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Patriarch too frail for resort visit

PATRIARCH Deng Xiaoping is healthy enough to watch movies, but not so fit that he can observe his annual summer ritual of going to the seaside resort of Beidaihe to swim and attend informal policy-making sessions.

Chinese sources said yesterday Mr Deng, who turns 89 later this month, had, in the past few months, requested private screenings of films and television dramas at his home in Beijing.

''Comrade Xiaoping is fit enough to sit through relatively long TV serial dramas'', a source said. ''After seeing the films, he also gives comments on their artistic and political qualities.'' The source confirmed that, in late spring, Mr Deng had seen the award-winning film Farewell to my Concubine, starring Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung.

The patriarch's favourable comments reportedly helped overturn the decision by senior propaganda officials to ban the film outright.

However, Chinese and diplomatic analysts said Mr Deng had skipped his annual outing to Beidaihe, which is several hours by train from the capital.

The top leadership, including party elders, has, since the early 1980s, held informal policy-making sessions in the seaside resort every summer.

Almost without fail, Mr Deng, an avid swimmer, has taken to the sea in Beidaihe and neighbouring resorts such as Qinhuangdao.

''Deng's doctors think it is better for the patriarch to remain in the capital, where the medical facilities are best,'' another Chinese source said.

The source said, while the patriarch no longer attended to matters of state in detail, he was fit enough to be briefed on the ''weightiest issues'' and he sometimes gave general comments on them. Some of these issues included the campaign to reinstate macro-economic control over the economy, the fight against corruption, and military matters.

Due to certain factors, including Mr Deng's health and the need to oversee the economic rectification campaign in Beijing, the leadership is believed to have called off the traditional Beidaihe meetings on national policy.

However, senior cadres, including ailing premier Li Peng, are reported to have gone to Beidaihe to rest. Conferences have also been held there.

Informed sources have discounted repeated reports about Mr Deng's imminent death.

They said that, while his health was deteriorating, the fact that Deng family members, like daughter Deng Lin, and senior politburo members, such as Qiao Shi, had stuck to earlier plans to travel to the provinces and overseas, probably meant the patriarch's condition was not terminal.

The sources added, however, that the civilian and military leadership had completed contingency plans soon after the June 4 massacre for the eventuality of Mr Deng's death.