The conniving hand of the Kremlin is privately blamed by U.S. intelligence analysts as the probable cause of a damaging news report out of communist Indochina portraying a top U.S. policy-maker as privately expressing disenchantment with President Carter's China policy.
VNA, the Vietnamese official news agency, reported from Vietiane, Laos, Oct. 31, on what purported to be the views of Richard Holbrooke, assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs. During a tour of Southeast Asia, Holbrooke was depicted as severely critical of both national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and communist China, Vietnam's enemy.
Holbrooke flatly denies making any such comments, and it is inconceivable that he would. How in the world, then, did the Vietnamese produce such a fabrication? While lacking proof positive, the intelligence estimate here is that this is a classic case of Soviet "disinformation" - generating lies for political purposes. If the purpose was to create rancor between U.S. policymakers, it was partially successful.
There is no internal dispute over the U.S. intention to recognize communist China, a policy laid down by the president himself. The question of recognizing communist Vietnam is not yet determined, with Holbrooke and the State Department decidely more enthusiastic over that prospect than Brzezinski and the National Security Council staff.
This difference was inadvertently underlined during Holbrooke's Southeast Asian tour. A news account out of Bangkok quoted him as predicting rapid recognition of Vietnam with precedence over China. The State Department in Washington denied any such policy, and Holbrooke contends he was misquoted. The confusion is attributed to sharp concern in Thailand over the new Soviet-Vietnamese treaty.
What seemed an honest error in Bangkok was followed by intentional mischief in Vientiane, Holbrooke's next spot. At a concert given by an American pianist at the residence of the U.S. charge d'affaires, Holbrooke chatted with a Vietnamese envoy. Next came a remarkable VNA point-to-point radio report from Vietniane to Hanoi monitored by the United States.
VNA reported that "a U.S. dignitary" - clearly Holbrooke - "admitted during a private discussion that the Western press campaign against human-rights violations in Vietnam . . . is aimed at serving the interests of Peking, since the 'Chinese card' is arrogantly demanding that the United States not normalize relations with Vietnam and since Brzezinski is pressing the Southeast Asian affairs policymakers of the U.S. State Department into continuing to woo China and contain Vietnam.
"The above dignitary," the VNA report continued, "also held it is still necessary for the United States to lead Peking by the nose and to continue to play the Chinese card." He was finally quoted as predicting simultaneous U.S. diplomatic relations with both Hanoi and Peking "without allowing U.S. China relations to hamper" U.S.-Vietnamese ties and despite "intransigent Chinese pressure on the United States and its allies."
If any doubt remained about the identity of "the above dignitary," the VNA report concluded by naming Holbrooke. It reported tha the "warmly received" the Vietnamese envoy and claimed to be "very optimistic" about U.S.-Vietnamese normalization. "The above event can be interpreted as a kind of message the U.S. assistant secretary of state wanted to express as a friendly gesture to Hanoi," it added.
"The one thing I'm sure about is that Dick Holbrooke never said any of this," one White House aide told us. What's more, the report's repetitive talk about "the China card," its criticism of Brzezinski and its assault on Chinese intransigence are all out of character for the Vietnamese regime.
But not for the Soviets. That is why U.S. intelligence analysts, while lacking absolute proof, see the report as a probable exercise in Soviet "disinformation" to disrupt U.S. Chinese relations and sow seeds of discord in the Carter administration.
The VNA report wss neither broadcast by Radio Hanoi nor published in the Vietnamese press, lending credence to the theory that its source was in Moscow rather than Hanoi. Nevertheless, the point-to-point broadcast from Vietiane was monitored in Washington and probably Peking.
Consequently, it raised suspicious about Holbrooke among some very high-placed colleagues, precisely as intended. Although now exposed as the fraud it was, this maneuver by the Kremlin shows how the high stakes game of power politics is really played in East Asia.