Zhu's battle to convert WTO sceptics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 April, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 April, 1999, 12:00am

Premier Zhu Rongji has started what is tipped to be a long campaign to placate parliamentarians and cadres opposed to China's accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Steps have also been taken to boost the productivity of state-owned enterprises to prepare them for enhanced competition with multinationals and joint ventures.

A Beijing source said yesterday that aides to the Premier, who personally determined the WTO-related concessions to be made to the United States and other countries, said Mr Zhu faced an uphill battle in changing popular opinion.

While consumers welcome the prospects of more foreign products, entrepreneurs, workers and farmers fear loss of business and jobs.

Briefing sessions for members of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will be scheduled soon.

'Quite a few heavyweight NPC members, including parliamentary chairman Li Peng, favour a more gradualist approach to WTO accession,' the source said.

He added that the broad outlines of Mr Zhu's negotiation strategy with the Americans had been approved by the Politburo Standing Committee well before he left for the US this month.

Yet at least two members, Mr Li and Li Lanqing, had reservations about China making too many concessions.

Analysts said the Zhu team would soon start marathon sessions with ministries, big state enterprises and local cadres on how to lessen the shock that would come with the influx of foreign companies and products.

A source close to planning departments in Beijing said yesterday steps were being taken to speed up the formation of conglomerates, which are deemed capable of taking on multinationals.

'The Zhu administration thinks if they can reduce the scores, sometimes hundreds, of manufacturers of cars, TV sets and VCDs to just a handful, their competitiveness will increase,' the source said.

'Since the spring, price wars have ignited in several sectors, which will have the effect of driving out the weak and inefficient. Those strong enough to survive will form the core of the new conglomerates Beijing is encouraging.'