THE Chinese leadership has warned regional leaders not to take advantage of patriarch Deng Xiaoping's call for fast-paced development by over-riding central Government edicts. The State Council also revealed yesterday that the number of development zones nationwide would be limited to between 400 and 500, down from around 3,000 late last year. Meanwhile, in a sign that factional strife has intensified in the run-up to the third plenum of the party Central Committee, which opens tomorrow, the political fortune of Executive Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji is tipped to fall in view of the many enemies hehas made among powerful local ''warlords''. In a tough commentary yesterday, the People's Daily warned regional cadres that ''macro-level adjustments and control'' by the state would be ''strengthened and improved'' in the course of constructing the socialist market economy. The official organ hinted that Mr Deng's recent dictum - ''only [speedy] development passes the rigorous [test of] reason'' - was no excuse for localities to pursue inflationary growth or goals not sanctioned by Beijing. ''It is an extremely big mistake to think that building up a socialist market economy means that macro-level adjustments and control will no longer be needed or that they will be curtailed,'' the paper said. It added that while Beijing would mainly rely on economic and legal means to enforce adjustments and control, ''certain necessary executive measures'', meaning state fiats, would be taken. It reminded local leaders that while Mr Deng had stressed speedy growth, the patriarch also put emphasis on ''stable and assured [development], and that [the country] must avoid losses, especially major losses''. In a dispatch last night, the semi-official China News Service quoted a Vice-Minister of the State Planning Commission, Wang Chunzheng, as saying the number of development zones had been whittled down from around 3,000 in late 1992 to 500. Mr Wang disclosed that after the four-month-old rectification drive, only 300 to 400 development zones, which enjoy special tax privileges, had been re-approved by provincial authorities. These were in addition to the 100-odd such facilities sanctioned by the State Council. The senior official said the indiscriminate opening of development zones had led to wastage of farm land, as well as the improper granting of favourable treatment to domestic and foreign companies. Chinese sources said yesterday that local leaders at the plenum would be forced to accept harsh recentralisation policies imposed by Beijing, including a new tax system which would mean much higher contributions to central coffers. However, they said the ''warlords'' would put up tough resistance, partly through citing recent instructions by Mr Deng on the fact that regions with the requisite resources could ''develop as fast as they can''. The sources said one victim of this intensifying tug-of-war between Beijing and the regions could be Mr Zhu, who had been the main enforcer of the austerity programme. Since September, Mr Zhu has toured provinces and cities - including Guangdong, Hainan and Shanghai - trying to persuade local cadres to accept the recentralisation measures. Sources in these areas said, however, that Mr Zhu had met a ''stiff rebuff'' and that the ambitious politician could not count on the support of regional cadres in the power struggle that would break out after the death of Mr Deng. ''Zhu Rongji is about the only central leader who has not repeated Deng Xiaoping's recent slogans about re-igniting fast-paced growth,'' a source said. ''His competitors, including [President] Jiang Zemin and [Prime Minister] Li Peng, might make a scapegoat out of him in order to pacify the increasingly powerful regional officials.''