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Cops Serve as a Keystone To China's Shaky Future

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Western analysts say the armed police have also become a key cog in President Jiang Zemin's efforts to consolidate his power as Mr. Deng's health reportedly fails. In recent years, Mr. Jiang has effectively courted the Army and paramilitary police with promotions, frequent visits, pay increases and, for young officers, a strict enforcement of retirement deadlines.

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During April and May, Mr. Ba, the armed police commander, oversaw Jiang's antigraft campaign against senior Beijing party leaders and could be promoted to the all-powerful Central Military Commission, also headed by Jiang, in what could be a major military shake-up later this month.

Western analysts say aging veteran generals Liu Huaqing and Zhang Zhen could retire or be nudged aside to make way for Jiang's proteges Chi Haotian and Zhang Wannian in top commission positions.

The leadership shifts could also be a litmus test of Deng's lingering influence. His key military aide, Wang Ruilin, is poised for appointment to the commission but could lose out if Jiang moves aggressively to sideline the corrupt Deng family. Already, He Ping, head of Army procurement and Deng's son-in-law, is reported to be under investigation and could become another antigraft victim, diplomats say.

In an important future decision, party and military leaders are currently debating who will have jurisdiction over the powerful paramilitary. In his battle to win control of the security forces, Jiang also could face challenges from Yang Shangkun, a veteran revolutionary ousted in a 1992 military purge but still influential in the Army, and Qiao Shi, a former secret police chief.

''In any post-Deng succession, the PAP will be crucial,'' says a European analyst. ''Jiang will never have the ... military support like Deng, but the military perceives him as the best bet at the moment.''

Politics aside, the major worry of ordinary Chinese is rampant crime snuffed out after the 1949 communist victory but revived along with economic reforms. Although still limited by Western standards, major crime surged almost 16 percent in 1994, according to government figures.

For Beijing residents, violence clouds daily life. A survey reported in March in Legal Daily newspaper showed that 70 percent of the respondents felt unsafe in the Chinese capital. In a recent incident that would have been unheard of just a few years ago, Chinese sources say, the son of a Chinese ambassador to one of the former Soviet republics murdered an old woman in a neighboring apartment for irritating him by cracking walnuts.

''That's how tense and jittery everybody is,'' says a friend of the victim's family.

Beijing residents and Western analysts say that not all police are corrupt. In March, 30,000 city residents lined the streets for the funeral of Cui Daqing, a respected officer killed while chasing a robber.

But some of his former colleagues, who derisively refer to Cui as ''the hero,'' say he was silly not to think of himself. Although the government has doubled police salaries in the last year, a beginning officer in Beijing makes less than $100 per month and regularly extorts meals, expensive gifts, and apartment units in new government housing.

Former police say that Beijing police officers are often paid to wink at growing crime, and senior officers are involved in gun- and drug-running. ''Trafficking in drugs and weapons can't take place unless a high-level police official is involved,'' says one former cop.

''In China, we have a saying: If you have power, use it or it will expire,'' he says.