Despite apparent agreement on pressing economic issues, China's leadership is ending the year with many of the same political tensions and uncertainties it has suffered since it took power shortly after the death of Mao Tsetung in late 1976.
In the last several weeks the nation's number two leader and one of the army's most important generals have both dropped out of sight, the chief of a strategic northeast province has been fired after only nine months in the job and some important people in Peiking haave been staying nasty things about the head of the secret police.
All these mysteries and difficulties have arisent as the Communist party leadership as the Communist paty leadership grapples with the difficutl question of whom to appoint to several key government posts during the scheduled session of China's parliament early next year. The Chinese have already scrapped plans to hold the parliament called plans to the National People's Congress, this year so difficult have the personality and political issues become.
The two key players in Peking's backstage drama are number one leader Hua Kua-feng, now serving as both chairman of the Communist Party Chairman Teng Hsiao-png. Although Hua has the most important posts it is Teng who has conceived the several major policy changes that have marked the post-Mao era - such as the revival of foreign trade negotiations and the return to merit and bonus systems in education and industry.
At 74, Teng is a vastly experienced and self-confident administrator. Hua, 57, cannot approach Teng's encyclopedic grasp of the Chinese government. The younger man owes his leading position to the great political crisis of 1976 when a violent clash between two political factions required the selection of a relatively unknown compromise figure as successor to the rapidly failing Chairman Mao.
After Mao's death Hua threw in his lot with the more pragmatic of the two factions which took Teng as its spiritual leader and with army help purged the more dogmatic faction now called the "gang of Four" led by Mao's widow, Chiang Ching.
Hua and Teng have managed to compromise their differences ever since Hua has endorsed Teng's policy intitiatives and the addition of several Teng cohorts to the ruling party Politicuro. Teng has allowed some party leaders with perhaps more loyalty to Hua than to himself more loyalty to Hua than to himself to remain on the Politburo. The middleman who has apparently is the number two together is the numbner two leader 79-year-old Defense Minister Yeh Chien-ying whose failure to appear in public since October has led some observers to speculate that the compromise might become unstuck.
The 5th National People's Congress scheduled for next spring must elgitimize and complete the government changes made after Mao's death. It is a rubber-stamp parliament that endorses party decisions but the party is obviously having difficulty reaching agreement on several questions.
Should Hua give up the premiership, perhaps to Teng, and concentrate on party and ideological matters as Mao did? Should the post of national president be restored and given to Teng? Will Yeh retire as defense minister and accept the high ceremonial post of chairman of the People's Congress? If so, who will assume the key defense post and will his loyalties be to Hua or Teng?
None of these personality decisions may immediately affect China's social, economic or foreign policy. But several times in the last 10 years personal and political disagreements in Peking have become so heated that national leaders have neglected the economy and foreign trade.
One Politburo member with unusual powe in southern China, and a likely defense minister candidate, is Canton military commander Hsu Shih-yu, who like Yeh has not been seen publicly since mid-October. The two men might be enjoying a vacation at their favorite hot springs resort, not far from Canton, but the current political uncertainties and unexpected evens to the far north in Heilung-kiang province make this seem unlikely.
Earlier this month a radio broadcast from Heilungkiang on China's border with the Soviet Union reported that the provincial chief had been replced under orders from Peking. In an unusual twist, the order listed the names of Hua, Teng and other two other party vice chairmen, but left out Yeh's name, creating instant specualtion that Yeh was seriously ill or, perhaps more likely, did not agree with the decision of his colleagues.
The number two official in the province, Yang I-chen, replaced the provincial chief, a military officer named Liu Kuang-tao. The order suggested that Liu had suppressed the campaign to criticize cohorts of the Gang of Four in the province, but his fall surprised analysts. He had been elected to the 11th party central committee in August, and had been prominent during a visit by Hua to the Taching oil fields last spring.
Liu's troubles might be blamed on a year-long underground attempt apparently led by Teng supporters to undermine the positions of Politburo members Teng does not like. Liu was working under Manchurian military commander Li Teh-sheng who is not counted among Teng's friends.
The same reason could be given for the outbreak of rumors in Peking suggesting that the most mysterious of the party vice chairman, number five leader and secret police head Wang Tung-hsing, is in political trouble. Li and Wang still make public appearances so the campaigns against them may not be succeeding so far.
Several government posts have already been filled and only await the parliament's official endorsement. Former head of the Chinese liaison office in Washington, Huang Chen, has been made culture minister and an important post may be given the widow of Premier Chou En-lai, Teng Ying-chao.Communist sources here suggest she could be made chairman of the People's Congress if Yeh is not up to it and thus alleviate China's shortage of highranking women. But few people are ready yet to write off the elderly Yeh and the critical political role he has been playing in the leadership. His death or retirement has been predicted many times. According to one person who met him this summer, "his legs are bad, he says he can't bend them enough to sit on a low chair. But his mund is as clear as ever."