China's Zhu hopes a smile and smarts win US
It's not often that the Chinese Communist Party allows a former "class enemy" to travel to the West's strongest democracy, much less entrusts him with repairing ties to the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet that is precisely the mission that Beijing has placed on the shoulders of Zhu Rongji, whose rise from political outcast to premier reflects China's moves toward a post-revolutionary society and its potential to forge closer links with the West.
Premier Zhu, who now heads the reform faction of the party, "is probably the best face the party can project to the West," says a Western official. If Zhu had been born in the US, the official muses, "his intelligence and straightforwardness, combined with his political skills, could just as likely have fueled his rise through the American political system."
The jocular, media-friendly Zhu is likely to draw on every one of those skills on his nine-day, six-city tour of the US.
During the visit, which began Tuesday in Los Angeles, Zhu will be forced to become something like a human minesweeper, defusing potentially explosive disputes over Beijing's human rights policies, allegations over the theft of American technology, and Chinese opposition to NATO's attack on Yugoslavia.
"Zhu is not going to wipe out the anti-China sentiment in Congress over the course of a week," says the Western official. "But during that time he can give the American public a glimpse of the moderate, forward-looking side of the [Communist] Party."
If the Chinese premier is running a political obstacle course in the US, he probably faces an equally daunting array of hurdles at home. Zhu is in charge of jettisoning large chunks of China's Soviet-model economy in favor of a system that is more responsive to market forces.
At the same time, Zhu is overseeing perhaps the largest government downsizing in Chinese history in a bid to make the bureaucracy more efficient and professional. He is "making a lot of enemies within the government and among workers who are being laid off from state-run firms," says Gao Xin, a Chinese scholar who has written several books on the Chinese leadership.
Opposition within the party's conservative wing to Zhu's pro- market economic policies and pro-Western outlook has fueled rumors in the Chinese capital that some of the premier's colleagues hope a disastrous US visit could pave the way for his ultimate ouster.
Although many Chinese and American analysts say that outcome is unlikely, Zhu's penchant for speaking out on the failures of Marxist economics has in the past cost him dearly.
Zhu "is the only member of the senior leadership to have been branded a rightist" during one of the party's earliest political purges in 1957, says Mr. Gao, a former university lecturer in Beijing who now writes from exile in Cambridge, Mass.
Zhu's fall from grace, triggered when he issued a minor criticism of the party's radical economic policies, lasted for nearly two decades. He was "reeducated" by being sent to the countryside to raise swine.
One of Zhu's "political offenses" was probably his engineering degree from the American-founded Qinghua University in Beijing, and his fate was matched by millions of other educated Chinese who were persecuted during Chairman Mao Zedong's radical, xenophobic Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.