China means to have it both ways Party congress: Jiang pushes capitalist revolution, Communist counter-revolution.

September 21, 1997

DEMANDING CONTRADICTIONS, the 15th Communist Party Congress of China is enshrining Deng Xiaoping Theory along with Mao Zedong Thought. Economic ownership must represent diverse interests; political control and expression must be monolithic. As though the two had nothing to do with each other.

Party boss Jiang Zemin, the late Deng Xiaoping's last protege, decreed a breathtaking clean-out of China's creaking state industries, which drag down growth and production while keeping the populace ostensibly employed. He talks of sell-offs, diversity of forms of ownership, collapsing industries that were not productive, laying off workers. It might have been Britain's former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher talking.

But it is not clear who would acquire some of these industries, whether workers will be coerced to buy shares, whether shares will trade on stock markets, whether entrepreneurs without party connections will be allowed to become powerful owners of enterprises the state created, or what will compensate for dilapidated plant and under-achieving workers.

The party congress also publicized and repudiated a request from Zhao Ziyang, the fallen moderate predecessor of Mr. Jiang, to renounce its condemnation of the democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The party will do no such thing. Yet the real relaxation of Communist orthodoxy is that the purged Mr. Zhao is at large and able to recommend something so unthinkable.

The party is keeping its control and admitting no error. But what will happen when workers disemployed by economic reforms demand security or protest its absence, with no mechanism for approved protest? What will happen when the building boom in Shanghai stalls with unrented towers and failed lenders, the same as in Kuala Lumpur or Baltimore?

Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory aside, the danger facing the old oligarchs of the 15th Communist Party Congress is that the Chinese people will increasingly consider them irrelevant, like Britain's royal family. Jiang Zemin is calling for drastic reforms while insisting they will change nothing.

China is bound to become a more open society with more robust discussion. Mr. Jiang has no intention of becoming China's Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian reformist Communist boss who inadvertently ousted himself. Mr. Gorbachev had no such intention, either.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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