Zhao Ziyang, China's new Communist Party general secretary, is a political leader with an image that his Western counterparts would be comfortable with. Urbane, cheerful, and candid - as well as dapper in Western suits and silk shirts - Mr. Zhao has gained in stature under the patronage of Deng Xiaoping. He has proven his ability to formulate and manage economic policies that fit China's development needs while remaining safely under the umbrella of Chinese socialism.
Zhao has developed an independent style of work while observing the rules of collective leadership that his predecesor, Hu Yaobang, was accused of violating.
Despite the apparent lack of a network of political clients built up over the years, Zhao is now a formidable figure. If he continues his record of hard work and measurable successes as party chief, he could be unchallengeable once the older generation of Deng and his peers leaves the scene.
Zhao's chief contribution in the seven years since he became premier has been to lay the foundations of all-around economic development. He has experimented with new methods of management and finance and worked to streamline government and break down resistance to decentralized economic decisionmaking. Zhao has applied to the nation as a whole the ``material incentives'' approach in agriculture and industry that he used sucessfully to rescue Sichuan Province from disaster after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
Zhao has been confident in the face of challenges. In 1985, he confronted major economic problems - inflation, the squandering of foreign-exchange reserves, lack of control over the growth of rural industry, and a slippage in grain production. He did not appear shaken by these difficulties and the troublesome economic trends were largely reversed by late 1986.
Along with his economic pragmatism, Zhao appears to be a political conservative. He once commented, ``We should never confuse socialist democracy with capitalist democracy.'' However, his views on such issues as political reform, academic freedom, and policy toward culture and the arts are unknown.
During past political campaigns, such as the campaign to criticize Deng Xiaoping in 1976, Zhao has bowed to the political line, but he kept a low profile until the political tide shifted.
In his first public statements since assuming the post of acting party secretary, Zhao affirmed the importance of China's four cardinal principles, which are Socialism, the leadership of the party, the people's dictatorship, and Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tse-Tung thought.
He added the assurance that this would not affect the economic reform or the policy of opening China to the outside world.