President Jiang Zemin has failed to answer convincingly the crucial question of the 15th Chinese Communist Party Congress: is the CCP fit to rule in the 21st century? This is despite claims in his congress report last Friday that the 76-year-old party is set to sail on to new triumphs in the coming decades. Statements by Mr Jiang and senior officials over the past few days have shown the party being torn by conflicting impulses of innovation and stagnation. While it has taken relatively bold steps towards self-renewal, it has stopped short of radical surgery. And the effectiveness of the reforms could be hurt by cadres' obsession with safeguarding elements of communist orthodoxy. Jiang & Co have wisely revived a basic tenet of Deng Xiaoping and radical lieutenants such as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang: less is more. Much of the economic policy endorsed by the congress is about cutting and chopping: dead wood accumulated through decades of party and state mismanagement is to be lopped off. The great majority of the 370,000 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will be retooled through bankruptcies, mergers, the sale of assets or transformation into shareholding concerns. The slashing and downsizing are not confined to factories. Mr Jiang has pledged to dismantle entire ministries and departments - as well as to demobilise 500,000 soldiers. The second prong of the President's save-the-party strategy is to reach out, integrate and internationalise. Foreign capital is being invited to buy into joint-stock companies and shareholding co-operatives. The authorities confirmed last Sunday that tariffs of 4,800 commodities would be cut by another six percentage points to 17 per cent. In his congress report Mr Jiang cited as one of the characteristics of the 'primary stage of socialism' that the country should absorb not just Western science and technology but 'the valuable fruits of foreign culture'. Integral to the flowering of Deng's open-door policy is the party's commitment to make changes to suit fast-shifting realities. A highlight of the speeches by congress delegates has been to liberate one's thought, to smash taboos and to ride the wave of the unknown. As General Secretary Jiang indicated last Friday, Marxism must not be studied 'in a stagnant and isolationist environment' and 'exploration must be made in the course of practice'. Or, as Shenzhen's reformist party secretary Li Youwei put it, since not even Deng theory could solve all the problems of today, it must be constantly modernised to meet new requirements. Most Jiang critics would dismiss claims by the President's publicists that his congress address represents the party's 'third thought liberation movement'. After all, his 'new way of thinking' is but a tame version of the ideas of former party chiefs Hu and Zhao, as well as an evocation of Deng's liberal persona. A more important consideration is whether the remedies Mr Jiang has prescribed to enhance the party's effectiveness and legitimacy may be impaired by Beijing's failure to make a clean break with the past. The impulse to curtail state control, to dovetail with global trends and to blaze new trails conflicts with a determination to shore up outmoded institutions and wallow in a kind of splendid isolation with Chinese characteristics. In the economic arena, the tendency to bolster and consolidate the ancien regime is evident in Beijing's strategy of 'taking a firm grip on the large SOEs and letting the small ones go free'. Economic tsar Zhu Rongji told a group of Shaanxi delegates that the new economic policy did not mean privatisation because the party and state would concentrate resources on nurturing 1,000 key SOEs. Other senior cadres have quoted Vladimir Lenin on the need to 'concentrate national resources in developing big-league industrial giants'. Messrs Jiang and Zhu have spun visions of 1,000 or so Chinese-style Mitsubishis, Samsungs, General Motors and Microsofts. But they have yet to allay fears that these 1,000 behemoths will be afflicted with the scourge of inefficiency, overmanagement and corruption that mar SOEs as a whole. The Jiang leadership's preoccupation with resuscitating the Marxist canon is obvious in the congress report's section on party construction. The Communist Party aims to turn its 3.4 million grassroots cells into impregnable fortresses - and its 58 million members into 'new Lei Fengs' immune to the corrosion of corrupt, decadent or non-Marxist thoughts. Mr Jiang told the congress there had never been a political party 'so densely and tightly organised' as the CCP. He urged it to develop this 'tremendous organisational superiority' further. At the 13th congress, in 1987, Mr Zhao sought to apply the 'less is more' philosophy to party reform by chipping away at CCP omnipresence through such channels as the separation of party and government. The Jiang leadership has ignored pleas by liberal intellectuals that the Leninist concept of an all-embracing party is self-defeating - and that the CCP must loosen its tentacles from areas including business, government and the army. Unsurprisingly, the corollary of Mr Jiang's call to 'boost [party members'] ability to fight corrosion' is to banish Western culture and thoughts, which, his ideologues say, are replete with 'individualism, hedonism and Mammonism'. The party congress has called on news media to 'uphold their party nature' and play up 'the leitmotifs of collectivism, patriotism and socialism'. In stark contrast to the pro-Western internationalist strains of his economic message, Mr Jiang has relaunched a 'campaign against bourgeois liberalisation' to ward off infiltration from 'hostile foreign forces'. These strictures have cast doubt on the Jiang team's fundamental approach to modernisation: while they desire change for aspects of the 'superstructure' such as the economy, they resist change in things dearest to their heart, such as the CCP's monopoly of power. The reformist patina notwithstanding, there is an element of stasis in the key theme of the congress: to move to enshrine Deng theory in the party charter the better to perpetuate it as the party and state creed. What Mr Jiang wants above all to preserve forever are Deng's conservative teachings such as his 'two hands tough' doctrine of the late 1970s, by which he exhorted communists to grasp economic development on the one hand, and grasp 'regime building' and uphold the four cardinal principles of Marxism on the other.