Under Chinese persuasion, Prince Norodom Sihanouk has returned to Peking to meet with other leaders of his anti-Vietnamese coalition and with his Chinese patrons. The meetings have come despite his declaration last May that he would take a one-year ``leave of absence'' as president of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia). The coalition consists of the communist Khmer Rouge as well as two smaller non-communist groups who have been fighting Vietnam since 1978.
In a meeting yesterday with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, Prince Sihanouk gave a positive assessment of the coalition's military and diplomatic prospects.
Premier Zhao said that China has taken note of recent efforts by Sihanouk and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to bring the belligerents together to talk about a settlement. But the Chinese leader did not endorse a ``cocktail party'' proposal, advanced three weeks ago, which would include Vietnam in informal discussions.
Instead, Zhao reaffirmed China's support for last year's eight-point proposal made by Sihanouk's coalition in cooperation with Peking. The plan requires a partial withdrawal of the estimated 140,000 Vietnamese troops that occupy Cambodia as a precondition for reconciliation.
``A national reconciliation without the pulling out of Vietnamese troops would mean setting up a government based on the puppet regime now in Phnom Penh and demanding the international community accept the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea [Cambodia] as justified,'' Zhao reportedly told the coalition leaders.
Some diplomats say China is uneasy with recent attempts to find channels for resolving the Cambodian problem, especially since the military situation is so heavily in Vietnam's favor. But, they add, China also wants to strengthen its influence in the region and cannot afford to openly oppose a settlement which many southeast Asian countries support.