CHINA'S leadership is furious at what it sees as moves by the family of ailing patriarch Deng Xiaoping to interfere in Communist Party policy. Their anger was sparked by an article in the The New York Times last week in which Deng's daughter, Deng Rong, said her father's health had declined significantly. In a highly unusual move, Deng Rong had met the correspondent in a hotel to give a lengthy interview of which the stunned Foreign Ministry was informed only after it had been published. This broke the existing rules, under which all sensitive interviews must be cleared by the party's propaganda department. And it put the government spokesman in the awkward and difficult position of having to contradict Deng Rong's assessment of her father's health. The official line is still that there is no immediate danger of Mr Deng dying, and the The New York Times story is now described as a 'misinterpretation'. Senior diplomats also point out that two vice-premiers have gone ahead with foreign trips. Foreign Minister Qian Qichen is touring Africa and economic tsar Zhu Rongji was in Portugal last week and will go on to Switzerland for an official visit to Berne before attending the Davos economic forum. The line is that they would hardly have left the country if Mr Deng was on his death bed. The diplomats also point out that Deng Rong herself has plans to leave Beijing for France on February 3, before flying on to New York on February 10 to promote the book she has written about her father. Nevertheless, high-ranking politicians are clearly upset by her remarks, particularly one she made about the Tiananmen crackdown and the Anti-Rightist Movement of 1957. These are seen as an attempt by the Deng family to clean up its track record. But they are also viewed as interference in party policy, and have caused embarrassment to the leadership, which has been making major efforts to unite the country in advance of Mr Deng's death. Several articles in the official People's Daily have called on the people to rally round president and party secretary Jiang Zemin - indicating the leadership's concern about officials and provinces which ignore central government policy.