Despite leader's absence. . .; China says reforms will push ahead

To slim bureaucracy and punish economic crimes are China's two tasks in 1982, according to Communist Party Chairman Hu Yaobang.

These remarks made to a visiting American professor plus recent articles in the official news media, indicate the leadership plans to push forward its reform program despite the month-long public absence of Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping, China's most powerful leader.

Mr. Deng has wanted administrative reform ever since the December 1978 plenum in which he and his associates first gained the upper hand. Mr. Deng, Mr. Hu, and Premier Zhao Ziyang all are said to realize that their ambitious plans for the economic modernization of China and its billion people cannot succeed without such reform. But so far, bureaucratic resistance has been strong. Only recently have elderly cadres begun making way for younger and more competent successors.

Perhaps conscious of foreign speculation about Mr. Deng's absence, Mr. Hu told visiting Prof. Samuel C. Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Feb. 16 that ''our party exercises collective leadership.''

''Our party leaders have worked for the party for decades,'' Mr. Hu continued. ''They understand and get along with each other very well. The core of our party leadership is very strong.''

There have been persistent reports of a series of important meetings of top party and government leaders in recent weeks. From the tone of the official media articles, it appears that Mr. Deng and his close associates are determined this time to streamline the bloated and inefficient government machinery and to deal severely with corruption in both government and party.

While party leaders do not like the term ''purge,'' Vice-Premier Bo Yibo, a veteran associate of Mr. Deng, recently denied talk of a purge as ''entirely groundless.'' The emphatic language of the recent articles suggests that some heads will assuredly roll.

For instance, the latest issue of Red Flag, the Communist Party's theoretical magazine, accused ''some cadres who hold leading positions'' not only of turning on the green light for criminals of all descriptions, ''but also themselves committing smuggling, profiteering, corruption, embezzlement and bribe-taking.

''Where does obstruction to severely dealing with crime-committing leading cadres come from?'' the article asks. ''It comes mostly from above.'' When a grave case is not resolved for a long time, ''the main reason is that some leading cadres are involved,'' the article charges.

The article follows the lead Red Flag editorial, which speaks of the problem in more general terms. The editorial says much more than tolerance of petty thievery or gift-taking is involved. ''In some regions, the large-scale stealing of state property has caused the loss of millions and tens of millions of yuan.'' (One yuan is currently worth about 55 cents).

Speaking of the authorities unwilling to take action, the editorial likens them to people who say that although there may be many lice, lice do not bite. ''How can they not bite?'' the editorial asks. ''They must be caught one by one.''

Bureaucrats in party and government are now waiting tensely to see what actions will follow language of this kind.

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