Chinese President Consolidates His Power at Congress


Overhauling the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and ousting a key rival, President Jiang Zemin firmly established himself Thursday as China's undisputed top leader and built a loyal political base for his critical program to restructure struggling state industries.

"I hereby declare that the 15th congress concludes victoriously," a beaming Jiang, 71, announced in the Great Hall of the People, site of the national party convention that is held once every five years. Jiang, a former Shanghai mayor who rose from relative obscurity eight years ago to succeed the late Deng Xiaoping at the helm of Chinese power, had plenty to smile about.

By stocking the Central Committee with a mix of allies from his Shanghai days and younger regional political and military officials who have risen in the party ranks under his eight-year reign, Jiang--once dismissed as a political lightweight--finally put his personal signature on the ruling party.

Today, standing behind a podium adorned with potted bougainvillea and poinsettias in the Great Hall of the People, Jiang capped off his reshuffling of the party with the announcement of a newly elected Politburo standing committee. Although China's Constitution specifies the parliament as the highest organ of state power, it is in fact the Politburo standing committee's seven members who stand at the apex of the country's collective leadership.

Middle-aged technocrats who did not fight in China's Communist revolution make up most of the new standing committee.

The two new inductees into the committee come, like Jiang, from the Yangtze River delta and studied in the Soviet Union. Wei Jianxing, 66, head of the party's anti-graft commission, helped to purge Jiang's rival, Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong, on corruption charges. Wei's rise, observers say, symbolizes the congress' emphasis on combating official graft. Li Lanqing, 65, helped China's fledgling automobile industry get rolling. He later set key policies to attract foreign investment.

Besides Jiang, the new lineup includes Premier Li Peng, 68; Li Ruihuan, 63, head of China's top advisory body; Hu Jintao, 54, in charge of party personnel matters and the youngest man in the committee's history; and Zhu Rongji, 68, credited with steering China's economy and a leading candidate for the premiership.

The absence of military representatives took observers by surprise because Jiang--who has no military experience--has bent over backward to promote and curry favor with army brass. Analysts say the move suggests more civilian control over an increasingly professional military.

When the new 193-member Central Committee was proclaimed at the conclusion of the weeklong congress, it contained an unprecedented 109 new members, most of them slightly younger and more educated than their predecessors. Left out were several important political rivals to Jiang, most notably Qiao Shi, 72, chairman of the National People's Congress, China's parliament. A former chief of the secret police, Qiao was expected by some to challenge Jiang for power in the world's most populous country.

Instead, he was "retired" under a new guideline that requires party leaders--Jiang being the glaring exception--to leave the Central Committee when they surpass 70 years of age.

Another departure was 81-year-old Gen. Liu Huaqing, vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission.

In July, Jiang, who also serves as party general secretary, passed a major test of his power by successfully managing the hand-over of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty. The next step in Jiang's political apotheosis is expected to come next month, when he is scheduled to visit Washington for his first formal summit with President Clinton.

Jiang, a university-educated engineer by profession, had signaled in his keynote address to the party congress his intent to professionalize the ruling party once dominated by aging revolutionary Marxists.

"In accordance with the principle of making our cadres more revolutionary, younger, better educated and more competent professionally," Jiang said when the conference opened last Friday, "we should foster a contingent of highly qualified cadres who can meet the requirements of the socialist modernization drive."

According to the official New China News Agency, the average age of the new Central Committee is 55.9, compared with a previous average age of 56.3. The proportion of those who have attended university or technical schools rose by nearly 10 percentage points to 92.4%.

Economic reformers in the 58-million-member party were ebullient about Jiang's changes. "This is a group of young, energetic, competent people who are not just timeservers," said one party veteran. "I feel hopeful for the first time in years."

Symbolizing the shift toward professional, rather than ideological, leadership was the apparent elevation of Zhu, China's economic czar, to a higher profile role in the party hierarchy. Although the move will not be finalized until spring, Zhu is expected to replace Premier Li as head of government. This would give Zhu the control he needs to supervise the country's ambitious but socially disruptive program to end subsidies for many of China's foundering state-owned industries.

Removed from the power elite were various aging party hacks, unreformed Marxists and loyalists to previous Communist Party leaders Mao Tse-tung and Deng, the father of China's economic reforms.

Most visibly disappointed over Thursday's snub was Qiao, leader of the national parliament. The national television news showed Qiao--who has been praised overseas for his legislative reforms of the criminal code--scowling as Jiang announced the "victorious" conclusion of the party congress.

Qiao appeared nervous as he was shown depositing his computerized ballot for the new Central Committee. As he walked away from the ballot box, however, he managed a smile and a farewell salute.

While installing his own team, Jiang also used the congress to enshrine Deng in the pantheon of party sages. In his keynote address, Jiang elevated Deng's pragmatic writings and speeches--"Deng Xiaoping Theory"--to the same level as Marxism-Leninism and "Mao Tse-tung Thought."

At the congress, however, Jiang showed himself to be more "Dengist" than Marxist or Maoist.

Echoing previous Communist Party reformers, Jiang declared China to be in a "primary stage of socialism." In the parlance of the Chinese Communist Party, "primary stage" is a code used by supporters of economic liberalization to permit capitalist, market-oriented behavior without, in theory, abandoning the long-term dream of a socialist state. In practice, it means an economy where practically anything, including private ownership, is possible.

One key to Jiang's economic reform push is a move to abandon a system of subsidies for China's 300,000 state-owned enterprises. Under the new economic program, the government will permit the sale of state enterprises to stockholder groups and even private owners.

By concentrating on the economic program, Jiang disappointed some in China who were hoping that the party would take more concrete steps toward political reform. However, he did promise to "extend the scope of democracy at the grass-roots level to make sure that people directly exercise their democratic rights." This has been interpreted by some as an expansion of the country's rural democratization experiment in which villagers elected the members of their village committees.

Finally, Jiang put heavy emphasis on anti-corruption efforts, making it a life-or-death issue for the party.


Changes in China

Major policy initatives of the 15th Communist Party congress will:

* Allow sale of most-owned enterprises, permitting "diverse forms of ownership."

* Attempt to keep the economy growing at about 8% a year, doubling gross national product between the years 2000 and 2010.

* Enshrine Deng Xiaoping's theory of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" in the party charter alongside theories of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin and Mao Tse-tung.

* Build a more modern, better equipped army, eliminating 500,000 troops.

* Combat corruption, treating it as a life-or-death issue for the Communist Party.



14th Central Committee

Average age: 56.3

Attended university or technical school: 83%


15th Central Committee

Average age: 55.9

Attended university or technical school: 92.4%

Source: Times staff research

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