SENIOR leader Deng Xiaoping has gained important ground against his conservative rivals by engineering a strong Communist Party endorsement for bold economic reform.
The Politburo, the party's highest decisionmaking body, has pledged to thwart leftists opposed to change and embrace Mr. Deng's market-oriented reforms "for 100 years without wavering," the party newspaper People's Daily said yesterday.
The recent Politburo decision represents the biggest political advance for Deng since his conservative foes staged a comeback with the suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1989, say diplomats and other analysts.
The decision is also the first unqualified endorsement for economic reform to emerge from a party meeting since conservatives stalled change and imposed a severe economic retrenchment in August 1988.
The account of the March 9-10 Politburo meeting lacks the conservative counterpoints to reformist principles that in recent years made party statements seem contradictory.
The Politburo apparently shares Deng's conviction that rapid economic growth induced by reform will deter the popular unrest that overthrew communist parties in the erstwhile East bloc. Conservatives assert that the party must impose strict ideological controls and indoctrination in order to remain in power.
In a sharp reference to orthodox socialists opposed to Deng's pragmatic reforms, the Politburo ordered the party to "be on guard against the right, but the chief task is to guard against the left," according to People's Daily.
The Politburo pledged to "firmly hold to the party's basic line [of economic development] for 100 years without wavering," the newspaper said in a front-page headline.
"We should be bolder in reform and openness, be brave in creating new things, and be daring in experiments," the Politburo decided. Strident calls for change
The Politburo meeting is the first publicized sign of a campaign by Deng to bolster his political support and revive his reforms. Deng began his push in January with a trip to enclaves of economic reform in southern China, followed by strident commentaries for change in the press and a strongly worded circular to the party's 50 million members.
The paramount leader has also compelled conservative ideologues to tender their resignations from posts in the propaganda and culture apparatus, Chinese sources say.
Moreover, at the urging of Deng, many central and regional military leaders in recent weeks have visited the reform-oriented special economic zones in the south in a symbolic gesture of support for him, according to Hong Kong press reports. The military has often played a decisive part in internal party conflict.
The Politburo decision affirms that Deng holds the most institutional leverage among the handful of veteran Communists who retain influence over offices of the party and government, the diplomats and analysts say. Stubborn conservatives
Still, it is uncertain Deng can overcome the active and passive resistance of cadres who follow retired economist Chen Yun and other veteran leaders, they say.
The hard-liners "might be in disarray and preparing to fall on their swords, or they might be waiting for Deng's barrage to cease so they can sally forth," a Western diplomat says.
In a possible sign of Deng's weakness, the Politburo meeting and recent calls for reform have failed to mention specific market-oriented changes.
The reformists apparently will not soon revive sweeping initiatives in price decontrol and shareholding, two pillars of an effort to streamline the economy.
Moreover, judging from the outcome of the Politburo meeting, a renewal of even the limited discussion over political reform in 1987 and 1988 is apparently out of the question. Raw pragmatism
Instead, Deng's recent offensive appears focused on rebuilding the theoretical foundation for reform: raw pragmatism. Specific changes might come later.
"The criterion for judging whether something is called socialist or capitalist should be based on whether it is useful to build up the comprehensive strength of the country and to improve the living standards of the people," the Politburo said.
The recent political sortie by Deng is part of the intense politicking before the party's 14th congress in November. Deng is believed to be strengthening his hand to install like-minded reformers in party leadership posts to be appointed at the congress.
In public, the conservatives have confined their counterattack to articles in "Contemporary Trends of Thought," a journal controlled by hard-line ideologues.
Still, the factional strife is probably intense in Beijing's walled leadership compound of Zhongnanhai, diplomats and analysts say.
Although the conservatives might not openly strike back, they could foil Deng's reforms through passive resistance. Hard-line cadres remain influential in administering the economy, the police, party organization, and propaganda across China.
The Politburo seeks to goad recalcitrant officials into action.
Party members must engage in practical efforts and "strictly avoid bureaucratism," a phrase refering to conservative resistance, the People's Daily reported.