Moscow — The Soviet Union has adopted a slightly more delicate public approach toward China, amid reports of planned ''exploratory'' talks between the estranged communist giants.
Western news reports from Peking say the talks, which Moscow has been seeking , are expected to begin in October, although there has been no announcement of this in either capital.
In remarks to Western colleagues, Chinese diplomats here have cautioned against reading too much into the Soviets' recent public line toward China. The Chinese point out that Moscow has yet to signal any change on the main substantive issues dividing the two countries or to release any high-level assessment of the recent Chinese Communist Party congress.
The Chinese congress, which adopted a somewhat more evenhanded public line on Peking's relations with Moscow and Washington, has also failed so far to curb Soviet criticism of Chinese foreign policy in Chinese-language radio commentaries.
Still, there have been signs of what a Western diplomat terms a ''generally more cautious, more delicate handling of the Chinese'' in what the Kremlin is telling its own people about the Peking congress.
On Sept. 19, Alexander Bovin of Izvestia, one of the Soviet Union's most influential foreign-policy analysts, delivered a televised commentary quoting various Western news media reports that hinted at a possible Chinese-Soviet rapprochement in the wake of the Peking party congress. He said the Soviets continue to desire better relations with China and concluded that time would tell whether the Chinese congress would boost such a process.
Ten days earlier, Pravda and other Moscow newspapers printed a lengthy - and scrupulously factual - Soviet news agency account of the Peking congress. Such media treatment is generally given to issues on which the Soviets have yet to formulate a definitive policy, the most frequent example being a foreign coup d'etat still in progress.
The only hint of Soviet comment in the report on the Chinese congress concerned party Chairman Hu Yaobang's remarks on relations with Moscow. The wording of the Soviet account, and its omission of the Chinese official's mention of a Soviet ''threat,'' seemed an attempt to place Hu Yaobang's position in a favorable light.
''He did not rule out the possibility that Chinese-Soviet relations might develop toward normalization,'' the Soviet report said. ''Hu Yaobang said that China had noticed that Soviet leaders repeatedly expressed the desire to improve relations with China and noted that not words, but deeds are important.''
Such ''deeds,'' in the stated Chinese view, could include some demobilization of Moscow's forces on the Soviet-Chinese border; or signs of compromise on their territorial dispute, on the future of Kampuchea, or on the Soviet troop presence in Afghanistan.
In an authoritative commentary in May, Pravda rejected such ''unacceptable preliminary conditions'' as amounting to ''a show of (Peking's) unwillingness to normalize Soviet-Chinese relations.''
At this writing, the Soviet media have refrained from such statements since the Chinese party congress, although Chinese-language radio commentaries have persisted in sharp criticism of Chinese policy toward both Kampuchea and Vietnam.
Most foreign diplomats here assume that, while substantive differences are likely to rule out any full-scale thaw in Soviet-Chinese relations, the Peking congress has increased Soviet hopes that piecemeal steps toward that goal may be possible.