Fortunes shift for leaders of world's three powers

This has been Deng Xiaoping's week. Of the world's three most important political leaders, he alone is truly triumphant, his policies confirmed, his people placed in top positions of power in Peking, his revolution sweeping forward over his country.

Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow can only envy Mr. Deng's success. He himself is still struggling for control of his party apparatus and struggling to tear his reform revolution free from the grip of the antiquarians, the party hacks, the bureaucrats of Moscow.

Ronald Reagan can be more envious still. His own counterrevolution is bogged down, his economic policies discredited by a huge budget deficit and collapse on the stock market, his attempt to fill the Supreme Court with his fellow ideologues of the right frustrated.

The week's events illuminate the spectacular differences between the fortunes of these three leaders.

In China, it was the week of the great party congress. It saw the departure from the Central Committee of the old veterans of the past, and the replacement by a new generation of men handpicked by Mr. Deng.

Costumes can tell a story. Mr. Deng led the oldsters out wearing Mao jackets (he himself to stay on behind the scenes as head of the powerful Central Military Commission). The five members of the new standing committee of the Politburo were photographed all wearing Western jackets and neckties. They looked like businessmen.

In the Soviet Union, it was also the week of a great national celebration, the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Mikhail Gorbachev was at center stage. He made the great speech of the occasion - and it turned out to be a half speech. It bore the stigmata of compromise. It partially rehabilitated Nikolai Bukharin, who had been associated with Vladimir Lenin's New Economic Policy (mixed economy), and it partially criticized Joseph Stalin, who had had Bukharin executed.

The contrast shows us that Mr. Gorbachev's great reform movement is still grinding slowly uphill in low gear, while Mr. Deng's reform movement is on the flat, at cruising speed.

Mr. Deng is so fortunate. He takes working retirement. He can keep a watchful eye on his successors. He can encourage or restrain from the sidelines. He still has real but inconspicuous power. The opposition to his economic reforms has receded. The modernization of China will go forward.

Whether Mr. Gorbachev's reform movement will ever gain similar momentum is the big question, and perhaps the most interesting question about the future shape of the world.

If modernization continues in China at its present pace, and if Mr. Gorbachev fails to break out of the grip of the entrenched bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, then the time will come when China will become a truly modern country. It will surpass the Soviet Union in wealth and strength.

China still has a long way to go. Most of China still goes to work every day on single-speed bicycles. In Moscow, workers ride the subway. But the multispeed bicycle is showing up in Peking. More and more motorbikes are arriving in the more prosperous farming villages.

Mr. Gorbachev is intelligent and well informed. He can see the danger ahead. At present rates of progress, the time would come when the Soviet Union would be bracketed by a modern Western Europe on one side and a vibrant and modern China on the other. The Soviet Union must modernize if it is to keep ahead of China.

Mr. Gorbachev knows unless the Soviet Union modernizes, it will dwindle and sink back into being what it once was - a small country spreading out around Moscow, but not reaching either the Baltic or the Black seas.

There need be no surprise that Mr. Gorbachev is seeking easier relations with the United States, which is still the prime source of modern technologies.

As for Washington this week, Ronald Reagan once hoped that before he left the White House he would be able to place a majority on the Supreme Court that shared his ideological views.

Judge Robert Bork was to have been the keystone of his court majority. The nomination failed, for that very reason. So Mr. Reagan put forward another name, of a younger man who is believed also to be conservative in his philosophy - Douglas Ginsburg. That nomination, too, will be a hard-fought battle in the Senate.

Mr. Reagan faces the possibility of leaving office without having placed a conservative majority on the court. He also faces an even more likely possibility - that the Congress will force him to give way on taxes. The cutting of the income tax was the centerpiece of his economic policies. Vast pressures moved in on him from every direction this past week to accept a tax increase that will revive confidence in the soundness of the American dollar.

Ironically, Mr. Reagan is winning only where his conservative supporters wish he wouldn't. He is going to have a summit with Mr. Gorbachev in Washington. He is going to sign a treaty banning intermediate nuclear missiles from Europe. He will, presumably, pay a return visit to Moscow.

Mr. Reagan's conservative supporters have opposed any dealings with the Soviet Union. They favor confrontation, not coexistence, with what they still regard as ``the evil empire.''

Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger has resisted the idea of any arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Caspar Weinberger is leaving.

It is said that Mr. Weinberger is leaving primarily for family reasons.

It is also a fact, however, that the decision to sign an arms limitation treaty with the Soviets was a decisive defeat for the Weinberger policies. He had lost the cause for which he worked most diligently during his nearly seven years as secretary of defense.

This has been the great week of Deng Xiaoping's human and political career. Everything was going his way.

Mr. Gorbachev is struggling to gain similar momentum for his purposes.

Mr. Reagan is accepting the consolation prize of a summit conference that his own followers never wanted.

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