PEKING, March 15, 1985 (UPI) - The Chinese Communist Party has sent an unprecedented message of congratulations to new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, signaling Peking's desire to end a 20-year rift between the two parties, officials said today. Peking officials and Western diplomats said the message from Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang to Gorbachev constituted the first direct exchange between the two parties in nearly 20 years.
The Chinese Communist Party severed all ties with its Soviet counterpart in March 1966, when it rejected an invitation to attend a Soviet party congress. The two nations retained state-to-state relations.
Hu's message was conveyed by Chinese Vice Premier Li Peng during a meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow on Thursday. Li, who headed a Chinese delegation to the funeral of Konstantin Chernenko, returned to Peking today.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Li conveyed ''hearty congratulations and good wishes from Hu Yaobang ... to Gorbachev upon his assumption of office as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.''
''It is also significant that in his talk with Gorbachev, Li described the Soviet Union as a great socialist neighbor,'' a Chinese official said.
''China has not called the Soviet Union socialist since the two parties split in the late 1960s,'' said another Chinese official.
''At first after the split we called them revisionist, then socialist imperialists and for the past few years we have called them a superpower.
''This is the first time we have called them socialist. Sure enough, I see some signals in that,'' the official said.
Exchanges between the two parties came to a halt in 1966 after several ideological, territorial and historical disputes came to a head. Relations reached their lowest ebb in 1969 when their armies clashed at the border.
While trade, economic, scientific and cultural exchanges have expanded in recent years, there have been no contacts between the two parties, both of which have claimed to be the standard-bearers for world socialism.
"What they've done here is not minor. This is important," said a senior Western diplomat.
He said the overture appeared to further the tone of reconciliation set during the December visit of Soviet First Vice Premier Ivan Arkhipov, the highest-ranking Kremlin official to travel to China in 15 years.
But he said he was surprised the Chinese had made the overture in view of Moscow's refusal to remove what Peking describes as the ''three main obstacles'' to Sino-Soviet relations.
The obstacles are the Soviet military buildup on China's northern border, Moscow's backing for Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan.
With the latest signal, formal ties between the two parties could be re-established, the diplomat said.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Qian Qichen is scheduled to travel to Moscow in April for the sixth round of Sino-Soviet talks. In June, Communist Party Politburo member and Vice Premier Yao Yilin is expected to go to Moscow to sign a new five-year trade agreement.