China's Great Balancing Act as It Gains World Prominence

Article excerpt

Two items of unconnected resistance on the international scene went virtually unnoticed last week, but they were of considerable significance for China's communist regime.

In Hong Kong, the former British colony now part of China, thousands mounted a huge rally for full democracy, rather than the limited political changes Beijing is permitting. Organizers claimed 250,000 people turned out, but the police put the crowd at 63,000. The legislature is due to vote on a package of limited political changes Dec. 21, but prodemocracy forces are campaigning for one- person, one-vote elections for the chief executive and all members of the legislature.

In an unrelated incident, security forces opened fire on residents of Dongzhou, a village in southern China, reportedly killing as many as 20. Officials have admitted far fewer deaths. Demonstrators had been protesting plans for a new coal-fired power plant to be built on local land for which they claimed they had been inadequately compensated. They also claimed it would produce harmful pollution. Although the cause of this ferment was economic and not political, it was a rare demonstration of opposition to authority and apparently drew a swift reaction from security forces. Interestingly, the village is in an area close to Hong Kong and, like other coastal areas in this region, has access to Hong Kong television, which is substantially freer than mainland television which is under the Beijing government's thumb.

All this is anathema to the Beijing regime, which uses communism and its structure to maintain a firm political grip on territory under its control, while at the same time promoting the capitalist methods that have fueled China's remarkable economic growth. Outbursts of opposition in Hong Kong and southern China raise for Beijing the specter of copycat defiance elsewhere in China and particularly Taiwan, which is politically and economically a different entity, but which China claims as its own territory, although the island is not under its control.

How this balancing act plays out is a matter of immense importance to the United States, whose relationship with China is currently one of its most important bilateral concerns.

The White House is observing an energetic Chinese trade and diplomatic offensive around the world as Beijing seeks to compete for oil and other resources in Africa and Latin America in order to keep its economy expanding. …