China: Welcome to the Club

President Jiang Zemin jokes with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the United Nations Millennium Summit on Sept. 6 (Photo: AFP).

It has been 15 years in the making, but China’s World Trade Organization (WTO) entry appears to be close at hand.

A multilateral consensus on all remaining major issues was reached after China’s 16th WTO accession meeting, held in Geneva from June 18 to July 4. The main goal of the conference was to clarify China’s interests and duties after its accession to the trade organization.

Chief negotiator of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Long Yongtu, who leads the 30-person Chinese delegation, predicted that China is likely to join the WTO by November, when the trade ministers meet in Doha.

A July 6 editorial in Hong Kong’s government-controlled Ta Kung Pao was jubilant about the breakthrough meeting, predicting that, once China becomes a WTO member, “[its] immense market potential will transform into actual capabilities, thereby providing even more business opportunities for business circles of all countries,” which will benefit China as well as the rest of the world.

But while the recent progress toward WTO accession was met with enthusiasm in China, pundits say it has also forced the Beijing leadership to do some extensive soul-searching: How will the ruling party reconcile its nascent market economy with its political ideology?

That the Geneva WTO conference coincided with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 80th anniversary gave President Jiang Zemin the opportunity to address this issue publicly. On July 1, he delivered a speech outlining his vision for the CCP’s role in a rapidly changing society and unveiled his so-called Theory of the Three Representatives.

Wang Xiangwei wrote in Hong Kong’s centrist South China Morning Post (June 30): “Analysts believe [Jiang’s theory] represents the latest proof that the party is struggling with moves to redefine its role and enhance its relevance as the mainland undergoes a historical transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy.”

In an interview with Shi Guangsheng, minister of foreign trade and economic cooperation, in the government-owned Renmin Ribao (June 28), Shi discussed the dramatic changes in China’s society and economy in the 40 years he has been in the party. He said that the third generation of the CCP, led by Jiang Zemin, is simply adhering to and developing Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s theory of opening up further and actively participating in the process of globalization.

According to reports, the CCP, once comprised exclusively of workers and peasants, will begin admitting intellectuals and entrepreneurs—the same groups that were brutally persecuted during Chairman Mao Zedong’s era.
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