BEIJING — China's Communist Party fired reformist General Secretary Zhao Ziyang on Saturday and replaced him with Shanghai party chief Jiang Zemin, a technocrat and political hard-liner.
The appointment of Jiang, 62, as the new head of the 47-million-member party marks an attempt by Chinese leaders, in the wake of weeks of political turmoil, to carry on with the basic policies of the past decade: economic modernization and openness to the outside world paired with unyielding political dictatorship.
In a communique issued Saturday afternoon at the end of a two-day session of the party's 170-member Central Committee, Zhao, 69, was accused of lending support to the recent wave of pro-democracy student protests--described in the document as "turmoils"--and of "splitting the party."
'Very Serious' Mistake
"The nature and consequences of his mistake are very serious," the communique said.
Hu Qili, 59, another key reformer once viewed as likely to eventually become head of the Communist Party, was also removed from his positions on the policy-setting Politburo Standing Committee and in the party secretariat, which oversees administrative matters.
Jiang is an electrical engineer who spent a year as a trainee at a Soviet automobile factory in 1955, then handled a succession of industrial and governmental jobs before becoming Shanghai mayor in 1985. He relinquished the mayor's job in April, 1988, to become head of the city's party organization, a more powerful post.
He is rumored to be a son-in-law of former President Li Xiannian, a hard-liner who still wields great influence, but this has never been officially confirmed.
In scenes from the Central Committee meeting broadcast on the evening television news, the bespectacled Jiang sat impassively, wearing a gray, high-buttoned Mao jacket like most of the other leaders present.
As part of the political shuffle, two reformist allies of Zhao--Rui Xingwen and Yan Mingfu--were removed from their posts in the party secretariat. The impact of this on China's prospects for continuing reform was partially mitigated, however, by the selection of Li Ruihuan and Ding Guangen to replace them. Both Li and Ding have generally been considered reformists, at least on economic issues.
Li, 54, who is mayor and Communist Party chief in the important coastal city of Tianjin, was also promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee, together with Jiang and 72-year-old economist Song Ping, who is reputed to be in poor health. All three were already on the 16-member Politburo. They now join hard-line Premier Li Peng, Vice Premier Yao Yilin and Qiao Shi, who oversees China's security apparatus, on the Standing Committee. With the removal of Zhao and Hu from that key body, its membership now rises from five to six.
The personnel changes were matched with promises that China's basic reform policies will continue.
"The policy of reform and opening to the outside world, as the road to lead the country to strength and prosperity, must be implemented as usual in a steadfast manner," the communique declared. "The country must not return to the old closed-door path."
The personnel changes and rhetoric, taken together, are an indication that China will try to hold a steady course combining moderate economic reform and political repression.
The communique can be viewed as a firm statement that "basic economic reform is not to be rolled back," an Asian diplomat commented.
Jiang and Li Ruihuan, the two leaders receiving the most significant promotions, "are people who handled their own areas reasonably well in the last two months," this diplomat added. "Shanghai and Tianjin didn't blow up, but these are also open areas. Shanghai and Tianjin have opened to the world."
An unnamed Chinese government official quoted by United Press International said that the selection of Jiang "leaves people with hope." If Qiao or Li Peng had been selected party chief, he said, "it would have shifted the balance too far."
While Central Committee approval is necessary to formally install a new general secretary, it appeared that the actual selection of Jiang as Zhao's replacement was made at what the communique called "an enlarged meeting" of the Politburo, held June 19-21.
The technique of holding expanded meetings of the Politburo, common in times of crisis, enables elderly leaders who have formally retired from that top policy-making body to assert their authority over theoretically higher ranking but actually less powerful younger officials.
The communique reinforced the widespread perception that senior leader Deng Xiaoping, 84, together with about half a dozen other octogenarian revolutionaries--including President Yang Shangkun and former President Li Xiannian--continue to assert ultimate power in China.