The Soviet Union issued a stinging denunciation of China yesterday in what seemed a calculated escalation of their war of words prior to the first visit to Europe later this month of the head of the Peking government.
The attack was contained in a 2,000-word commentary in Pravda and was clearly sanctioned by the highest Kremlin authorities. It charged that China is conducting a foreign policy aimed at inciting "hatred" among nations and provoking a new war.
The scheduled visit of China's premier and Communist Party Chairman, Kuo-feng, to Romania Aug. 19 was not mentioned. But the commentary reflected growing Soviet concern over Peking's opening toward the Western world and Hua's unprecedented foreign journey which also includes visits to Yugoslavia and Iran.
Privately, Soviet officials regard Hua's stop in Romania, a member of the Warsaw Pact, as particularly galling. By arranging this visit, one Soviet source said acidly, Romanian President Nikolai Ceausescu is "testing the outer limits of tolerance" in the Kremlin.
Hua's visits to Yugoslavia and Iran are less objectionable, according to these officials, although they are perceived as an attempt by Peking to challenge Moscow on a broad front.
Observers here have noticed a marked increase in the volume andintensity of anti-Chinese pronouncements in the Soviet media over the past two months. But authoritative commentaries and statements by top Soviet leaders on the subject have been comparatively restrained.
The thrust of Soviet porpaganda is that Peking is trying to undermine Soviet-American detente. And apart from the Peking leadership, the prime target for criticism has been Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, for allegedly "playing the Chinese card" to weaken the Soviets.
In what purported to be a reply to an article written last month by China's defense minister, Hsu Hsiang-chien, Pravda yesterday charged that Peking is in alliance with "The most aggressive forces of imperialism and reaction" Pravda continued:
"They (The Chinese) have been gripped in a veritable military hysteria, preaching hatred and hostility among peoples, building up a military paychosis and incitement toward a new war. This is the essence of the Peking leaders' current foreign policy."
The commentary implicitly criticized Romania's policy of cultivating close relations with Peking as a counterweight to Moscow.
The criticism of China was taken up later yesterday by Politburo member Yuri Andropov, who is in charge of the KGB, the Soviet security police.
Andropov in a speech said that those politicians in the West trying "to play the Chinese card against the Soviet Union" are making a serious miscalculation.
"Only shortsighted people can expect that the sphere of common interest of the United States and China can be developed on such a basis," Andropov said.
He also attacked Peking for allegedly supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, trying to set Japan against the Soviet Union and interfering in internal affairs of Third World countries.
The Pravda commentary warned of the possibly "catastrophic consequences," of Peking's policy.
"The aggressive ambitions of China's ruling elite are a threat to all mankind, including the people of the capitalist countries," it said.
In one of a spate of almost daily articles criticizing China, the government newspaper Izvestia reported that at least three dozen Chinese journalists were at the recent nonaligned conference in Belgrade trying to "subvert" Third World delegations.
The Soviet press also has reported an alleged split in the Chinese leadership, said there was unrest in China's military forces and a struggle for power among the top commanders, and reported an assortment of plots involving the Peking leaders and various sinister forces.