China, in a move that heightens prospects for an end to the nine-year-old Cambodian conflict, has informed the United States it is willing to take guerrilla leader Pol Pot and his top aides out of Cambodia and give them permanent asylum when a political settlement is reached.

The potential Chinese maneuver was first broached to U.S. officials in early March during a visit here by then-Foreign Minister Wu Xuequian, according to administration sources. Follow-up discussions, including an unannounced U.S. meeting at the United Nations last week with the new Chinese foreign minister, Qian Qichen, have helped generate a growing belief at the State Department that China is quietly shifting its Cambodia posture in ways that facilitate a negotiated settlement.The future of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge fighters, blamed for the deaths of 1 million to 2 million Cambodians during their 1975-78 rule in Phnom Penh, has been a major unresolved issue in a settlement of the war.

Neither the Vietnamese invaders nor the noncommunist nations would accept an arrangement under which Pol Pot and his guerrillas return to power after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops, yet these feared and hated fighters could have a serious chance to do so should China continue to support them with weapons and supplies.

An end to the Cambodian conflict, if it can be arranged, would be of major international significance, especially for the relations between Beijing and Moscow.