Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Guofeng appears to be making efforts to win new support from Army leaders as a knowledgeable Chinese official reports that Hua will step down as head of the Chinese government in about a month.
As his influence seems to diminish in the face of reports that he will be replaced as premier by Zhao Ziyang, Hua has made unusual public appearances in his role as military commission chairman -- the effective head of the Chinese Army.
Some analysts here suggest that Hua is seeking support from Army leaders, disgruntled over restraints imposed by Zhao and his patron Vice Chairman Deng Ziaoping, in order to prevent further deterioration of his position.
Although Deng and several other veteran colleagues are clearly in command of policy here, a successful effort by Hua to gain Army support in future policy discussions could hinder Chinese efforts to put aside ideological disputes and concentrate on rebuilding the economy.
A visit last week with Army leaders in Luda, a city in the northern province of Liaoning, and an earlier speech before an Army political conference attacking material incentives -- a hallmark of Deng's policy -- are seen by analysts here to be part of such an effort by Hua.
Hua was named premier in April 1976, three months after the death of Premier Chou En-lai and two days after a riot in central Peking. The rioters opposed radical Maoist policies and apparently supported the moderate policies of Vice Premier Deng.
Chinese had expected Deng to succeed chairman Mao Tse-tung, but Mao's disciples criticized Deng and after the riot had him formally removed from power. Hua helped remaining Deng supporters in the government and backed the Army when it arrested Mao's wife and other radical Mao disciples after Mao's death in September 1976. Hua later endorsed Deng's return to power, but Deng has returned that favor by gradually chipping away at Hua's power base.
"Deng has been hard on the Army. He is the top leader most willing to put restrictions on them," one analyst here said. The government under Deng's influence in the last three years has doled out funds for new, much-needed military equipment very sparingly. The official press has complained about factionalism and ideological problems within the Army.
The dispute now appears to focus on who will succeed the ailing Xu Xiangqian, 78, as defense minister. Military analysts here had expected that former Canton commander Xu Shiyou would come to Peking to take the job because of his longtime support for Deng, but so far this has not happened.
Xu Shiyou's position is said to have been weakened by his reluctance to criticize the memory of chairman Mao, whose image the Deng group wishes to tarnish a bit, and by the heavy casualties suffered by the Chinese Army under Xu's command in its 1979 invasion of Vietnam.
Another Deng candidate might be Wei Guoquing, director of the Army's general political department. Analysts here suggest that Hua is promoting Li Desheng, the Army commander for northeast China, as future defense minister.
Li, who does not appear to have close ties with Deng, was one of the only regional candidates not removed or transferred in a recent Army shakeup and accompanied Hua on the visit to Luda a week ago.
In a front-page story in the People's Daily about his trip to Luda, Hua was not identified as premier, but only as party and military commission chairman. The official New China News Agency's English-language translation of the story identified Hua as party chairman and premier without mentioning his military title, an unusual slip that puzzled analysts here.
Many Chinese are concerned about what course the government might take after Deng, now nearly 76, dies or is incapactitated and his wide-ranging personal ties no longer can be used to keep a controlling group together. Hua's continued influence in the party also creates a rallying point for enemies of Deng if his pragmatic economic policies do not produce higher living standards for the Chinese.
Deng has been reorganizing the party structure to give new power to a secretariat headed by his most important protege, General Secretary Hu Yaobang, in a clear challenge to Hua's role as party chairman. Hu and Deng have not appeared recently in public. Chinese officials say Deng is on vacation, but Chinese officials have used such vacations in the past to rally support for their policies in the provinces.
Another aged Chinese leader, Vice Chairman Ye Jianying, 82, also has been traveling in southern China. Many analysts here think Ye is using his absence from Peking to show his displeasure with recent actions downgrading the memory of Mao.One of these actions was the rehabilitation of Mao's old foe, the late president Liu Shaoqi.
Chinese officials have said they expect Ye to retire in August as chairman of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, in favor of former Peking Mayor Peng Chen. Peng, like Liu and Deng was a victim in past Maoist purges. Vice Chairman Li Ziannian is also mentioned as a potential successor to Ye.