China's crime rate has dropped dramatically since a sweeping crackdown on crime began last year, a police spokesman said today. He said executions of some criminals have contributed to the lower crime rate.

In an unprecedented press conference with foreign journalists, Wang Jingrong, the newly designated spokesman for the Ministry of Public Security, refused to comment on the number of executions -- estimated at between 5,000 and 10,000 -- or the number of people arrested during the campaign that began in August 1983.

A report in September by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said 5,000 people have been executed. In addition, diplomats with reliable Chinese sources have said that many executions outside major cities have taken place after perfunctory trials.

"Facts show that the executions of a small number of criminals guilty of the most heinous crimes have contributed to the education of the majority of the criminals," Wang said in response to a question. "We have a population of 1 billion and those executed only comprise a small number comparatively."

He said the criminals who had been executed during the campaign deserved their punishment and were not executed earlier because authorities had not done a good enough job in previous years. Executions are usually carried out by a shot in the back of the head.

One western diplomat said that the frequency of the executions appears to have been decreasing this year, except for in Peking. Basing their count on posters, where executed criminals are identified by a red check mark, the diplomat estimated that 150 people have been executed in Peking so far this year.

Capital punishment has long been accepted practice in China. But the number of executions increased dramatically after the number of crimes classified as capital was expanded to 29 in September 1983. The National People's Congress adopted new laws allowing the "prompt and severe punishment of criminals." The new list permits the death penalty for pimps, armed robbers, spies, embezzlers and organizers of secret societies.

Nationwide, Wang said, the crime rate has dropped from a high of eight offenses per 10,000 people, before the campaign, to a current rate of five offenses per 10,000.

Wang and other Chinese officials have attributed the high crime rate to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 and the negative influences accompanying China's opening to the West.

Although China is still safer than most western countries, it has been troubled in recent years by youthful offenders who are unemployed and disaffected.

Wang said more than 70 percent of the crimes involved larcenies. He denied the existence of political prisoners, but did say that a "very few counterrevolutionaries" had been arrested during the crackdown. Counterrevolutionaries were recently defined by a Justice Ministry official as those "who want to threaten the existence or leadership of the Communist Party."

During the campaign to ferret out "hidden criminals" that officials have said will last until 1986 , members of the public have aided in the arrests of 70,000 criminals and provided authorities with 1.7 million "clues." A total of 120,000 criminals have turned themselves in, Wang said.

"We have made great achievements in the past year," he added.

Wang said he called the press conference today in response to requests by journalists for information about the anticrime campaign. Unlike other ministries, which have held press conferences recently as part of the overall attempt to open toward the West, the powerful and secretive Public Security Ministry had not done so until today.