Zhao Ziyang, a former provincial leader known for his interest in experimenting with the Chinese economy, has taken charge of "day-to-day work" in the central office of the Chinese government, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping told Italian journalists here today.
The statement by Deng, who is considered Zhao's leading political patron, appears to be one more step in a scheme to move Deng proteges into key positions so that the pragmatic policies of the 75-year-old Chinese leader would survive after his death.
Zhao, 61, has risen rapidly in the last year. Until a few months ago he was the Communist Party chief in Sichuan Province, but has been frequently mentioned as a likely successor to Deng as the most influential government leader and was yesterday named as a new vice premier.
His appointment puts near the top of the government an official who has eagerly supported a more decentralized economy, with local factories making many of their own decisions about how to market their products and keeping some of the profits for themselves. He also has favored less central government control over what peasants plant and over their right to sell products on the free market.
Deng, in remarks to journalists covering the visit of Italian Communist Party Leader Enrico Berlinguer, did not refer to reports that he himself may this year resign as vice premier. Deng does not appear to plan, however, to relinquish soon his post as chairman of the Communist Party Central Committee, where most important decisions in China are made.
Zhao also recently became a party vice chairman and now stands seventh in the party hierarchy.
Like Deng, Zhao suffered a political purge during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
China's official new agency later published Deng's remarks about Zhao, an unusual step. A journalist asked if it was possible for Zhao to serve as premier, a job now held by Hua Guofeng, who is not a Deng protege. Deng replied, "This question cannot be answered by any individual. He is now in charge of the day-to-day work of the state council."