In the latter half of the 1960s the People's Republic of China experienced a time of troubles as severe as any in our troubled century, that is, the "cultural revolution." Like many revolutions, this one got out of hand, excluded from power and humiliated most of the men who had previously made Chinese communism work. Though its most violent expressions were suppressed after two or three years, its disruptive spirit continued to dominate the scene until the ousting of its leader, the "Gang of Four," immediately after the death of Mao in 1976.
Since that time China has gone through a remarkable transformation which has restored and greatly extended the pragmatism which had prevailed under Chou En- lai, Liu Shaoqi, and Deng Xiaoping in the early 1960s. Deng, the only one who, though twice purged, survived the whole cultural revolution, has said that he does not care if cats are black or white as long as they catch mice. This down- to-earth remark reflects the pragmatism of the survivors and epitomizes the sharp difference between the perennially refreshed and mutating communism of China and the inflexible, dogmatic system which sits like an Old Man of the Sea on the back of the Soviet Union.
The National People's Congress meeting last month in Peking confirmed four significant decisions previously taken by the post- Mao leadership of Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping. It ratified and extended the new economic policies designed to transform China by the turn of the century into a modern industrial state. It provided for a revamping of the current five-year and ten-year economic plans to pare overambitious programs and bring them into accord with reality. It confirmed the ambitious but essential objective that the population growth rate be held to one percent. It endorsed plans for preparation of a new constitution. And finally, it approved the induction of a new set of leaders into the principal governmental positions, while maintaining the old guard in their posts at the head of the party.
The degree to which the Chinese system is being loosened up, decentralized, and drawn close to a mixed economy is illustrated by those reforms proposed by outgoing Premier Hua Guofeng in his speech to the People's Congress. "Transform the overcentralized systems of management by the state and expand the decisionmaking power of enterprises and the power of their workers to participate in management. Transform the unitary regulation through planning into regulation through planning combined with regulation of the market. Transform management relying mainly on administrative organs and method (that is , on coercion from the top) into management relying mainly on economic agencies as well as an economic and legal method."
While the responsibility for carrying out these critical reforms lies with the Chinese government and people. I would argue that it is very much in the interest of the United States to assist, to the extent of its ability and of China's wishes, in a process which promises to strengthen China and to encourage evolution toward a system which will be more democratic, more stable, and more compatible with ours.Without plunging into the realm of strategy and geopolitics , it is easy enough to see that a strong China counterbalancing the Soviet Union and constraining its ambitions in Asia is far to be preferred to a turbulent China subject to Soviet pressure and manipulation. Yet if the present bold Chinese gamble, its experiment with pragmatism and liberalization, should fail or falter, a reversion to the fanaticism and turmoil of the cultural revolution is by no means to be excluded.
Since President Nixon's visit to Peking in 1972 and President Carter's normalization of relations in 1979, the Chinese-American honeymoon has been proceeding with remarkable harmony. It is still fragile, however, and considering the long history os mistrust between the two governments, is likely to remain so for some time. It cannot easily sustain such shocks as a presidential candidate proposing once again to subordinate US relations with the 900 million people of China to those with the 14 million of Taiwan.
The result of this thoughtless intervention has been to induce the chinese, who had for some time been muting their long-term objectives toward Taiwan, to emphasize again at the National Congress their determination "to reunify our homeland at an early date." Even Taiwan's security is impaired by nostalgic American efforts to restore it to an artificial status which it has been living very happily without.
There is no question that the 1980s are going to be a difficult decade for the US and for the world. US-Soviet relations, on which peace and everyone's survival depends, have deteriorated sharply and may deteriorate further. The third world will for some time remain in a state of instability and conflict, which will often involve great powers. Already the US and its allies have allowed their economies to become dependent on oil from an area which the current Iran-Iraq hostilities have again shown is the most unstable of all.
Under these circumstances a China which, while it cannot during this decade become a major military power, nevertheless maintains its present posture of calm, sobriety, industry, and progress, can be an extremely positive element in the global balance. Let us in America, without asking China to ally itself with us or conform to our ideology, continue to assist it in its present constructive and stabilizing course.