Premier Li Peng said Wednesday that China's Communist leadership is united and capable of defeating any threat to its rule, an apparent allusion to last year's huge pro-democracy protests.
"The core of leadership in China, with General Secretary Jiang Zemin as the nucleus, is united, it is strong and I believe that it commands the support of the Chinese people," Li told a press conference at the Great Hall of the People.
Li spoke immediately after the conclusion of the annual session of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, which stressed themes of unity and stability.
China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, 85, who appears to be in failing health, did not attend. The consensus among foreigners in Beijing is that a power struggle is likely to break out when he dies.
But the four top-ranked leaders below Deng--Jiang, Li, President Yang Shangkun and Politburo member Qiao Shi, who heads the national security apparatus--made a conspicuous show of friendship sitting together during the congress. If these four leaders work together, they are positioned to exert tremendous authority over China's party, government, military and security apparatus.
Li, apparently referring to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and political liberalization in the Soviet Union, said events have proved that the Chinese government was correct in using the army last June to suppress a wave of student-led protests.
"Our struggle saved the People's Republic of China and the socialist system," he said, "so our measures won the support of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people, and historical developments have more and more clearly testified to this point."
Li refused to answer questions about whether he shared personal credit or responsibility for ordering troops to fire on crowds of protesters seeking to block the army from entering Beijing the night of June 3-4 to clear demonstrators from Tian An Men Square. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Beijing residents and students were killed that night.
Li was asked about reports published Tuesday that Chai Ling, 23, a woman student who was one of the most famous of the protest leaders, had escaped to France together with her husband, Feng Congde, another leader.
Li replied that China is so big it is not surprising that a small number of "criminals" might be able to hide for long periods and then escape. He warned the French government that Beijing expects it to prevent anyone from carrying out anti-China activities in France.
He confirmed that Chinese authorities are taking measures to ensure that no protest erupts today at Tian An Men Square. Dissidents abroad have called for people in Beijing to express their feelings by taking peaceful walks in the square today, the annual Qingming Festival of mourning for the dead.
"It is quite normal," Li said, "for Beijing municipality and the Public Security Department to take all the necessary measures to preserve order in Tian An Men Square on occasions of state activities and other important activities, or those activities involving a lot of people.
"Tian An Men Square was thrown into extreme chaos last year at the turn of spring and summer during the turmoil and the counterrevolutionary rebellion. We do not hope to see a repeat of that chaos, nor do the Chinese people hope to see a repeat of that chaos. Tomorrow will be the Qingming Festival. . . . We believe that Tian An Men Square will pass the day in an orderly way."
Li said that an investigation is continuing into the actions last spring of former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted from his high political posts in June for refusing to endorse the military crackdown. He said Zhao remains free, is living at his home in Beijing and is in good health.
At its closing session Wednesday, the National People's Congress approved a "basic law" under which Hong Kong is to be governed after the British colony reverts to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997. The law is intended to provide the framework for Hong Kong to maintain its capitalist system and civil liberties for at least 50 years under the formula "one country, two systems."
After people in Hong Kong supported last year's protests in China, Beijing added provisions barring subversive activities in Hong Kong after it reverts to Chinese control. These and other provisions drew criticism in Hong Kong, and the colony's legislature voted Wednesday to ask China to change the law.
In its 16-day meeting, the congress also approved amendments to China's foreign joint-venture law meant to provide more attractive incentives for investment.
The amendments provide that the board of a joint venture no longer must be headed by a Chinese citizen but may be headed by a representative of either side. And they provide that the life of a joint venture, rather than being limited to 30 years, may be open-ended.
The amendments also promise that joint ventures will not be nationalized except under undefined "special circumstances." In such cases, if the "public interest" requires it, joint ventures "may be requisitioned by legal procedures and appropriate compensation shall be made."