China opened its fifth National People's Congress yesterday with much praise and attention focused on Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng and his plan to overtake the world's economic powers by the year 2000.
The congress, which is China's parliament, is expected to give the clearest indication to date of the power structure of China after Mao Tsetung. But the first-day session provided few hints of who will be selected for key government posts the congress must fill.
An authoritative editorial published by the nation's three leading journals yesterday lauded Hua, 57, who as premier heads the government as well as the all-powerful Communist Party. "We feel ourselves most fortunate to have a wise leader like Chairman Hua and are confident a hundred fold," the editorial by the People's Daily, Liberation Army Daily and Red Flag magazine said.
Party Vice Chairman Teng Hsiaoping wields influence in Peking rivaling Hua's and has been rumored as ready to take over the premiership but Teng, 74, was comparatively inconspicuous in both official press accounts of yesterday's activities and in a five-minute television report on the congress which Peking beamed here and to other parts of the world by satellite last night.
Hua consumed most of yesterday's session by reading a 3 1/2-hour report on the government's progress since he took power following the September 1976 death of Chairman Mao. Hua presented a draft outline of a 10-year plan for the economy and laid out the nation's foreign and domestic policy, according to an official New China News Agency dispatch. As of early this morning, Peking had released only a short summary of Hua's lengthy speech.
According to the summary, Hua stressed the importance of whipping into combat shape the 3.5-million member Chinese Army. Top army generals, frustrated by political interference in military training from Mao's most dogmatic disciples, gave Hua crucial support when he purged the "Gang of Four," including Mao's widow, in October 1976. Now Hua supports army plans to weed out incompetent or politically unreliable officers and revive rigorous field training.
"We must work hard to raise to a new height the military and political quality of our army, its preparations against war and the degree of its revolutionization and modernization," the summary quoted Hua as saying.
Hua also said "the Chinese People's Liberation Army must make all the preparations necessary for the liberation of Taiwan." The Chinese have been making such statements about army preparations for some time and they do not appear to indicate a new policy toward the Nationalist Chinese-held island.
Hua strongly endorsed the long-range propaganda campaign to isolate Peking's Nationalist rivals through a "revolutionary united front" including native Taiwanese and overseas Chinese sympathetic to Peking.
He also emphasized the continuing campaign to stamp out resistance to his administration in those parts of the country where the "Gang of Four" had great influence. "We shall. . . carry out the task of consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat down to the grassroots units so that we can provoke nationwide stability," he said.
Yesterday's editorial said, "In the present-day world, to be backward economically and in technology means to be beaten." It added that "Chairman Hua is leading us on a new Long March. We shall build a powerful China, modernized in the socialist way."
In the original Long March, the Communist army fled to north China over a 6,000-mile-long trail in 1935-45. Hua, unlike such party veterans as Teng, was too young to have participated in that historic event.
Defense Minister and party Vice Chairman Yeh Chien-ying, 80, formally opened the congress's first session and served as its executive chairman. Yeh is second only to Hua in the party's hierarchy but foreign observers have wondered if his age and health would allow him to continue his apparently active role. He has set military policy and may be serving as a political buffer between Hua and Teng, who ranks number three in the party.
On television, Yeh appeared healthy and alert. He walked into the Great Hall of the People without the help of nurses, unlike some of the other elderly leaders who took seats at the rostrum.
There has been speculation that Yeh would give up his defense post and accept election as the chairman of the congress' standing committee, the nearest thing China has to a ceremonial head of state.
The Chinese news agency said 3,456 deputies attended the congress session. Representatives of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the group supposedly representing noncommunist Chinese, attended as observers.
Television cameras focused on congress deputies wearing the bright costumes of China's national minorities. The cameras also stopped for a moment to show Deputy Jan Ta-ku, a thin little woman who at age 105 may be the world's oldest member of parliament.