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.

Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam