CHINA'S ruling communists began an expected leadership shake-up yesterday aimed at rejuvenating top ranks with younger, reform-minded advocates of economic change.
At the closing session of the Communist Party's 14th congress, almost 2,000 delegates approved a platform calling for quicker economic reform and elected a new 189-member Central Committee where new faces from the party's reformist camp mix with party hard-liners.
Missing from the committee list were eight long-standing members of the 14-member Politburo who were expected to retire. The Politburo's membership is expected to expand to 17 members or more.
At press time, the Central Committee was reportedly choosing the Politburo, which sets the overall policy for the country, and the Secretariat, which runs the day-to-day affairs of China.
The Politburo will then pick a standing committee, or inner circle of leaders, currently dominated by China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng holds no formal office.
The Central Committee reflects the new, younger look the party is striving for even as Deng and other aging revolutionaries keep overall control. Almost half of the new central committee are first-time members while 61 percent are under the age of 55, according to the official New China News Agency.
In a move to improve its image, the party removed several key conservative officials from the committee. They include Propaganda Department chief Wang Renzhi, Culture Minister He Jingzhi, and Gao Di, the chief editor of the People's Daily, the party newspaper. All three hard-liners had been appointed following the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and are expected to lose their government jobs as well.
In an about-face, the congress reelected Hu Qili, a close associate of former party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, to the committee. Mr. Hu had been ousted from the Politburo's standing committee after he and Mr. Zhao showed support for the pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.
The congress was intended to be the crowning moment in Deng's long political career by enshrining his plan to transform China's planned economy by accelerating market reforms.
Deng, who galvanized a new reform push during his trip to fast-growing southern provinces earlier this year, has temporarily quieted conservative critics who worry that the country's fast-paced growth will trigger new political unrest.
AT its closing session, the congress called for "equipping" the party with Deng's theory of building a market-oriented economy even as China rhetorically stays on the socialist path. The change has been added to China's Constitution.
Four years ago, economic change and high inflation spurred calls for political change and led to the massacre of hundreds of Chinese demonstrators by the Army in Beijing in June 1989.
Politburo conservatives such as Yao Yilin, Song Ping, Li Ximing, and Defense Minister Qin Jiwei are expected to be replaced. Also expected to step down are President and military chief Yang Shangkun, a close Deng ally.
"But that doesn't mean they will leave their corresponding government jobs or lose their political influence in China," says a Western diplomat. "The conservatives still remain a potent force, and the pace of economic opening will depend a lot on where Deng can position his people within the government."
"It is not easy for the Chinese Communist Party to adopt the terms of the market economy on its banner," says Sun Min, a congress delegate and director of an automobile parts plant in Jiangxi.
"To speak frankly, the central government has been pushed by the regions under the guidance of Comrade Deng Xiaoping," he adds, referring to the faster pace of change urged in provinces and areas outside of Beijing.
Some congress representatives from outside the Chinese capital also said the party has to reform itself and stem corruption and nepotism to survive.
As a step in that direction, the children of several high-ranking officials, including the daughter of Deng Xiaoping, were missing from the Central Committee list.
"The past efforts for an honest government have not been very successful," says Bao Qi Fan, an engineer from Shanghai. "If the party fails to focus its attention on [corruption], the masses will be very unhappy."