The Chinese government says it will further slow its ambitious price reforms through next year amid hints of a policy rift with the Communist Party.

One Western diplomat Wednesday described the announced slowdown as "ludicrous," noting that Beijing's bid to free up markets is crucial to senior leader Deng Xiaoping's nine-year-old modernization program.The State Council, or Cabinet, Tuesday approved "effective measures to ensure a much lower rate of price increases of retail goods next year," the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Unanimous approval of the steps to boost government control over prices to "achieve greater stability" and cool soaring inflation came at a daylong Cabinet meeting chaired by Premier Li Peng.