CHINESE Premier Li Peng returned from the Soviet Union yesterday with a briefcase full of bilateral accords on trade, technology, and the withdrawal of border troops. But Mr. Li failed to come away with two less tangible, yet equally desired achievements: a strengthened personal image and an end to the diplomatic isolation of China's hard-line regime.
About 200 protesters in Moscow denounced Li as a ``bloody butcher'' for his role in crushing China's democracy movement last spring, Reuters reported. The demonstration on Monday made headlines abroad and has already reverberated in Beijing, where Li is widely disliked.
``The people in Moscow put it quite correctly. He's a murderer with blood on his hands,'' a Chinese scholar says on condition of anonymity.
The Moscow protest suggests that widespread public condemnation of Beijing's military crackdown last June will continue to inhibit many foreign countries from hosting Chinese Communist Party leaders.
It also highlights the political schism that has grown between China's orthodox Marxists, who have attempted to quash dissent, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who has supported democratic reform.
Despite efforts by Beijing and Moscow to set ideological differences aside, experts say the discord is restricting the scope of Sino-Soviet ties, which were normalized only last May after three decades of hostility.
Beijing's aged Marxist leaders worry that the democratic experiments and ethnic independence movements under way in the Soviet Union will spill over the border into China.
``The Chinese are very scornful of perestroika [restructuring],'' says Donald Zagoria, an expert on Sino-Soviet relations at Hunter College in New York. ``For them, it's a negative lesson.''
In internal documents, according to Chinese and Soviet sources, Chinese leaders have attacked Mr. Gorbachev for supporting radical change in Eastern Europe, striking the clause on the leading role of the Communist Party from the Soviet Constitution, and advocating a multiparty system.
Beijing's current campaign to stamp out liberal political values is likely to prevent the emergence of extensive scholarly and cultural contacts with the Soviet Union, and especially student exchanges, experts say. There are now only about 900 Chinese scholars in the Soviet Union, and 300 Soviet scholars in China.
Soviet leaders, in turn, have scaled down their expectations for Sino-Soviet cooperation, which some observers predicted would blossom following Gorbachev's historic visit to China 11 months ago.
``Last May, we could have moved together in one direction,'' says a Soviet source in Beijing on condition of anonymity.
Now, Soviet leaders worry about the possibility that major unrest in China could create renewed hostilities between Beijing and Moscow, as it did during Mao Zedong's radical 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
``Their worst fear is that China will become increasingly unstable. They've had that experience before,'' says Professor Zagoria.
Acknowledging their political differences, China and the Soviet Union seek to concentrate on boosting bilateral economic cooperation and reducing military forces along the Sino-Soviet border - steps beneficial to the goal of both sides to reform their stagnant, state-run economies.
``Our bilateral relationship will center on trade and economic cooperation,'' says Lu Nanquan, director of the Institute of Soviet and Eastern European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
During Li's visit, China and the Soviet Union concluded six agreements, covering trade-related credits, the construction of a nuclear power plant in China, economic cooperation, and the peaceful use of space.
Barter trade between the countries reached $3 billion last year, but prospects for further growth in trade are limited by both nations' lack of hard currency.
The countries also reached agreement on principles to govern the withdrawal of some of the 1 million Chinese soldiers and 500,000 better-equipped Soviet troops from the Sino-Soviet frontier.
However, experts predict only slow progress on troop reductions, citing the asymmetry of forces and other obstacles.