The Soviet leadership offered today to negotiate "detente" with China, saying their estrangement only served the interests of the West and expressing the hope that Peking would "find a way out of the blind alley in which Soviet-Chinese relations are at the moment."
An authoritative statement published in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda said the time was "ripe" to resume a dialogue that the Soviets are prepared to begin without any preconditions. The statement was signed by Igor Alexandrov, a pseudonym indicating that it was a Kremlin policy statement.
"It is our profound belief that there exists a real possibility for improving Soviet-Chinese relations," Pravda said. "To miss this possibility or to deliberately pass it would mean to act contrary to the interests of the peoples of the two countries."
The article contained the most detailed and open analysis of bilateral differences and coincided with the private visit to Peking by the Kremlin's top China expert, Mikhail Kapitsa. It also came after Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev publicly appealed to the Chinese leaders two months ago for an end of more than two decades of hostility.
Kapitsa, who is the chief of the Foreign Ministry's Asia department, ostensibly is visiting the Soviet ambassador in Peking. Another senior Soviet official who visited the ambassador a few months ago was reported to have conferred with senior Chinese officials. Three Chinese "experts" were recently here visiting the Chinese ambassador in Moscow and also having meetings with high-ranking Soviet officials.
The tone of today's article was conciliatory and without polemical thrusts. It criticized China's "collusion" with the United States in foreign affairs but emphasized that "the imperialists" were benefiting from Sino-Soviet tensions.
"The historical experience of China itself and our present reality convince us that the imperialists have never been, are not and will never become friends of socialism," Pravda said. "They only look for a chance to bleed the socialist states white by dragging them into confrontation, into the arms race."
The statement complained that Soviet overtures so far have been met by a series of "obviously unacceptable preliminary conditions." It said the Chinese were insisting on a reduction of Soviet influence in Mongolia, Indochina and Afghanistan, withdrawal of Soviet troops massed along the Chinese border and territorial concessions in disputed border areas.
Moscow formally proposed to China in September that the two countries revive talks about improving relations or at least reopen low-key border negotiations. The first set of talks, which opened in October 1979, were broken following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The border talks, which have been conducted intermittently for almost a decade, were broken off for the same reason.
Pravda noted today the establishment of "contacts" between Soviet and Chinese institutions and private visits of experts and scientists. There have also been visit by sports teams, with Chinese gymnasts participating at an obscure tournament here and Soviet athletes preparing to take part in an athletic meeting in Peking in June.
Diplomatic analysts here said one could not expect any dramatic surprises in the Soviet-Chinese ties comparable to then-president Nixon's visit to China in 1972. The Sino-Soviet feud has been festering for more than two decades and any rapprochement will probably come at the same "glacial" pace.
Yet it is clear that even a modicum of detente with China--even if tactical and temporary--is eagerly sought by the Soviets in an effort to relieve Western pressure.