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Chinese President Consolidates His Power at Congress

Asia: Jiang Zemin establishes himself as Deng's successor, replacing rivals with younger, better-educated allies on key panel. He also focuses on economic reforms, corruption.

September 19, 1997|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — 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."

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