Peking appears to have sent out President-elect Jimmy Carter just a week before his inauguration an unusual signal of its desire to settle the Taiwan question through peaceful negotiations.
In the most conciliatory language in recent memory, an article in the official People's Daily on Tuesday said, "Concerning the American occupation of Taiwan that has caused a dispute between the United States and China, China has always favored solving the problem through negotiation and not by force."
State Department officials are known to have taken a keen interest in the Chinese message, found in the midst of a long article on the foreign policy achievements of the late President Chou En-lai. It sharply contrasts with tough statements on Taiwan that the Chinese made to foreign visitors last year and seems to be an attempt to counter Soviet efforts to draw closer to the Carter administration with encouraging words about nuclear arms talks.
The Taiwan issue is the main obstacle to normalization of relations between the United States and China.
In Shanghai communique, issued at the close of former President Richard Nixon's visit to China in February 1972, the United States declared "its interest in a peaceful settlement" of the TAiwan question but in Chinese portion of the statement did not refer to any method for settling the issue.
It is thought to have at least several years since the Chinese have said that the Taiwan problem can be solved through peaceful negotiations rather than by force.
Former Sen. Hugh Scott (R-Pa.), then Senate minority leader, said after a visit to China in mid-1976 that he was startled by the "vehemence" with which Peking leaders told him that the civil war between China and Taiwan is "still a war" and totally an internal domestic affair.
During the recent presidential campaign, Carter appeared to insist on some guarantee of Taiwan's continued existence as a condition for U.C. recognition of China, despite Peking's insistence that Taiwan is a province of China and its future somthing to be decided only by Chinese.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Cyrus Vance has said the Carter administration is committed to normalization of relations with Peking but that the security of Taiwan must be taken into account. He has also said that he expects to travel to Peking to discuss the matter with the new administration of Chairman Hua Kuo-feng.
The People's Daily article, authored by the "theoretical study group of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," also endorses the 1972 Shanghai communique as grounds for normalization of relations between the United States and China.
Given the shift in the language about the Taiwan question used in the article, analysts here are puzzled at the Chinese failure to transmit the portion of the article dealing with U.S.-Chinese relations and Taiwan over its English-language New China News Agency wire.
In other developments, a Taiwan news agency and an independent Hong Kong newspaper reported that former Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping has been allowed to return to work secretly in the Chinese government as a reward for his help in overthrowing four radical leaders three months ago.
Both Taiwan's Central News Agency and the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported today that a Communist Party document now circulating in China referred to Teng's return to an office in the state council and to his support for new Chairman Hua Kuo-feng in the purge of Mao Tse-tung's widow Chiang Ching and her "Gang of Four."
At the same time, a Peking dispatch by the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said Hua and other Chinese leaders were studying a controversial Teng report on the Cultural Revolution before officially restoring his good name.
Communist and Western sources here could not confirm the authenticity of the alleged document cited by the Taiwan agency and Ming Pao. The Taiwan agency said the the document was acquired by the Nationalist Chinese spies and Ming pao said it was reported to them by a Hong Kong resident who had recently visited a Communist official in Canton.
According to Tanjug, Mao asked Teng in mid-1975 to evaluate the negative Revolution but when Mao and Chou became ill Teng's report was put aside, then used in the purge against him. Noe the Chinese leadership is studying the report before deciding on Teng's full rehabilitation, the agency said,quoting "Chinese sources."