A high-ranking Chinese diplomatic team arrived in Moscow today for talks with Kremlin leaders in a new attempt by the two communist arch-rivals to explore their bitter differences and perhaps chart a path for mending relations.
Although there are few signs that the talks would yield early success, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yuping declared at Sheremetyevo Airport that "positive results" for the talks "are the ardent wish of the Chinese people and, I believe, also of the Soviet people." Wang heads a 10-member negotiating team.
This will be the first attempt in 14 years at detailed talks of the differences between the two communist giants. The Chinese came here in 1964 after Nikita Khrushchev was ousted from power, but talks with the new leadership of Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin broke down.
Wang, who served two years here as his country's ambassador before returning to Peking last April, said Peking has "always held that the differences of principle between China and the Soviet Union should not hamper maintenance and development of normal state relations on the basis of the five principles: Mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggrassion, noninterference in each other's internal affairs, equality, and mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence."
Yet after a year of rising acrimony, the toppling of a Peking-backed regime in Cambodia by the Kremlin's Vietnamese allies, and a subsequent Chinese invasion of Vietnam, the atmosphere between Moscow and Peking seldom has been more charged with mistrust and alarm.
Indeed, the Soviet media this weekend bitterly denounced Peking and Washington, accusing them of manipulation and trickery in the United Nations, which voted last week to allow the Peking-backed Pol Pot government to continue to represent Cambodia in the General Assembly. Moscow backed a representative of the Heng Samrin government that the Vietnamese installed in Phnom Penh after last December's invasion.
A Tass news agency dispatch from New York, for example, blamed "dubious manipulations and procedural chicanery" by the United States and China for the defeat of the Heng Samrin side. The Soviets have cast normalization of Chinese-American relations since last December as a plot to encircle the Soviets, shut them out of legitimate spheres of influence in Southeast Asia, and weaken Soviet ties elsewhere in the Third World.
Kremlin suspicions on this point have had a two-sided effect on Soviet attitudes, both hardening the anti-Peking rhetoric, yet forcing Moscow to search for new formulas to reopen its dialogue with Peking lest China's new ties with the West further Soviet isolation.
The Soviets have designated one of their most experienced negotiators, Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Ilyichov, to lead the Kremlin side. He has headed Moscow's delegation to the Sino-Soviet border talks, which have been held intermittently and without success in Peking over the past nine years.
Chinese sources here said Moscow has rejected Chinese suggestions that the Wang-Ilyichov talks be conducted alternately in the two capitals. The Soviets are said to have taken the position that since the border talks already have been located solely in Peking, these separate discussions should be in Moscow.
The differences over the venue are symptomatic of far more profound differences over what the talks here should cover. Both sides have been silent on agenda, but the Chinese sources have suggested that Peking wants to include the Vietnamese question and the Soviets do not.
The Soviets originally proposed the talks last June, in the aftermath of Peking's April notice to the Kremlin that it would not allow a five-year renewal of the 30-year Sino-Soviet treaty of friendship that expires next year.
The Chinese have taken the position that the treaty is exclussively anti-Japanese. Peking and Tokyo signed a treaty this year formally ending the state of war dating from World War II. That pact includes an "antihegemony" clause, which Moscow believes is aimed at shutting the Soviets out of rightful Asian influence. Soviet-Japanese relations accordingly have declined for this and other reasons.
Although Soviet anti-Chinese rehtoric is high, Moscow appears to be taking the talks as a serious attempt at a new dialogue. The Politburo's senior theoretician, Mikhail Suslov, last week called on China to display a reasonable and constructive approach if it hopes to normalize relations.
On the Chinese side, the new Chinese News Agency in Peking today complained that Moscow "has made quite a lot of comments unfavorable to the holding of the Moscow talks before they actually begin."
In the 19 years of open rift between the two countries, relations have seldom been worse than now. When the talks open sometime later this week the two sides may face disagreements that defy solution. At the very least, the process will be long and difficult.