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'Already Know Everybody in Town' : Kremlin's Envoys Selling New Soviet Look in China

May 05, 1987|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

SHANGHAI — Soviet diplomats Viatcheslav F. Lukjanchuk and Valery I. Biryukov began working in Shanghai four months ago. Like many other newly arrived foreigners here, they are obliged for the moment to operate out of local hotel rooms.

But later this year, they and 10 other Soviet diplomats will move into one of the choicest pieces of real estate in all of Shanghai--the old Soviet consulate along the Bund, or waterfront, of the Huangpu River. The building, constructed in 1914 under Czar Nicholas II, was closed 25 years ago and has been used ever since as a seamen's club. Now, it will serve once again as the base of Soviet operations in China's largest city, the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party.

In a sense, Lukjanchuk and Biryukov are traveling salesmen for a product--the Soviet Union--that for a time had a corner on the China market but that later fell into disfavor. Their sales pitch, the same one used by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, is simple: The Soviet Union has changed and China should take another look.

"The Chinese and the Soviets are at the same stage of construction," Lukjanchuk said in a recent interview. "They have a great number of similarities in their internal life. We both are socialist countries."

"I believe that China and the Soviet Union have passed that period of their childhood when there were arguments about who was the leader of the socialist movement," Biryukov added. "We have grown up. Both of our countries can concentrate on economic development. We understand their problems."

No other country has been permitted to open a consulate along the Bund, and the return of the Soviet diplomats has raised some eyebrows here.

"They've been here for three months now, and they already know everybody in town," one European diplomat in Shanghai said.

The reopening of the consulate in Shanghai demonstrates the rapid change in Sino-Soviet relations over the last three years.

At the high levels of diplomacy and Communist Party leadership, China and the Soviet Union, once such bitter enemies that they fought a series of bloody border skirmishes in 1969, have been moving slowly and warily towards a rapprochement.

Policy Objections

China continues to object strongly to several aspects of Soviet foreign policy, particularly that country's support for Vietnam, its invasion of Afghanistan and its stationing of troops along Chinese borders. Although the Chinese Communist Party has moved to restore relations with its counterparts in Eastern Europe, it has held back from re-establishing party-to-party links with the Soviet party.

The truly rapid development in Sino-Soviet relations can be seen at the grass-roots level--in trade, cultural exchanges, technological cooperation and an easing of tensions along the two countries' 4,000-mile-long border.

Last year, trade between China and the Soviet Union jumped by more than a third to $2.6 billion. The Soviet Union is now China's fifth largest trading partner, behind Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and West Germany. Sino-Soviet trade is now seven times greater than it was in 1982.

Sea Trade Up

Much of the trade is conducted by rail across the land borders. But more and more of it is coming by sea from the Soviet Far East into Shanghai, China's largest port. According to Lukjanchuk, last year Soviet ships made an average of two calls a month to Shanghai; in January and February of this year, 60 Soviet ships made port calls here.

A festival of 19 Soviet movies was just held in Beijing, and the films are now being shown here. Western diplomats say the number of courses in Russian at Chinese universities has increased markedly. With the help of satellites, the Soviets are importing new Soviet television programming into China, too.

All these efforts are aimed at bringing about what the Soviet Union hopes will be a dramatic upgrading of its relations with China, an upgrading that would greatly help the Soviet Union's strategic and military position in Asia.

Gorbachev's Offer

In his very first speech after taking office in 1985, Gorbachev placed stress on improving relations with China. Last July, in a far-reaching address in Vladivostok, he offered China a territorial concession in the border dispute along the Amur River, a reduction in Soviet forces in Mongolia along the Soviet border and general talks aimed at reducing Soviet and Chinese ground forces.

The Chinese reaction to Gorbachev's initiative has been ambivalent. On the one hand, Chinese officials continue to mistrust Soviet objectives; on the other hand, they are interested in the overtures and are watching them carefully.

"My own opinion about Soviet foreign policy is that up to now, they have made only tactical, not strategic changes," said one Chinese official involved in foreign policy planning, who declined to speak on the record. "But within China now, there are some people saying that strategic changes have taken place in Soviet foreign policy."

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