Peking is complaining about U.S. attempts to incite Russia to invade China. The Chinese press speaks of a devilish plot "to involve others in a war of attrition," as Chamberlain supposedly wanted to involve Germany and Russia in order to divert Hitler from the West. Now there are those in the United States - and by this Peking clearly means the Carter administration - "who hope that they can divert the Soviet Union to the East in order to free themselves from the Soviet peril at the expense of the security of other nations."

Peking has revived the "Sonnenfeldt Doctrine" as an object of vituperation, denouncing it as a U.S. attempt to buy off the Soviet Union by recognizing Eastern Europe as its "sphere of influence." Henry Kissinger's assistant Helmut Sonnenfeldt is no longer in the government, but Peking is using his name to attack what it believes to be Carter's policy of appeasement and worse.

The Sonnenfeldt Doctrine was designed to "assuage the aggressors' appetite and at least gain some respite" for the United States, Peking says - and now Carter is seen by it to pursue the same objectives. Sonnenfeldt, it says, tried to "frighten" Moscow with the prospect that China would before long emerge as "the third superpower," and he sought in this way to make the Soviet union "shift the focus of its aggression to the East." The clear implication is that Carter is now doing the same.

The "compromise and concessions" now being offered by the United States to the Soviet Union are designed, in Peking's view, "to preserve global U.S. interests" Peking believes that Washington and Moscow are secretly negotiating a number of deals that would undermine China's security. "But the days when a few imperialist powers divided the world into spheres of influence behind closed doors are gone forever," it says, even as it protests against the "dirty deal" that might reduce the U.S. and Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean and release the Soviet navy to pay more attention to China.

What would the Soviet Union gain if it responded to the supposed U.S. promptings? The "essence" of the Munich agreement, Peking says, was the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, which was handed over to Hitler to induce him to attack Russia - and it implies that Washington might now acquitesce in the dismemberment of China as a reward to the Kremlin. Peking's emphasis on the weakness and faint-heartedness of the United States, on its willingness to "appease" Moscow at the cost of "others" to save the United States - even to the point of "abandoning" Europe in case of a Soviet attack - is at the root of the new Chinese policy debate.

Some Peking leaders believe, to judge from the signs of this debate, that China shouldn't wait until Russia attacks it. It does not matter whether Moscow acts with the active complicity of Washington, or with the passive acquiescence of a United States that Peking represents as being too weak to come to China's aid even if it wanted to. What these Chinese leaders evidently propose is a reconciliation with Russia, which would not only remove the danger of war, but also allow China to devote to economic development the vast resources that would otherwise be swallowed up by the military.

The real lesson of Munich was that Stalin beat Chamberlain to the draw, and himself concluded a pact with Hitler. Now it is Peking that says, as Stalin did then, that alliances are a matter of expediency, not principle, to be changed when circumstances have changed - "in the light of what is imperative and feasible in different historical periods." The maxim, which Peking once used to justify its reconciliation with Nixon, has now reappeared in the key Chinese article attacking U.S. appeasement. In other words, we are now in a "different historical period," which may require a shift away from Washington, toward Moscow. But wouldn't this contradict the Mao formula that the Soviet Union would remain forever China's enemy? "We can never," says Peking, "lay down any hard and fast formula for differentiating the world's political forces."

The article even recalls Mao's condemnation of U.S. plans for "wagging an anti-Soviet war," and his call to those so threatened - that is, to the Soviet Union - to join forces against the United States. Peking insists that Mao's analysis was "obviously" correct, and that "no one can doubt this" - almost as if it were replying to some Chinese leaders who do. Moreover, it argues that Mao's conclusion hasbeen, "confirmed by events then and since." To invoke events "since" then means that some Peking leaders believe that more recent developments suggest that China should revert to the anti-U.S. stance of those early days, and perhaps to reconciliation with Moscow.

A Sino-Soviet reconciliation would certainly require difficult political decisions in both Peking and Moscow - but there are those in both capitals who believe that their countries could lose nothing from it, and gain a great deal. They do not now represent the dominant faction in either Moscow or Peking, but the fact that they manage to argue the case for reconciliation, albeit in a veiled form, suggests that they are potentially strong enough to prevail over their opponents when the right combination of circumstances occurs.