THE CARTER ADMINISTRATION seems about ready to pay more attention to Peking. And at the right time, too. The original geopolitical reason for Richard Nixon's outreach to the People's Republic of China - to put pressure on Moscow - remains valid. Having undertaken its own negotations with Kremlin, the administration has the same need to play the Chinese card. Thus Secretary of State Vance was hardly back from Moscow when he received the heads of Chinese liaison office and the National Council for U.S-China Trade. The President's son Chip was dispatched to Peking. The newly reported selection of Leonard WoodcocK, a substantive figure, to be the American ambassador in Peking fits in here well.
The Chinese, to be sure, would like to go beyond the level of gestures. They want Washington to make good on Mr. Nixon's 1972 promise to normalize relations, that is, to end formal diplomatic and defense ties with Taiwan, which all Chinese and (since 1972) the United States regard as part of the "one China." The administration, it can be said, is set to study how this change might be made. The trick is to end the formal American link with Taiwan without diminishing its actual security. It will take some work with diplomatic mirrors to get the requisite assurances from Peking, but it can be, and should be, done.
The Chinese don't seem to be in a great hurry.Their first appears to be to keep the United States as a silent partner in the containment of the Soviet Union. This give the administration a welcome measure of flexibility. It does not have to appraoch the Taiwan question under pressure. It can look at it in terms of adding stability to an already sturdy relationship. Mao Tse-tung's death last autumn had, understandably, raised the question of whether his successors would steer China back close to Moscow. But this hasn't happened. Russians and Chinese continue to slang each other; no warming is evident. Meaningful expressions of American interest in moving on the Taiwan question are bound to encourage the Peking faction that wants to consolidate ties with Washington.
There is, however, a cloud on the American political horizon. The administration is moving, if cautiously, on a range of issues that are vey distrubing to the American right: Cuba, Vietnam, Panama and now apparently Peking. Taiwan still commands the loyalties of a substantial number of Americans. An even greater number, including ourselves, would object to diplomatic moves that eroded its security. So the administration has reason to move - but to move carefully. It can't afford to overload the domestic political circult.