BEIJING — Chinese President Li Xiannian told Japanese legislators Wednesday that he wants to step down from the ruling Politburo in October, according to Japanese sources.
Western diplomats said Li's disclosure indicates that senior leader Deng Xiaoping--who at 82 has also expressed a desire to renounce some posts this fall--may be succeeding in his efforts to persuade aging party veterans to quit the Politburo.
The intended retirements were also taken as a sign that Deng was attempting to force Li and the conservative economist, Chen Yun, out of the Politburo Standing Committee, the main decision-making body.
The ailing Chen, 82, has questioned the scope and pace of the economic reforms that Deng has introduced.
Li, thought to be in his late 70s, is considered more middle-of-the-road on economic reforms. But Deng might feel that he needs Li's retirement in order to secure standing committee positions for younger, more energetic advocates of his reforms.
Li did not specify whether he would also renounce the presidency, a post to which he was elected in 1983. That position is largely ceremonial, but illnesses have kept him out of public circulation for a number of weeks over the past year.
Japanese sources, who asked not to be identified, said Li told Japanese legislators, "I want to join the rear guard."
"I want to resign from the Politburo and the Standing Committee," Li is reported to have said in his meeting with a Japanese Socialist Party delegation led by Makoto Tanabe.
"Chinese leaders must be young," said Li, who distinguished himself in the Chinese Communist movement as a guerrilla commander, and later as an economist and political survivor.
"It is better if they (leaders) are in their 40s, 50s or 60s," the sources quoted Li as saying. "Old people tend to fall ill. It's better to hand leadership to younger people."
Other Retirements Expected
In addition to Deng, Chen and Li, former party chief Hu Yaobang is also expected to retire from the standing committee at the Communist Party Congress in October.
Diplomats said that Deng told West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl earlier this month that four of the five members of the standing committee will retire, with only acting party chief Zhao Ziyang retaining his place.