East-bloc tours to China pick up

Another straw in the modest wind of change in Chinese-Soviet relations? This week there arrived in Peking the first Soviet-bloc tourists to visit China since the two communist giants split apart in 1960. They are 15 Hungarians who flew in via Moscow to China for a 12-day visit to Peking, Shanghai, and several other cities. Ten more groups from Hungary are scheduled this year. The state travel agencies in other East European countries are said to be preparing similar trips.

East-bloc observers are cautious about reading too much into this latest hint of calmer Chinese-Soviet ties. Nevertheless, they see it as part of a slow but significant - and blocwide - trend since last year toward further ties with Peking. During 1982 in Warsaw, for example, there was a noticeable increase in informal social contacts between Chinese officials and journalists and their Polish counterparts. After a 20-year break, student and sporting exchanges are also being resumed. This year will see the first Soviet students enrolled in Peking higher education institutes. They will join other East Europeans, including Hungarians and East Germans (of whom a few are already there).

Whether all this is ultimately to spill over into the political field will depend on the course of the ongoing Soviet-Chinese talks on normalizing relations, observers say. And that in turn could be influenced by the way Soviet-US and East-West relations generally develop in the next 12 months.

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