China is unlikely to halt economic reforms after this year's sweeping leadership shuffle, even though the phasing out of the state-planned economy could trigger growing protests by disenfranchised peasants and workers. Leaders including President and Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin are slated to surrender their party posts next month followed by their government posts next March. There have been signs that some economic reforms, such as liberalising bank interest rates and selling state shares, have slowed. But the long-term commitment to change is firm. Respected economist Cao Siyuan says: 'The new leadership is not going to freeze economic reforms. There is a widespread consensus within the party, and among the political elite, on the need to continue to make the market the main engine of growth for the economy and to integrate China's system with the world.' One of the main markers of the success and legitimacy of the 'fourth-generation leadership' will be its ability to raise income levels and boost China's overall economic power, analysts say. Sinologist Andrew Nathan says the new rulers are intent on modernising the economy by replacing Marx with the market. Professor Nathan, a specialist on Chinese politics at Columbia University in New York, senses 'a firm commitment' to continue or even intensify the reform of state-owned enterprises. Though Luo Gan, who helped co-ordinate a crackdown following the 1989 pro-democracy protests, will likely serve as the party's new security chief, the new elite is unlikely to widely use police violence to stop demonstrations by laid-off state workers or landless peasants, Professor Nathan says. 'The answer to protests, besides repression, is to increase the fairness and scope of the social welfare system.' China's pledges for entry to the World Trade Organisation will lock the new leaders into carrying on reforms. Following WTO entry last year, China agreed to slash tariffs, permit bigger foreign stakes in long-protected sectors such as tele-communications, and reduce state subsidies. Political reform could move more slowly. Professor Nathan says that while the fourth-generation leaders intend to go forward with market reforms, they 'believe in authoritarian rule as a precondition for modernising China's economy . . . they believe in crushing open dissent against Communist rule and in deterring crime by widespread use of the death penalty.' A former adviser to a senior Communist Party official says: 'Market reforms are creating snowballing problems, like official corruption, that can only be resolved by introducing political reforms.' He says greater transparency is needed to root out official graft and everyone from important economic actors to poor farmers should be given greater rights of participation in the political system. 'Most members of the party and most citizens support political reform,' he says, and trying to stop the pressure for change 'would be like trying to stop the globe from spinning on its axis'. Professor Nathan says moves towards reform might include 'a very gradual, multi-year process of slowly increasing the use of elections and slowly unleashing the media'. Of the new leaders 'Li Ruihuan and Zeng Qinghong are the two people who could, if events unfolded in such a way, make the bold grab for political reform . . . if circumstances made that seem like the only way to save the party,' he says. Mr Li is a candidate for parliament chief and Mr Zeng is tipped to be a member of the party's Politburo Standing Committee.