Agenda of China's congress shows Deng still on top Support expected for leader's policies

March 15, 1993|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- The Communist Party's script for this year's meeting of China's legislature firmly demonstrates that Deng Xiaoping, though increasingly frail, remains largely in charge here.

The National People's Congress, which opens its sessions here today, is widely expected to:

* Affirm China's shift toward Mr. Deng's hybrid vision of a "socialist market economy," as well as related moves to raise economic growth targets and to separate the government from the daily operation of business enterprises.

* Ignore pressures for genuine political reforms while attempting to promote an image of greater openness for foreign consumption by spotlighting successful entrepreneurs and officials who are not party members.

* Endorse a major reshuffling of China's top state leaders that would leave largely intact the power elite that has been in control since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, a collective that includes no strong successor to the ailing, 88-year-old Mr. Deng.

The outcome of the two-week legislative meeting was formally decided a week ago in a closed-door meeting of the party's leadership.

The tightly choreographed affair essentially will represent a continuation of last fall's national party congress, at which Mr. Deng triumphed over the party's more traditional socialists by pushing through his program of stepped-up economic reforms.

"This is the completion of Deng Xiaoping's work," said a European envoy in Beijing. "But it still leaves a fragile balance of power that might not last much longer than he does."

This balance of power revolves around 66-year-old party chief Jiang Zemin, whom Mr. Deng has anointed as "the core" of China's future leadership but who many believe might not last long after the patriarch's death.

Mr. Jiang, a former Shanghai party boss and mayor, became head of the national party when reformer Zhao Ziyang was deposed by party hard-liners amid the Tiananmen crackdown. In early 1990, Mr. Jiang also was handed the state's top military post, the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission.

By the end of this year's congress, he is expected to succeed 86-year-old Yang Shangkun as China's president, leaving Mr. Jiang as head of the state, the military and the party.

The state news media said yesterday that Mr. Yang and Wan Li, the congress chairman, would step down.

The last Chinese leader to be awarded something similar to this triple crown was Hua Guofeng, Mao Tse-tung's designated successor, who simultaneously served as party chief, head of the military and premier after Mao's death in 1976. Mr. Hua, however, held real power for only about two years, until Mr. Deng took over.

Mr. Jiang's expected move to the presidency appears to be an attempt to buttress his uncertain standing in China and abroad. As China's president -- essentially a ceremonial post -- he would be able to receive and visit heads of state. As party chief, he was restricted to serving as formal host only for his peers from among the world's dwindling number of communist states.

Mr. Jiang's nominal rise has been accompanied by moves by Mr. Deng over the past year to diffuse power among China's top leaders and their factions in an apparent attempt to ensure that no single leader could quickly lay claim to his role as China's final arbiter of power.

To appease party hard-liners, the congress is expected to approve a second, five-year term for 65-year-old Premier Li Peng. But Vice Premier Zhu Rongji, 64, touted as the reformists' hope, is likely to be given more responsibility for carrying out key economic reforms.

Another party leader, Qiao Shi, 68, an enigmatic figure long in charge of China's security apparatus, is expected to become head of the congress itself -- prompting some speculation that his star, too, is rising.

"Jiang Zemin and all the other top leaders now have the same problem," another Western diplomat said. "They're all weak in the same way. . . . This sets up a situation after Deng's death in which authority will be very fluid."

For now, the only clear losers in the power shifts might be Mr. Yang's family. In retirement, Mr. Yang probably will retain considerable personal clout. But beginning last fall, Mr. Deng struck back at a reported plot by Mr. Yang's younger brother, Gen. Yang Baibing, to build a personal power base within the Chinese military.

General Yang, 72, was elevated to the party's Politburo last fall. But Mr. Deng stripped him of his control over the military, purged hundreds of his high-level appointees within the military and put old-guard Deng loyalists back in charge.

Chinese and foreign analysts believe the scale of this quiet purge was larger than that of any other within the military in China's 43-year history as a communist state.

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