Chinese premier affirms commitment to socialism

March 26, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Li Peng, in a major report yesterday on China's development plans for the next 10 years, affirmed the country's open-door policies, cautious efforts to infuse its moribund planned economy with market forces and an abiding commitment to socialism in the face of "foreign hostile forces."

The three-hour speech, opening a 16-day annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp legislature, provided few surprises but was the most detailed amplification to date of China's new five- and 10-year economic development plans, first drafted in December by the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee.

Sharing a flower-bedecked stage in the Great Hall of the People with virtually all of China's official leadership, Mr. Li focused predominately on how China over the next decade would attempt to build a unique economic structure, one combining a dominant planned economy with increased market-oriented elements.

"This is a historic mission, one that has a bearing on the destiny and success of our socialist cause and that we have the resolve to accomplish and accomplish well," Mr. Li declared, for the most part keeping his head bowed and his voice to a monotone and only now and then drawing brief bits of applause.

The strongest reactions from the more than 2,600 delegates to the National People's Congress came when a half-hour break was announced midway through the talk and when Mr. Li's voice suddenly rose several times to underscore China's steadfast commitment to "building socialism with Chinese characteristics" and its firm opposition to foreign intervention in Chinese affairs.

Neither political reforms nor the brutal military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing were mentioned by Mr. Li. But foreign diplomats said the speech appeared, above all, to be an effort to create the impression that China has achieved political stability.

"It was a very restrained, soporific performance designed to make you feel that politics is a very dull subject," a Western diplomat said. "They want to convey the impression that all the trouble is behind them, that the good from the past has been confirmed and will be carried on, that they know what they are doing."

Hailing China's rapid economic growth during the 1980s, Mr. Li claimed that improved industrial efficiency and management, the removal of most products and prices from state planning controls, and "revitalizing" state enterprises would enable the nation to meet its goal of quadrupling its 1980 level of gross national product by the end of this century.

At the same time, Mr. Li tempered these economic reforms with a call for reasserting the central government's economic powers -- a distinct shift from the more laissez-faire line of deposed Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, whose less-centrist program led to an overheated economy and crippling inflation.

On foreign relations, Mr. Li offered a vision of China under siege. "Attempts at subversion, dismemberment and sabotage by foreign hostile forces working against China still continue," he said, in an unstated but clear reference to the United States and other Western democracies. "Therefore, we must always be on guard to firmly preserve political and social stability and unity."

The stress on stability means that no major changes in China's top leadership are anticipated during this two-week session of the NPC -- which in theory is the most powerful body in China's government but which in actuality only endorses prior decisions of the Communist Party or the State Council.

Deng Xiaoping, China's paramount leader for the last 12 years, has not attended NPC sessions for several years and was not present yesterday. Mr. Zhao, the former party chief now believed to be under house arrest, also was not present, although he remains an NPC delegate; an NPC spokesman said Sunday that Mr. Zhao had asked for a leave of absence.

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