China's chief negotiator in the Sino-Soviet consultations returned from Moscow today and said that the just-ended round of talks was "beneficial" but had failed to resolve the strategic issues impeding normalized relations.
While major substantive issues remain unresolved, diplomats reported a number of new programs, including student and sports exchanges, and two new Soviet proposals to ease tension on the 4,500-mile border between the two Communist powers.
The first was a proposal for a nonaggression treaty with specific provisions for maintaining security along the disputed border. The Soviet side also suggested a mutual troop withdrawal from the heavily militarized frontier, the diplomats said. China reportedly rebuffed both proposals.
Vice Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, who led China's delegation at the March 1-15 talks, said that while the atmosphere was calm, "differences still exist" between the two nations that have been ideological and military rivals for two decades.
Qian told reporters at the Peking airport that the two sides will try to narrow their differences at a third round of talks. No date has been set as yet, he said.
Asked if the Moscow sessions produced any substantive political developments, Qian replied, "There were none."
The two sides did make progress in the nonpolitical realm with an agreement in principle to exchange 10 students from each nation for the autumn semester, according to well-informed diplomats. The educational transfers would be the first in 19 years.
In the strategic sphere, however, the talks are said to have continued to stall over Peking's insistence on a Soviet and Vietnamese military rollback from Cambodia, Afghanistan and Mongolia as a condition of normalization.
Diplomats said Moscow steadfastly refused to discuss its policies with third nations.
Concerning the Soviet border proposals, the Chinese side reportedly said a nonaggression treaty was premature as long as the Kremlin menaced China's security by aiding Vietnamese forces in Cambodia and posting Soviet troops in neighboring Afghanistan and Mongolia.
The troop withdrawal motion was tabled when Chinese negotiators sought to expand the proposal to Soviet troops in Mongolia, according to East European diplomats.
Foreign analysts here believe a mutual troop pullback from the border is the most likely area for agreement in subsequent talks. Since a brief clash in 1969, the long, winding boundary line has generally been quiet.
Peking is said to balk at the proposal for fear that the Kremlin plans to match any troop withdrawal with a shifting of its SS20 nuclear missiles from the European front to the Soviet Far East close to China.
Other diplomats say Peking may be in no hurry to pacify the border because it knows that its greatest strategic asset to the West is in holding down Soviet troops along its northern frontier.
Despite their apparent political stalemate at the two rounds of high-level talks that began in October, diplomats say, Moscow and Peking have made impressive gains in the cultural and economic side of their relationship.
In addition to the planned student exchanges, they are planning to increase sports exchanges with Chinese gymnasts going to Moscow and a Soviet soccer team coming to Peking. A Chinese opera singer is planning to perform in Moscow later this year.
Earlier this month, the two sides signed a new trade pact for this year calling for almost a tripling in bilateral transactions.