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Sino-Soviet chill persists with no spring thaw in sight; But Peking lacks clear party line on 'evaluating' Soviets

By Takashi OkaStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 1982



Peking

Sino-Soviet relations remain frigid despite periodic rumors of a thaw.

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This is the view of diplomatic observers here, who believe that the recent passing of Soviet ideologue Mikhail Suslov will make little difference to party or state relations between the two communist giants.

Mr. Suslov headed the Soviet delegation at the bitterly polemical Moscow talks of 1963 which signaled the final break between the two parties. Deng Xiaoping, then secretary-general of the Chinese Communist party, led the Peking delegation.

So far, Peking has published no evaluation of Mr. Suslov's life or works, other than a brief article in the People's Daily. The item reported his passing and described him as a leading member of the Soviet leadership group, charged with ideology and international communist relations.

In fact, the Chinese Communist Party does not appear to have reached a unified view on several major problems of concern to communist parties around the world.

Is the Soviet Communist Party still a communist party? Is the Soviet Union still a socialist state? And what of Poland?

When Assistant Secretary of State John Holdridge visited Peking recently, mainly to discuss American arms sales to Taiwan, he was unable to get his Chinese hosts to agree that Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's crackdown Dec. 13 and subsequent Polish events show the heavy hand of Moscow.

The Chinese have given a modest amount of economic aid to Poland - 50,000 tons of pork at concessional rates agreed to before the crackdown and continuing to be sent after it. Privately, the Chinese have said that Enrico Berlinguer, secretary-general of the Italian Communist Party, went too far when he said the Polish crackdown negated the October Revolution.

Publicly, Peking has remained neutral. It continues to emphasize that every socialist party must work out its own way free from outside interference. From that viewpoint, it would be reluctant to condemn General Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law.

But there are known to be party members here who feel that corruption and disintegration had reached such a degree in the Polish party that it was no longer worthy to be called a fellow socialist party and that there is no substantive difference between open Soviet interference in Afghanistan and covert interference in Poland.

And there does seem to be unanimity within the Chinese Communist Party that the Soviet Union has in fact invaded Afghanistan and that the local Afghan communists are Soviet puppets, not true socialists.

Every Chinese reference to Afghans opposing the Babrak Karmal regime describes them as ''freedom fighters,'' although they are not only anti-Soviet but also anticommunist.

Evaluation of the Soviet Union itself seems to be the knottiest issue of all. Chinese and Soviet troops are in confrontation with each other all up and down the lengthy Sino-Soviet border. Mr. Deng has said that this confrontation will continue unless Moscow agrees to reduce its military dispositions to those prevailing in the early 1960s before the Sino-Soviet dispute became acute.

Mr. Deng also told the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in 1980 that it was ''quite questionable'' whether the Soviet party ''really is a communist party.'' He has made similar comments to other visitors. A regional magazine which in December 1979 asserted that despite its hegemonist, expansionist policies towards others, domestically the Soviet Union remained a socialist state, was proscribed.

Yet Peking has never made a pronouncement with the full weight of party authority regarding the class character of the Soviet state and party.

This lack of a clear-cut party line is significant at a time when Mr. Deng and other Chinese leaders themselves seem to be trying to reconcile two contradictory premises: that there is such a thing as orthodox Marxism-Leninism-Mao thought from which deviation cannot be tolerated, and that at the same time ''practice is the only criterion of truth.'' There has been a well-publicized crackdown on literary dissent. But in the economic field, there is a wide range of experimentation encouraged by pragmatic leaders like Premier Zhao Ziyang.

A clear-cut ideological line including an evaluation of the Soviet party and state may emerge at the 12th Party Congress scheduled to be held later this year. Meanwhile, Chinese actions towards Moscow, as distinct from propaganda blasts, are likely to be governed by the Dengist leadership's own domestic requirements as well as by its perception of the international balance of forces.

Mr. Deng's top domestic priority is economic modernization. Even the military budget has been severely restrained in pursuit of this goal. He must have continuing peace along the Sino-Soviet border.

To this end, he has kept state relations with Moscow cool but correct, even while lining up countries around the world, from the United States and Western Europe to Africa and Asia, to oppose Soviet expansionism and to keep Moscow from ever being able to concentrate its military might against Peking.

The two policies may seem at times to be contradictory, but they have their own inner logic, and Peking is likely to persist with both until its range of choices widens as the economic modernization program begins to bear tangible fruit.