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Western Press Review: Chinese Political Struggles Left Without Umpire

Prague, 11 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - One day before the start of a critical Communist Party congress in Beijing, the Western press is focusing much of its attention on China. A few commentators also take a look at the misery of Communist-ruled North Korea and the problems it poses for its prosperous southern neighbor.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Reforms in China have little to do with democracy

"Will China's politics now start 'opening up' -- as its economy has for the past decade and a half?," is the question. The paper says that so far "political reform in post-Mao (-Tse-Tung) China has had little to do with democracy." The editorial continues: "(Political reform) has been at best about establishing the rule of law, fighting bureaucracy, promoting administrative efficiency, and separating the party from the state apparatus. (President and party Secretary-General Jiang Zemin) is unlikely to go much further than revive these goals, which were largely set aside after the (June 1989) Beijing massacre. Nor will opinion abroad be greatly impressed unless a really serious effort is made to tackle China's human rights abuses." The paper concludes "the door may still be opening a crack, but others will have to widen it."

THE GUARDIAN: Mr. Jiang is the architect of China's destiny

Andrew Higgins writes from Beijing that "the Congress is being scripted to present Mr. the architect of China's destiny in the new millennium. Hotels, offices and even night-clubs are festooned with red banners trumpeting his prowess. Newspapers sing his praises. A vast exhibition hall has been turned over to a hagiographic display of his achievements since 1992." Higgins continues: "Unlike Mao or Deng (Xiao-ping), however, Mr. Jiang remains first among equals at the top of the party. The eclipse of veteran revolutionaries has left Chinese political struggles without an umpire and introduced a rare degree of uncertainty. Among issues apparently still under debate is the size and ranking of the most powerful body, the standing committee of the Politburo....Months of wrangling have so far failed to fix what may be the most closely scrutinized event of the congress -- the order in which Politburo members file into the Great Hall at the end of their deliberations next week."

INDEPENDENT: The emperor is dead so who gets the top jobs now?

Similarly Teresa Poole says that "the emperor is dead, and for the first time in years there is no one in China with sufficient political muscle to insist on who gets what top jobs." She explains "In theory, all top movements should have been finalized last month when the leadership decamped to a seaside resort for its annual holiday. But this year a consensus proved elusive. A full party congress is held only once every five years in China and must put in place a new party Central Committee, Politburo, and all-powerful Standing Committee for the next five years. (It must also agree on) next year's government changes, especially finding a job for the outgoing Prime Minister, Li Peng."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The propaganda blitz comes close to an election campaign

Liz Sly says in her analysis: "Though only 2,048 carefully vetted Communist Party officials will actually get to vote for the leaders and policies that will take China's 1,200 million inhabitants into the next century, the party has been pumping up the event with a propaganda blitz that comes as close to an election campaign as is possible in a dictatorship." She continues "Most analysts do not expect unforeseen leadership changes that could send China veering off in dramatically different directions....Rather the jockeying for key positions of influence will take place within an existing broad consensus about the direction China should take..."

Sly concludes "It is in the policies that will be announced that the conclave should prove most significant. Driven by mounting economic losses in the state sector and growing unemployment, the leadership will be promoting a new definition of socialism that takes Deng's theory of a 'socialist market economy' further down the road toward capitalism and away from socialism. The cadres will be asked to endorse a policy document that will outline sweeping reforms under which tens of thousands of failing state industries will be virtually privatized and the state's responsibility for its workers sharply reduced."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Manutrition is hitting children hardest

Growing deprivation and starvation in communist North Korea are examined in two articles today. One is by Hilary Mackenzie, who recently spent two months in the country working for the United Nations' World Food Program. She describes one hospital in the northern city of Kusong where "there was one bowl of food in a room for four patients...the hospital head said he knew of 22 children who had died of malnutrition-related illnesses between January and June. The food shortage was 'getting worse and worse.' Every day he turned away malnourished children because the hospital had no food." Further south in Sohung, Mackenzie met with the principal of a kindergarten dominated by "a colossal frieze of the Great Leader, the late Kim Il Sung, surrounded by playful, healthy children..." She recounts "The reality was starkly different. Lowering her voice to a whisper, the principal said that 80 percent of the children do not meet the weight and height standards for their age....Some of the six- and seven-year-olds were so malnourished that they can no longer walk. The majority were stunted."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Life in North Korea is likened to a refugee camp

"Failed agricultural policies, the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet assistance, and the collapse of the Commonwealth of Independent States' economies --North Korea's largest trading partners-- underline the (current) crisis." The paper continues "Even with food aid pledges and commercial barter imports, North Korea faces a food deficit of one million tons this year, and the country's plight is getting worse....The finely structured public distribution system --that rationed food on an elaborate nine-point scale for everyone from miners and lorry drivers to schoolchildren and civil servants, depending on the hardship of the job-- has all but collapsed."

The analysis concludes "One unpublished (and unnamed) United States report concludes that the adult population has now reached the crisis point where the effects of the famine and malnutrition will show in mass starvation and death. 'The government has been reducing food distribution,' said an (unnamed) American nutritionist. 'It is not like Africa; this is a slower effect, but it is no less severe. The whole nation is a refugee camp.'"

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Neither China nor the United States want a mess on the peninsula.

U.S. Asian specialist Tom Plate cited a remark made last week about Korea by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen: "China supports the reunification of the Korean peninsula," Qian told an interviewer. "China adopts a practical approach toward the issue..." Writing from South Korea, Plate commented "This, from the man whose country for almost 50 years helped prop up its ideological mate, the now increasingly decrepit and disreputable North Korea....Koreans as well as Americans need to understand that such an unequivocal statement from someone at the pinnacle of China's foreign affairs is not insignificant. Why China's kinder, gentler face toward South Korea? Basically, China doesn't want a mess on that peninsula."

Plate continued "Neither does the United States: There are almost 40,000 U.S. forces in South Korea who... live in the shadow of one of the world's largest standing armies. Beyond that, in this communist non-paradise...they're building long-range...missiles that have the capability to toast not just Seoul and Tokyo but, someday perhaps, parts of America's West Coast as well. There's also that aggressive North Korean missile export program to Iran and Syria."

He concluded "Yes, Korea is relatively small, but its strategic role is not. This...cold-war remnant is the remaining ember that could ignite the world....In many (South) Korean political circles, a consensus is emerging that the unification of South Korea, with the world's 11th largest economy, and North Korea, where much of the child population is either starving or facing malnutrition, may now be inescapable, no matter how daunting the costs to Seoul. The acceleration of the North's decay only heightens the sense of inevitability for many in the South."