Premier Li Peng, opening the annual meeting of China's legislature, warned Monday of continuing threats from "foreign hostile forces" opposed to communism and said Beijing would resist Western notions of democracy and human rights.

"With the old and new troubles in the world being intertwined, the international situation has become all the more turbulent and volatile," the hard-line premier said in his keynote address to the National People's Congress, the rubber-stamp parliament.Nearly 2,700 delegates gathered in the huge auditorium of the cavernous Great Hall of the People for the opening of the two-week annual meeting. The congress has little actual power and generally gives token approval of Communist Party decisions made earlier.

Diplomats found little new food for thought in Li's four-hour political sermon, which delegates cheered politely at Li's obvious cues, or in the lineup of doddering - and often dozing - communist elders filling six tiers behind the flower-bedecked podium.

As expected, retired but still influential senior leader Deng Xiaoping took "leave" from the ceremony and stayed home, as did former Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, sacked for sympathizing with the pro-democracy movement that was crushed in June 1989.

Zhao remains a congress deputy and is said to have been consulted on the economy, but his political future remains a mystery.

The premier's "work report," which is approved collectively in advance and reflects the leadership consensus, concentrated on the party-approved Eighth Five-Year Plan, the government's blueprint for economic and social development for the next half-decade.

But the report's political statements reflected the continuing isolation China has felt as a hard-line communist dictatorship, since the liberalization in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and since Beijing quelled the Chinese pro-democracy movement in 1989.

Despite pledges to continue market-oriented economic reform, Li made clear the Communist Party intends little political change, asserting the basic threat is from other nations seeking to subvert socialism in China.

Li denounced "a handful of countries" for what he called "their attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of other states and for imposing pressure on small and weak countries under the pretext of their so-called human rights issues."

China's most persistent antagonist on human rights has been the United States, which still maintains economic and political sanctions against Beijing imposed after the crushing of the pro-democracy movement. Li made only veiled reference to the 1989 protests.