China has stepped up its efforts to prevent noncommunist Southeast Asia from recognizing Vietnam's domination of Cambodia. According to diplomatic sources, the new Chinese campaign is designed to bolster Thailand's continuing tough line toward Vietnam and to underscore China's ability and commitment to restrain Vietnam. Another major aim is to contain any feeling within the Assocation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that now is the time to move toward recognition of the Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin government in Cambodia.
China's latest step was a warning to ASEAN members (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines) not to be tricked by Vietnam Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach's trip to Malaysia early this month and to Thailand about May 17 . The New China News Agency this week said Vietnam's proposal for a dialogue with ASEAN countries was designed "to divide and provoke dissension among these countries and, by coaxing and pressure, to get them to accept the military occupation of Cambodia as a fait accompli."
The Chinese commentary said recognition of the Heng Samrin government would lead toward more international acceptance of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
In a more striking gesture, Chinese Prime Minister Hua Guofeng was quoted April 21 as threatening military action against Vietnam.
"We reserve the right to teach the second lesson to Vietnam if it continues its provocative attacks against China," the Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted him as saying.
It was the first time in many months that a high-ranking Chinese leader has repeated China's willingness to invade Vietnam as it did in early 1979.
Mr. Hua's purpose was to bolster ASEAN members that oppose giving concessions to Vietnam, according to one Western diplomat. The latest Chinese maneuvers could also give ammunition to "hard-line" members (Thailand and Singapore) against those leaning more toward accommodation with Vietnam (Malaysia and Indonesia).
Both Western and Southeast Asian analysts discount speculation that Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda has moved toward a softer line on Cambodia than his predecessor, Gen. Kriangsak Chamanan.
General Prem, they say, both publicly and privately reaffirmed Thailand's "tough" Cambodian stance during his recent visit to Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. He said vietnam must withdraw from Cambodia before a political solution can be worked out.
Differing statements by Thai government officials had fueled speculation of an impending policy shift.
But Soviet-aligned sources appear to have deliberately spread rumors of a softer Thai policy, according to one ASEAN diplomat, presumably to encourage other ASEAN members to soften their positions toward Vietnam.