Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Daughter: Deng in Poor Health

BEIJING -- A daughter of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping appeared to prepare the world Friday for the death of the man who has ruled the world's most populous nation for 16 years with the first candid assessment of his failing health.


The remarks by one of Deng's daughters, Xiao Rong, in an interview with the New York Times, marked the first time anyone in China has broken the unspoken taboo surrounding his health.


"I know the reason why everyone is so concerned about my father's health -- that's very clear," Xiao Rong said.


"His health declines day by day. People have to understand that at this point, he's 90 years old, an old man. And someday there will be a day when he passes away."


The health of Deng, last important survivor of the communist warriors who swept to power with Mao Zedong in 1949, is crucial to China because, despite having given up all formal posts, he remains the ultimate arbiter of power.


Although Deng retired from his last official post five years ago, the timing of his death could affect a stable transition of power in a country where for thousands of years the rule of an emperor has only ended with death.


"This is a sensible way to prepare people," Geremie Barme, a sinologist at Australian National University, said by telephone. "The Politburo can't take a decision to tell people how ill he is without factional warfare, so this is another way to do it."


Most Western diplomats say Deng's successors are already in place. But they said they could not rule out that President Jiang Zemin and the other leaders Deng installed would start jockeying for the mantle of supreme leader after Deng, in his words, "goes to meet Marx."


Jitteriness about his passing persists in China's nascent stock markets with Shanghai's hard-currency B shares diving to close at their lowest level since January 1994 after Xiao Rong's remarks.


"He needs two people to support him. ... He feels that after he sits in a wheelchair, he won't be able to get up again. It's the natural order," said Xiao Rong, 44, who uses a different family name to avoid being perceived as using her father's influence.


Her father was not in the hospital but remained at home at the family compound on a small lane in central Beijing, she said. Chinese sources said Deng was believed to be suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease and perhaps kidney disfunction.


Xiao Rong, who has become her father's official biographer since the publication of her book "My Father, Deng Xiaoping" in 1993, leaves next week for Paris and New York to promote the book.


At best, the immediate post-Deng period will be marked by political uncertainty and paralysis of decision-making, and at worst there could be social unrest and a breakdown of central authority, analysts and diplomats said.


Deng's death was more likely to trigger social unrest than a high-level power struggle -- a reverse of the situation at the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 that sparked an internecine battle from which Deng emerged triumphant but which barely touched the Chinese people, a senior Western diplomat said.


The diplomat said the party leaders had completed their preparations for Deng's death and were confident they could manage a stable transition to younger leaders with only minor, if any, policy hiccups.