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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK

China's big party

A commemorative dragon for 50 years of Communist Party rule

By the BBC's Chinese Affairs Analyst James Miles

China: 50 years of communism / Revolution Glossary
Not since the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests a decade ago has China witnessed a security clampdown on the scale undertaken in the last few months.

To the country's leadership, the 50th anniversary of the communist nation's founding on 1 October is an occasion of tremendous political importance, and all the stops are being pulled out in readiness for the event.

Beijing residents talks about what the anniversary means to them
Rarely in the last five decades has the capital undergone such a facelift, with every one of Tiananmen's paving stones replaced and a new airport terminal building constructed.

This occasion is of particular significance for the 73-year-old president, Jiang Zemin.

[ image: Jiang Zemin: Centre stage]
Jiang Zemin: Centre stage
Although he formally took charge of the Chinese Communist Party a decade ago and has been head of state for the last six years, this is the first major national celebration at which he will occupy centre stage.

It is as crucial an affirmation of Mr Jiang's political stature as the National Day celebrations of 1984 were for China's then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

The BBC's James Miles: "Residents have been given a list of 50 slogans to greet the occasion"
It is the first time since then that China is organising a military parade to mark the event.

Comparisons with Deng

President Jiang is no doubt eager for comparisons to be drawn between himself and the late Mr Deng.

[ image: Security has been stepped up at Beijing's new airport terminal]
Security has been stepped up at Beijing's new airport terminal
At the time of China's 35th anniversary in 1984, Mr Deng was at the height of his political power.

He had swept aside remnant Maoists in the leadership. He had launched far-reaching and widely-acclaimed economic reforms in the countryside.

And he had reached a deal with Britain on the handover of Hong Kong.

The military parade on 1 October that year was his way of showing the nation that he was confident and in charge.

Mr Jiang wants to deliver the same message.

[ image: Chinese war games have failed to persuade Taiwan to re-unite]
Chinese war games have failed to persuade Taiwan to re-unite
Since Mr Deng's death in February 1997, he has overseen a remarkably smooth transition to a political power structure that for the first time since the communist takeover is not overshadowed by revolutionaries who founded the People's Republic.

He presided over the handover of Hong Kong.

He re-established top-level exchanges with the United States that had been suspended since Tiananmen.

He has crushed domestic political opposition while continuing to push China towards the establishment of an open, capitalist-oriented economy.

When Mr Jiang reviews the troops on 1 October, he will hope to demonstrate to the world and to his own people that he is far from the man many thought him to be when he was catapulted into the party's top post following the Tiananmen protests.

Many observers then were astonished that a man with so little experience in the Politburo and with no military background could be chosen by Mr Deng and his fellow veterans to lead such a factious party.

[ image:  ]
To many Chinese and foreigners alike he appeared a political lightweight.

Nevertheless, Mr Jiang will have difficulty projecting the same image of confident, stable leadership that Mr Deng was able to convey during the 1984 celebrations.

Despite his political achievements in the last decade, Mr Jiang has shown signs in recent months of hesitation and uncertainty in the face of a series of unexpected crises.

These have ranged from the surrounding of the party headquarters in April by thousands of members of a mystical sect to the Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May and Taiwan's declaration in July that it wanted to be treated by China as a separate state, not a rebel province.

Failures and goals

Unlike in 1984, when China's economy was on an upswing, the economic picture today looks bleak.

Growth is slowing, deflation is pushing large numbers of firms towards bankruptcy, unemployment is soaring and citizens are fearful of spending because of the growing cost of health care, education and housing.

[ image: A giant red star is lowered into place in Tiananmen Square]
A giant red star is lowered into place in Tiananmen Square
Mr Jiang will be able to point out that in December, China will regain control over the Portuguese-administered territory of Macao, marking the first time in half a millenium that the entire Chinese mainland will be under the control of an indigenous Chinese government.

Yet the bigger goal for China's communist leaders - that of regaining Taiwan - appears even more elusive now than it did when Mr Deng came to power 20 years ago.

The menacing war games China staged in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 failed to deter the island's president, Lee Teng-hui, from delivering his powerful snub to Beijing with his remarks on the island's statehood in July.

Changes ahead?

On National Day itself, Mr Jiang will no doubt project his usual ebullient image.

But in the next two or three years, he faces difficult times politically as he prepares to hand over at least some of his power to a younger leadership.

In 2003 he is constitutionally obliged to step down as president.

Doubtless there will be some in the party who will argue that given his age, he should also give up his other jobs as party and military chief.

The party's 16th congress in 2002 would be an obvious occasion to do that.

Mr Jiang has reportedly hinted to Japanese visitors this year that while he will give up the presidency, he might keep his other posts.

Although he will want to use the occasion of National Day to suggest that a fast-changing China is stepping vigorously into the 21st century, Mr Jiang apparently does not intend to suggest that his own role in the country's evolution will change any time soon.

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