Is This the New China?

A city chosen 22 years ago as the testing ground for market capitalism in China will soon be the pilot city for a test of political reforms that aims to put rule of law above rule by Communist edict.

Shenzhen, a booming haven for foreign high-tech companies next to Hong Kong, was given permission to adopt a government that follows the Western-style separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

If it works in creating a government of checks and balances, it will be transplanted to other cities.

This experiment is being driven by China's need for more transparency and accountability in government. After joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China's been forced to show that companies will be treated fairly under law, and not suffer from the whims of party officials, many of whom are corrupt. In Shenzhen, the party will be barred from meddling in daily official duties.

Beijing's new Communist leaders, who assumed power last November, realize the party's future and China's stability rely on continuing to create jobs with foreign investment for the masses of rural poor. They've accepted the need for political reform, unlike the leaders who cracked down on prodemocracy protesters in 1989.

But this experiment isn't democracy by a long shot. The party still will set out broad economic goals. And no opposition parties will be allowed and officials will not be directly elected.

Still, Shenzhen holds promise as the birthplace of yet another revolution for one-fifth of humanity.

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