. And without doubt, truthiness has had a great run in 2019 – from US President Donald Trump’s Washington, to the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, to events in Asia.
How Truth Survived 2019

Isaac Lawrence/AFP

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Hong Kong Says No to the China Dream

November 29, 2019

China’s leaders and their mouthpieces in Hong Kong have repeatedly claimed that a silent majority of the local community opposed the demonstrators, and that foreign “black hands” were behind the protests. But the city’s district council elections on November 24 told a different story.

LONDON – At the beginning of his satirical novel China Dream, which has a cover designed by the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Ma Jian expresses his gratitude to George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm. Orwell, he says, “foretold it all.”
Democratic Leadership in a Populist Age

PS OnPoint

orired/Getty Images

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Democratic Leadership in a Populist Age

November 29, 2019

With populism and nationalism currently in the ascendancy in much of the world, where should we look for inspiring democratic leadership? It will not come from Trump, of course, but the US has shown enlightened and visionary global leadership before, and it can do so again.

MELBOURNE – In most airport bookshops, you will see rows of titles offering business travelers advice on leadership. I should not disparage them. It is doubtless possible to rise in the marketing department by learning a lesson or two from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.And, to be fair, some airport books on leadership are thoughtful, and draw on a variety of examples. The investor and philanthropist Michael Moritz, for example, has written very well

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What Happens to the United Kingdom Now?

October 30, 2019

Even after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the country will face years of talks in which it will be negotiating from a position of weakness. The UK will be less prosperous and influential than before, and will be under increasing internal strain because of policies driven by malignant English nationalism.

LONDON – The United Kingdom’s Brexit psychodrama continues. Although the UK government and the European Union reached a revised withdrawal agreement in mid-October, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was unable to push the deal through Parliament so that the UK could leave the bloc by his hoped-for date of October 31. EU leaders have therefore granted a further three-month extension of the Brexit deadline

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China’s Hong Kong Problem

September 30, 2019

The Chinese government is playing for time in Hong Kong in the hope that the demonstrators will lose heart and perhaps the will to resist. But if China’s leaders were as sophisticated as they claim, they would behave very differently.

LONDON – The demonstrations and the political crisis in Hong Kong are now into their fourth month. Every weekend, people take to the streets to protest against their government and the armlock in which China’s communist regime holds it. And for now, at least, there seems to be no resolution in sight.
The Constitution Won’t Save American Democracy

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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Is Britain Becoming a Failed State?

August 20, 2019

Failed states used to be largely the preserve of the developing world, where the institutions of democracy do not have deep roots. But given the extent to which the Brexit campaign has undermined Britain’s institutions through lies, it is reasonable to worry that the country will soon come to resemble a tinpot dictatorship.

LONDON – What is a failed state? Not so long ago, when I was Britain’s Overseas Development Minister, and later European Commissioner for External Affairs, I would probably have tried to answer the question by pointing to specific examples, including several countries in Latin America and Africa.
The Case for a Guaranteed Job

PS OnPoint

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Great Countries, Bad Leaders

July 30, 2019

China and the United States are great countries, but are being badly governed – one by Leninist autocrats afraid of their own shadow, and the other by a bizarre populist who prefers despots to liberal democrats. For now, the rest of the world has good reason to hope for better and wiser leadership in Beijing and Washington – and soon.

LONDON – I first visited the United States in 1965 on a student scholarship funded by a generous Boston philanthropist. Ever since that trip, which took me from New York to California to Alabama and back, I have been a confirmed Americophile. I love the country and have visited it more often than any other outside Britain and Western Europe.

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What Carrie Lam Should Do Next

June 25, 2019

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam is lonely and beleaguered following huge protests against a deeply unpopular extradition law. To ease tensions in the city, Lam should announce that the proposed law is dead, and launch an open and independent inquiry into police activity during the protests.

LONDON – I do not know Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, very well. She worked for my administration when I was governor there. Diligent and well regarded – and Catholic, like many others in the then-colony’s civil service – she had been educated at Hong Kong University and at Cambridge. When I left in 1997, after sovereignty over the city was returned to China, she was rising

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The Legacy of Tiananmen Square, 30 Years Later

June 4, 2019

Type the words “Tiananmen” or “June 4” in a search browser in China, and little, if anything, identifies Beijing’s central square as the site where thousands of people, mostly students, were killed while peacefully demonstrating for democratic reform in 1989. Thirty years later, China’s government is as determined as ever to crush dissent.
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