China looks to the new Soviet leadership under General Secretary Yuri Andropov for specific proposals aimed at a step-by-step normalization of Sino-Soviet relations.
The unusual warmth of Foreign Minister Huang Hua's Nov. 14 remarks about the Soviet Union contrasts with the cautious reserve expressed by President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz. But official sources here do not expect Sino-Soviet relations to move very far or very fast.
Mr. Huang is in Moscow heading China's delegation to President Brezhnev's funeral. He is the first high official from China to set foot in Moscow for many years. But he is not a member of the Politburo, and there are persistent rumors that he may not remain as foreign minister much longer.
(Soviet state television included Mr. Huang in an evening news roundup of friendly Communist Party delegations paying repsects to the late President Brezhnev, according to Reuters. The Chinese delegation was shown after those of Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and the East European states. This is the first time in more than a decade that Peking's leadership has been shown on Soviet television.)
Despite continuing sourness between Peking and Washington over Taiwan, officials here insist that China is not about to play a ''Soviet card'' against the United States. Rather, Mr. Huang's warmth toward Moscow is seen here as showing China's desire to move Sino-Soviet relations onto a new basis with the new leadership in the Kremlin. Chinese sources say it is up to Moscow to respond with concrete proposals. They do not use President Reagan's expression ''it takes two to tango,'' but their meaning is similar.
In this context Chinese sources repeatedly mention three ''obstacles'' that must be cleared before Peking's relations with Moscow can be normalized.
These obstacles are: the presence of ''1 million soviet troops'' (in paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's words) along the Sino-Soviet border, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Soviet help for Vietnamese troops occupying Kampuchea (Cambodia). Taken together, these obstacles constitute a Soviet attempt to encircle China, officials here say.
Removal of the obstacles is not a ''precondition'' for talks, official sources say. Nor do they have to be removed simultaneously.
Non-Chinese observers say the easiest one to tackle would be the thinning out of Soviet troops on the long Sino-Soviet frontier. But Chinese officials continue to hold out for action by Moscow to remove Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea, action that even if Moscow were willing would be difficult because Vietnam would have to be consulted.
Mr. Huang's message, cordial as it was, also mentioned ''obstacles,'' saying, ''the Chinese people sincerely wish there will be a genuine improvement in the relations between the two countries through the removal of obstacles and that these relations will return to normal step by step.
''While mourning the death of President Brezhnev, we hope that General Secretary Yuri Andropov and the Soviet. . .government authorities make new efforts to promote the improvement of Sino-Soviet relations.''
The rest of Mr. Huang's message was atmsopherics, the effusiveness of which surprised many Chinese citizens as it also surprised Western diplomats. The Chinese foreign minister referred to Mr. Brezhnev as an ''outstanding statesman of the Soviet Union'' - words Chinese have not heard in a long time about post-Stalin Soviet leaders.
Mr. Huang also talked of a ''profound traditional friendship'' between the Chinese and Soviet peoples and said ''peace and friendship between the two countries completely conforms to (their mutual) interests. . . .''
Mr.Huang did not refer to communism or to socialism as a common bond between Moscow and Peking. Rather he suggested the ''five principles of peaceful coexistence'' as a basis for friendly relations between the Chinese and Soviet peoples.
These principles were first enunciated by Chinese Premier Chou En-lai and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the heyday of Sino-Indian brotherhood. Their revival today in the context of Sino-Soviet relations indicates that Peking does not look for relations with Moscow that go beyond the effusively friendly, but seldom substantive, relations that it enjoys with most countries of the third world.
Much hard bargaining lies ahead for the Chinese and Soviet leaderships before mistrust built up over the years of confrontation can be dissolved. Chinese messages to Moscow may be designed to sweeten the atmosphere in which the bargaining will take place. But there are no illusions here that the Kremlin, whether under Brezhnev or Andropov, is anything but a tough negotiating partner.