BEIJING — China today named Li Peng, a 59-year-old technocrat, as acting premier to replace Zhao Ziyang, who left the post to become head of the Communist Party.
The standing committee of the National Peoples' Congress, China's legislature, followed Zhao's suggestion in appointing Li to the nation's most powerful government job, the official New China News Agency said.
Li, a Soviet-trained electrical engineer, has been called a conservative who believes in Soviet-style central planning. He recently shrugged off that label as a "misunderstanding" and in public has always supported the market-oriented reforms pushed by Zhao and by China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping.
Although ultimate authority in China comes from the Communist Party, the premier, as head of government, is responsible for running the economy and looking after civil, public security and educational affairs.
Zhao, premier since 1980, was formally named Communist Party general secretary at a major party congress that ended earlier this month and resigned as premier.
Li, the adopted son of the late Premier Chou En-lai, had been one of five vice premiers since 1983.
He is virtually assured of being officially named Communist China's fourth premier--following Chou, Hua Guofeng and Zhao--next March.
Li has been the top contender for the post since January, when Zhao became acting party chief following the forced resignation of Hu Yaobang. Hu was blamed for not curbing pro-democracy student demonstrations.
Li's appointment today puts the concluding touches on a major rejuvenation of party leadership pushed by Deng at the just-concluded party congress.
Deng, 83, led a major exodus of aging party leaders in retiring from several of his top posts.
Li is expected to hew to China's foreign policy of slowly improving long-strained relations with Moscow while relying on Western investment and technology in its modernization drive.