China has suddenly begun to signal a serious leadership debate that could significantly affect plans to increase trade with the United States and revive the Chinese economy.
Two official Chinese news agency articles reaching here Wednesday and Thursday appear to contradict directly the foreign-orientde course of China's crucial modernization program over the last several months. They debunk overemphasis on big bonuses for the best workers, a new policy that up to now has won high official praise, and caution strongly against depending on foreign loans.
"The four modernizations cannot be bought nor borrowed," the New China News Agency quoted Vice Premier Kang Shi'en as saying. A second agency article said: "We cannot advocate the omnipotence of bonuses to the neglect of the role of political awareness."
Analysts here say they are startled by the change in tone and are waiting to see if it is echoed in other journals such as the People's Daily. The signs of an internal dispute over econonomic policy come as Peking has frozen over $2 billion in contracts for Japancese equipment and told visiting Americans of a reassessment of the pace of Chinese development. An article in the People's Daily today spoke of the need for "proportional develpment."
Economists have suggested for some time that the Chinese might not have enough foreign exchange to finance purchases of foreign technology at as rapid a pace as they have hinted lately, but Peking has indicated great interest in closing the gap with foreign loans. At a meeting with American visitors this week, Vice Premier Li Xiannian (Li Hsien-nien) even indicated, apparently for the first time, an interest in direct loans from U.S. government agencies such as the Export-Import Bank.
A few indications of resistance within the Chinese leadenship to building up debts abroad have been seen in the last few months, but the sudden assault of the worker bonus system, considered necessary for any significant increase in China's woefully low worker productivity rate, comes as more of a surprise.
The news agency dispatch Thursday quoted the Peking Daily, the local newspaper in China's capital, as criticizing "a minority of workers" who have adopted as a slogan "more bonuses for more work, less bounses for less work, and no bonuses, no work."
"In the face of this situation veteran workers have responded with: We can't rely only on material rewards. We can't afford to shift back and forth anymore. In effect, we must not swing to the extreme of believing in the unlimited power of paying bonuses while criticizing the omnipotence of political awareness," the newspaper said.
The decision by the official news agency to quote from the local newspaper appeared to be significant. The agency does not often report articles from the Peking Daily, preferring instead to excerpt the more authoritative People's Daily.
One analyst noted that statements by Vice Premier Kang and a Peking Daily article, both reported by the Chinese news agency in Neovember, laid groundwork for a flurry of foreign trade activity and wallposter dissent in Peking taht followed soon after.
The article appeared to contradict a number of articles in the recent official press, including a Dec. 2 People's Daily article endorsing the idea of "a greater bonus given for a greater amount of work... A smaller bonus given for a smaller amount of work over the quota."
Setting limits on bonuses, the official party paper had said, would not "satisfy the demands of the principle of 'to each according to his work and more pay for more work.'" nor "give full play to the workers' enthusiasm."
Thrusday's New China News Agency article also said, "We should guard against going to extremes so as to be better able to combine spiritual encouragement with material incentive and thus advance our socialist construction." But an official news agency article Tuesday ridiculed such examples of spiritual encouragement as "morale-boosting posters and slogans painted on boards, quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung carved into hillsides, [and] multitudes of red flags planted on construction sites."
Peasants in Dangtu County in Anhui (Anhwei) Province said such devices did more harm than good to production.
"We want a substantial increase in both collective and personal income... not a lot of display without substance," they said, according to the Tuesday article.
Since Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-ping), a firm advocate of modern management and financing techniques, returned to power in midtechniques, returned to power in mid-1977, China has begun to actively encourage managers to reward their best workers with more money and started to negotiate major loans abroad to finance the equipment that also would help raise productivity.
The official media have complained often, however, of middle-level officials showing reluctance to follow these new policies out of fear that the line might change again and they be criticized.
Any suggestion in the official media that bonuses and foreign loans may not be favored universally by the leadership would be expected to encourage more doubts and foot-dragging by officials asked to carry out Teng's policies.
Vice Premier Kang's remarks on foreign loans were from an interview with the newspaper Worker's Daily, summarized by the officials news summarized by the official news agency yesterday. The article said, "Modernization requires large funds for construction. China is a socialist country and therefore relies mainly on domestic accumulation. It cannot depend on foreign loans, nor should it increase the economic burden of the people. This means all enterprises should be serious about increasing production and practicing economy, avoiding any wastage of energy and materials and increasing returns and profits. A campaign to promote these principles would have a marked effect on carrying forward the party's fine tradition of self-reliance and hard work."
American businessmen and bankers in recent contact with Chinese officials said they have not been told that Peking plans to cancel any of the large preliminary contracts for U.S. equipment signed recently, or reject offers of U.S. bank financing.