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Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 01:03:08 -0500 (EST)
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Moscow Expects Smooth Transition of Power in Beijing

By Rajiv Tiwari, IPS, 17 February 1995

MOSCOW, Feb 17 (IPS) - Russian experts on China are convinced there will be no political or economic upheavals in China in the post-Deng Xiaoping period and predict a smooth takeover of power by chairman Jiang Zemin.

Experts here contest forecasts of an imminent power struggle within the top leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, stressing that Deng's course of economic liberalisation and one- party rule will be followed.

When we ask our Chinese colleagues about likely developments after Deng, they always tell us: 'We learnt our lessons from the Soviet collapse, you can be sure that will not happen to us', says Vladimir Portyakov, deputy director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies.

Links between Russia and China have increased dramatically since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Moscow hopes that a smooth transition in Beijing will avert a detrimental rupture in relations between the two neighbours who have worked hard to bury decades of ideological and strategic animosity.

Russians feel at home with Jiang who spent several years in the 1950s in Moscow when he acquired a taste for Russian music and ballet which he renewed during his summit with president Boris Yeltsin last year.

Jiang's hold on the government, party apparatus and the army was consolidated during the 14th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 1992.

Sinologists however note that this alone is not enough to guarantee his endurance while recalling that Chinese supremo Mao Zedong's chosen successor Hua Guofen quickly lost his job.

Jackob Berger, a China specialist in a Moscow-based think-tank, says, everyone remembers Hua's dismissal very well and Jiang may have to think of relinquishing some of his posts to propitiate rivals in the politburo.

But considering the massive economic changes which are sweeping through China, Berger expects the party leadership to close ranks and prevent any instability. There is a common fear of destabilisation and this is most acute in the army which will refuse to take sides in a power struggle, he says.

In fact, the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA) has become one of China's strongest bulwarks of reform with an extensive array of enterprises and businesses run by generals.

Chinese army support would be crucial for Jiang but according to Berger that may already be in the bag, the interests of the army leadership match those of reformist party leaders.

In Moscow's view, China faces three sets of problems which are so enormous that they will act as the best deterrent against bloodletting at the top.

According to Portyakov, China is going through troubles which are common to all transitional economies where privatisation, income differentiation and the breakdown of socialist welfare system are potent sources of political tension.

Specific chinese difficulties lie in the massive migration of peasants leaving the countryside and putting enormous strain on urban centres which are acting as magnets for families wanting to cash in on free market opportunities.

Regional disparities are also growing with the distant Chinese western provinces unable to take full advantage of the new economic climate as the maritime eastern regions have.

Portyakov recounts a Chinese joke about different ways of life in the country's three chief centres of power: Beijing is feudal, while Shanghai is socialist and Guandzhou capitalist.

The biggest fear of the reformist Chinese leadership is that lopsided economic growth could be used by communist conservatives to call for a complete halt to the process. Jiang belongs to Shanghai and is not considered a Beijing insider, consequently he does not have close ties with senior party cadre leaders.

Measures have been taken since last year to cool down the overheated Chinese economy and Russian sinologists anticipate Jiang may favour a more gradual transition over the next few years in a move which would be guided largely by political considerations.

China's Communist Party is still the country's only legitimate political force which is unlikely to commit Soviet-style collective suicide.

The radical democratic opposition which had raised its voice in 1988-89 is believed here to have lost its influence under the impetus of economic reforms and are not rated as a factor which will have any bearing in the near future.

Portyakov says Russians visiting China are constantly asked to explain what they have gained by putting democrats in power.

Berger expects that Jiang will follow the example of the southeast Asian 'tigers' like South Korea and Taiwan which maintained tight political control alongside rapid economic development.

I don't think we should hold our breaths for a multi-party system and direct elections. They are not on the political agenda, even for the next 10-20 years, the expert says.