1.2 billion Chinese learned of shake-up after the fact Shadowy succession is common in country

September 20, 1997|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- When China's Communist Party dumped its third-highest-ranking official Thursday as part of its biggest personnel shake-up in years, most of the nation's 1.2 billion people had no idea. For Qiao Shi, the reform-minded head of China's parliament, there were no announcements, farewells or even a mention in the party-controlled newspapers.

Citizens tuned into national television yesterday to see that another man had suddenly replaced him on the Politburo's standing committee, the seven-member panel that runs China.

In the United States, it would be as if the House of Representatives quietly ousted Speaker Newt Gingrich and then Gingrich simply didn't show up for work the next day.

In China, though, this shadowy succession process is business as usual.

Yesterday, the standing committee introduced replacements for Qiao, 72, and another member who lost his seat, Gen. Liu Huaqing, 80. The choices appeared to further consolidate party General Secretary Jiang Zemin's hold on power and seemed designed to persuade Chinese people that the party intends to tackle the endemic problem of public corruption.

Replacing Qiao, Jiang's major rival, and Liu were Wei Jianxing, 61, who heads the party's disciplinary commission, and trade official Li Lanqing, 65, a Jiang ally.

The personnel shake-up came at the end of the party's congress, a meeting held every five years in which it chooses new leaders and decides policy.

Li's selection helps Jiang tighten his control after the death of Deng Xiaoping in February. The appointment of Wei, a Qiao protege, is seen as a trade-off to ensure Qiao's retirement.

Some analysts said that it also served as a reminder that Jiang does not have nearly the power his mentor Deng did.

Still, having Wei on the standing committee should help Jiang, who has called for a heightened attack on corruption -- a problem so widespread that it could eventually contribute to political instability.

"I think he did quite well," one Western diplomat said of Jiang.

There was another change in the makeup of the panel.

Breaking with tradition, no member of the military now holds a seat.

The new standing committee paraded before hundreds of reporters yesterday in the Great Hall of the People, China's Soviet-style parliament building on Tiananmen Square.

It was a rare, close-up glimpse of the nation's aging, secretive leaders.

The seven men strode into a large, reception room in order of political influence, clapping as they walked. Jiang, 71, led the way, followed by a beaming Premier Li Peng.

Li, 70, who often appears dour, is best known for his key role in calling out the army to crush the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. He was a big winner in the leadership change, though. Required to step down next year after two terms as premier, he now is expected to take over Qiao's position as head of the congress.

After Li, came Zhu Rongji, 69, the hard-nosed, economic Mr. Fixit who is credited with reining in inflation and is expected to replace Li as premier.

The committee stood stiffly in front of a giant mural of China's Great Wall as Jiang made brief remarks about the success of the congress.

Then, without taking questions, Jiang led them away.

"Thank you for coming," he said in a rare burst of English as the seven men who run China crossed the room and disappeared through a doorway.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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