ONLY the naive assume that Premier Deng Xiaoping's new campaign to expand capitalist, market-economy reforms in provinces like Guangdong represents a shift toward "democracy" in China.
Deng's campaign against the vast bureaucracy of orthodox hard-liners in Beijing is in the interest of economic, not political, reform, and is being sold as a way to keep China and its Communist Party strong. That's why Deng is successful in marshaling Army support for capitalist reforms.
Deng's vision for the future is a China able to hold its own in a region dominated by Japan, its historic nemesis and an economic powerhouse - as well as dynamic "mini-dragons" as South Korea and Taiwan. Yet the vision retains party control in law, personal life, press, propaganda, and ideology.
The vision is somewhat akin to Mikhail Gorbachev's six years ago. What's different is that Beijing's hard-liners can point with trepidation to the example of a dismantled Soviet Union. Faced with economic reforms including an increased Japanese investment in Hong Kong and Beijing, the fallback position of hard-liners may be to link market reforms to even tighter social and political controls - perestroika without glasnost, if you will.
But the very act of freeing prices, creating markets, and developing new and innovative manufacturing requires levels of communication among broad ranges of people that preclude the kind of control necessary to keep people in line and afraid.
Another problem for hard-liners: Young Chinese attracted to Western modes who want a good life - as young Russians do.
How China will manage modernization yet retain control will come to a head in this fall's 14th Party Congress. The orthodox may rally behind Li Peng; support for reformers like Zhu Rongji, the former mayor of Shanghai, will indicate a more open future.
Either way, the West, led by the US, must continue to make human rights in China a top issue. The US Congress has supported conditions on most-favored-nation trading status that are too morally absolute. The White House has supported a policy that is too morally irresolute.
The US needs a policy that targets and makes demands in discrete areas of Chinese policy and behavior without cutting off aid or trade entirely. These areas include Chinese arms exports, laws and standards of trade, the environment, human rights progress including no trade produced by prison labor, and the ability of US businesses to uphold worker rights on site.