Magazine article The Nation

China Tomorrow

Magazine article The Nation

China Tomorrow

Article excerpt

In 1934, Deng Xiaoping walked beside Mao in the Red Army's 7,500-mile Long March, at the head of a journey that killed more than 90,000 troops. China's more recent long march from Maoism to marketplace has its own casualties, though you wouldn't know it from on-the-scene media interviews with the McDonald's-consuming urban middle class created by Deng's reforms. In the countryside, land and water shortages brought on by rapid urbanization have created 100 million "surplus farm workers"--an economically desperate army of displaced transient laborers whose numbers are sure to grow as China follows its plan to build 600 new cities in the next fourteen years. The loss in farmland has, over the last several, turned China from a grain exporter to the world's second-largest importer.

This neofeudal revolution--the growing gulf between rich and poor, city and countryside--poses a significant threat to stability. Already some voices in China are responding with an upsurge of nationalism; last year, an anti-American and nationalist tract by two students became a best seller. Resentment against the underside of development could make Hong Kong a convenient policy scapegoat after its reintegration with the mainland. The privatization of subsidized state industries (which typically provide child and health care as well as jobs) could provoke further unrest and threaten hopes of political liberalization. The military too remains a wild card, though so far the Chinese armed forces seem to contain some of the regime's more moderate voices--many officers reportedly were unhappy with last year's saber-rattling exercise against Taiwan, for example.

The downside of economic reform is particularly relevant as China campaigns for admission to the World Trade Organization. Although the Democrats are divided on trade issues, this offers an opportunity to insist on substantial labor rights guarantees that would benefit both Chinese and American workers. …

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