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Leaders in China Close Talks Without Any Clear Initiatives

By Steven Mufson
The Washington Post

Top leaders closed a four-day plenary session of the ruling Communist Party Thursday with a communique that sidestepped their toughest policy problems while calling on China to raise the level of its "spiritual civilization."

The spiritual plea echoed a year-long campaign by the Communist Party chief, President Jiang Zemin, to consolidate his power in the waning days of senior leader Deng Xiaoping and the approach of a critically important party congress - now set for the second half of next year.

But the plenary leadership session ended without any new initiatives on such sensitive issues as money-losing state-owned enterprises, rising unemployment, gaping holes in the social safety net, rampant corruption, widening inequality and rising street crime. Nor did it clarify what ideology underpins the Communist Party in an age of market economics.

Instead, the closing document issued Thursday night by the official New China News Agency appeared to be trying to be all things to all people in all wings of the party.

For the party's economic free marketeers, the document embraced Deng's policy of "reform and opening up," paid tribute to the 92-year-old architect of that policy and said economic construction should remain the nation's "central task."

For Communist hard-liners concerned about the party's waning authority and cohesiveness, the communique asserted that "the ultimate goal is to realize communism" and endorsed the "four cardinal principles" that in the early 1980s reasserted Communist Party control and authority.

On balance, however, the communique suggested that the party leaders had put aside economic issues to focus on ideology.

"The problem of neglect or being comparatively casual in promoting ideological education and ethical and cultural progress, while being quite strong in promoting material progress, has not yet been solved," the document said. It added that "ethical and cultural progress should be given a higher status."

The message was reinforced in official newspapers, one of which ran an article criticizing enterprise managers who have a "good grip on economics, but a loose grasp when it comes to meeting with the workers about morality and ideology."

"At no time can we sacrifice spiritual values in the name of momentary economic development," the communique said.

This week's meeting was one of the few since 1978, when Deng consolidated power, that economics hasn't been the main focus. The hallmark of the Deng era has been to de-emphasize party orthodoxy while speeding economic development. Jiang, struggling to avoid the fate of his predecessors, has made a nod toward party ideologues by stressing the importance of "talking politics."