Peking's ruling passion tempers Chinese hopes of becoming the new Asian tiger

SHANGHAI IS humming: with its new highways and shiny skyscrapers, this financial hub of China is catching up fast on Asia's other hi-tech cities. Hundreds of the world's top business people are here to mark, somewhat ironically, the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and salivate over opportunities in the next five decades.

As Shanghai is the showcase for China's future, even President Jiang Zemin turned up to pitch his nation to the 300 delegates from some of the world's largest multinationals, including Coca-Cola, Toshiba, Nokia and General Motors.

"China's modernisation needs your participation, and China's economic development will also offer you tremendous opportunities. We will offer good terms and create a better environment for foreign enterprises investing here," the President said at a gala dinner.

But the question on everybody's lips was why the head of the world's biggest Communist state was addressing the cream of Western capitalism days before presiding over a Soviet-style parade in Peking to mark 50 years in power.

Under its thick veneer of modernity, China remains a one-party state and is quick to crack down on anyone who might challenge its authority. Even the conference was unable to sidestep these conflicting faces when the "China at 50" edition of Time was banned. The reason? It contained articles by political dissidents and the Tibetan leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama.

In 1976, when Peking emerged from 27 years of perpetual revolution unleashed by Mao Tse-tung, the new leaders promised - and have largely delivered - better living standards and economic freedoms: witness the skyscrapers and increases in income, both in rural and urban areas; witness the huge variety of goods for sale and the leap from ration coupons to a burgeoning domestic stock market.

But new China has come at a price. When the architect of reform, Deng Xiaoping, pushed forward economic liberalisation with the call "To get rich is glorious", the underpinning of his position was the continuing political control of the Communist Party.

Alexander Chen, a Shanghai businessman who quit his lucrative job with a foreign company to set up on his own, said: "We basically have a contract with our leadership. They allow us economic freedoms and they keep political control. China is huge ... and different areas have different agendas. Unless there is a strong government, there will be chaos and chaos brings poverty, which wouldn't help any of us."

If recent examples are anything to go by, both Russia and Indonesia illustrate the downside of fast political liberalisation. But China's tiny band of political dissidents and international rights groups do not see it that way.

They say more political freedoms are essential to keep China moving forward, and accuse the party of stifling the emergence of a democratic nation and violating basic rights. They also accuse Western business of coddling dictators.

In 1989 the Chinese army fired on and killed hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Last year Peking handed down lengthy jail terms to a group of activists who tried to set up a political opposition, the China Democracy Party. Religious figures who speak out against the government are routinely harassed and often imprisoned. Even an apparently innocuous quasi-religious sect, the Falun Gong, felt the strong hand of Peking earlier this year when it was outlawed on national security grounds.

Perhaps understandably, delegates to the Fortune 500 conference - with one eye on the opportunities in China - are unwilling openly to express reservations about Communist Party rule. But Chung Si Ahn, professor of political sciences at Seoul National University in South Korea, was more forthcoming. "Whether the Communist Party will continue to rule China for the next 20 years will depend on how the party is able to transform itself to suit new challenges and changing requirements," he said. "In spite of 20 years of boastful economic prosperity, Chinese Communism is still vulnerable and breeds internal contradictions. The strict security precautions along the route of the parade for China's 50th national birthday are in itself an indication of the fragility of the Chinese system."

Security for the parade in Peking tomorrow has been so tight that thousands of migrant workers have been expelled from the city, and Chinese from other parts of the nation are not permitted to enter until the celebrations have passed.

On the day itself, a huge exclusion zone will be imposed around Tiananmen Square to ensure there is no trouble, and residents along the route have been ordered to keep their windows closed and sit quietly at home.

With snipers on the rooftops and missiles and tanks trundling past, they have little option but to follow instructions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick