China turning victory into defeat

IN recent years it looked as if China, guided by the wisdom and brilliance of Mr Deng Xiaoping, would enter the 21st century as a fast-developing, modern country with an economic growth the envy of more advanced countries.

But something drastic has happened within this country in recent months that has changed what was believed to be Mr Deng's cleverly thought-out blueprint for the future that would let China emerge triumphant.

Are they becoming worried by what they see happening in Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe? No doubt China's heavy-handed interference in Hongkong affairs disregarding what were once thought to be firm commitments of support for at least 50 years after 1997 changed everything.

It is hard to believe that with his proven record and amazing foresight, Mr Deng would jeopardise the development of the Chinese economy by knocking out the key stone in the bridge between China and Hongkong, which is the first span in the ongoing link to the developed world - but he seems to be doing just that.

Yet another consequence of China's change of heart is that not only is Mr Deng's plan for an improved China through economic enhancement beginning to look doubtful, but also his more subtle plan to reunite Taiwan with the mainland is in jeopardy.

It is important for him to maintain the increased dependence of Taiwan's economy on the transshipment of trade through Hongkong, which China will ultimately control.

But more important is the example he would set by a successful takeover of Hongkong - which would dispel the understandable fears that Taiwan have of mainland Chinese domination. Recent developments will undoubtedly make Taiwan rethink their situation and look once more to their defences.

I wonder, would China really throw away a bright future and a reunited China just to oppose a few more seats in Legco? It is hard to understand why a man of Mr Deng's stature would do such a thing - but he would not be the first great man to snatchdefeat from the jaws of victory for reasons beyond comprehension.

In recent weeks it has become increasingly obvious that someone in China (or perhaps more than one) wishes to slow down the Chinese economy without involving the frail Mr Deng who, this time last year, made such an effort to bring attention to the economic success of South China despite his obviously poor health.

Could it be that by exaggerating Mr Patten's proposals, this could be one way of cooling down the economy of both Hongkong and China while blaming it on somebody else? I am sure that the new leaders of China - whoever they may be - would be quite happy to put the blame for the non-convergence with Hongkong and the Basic Law squarely on the shoulders of the Governor, and any resulting disasters in the Chinese economy plus, of course, the Tiananmen Square massacre, could be blamed on and buried with their revered Patriarch.

How then will Mr Deng be remembered? As the great man he is or as the infamous man he could become? Let us hope that there is still time for China to ensure that Mr Deng's obituary is a favourable one.

A.E. GAZELEY Wanchai