BEIJING, SEPT. 30 -- In a rare talk with foreign reporters, a high-ranking Chinese Army official said this evening the Army would like to see senior leader Deng Xiaoping stay on as head of the military.
Yu Qiuli, a Politburo member and leading member of the Communist Party's central military commission, said Deng, 83, enjoyed "high authority" in the Chinese armed forces.
Yu, 73, answered questions at a reception on the eve of the country's National Day, one of the few opportunities for foreign reporters to talk directly with Chinese leaders. He went far toward confirming reports that Deng, despite his often repeated desire to retire from politics, will continue to hold a key post as head of the party's central military commission, which controls the Army.
Despite Deng's efforts to promote younger leaders, it appears that the senior leader alone is in a position to command the full respect of the Army. Some analysts believe this could eventually be a problem for Premier Zhao Ziyang -- now acting party chief, who is expected to be confirmed as permanent party chief -- and as Deng's eventual successor.
"Zhao's job is to progressively take Deng's place," said a western diplomat. "One of the problems is that Zhao is not strong enough with the Army.
"In preparations for the succession, the Army will be important, just as it was important in the ouster of Hu Yaobang," the diplomat added.
Veteran Army officers are believed to have played an important role in urging Deng to force Hu's resignation as party chief in January following a series of student demonstrations.
Unlike many leaders, Zhao, 68, has never held a major military position and did not participate in the legendary Long March across China in 1934-36. Deng and Yu are veterans of the Long March.
Interest in leadership changes is particularly keen now as the party prepares for a major congress next month. Some leadership positions appear to be undecided.
Deng did not attend the reception, but there appeared to be little doubt among those who did that, despite his announced plan to retire from the Politburo and from the party's central advisory commission, he will remain the key leader by holding on to his Army position.
In another development, Premier Zhao made the first public statement by a top leader welcoming Taiwan's plans to lift a ban on travel to the mainland by Taiwan residents seeking to visit relatives here.
"If the Taiwan authorities ease their control on travel to the mainland . . . that will conform to the long-cherished wish of the compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan straits for a reunion with their kith and kin," he said.