Cambodia has shown no sign of responding to Peking's apparent attempt to bring about a negotiated settlement in Phnom Penh's quarrel with neighboring Vietnam.
China sent a delegation to Phnom Penh in the latter part of January headed by Teng Ying-chao, the widown of Premier Chou En-Lai. Teng has been given an increasingly important role in Chinese affairs since the deaths of her husband two years ago and by naming her to lead the mission Peking underscored its continuing support for Cambodia. Her comments in Phom Penh were obviously designed to give the Cambodian further reassurance about this.
Nevertheless, China has made it clear that it is backing away from the intense support it initially gave Cambodia in the dispute. For several days after Cambodia's New Year's Eve revelations about the fighting between the two Communist states, Chinese media virtually ignored Vietnam's account of the dispute. After public protest by Hanoi and Vietnamese insistence that they were willing to settle the question at the negotiating table, the Chinese took a more even-handed position. Teng Ying-chao's journey to Phnom Penh was arranged.
She was accompanied by Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Nan Nienlung and the head of the ministry's section on Asian affairs, Shan Ping. This led analysis in Washington to assume Peking was trying to persuade Cambodia to negotiate.
As far as the analysts here can tell, the mission has not succeeded. On the contrary there seems to have been a hardening of Cambodia's rhetoric against the Vietnamese. If Vietnam Radio is to be believed, the Cambodians were attacking across the border even as the Chinese were arriving.
While Phnom Penh may be taking some risks in snubbing China, its only important ally, the analysts are virtually unanimous in predicting a long stalemate in the Vietnam-Cambodia quarrel. Among the reasons listed are:
Cambodia is too weak militarily either to oust the invading Vietnamese or hope for significant concessions in any talks. For the time being at least it seems to be concentrating on guerilla action to erode Vietnamese strength and morale.
The Vietnamese seem to be constrained by important diplomatic considerations from forcing a dramatic climax, such as driving all the way to Phnom Penh. Not only is there concern about upsetting China but also an obvious regard for its image in the rest of Southeast Asia. Hanoi has stepped up its campaign to attract private capital and to develop political and economic ties with the non-Communist nations of the region. Its propaganda on the quarrel with Cambodia strives for the impression that it has dealt a well-deserved rap on the knuckles to the marauding Cambodians to bring them to their senses.
China, while obviously eager to have the issue settled, seems hesitant about either bringing massive pressure against Phnom Penh or further estranging Hanoi. Peking and Vietnam have had cool relations since the defeat of the U.S. backed government in Saigon in 1975 and Hanoi's subsequent emphasis on its relations with China's chief antagonist, the Soviet Union.
While there is little sympathy among the analysts for the ruthless, xenophobic government in Cambodia, they do see considerable justification for Phnom Penh's charge that Vietnam wants to reduce it to a vassal state. From its first stirrings in the region, the Communist movement was dominated by Vietnamese who shaped an organization that claimed to be heir to the French colonial rule over what is now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.