China disclosed Saturday that Premier Zhao Ziyang is not expected to remain for long as head of both the Chinese government and the 44-million-member Communist Party.
A senior Chinese official, Vice Premier Yao Yilin, told reporters that Zhao will hold the top party and government jobs only until the 13th National Congress of the party, which is expected to be held this fall.
"Since China is such a big country with so many things to do, it is difficult for one single person to hold the two posts at the same time," Yao said during a press conference at the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's parliament.
It was the first time that the leadership has said that Zhao will eventually give up one of the two jobs he now holds. Zhao became acting general secretary of the Communist Party in January after the ouster of the former party leader, Hu Yaobang.
Which Job Uncertain
Yao did not say which of the two jobs Zhao will give up. He emphasized repeatedly, however, that Zhao is only the "acting" party secretary. Yao said the permanent party leader will be named by the new Central Committee chosen during the party congress.
If Zhao remains the party leader through the congress, he would be in position to give a major speech to the delegates of that meeting and might thus be able to strengthen his chances of staying on in his party post if he wishes.
Saturday's unusual press conference gave further prominence to the political importance of another Chinese official, Vice Premier Li Peng, the 58-year-old Soviet-trained, Russian-speaking vice premier who, one U.S. official recently said, "sends shivers up the spines of people in Washington."
The regime appears to be grooming Li for one of the top leadership posts.
Yao and Li appeared at the press conference together with a third vice premier, Tian Jiyun, another youthful candidate for a top leadership post. In theory, all three men hold equal rank, with Yao being the senior member of the triumvirate.
Li Dominates Session
But at the two-hour press conference, Li sat in the center, served as the master of ceremonies, had first choice of which questions to answer and dominated the proceedings. Asked whether his position at the press conference meant he might become premier, Li replied, "The seat I am occupying right now is not the premier's seat."
Li studied hydroelectric engineering in the Soviet Union from 1948 to 1954. While in Moscow, he was the head of the Assn. of Chinese Students in the U.S.S.R.
Recently, Western analysts are known to have been studying the possibility that during his time in the Soviet Union, Li may have met the Kremlin leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who was a student leader in Moscow at the same time.
But at Saturday's press conference, Li told reporters he never knew Gorbachev during their student days. The two met for the first time, Li said, when Li was sent to Moscow to represent China at the 1985 funeral of former Soviet leader Konstantin U. Chernenko.
Asked about the perception that he would like China to adopt a foreign policy more friendly to the Soviet Union, Li replied:
"I can tell you very earnestly that I am a member of the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the Chinese government. I would faithfully implement the policy of the party and of the government."
Currently, Li said, China conducts an independent foreign policy, and "I wholeheartedly support" this policy.
Yao told reporters that after the wave of student demonstrations in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities last December, Hu himself "asked to resign" as head of the Communist Party.
"The major fault and error of Comrade Hu Yaobang is that he was weak and ineffective in the struggle against bourgeois liberalization," Yao said.
Hu resigned to what was called an "enlarged" meeting of the Politburo attended by many older party leaders who are not officially members of that body. Yao said the procedure was legal because Hu resigned and was not fired.
Yao said party leaders had to act quickly and could not afford to leave Hu in charge of the party until the next congress or until a meeting of the Central Committee could be convened. "There was only a half-year's time before the 13th Party Congress. After his resignation, we could not afford to have nobody in charge of the party," Yao explained.
Asked what had caused the student demonstrations, Li replied that they were "generally . . . the result of the rampancy at some schools of bourgeois liberalization and the weak and ineffective attitude of some leaders."
Some Chinese students, said Li, lack practical experience on life in China. "They did not realize that capitalism is not feasible in China," he added.
Li said China wants to avoid the "excessive centralization and excessively rigid control" of a Soviet-style economy.
Nevertheless, he cautioned, "we do not totally reject a planned economy. Rather, we oppose overly rigid control over a planned economy."