MOSCOW — Qian Qichen, the first Chinese foreign minister to visit the Soviet Union in more than 30 years, arrived in Moscow on Thursday for talks intended to prepare for a Sino-Soviet summit meeting next year and end the long rift between the two great socialist powers.
But Qian warned on his arrival that the Moscow talks could be difficult, particularly over Soviet support for the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia and Chinese backing for the Khmer Rouge, the radicals deposed by the invaders from Hanoi a decade ago.
Still, the visit appeared to get off to a good start. The news agency Tass reported that Qian and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze immediately established a working group to discuss details of a Cambodian settlement while they continued discussions on other issues.
Beijing is seeking a firm timetable for the Vietnamese withdrawal, preferably by June, before it agrees to a summit meeting, according to senior diplomats here. Moscow has been nudging Vietnam and Cambodia along, but Hanoi's pledge to pull its estimated 100,000 troops out of Cambodia by the end of 1990 has been rejected by China as inadequate.
For its part, China has indicated increased flexibility on the Cambodian issue. Premier Li Peng suggested in New Zealand last week that China might reduce, or even end, its assistance to the Khmer Rouge, now fighting a guerrilla war against the government in Phnom Penh, in return for a firm timetable for Vietnamese withdrawal.
Chinese sources said a breakthrough on the Cambodian question would assure a Sino-Soviet summit, perhaps even earlier than the projected April meeting in Beijing between Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping, the senior Chinese leader.
That meeting would cap years of slowly improving relations after decades of hostility rooted in ideological differences that at times threatened to break into warfare.