China reformers move into top posts

Champions of market-oriented economic policies have affirmed their hold on power with the ascent of two backers of vigorous reform to China's top ceremonial posts. The two stalwart pragmatists replace leaders who oppose the rapid easing of state economic control and freeing of market forces. Their rise to the positions of president and chairman of the legislature on Friday helps safeguard reforms that in a decade have lifted China to unprecedented prosperity, Western and Asian diplomats said.

Both men, President Yang Shangkun and National People's Congress chairman Wan Li, are close associates of senior leader Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's reforms. (Students demand changes in education, Page 11.)

``The leadership changes put into high positions people who are generally more sympathetic to the reform policies of Deng and should prove to be more helpful to the efforts of party General-Secretary Zhao Ziyang to shake up the economy,'' a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

With real power residing in the communist party rather than the state, the two leaders fill virtually powerless posts. But as players in high-profile state roles, their enthusiasm for reform symbolically reflects the prevailing attitude of both party and state, the Western diplomat said.

Li Peng, the chief advocate of prudent reformers, was affirmed as premier on Saturday in another perfunctory motion by the 2,900-member National People's Congress (NPC), China's nominal legislature. Also, hardliner and Long March veteran Wang Zheng was tapped as vice-president, having failed in an eleventh-hour bid to capture the presidency, the diplomats said.

As chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, Mr. Wan is expected to continue party efforts to make the congress a means to consult with the public. But Wan should encourage the congress to react to aggressive reforms more favorably than his predecessor, the diplomats said.

While promoting more pragmatic officials, the leadership changes have failed to further Mr. Deng's longstanding goal of retiring senior leaders. The average age of the 19 vice-chairmen of the newly-appointed Standing Committe is 74.

Like Deng, both Wan and Mr. Yang suffered during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). They emerged intent on making reforms.

According to the official New China News Agency, Yang last year completed a 25 percent reduction of military manpower, a major goal of Deng's effort to upgrade China's armed forces. He is also vice-chairman of the central military commission. Wan boosted agricultural output and efficiency 10 years ago by dismantling Mao's communes and tying peasants' income to their output.

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