Premier Li Peng vowed to serve out his term of office, saying the army's crushing of the 1989 pro-democracy protests, which he supervised, had saved China from the political and economic chaos now engulfing Eastern Europe.

The hard-line premier, facing the Beijing press corps Tuesday at the close of the annual National People's Congress session, strongly asserted that "resolute means" - military force - would be used to quell any future disturbances deemed illegal.Li indicated that China's communist leadership is comfortable with world reaction to the recent "counterrevolution" convictions of dissidents accused of participating in the spring 1989 pro-democracy movement, now derided as a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

He noted the muted international response to the 13-year sentences meted out to two alleged "masterminds" and lesser terms given many others, saying that outside China it was "generally believed that our verdicts were rather lenient."

The premier appeared quite at ease, chuckling at questions about his future and, in an aside picked up by microphones, boasting he had "taken the upper hand" in handling the foreign press.

He rejected the speculation that he was in political trouble and would not last out his five-year term, which expires in spring 1993.

Li said retired patriarch Deng Xiaoping believed the hard-line leaders installed after the June 4, 1989, massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square were "fully capable" of governing China and said Deng placed a high priority on political stability.