Cambodia is a top item on China's foreign policy agenda. China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, says the international community must increase the pressure on Hanoi to withdraw its estimated 120,000 troops from Cambodia.
Speaking to the Monitor last week in New York, Foreign Minister Qian said Vietnam ``lacks sincerity'' and is trying lure the international community into legitimizing its ``puppet'' regime in Cambodia by offers to withdraw its troops.
``Vietnam is trying to create the impression that the problem of the Vietnamese withdrawal has already been resolved, and now the remaining problem is to eliminate the Khmer Rouge,'' he says. But Vietnam is just trying to win through diplomacy what it failed to win in 10 years of war - the elimination of the resistance forces, he says.
If the world is fooled, he says, Cambodia will remain dependent on Vietnam, even if the Vietnamese Army leaves.
The world's focus has to remain on getting the troops out, he says. Simultaneously, the international community should lay the groundwork for a coalition government, representing all Cambodian factions, which can bring about national reconciliation in that troubled land.
A vital element in this process, Qian argues, is greater support to the Cambodian resistance, particularly Prince Norodom Sihanouk. China sees Prince Sihanouk as the leader of a future coalition government.
China is the primary arms supplier of the notorious Khmer Rouge, the strongest of the resistance forces. But, Qian says, China continues to provide military and other aid to all the Cambodian resistance forces, including those of Sihanouk and of former Prime Minister Son Sann.
He urges others nations, including the US, to increase their aid to Sihanouk.
``As a matter of fact, we appealed to the United States and other Western countries to give military aid [to Sihanouk], but they failed to do so. Hopefully, the United States will provide more aid to them. Much has been said but very little has been done.''
Many observers fear that if the Vietnamese leave precipitously, the Khmer Rouge would overwhelm Sihanouk and others to reinstate the brutal regime that killed more than a million civilians in the 1970s. Some in Southeast Asia also question China's commitment to a real coalition in Cambodia, given its long support of the Khmer Rouge. Other experts on the region think Peking will be satisfied with an end to Vietnamese domination.
China bristles at the perception that it favors a return to power by the Khmer Rouge alone, Qian says. A national reconciliation must take place after the Vietnamese leave, he says. A transitional government headed by Prince Sihanouk and made up of representatives of the Prince's forces, the current pro-Vietnamese regime, the Khmer Rouge, and Son Sann's group is China's preferred option.
``This should be a four-party coalition without any political party seizing power,'' Qian says. This can only be achieved with ``strict international supervision and guarantees'' and an international peacekeeping force. ``There should also be a freeze of the military forces of all'' the factions, he adds, and ``even a reduction or disbanding of all four military forces.''
The details must be negotiated among the Cambodians themselves, Qian says. But he apparently foresees a very active international peacekeeping force, which would be responsible for insuring an end to fighting among the factions after the Vietnamese have left.
The foreign minister also predicted a growing role for the United Nations Security Council. Last week, he says, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Secretary-General P'erez de Cu'ellar agreed for the first time that the council should take an active interest in a Cambodian settlement.
A changed Soviet attitude on Cambodia is the key to making council involvement possible. That shift is also central to the prospect for improved Sino-Soviet relations, Qian says, including a possible summit meeting in the months ahead.
Ten days ago, Qian met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in New Yorkto discuss Cambodia. Qian agreed to visit Moscow this year - the first such ministerial visit since 1956. His visit is possible, he says, only because the Soviets have, after years of Chinese prodding, finally begun to discuss ``concrete matters'' regarding Cambodia. He adds that the warming trend can continue only as long as Moscow is willing to pressure its Vietnamese allies to leave Cambodia.
``We found some common ground on certain questions and we also maintained differences on others, but the whole discussion was moving forward. That's why I decided to visit Moscow by the end of the year.... It's hard to say when a [Sino-Soviet] summit can take place. But on our side we have urged the Soviet Union to make efforts to compel the Vietnamese to withdraw from Kampuchea [Cambodia] as soon as possible. And they have said they will make such efforts.''
The foreign minister was clearly guarding his options to see what happens in Moscow before predicting further reconciliation between the two countries. US experts say that if the Moscow meeting goes well, Mr. Shevardnadze will probably visit Peking early next year.
Qian was careful to underline that Sino-US relations have their own foundation and would not be affected by warmer ties with Moscow. The Chinese have been privately passing that message to the US.