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Communist Party leaders soften hard line on influence of foreigners in bid to sustain economic growth

WHEN China's leaders these days look beyond the fortified walls of their compound known as Zhongnanhai, they seem to see a kinder world.

After sounding a shrill alarm for more than two years, the leadership has stopped warning against alleged "hostile foreign forces" bent on subverting Communist Party rule.

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Yet Beijing still sees enemies abroad: It has merely donned a friendly mask in recent weeks so as not to antagonize foreign countries, official Chinese sources say.

An official account of a Politburo meeting this month conspicuously failed to mention foreign subversives and their alleged effort to promote a "peaceful evolution" in China toward democracy and capitalism. At a March 23 press conference, Foreign Minister Qian Qichan declined to warn against the foreign menace, saying merely that "some foreign politicians have made their [unfriendly] intentions very clear."

Even Premier Li Peng, the leader most identified with the hard line since the massacre of liberal protesters in June 1989, omitted any reference to outside political aggression in an annual speech to the rubber-stamp parliament on March 20.

Mr. Li last year warned the parliament three times of an onslaught by enemies overseas. At least until the year 2000, China will confront "attempts at subversion, dismemberment, and sabotage by foreign hostile forces," he said.

China is putting on an amicable face in response to the tacit decision by the West to halt the policy of ostracism toward China that followed the Tiananmen crackdown, Western and Asian diplomats say.

The reduced criticisms of "hostile" foreigners also indicate that China recognizes the importance of its growing dependence on trade with developed nations. Nearly one-third of its gross national product is tied to exports and imports.

But the main reason behind Beijing's watered-down vitriol is the successful political push for reform by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping beginning in January.

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Mr. Deng has managed to make the case for a conciliatory diplomatic message through a state-owned press that for several months has depicted the world as a battleground for Marxist class struggle.

Through his political offensive, Deng has ensured that propaganda will mirror, rather than contradict, China's longstanding pragmatic approach to international relations, the diplomats say.

For years China has used diplomacy to promote trade, investment, and the exchange of technology in an effort to achieve its primary aim of strengthening the economy.

Deng's political advance, while softening China's voice to the world, was targeted primarily on domestic policy.

The veteran leader this month engineered a party endorsement for his belief that communists must promote prosperity through bold, market-oriented reform in order to avoid a collapse like that of parties in the former East bloc. He has apparently rebuffed an effort by hard-liners to safeguard communist rule and to promote class struggle and Marxist ideological purity.

In a confirmation of Deng's success, Premier Li on March 20 eased his tight embrace of orthodox socialism and echoed Deng's emphasis on the imperative to build the economy.

Li called on China to "aim high, work hard, pay attention to economic results, and bring about sustained, coordinated growth.

"That is the only way to prevent a peaceful evolution toward capitalism and to consolidate the foundation of the socialist system," Li said.

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