Peking's lesson

THIS week's gathering of China's National People's Congress in Peking stands in sharp contrast to the recent meeting of the Soviet Communist Party Congress in Moscow. In Moscow, the underlying objective of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was to initiate just enough reform within the Soviet bureaucracy to prod the nation's stodgy economy into growing. In Peking, by contrast, the task is just the opposite. Peking needs to apply the brakes to get the nation's rapid growth under control.

The difference in the economies of the two nations is both startling and instructive. Peking's new five-year plan calls for China to grow about 7.5 percent annually between 1986 and 1990. But that is down substantially from the 10 percent annual levels reached during the first half of this decade. The challenge, as China's political leaders now realize, is to avoid the big economic problems usually linked with overrapid growth, including high inflation and balance-of-payments deficits.

China's current robust growth stands in sharp contrast to the sluggish Soviet economy. China has opted for a form of market-led growth. The Soviets have chosen a more modest rejiggering of the government's central planning machinery. Peking has shown the third world -- and communist-bloc nations -- that it is possible to link ideological fervor with economic modernization.

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