How China's leaders are taking a chapter out of the Polish textbook

Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping and the reform-minded officials around him seem determined to learn from the mistakes of the Polish leadership to keep the same problems from coming up in China.

Indeed, the lessons drawn by the Chinese authorities are already visible in the way Peking has scaled down its economic modernization drive and stepped up efforts to root out bureaucratic corruption.

The People's Daily commented recently, "The development of this crisis has its roots in the long years of serious economic policy mistakes, in the disruption of the democratic principle in political life, in the serious bureaucratism or even corruption among certain leading cadres, which have aroused strong resentment among the masses against their party and government."

Observers in Peking have pinpointed several basic errors made by the Polish government during the past decade that, in China's view, led to the current crisis.

Chinese officials are said to fault Warsaw for three crucial mistakes in the economy: promoting heavy industry at the expense of agriculture; using money inefficiently, after borrowing far too much in the first place; and making unrealistic promises to the people about the country's economic prospects, raising expectations that could not be fulfilled.

It is noteworthy how much of this critique is applicable to China itself. And almost every facet of the "four modernizations" program is being readjusted to avert the kind of trouble Poland is experiencing.

"The entire industrial front must be contracted," the Peole's Daily wrote recently. "We must close, halt, or amalgamate a number of factories. Heavy industry must retreat and light industry and agriculture must be promoted."

Several major capital construction have been canceled, including the widely publicized, multibillion-dollar Baoshan steel works in Shanghai. And meanwhile more state money has been chaneled into agriculture, and a limited market economy has been allowed in the rural areas.

After a spurt of borrowing from abroad, which led to a 1980 debt of $4.2 billion, the Chinese have sharply curtailed plans for future foreign loans, partly because Peking cannot afford today's high interest rates, and partly to prevent the country from becoming too dependent on foreign aid.

The grandiose promises made following the downfall of the "gang of four" in 1976 -- that agriculture would be mechanized by 1985, that China would soon have dozens of new oil fields and steel mills, and that living standards would quickly rise -- have also been discarded.

This move has brought popular expectations down within limits of reason, as desireD. But many Chinese who believed the slogans of the past four years have become disillusioned. The political impact of their loss of faith, particularly in the form of unrest among young people, continues to trouble the Deng government.

As has been the case in Poland, disenchantment with the Communist Party has also been fueled by widespread corruption among party cadres. Red Flag, the party's theoretical journal, recently noted, "Some people have used the powers the party has given them for private interest. Some have practiced favoritism, accepted bribes, and sought ease and comfort. These unhealthy practices have shaken the masses' faith in our party and in the four modernizations."

The regime has moved to correct such abuses by launching a campaign for discipline within the party, and by publicizing in the government-controlled press the misdeeds committed by -- and the punishments meted out to -- corrupt officials.

Taken as a whole, China's approach to its current problems is strikingly similar to the solution Peking has proposed for the Polish crisis, which was spelled out in the People's Daily.

"The only way to resolve the crisis," the paper said, "is to correct the mistakes of the former leadership, reform the economic structure, carry out democratization of political life and consolidate party organizations to restore the people's trush in the party."

The ability of China's leaders to make such a sophisticated analysis of the Polish crisis, and their willingness to apply the relevant lessons to China's own situation does not, however, mean that Peking is prepared to tolerate the kind of worker militancy seen in Poland. Recent efforts to form such unions in at least two provinces were promptly stifled.

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