China Gets It Together

October 21, 1992

The shake-up of China's ruling elite clears out lingering opposition to the policies of Deng Xiao-ping. His chosen heirs dominate the central committee and the politburo plus its standing committee. After the 14th Communist Party Congress of China, it is full throttle on capitalist economic development but total commitment to Communist Party political power: economic freedom, yes; political freedom, no -- for as long as Mr. Deng shall live. The frail leader did not appear at the congress he dominated, but did make one brief public appearance afterward, if only to prove that he does live. He looked every bit of his 88 years.

So China is wedded to the crackdown on political dissent that was engineered after demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. The retention of party general secretary Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng in their positions of power is proof of that. But among the three reformers who replace two conservatives on the now-seven-member standing committee is Zhu Rongji, economic trouble-shooter and former mayor of free-wheeling Shanghai.

The closest approximation of a Deng rival, President Yang Shangkun, 85, stepped down from the politburo, vice chairmanship of the military commission and any pretense at influence. Of 20 members of the politburo, all but six are new. There is a strong emphasis on engineers and regional military commanders, and a paucity of ideologues.

Nothing is inherently contradictory in the short term about combining Marxist political control with market economics. It is inherently contradictory only over the long haul. Mr. Deng won't be around for that. Neither, possibly, will the machinery he set up to get China where he wishes.

China's models in this endeavor are Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, which became Asia's economic tigers with unbridled capitalism, Chinese ethnicity, little democracy and limited freedom of thought. But as economies develop successfully, citizens get restless. It was the bourgeoisie that started the French Revolution (and the Russian, and the Cuban). Mr. Deng's reforms are creating China's next bourgeoisie.

Meanwhile, China's new hierarchy is getting ready for the historic visit of Japan's Emperor Akihito to symbolize reconciliation after Japan's brutal conquest of much of China from 1937 to 1945. The state visit is more controversial in Japan than in China. The idea is for the superpowers of Asia to pool their resources for an Asian-dominated future. That isn't likely soon, but it is a formidable concept. Communist political control of China is likely to be sacrificed to that vision before much of it materializes.

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