Sending right signals

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 March, 1993, 12:00am

THE Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) decision to go full steam ahead with economic reforms in spite of fears over inflation and international trade sanctions is an encouraging sign of China's bullishness about the future.

Key to that bullishness is the decision of the just-ended plenum of the party's policy-making Central Committee to revise upward the economic growth forecasts contained in its eighth Five-Year Plan which expires in 1995.

Although the Central Committee stopped short of setting a specific target, Chinese officials believe that instead of six per cent, a more realistic growth rate is eight or nine per cent for the rest of the decade. In line with this, the Central Committee feels the regions should be given more say in pursuing their own development strategies and want bureaucratic red tape streamlined.

If CCP leaders seem to be in a rush to accelerate economic reforms, the inspiration is Mr Deng Xiaoping. It was Mr Deng who recently issued instructions ''not to lose the opportunity'' of a lifetime in pushing for reforms. As a result, his followers have put aside concerns expressed by central planners that the pace of reform and development should be slowed so that the party can better tackle the problems of an overheated economy.

While many might applaud the victory of the Dengists, there is merit in asking whether the party and the government can accomplish the stated aim of high-speed growth without weighing the risks of fuelling inflation or the impact possible trade sanctions might have.

The plenum pointed out that accelerating economic reforms must be predicated upon raising the quality of the country's products, rationalising the economic structure, and boosting efficiency. Whether these preconditions can be met depends on how far theCommunist Party is prepared to go in adopting market mechanisms.

While proposals to allow the regions to have more independence in their own planning and reducing red tape must be welcome, there were areas that some believe is central to tackling the problems of a socialist market economy which were overlooked. One was the lack of real measures to prune state planning, which is still practised on a large scale despite Beijing's commitment to a socialist market economy.

For example, the heavily state-controlled banking and financial system, which is seen as the last bastion of Stalinism, will likely remain intact. The Central Committee acknowledged that, to safeguard reforms, the party must ''resolutely maintain a political situation of stability and unity''. It is well-known, however, that sorely needed reforms such as closing down chronically inefficient state factories, would involve laying off workers.

A large segment of the Central Committee communique tackled political reform, which has now been restricted to the streamlining of the bloated bureaucracy of both party and government. Even given such a limited goal, however, it is questionable whether this target can be achieved. For example, it is likely that the National People's Congress (NPC) would merely recommend that the number of existing central-level ministries and commissions be cut from 41 to 40.

The plenary session could prove particularly disappointing in other aspects of political reform. The Central Committee yesterday finalised the slate of nominees for top state and government positions, including the state president and premier, that wouldbe presented to the NPC next week for ratification. The communique pointed out that the shortlist was the result of broad-based consultation both within the party and among non-Communist political elements.

It is almost certain that one of the most important positions to be selected, the state presidency, will go to party General Secretary Mr Jiang Zemin. While endorsing the final list of candidates, the Central Committee members yesterday seemed to have no reservations about the fact that Mr Jiang is already head of the party and the military. Instead, the Central Committee members vowed to ''more closely'' adhere themselves to a leadership ''with comrade Jiang Zemin as its core''.

Only one other politician in Communist-Chinese history, Chairman Mao Zedong, has held so much power in his hands.