The shadow of Afghanistan appears to be falling across Indo-china. But the result, according to some analysts here, may be to reduce, rather than to increase, tensions along the Cambodian-Thailand border. If so, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would contribute, ironically, to peace in this part of the world.
In recent days Soviet diplomats are reported to have told foreigners that they have given Vietnam three pieces of advice: to avoid action near the Thai border; to reduce their propaganda againts Thailand; and so lessen the scale of the long-predicted offensive against the Khmer Rouge.
Some analysts believe the Soviets are deliberately pressuring Vietnam toward caution. The reason: Moscow can scarcely afford another crisis in which it backs Vietnam against Thailand at the same time as it is embroiled in Afghanistan.
The soviet Union also has dropped hints that it may back a coalition government as a solution to the Cambodian problem, according to diplomatic sources cited Jan. 9 in the Bangkok Post.
This would appear to directly contradict Vietnam's latest declaration on the object. A joint communique recently signed by the foreign ministers of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia appeared to rule out a coalition settlement. It declared, "There is no room among the population for Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, and other reactionaries including [Prince Norodom] Sihanouk."
But the communique did hold out an olive branch by offering a nonaggression pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, which includes Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia) and Burma.
It is still unclear to what extent, if any, the soviet motive in restraining Vietnam's pursuit of the Khemer Rouge near Thailand's border relates to its Afghan involvement. But reports of Soviet pressure first surfaced about a week before Soviet troops moved massively into Afghanistan.
It is also true that, so far, Vietnam's offensive has been less vigorous than expected. Yet some skeptics points out that it is too soon to tell, since the dry season danger point extends from late December to February.
It is also unclear just how much leverage the Soviet Union has in vietnam. Soviet supplies, both airlifted and seaborne, are believed to be quite crucial to Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia. But Vietnam has a long history of resisting pressure from any outside source.
Also Soviet diplomats have long sought to dissociate themselves from Vietnam's more controversial actions. The soviets have an interest in appearing more "moderate" lest they alienate the nations of Southeast Asia, including ASEAN. So for months now, soviet diplomats in Bangkok and Singapore have been privately wringing their hands at some Vietnamese actions to both Western and Asian diplomats and journalists.
Yet all this aside, there are many here who doubt the soviet Union can afford the international turmoil that would result if Soviet-supplied Vietnamese soldiers chase Khamer Rouge into Thailand in "hot pursuit." Some believe in the Kremlin's view that one crisis at a time is enough.