BEIJING — Thirty years of intense rivalry between the world's two great Communist powers, China and the Soviet Union, will come to an end when Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev meets with Deng Xiaoping and China's other top leaders here this week for a historic summit whose impact will be felt worldwide.
Gorbachev, who arrives here Monday for the first Sino-Soviet summit meeting since 1959, is coming to open a new relationship between China and the Soviet Union--one that ends the hostility that nearly led to war between the two countries in the late 1960s but also one that does not re-create the old Communist alliance that so frightened the West in the 1950s.
Virtual War Footing
The four-day summit, both Chinese and Soviet officials say, will bring to an end the long, acrimonious quarrel over who has been truer to Marxist-Leninist ideals and move the two neighbors away from the confrontation that had both virtually on a war footing for many years.
The angry denunciations of each other as the main threat to world peace have already given way to cooperation on a growing number of international issues, to rapidly expanding trade and development projects and to warmer bilateral relations than have been seen in a generation.
Although the summit agenda includes several difficult issues, notably their disputed 4,500-mile border through Central Asia and the Far East and the continuing conflict in Cambodia, both sides have said that they expect the talks to place their relationship on what they call "a good neighborly" basis as well as to open the way for extensive economic cooperation.
As Deng, China's senior leader, put it earlier this year, the summit will "look toward the future without arguing over the issues of the past."
And Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, commented in Moscow last week that the Soviet Union expected that "normal, good neighborly relations will develop with China and will be beneficial not just to our two countries but also to the entire international community."
So great a factor has the Sino-Soviet rivalry been over the past three decades that the summit meeting, the result of more than six years of difficult negotiations between Beijing and Moscow, seems certain to rank in international impact with President Richard M. Nixon's trip to China in 1972.
"This trip goes beyond its immediate, practical consequences, and it goes beyond symbolism as well," Prof. Vladimir S. Myasnikov, deputy director of the Soviet Institute of Far Eastern Studies and one of his country's leading specialists on China, said in a Moscow interview. "Given the hostility that has existed between us, this trip is historic, truly world-historic in character."
The Sino-Soviet rivalry, rooted deeply in ideological disputes of a bygone era as well as in problems that have festered between the two countries for centuries, became a major element in the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States, between East and West, in the Asian-Pacific region and in the Third World, even as far away as southern Africa.
The two countries' rapprochement will bring an end to the triangular geopolitics through which the United States for more than a decade balanced its confrontational and often tense relationship with the Soviet Union through the counterweight of closer ties with China, placing Beijing under the protective U.S. nuclear umbrella and making it a virtual ally of the West for a time.
The Beijing-Moscow rivalry, once so sharp that it divided the whole Communist movement and much of the Third World, will be removed from the continuing strife in Cambodia and Afghanistan and from other international disputes where it had long been a complicating factor.
Improved relations, moreover, will allow China, the world's most populous nation, and the Soviet Union, the largest, to shift more of their resources to economic development, their overriding priority today.
Both countries are already reducing the costly defenses they built in the 1960s and 1970s out of fear of a calamitous war along their border, and they are discussing the possibility of a step-by-step demilitarization of that long frontier.
"What is happening is of extraordinary importance for us and for China," Roy A. Medvedev, a prominent Soviet historian who was recently rehabilitated by the Communist Party after 20 years as a dissident, said of the improvement in Sino-Soviet relations. "It is certainly a new era in Soviet development and a new era in socialism, and it will have a worldwide impact because of the impact that the conflict had worldwide. . . .