China yesterday accused its neighbor and recent ally, Vietnam, of "returning evil for good" by persecuting and expelling large numbers of Chinese residents. As a simmering dispute erupted in angry rhetoric, a communist-bloc news agency reported that China is pulling out its economic aid advisers from Vientam.
State Department officials said they have no confirmation of the report from Hanoi by the East German News Agency that Vietnam was informed two weeks ago of the decision to withdraw Chinese technicians starting May 19. But the officials said there has been mounting evidence in recent weeks of antagonism between the two communist neighbors, including reports of riots, killings and mass arrests in Cholon, the Chinese section of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon.
Increasing Soviet activity and influence in Vietnam, growing Chinese ties and military aid to Vietnam's antagonists in Cambodia, and historic ill-will between China and Vietnam are believed to be factors in the dispute. According to reports from the area, the trouble was brought to a head by Vietnamese decrees in late March nationalizing the remaining private businesses in Cholon and elsewhere.
One of the many ironies of the falling out is the attack by China, a millitant communist state, on the confiscation of property and put into effect by its neighbor communist state.
Peking's official overseas Chinese Affairs Office, in a lengthy statement broadcast over Radio Peking, said more than 70,000 Chinese residents have been forced out of Vietnam across their common borders since early April, with the numbers growing sharply since mid-May.
The statement charged that "the massive expulsion of Chinese back to China is a purposeful and planned line of action carried out by the Vietnamese authorities."
U.S.officials said the number of refugees fleeting the former South Vietnam by boat and doubled from 1,500 per month to more than $3,000 since the economic clampdown, Many recent escapees are believed to be of Chinese origin.
The State Department said Chinese may comprise "close to 2 million" of Vietnam's 47 million people. Some officials expressed concern that a sharply rising Chinese exodus from Vietnam might bring major new refugee problems for Southeast Asian nations and eventually the United States.
Reports from Peking said Chinese leaders had been harshly critical of Vietnam during talks in the past few days when presidential assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski. There was no indication here what steps China might take other than increased denunciation, but the Peking statement yesterday demanded an end to anti-Chinese acts and said the Vietnamese government "should bear full responsibility for all the consequences."
The Soviet angle in the Sino-Vietnamese quarrel is being watched with special fascination here. While Peking's official statement did not mention the Soviet Union, a leading Peking-oriented newspaper in Hong Kong charged that Vietnam in the Eastern Hemisphere, like Cuba in the Western Hemisphere, is "pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the Soviet Union." Recent Soviet statements have defended Vietnam's economic measure against Chinese criticism.
U.S. officials report a growing Vietnamese reliance on Soviet food and other aid, reportedly now valued at $500 million to $600 million yearly. The officials said "many hundreds, possibly thousands" of Soviet advisers are reported in Vietnam. U.S. intelligence, which has a well-known photographic capability, has no evidence to support Chinese claims that Soviet warships are using Camranh Bay as a base, officals said.
On the other side of the ledger, Chinese ships are reported to have delivered military supplies to Cambodia for use in the Vietnam-Cambodia border war which has blazed intermitently in recent months. Some U.S. officials say it is likely that Vietnam, which has mobilized large forces along the Cambodian border, is being restrained from an attack on Phom Penh by concern over the Chinese reaction.
Washington Post correspondent Jay Mathews reported from Hong Kong that por-Peking Chinese newspapers, in speical reports this week, charged the Vietnamese with closing down Chinese businesses in Hanoi and Haiphong and forcibly drafting Chinese youths into the army.
One of the Hong Kong papers quoted a former Haiphong truck driver of Chinese origin as saying searched his home and asked if he listened to Radio Peking. "In the war against the American invasion, I worked night and day to transport food for the army and now they think the Chinese are disgusting," he was quoted as saying.
"And he lists his future projects with the same enthusiam he did his series of performances.
"We're going to do 'Road to the Fountain of Youth,' and I'm playing Walter Winchell in the 'Walter Winchell Story' and co-producing it. Then I've got two more years left in my contract with NBC and if they don't renew and contract there are two other networks. Plus I've got my regular schedule.
"I did have a hemorrhage in my eye fixed, then that'll be it'. But they blasted if four times and it was okay, thought then, 'If I can't get this baby about 14 years ago," he says. And I I would have slowed down, done some writing . . ." he pauses, serious for a moment, then, he can't resist, "I've been Moshe Dayan's stand-in."
"No darlin'," he says finally, "as long as I feel this good , well, when I look at George Burns dancing that gives me a lot of Hope for the future."
And what does Bob Hope want to be remembered for?
"A few laughs."