The main message contained in Beijing's determination to clear out thousands of unproductive state industries which are draining the economy is overtly political, although the measures themselves are essential and long overdue. It is a clear indication that President Jiang Zemin has consolidated his position and has the authority to impose policies which were previously been curtailed by conservative members of the Politburo. In the four years since he came to the helm, Mr Jiang has worked under considerable constraints. As long as Deng Xiaoping remained alive, no other leader could hope for complete acceptance. Then, with Deng's death, came speculation of a power struggle. But the formation of a taskforce to reform state enterprise is the clearest signal so far that Mr Jiang is in control. Without strong backing, it is unlikely he could strike at this most sacred of taboos. Coupled with the soft landing of the economy, Mr Jiang has decided there can be no more delays. The State Council has endorsed the scheme, and the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the People's Daily, has supported the move in an editorial saying that until factories stop employing five men to do the work of three, no reforms will be effective. Mergers will be encouraged, rather than closures and bankruptcies, but companies which are unprofitable will be allowed to go under. Debts of over US$620 billion cannot be sustained. With 148 million working in state industries, something must be done to cushion the effects of unemployment by finding other jobs for redundant workers or offering them short-term social security payments. But inevitably, unemployment will rise. As the saying goes, drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. The medicine will be hard to swallow at first, but it will lead to a healthier economy.