BEIJING -- Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, appealing for a halt in student protests, pledged early today that China will implement democratic reforms.

"We will . . . work out concrete measures to enhance democracy and law, oppose corruption, build an honest and clean government and expand openness," Zhao said in a message to student hunger strikers quoted by the official New China News Agency.

The message was delivered shortly after midnight to students gathered in central Beijing's Tian An Men Square, the agency reported.

Students Reject Appeal

Student leaders announced shortly after dawn that they are rejecting Zhao's request for a halt in the demonstrations.

Many of the students in the square said they are planning to set off on a march through Beijing around 2 p.m. today, on a route that would take them past the Diaoyutai state guest house, where visiting Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is staying, and then back to Tian An Men Square.

More than 2,000 students who have been on a hunger strike in the square--many of them since Saturday--have become the core of massive daily demonstrations. Tuesday evening, hours before Zhao's message was announced, a huge pro-democracy rally centered on the fasting students had drawn about 150,000 demonstrators, supporters and onlookers to the square.

Zhao's statement was issued "on behalf of all the members of the Standing Committee" of the Communist Party Politburo, according to the official news agency report.

The Politburo Standing Committee, which is the top organ of political power in China, has four other members: Premier Li Peng, Vice Premier Yao Yilin, Qiao Shi and Hu Qili. Deng Xiaoping, 84, China's senior leader, is not a member.

Zhao said that the party and government leadership "affirmed the students' patriotic spirit in calling for democracy and law, opposing corruption and striving to further the reform," the news agency reported.

"We also hope that all students will exercise calm, reason, restraint and order, take the interests of the whole country into account and safeguard stability and unity," Zhao said.

A woman student leader said that Zhao's statement was "meaningless."

Another hunger striker, interviewed later in the morning, said that Zhao's promises "are about the same as he has been saying the last few days."

'Specific Demands'

"He hasn't satisfied our specific demands," this man said.

The hunger strikers are demanding that the government hold a formal televised dialogue with protest representatives to discuss the promotion of democratic reforms. Student demands also include retraction of a hard-line editorial published last month in the official party newspaper People's Daily, which accused demonstrators of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party. The editorial is widely believed to have reflected Deng's personal instructions.

Other key goals expressed by the students are more press freedom, improved treatment of intellectuals and an attack on corruption.

Zhao's statement to the students came only hours after he publicly revealed to the nation that when Deng, China's top leader since 1978, stepped down from the Communist Party Politburo two years ago, a formal decision was made that "on the most important issues, we still need him at the helm."

This was "an extremely important decision" that had never been announced before, Zhao said in comments during a late-afternoon meeting with Gorbachev, which were later televised on the nationwide evening news.