Peking to replace president

PEKING (Reuter, AFP) - Yang Shangkun, the Chinese President, is set to be replaced when parliament meets next month, a Hong Kong newspaper controlled by Peking reported yesterday.

Mr Yang's name is not on the list of delegates to the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) that opens next month in Peking, Hong Kong's Ta Kung Pao daily said. Also dropped is the NPC chairman, Wan Li. 'Observers believe they will not accept nomination to these leading positions,' according to the newspaper, which is used by Peking to leak sensitive information.

The decision to drop Mr Yang, 85, has been widely expected. Western diplomats believe the person most likely to replace him is Jiang Zemin, General Secretary of the Communist Party, who will serve in both positions concurrently. Mr Jiang has been named by the 88-year-old supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, as the 'core' of the political succession. Elevating him to the largely ceremonial position of president would give him an international role denied him in his current party position.

Mr Yang's half-brother, Yang Baibing, was unceremoniously dumped from his senior military posts during the Communist Party's 14th Congress last October. It is widely believed that Mr Deng was afraid he was building a personal support base in the army and preparing to challenge for supreme power.

Diplomats said Mr Wan, 77, probably would be replaced by Qiao Shi, a member of the Communist Party's politburo standing committee. Mr Wan may have fallen from grace because of an embarrassing parliamentary vote last year when 600 deputies in the usually docile body abstained in a vote on approving the controversial Three Gorges dam project.

The reports of the likely changes are in line with indications that Peking is seeking to balance power among reformers and hardliners.