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Chinese leaders face economic, social challenges

Deng's reforms left some problems unresolved

February 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 a.m. EST (1630 GMT)

From Correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon

BEIJING (CNN) --Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms transformed China in less than two decades, and his successors may find that the legacy left by the late paramount leader will be a hard act to follow.

China's current leaders, including president and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, face daunting economic and social problems that Deng's reforms were unable to solve.

More than 50 percent of state enterprises lose money, leaving millions with the prospect of no work and no paycheck.

About 100 million people are leaving their farms to become part of China's floating population, moving into the cities in search of work and living in often squalid conditions.

As the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, so too will social discontent. Corruption and crime are on the rise, despite government campaigns to combat them.

Potentially explosive situation

It's potentially an explosive political situation, said Hong Kong-based China analyst Willy Wo-lap Lam.

old man

"I think suddenly the problems are piling up in the interim, and a big crisis could erupt -- for example, a large-scale strike in a big mine or factory in northeastern China involving tens of thousands of workers," Lam said.

"Such a national-scale crisis might happen, and if Jiang Zemin fails to solve it, this will be used by his opponents to oust him," he said.

Gone, though, are the dark days of drab uniformity, shortages and ration coupons -- the only life people knew before Deng's economic reforms began in the late 1970s.

No going back

In their place is the economy that Deng built, complete with shopping malls, Western fashions, stock markets and international investment. Now that millions of Chinese have tasted the good life, the consensus is there is no going back.


"The opening policy is one area where there's been substantial consensus in the leadership, so the post-Deng world isn't going to change that in a very significant way," said Harvard University's Dwight Perkins.

Post-Deng China also is expected to remain under the firm control of the Communist Party, said David Shambaugh of China Quarterly.

"I do not think that the Chinese Communist Party is going to implode and collapse like it did in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union," Shambaugh said. "This Communist Party is going to fight to stay in power, and it will use the military to stay there."

Solving China's complex problems will take creativity and leadership. And while Jiang and his colleagues have every intention of keeping China's economy moving forward, their ability to do so has yet to be truly tested.


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