In China, Power Becomes Diffused as Deng Era Fades New Leaders Share Control; Provinces Gain

By Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

In China, Power Becomes Diffused as Deng Era Fades New Leaders Share Control; Provinces Gain


Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Forecasting the future of the world's most populous nation has long had its perils among China watchers. But on one point a consensus is emerging: Power in China is undergoing a sea change.

With supreme leader Deng Xiaoping virtually off the political stage and his successors consolidating power, control over China's dynamic economy and the ruling Communist Party has become more diffused. Some examples:

*Jiang Zemin, who as president, party chief, and head of the Central Military Commission, holds more top posts than did Mr. Deng, has nonetheless had to rely on building coalitions to govern. "The current leaders believe that the nation needs a one-party state to constrain dissent," writes William Overholt, a Hong Kong banker and author of "China: The Next Economic Superpower." But "governance ... after Deng will be spread among many leaders, and their policies will depend more on broad support and the consensus of elites." *Rich coastal provinces have taken or been given sweeping decisionmaking powers. China's economic and territorial expansion will require a political structure to accommodate increasingly diverse social groups and national goals. "Beijing has already created a de facto federal economic system," says Huang Yasheng, a fellow at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs. *Beijing's moves to grant Hong Kong broad autonomy under the "one country, two systems" formula points toward the evolution of a Chinese political federation. This month's appointment of Hong Kong shipping tycoon Tung Chee Hwa as the post-colonial chief executive, rather than a party cadre, highlights this political shift. The success of Hong Kong's reunification could portend the rise of "Greater China" as an economic superpower in the next half century. These events and trends indicate China's economic and territorial expansion will require an evolving political structure to accommodate increasingly diverse social groups and national goals, say some analysts and Chinese officials. Many of China's greatest challenges and successes as it faces the 21st century are direct legacies of the elderly Deng's rule. When Deng gained power in the 1970s, he began dismantling Mao Zedong's centrally planned economy and devolving some powers to the provinces. Deng's market reforms unleashed an unparalleled era of growth, with China's economy projected to become the world's largest within decades. But he resisted all proposals for reform in the political realm, and like Mao, maintained a tight fist over the party's rigid, Leninist structure. Deng ruled by controlling the Army, the party, and the state and maintained an autocratic leadership style mirroring that of countless generations of emperors who preceded him. None of his political heirs, however, carries Deng's prestige as a founder of the Communist dynasty. They will therefore find it much more difficult to fend off pressures to follow economic reform with political change. Since being designated Deng's successor in 1989, Mr. Jiang has agreed to share power: Reformist Zhu Rongji oversees the economy while Qiao Shi, who has extensive contacts with both the liberal and conservative factions of the party, heads the National People's Congress, which has been called a rubber-stamp legislature. Qiao has "a broader vision of the future than some of his colleagues," says Mr. Overholt, and has led calls that "the Congress be recognized as the ultimate source of authority. …

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