Party warned on market reforms

CHINA'S 50 million Communist Party members have been put on alert against ''unhealthy social tendencies'' engendered by the country's economic reforms.

The party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, warned that the party and the people should ''never allow erroneous ideas, such as the exploitation of others for personal gain, putting profit first, money worship and cheating, to run rampant''.

''If the development of such unhealthy social tendencies as bribery, embezzlement and bending the law for the benefit of relatives and friends, is not checked . . . our nation will never be prosperous,'' the newspaper said in a front-page commentary yesterday.

The newspaper further underscored its warning on the dangers of money worship and the pursuit of personal gain with a report on its back page, on how two million people in China's richest province, Guangdong, were still living below the poverty line, with an income of less than 500 yuan (HK$673) a year.

Of those, about 200,000 had an annual income of less than 250 yuan a year, about 10 per cent of the average income in the provincial capital, Guangzhou.

While paying lip service to the benefits brought about by the market-orientated reforms of paramount leader Mr Deng Xiaoping, the People's Daily pointed out that the reforms had produced several harmful side effects.

''Although the development of the economy has been generally favourable . . . we should note with a sombre mind that not everything in the market is positive, healthy and reasonable.'' The newspaper, which is still largely controlled by hardline ideologue Mr Gao Di, called for a strengthening of ideological and political education, in order to combat the threat to China's social and economic order posed by the development of unhealthy tendencies.

Ideological and political education was one of the party's traditional assets and should be used to its full advantage, it said.

''We have learnt many good things from western, developed countries, but many things are totally incompatible with our viewpoint on human life, and these are exerting a subtle influence on our character and thinking.

''All this proves that ideological education needs to be strengthened,'' the unsigned commentary said.

The People's Daily called on high-ranking officials to take the lead in moulding and keeping good social tendencies.

''Party and government organisations should keep their lofty image by serving the people heart and soul in the development of the market economy,'' it said.

''On important matters, we must have a clear-cut stand on what to advocate, what to develop, what to oppose and what to limit, we should never be ambiguous,'' it added.

Many observers felt the commentary was an attempt to lock the stable door after the horse had bolted.

A western diplomat in Beijing said: ''They should have published this kind of thing at the same time as Deng's southern tour, so as to keep the reform message in perspective. It's too late now.''