Touring top cadres back speedy reforms

SENIOR cadres touring the provinces have endorsed their fast-paced development despite new calls by Beijing to cool down the economy.

In the past fortnight, leaders including politburo member Mr Qiao Shi, Prime Minister Mr Li Peng and vice-premiers Mr Zhu Rongji and Mr Li Lanqing have visited the southern provinces, the spearheads of phenomenal growth.

They have given almost unqualified support to the radical market reforms introduced by paramount leader Mr Deng Xiaoping last year. This is despite stern warnings by government departments, including the State Statistics Bureau, that signs of overheating have worsened.

Citing increases in urban price indexes of 15.7 per cent, Bureau Chief Mr Zhang Zhongji yesterday called for a curtailment in investment and other economic activities.

In a dispatch yesterday, the New China News Agency quoted Mr Qiao, who is also head of parliament, as telling Guangdong cadres that ''the general trend of reform and 'opening' is irreversible''.

''Economic reforms, opening and economic construction in Guangdong will see a more rapid development on the basis of its opening in the past decade,'' Mr Qiao said.

Industry in the province grew by 32 per cent in the first quarter of this year, the fastest pace in the nation.

The Chinese media yesterday quoted Premier Li, who was touring Shanghai, as telling local officials to ''seize the opportunity'' for development.

''Speeding up the pace of reform, the open door, and modernisation construction is the main theme of the times,'' Mr Li said.

Similar encouragement was offered by Mr Li Lanqing and Mr Zhu when they toured Guangdong and Hunan in the past week.

Political sources said while all the central leaders believed in cooling down the economy, they were obliged to give at least verbal support to the ambitious programmes of the provinces.

The sources said many cadres, including those in Guangdong and Shanghai, had direct access to Mr Deng, who champions a high-growth model.

As the regions gain more power, central-level leaders need their support in future power struggles within the Communist Party.

Sources in Beijing said serious efforts at retrenchment had become possible because of two factors.

Seeing that earlier attempts to curb credit and capital construction had been unsuccessful, the central leadership had decided to increase the pressure.

The other was the decline of Mr Deng's health, which made it difficult for him to obstruct the cooling down process by means such as ensuring the smooth flow of bank loans to projects along the coast.