- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

SHANGHAI Wang Bin drives a new Lexus, owns a spacious penthouse apartment and boasts of frequent weekend trips to Hong Kong to attend cocktail receptions with top business leaders, movie stars and other urban socialites. He is also a member of the Communist Party.
Like many of his generation, Mr. Wang's route to party membership was based on family connections. He joined the party because it offered him a quality education, employment and a chance at the good life.
"For younger people, joining the party often means better opportunities," said the 34-year-old computer engineer, who works for a foreign joint-venture company. "It's about new prosperity, not old ideologies."
It is one of the greatest contradictions of contemporary China the ruling Communist Party, founded by peasants and proletarians, has evolved into a steppingstone for aspiring young urban professionals.
China's 81-year-old Communist Party has nearly 66 million members, about 5 percent of the nation's 1.3 billion people, who hold about 40 percent of government posts and positions at state-owned enterprises.
More than two decades of capitalist-style market reforms has eroded the party's once-dominant role in people's everyday lives, and the party is struggling to remain relevant amid major economic changes.
Realizing this, the party has in recent years shaken off its Marxist-Leninist structure in favor of building "socialism with Chinese characteristics" a chaotic mix of state planning and private enterprises.
Still, despite the appeal of party membership to young professionals like Mr. Wang, most of China's private-sector employees are not rushing to join. With its ranks dwindling in urban China, the party has been forced, reluctantly, to branch out into the alien territory of the nation's expanding private sector.
Top party officials now talk of creating cells within the private enterprises, keeping a watchful eye on the rising corporate elite while expanding the party's membership base to include more businessmen.
Officials say the primary function of installing party cells in private companies is to ensure that the non-state sector businesses abide by the law an indication of the party's lingering distrust of capitalists.
An example commonly cited by officials is the party organization in Motorola (China) Electronics Ltd. the Chinese partner of the U.S.-based mobile-phone giant which has 300 of the firm's 10,000 workers. The party branch, established in 1999 at Motorola's Tianjin complex, reportedly held meetings in secret for the first few years before informing the company's senior foreign executives of its existence.
People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, said recently that top Motorola executives from the company's headquarters approved this branch of the party and even allow meetings at the factory.
Officials from Motorola, one of the largest American investors in China, refuse to comment.
Foreign business executives say most overseas firms, eager to expand their presence in China while not offending their Chinese partners, turn a blind eye to the party's presence in joint-venture companies.
"Some firms find that having party members in the organization helps when they have concerns or issues that require government approval," said one foreign executive. "Others just don't want to rock the boat."
Reliable figures on the party's current membership in the nation's thriving private sector are hard to come by, and state media has been prohibited under a recent party directive from reporting on the sensitive issue.
According to one party official, only 17 percent of China's foreign joint-venture companies employed party members as of 2001.
China's private sector is currently estimated to employ at least 54 million people, accounting for more than 40 percent of the nation's economy, official figures indicate, and is increasing at a record pace.
Last year, President Jiang Zemin ended a decades-old ban on private businessmen entering the party, inviting them to join a move that infuriated many old-line leftist members.
Critics of Mr. Jiang accuse him of betraying the party by allowing capitalists to join. They published a petition recently calling the proposal "complete nonsense" and vowing to fight the aging leader's efforts.
"Letting these businessmen into the party is surrendering to the capitalist class," the lengthy petition said. "Capitalism is an evil force that has entered into the souls of some of the leaders of the party."
Industry sources believe that Mr. Jiang's proposal is aimed at ensuring that top executives in private enterprises are party members, and hence, allowing the party to retain a higher level of influence within the company.
In state-owned enterprises, the Communist Party committee typically runs the company, with the factory manager serving as the party branch leader. Since most private firms are run by a board of directors responsible to the company's shareholders, the party's role is weakened significantly.


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