How China's Leaders Steer a Massive Nation

There is no question that China is an authoritarian state. But Beijing's efforts to include experts and experiments in the way it governs also help to keep power in check. Once the government supports a project, it normally carries it out -- sometimes on a massive scale. Are there lessons to be taken from the Communist Party's method of governance?

When Duan Tingzhi dreams, he sees a future filled with fountains. He dreams of water shooting into the air throughout his new city, to the delight of its residents. According to the newspaper, one day there will be one thousand fountains in the Lanzhou New Area, a region north of the old city of Lanzhou.

For now, Duan sees only sheep, sheep with dirty coats, as gray as the skies above them. The sheep walk across Duan's wonderful, multi-lane, freshly asphalted street, and they're disruptive. They remind Duan, the man with the building authority, of just how far away the container terminals, the football stadiums, the sea and indeed the future still are from northwestern China, and how much work it will take to get there. Duan is so busy that he even sleeps in the New Area during the week, and he no longer has time for his family or for journalists.

And yet it isn't often that someone shows an interest in Gansu Province, a relatively poor province of mountains and deserts, and so Duan leans across the conference table and speaks as if he were trying to conjure up the future. The province has "great potential," he says, slicing through the air with the edge of his hand to punctuate his arguments. First, he says, everything is already there: airports, railways and highways. Second, there is "unlimited electricity." And third, the province has rich mineral resources, including coal, oil and nickel. Of course, he adds, it also has plenty of workers.

Duan's voice softens. He wants to attract international companies to the Lanzhou New Area. "Perhaps," he says, his voice becoming silky smooth, "you can help us convince Siemens to come here." The party official sitting next to him nods.

Then Duan has to go. It's a gloomy day, and the wind is howling through the shells of buildings. According to the plans, there will be 300,000 people living here in 2015, 600,000 by the year 2020 and eventually as many as a million.

But Duan is merely a local chief planner. The important chief planners are in Beijing and have one of the most difficult jobs in the world: governing a nation of 1.3 billion people. China's provinces are as populous as entire countries on other continents. Hunan has as many people as France, Hubei as many as Italy and Sichuan as many as Germany. China's powerful men have achieved much. While millions were still starving under Mao Zedong, China is now the world's second-largest economy.

Europe, immersed in both a debt crisis and a crisis of meaning, is not only mesmerized by Asia's rising powers, but is also asking itself how governing works in these countries. China's economic success also raises another, more outrageous question: Is it possible for an undemocratic government to be a good government? Beijing's Development Strategy

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