Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev is coming to make history. The Chinese, ever wary of their northern neighbor, are determined that history will not be repeated.
Expectations differ as Gorbachev and China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, meet for the first Chinese-Soviet summit since Mao gave Khrushchev the cold shoulder in 1959.Both sides agree that the May 15-18 summit will normalize political and party relations strained three decades ago when Beijing challenged Moscow's right to dominate the world Communist movement.
Both desire an easing of tensions so they can concentrate on their sputtering efforts to reform plodding, state-controlled economies. "Abnormal relations" along their 4,300-mile border "are not in the interest of the people of the two countries," Chinese Premier Li Peng recently said.
The summit will give impetus to growing trade relations, particularly across border outposts, and to joint efforts in the development of Siberia and northeast China.
It will mean more official contacts. The Soviet Union will be able to better study China's pioneer efforts in market-oriented reforms. China, now challenged by a pro-democracy student movement, will get a better look at the bold political reforms Gorbachev has initiated.
There will be more consultations on Korea, where both support the Communist north, and on Cambodia, where Soviet-backed Vietnam is battling Chinese-backed guerrillas.
But the Chinese have been decidedly cool to the idea that the summit is another triumph for Gorbachev's policies of international detente.
It remains to be seen, one Chinese scholar wrote in the official Beijing Review, "whether the Soviet Union can thoroughly correct its deep-rooted big-nation chauvinism and hegemonism under the guidance of Gorbachev's new thinking."
Chinese leaders insist that improved relations will not mean a return to the alliance of the 1950s, when Mao Tse-tung's fledgling Communist government was forced to bow to Moscow's ideological dictums.