Sat, Mar 16, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Mum on successor, Zhu Rongji defends his time at the top

REUTERS , BEIJING

China's Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) defended his legacy yesterday as the no-nonsense reformer who shook up a centrally planned economy but left a question mark over who will replace him next year.

And despite recent signs of a thaw in cross-strait relations, Zhu said China had not withdrawn its standing threat to use force against Taiwan if it moved toward independence.

"We do not undertake to renounce the use of force," he said. "That comment is intended mainly for die-hard elements who insist on Taiwan independence.

"This position has not changed," he said. "But there is no need to repeat it every day and every month."

He was responding to a question at a news conference about whether China's policy on Taiwan had eased since his National People's Congress (NPC) report last week did not repeat that Beijing did not rule out using force if Taiwan declared independence or delayed reunification talks indefinitely.

With just one year left in government office, Zhu told the news conference his biggest headache was trying to improve the livelihood of 800 million farmers following China's entry to the WTO last December.

Defying critics who say he has run out of steam, Zhu put on a lively performance, joking and sparring with reporters, but analysts said he appeared preoccupied with his own legacy and excessively cautious about the sensitive leadership change.

Zhu said he had "basically fulfilled" all the goals he set at a similar news conference when he took over as premier in 1998 -- including dragging state firms out of the red, streamlining a bloated bureaucracy and clearing bad loans in the banking system.

"I think this government has made good its promise," he said after the closing of the annual two-week session of the NPC.

The normally straight-talking Zhu dodged three questions about who would take over after he steps down from Communist Party and government posts along with President Jiang Zemin (朱鎔基), and NPC chief Li Peng (李鵬).

"I have answered countless such questions in the past and every time I answer, my answer gives rise to unjustifiable speculation," Zhu said, when asked whether he might stay on for another term as premier.

"So I will answer your question in the way I did earlier -- please be patient, the answer will be out fairly soon."

Jiang, Zhu and Li, China's top three leaders, are due to leave their Communist Party posts at a five-yearly congress later this year and their government jobs at the NPC next March.

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