Cuddle diplomacy

Several China watchers in the Reagan administration are troubled because the Soviet Union and China seem to be cud-dling up to each other all of a sudden. It's as if they didn't believe Winston Churchill's insight that China's giant pandas already ''satisfied the world's need for cuddlability.''

There is nothing to worry about in all this. Anyone who shares an affinity for beet soup and a suspicion of human rights can cuddle up to a Russian. It also helps if one is used to crowded apartments and empty grocery stores. Americans could cuddle up to Russians if they saw it as part of a new physical fitness fad, but on the whole Americans are not cuddly people. They don't even like to cuddle with Canadians.

China and the Soviet Union are cud-dling at the present time because they are both wary of Washington. For one thing, some Austrian businessmen have recently presented President Reagan with a dancing horse. All right, the dancing horse is one of the Lippizaner stallions, but is that what the rest of the world needs at this time, to see the leader of the free world seated on a dancing horse?

Even so, it is doubtful that the Chinese will turn out to be long-term Soviet cuddlers. It should be noted that since 1979, when a new, outgoing Peking policy went into effect, there are 10,000 Chinese students studying in the United States. And in the nature of traveling Chinese, like traveling Russians, 1,000 of these so far have defected and are applying for asylum. What would be a nice, cuddly comparison is: How many Chinese are defecting to get into the Soviet Union, regardless of the delicious beet soup?

There is still another point to consider. According to some obscure pollster, well over half the population of the United States likes to eat in Chinese restaurants. Just ask any American on the street how he likes won ton soup, egg foo yong, or moo goo gai pan and his eyes begin to roll like an egg. Probably one of the big reasons Chinese are defecting to the US is it's the only place in the world they can get a good Chinese dinner.

No respectable American city would be without at least five good Chinese restaurants. There are probably more good Chinese restaurants in the city of Boston alone than there are in all of the Soviet Union.

So China watchers in the Reagan administration really do not have to worry about China playing the borsch circuit to the north. Throughout the centuries, the Chinese have proved to be a very clever people. They know which side their fortune cookie is buttered on.

And they have long since learned the difference between cuddling and coddling.

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