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
*Rich coastal provinces have taken or been given sweeping
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
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
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. …