It appears as if the struggling, often bitter relationship between China and the Soviet Union is on the mend. There's even talk of a Sino-Soviet summit next year.

If this effort works out, put another feather in Gorbachev's hat. But that's no reason for the West to panic. Any rapprochement is expected to fall far short of the kind of relationship the two giant nations shared during the 1950s, when China received massive support from the Soviet Union. The two communist countries were allies that stood against the forces of capitalism.That relationship has since soured, much to the satisfaction of the West. Instead of an ally, China became a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union. The long border between the two countries has been the scene of minor military clashes and both have had huge armies stationed there.

In addition, the communism of China has been showing remarkable changes, including the introduction of some private enterprise, and individual rise to wealth, and opening of doors to the West.

But the ascension of Gorbachev to power has brought new efforts to heal the wounds between the two. Repair efforts may reach a pinnacle next year with the recent announcement of a summit between Chinese and Soviet leaders.

Such a visit would be the first between leaders of the two communist countries since 1959, when Mao Tse-Tung and Nikita Khrushchev met.

Gorbachev has repeatedly called for a summit between the leaders, but Chinese leaders have been quick to point to three obstacles standing in the way - the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the Russian military presence along China's northeastern border, and Moscow's support of Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia.

Since then, Russia has begun the process of leaving Afghanistan, the problem of troops along the Chinese border is practically gone, and Chinese officials are optimistic about progress in the Cambodia situation.

Many are quick to pronounce the potential change as dangerous, but improved relationships between these two countries need not be feared by the United States.

The likelihood the two countries will become strong allies as they were in the 1950s is minimal. "We will not return to the days when we were allied with the Soviet Union," said Chinese Premier Li Peng.

Chinese leaders continue to strive for further improved relations with the United States, even as they put out feelers toward the Kremlin. And the Soviets are playing both sides of the street, too, seeking to improve relations with Taiwan, the old foe of China, and inviting Taiwanese officials to Moscow.

All of this is reason to hope for a more peaceful environment in the world. But that hope should not replace a certain wary vigilance. Blind trust is certainly not the answer to dealing with the Soviets; it never has been. But without some willingness to allow change and improvement of relations, peace won't have a chance.