Sunday, March 23, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Power War at the Top

On March 23, 1989, New York Times' Nicholas Kristof offered an analysis of Premier Li Peng's keynote speech to the National People's Congress. Kristof found that the speech offered many hints that a subtle but critical power struggle between Li Peng and the Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, and that Li Peng appeared to be winning.

The evidence was that, in the speech, Li Peng offered an unusual amount of "self-criticisms" on the "shortcomings and mistakes" of the government's economic policy within the last year: "generally, there was a tendency to be too impatient for quick results in economic and social development. More often than not we tended to ignore the fact that China has a huge population, is relatively short of resources and has an unevenly developed economy." Also that "we often lacked a full understanding of the arduousness and complexity of the reform" and "we failed to take firm action and effective measures" to stabilize the economy.

It was easy for Li Peng to say that, Kristof pointed out. Those policies that he was criticizing were all the handy works of Zhao Ziyang, who had been in charge of economic policies both as a Premier himself and in his earlier days as the General Secretary. It was only in the late summer, when inflation was running out of control and panic buying had erupted in many large cities, that Zhao had to surrender his power to Li Peng.

Conflicts between the Party General Secretary and the Premier was nothing new. Quite ironically, while being Premier himself, Zhao Ziyang had quite a bit trouble with then General Secretary Hu Yaobang. It was widely believed that Zhao had played a role in sacking Hu following the 1986 student movements. At least he did not offer his support to Hu at the time. Now that Zhao had succeeded Hu as the General Secretary, he was also feeling the heat from the new Premier Li Peng.

The rift between Zhao and Li would eventually play a most significant role in the coming turmoil in a couple of months.

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