WEDNESDAY The Wall Street Journal filled its entire editorial column with a description of the refugee emergency in Southeast Asia, an analysis of the brutish behavior of the Vietnamese government which is causing it, a searing (and deserved) attack on those nations that could help but so far have been evasive and indifferent, and a plea that the emergency get top attention - and action - at the forthcoming summit meeting of the industrial nations in Tokyo. The Journal was right on all counts - including the sense of priorities that caused it to reprint this eloquent argument, which has first appeared in the Asian edition of the paper.

Evidently, the subject got only glancing mention at the U.S.-Soviet summit conference in Vienna, even though the Russians are very much involved in the Vietnamese government's activities and President Carter has claimed a special sensitivity to questions of human rights. But the subject should not be shunted aside at the meeting in Tokyo; and the statements of American officials yesterday that the president plans to take the lead in compelling the other industrial nations to face up to the full implications of the refugee horror that is proceeding daily is welcome news. Up until now, in the face of that horror, the rest of the world has been looking on and taking only minimal and convenient measures to help, while waving eloquent on how very difficult the whole thing has become and how very complicated to resolve.

The world has got very good - very skilled and very adept, really - at spotting these great mass abuses of populations. But only from a distance of about 40 years. Up close it's different. Then no one can see. Ethnic Chinese by the hundreds of thousands are being expelled. Refugees in the tens of thousands who fled Cambodia are being sent back there by a desperate Thai government. Thousands upon thousands more Indochinese are drifting around in flimsy boats to nowhere, starving, drowning. The thing about all this is not that it's politically awkward or economically burdensome or diplomatically tricky. The thing about it is that it is happening - now , to real people. And the world - including and especially the world that could help - can't quite get the thing in focus.

Britain's Prime Minister Thatcher has taken the lead in trying to get an international conference together. The president apparently will now take the lead in making the subject a prominent concern at Tokyo. It will make only a modest difference in the numbers of refugees living in the camps in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong, but he should nonetheless also announce a willingness, at a minimum, to double the number - currently 7,000 a month - we are willing to accept. That would be a sign to the desperate receiving countries that help is on the way and that there is no need to take the cruel measures into which some of them have felt forced. And Secretary Vance, when he goes on to the Indonesia meeting of Southeast Asian nations after Tokyo, should be ready to announce more assistance. This is a question of moral right and international responsibility - and one from which neither the United States nor the rest of the industrial countries should be permitted to look away.