ON THE FACE of it, Vietnam's offer to release 10,000 refugees a month to the United States and other countries puts the would-be haven countries on the spot. They, or people in them, have been demanding that Vietnam allow its oppressed subjects to depart, haven't they? And they have been demanding that Hanoi stop forcing desperate citizens on perilous flights by land and sea. So is Hanoi not now in effect calling the American bluff, asking the United States either to accept its offer or halt its criticism of Vietnam on human rights? Its offer has been received in just those terms in some American quarters and has caused a certain dismay on grounds that the United States is unlikely to accept Vietnamese in the largesounding new numbers involved.

In fact, embarrassment may be premature. The United States has taken in something like 200,000 Vietnamese, plus other from Indochina, since 1975. Currently the United States is geared up to accept 7,000 Indochinese refugees a month; other countries take smaller numbers. The total is in the same ballpark as Vietnam's 10,000. The Vietnamese authorities speak of an eventual additional total in the half-million range: 10,000 a month for four years. But this is only about twice the number of Indochinese already admitted-and those here would help receive new immigrants-and it is about the same as the Cuban refugees. Many Americans feel a special obligation to people unable to find a place in the new Vietnam and would accept and assist a continued flow, if it came to that. And this is right.

If any embarrassment is to proceed from the new Vietnamese statement, it should be Vietnam's. What other country can so coldly contemplate expelling a full five percent more of its population, while seeking credit for introducing the regular exit procedures that are almost everywhere else the norm? Actually, what Hanoi is doing is exploiting foreign humanitarian proclivities in order to get rid of people it finds inconvenient to keep around. Most refugees now are ethnic Chinese who had a role in the market capitalism of the old regime but who have no role in the socialism of the new. It is necessary to ask, too, whether Hanoi means to shove its monthly 10,000 ahead of the nearly quarter-million Indochinese "boat people" and "land people" currently in refugee camps elswhere in Asia. And will Vietnam halt the practices that account for this continuing mass forced flight?

Underneath the misery of the refugees is a hidden tug of war between Vietnam and the United States. Vietnam wants to be rid of a certain class (and race) of people. The United States wants to do right by particular categories of Vietnamese: relatives of American citizens and of Vietnamese already here, people closely associated with Americans, people on the losing side of the war, boat and land people. Last January, when Hanoi first said it would facilitate family reunions, the United States provided a list of 600 close relatives of American citizens. The response since is described as a trickle.

The United States has an obligation to all Vietnamese refugees, even the Chinese ethnics, but it has a special obligation to these categories. Very few of the refugees now coming out fall into them and, as things stand, there is reason to doubt that future refugees will either. It must be widely and thoroughly understood that the Vietnamese government has obligations too.