CHRIS Patten claims to have firsthand experience of what it is like to kowtow. Not from his days as governor, when he invariably preferred more confrontational tactics, but from a more recent experiment at his home in southern France. 'It takes a long time to kowtow. I have just tried it on the carpet in my study. There was no particular object of homage and I was speeded on my way by two attentive and puzzled terriers,' he explains, describing the ancient ritual of banging your head on the floor nine times before the Chinese emperor, which is where the term originated. But it is kowtowing in the way the word is now used, to disparage anyone who is too conciliatory towards Beijing, that Mr Patten embarks upon a crusade against. While there are no significant revelations, beyond an important admission that Hong Kong 'deserved better of Britain', and the book contains much that will bore the average reader, the language used about Beijing is among the most provocative to come from any mainstream Western politician in recent years. Mao Zedong is labelled as one of the 'angels of death' and placed on a par with Hitler, Pol Pot and others of 'the world's wickedest villains'. China is described as able to 'bully its way around the region as long as it is allowed to do so'. And the world is lampooned for its 'Marco Polo-like' obsession with a mainland market that, at least for now, 'does not matter very much to many of us'. Even more extreme opinions are put forward in the guise of airing the views of others. 'China is rapidly becoming a threat to world peace, as well as an affront to our civilised conscience and an unfair competitor in global markets. We must stop cosseting China,' writes Mr Patten, although he is careful to describe this as only one school of thought and stops short of explicitly endorsing it. But there is no doubting where the former Governor's sympathies lie. 'I should now come clean. It is a grave confession. I am not scared witless of the People's Republic of China or mesmerised by China's might and majesty,' he writes. 'The Chinese Government may still be able to terrify its own people when necessary. But I see no reason why the rest of us should wake up in a Sino-sweat in the middle of the night.' His basic thesis is that the world, with the sole exception of Mr Patten and a few United States policy-makers, is far too soft on Beijing. There are sarcastic allusions to British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's initial reluctance to meet exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng earlier this year and the more conciliatory policy London has adopted towards China since the handover. Even US President Bill Clinton's recent conversion to constructive engagement is criticised: 'What is 'coddling dictators' one year becomes the sophisticated attempt to make sense of 'a multifaceted relationship' the next.' But this is as nothing compared with the sarcasm heaped on those who disagreed with his political reforms, not least elements of the local business community. One unnamed tycoon is revealed to have publicly professed his confidence in Hong Kong's future while privately lobbying visiting British ministers to grant UK passports to his children. Another to have begun a meeting with Li Peng by fawningly hailing him as the Chinese Communist Party's greatest leader since Mao, only to be brought up short by the then premier's curt retort that this was a post he had never held. Nor do others who opposed Mr Patten escape his wrath. Tellingly, arch-critic Sir Percy Cradock is never mentioned by name, although there are several barbs about the architect of the Joint Declaration's supposed enthusiasm for kowtowing. Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew is depicted as 'rude and unhelpful' for denouncing the 1992 political reforms as part of an American plot to bring democracy to China. Former British Foreign Secretary Lord Howe is described as rude towards Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming who, in turn, is said sometimes to behave 'irrationally' and 'occasionally tiresomely' although - as the book quickly adds - only 'in pursuit of the wholly reasonable'. Mr Patten's repeatedly stated belief is that it is the kowtowing by his critics that encourages Beijing's intransigence. 'When some people behave like this, it is not surprising that the Chinese go on bullying,' he argues. 'The tactics are calibrated with brutal directness. Sophistication is not required. Europe is played off against America; one European country is played off against another.' His contempt for those who allow the 'uninformed greed' of one nation to be pitted against the 'unprincipled avarice of another' exceeds even that for his most severe critics. Then French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette is revealed to have been more interested in Hong Kong's duties on wine and cognac imports than human rights in China, during a pre-handover meeting with Mr Patten. Europe's refusal to grant visa-free access to SAR passport holders is seen as part of the same pattern of unhelpfulness. The book sarcastically suggests that, while British Foreign Office mandarins may endorse the occasional kowtow, others in Europe would go far further, perhaps asking: 'Must I only bang my head on the ground nine times? Why not twelve or eighteen or thirty-six?' Mr Patten recognises that, at the root of such behaviour, lies the lure of the China market. So he tries to debunk the conventional wisdom that kowtowing to Beijing is good for business, disputing whether France and Germany got many extra contracts in return for their alleged cravenness, and pointing to his five years as governor, which saw British exports to the mainland rise despite the prolonged row over political reform. 'Save in certain specific circumstances, there appears to be precious little relationship between the warmth of a country's political relationship with China and its overall trading performance,' he claims. 'Sometimes one has to pinch oneself to remember who needs whom most. The Chinese Government needs our investment. It needs access to our markets. Without our money and our purchase of Chinese goods, the very future of the Communist regime would be imperiled.' Warming to his theme, Mr Patten adds that, in any case, the rest of the world gets far too excited about a China market which will never be worth more than 'a fraction of what it is currently advertised to be'. He suggests it is doubly futile to kowtow to a country which accounts for only 1.7 per cent of exports from major industrialised nations. Having established in his own mind that everyone else has got it wrong when it comes to how to deal with Beijing, he proceeds to outline an alternative prescription based upon his experiences in Hong Kong. At the heart of his thesis and, he believes, his differences with his critics is the rather unstartling suggestion that the West should treat China in the same way as any other country. This means making no special allowances for cultural sensitivities or past historical grievances. Mr Patten recalls telling Executive Councillor Nellie Fong Wong Kut-man, during an abortive attempt to arrange a meeting with a mainland official in 1992, that British 'face' is every bit as important as its better-known Chinese equivalent. Her 'regular and self-advertised presence in what appeared to be the inner chambers of Chinese policy-making' is also described as raising serious doubt about how well Beijing understood Hong Kong. His prescription is predictably drastic: 'If 'face' matters so much to Chinese leaders, we should deny 'face' to them until they give some to us.' He argues for red-carpet receptions and 21-gun salutes to be 'carefully rationed', in a clear reference to the treatment accorded President Jiang Zemin during last autumn's tour of the US. High-level trade missions should be put on hold - 'If the Chinese want our goods, they will buy them' - while foreign ministers would be wise to be more wary about visiting Beijing. 'You have to be very careful you do not pay a price for such a visit . . . and then have precious little to show for it', he warns, arguing this was what happened throughout his spell in Hong Kong, and even during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit for last year's handover. Although he flirts with the idea of actively trying to contain China, as some in the US have advocated, Mr Patten does not endorse the idea. Instead he proposes a degree of detachment that 'does not go quite as far'. 'There is much to be said for not rushing after China,' he argues, an approach evident in his advice on how to negotiate with the mainland. Evidently still scarred by the 17 rounds of fruitless talks on political reform in Beijing in 1993, he advises against allowing all discussions to be held on the opponent's home turf. 'Western negotiators in China can feel awkward and isolated,' he says. The mainland's chief envoy to those talks, Jiang Enzhu, now head of the local branch of Xinhua, is derided as having 'the personality of a bureaucratic speak-your-weight machine'. Other advice, evidently drawn from his bitter experiences in Hong Kong, includes never allowing negotiations to be boxed in by the calendar, since the Chinese are sure to use it to their advantage, nor to leave any loose ends that can be used to reopen a deal that is supposed to be final. But what Mr Patten, in effect, did in calling off the 1993 negotiations is still how he believes everyone else should handle Beijing. 'If the length of a negotiation is out of all proportion to the benefits of an agreement, or if you feel obliged to settle by a given date, forget about it,' he advises. 'Have the gumption to pack your bags if necessary and go home.' That is not a popular opinion among those who deal with China these days, nor one which is likely to win him many friends in this region. But, at least, freed from the constraints of governorship, he can now use this book to come clean about his detestation for the way the rest of the world has chosen to handle Beijing.