South China's Economic Miracle - Will It Last?

By David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 1992 | Go to article overview
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South China's Economic Miracle - Will It Last?


David D. Newsom. David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs, University of Virginia., The Christian Science Monitor


AS China moves into the last decade of the 20th century, the future may well be determined not by what happens in Beijing, but by what happens in South China.

The four coastal provinces of South China - Zheiiang, Fujian, Guandong, and Guangxi - are today the sites of special economic zones that provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and joint ventures unknown in the rest of the People's Republic. As a result, this area is among the fastest growing regions in the world with annual economic growth rates of 9 percent or better.

The economic advantages are furthered by the financial and commercial facilities of neighboring Hong Kong. Export and import statistics dramatize the story. In 1990, nearly half - 42.9 percent - of all China's exports went out through Hong Kong. In the same year, 38.1 percent of China's imports came through Hong Kong.

Taiwan also enters the picture. Although precise statistics are not available, China experts point to the growing trade with Taiwan, both through Hong Kong and directly from Fujian province, as well as growing Taiwan investment in Fujian and neighboring regions of the South China coast.

Deng Xiaoping, China's venerable leader, reportedly sees in South China the model for the reforms he increasingly espouses for all of China. In January and February he made an extended visit to these provinces. Some China watchers believe that Mr. Deng may, for very different purposes, be following the pattern of Mao Zedung and the Cultural Revolution. In the latter case, Mao, frustrated by his inability to gain acceptance of his policies in Beijing, created a counter movement in provinces outside. Deng may be doing the same thing in anticipation of a party congress later this year in which, using the examples in the South, he hopes to pressure more conservative elements in Beijing ultimately to accept his economic philosophy.

Although South China provinces provide impressive models, and despite recent reports that suggest Deng is gathering support for his economic reforms, many obstacles still lie ahead.

An entrenched ideological cadre still possesses power in the government bureaucracy and the Communist Party. Opposition to forms of capitalism and to profit-making does not die easily in a communist environment - as the problems of the former Soviet Union demonstrate.

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