CHINA'S senior leader Deng Xiaoping has mustered the military to support his push to renew economic reforms. The move could be decisive in subduing his hard-line rivals, Chinese political analysts say.
The Army must serve as the "protector and escort for China's reform," Yang Baibing, secretary-general of the Central Military Commission, said last week at the annual meeting of the parliament.
"The PLA [People's Liberation Army] should more resolutely and persistently support, join, and safeguard China's reform and opening to the outside world," Mr. Yang said, according to the New China News Agency.
By rallying the military, Mr. Deng has issued a challenge to powerful orthodox socialists who sidelined his market reforms for more than three years.
The military since the 1930s has often played a pivotal part in deciding internal Communist Party feuds and Deng has frequently relied on it to unify the party behind him.
In a power struggle before Mao Zedong's death in 1976, Deng found sanctuary in Guangzhou Province and planned his political comeback under the protection of the late Gen. Xu Shiyou, the governor of the Guangdong military region.
More recently, Deng mobilized the Army to crush pro-democracy protests and help wipe out support for liberal political principles within the party in June 1989.
Still, hard-liners such as aging central planner Chen Yun and his leading acolyte, Premier Li Peng, could use passive resistance to thwart Deng's latest effort to revive economic reforms.
Since Deng launched a pro-reform campaign in January, "even those who oppose reform have sung in a chorus with middle-roaders and rightists in the party," says a senior editor of a major national newspaper. "But after singing in a chorus for a while, it is possible Deng's efforts will just gradually die like a strong breeze."
The party's orthodox socialists maintain broad and deep influence over much of China's government and party apparatuses, Chinese officials and political analysts say.
"The conservatives are strong, very strong," says a Chinese political theorist who was active in the 1989 protests. "They are entrenched in the entire structure of the party, government, and ideology and the only force Deng can totally rely on is the Army."
The military has signaled its support for Deng many times. Taking a lead from Deng's recent southern tour, the Army dispatched two groups of regional military leaders to the cities of Zhuhai and Shenzhen, two of China's thriving free-market zones.
"The goals were to study and show our support for reform and opening," Mr. Yang said at the parliament meeting. "Everyone was enormously impressed, enlightened, educated, and inspired."
At a group discussion at the parliament on March 23, Defense Minister Qin Jiwei called on the military to "expedite the cause of reform and opening up," according to New China News Agency reports.
In addition, the Liberation Army Daily newspaper said March 27 that "if we emancipate our minds further and take all, not part, of the advanced elements [of capitalism,] it will be very good for the nation." Deng recently called on China to adopt facets of capitalism that will help strengthen the economy.
The hard-liners have recently limited their counterattacks to propaganda, where they are especially strong.
Premier Li and Politburo Standing Committee member Song Ping have failed conspicuously in recent speeches to echo Deng's call for China to be on guard against "leftists."
Li and Mr. Song, who is in day-to-day control of party organization, are considered leaders among Deng's leftist rivals who prefer Marxist ideological purity and central planning rather than reform.