Pahtakli People's Commune, Xinjiang, China
IT was as if an ancient rite were being performed. As grapes drooped in dusty bunches from the pergola, Ismayil Urayim intoned the vital statistics of the Pahtakli People's Commune: 2,335 families, 1,600 hectares under cultivation, 700 washing machines, 2,000 new houses, 260 tape recorders, five motorbikes, four trucks. . . .
Less than 125 miles from the Soviet border, in the Pahtakli People's Commune in the remote Chinese region of Xinjiang, the ''minority'' races of Turkish origin are carrying out the policies their political leaders decided 2,700 miles away in Peking.
Ismayil Urayim, the director of the flourishing commune, is obviously proud of his statistics and the lead his commune is playing in developing China's great northwest.
All the washing machines, motorbikes, and economic reforms are part of Peking's drive to develop China's most remote and sparsely populated provinces: Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Gansu.
Among them, the three provinces account for more than one-quarter of the Chinese landmass. They are populated by less than 4 percent of the country's 1 billion people. The northwest remains the largest underdeveloped area in China, lacking modern industries, skilled personnel, and the capital to properly exploit its natural resources.
The Chinese leadership has declared that this area is to be the focus of China's economy by the end of the century. But it will not be simple: The isolated northwest's administration has been one of the slowest to accept the reforms of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and shake off the conservative influence of the ''leftism'' that ruled Mao Tse-tung's China.
In Gansu, for example, the ''responsibility system'' - the cornerstone of Mr. Deng's reforms, which link a peasant's effort to his income - was introduced only last year and is being practiced by a mere 11 percent of the province's rural households. This contrasts with the nearly universal acceptance elsewhere in China.
Earlier this year a report by the Qinghai Provincial Party Committee stated that ''leftism'' was the chief obstacle to the province's development.
The urbane governor of Qinghai, Huang Jingbo, who was reinstated by Deng after 11 years in jail during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), says that strong opposition to reforms has subsided. But he adds that there are still many who believe the changes should be made more slowly than the central government's program for the province allows.
''There is no critical resistance so far to the ideology, though some people are conservative in the changes they are willing to accept. To this extent conservative ideology might affect economic development in the province,'' Mr. Huang said recently.
''We have to speed up reforms. Already there is a gap between Qinghai and other provinces. Time is short.''
To speed their development, the northwest provinces are building transportation, power, and other facilities, encouraging foreign investment, and attracting labor.
* Infrastructure. Because the area has been so poor for so long, it needs to build huge amounts of infrastructure. Qinghai has recently completed the building of a 517-mile railway between the provincial capital, Xining, and the next largest town, Golmud.
An enormous hydroelectric power station is under construction. Qinghai's next project is an international airport that will link it directly with Hong Kong, gateway to the money and resources of the capitalist West.
The bulk of assistance comes from the central government, whose directives first raised the program of rapid economic development for the region. Each year the central government matches the revenue generated by the Xinjiang provincial government, dollar for dollar. Last year this meant a subsidy of more than $500 million. Qinghai this year will receive $265 million in subsidies, plus another
According to the offical New China News Agency, the government has already invested a total of $31 billion in the five autonomous regions populated by minorities, of which Xinjiang is the largest.
* Foreign investment. To overcome their isolation, the provinces need money and skills. The central government is keen for the region to tap into the resources of the industrialized nations of the West and Japan.
Gansu Province has already run a big publicity campaign to attract foreign investors and is awaiting the outcome of another conference to be held in November for foreign businessmen. Qinghai is dealing with individual companies and has some foreign involvement in their oil exploration. Xinjiang Province is talking to Japanese and Hong Kong interests about the development of the area's textile industry and already conducts trade across the border with the Soviet Union and Pakistan.
* Labor. With a sparse local population, much of which belongs to nomadic tribes of minorities, the region is greatly lacking in both skilled and unskilled labor.
According to Governor Huang, Qinghai should receive about 10,000 graduates from the southern and central provinces this year. These young Chinese are transferred for life to open up the great northwest. Few are volunteers, despite the slightly higher wage rates. They are allowed to visit their homes once every four years.
But even this supply is not considered adequate by the provinces. They have begun to advertise for experienced personnel for their factories and institutes.
The other form of labor provided for these provinces is the free labor of the many lao gai, or labor camps, that are scattered in the more remote edges of these provinces. Young disidents, ''hooligans,'' and criminals are sent from overcrowded cities like Peking and Shanghai and most of the other provinces of the country. Once in the camps, they provide a ready source of labor for the backbreaking tasks required for the area's development.