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Western Press Review: Deng Xiaoping--What Was And What's To Come

  • Don Hill



Prague, 20 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and British press commentary following yesterday's death of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping features retrospective appraisals of his long career and appraisals of the possible results of his legacy.

NEW YORK TIMES: Deng will be remembered for his economic reforms

In an unusually long editorial today, the paper calls Deng the "architect of modern China." The paper writes: "Although (Deng) retired from his last official post in 1989, none dared risk his displeasure or criticize any of his major decisions so long as he remained alive. Mr. Deng's longevity in power was a tribute to his political skills and the dynamism of his reforms. But his inability to transfer ultimate authority while alive and the uneasy succession likely to follow his death are telling reminders of how incomplete and therefore tenuous those reforms remain."

The paper continues: "Deng Xiaoping is likely to be best remembered for his economic reforms. These transformed China from an impoverished country of giant agricultural communes, inefficient state industries and bureaucratic barriers to trade and investment into a global growth leader with rapidly rising living standards for many of its 1.2 billion people."

The editorial concludes: "The late stages of Mr. Deng's rule brought policy inflexibility as major decisions about China's future direction were simply deferred. Now those issues must be faced, starting with the succession itself. Others include what to do about unproductive state industries, widespread dislocations of agricultural labor, shrinking government revenues and the absence of an adequate safety net for the millions made insecure by rapid economic change. China's new leaders also must attend to a soured relationship with Washington, demilitarize relations with Taiwan and manage the absorption of Hong Kong. The long era of rule by Communist China's founding generation has finally come to an end. The world will learn now whether the regime it left behind is capable of leading China to a stable, prosperous and peaceful future."

LONDON TIMES: Deng saw foreign influences as spiritual pollution

Two British newspapers seize on the image of the late Premier Mao Zedung's "Long March" of revolutionaries to encapsulate Deng's life and reign. The " Times" says in its editorial that, "To the Chinese, (the Long Marcher) was a talented apparatchik and a survivor." The editorial goes on: "To Western eyes, this tiny, brusque man of formidable guile and willpower was a mass of contradictions."

The paper continues: "He was the architect of China's opening up to the outside world. But he was unshakingly convinced that foreign influences were a source of spiritual pollution." The newspaper concludes: "Deng's revolution is changing China in ways that he never intended. Open windows let in flies. Capitalism, even on the Chinese model, is eroding the party's monopoly on power because it requires shared information and devolved decision-making."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Deng was one of the last "Long Marchers"

The paper editorializes: "Yesterday saw the passing of one of the last of the Long Marchers." The newspaper says: "Their legacy is a country respected for its size and determination but reviled for its record of oppression." Its editorial concludes: "Deng will go down in history as a great man but we hope never to see his like again."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Deng will be remembered as a despot and hero

Writing from Beijing, Jennifer Lin says in an analysis: "Deng will be remembered as both a despot and a hero." She says: "Through Deng's economic reforms, ordinary Chinese people were enriched as never before." Lin continues: "But in his role as despot, Deng will never be able to shake the memory of the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square." And she adds: "Deng rationalized his crackdown on dissent as the price China must pay to maintain order and stability while pursuing economic reforms."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Can Chinese leaders break free from old habits

The paper asks today in an editorial: "Can the Chinese leadership manage to break free from old habits, evolve peacefully and concentrate on (its) massive agenda?" The editorial says: "That is the real question posed for China by the death of the Little Big Man."

WASHINGTON POST: Deng's death brings an end to great leader dominance

The paper editorializes today: "Just how his life will be evaluated in China is uncertain; the political system he leaves behind does not encourage honest obituaries. Elsewhere, he will probably be regarded as a reformer of substantial achievement who, in departing from active political life some years ago, left much undone." The editorial goes on to say: " Mr. Deng's death brings China to the end of what has been called great leader dominance. Hence mere mortals rule and vie to rule. The man already formally holding the top party, state and armed forces slots is 70-year-old Jiang Jemin."

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Deng's reputation will be tainted by Tiananmen Square

The Pacific coast U.S. city of San Francisco has one of the West's largest Chinese communities. In the paper today, Frank Viviano and Pamela Burdman write in an analysis: "A reformer who combined pragmatism and creativity, (Deng) shepherded China out of the near-chaos of the Cultural Revolution." They add: "But his reputation will remain tainted by his role in political repression -- especially the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown." The writers continue: "A believer in social order, he spent the last several years of his life installing younger technocrats in key positions to ensure a smooth transition. If the new leadership, which relies on a balance of power, remains in place, he is likely to be China's last paramount leader."

BOSTON GLOBE: Activists fear a short-lived but forceful crackdown

In the paper today, David L. Marcus writes: " 'The regime is nervous about the opportunities for the non-communist forces in China, so my immediate fear is that they will just round up everybody,' said Shen Tong, an activist who was jailed in 1992 and is now a graduate student at Boston University. After exchanging electronic mail with dissidents in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities (yesterday), Shen said that labor leaders, publishers, environmentalists and others working to build a civil society are wary of a short-lived, but forceful, crackdown."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Jiang has been running the opaque Chinese regime



In the paper today, Rone Tempest, in an analysis, calls Deng "China's 'paramount leader' and a steely pragmatist who broke the spell of Maoist ideology and forged the world's most populous nation into an economic powerhouse." She writes: "Party leaders announced the creation of a funeral committee headed by President Jiang Zemin, the (former) Shanghai mayor who also serves as general secretary of the party and commander in chief of the armed forces. That move was a clear signal of support for Jiang, who was plucked from relative obscurity in 1989 and groomed as Deng's hand-picked replacement. Jiang has been effectively running the opaque Chinese regime since at least 1993, when Deng suffered his first physical breakdown."
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