Bankers tremble as Li takes a leaf out of Mao's red book

Just when everyone thought that China had signed up to the new market-oriented world order, premier Li Peng has shown that the old Maoist values are not dead. Stephen Vines in Hong Kong observed him berating the luminaries of the IMF and World Bank about the evils of imperialism and the bullying of the weak by the wealthy.
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In his keynote address Mr Li spoke of how developing countries had `freed themselves from imperialist and colonialist domination and won national liberation and independence after centuries of foreign oppression and enslavement'.

His words sent a tremor down the spines of the assembled central bankers and finance officials who, the previous day, had given a rousing reception to Zhu Rongji, Mr Li's heir-apparent, as he weaved his way through the vocabulary they are more accustomed to hearing. The dour but sharp Mr Zhu reeled off money supply and debt ratio figures, spoke enthusiastically about economic reform and generally gave the impression that China was happily heading down the capitalist road.

Mr Li, by contrast, was merely dour. Delivering his speech in exactly the same way he addressed the just completed 15th congress of the Communist Party in Peking, he warned the big powers that `in no circumstances should any country be allowed to impose its social system and ideology on others'.

Recycling the rhetoric of the supposedly faded Maoist era Mr Li said that developing countries had `smashed the monopoly of world affairs by a few countries and lent a powerful push behind the movement towards a multipolar world'.

China, the world's biggest recipient of development aid, does not, in Mr Li's eyes, see itself as a supplicant. "Economic assistance must not be attached with any political conditions,'' he sternly warned would-be donors. "Such practices as bullying the weaker or less fortunate by dint of one's power or wealth should not go unchecked."

In what sounded to many like a reference to China's perennial struggle with the United States to obtain Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trading status, he said countries could not "be allowed to impose sanctions, or threaten to do so at every turn".