DENG XIAOPING has managed to lessen his own leadership role, enhance the power of his hand-picked successor Zhao Ziyang, maneuver aging opponents into retiring with him from the Communist Party Central Committee, and protect the prospects of the economic reforms he embarked on eight years ago. This is a remarkable achievement for the diminutive octogenarian, who has already helped China recover from the humiliations of its Cultural Revolution and better position itself for changing world economic conditions.
Mr. Deng's preeminent political authority will not suddenly vanish, even as Mr. Zhao's star rises in the Chinese leadership system to the post of party secretary. Deng is slated to retain his chairmanship of the Military Commission, which controls China's 3 million-member armed forces. More to the point, in the Chinese system authority can reside more in a leadership ``presence,'' in an acknowledgment of authority, rather than in specific positions held.
And Zhao can count on further support from Deng as the next five-year Chinese political cycle gets under way.
After many months of speculation about the viability of Deng's reforms under attack by hard-liners, the past week's party congress in Peking has yielded a more stable governing structure and a younger leadership elite.
The economic reforms themselves - such as more individual and local decision about farming and manufacture - do not radically bring China into the modern capitalist world. They do admit a certain reasonableness and incentive into the local economic scene, where food is now often abundant and affordable and local industries are encouraged. Westerners can now travel to much of China. In traditionally progressive cities like Canton, television antennas focus on the Western culture beamed from Hong Kong.
But the Chinese political system itself remains centralized and imperialist, closed to any serious challenge. China's social system is still based on permits for basic decisions like where to live and work, whom to marry. Industrialization is held up by shortages of electrical power, roads, vehicles, communications. In cities like Shanghai, whole neighborhoods are served by a single telephone.
Today's China is a fascinating mixture of its old xenophobia and an engaging modernism. Its challenges are tremendous. Not the least of these is what to do with whole regions like Tibet, with their simmering tensions. China's relations with Hong Kong and Taiwan will be clear indicators of Peking's ability to deal with the capitalist West, whose capital it desperately needs. For such reasons as these, the assurance that Deng's progressive reforms will continue is cause for widespread approval.