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Deng Completes Major Army Purge

By Lena H. Sun
The Washington Post


Senior leader Deng Xiaoping has completed an extensive purge of China's military and will reshuffle key government posts next month in what may be his final bid to ensure that his legacy endures, according to Chinese and Western analysts.

In one of the biggest shakeups in the history of the People's Liberation Army, Deng has stripped his longtime comrade-in-arms, President Yang Shangkun, and the president's half-brother, Gen. Yang Baibing, of their control of the military, and sidelined more than half of China's generals because they were believed to be loyal to the Yangs.

Chinese sources said the moves were aimed at preventing the Yangs from enlarging their power base through the military -- a major player in past power struggles.

The changes, Chinese sources said, stem from one basic consideration: Deng turns 89 in August. Although he holds no official titles, he remains China's paramount leader. Deng, these sources said, does not want any one person or institution to challenge him or his place in history in the same way that he has dismantled the Marxist legacy of the late chairman Mao Zedong over the last 14 years and replaced it with capitalist-style reforms.

"Deng knows that only Yang Shangkun could be an all-powerful person after he dies," said one Chinese source with ties to the military. Like Deng, Yang, 85, is one of the few remaining veterans of the historic Long March of 1934-35, which saved the fledgling Communist army.

But Deng's latest maneuvers also highlight the main source for instability in China and what continues to be his biggest personal failing. Like Mao before him, Deng will leave no ready-made strong successor. As a result, some analysts say, the personnel changes will hasten the power struggle expected among the current collective leadership after Deng's death.

These officials include Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin, 67, and Premier Li Peng, 64, who are seen by Chinese and Western analysts alike to be incapable of effectively handling major economic or social crises such as the kind that fueled the Tiananmen Square protests 3{ years ago.

"It's an indication of their weakness that they cannot come forward with another plausible leadership team," said Michel Oksenberg, a longtime China expert who heads the East-West Center in Honolulu.

The latest personnel changes are part of a process that Deng began at last October's party congress, when he edged out hard-line Marxists and installed younger, more reform-minded technocrats in the party's top organs of power. Because the congresses meet only every five years, this one was widely considered Deng's last chance to determine the course of China's politics.

The party changes set in motion the military purge and top government changes that are to be formalized at the annual session of parliament in March.

Although the military reshuffle took place last fall, details filtered out only recently. Senior officers were moved, retired or placed in inactive posts, Western diplomats and Chinese analysts said. Another, smaller purge is expected next month, to move some of those remaining officers out of the military completely, according to Hong Kong analysts.

Under Yang Baibing, the army's top political commissar and secretary general of the Central Military Commission, the military had become increasingly politicized since the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Loyalty to the Yangs became the prime criterion for promotion, Chinese sources said.

In particular, officers in the Beijing Military Region, where the younger Yang once served as political commissar, were promoted quickly, the sources said.

By some Hong Kong press accounts, the housecleaning has sidelined at least 300 generals who had close ties to the Yangs -- about half of the estimated 500 to 600 generals in the military.

On the government side, party chief Jiang, Deng's nominal successor, is expected to become president after the elder Yang retires, Chinese sources and Western diplomats said. Jiang's assumption of the presidency is seen as a way to keep the seat warm and keep potential rivals out, in this view.

It also is seen as a sign of Jiang's weakness that he needs the presidency to enhance his prestige. As head of state, he would be able to make more trips overseas than as party chief, Chinese sources said.

He attained his post in 1989 after the army's bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square, as the compromise candidate of hard-liners and moderates. But because he has no military experience, he wields no clout, even though he is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Next month's parliament is also expected to produce new leaders for parliament and a prestigious political advisory group. Some Chinese sources said it is Deng's attempt to raise the profiles of institutions outside the party and prevent concentration of too much power in one person or organization.

Qiao Shi, for example, one of the seven members of the party's top body, who had responsibility for China's security apparatus, is expected to head the National People's Congress.

It is Deng's break with the elder Yang that has been most surprising, Chinese sources said. Deng has previously dumped two proteges -- the late party secretary Hu Yaobang and his disgraced successor Zhao Ziyang. Deng was then relying on Yang to act as a kingmaker or regent, some analysts said. If Yang survived Deng, he was also supposed to help keep the military loyal to Jiang, the sources said.

Nevertheless, analysts say Deng became so concerned about how powerful the Yang family had become that he was willing to sacrifice Yang to preserve his own control, even though it is virtually certain to create a more chaotic scramble for power after his death.

Now Deng has no heir or regent.

The kind of person China needs to hold the country together must have "the lust for power, the cunningness, the vision and the network of support to make himself a credible successor," according to Oksenberg.

Although there may yet emerge a strong leader-Vice Premier Zhu Rongji's reputation for toughness makes him frequently mentioned-no one wants to reveal his hand for fear of being eliminated.

No matter who rules, one of the biggest unknowns remains the military.

Deng purged Yang not only because he was concerned about his power. He also did not need Yang anymore. After Tiananmen, Yang was useful because he could be counted on to keep the army in line. Now, however, the demands on the army are different because the country's political situation is more stable. Deng wants the army to re-embrace its move toward professionalism and to create a strong fighting force that will not only keep the party in power but will also keep step with China's goal of becoming the premier regional power in Asia within the next decade.

Last fall, Deng appointed two professional officers to take over the Central Military Commission. One is Gen. Liu Huaqing, 76, a former navy commander who is also a member of the party's highest decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Comittee. This is viewed as significant because Liu is the officer in charge of creating China's "blue water" navy, the most obvious sign of the country's desire to improve its regional clout. His deputy is Zhang Zhen, 78, a former president and political commissar of the PLA's National Defense University. Both men are expected to refocus the military on modernizing the armed forces instead of on politics, Chinese sources said.

But without Deng, these new leaders are expected to have much less clout to help party chief Jiang control the military.

Although the purge of the Yangs' proteges was widely welcomed in the military, there is some concern about the level of discontent among those who have been removed, Western analysts said.

In a meeting last month, Zhang reportedly told the Central Military Commission that factionalism in the military remains a serious problem.<\