Legacy: Rule Without Law
By Martin C.M. Lee
- Six years after Mao Tse-tung's death, China's Communist Party issued
the authoritative historical verdict on his life: The Great Helmsman had
been 70% good and 30% bad. Now that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping has likewise
gone to meet Marx, the party must undertake a similar assessment of Deng's
- Since 1978, when he emerged as China's paramount leader, Deng worked
to bring China out of international isolation with his partial market reforms.
His opposition to political reform, however, prevented China from joining
the world community and led to a decade of uncertainty in Hong Kong.
- From Hong Kong's perspective, any evaluation of Deng's life must start
with June 4, 1989. The Beijing massacre forced Hong Kong citizens to begin
questioning the validity of Deng's formula "one country, two systems,"
to doubt whether Hong Kong would ever be permitted to have any real authority
over its internal affairs.
- In the 1970s Deng encouraged grassroots reform movements as counterweights
to his hard-line leftist opponents. But by the late 1980s, it was clear
that he was willing to do whatever it took to stay in power. That was the
lesson of June 1989.
- It took me a long time to realize why Deng took the tragic route he
did. The answer, now apparent, is that he did it to show the Chinese people
-- in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as China -- who was in charge. The
most significant actions of Deng's life can best be understood in light
of this imperative to maintain power at any cost.
- When he launched his "open door" policies in 1979, and expedited
China's market reform process following the disintegration of the Soviet
Union in 1991, Deng realized that the Chinese economy -- and thus the Communist
Party -- faced collapse without an infusion of foreign capital and technology.
A Communist who had watched other command economies self-destruct, Deng
repudiated communism, calling his new capitalistic policies the oxymoronic
"socialist market economy."
- Similarly, Deng's impetus to win the sovereignty of Hong Kong from
Britain -- the question was far from settled before the 1984 Joint Declaration
-- had its roots in keeping a tight grasp on political power. In January
1993, Deng was reported to have said that "if China did not recover
Hong Kong's sovereignty in 1997, Chinese people would not allow it, and
any Chinese government which allowed that to happen would fall from power
. . . and be condemned by history and the nation."
- Deng's failure to institute the rule of law in China was also tied
to maintaining the Communist Party's monopoly on power. As we are all too
well aware in Hong Kong, legal reform is meaningless as long as the Communist
Party and its leaders remain above the law.
- Closely connected to the rule of law, demands for democracy above all
else shaped Deng's final years. This is where he had the greatest impact
on Hong Kong. A turning point in Hong Kong-China relations occurred when
more than one million Hong Kong citizens took to the streets in protest
against the Beijing massacre. Deng's anxiety about democracy was enhanced
by the pro-democracy sweep in Hong Kong's first direct elections, in 1991.
- So when Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten put forward proposals to promote
a partial democratization of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, China's reaction
was swift and vehement. With Deng's reputed blessing, an abusive propaganda
campaign was launched. Beijing attacked Hong Kong's legal system, the validity
of contracts straddling 1997, the stock market, Gov. Patten and other civil
servants, and individual corporations.
- And when pro-democracy candidates swept Hong Kong's elections in September
1995, Chinese leaders declared their intention to scrap elected institutions
in Hong Kong, replacing them with Beijing-appointed proxies.
- China's objective is to cripple the development of democracy in Hong
Kong during the transition period so that Beijing will be better able to
control Hong Kong after the July handover. Deng and China's senior leadership
must also have had a great fear that democratic reforms in Hong Kong would
have a catalytic effect on the millions of residents of Southern China
who watch Hong Kong television every night.
- Political reform in China is still off limits, and now that Deng has
finally joined the rest of the Long Marchers, it is still unclear who will
succeed him as paramount leader of China. What is clear, however, is that
Deng -- prophetically once purged as China's "No. 2 Capitalist Roader"
-- started a process of liberalization that future leaders will find difficult
- Economic reform and prosperity lead inevitably to a demand for something
that cannot be bought: true political freedom. Ironically, the final epitaph
for Deng Xiaoping may be that he opened the way for a free and democratic