The United States and China began their first high-level talks in two years today, with no member of the ruling Chinese Politburo at the bargaining table.
The absense of a powerful decision-maker like Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping or the late Premier Chou En-lai at the talks with U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance suggests a desire by the new Chinese government to approach the new U.S. government slowly, especially because of continuing ties between the United States and Taiwan.
Five years after former President Nixon's precedent-breaking visit here."There are . . . still problems . . . in the relations between our two countries." Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua, who served as top Chinese negotiator today, said in a banquet toast tonight. He made it clear that the principal "problem" is American recognition of the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan.
For the third straight day, Peking's streets were filled with parades of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, workers and children celebrating the recent National Party Congress, but most of them cast only curious glances at the Vance motorcade as it drove down the Avenue of Eternal Peace from the airport this morning.
No dancing girls greeted the visiting Americans as they had the Nixon party. Tonight's welcoming banquet in one of the smaller banquet halls of the Great Hall of the People lasted less than two hours. Veteran China travelers in the secretary's party said the food was a cut below the menu at some banquets given for former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Although State Department officials were refraining from much comment, Vance seemed satisfied with the low-key welcome. It fitted his prediction that a long and gradual effort would be needed to solve the nettlesome Taiwan issue which has kept Peking and Washington from establishing full diplomatic relations
Even before Vance sat down across from Huang in a conference room of the great Hall this afternoon, the Chinese had publicly reasserted their opposition to outside interference on Taiwan.
"If the relations between the two countries are to be normalized, the United States must sever its so-called diplomatic relations with the Chiang (Nationalist President Chiang Ching-kuo) clique, withdraw all its armed forces an military installations from Taiwan and the Taiwan straits area and abrogate its so-called 'mutual defense treaty' with the Chiang clique," the New China News agency quoted Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng as saying in his report to the 11th National Party Congress.
"Taiwan Province is China's sacred territory," Hua said. "We are determined to liberate Taiwan. When and how is entirely China's internal affair, which brooks no foreign interference whatsover."
In his toast at tonight's banquet, Huang referred directly to the Hua statement, saying "China's foreign policy had been clearly expounded" in the speech to the party congress. "Chairman Hua's speech express the will of the 800 million Chinese people and explains the consistent stand of the Chinese government," Huang said.
In his responding toast, Vance said, "We recognize that in part our assessments of the world differ due to our respective histories, beliefs and social systems. But our different perspectives do not obscure the many concerns which our two nations share. During this week, and throughout President Carter's administration, we hope to deepen our mutual understanding and respect for the role each of us plays in world affairs."
This afternoon's 2 1/2 hour closed session consisted entirely of an exposition by Vance on American policy in various parts of the world, State Department spokesman Hodding Carter II said.
American officials have said that Vance wants to show the Chinese how cooperation in certain parts of the world, such as the Middle East or southern Africa, can help both countries meet the challenge of the Soviet Union, which the Chinese admit is a greater threat to them than the American presence in Taiwan. Such cooperation, Vance reportedly thinks could improve chances of reaching a compromise with the Chinese over Taiwan.
"The Sino-American relationship has become an important factor contributing to peace in Asia and elsewhere in the world," Vance said in his toast.
There has been no indication whether Vance will meet with Hua or with Vice Premier Teng, who led the negotiations for the Chinese the last time a high-level American delegation visited here. Kissinger saw the late Chairman Mao on all but the first of his seven visits to Peking.
Huang's banquet toast contained none of the fiery criticism of U.S. softness toward the Soviet Union that marked Teng's speech when he welcomed former President Ford in December 1975.
By the time of that visit, the movement toward normalization of relations had been stalled by domestic U.S. political pressures arising from the Watergate crisis and preparations for the presidential campaign. The Chinese at that time were dealing with their own internal squabbles that appeared to distract them from international concerns.
Now, the Chinese have just selected a Politburo seemingly ready to make important decisions on foreign policy, but its members are as unfamiliar with the Carter administration as Carter's representatives are with them. Both American and Chinese officials have said the four days of talks are designed to change this, Leonard Woodcock, said.