While American experts draft and redraft a detailed China policy for the Carter administration events in Peking on Capitol Hill and even in Portland, Ore., seem to be pushing full U.S.-China diplomatic relations into a distant, hazy future.
The Nationalist Chinese government of Taiwan, having recovered from the shock of President Nixon's visit to its Communist rivals on the mainland in 1972, is making its case against normalization with Peking in a thousand quiet ways. In business and social contacts with local American officials, they talk about old Yankee virtues like free trade and self-determination and have scored points even with Democratic liberals who might be thought sympathetic to Peking.
The Portland, Ore., city council members are among those to have come under the spell of this campaign, and last month they endorsed continued diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Similar expressions of support have been reported in places like San Jose and Stockton, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nev. The Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, having entertained some local dignitaries from none other than Plains, Ga., is bidding to show its feelings for its "sister city" by contributing to a little park to be built across from Jimmy Carter's old campaign headquarters.
House International Relations Committee chairman Clement Zablocki (D-Wis.), who visited Peking in 1974, indicated in a recent speech in Milwaukee that it will be difficult to convince him there are enough benefits in relations with Peking to merit breaking with Taiwan.
And, in Peking, the Chinese are beginning to hear that news reports about the escapades of the purged "Gang of Four" last year have left many Americans wondering about the good sense and legitimacy of the Chinese leadership.
"When even photographs are doctored," said one American observer, noting how Mao Tse-tung's widow had been airbrushed out of an eight-month-old Chinese news photo, "that results in a loss of esteem in the U.S."
Many of the problems delaying normalization with China have been addressed in a thoughtful speech by University of Michigan political science professor Allen S. Whiting, an acknowledged expert in the area.
Whiting, a key academic adviser to Henry Kissinger in the 1971-1972 opening to China and still a State Department consultant, says full diplomatic relations with Peking are needed and can be accomplished without sacrificing Taiwan. But, he adds, it requires education of Congress and the American people by the Carter Administration, and this long process has yet to begin.
The essential problem remains Peking's traditional unwillingness to write any guarantees of Taiwan's security into a normalization deal with Washington, even though the Chinese are neither inclined nor capable of taking the Nationalist island by force.
Whiting, who wrote the much-acclaimed book "China Crosses the-Yalu" about miscalculations leading up the Korean war, says of the Taiwan-mainland rivalry: "Despite their avowed enmity, the two Chinese armed forces have been in a tacit cease-fire for most of the past 20 years. The mainland was split in two by floods during the 1950s. It was ravaged by Red Guard violence in the cities in the 1960s. It faced the threat of war with the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Yet at no time did the Chinese Nationalists make any serious effort to exploit these troubles by launching a major attack. Conversely, one-third of the (Nationalist) troops have occupied the tiny islands of Quemoy and Matsu, 100 miles from Taiwan but only two to 12 miles from the mainland. Yet no mainland force has been deployed since 1958 to isolate these garrisons as hostage to compel Taipei to negotiate.
"Indeed," Whiting concludes, "No serious military analyst examining the forces on opposite sides of the Taiwan Strait believes that a major invasion in either direction is likely within the foreseeable future of at least five years."
The vague language of the Shanghai communique signed furing Nixon's 1972 China trip rested firmly on this unstated military fact, and diplomats assumed that much the same language would be used in any subsequent normalization agreement. The 1972 communique stated that the United States "reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves". Whiting says this "assumed at least a tacit agreement by (Premier) Chou (En-lai) and Mao not to attack Taiwan. This would be sufficient to permit a powerful President to persuade domestic critics that he was not 'abandoning Taiwan' to a 'blood-bath.'"
But Watergate reduced Nixon to much less than a powerful President, and then Chou and Mao died. Whiting says this left "no one of equal stature to legitimize a settlement wherein the issue of Taiwan is handled by tacit agreement or subtle semantics . . . It will require time before confidence abroad in the unity and stability of the present Peking leadership is sufficient to enable negotiations to be credible and for agreements to appear permanent."
It will also require a more careful accounting of the advantages of normalization than any U.S. administration has provided up to now. Beyong questions of the freedom and safety of 16 million people on Taiwan, American opponents of normalization can cite the $500 million in U.S. investments on Taiwan and the enormous U.S.-Taiwan trade compared to the still restricted U.S.-mainland trade.
Backers of normalization can point to China's growing potential to help or hurt U.S. interests throughout the world, the need for close contact with Peking if the Taiwan Strait tensions spill out of control, the need for Peking's assistance in settling explosive issues like Korea, and the exploitation of Asian offshore oil.
While those for and against normalization lay out their cases, "China policy is not of such high priority or such obvious promise as to compete with other issues that already cause confrontation between the Congress and the executive," Whiting says.
In the long run, he says. 'I am . . . confident that as the American public becomes more informed about the military realities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait it will no longer be concerned about our treaty committment" to Taiwan. But this will require [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , particularly with the Congress," and Whiting adds, "a modest amount of political courage."