By defecting here, Hu Na has performed a public service worthy of a citizen. She has caused discomfort to some persons, here and in China, who deserve it.

When the 19-year-old Chinese tennis player defected during a California tournament last July, the Reagan administration should have immediately said to Peking: anyone within our borders has an absolute right to apply for political asylum. This is a legal not a political process, so butt out. There is no way this process can end other than in a grant of asylum.

And this is true also for the 1,000 Chinese (of the 10,000 now in this country) who have become enemies of the Chinese regime by seeking asylum.

Instead, the administration dithered for nine months, and did so for--it is glaringly obvious-- political reasons. As this is written, a decision-- the right one--is near. The appeasers (the word fits) have lost their battle to have Hu granted something less than political asylum, some indefinite but temporary and revokable permission to remain here.

Although Peking demanded it, there never was a possibility that Hu would be "sent back." Persons denied asylum are not extradicted to the country from which they are fleeing. They can go to any nation that will take them. Taiwan (I know, I know: we have declared it a non-nation) would take her. Would Peking like that?

In the argument within the State Department, the human-rights advocates defeated those persons who rise every morning wondering what they can do that day to please Peking. The department recommended to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Hu be given political asylum. INS almost always takes the State Department's recommendation. But not this time. Fortunately, it is up to the attorney general to make a final decision. Hu will get political asylum.

The INS is reportedly in a snit because State did not furnish what INS considers sufficient reasons for its recommendations. In 1980, the law was changed, so there no longer is a presumption that persons fleeing communist countries have valid reasons for fleeing.

But when asked why she wants asylum, Hu gives persuasive reasons, including threats aimed at forcing her to join the Communist Party, and fear of becoming a victim of factional strife. It is absurd to ask why anyone would want to escape from one of the world's most repressive regimes. But she has what the law requires: a well-founded fear of persecution, were she to return.

When Hu was playing for China and lost a match, her team captain would say it was a sign that "I had not sufficiently studied Marxist-Leninist thought." Her grandfather, a coach, was purged for neglecting the communist dimensions of tennis, whatever that means. A player was sentenced to a year at hard labor because he threw his racket during a match abroad-- a sure sign of capitalist influence. Hu has been severely criticized for fraternizing with foreigners while abroad, and--oh! bourgeois deviationism!--wearing tennis clothes with American brand names.

We may be past the period of ludicrous enthusiasm for China, the period when, as Pat Moynihan says, many Americans returned from China more impressed by the absence of flies than the absence of freedom. But there is in the United States a lobby devoted to pleasing Peking, and therefore terrified of truthful talk about Peking. The core of the relations with particular countries often become single-minded about reducing "friction" with, and increasing the contentment of, that country.

What Peking's advocates say is wrong with granting Hu political asylum is actually what makes political asylum so pleasing: it is offensive to Peking. Thus it is welcome evidence that the U.S. government can assert itself against Peking.

Political asylum for Hu is offensive to Peking because it is a clear comment on China's ugly, irrational totalitarianism. (No one from, say, Denmark, could be granted political asylum.) Political asylum also is splendidly offensive because it clearly expresses disbelief concerning China's assurances that Hu would not be persecuted were she to return.

In this episode, Peking has shown disrespect for U.S. legal processes, and confidence that the U.S. government would cave in to pressure. Why? Because from the Shanghai communiqu,e (1972) through the Reagan administration's capitulation concerning arms for Taiwan (committing the United States to phase out sales), the United States has earned Peking's contempt.

Finally, the fact that Reagan's administration contrived to make a long-running problem and embarrassment out of what should have been a quick, easy decision illustrates this administration's failure to communicate certain core values to certain recesses of the bureaucracy.