China party backs president's reforms, retires his rival Third highest official is ousted with general

September 19, 1997|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- A major meeting of China's Communist Party ended yesterday with the endorsement of leader Jiang Zemin's reforms for the nation's failing state-owned enterprises and the unexpected retirement of one of his major rivals.

In the biggest leadership shake-up in five years, Qiao Shi, a top official and political rival of Jiang's, was dropped from the party's central committee. Qiao, 72, is the head of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, and the third highest-ranking official.

Analysts saw the move as a victory for Jiang, the party's general secretary as well as the country's president, who has been trying to tighten his grip on power ever since the death in February of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

Jiang "is still a first-among-equals," said one Western diplomat in Beijing, referring to the consensus that appears to have replaced strongman rule in China. "[But] he's a somewhat more authoritative first-among-equals."

A former security chief, Qiao has advocated legal reform, overseen changes that have made the legislature more independent and is perceived to be the member of the leadership most sympathetic to incremental political reform.

jTC Qiao's retirement "is not a good sign," said David Shambaugh, director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University in the District of Columbia. "It shows if you drift too far in that direction, you can be removed."

Qiao's departure, though, is not expected to radically alter the party's direction.

Every five years, China's 58 million-member Communist Party holds its congress, in which it outlines policy and chooses new leaders.

During this congress, the 15th, Jiang called for accelerating capitalist-style reforms, including selling stock in state-owned enterprises, merging some failing state companies with successful ones and selling off some businesses entirely.

China's hidebound, state-owned sector is seen as one of the biggest roadblocks in its transition from a command to a market economy. Yesterday, as expected, the more than 2,000 party congress delegates unanimously endorsed Jiang's reforms, all of which are currently under way.

In addition to Qiao, another top leader, Gen. Liu Huaqing, 80, was dropped from the central committee. Losing their central committee seats will cost Qiao and Liu their positions on the Politburo's seven-member standing committee, the most powerful political body in China.

Jiang is expected to try to fill those openings with allies. The party is scheduled to announce the new members of the Politburo and its standing committee today.

The retirement of Qiao, who has been credited with making the National People's Congress more autonomous and less of a rubber- stamp, may open the way for Premier Li Peng to take over the parliament.

Li, best known for his key role in the massacre of demonstrators during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, must step down next spring at the end of his second term.

Although Li is a hard-liner, some observers think he may support a more reform-minded National People's Congress, as other conservative leaders have done.

"I'm not concerned," said Dali L. Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. "Li Peng may not make a bad chairman at all."

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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