China's Future that Works

March 11, 1992

Under the guidance of 87-year-old Deng Xiaoping, China is making another of its turns, like a giant ship in the sea, slowly shifting its bulk, stirring rivulets and cross-currents. Or so it would seem from Mr. Deng's visit of approval in January to capitalism-infested Guangdong Province. Or the Beijing media chorus of the past month, calling for foreign investment and economic development. Or the decision to reduce and control the huge civil service by 1995.

The best guess is that a return to Mr. Deng's preoccupations of the 1980s is not without opposition. The Culture Ministry first nominated, then scratched, a liberal former minister for delegate to the national party congress scheduled for autumn. A report was published exonerating the fired reformist party chief Zhao Ziyang for the democratic ferment of 1989, and then withdrawn. The battle for China's soul goes on within the gerontocracy.

The Sun's Beijing correspondent, Robert Benjamin, has seen the future of China, and it works. In a series of articles on Guangdong Province, he has reported on the wide-open culture of capitalism at its best and its rawest, in a country that three years ago repudiated dissent and free speech in the political sphere. Guangdong includes the Pearl River delta, always the back shop of capitalist Hong Kong, now more than ever the labor market for Hong Kong management and its access to worldwide investment.

American investment is creeping back into China after being scared off by the repression in Tiananmen Square in 1989. For the first time, Mr. Benjamin reports, American companies are tapping the potentially gigantic Chinese consumer market. Japanese and South Korean firms never pulled back, and this is largely a matter of not getting shut out of an enormous growth market.

As Hong Kong's incorporation into China looms in 1997, and as Mr. Deng and his hard-line constrainers approach their 10th decade, the free spirit and unfettered travel of Guangdong in the south undermine the mania for order and authority in the north. This is where China stood in 1988, as old Maoists near Mr. Deng feared a reversion to the anarchy of the Cultural Revolution, and put the brakes on change. The crackdown will probably prove to have been a temporary affair, though in the north and in political life it is not over.

China is opting for economic before political freedom. That was the sequence in South Korea and Taiwan, creating pressures for political change, and in 19th Century France and England as well. Beijing is still repressive, but Guangdong, the area of greatest economic growth in the world, is too busy to notice.

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