Peking said last night that Soviet troops had struck across the disputed border in China's rivals since the bloody skirmishes of far northeast. By Peking's description, the reported clash was the fiercest between the two Communist rivals since the bloody skirmishes of 1969.
According to the account carried by the government's New China News Agency, 30 Soviet soldiers shot and wounded several Chinese "inhabitants" in a raid Tuesday morning that penetrated 2 1/2 miles into Chinese territory. The troops were supported by a helicopter and 18 military boats in their crossing of the Ussuri River, the news agency said.
China's accusation of a Soviet attack comes two weeks after the two countries had resumed negotiations about their border following a 14-month hiatus.
Vice Foreign Minister Yu Chan, China's chief negotiator in those talks, presented a "a strong protest note" about the "military production" to the Soviet ambassador in Peking, V.S. Tolstivkow, the news agency said.
The note reportedly said that the Soviet soldiers "chased and tried to round up Chinese inhabitants, shooting continually and wounding a number of them . . . They seized 14 Chinese inhabitants and dragged them all the way to the riverside, giving them kicks and blows. Under the repeated protests of the Chinese inhabitants the Soviet troops finally released them."
The failure of the incident to develop into "an armed conflict" was "only due to the restraint of the Chinese side," the protest not said.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, which has seemed interested recently in improving relations with Peking. The Soviets had sent their chief border negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Lenoid Illyichev, back to the Chinese capital last month after over a year's absence.
China's charge that the alleged attack represents a deliberate Soviet "military provocation" aroused high interest in the White House where the president's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is preparing to visit Peking May 20-23, Washington Post staff writer Murrey Marder reported.
Officially, the administration declined any comment at this time. Privately, U.S. specialists on China said their current information is limited to what Peking announced, and they are waiting to hear the Soviet version of the affair to provide a perspective on it.
At this stage, the American specialists noted, China is not treating the encounter as a major international incident comparable to the 1969 Sino-Soviet Clash on the same river. The Soviet Union, therefore, seemingly has the option of challenging the Chinese version and minimizing it, or replying with a broadside that would escalate the incident.
Unlike the 1969 clash on the Ussuri, American experts said, the new incident is in a sector of the river where there are no disputed islands.
Marder reported that these sources said Peking's published account contains numerous inexplicable elements - why Russian troops were penetrating the Chinese border at that point; why they seized and allegedly beat Chinese inhabitants, and why there was "shooting continually" only from the Soviet side.
"A lot will depend on the Soviet response," said one U.S. specialist.
Since the death of the fervently anti-Soviet Communist Party leader Mao Tse-tung in 1976, Peking has shown some faint interest in improving state-to-state relations with Moscow, but has kept up its barrage of anti-Soviet propaganda. Tuesday's reported incident, however is likely to abort any immediate chance of easing tensions along the border.
The Chinese protest note said the alleged raid occurred on the Chinese, or western, side of the Ussuri river in the Yueyapao district of Huling county, Heilungkiang Province. The area appeared to be about 60 miles south of Chenpao (Damansky) Island, where the 1969 Sino-Soviet skirmishes began.
The 1969 clashes reportedly began when Chinese troops ambushed a detachment of Soviet frontier guards, killing 31 and wounding 14. The Soviets reportedly retaliated in strength, taking the island and causing severe Chinese casualties.
This was followed by a series of clashes along the border, some as far away as 2,500 miles to the west in China's Sinkiang Uighur automonous region. They continued until Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin met Chinese Premier Chou En-lai at the Peking airport in September 1969 and agreed to open border talks.
During the hostilities Moscow dropped hints of a major buildup along the border and is still thought ot have at least 500,000 troops there. China is believed to have posted as many as 1 million soldiers in border provinces.
Although the border talks have shown little progress, since they began there have been no reports of serious fighting on the border until last night. The Chinese occasionally reported harassment of their river boats and in March 1974, they capured a Soviet helicopter with three crewmen which hae strayed into Sinkianeg.
The Chinese released the crew and helicopter in December 1975, in what seemed to be a gesture by Vice President Teng Hsiao-ping to improve relations with Moscow. Teng, howver, was forced into temporary retirement shortly after the helicopter release because of a domestic power struggle. He has since returned to a position of power.
The Chinese news agency said the protest note said "the . . atrocities of the Soviet troops constitute an organized military provocation against China occuring at a time when . . . boundary negotiations had just resumed. They area a . . . grave, calculated step to create tension on the border and vitiate relations between the two countries."
The noted demanded that "the Soviet side make an apology punish the culprits who created this incident of bloodshed and guarantee that no similar incident would occur in future. Otherwise, the Soviet side must bear full responsibility for the consequences."
In March, Peking publicly rejected a Moscow request for a joint statment on improving relations. It insisted instead on an agreement to disengage armed forces along the border. In reply, Soviet President Lenoid Brezhnev embarked on a 13-day railroad trip through Siberia, taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad down to Valdivostok within a few miles of the apparent site of Tuesday's incident. He visited military installations and watched combat exercises, a clear warning to Chinese.
Except for the ambush that began the 1969 clashes, the Chinese, with their outmoded military equipment and strategy of guerrilla war against invasion, have been mostly on the defensive in border incidents. Peking objects to a series of treaties between the 19th century Chinese emperors and Russian Czars, in which the Chinese gave up rights to huge tracts of Siberian ladn. They particularly disagree with Soviet contention that the Amur and Ussuri River borders lie along the Chinese shore, thus conceding some 600 islands to the Soviet Union.