Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

China shuffle: a setback for Deng. Changing of party chief shows reassertion of orthodoxy

The military is gratified. The party loyalists are vindicated. The intellectuals are dismayed. And the ``primary architect'' of decisionmaking in China, Deng Xiaoping, has taken on new burdens at a time when he had hoped to retire. Those are the conclusions of Peking observers as they assess the sudden leadership change announced last Friday: the dismissal of Chinese Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang and the naming of Premier Zhao Ziyang as acting general secretary of the party.

The dismissal marks a major setback for Mr. Deng, who insisted on Mr. Hu's elevation to that post seven years ago over the objections of many other senior party leaders. It appeared at that time that Hu was in line to take over Deng's role as the party's supreme adviser.

About these ads

The removal of Hu from his post as leader of the 44-million member Communist Party was precipitated by the student demonstrations which began last month. Observers say the student demonstrations, which focused on vague political demands for more freedom and democracy, were seen by party loyalists as confirmation of the dangers of Hu's political heterodoxy and his lack of firmness in dealing with political dissent.

The spotlight is now focused on a calm and competent Mr. Zhao, who was convinced to take over Hu's post. Zhao's stature as a leader has flourished, and his cautious and quiet political style will stand in contrast to that of his talkative and animated predecessor. Both Hu and Zhao were hand-picked by Deng, but Zhao has always been more independently minded and less compliant. (Profile, Page 36.) This now appears to be a major strength, as he prepares for the key role in guaranteeing continuity of policy in the post-Deng era.

Ultimately, the recent student disorder was an indictment of Hu's leadership abilities which could not be ignored. According to one interpretation, the student protests were a final signal to Deng that Hu's inability to gain support from the handful of elites that control the party was a serious handicap in Deng's quest for stability and unity and an orderly succession.

Hu also lacked credibility with the military, not merely because he had weak links there but also because he did not present the image of a steady and assured leader who could be relied upon in times of crisis.

More broadly, the replacement of Hu became necessary because of his failure to engineer an ideological and political framework for Deng's modernization program.

Deng may have first criticized Hu at a closed party meeting as early as November last year. But it is still not clear to what extent Deng himself was upset with Hu or whether other senior party leaders pushed Deng to act.

According to one Chinese source, the decision to replace Hu came at a meeting at the end of December which included Deng, military leaders Yang Dezhi and Yang Shangkun, and chairman of the National People's Congress, Peng Zhen.

About these ads

It took more than two weeks to organize an enlarged meeting of the Politburo, which included members of the party Secretariat, leading members of the Central Advisory Commission, two members of the Discipline Inspection Commission and others. The group met on Jan. 16, according to a communiqu'e issued the same day.

The communiqu'e said that Hu had made a ``self-criticism of his mistakes on major issues of political principles in violation of the party's principle of collective leadership.'' It said that senior party leaders gave Hu a ``serious and comradely criticism.'' Hu was allowed to retain his seat on the Politburo and on the five-man Standing Committee, though foreign diplomats speculate he will be relieved of these posts at a party congress later this year.

No further details of Hu's mistakes have appeared in the press so far.

Besides the blow to Deng's own carefully laid plans for leadership succession, Hu's dismissal is a setback for those who welcomed his relaxed attitude toward party control. This includes primarily intellectuals, artists, writers, and others involved in cultural work who valued the liberal atmosphere permitted by Hu and his Propaganda chief, Zhu Houze. Mr. Zhu has disappeared from public view since late December and no replacement has been announced.

Even before Hu's dismissal, the reassertion of Leninist discipline and the proclamation of a new orthodoxy within the party had begun. The discipline now required of party members has an object lesson in the explusion of two intellectuals from the party - Wang Ruowang and Fang Lizhi. Mr. Wang was expelled last week and Professor Fang was formally expelled yesterday.

Tighter party discipline is another concession by Deng to those loyalists who are loathe to see the party's dominance challenged and its authority questioned. Whether Deng is strong enough to withstand further concessions is not yet clear.

The test will be the selection of a new premier. Foreign diplomats say if Vice-Premier Li Peng is chosen, it will indicate an important gain for the conservative camp which has less faith in Deng's and Zhao's ``material incentives'' approach to economic policy and prefer more the Soviet-style model of a command economy.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.