PEKING — Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping on Wednesday issued his strongest public appeal so far for the Soviet Union to help persuade Vietnam to pull its military forces out of Cambodia.
Deng suggested for the first time that China would be willing to accept continued Soviet use of the Vietnamese naval base at Cam Ranh Bay if Soviet officials can manage to induce Vietnam to withdraw from Cambodia.
The Soviet Union is Vietnam's primary financial supporter and military supplier. Deng's remarks appeared to reflect a growing frustration among Chinese leaders over the failure of their recent overtures to the Soviet Union to produce any tangible benefits for China.
During the last three months, China and the Soviet Union have signed a series of economic accords and have exchanged greetings among officials of their respective Communist parties.
However, during that time, Vietnam has continued methodically to send its fighting forces rampaging through the camps of resistance forces in Cambodia, including those of China's longstanding client, the Khmer Rouge.
3 Main Obstacles
On Wednesday, before a meeting here with Belgian Premier Wilfried Martens, Deng said the Soviet Union could improve its relations with China by gradually removing the three main political obstacles between the two countries.
For the last several years, China has repeatedly described these as the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Soviet support for Vietnam's troops in Cambodia and the stationing of large numbers of Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border.
Recently, U.S. diplomats have expressed concern that the three obstacles no longer have much significance because of China's eagerness to improve relations with the Soviet Union. But Deng clearly sought Wednesday to assure the United States and other Western countries that China's policy has not changed.
Deng said Wednesday he believes that all three obstacles to improvements in Sino-Soviet relations are "of equal gravity" but that he thinks the Soviet Union should work on the Cambodian problem first.
End Them 'One by One'
"If it is too hard for the Soviet side to lift all three obstacles at once, they can first eliminate one, then progressively one by one," Deng told a Belgian reporter.
"The way I see it, the easiest would be a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, because it would bring no harm to the Soviet Union. . . . Even if the Vietnamese withdraw from Cambodia, the Soviets can still have relations with Vietnam. They can still keep the base Vietnam gave them."
The base at Cam Ranh Bay being used by the Soviets was built by the United States during the Vietnam War. During the last two years, American naval officials have expressed concern that Soviet use of the base poses a threat to sea lanes in the region and is a crucial element in the Soviet naval buildup in the Pacific.
Last month, a Soviet military official in Tokyo, Col. Yuri F. Danilov, insisted that the Soviet navy does not use Cam Ranh Bay as a military base. Rather, he said Soviet ships stop there only to provide "port calls" for rest and relaxation for their crews.