It's hard to be a puppet without a master, a believer whose god died, a follower with no leader, a bloc with no center, a copy whose role model renounced the role. While there are Communists who boast of new philosophies, it is harder for governments to do so.
China's official Xinhua News Agency bitterly denounced reform in the former Soviet Union. It said that Mikhail S. Gorbachev's " 'new thinking,' 'glasnost,' and 'political pluralism' have brought political chaos, ethnic strife and economic crisis."
But that did not prevent Vice Foreign Minister Tian Zengpei and trade minister Li Lanqing from leaving on a tour of the Commonwealth of Independent States, seeking diplomatic and trade relations. Key issues: boundary disputes, reduced militarization of the 4,600-mile border, and the danger of infectious Islamic nationalism in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan bordering China.
Cuba's Fidel Castro bitterly lamented the end of communism in Russia and pledged, "The Cuban revolution will uphold its socialist option at all costs." But Havana's cupboard is bare. So Cuba signed a most-favored-nation trade agreement with Kazakhstan. Cuba thirsts for oil, which Kazakhstan has in vast reserves. The trick would be getting it out and across thousands of miles to the sea.
Vietnam insists on remaining Communist while trying to achieve something like perestroika. Vietnam formed a joint venture with Moscow to produce oil from the Dai Hung field off its southern coast. Now that joint venture seeks Western partners. Desperate to end the U.S. trade embargo, Vietnam denied bidding rights to U.S. companies. Contracts will be awarded in March.
North Korea has agreed to sign nuclear safeguard agreements with South Korea. Dictator Kim Il-sung, who will turn 80 in the new year, named his son, Kim Jong-il, supreme commander of the army. This paves the way for the younger Kim to succeed his father as North Korea's party leader and president. Like an old King Lear who cannot have his way, Kim Il-sung still hopes to combine discredited hereditary monarchism with discredited communism. That did not work in Romania and will fail in Korea.
Isolation and creeping pragmatism threaten each surviving Communist regime from within. They may refuse to acknowledge that their gods have failed, but they have started propitiating new gods. Perestroika by stealth is the rule wherever perestroika remains officially denounced.