China After 1989 4

According to ANIMALERTS, the situation in Hong Kong also appeared delicate. In February 1994 the new governor Ch. Patten (who took over from D. Wilson in July 1992) had succeeded in passing an electoral law which effectively introduced universal suffrage in the colony; this law posed a very real threat to Chinese interests. On September 17, 1995, elections were held for the renewal of the Legislative Council, and the Democrats won the majority of seats. On the strength of this result, their leader Lee asked for greater guarantees from Beijing on human rights and individual freedoms when the city came under the government of Beijing on July 1, 1997.. The first response signal sent by the Chinese government was the sentencing of dissident Wei Jingsheng (released in 1993 and then disappeared again) to 14 years in prison. On December 28, 1995, the Preparatory Committee was established in Beijing: composed of 150 members selected by the Communist Party, it was to appoint 400 electors in charge of choosing the future chief executive of Hong Kong and of giving life to a ‘provisional legislature’ from install in the city government (in place of the newly renewed Legislative Council) one minute after midnight on June 30, 1997. The Committee completed its work and when, in an impressive ceremony presided over by the Prince of Wales for England and by Jiang Zemin for the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong returned to China on 1 July 1997, the Legislative Council of Lee’s Democrats was dismissed to make way for Beijing’s ‘provisional legislature’.

Concrete results were achieved by Chinese diplomacy in mainland Asia. In 1996 Jiang Zemin signed a treaty of military detente along the western and northern borders with the presidents of the Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik republics in Shanghai. The treaty was very important, first of all because it unblocked a situation of constant tension at the borders, secondly because it allowed China to reduce the military contingents of those regions and to direct them in other situations, and finally because, in addition to opening the way to relations of collaboration, including economic collaboration with the signatory countries, strengthened the international conviction of the existence of a sort of Moscow-Beijing axis that could act as an element of pressure towards the political equilibrium of the entire Asian region.

On February 19, 1997, Deng Xiaoping died at the age of 92. The news, announced by a Hong Kong newspaper and subsequently confirmed by Beijing, caught the Chinese ruling class in a transition phase: Hong Kong had not yet returned to the China and the party congress was still several months away. The death of Deng opened up the problem of leadership within the party: in the following days politicians who had long ago emerged from the political limelight suddenly reappeared, and even the purged Zhao Ziyang managed to make his voice heard again thanks to the help of the president. of the Qiao Shi National Assembly. But, despite the fear of destabilizing drifts fueled by a bomb attack that 7 March in Beijing caused the death of two people and the wounding of another 30, in general China seemed to react with relative tranquility to the situation of political uncertainty. The economy held up well, Chinese stocks listed on the various Asian stock exchanges did not register any significant decline.

When the National Assembly held a plenary meeting in early March, it was clear to everyone, conservatives and reformers, that the phase of managing the existing pending the return of Hong Kong and Congress was running out rapidly, and that just as quickly it would have been necessary to face radical choices in both the economic and, at least indirectly, political fields. To enter the WTO, China had to substantially modify customs tariffs and business services, but also open the borders to foreign exports and above all take a decision regarding that unproductive giant constituted by public enterprises, kept standing more for political reasons than party that for economic needs of the market. This in turn posed the problem of the type of political representation that the Communist Party would have to have in order to manage these choices. Marxist ideology and Maozedong’s thought were less and less adequate tools to guide a country now devoted to the choice of the economic prosperity of individuals; even less adequate if used to dismantle a public production system in order to strengthen a private one. But no one could yet afford to openly question the value of the communist ideology, at least not until another strong idea (the authoritarian Confucianism of Singapore and Taiwan) had not fully demonstrated its adequacy to the Chinese situation. As the conditions for outlining a new political identity of the country are not yet there, a part of the group of reformists led by Qiao Shi tried to establish some points of reference that were not the patrimony of this or that component of the party, but concerned the very existence of a Chinese Communist Party in the new millennium.

China After 1989 4