China announced its national program for the new year tonight with a blunt statement that socialism would be judged strictly on the success of the economy and revealed that it would "sell more and more petroleum" to get foreign equipment needed for that success. The statement in a long interview with an unnamed member of the State Planning Commission was the first official mention of plans to stimulate foreign trade by increasing oil sales.
Many foreign analysts have argued that China's growing domestic oil needs would prevent it from becoming a major exporter, and up to now the Chinese have not officially said just what they planned to do with their oil.
In a further sign of Chinese willingness to rely on foreign help, a subject of intense debate in China only two years ago, Peking Radio told the country's more than 800 million people that Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping had celebrated New Year's Eve entertaining foreign experts from more than 40 countries working in China.
China's three leading publications released in advance their authoritative New Year editorial which traditionally sets the country's priority for the next 12 months. It appeared to enshrine Teng's policy of using foreign help, material incentives and many other techniques considered politically suspect when Communist Party Chairman Mao-Tse-Tung was still alive but not seen as necessary to revive a slumbering economy.
"Why do we say the socialist system is superior?" asked the editorial, carried by the New China News Agency. "In the final analysis, it is because the socialist system can create higher labor productivity and enable the national economy to develop faster that capitalism."
The interview with State Planning Commission member, also carried by the official state news agency, gave it blessing to the salary increases and bonuses Teng wants to reinstitute, despite a decade long policy prohibiting them as too capitalistic.
"The state first of all encourages the workers and staff members to make more contributions to socialism, and at the same time supplements this with material encouragement, this has played a big part in bringing into play the enthusiasm of the workers for fulfilling the state plans in an all-round way," the official said in the interview.
Both the interview and the editorial identified four major weaknesses in the Chinese economy: iron and steel, electrical power, transportation and agriculture. The planning official said the government had decided to increase investment in these sectors."
Instead of the usual five-year plan, whose status has been the subject of much foreign speculation, the official said, "the State Planning Commission had made three-year and eight-year plans which begin in 1978."
The official said that China's total industrial output value was thought to have risen about 14 per cent in 1977 although this follows the politically turbulent year of 1976 during which, Peking has admitted, much of its industry was at a standstill.
The editorial devoted most of its space to raising the political and economic achievements of 1977, particularly the end of student disruptions in the schools and firm action against lawlessness in the cities. It said the Chinese people had successfully pursued the campaign to remove from office followers of the disgraced "Gang of Four," the dogmatic Politburo members, including the widow of Mao, who were purged in October, 1976.
In some areas however, the editorial said, the movement against the Gang started a bit late . . . and investigation proceeded rather slowly." The editorial was full of praise for the "wise leader and surpreme commander" Chairman Hua Kuo-feng. This signaled that Hua's position was secure despite some signs of a rivalry between him and the much more experienced Teng, now the country's number three leader.
More important than anything else, the editorial argued, was speed in the development of the economy. The planning commission official said China would continue to honor Mao's policy of self-reliance, but "we do not practice autarky by locking our doors against the world. We will make positive efforts to have economic and technical exchanges with foreign countries and expand our foreign trade."
"Following development in industrial and agricultural production, we will sell more and more petroleum, coal and other products in order to buy advanced foreign equipment," the official said. "Advance techniques and experience are the commom wealth of the working people throughout the world and China will make efforts to learn and master them."
The growth rate of China's oil industry has declined recently with production rising only about 8 per cent this year compared to about 13 per cent last year and 20 per cent for several years before that. Annual production is estimated to be about 90 million metric tons, and the Chinese appear to be buying considerable quantities of foreign drilling equipment to speed up production, including at least $50 million in equipment recently purchased from American companies.
So far Peking's oil sales abroad have been modest. Its leading customer, Japan, bought only about 6.2 million tons last year, and has expressed reluctance to buy much more because of the high paraffin content of Chinese oil and disagreements over price.
Two leading Chinese oil officials have been invited to the United States by the Department of Energy for talks soon, but few experts expect the Chinese to sell oil to the United States. Some Americans-based oil firms, such as Cal-Tex, have helped market Chinese oil to Asian customers.