BEIJING — A top government official and several delegates to the current Communist Party congress strongly indicated Thursday that senior leader Deng Xiaoping will step down from the Politburo in the next few days.
Deng, 83, has repeatedly expressed his wish to retire from the powerful body to help ensure a smooth transition of power to a younger generation of reformist leaders who would push forward his market-oriented reform and open-door policies.
The clearest indication yet that Deng will carry out his plan came at morning and afternoon press conferences in the Great Hall of the People at which several educators and a state councilor, all of them congress delegates, were asked whether they thought Deng should retire from the Politburo.
Best for Party, Nation
When Wang Luolin, vice president of Xiamen University and a congress delegate, was asked this question, he first praised Deng and then added: "I believe that his decision to retire from his position of leadership is one made with the long-term interests of the party and the country in mind."
Lu Yongxiang, vice president of Hangzhou's Zhejiang University, said that Deng "hopes to retire from his post of leadership to let younger comrades step up, to help complete the transition from older to younger leaders and to promote China's openness and reform so that our party's task will have a successor in a smooth transition."
"I think that looking at it historically, his wanting to do this will have a deep and lasting impact," Lu said.
State Councilor Gu Mu, speaking with a small group of reporters after the formal end of the afternoon press conference, was asked for his opinion of Deng's expected resignation.
"Originally I really didn't want him to resign," Gu replied.
"Now you support it?" asked a reporter.
"Now he has persuaded me with many very foresighted reasons," Gu replied.
Deng is considered certain, however, to continue as China's paramount leader regardless of what positions he gives up. And he is widely expected to retain his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission, which makes him, in essence, commander in chief of the armed forces.
Some analysts believe that Deng would prefer to turn over the military commission slot to one of his proteges but apparently has no suitable candidate acceptable to the military.
Acting General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, 68, who is considered certain to be confirmed in that post, would be further strengthened politically if he also had the military commission chairmanship, but this is considered unlikely.
If confirmed as general secretary, Zhao would give up his post as premier, but only when the National People's Congress convenes next March, Gu said during his press conference. Until then, Zhao would continue to serve as premier, Gu said.
The Leading Candidate
Vice Premier Li Peng, 59, is seen as the leading candidate to become premier, but it is not clear whether the party congress will give an indication of who is favored for the post.
Gu, asked about this Thursday, replied: "We can only have internal discussions (at the party congress). This matter can only be decided by the National People's Congress."
The current party congress, which will elect a new Central Committee of slightly more than 200 members, will conclude on Sunday. The new Central Committee will meet immediately, probably Monday, to elect a new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee.