THE REALITY behind the TV "spectacular" which starts tomorrow, as China's Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping arrives in Washington, is quite different from the pictures which will be appearing on our screens.

We will be shown a triumphant, selfconfident statesman at the pinnacle of power who is reputed to be the victor in the struggle for the succession to Mao Tse-tung. But what we will actually see is a 74-year-old politician still engaged in a secret power struggle whose outcome is by no means certain.

Teng's position at home is far weaker than it appears on the surface. He runs the risk of being toppled once again, as he was toppled twice during Mao's life, but this time he would hardly be able to stage yet another comeback. If he goes, his attempt to drag China into the modern world at breakneck speed will go with him. The outcome of the tug-of-war in Peking will not only affect the future of one billion Chinese, but it could also have important consequences for the rest of the world.

One of the issues in the Peking debate is a reconciliation between China and Russia which, to judge from a number of signs, is now a distince posibility. This may come about even though, in the short term, the Cambodia-Vietnam war may involve the Chinese in some serious fighting with Rusia's Vietnamese ally, if not with the Russians themselves.

The Kremlin maintains that if Teng succeeds in the headlong modernization drive for which he now seeks western aid, the world eventually will be faced by an industrial giant which could threaten even the other great powers. But if China proceeds at the slower pace favored by Teng's opponents, its supply of food and other necessities may soon run short. The hunger marches by peasants who have converged on Peking in recent weeks are a reminder of the protest potential that can be tapped by extremists in the struggle for power. If the masses of China are stung into action, the resulting breakdown in social order may spill over its borders in ways which could lead to turmoil and insecurity in the rest of the world.

Costly Victories

THE ILLUSION of Teng's power derives from last month's party meeting in Peking, which is generally thought in the West to have granted all his wishes. The party's central committee agreed to the normalization of relations with the United States on the terms he had negotiated, although there had been indications that this was previously opposed by other leaders. It endorsed his modernization drive, though others had questioned its pace. His opponents had been using Mao's old leftist dogma to prevent the introduction of Teng's new right-wing policies, but the central committee agreed with him that the party should free itself from "the mental shackles" of the past. On the surface, it looked as if he had won all along the line.

But these victories are not as solid as they look. Teng wanted far more in the way of de-Maoization than the central committee granted. The articles published by his associates in the Chinese press, and the wall-poster campaign which they had launched in Peking, demanded something like the de-Stalinization that had swept Russia in the Fifties. When Teng failed to get his way at the party meeting, he quickly dissociated himself from these demands, but that was a tactical move designed to conceal a partial defeat.

Teng had demanded the rehabilitation of a number of leaders who had been dishonored and purged by Mao, and after months of internal bickering serveral rehabilitations were indeed announced. What went unnoticed in the excitement was that the Central Committee had failed to sanction the politically more important rehabilitations demanded by Teng, such as that of President Liu Shao-chi. These would have been the signal for a wholesale reexamination of the leftist policies of Mao's Cultural Revolution, which is what Teng Hsiao-ping needs before his own policies can fully prevail.

Teng knows that as long as the Cultural Revolution remains respectable, the leftists who form the main opposition to his policy of modernization remain a threat to him. But the Central Committee rejected Teng's call for a reexamination of the Cultural Revolution. It resolved to "shelve" the issue until some "appropriate time," insisting that there should be "no haste" in the matter. It also decreed an end to the purge of the Leftists, although many of them still remain in positions of power from which they could continue to challenge Teng's policies.

The Teng forces had been demanding the dismissal of about half a dozen Maoist politburo members, particularly Wu Teh, the former mayor of Peking. But the central committee left them bll in place, although they have been relieved of some of their other posts. One school of thought holds that they have been allowed to remain in the politburo as an expression of Teng's magnanimity. But in a Communist power struggle there is no room for magnanimity, and Teng knows that as long as they remain in the politburo they'll be able to work against him and to gather forces for another showdown.

The party meeting formally endorsed Teng's plan for the modernization of China, but again he failed to get all he wanted. In public, the central committee called on the nation "to shift its efforts to modernization." But in private, according to reliable intelligence reaching the West, it came to the view that Teng's industrialization targets must be scaled down.

China, it decided, just did not have the resources for the purchase of all the foreign equipment that would be necessary to carry out his plans, even taking into account all the western loans and credits which it now expects to get. This was a major policy setback for Teng, for it meant that he had oversold his plans.

But Teng has managed to undercut the standing of his main rival, party chairman and premier Hua Kuo-feng, who has repeatedly taken a more leftist position on issues of policy.

It was Hua who has protected Wu Teh and the other politburo members whom Teng wanted to get rid of. It was Hua who has at various times dragged his feet on certain aspects of modernization and de-Maoization. It was Hua who, having taken over as the party's top leader after Mao's death, continued to obstruct Teng's rehabilitation until in the end he regained, with the support of the army, all his former posts. Hua owed his rise to the same Cultural Revolution that had caused Teng's earlier downfall. Hua was a Maoist, though far less radical than Mao's widow Chiang Ching and her associates, whom he had deposed soon after Mao's death.

Six months before Mao's death, Teng had stage-managed a riotous demonstration which brought 100,000 people into the streets of Peking to secure the succession for himself. But he had miscalculated. He was dismissed from all his posts, the demonstration was condemned as an attempt at a counterrevolution, and Hua was proclaimed the successor-designate.

In public, it was Peking Mayor Wu Teh who had acted to quell the rioting. But it was Hua, who was designated as the regime's strong man and Mao's heir-apparent, who benefited most from Teng's dismissal. The rehabilitation of Teng, when it came later, was bound to weaken Hua's standing as the party's top leader -- which is exactly what happened as soon as Teng began to clear the way for the anti-Maoist policies he had always favored.

"No Personal View"

AFTER MAO'S death, Hua began to act as if he were the nation's supreme leader, very much in the Mao mold. The press explained why even in a Marxist state an individual leader is necessary. Hua ordered the buildup of a personality cult of his own, and appointed one of his close associates as the party's propaganda chief to supervise it. The press was directed to shower praise on his supposed talents, which were then detailed at great length. Huge, Mao-like pictures of him were everywhere. Newspapers began to refer to him as "the wise Chairman Hua." His personal views and utterances were publicized as "Chairman Hua's instructions," binding on all officials, high and low. If the buildup had gone much further, it would soon have become very difficult for any other leader to challenge him.

Then something happened, and at last month's meeing of the Central Committee Hua was forced to make a humiliating self-criticism. In the future, he said, the press should give less publicity to "individuals." He spoke of the importance of the principles of "collective leadership" which he had sought so conspicuously to undermine. And he ordained that "no personal view" by any official, "including central leading comrades," was henceforth to be called an "instruction."

But Teng had to pay for his success in cutting Hua down to size by making concession on a number of other issues. The bargain struck by the various factions in the leadership has left all players strong enough to continue their struggle over policies and over positions of power.

Teng had won on some issues and the Maoists on other. But the way he had won leaves him vulnerable to a counterattack.

Teng had begun his own attack by organizing a poster campaign in which ostensibly independent poster-writers called for the dismissal of politiburo members responsible for Teng's own earlier dismissal. They also questioned the propriety of Hua's accession to power as a result of Teng's dismissal before Mao's death, thus making it clear that the legitimacy of Hua's leadership position was open to challenge. At the same time, the poster-writers went a long way beyond the demands voiced by Teng's associates in the official press in demanding the abandonment and sometimes the complete reversal of Mao's policies. The poster campaign began to get out of hand.

Hua, as the youngest and politically the most senior of China's top leaders, had followed a policy of bending with the wind. The powerful support which Teng had among the military and among the party officials whom he had rescued from the depradations of the Cultural Revolution made it necessary for Hua to bide his time. But Hua, at 57, could afford to wait, for some of Teng's most powerful supporters are, like their leader, in their mid-70s, and they have been dying at a rate one would expect.

Since the party meeting, however, Hua can no longer be so sure. He has good reason to suspect that Teng is preparing to replace him with his own nominee. The propaganda chief on whom Hua had relied has been dismissed, and his place was taken by Teng's closest associate, Hu Yao-pang, who has already begun to use his control of the media to promote a wide press discussion of de-Maoization in all but name. But Hu Yao-pang is far more than a propaganda chief, crucial as that post is in a system where total control of the media has often equaled control of national policy.

Hu is a younger edition of Teng, having risen with him from small beginnings. He is also the backstage designer of the policy of modernization associated in the public mind with Teng's name. He became the head of the party's organization department after Teng's rehabilitation, and was thus the chief architect of the purge which has removed a number of Hua's supporters from their posts.

Last month Hu was dramatically plucked from the comparative obscurity in which he had fashioned much of Teng's policy and had managed his politics. He was made a member of the politburo in his own right, and thus a maker of policy in name as well as in fact -- a member of the "collective leadership" with which Hua had newly promised to share power.

But Hu has something else that the 25 other politburo members lack. Having relinquished the organization department to another close Teng associate, Hu has been appointed to the post of the party's secretary-general, which is a natural springboard to the position of supreme power. Teng had occupied it once, and was dismissed from it by Mao, who was afraid of the power which the post gave to a potential challenger. Now Teng has seen to it that the post which Mao had abolished should be revived for his protege.

The lesson can hardly have been lost on Hua. But perhaps the greatest of Hu's assets is his age. At 63, he is a young man as Chinese leaders go. Hua can no longer assume that he only has to outlive Teng in order to be able to concentrate all power in his own hands. He must now assume that Teng is maneuvering to secure the succession for a man of his own persuasion, someone on whom he can rely to continue his anti-Maoist policies.

Hua has been warned. The law of survival which governs Communist power struggles will now force him to do everything he can to eliminate Teng from the leadership, unless he wants to be eliminated himself to make room for Teng's nominee. Hua still has considerable political assets, as the composition of the party's governing bodies shows, and as Teng's failure to get things all his own way at the central committee makes clear.

The teng faction's attempt to exaggerate the extent of its success, by leaking tendentious accounts of what happened at last month's party meetings to the Hong Knog press, should be treated with as much reserve as similar leaks by interested parties would be treated in the West.

While we don't know exactly what happened at the Peking meeting that led to Hua's discomfiture, we know enough of what was happening outside to be able to make certain deductions. The poster campaign, by raising in the streets the question whether Hua had legitimately inherited his post of party leader, put him on notice that he might be challenged on the same issue in the central committee. Posters have often been used before in this way in the leadership struggle, like shots across the bows of a ship, and Hua may well have decided to make some of the concessions demanded of him and live to fight another day, rather than risk being overthrown there and then.

The American Connection

WE ALSO KNOW that the normalization of relations with the United States was a major issue in Piking at that time, and that, while Teng was anxious to close the deal, some of the other leaders found the U.S. terms unacceptable. It was then that some U.S. government experts concluded that Teng was encountering strong opposition on a whole number of issues at a conference of the party leadership which had dragged on for serveral weeks, in preparation for the formal session of the central committee.

White House officials have since said that one reason why President Carter had decided to move rapidly toward normalization was his wish to show support for Teng. This is also one reason why Carter made the concessions on Taiwan which have exposed him to the charge that he was abandoning a long-time U.S. ally. But If Carter hadn't made the concessions, then Teng, who had staked so much on a new relationship with the United States, would have been undermined, not Hua. If there had been no understanding on Taiwan, and no normalization with the United States, then Teng would hve been unlikely to prevail even partially against Hua and the Maoists on the whole range of policies which were then at issue. "We did not have the option of temporizing," said a White House official. "We had the choice of moving forward or allowing the situation to erode."

One such issue was the possibility of an accommodation with Russia, which has always figured in Chinese leadership debates as an alternative to a closer association with the United States. Defense Secretary Harold Brown revealed something of the administration's fears when he told The Washington Post last month that "it's very important to us that the Soviets should not be able to throw their political and military strength all at one point." He was speaking of the possibility of an accommodation with China that might allow the Soviets to transfer their forces from the Sino-Soviet border to the NATO front. And, as a Defense Department official explained to one reporter, normalization would have been more difficult to accomplish at some future time if China's relations with the Soviet Union had changed for the better.

But the evidence suggests that the chances of a Sino-Soviet accommodation are now more real than they have been for some time. Both factions in Peking appear to favor the normalization of relations with Russia, even if they differ in tactics and on timing.

Teng certainly wants to develop economic and military relations with the West, but he wants to do that in order to strengthen China. In the debate with the Maoists his supporters have hinted, between the lines of the Chinese press, that a China rapidly modernized and strengthened in this way by the West could obtain terms from the Soviet Union that would be more favorable than those it could obtain now. Normalization with the United States is thus, for Teng, a way-station on the road to normalization with Russia.

His Maoist opponents object to the cost of this policy. They argue that the over-hasty modernization of China's economy required by Teng's diplomatic strategy is driving the country away from Mao's vision of a communist society, toward the restoration of capitalism. The Maoists would therefore prefer to slow doen the modernization drive -- which could be doen, they maintain, if an early reconciliation with Russia removed the danger of war between the two countries. Then, they argue, there would be no need to force the rate of economic development in order to increase China's defense potential to the extent advocated by Teng.

The Maoists believe that an accommodation with the Kremlin could be reached by withdrawing the massive Chinese armies now arrayed along the 5,000-mile border with Russia. The Chinese deployment has led the Soviet Union to build up a far more formidable military presence on its own side of the border. The mutual threat posed by the mere existence of these forces is now sufficient to ensure the continuation of the Sino-Soviet dispute. But a Chinese withdrawal would lead the Soviet Union, in the Maoists' view, to pull back its own forces, and the resulting deescalation of the dispute could bring about a settlement which would make it unnecessary to build a strong force to confront Russia.

Arguing in Code

THIS IS NOT a new issue in the Peking leadership debate. Much of the argument in favor of one or the other course of action has been evident in the Chinese press articles which have been used by the various factions to present their views. The latest such article, published in Peking four days after the announcement of the normalization of relations with the United States, shows that the question of troop withdrawal remains a live issue in the leadership.

The article examines the military importance of Sinkiang, a vast area of desert and mountain along much of the Soviet border, now heavily garrisoned by Chinese troops. The Kwangming Daily, a paper closely associated with the Teng faction, speaks scathingly of "demands that troops be withdrawn from Sinkiang." It says that those who make such demands are guilty of "national betrayal." It claims that they want Sinkiang to be "abandoned" to the Russians. It attributes to them the view that no great damage would be done to "the country's fabric" if Sinkiang was "lost," since the area is relatively unimportant.

The code in which Chinese leadership arguments are conducted requires them to be disguised as historical debates. The Kwangming Daily honors the tradition by picking its quotations from a "debate" which it says took place at the imperial court 100 years ago. But this device is so familiar that it does more to emphasize the current relevance of the argument than to disguise it. The article even directs the reader's attention to the connection between the issues it is discussing and the "factional struggle" in the leadership. It mentions the view prevalent 100 years ago that the debate about troop withdrawal had something to do "with factional struggles" between two leadership groups.

Speaking for the Teng faction, the paper quotes a historical figure as "insisting that no territory should be given up" to Russia. A hundred years ago this argument prevailed, and in the end, the paper notes, the buildup of Chinese power forced the Russians to sign a new treaty in which they made the concessions China wanted. It had not been easy, the Kwangming Daily says and it points the moral for the present by emphasizing that the Russians gave way because China had been "actively preparing for war."

The article argues in effect that it is preparation for war, as advocated by Teng, rather that the withdrawal of troops from the Russian border, as favored by the Maoists, that lends "support to diplomacy." But it is clear that the ultimate purpose of such diplomacy is an accommodation with the Soviet Union, and that both Teng and the Maoists now agree on this, while differing on the way in which it is to be brought about.

The article which disclosed some of the issues in the Peking debate is only the tip of the iceberg. When the Carter administration decided to move promptly last month to help the Teng faction, it was acting on other information which officials say they cannot discuss. The White House also had political reasons of its own to seek a quick agreement with Peking. The 1980 presidential election is already casting a shadow on the administration's policy initiatives. What Carter's critics call the "betrayal" of Taiwan might have exacted too high a political cost if the normalization had been delayed much longer.

A Game Two Can Play

THE SPECTER which haunts western strategists -- the possible transfer of half a million Soviet troops from the border with China to Europe after a reconciliation comes about -- provides a powerful motive for U.S. diplomacy. To an important extent, the United States is helping Teng, politically and economically -- and West European countries are supplying him with modern arms and massive credits -- in order to prevent such a reconciliation. U.S. diplomacy seeks to play the "China card" against Russia. But this is a game two can play. China can play the "America card" to obtain western help -- and this help could then enable Peking to bring about the very reconciliation with Russia which the West seeks to prevent.

Western attempts to prevent a reconciliation by seeking to reinvigorate the flagging anti-Soviet sentiments of the Chinese leaders are bound to fail, because such attempts are no longer based on political realities. The ideological debate which gave rise to the Sino-Soviet schism has long ago lost its relevance. The schism began 20 years ago when Mao accused Nikita Khrushchev of betraying the interests of the world revolution by seeking detente with the United States. Later Mao said that the modernization of the Soviet economy had brought capitalism back to Russia. On both these counts, and on many others, Teng Hsiao-ping has left orthodox communism much further behind then Khrushchev ever did. And the deaths of Khrushchev and Mao have removed the personal element which came to play so large a role in the Sino-Soviet dispute. The original causes of the schism have disappeared, and there is no good reason why it should continue.

Sooner or later, the trend toward a reconciliation between Russia and China which is already evident will assert itself with full force, and the U.S. attempt to keep their dispute going by artificial means will suffer a major diplomatic defeat. The U.S. strategy in the Sino-Soviet dispute is designed to extract concessions from the Kremlin by threatening to build up China's power against the Soviet Union. But when Moscow and Peking come to the obvious conclusion that their interests are better served by an accommodation than by a continuation of the dispute, as they are well on the way to deciding now, the United States will be left high and dry.

Teng's visit offers the White House an opportunity to change course. Instead of going against the current of history, the United States could work with it and begin exerting itself to speed up the process of Sino-Soviet reconciliation. The White House is in a unique position to act as a mediator, and to help fashion a world order in which the three major powers would cooperate in their own interests and for the general good, instead of seeking to inflame and exploit the hostility which belongs to another age. Today both the White House and the Kremlin believe in a detente between Russia and the United States which was once regarded with skepticism by governments of both countries.The White House can either work to bring China into the detente relationship which it is seeking to establish with the Soviet Union, or run the risk that those two countries might ultimately come to an understanding directed against the United States.