China's Communist Party today created a new advisory council that had been expected to draw aged leaders away from the ranks of power into semi-retirement consulting positions. But in a surprising move, several key politicians failed to move aside and were not named to the council.
Instead, several Communist leaders who have opposed the political and economic reforms developed by party Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping were reelected to the party's legislative body, or Central Committee, making them eligible for active leadership roles in the new Communist hierarchy to be decided shortly.
Deng, 78, China's foremost political leader, was among those named to the 172-member advisory commission, which was set up by the national party congress to provide positions for veteran officials to step aside and still retain the perquisites of power. Chinese observers and diplomats had suggested before the party congress met that Deng had worked out a deal strengthening his hand by sidelining influential foes on the party's ruling body, the Politburo. Even though he also would step aside, these observers said, Deng would continue to control events through his handpicked proteges replacing the aging leaders.
But according to the announcement made today, Deng will keep his place on the Central Committee while serving on the council.
Diplomatic observers here said they were puzzled by the fact that so many key officials failed to move aside to the advisory committee, since Deng has appeared to have good control of the congress and the change in leadership was considered an important aspect of his strategy. It was unclear if today's developments were a setback for Deng's plans.
A list of the new 210-member Central Committee shows that 20 of the 24 members of the outgoing Politburo retained their seats in the Central Committee even though most are in their seventies and eighties. Only half of them are considered solid Deng supporters.
Among those reelected to the Central Committee are Army Marshal Ye Jianying, 85, and economics administrator Li Xiannian, 77, two members believed to be key opponents of Deng's pragmatic policies. Also retained on the new Central Committee is former chairman Hua Guofeng, 61, who was criticized and ousted from the top party post after losing a power struggle with Deng last year.
A party congress spokesman said earlier this week that some party leaders "who enjoy high prestige and rich experience in leadership" could simultaneously hold active leadership posts while sitting on the advisory commission.
It is unclear if any of the veterans will resume work on the ruling Politburo or its elite corps, the standing committee--which will be elected soon by the new Central Committee.
Holding a seat on the Central Committee would require only part-time service for these elderly leaders when the group is in session, but membership is necessary to qualify for the top leadership posts.
Deng has been maneuvering around the outgoing Politburo for four years, proposing the idea of an advisory commission as long ago as August 1980.
Aside from Deng, only two members of the outgoing Politburo--Defense Minister Geng Biao, 73, and Army Gen. Xu Shiyou, 76--joined the advisory commission. The other two Politburo members who were not reelected to the Central Committee were Liu Bocheng, 90, and Chen Yonggui, 69.