PREMIER Li Peng has defended the state-owned industrial sector, which costs the state billions of yuan in subsidies every year.
In a tour of Jiangsu province, the premier blasted critics who, he said, had drawn an ''equation mark'' between state-owned enterprises and loss-making businesses.
While the premier admitted that state-owned enterprises needed to pay more attention to market changes, he said there was little doubt among the central leadership that the industry would eventually succeed.
Mr Li even heaped praise on the state-owned giants, saying many of them were ''technologically advanced, professionally managed, internationally competitive and economically efficient''.
Although a report by Xinhua (the New China News Agency) last night said township enterprises were also a ''focus'' of Mr Li's visit, the premier apparently had little to say about the burgeoning sector which contributed to more than half of the spectacular growth achieved by Jiangsu in recent years.
Premier Li also told the cadres in Jiangsu they had to put national interests above the benefits of the local governments.
''In the process of economic development, local [authorities] will have to consider their own interests but they must give in to the needs of the country and do a good job in managing the relationship between the centre and the regions,'' Mr Li reportedly said.
The Xinhua report also said Mr Li visited a memorial hall of the late premier Zhou Enlai in Huaian.
It was the first visit by the premier, the adopted son of Mr Zhou, since the memorial hall was completed two years ago.
Analysts said Mr Li was trying to use the visit to highlight his ''revolutionary bloodline''.