BEIJING, NOV. 2 -- China's Communist Party today elected Premier Zhao Ziyang as its leader, part of a sweeping leadership change that shifted the balance of power in the ruling Politburo in favor of economic reforms beyond what had been expected here.

Zhao's election as party general secretary, which was expected, together with the election of a younger Politburo, mark major victories for senior leader Deng Xiaoping and Zhao and their policies of market-oriented incentives and opening to the outside world to modernize China.

The new 18-member ruling Politburo is packed with officials who embrace Zhao's pragmatic approach. Although some reform-minded officials were expected to be chosen, the large number elected today exceeded expectations of many observers. The election seemed to bring a resolution to months of party infighting over policies and leadership.

A new Central Committee, meeting today for the first time following a week-long party congress, also elected a five-man Politburo standing committee, the country's top decision-making body, with Zhao as its head.

Zhao is the only holdover from the previous standing committee, whose average age was 77. The new members are much younger, with an average age of about 63.

In addition to Zhao, the four other members of the new standing committee are Hu Qili, who is expected to oversee the country's propaganda and ideological affairs, and Vice Premiers Yao Yilin, Qiao Shi, and Li Peng. Li, 59, is expected to replace Zhao as acting premier, with Zhao assuming responsibility for party affairs.

Western diplomats said the standing committee reflected more of a balance of political forces than the Politburo as a whole. The new standing committee includes three members -- Li Peng, Qiao Shi, and Yao Yilin -- who would be easily accepted by conservative, or traditionalist, party elders who have resigned from key party positions.

Today's votes also seemed to indicate that conservative resistance to the reforms is not as strong as was anticipated. As a symbol of new-found unity, the party, in a surprise move, retained ousted party chief Hu Yaobang as a member of the Politburo.

Zhao, 68, was also elected today to be first vice chairman of the party's military affairs commission, placing him just below chairman Deng Xiaoping.

As expected, Deng was appointed to continue as chairman, even though he resigned his top party positions at the end of 13th party congress yesterday. This will provide Deng with a guiding role, placing Zhao in a position to assume control of the Army once Deng passes from the scene.

Zhao's appointment as number two on the commission is considered another sign that he is being groomed to replace Deng as the paramount leader. The Army is one of the keys to power in China, and leading Army officers never accepted Zhao's predecessor, the ousted party chief Hu, as leader of the military.

Although Deng, 83, resigned from his highest party positions, officials say he remains the architect of the country's economic reform policies, and he appears to remain the final arbiter in leadership disputes.

Diplomats said the new standing committee members reflected greater technical expertise, replacing one that included four veteran revolutionaries.

At a reception this evening, Zhao and Li denied there were ideological differences in the leadership. But diplomats said Zhao and Li could eventually find themselves at odds.

Li Peng is the adopted son of the late premier Chou En-lai, and many Chinese attribute his rise to power, in part, to his connections with Chou's comrades-in-arms. Li owes little to Zhao and until now he has appeared to be less enthusiastic than Zhao about controversial economic reforms.

The mystery man on the standing committee is Qiao Shi, 63, a leader little seen in public until now. He has supervised China's police and intelligence agencies and his views on economic reform are virtually unknown. His speeches reveal that he is a strong supporter of proposals to improve China's legal system.

Qiao was elevated to power with the help of Hu Yaobang butappears to have distanced himself since Hu fell into disfavor earlier this year for reported weakness in the face of student demonstrations.

Hu Qili, 58, is also a protege of Hu Yaobang's. He is also believed to have turned against the elder Hu, no relation. Hu Qili is said to be a strong supporter of Zhao's economic reform ideas.

Yao Yilin, 70, is a veteran economist with strong links to Chen Yun, 82, the conservative economist who retired from the Politburo standing committee yesterday. Yao is expected to have overall responsibility for the country's foreign trade, finances, and economic growth.

Yao's presence on the standing committee is likely to be reassuring to those who feel that prudence should be exercised as the country follows Zhao's call for "accelerated" economic reform.

One of the key questions being asked by foreign analysts now is whether Zhao has the strength to hold the party and country together after Deng is gone.

But Zhao appeared to be very much his own leader after today's Central Committee votes. Exuding confidence, he entered a reception for the foreign press at the Great Hall of the People with the four newly elected standing committee members.

All five wore western-style business suits. Zhao looked the most at ease. He gave a short statement of welcome and then lifted his hands in a victory clasp, like a prize fighter n triumph. The new party chief then strolled through the reception room, a drink in his hand, fielding questions shouted at him by reporters who rarely have the chance to talk to China's normally secretive leaders.

Displaying a relaxed style, Zhao told reporters that those who argue that there is a "reformist" faction and a "conservative" faction struggling for power in China are mistaken. "All those who base their analysis on this idea will make one mistake after another," he said.

Answering a question from a reporter, Li Peng said it was "a total misunderstanding" to say that he favored a centrally planned economy. He said that he had helped draft the party congress report on the economy, which calls for decentralization, and would "forcefully carry it out."

Zhao said the party congress guaranteed that the reform policy line will be carried forward "on a stable basis."

"The new Central Committee will keep up the momentum of opening up to the outside world," Zhao said.

With a younger, more technically oriented leadership in control of the standing committee, the party has a better chance of avoiding the extreme policy swings that have characterized the communist movement from the beginning.

But the Politburo now includes no women. Chen Muhua, president of the People's Bank of China, was dropped as an alternate member.

It does include three city leaders among its new members: Mayor Jiang Zemin of Shanghai, Mayor Li Ruihuan of Tianjin, and Li Ximing, the party secretary of Beijing. The Shanghai and Tianjin mayors are known for their vigorous advocacy of change.

Li Tieying, another new member, is a leading economic reform planner and Yang Rudai, party secretary of Sichuan Province, is said to be close to Zhao. Another new member, Beijing military commander Qin Jiwei, is believed to be close to both Deng and Zhao.

New member Song Ping, a veteran of state planning, is close to Chen Yun.

In other votes today, Qiao Shi was appointed head of the party's watchdog discipline inspection commission, and Chen Yun became chairman of the central advisory commission, a body that has little institutional power but has been known to exert influence in a crisis situation.