China is beginning the new year with a major acceleration of its diplomatic campaign to forge new ties with Western Europe and Japan and renew old friendships with the underdeveloped world.
The Chinese announced yesterday they will receive French Prime Minister Raymond Barre for a six-day visit Thursday, part of Peking's aggressive campaign to improve relations and trade with Common Market nations and encourage them to unite against China's arch-foe, the Soviet Union.
After Barre leaves, Vice Premier and Vice Party Chairman Teng HsiaoPing is scheduled to visit Burma and Napal. Teng would become the first member of China's ruling Politburo standing committee to travel abroad since he himself visited France in May 1975 before being forced into more than a year of political limbo.
Teng's return to power in July of last year ushered in a period of great ferment in Chinese foreign policy. The leadership is apparently engaged in a muted debate over the late party chairman Mao's policy of all-out hostility toward the Soviet Union and improved ties with the United States. American unwillingness to abandon its security guarantees to the offshore Chinese island of Taiwan, now ruled by Chinese nationalists, has stymied relations with Washington, and Peking has begun to focus on strengthening ties with the rest of the developed capitalist world.
Along with Barre's visit and a warming of relations with West Germany, the Chinese are known to have applauded the failure of Japanese Foreign Minister Sunao Sonoda to make progress during a recent trip to Moscow in getting the Soviets to refurn certain North Pacific islands to Japan. Peking wants Japan to sign a Sino-Japanese treaty of friendship with an, anti-Soviet clause. Tokyo now appears to be more favorable to this.
Peking needs friends in Europe and Japan to facilitate its purchase of modern industrial equipment to build up its weak economy. The Chinese must pay high duties to trade with the United States while the two countries maintain only semi-normal relations. European and Japanese traders are willing to take advantage of their competitive edge.
Teng's scheduled trip abroad symbolizes his preeminent position in Chinese foreign affairs, one of the keys to his considerable influence in Peking. Foreign analysts continue to wonder if Teng, although ostensibly only number three in the communist Party, hierarchy, actually exercises more power than party chairman Hua Kuo-Feng. Hua, nearly 20 years younger than the 74-year-old Teng, was until 1970 a vice governor in landlocked Chinese province and as far as is known has never been abroad. There have been reports of plans for Hua to visit Sri Lanka later this year.
Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka all fit a convenient profile of nonaligned, non Communist states that have long histories of friendship with Peking. Teng's visit appears designed to further China's carefully cultivated position as a friend of the underdeveloped nations, what Mao called the Third World, to counteract Soviet influence in Asia and Africa.
As in most Chinese foreign contacts, the Barre visit and Teng's trip are expected to involve some trade talks. The official New China News Agency reported today that Chinese foreign trade volume grew 12 per cent in 1977.
Foreign analysts here agree that the Chinese enjoyed a favorable trade balance last year -- some estimate as much as a $2 billion surplus in overall volume. Figures gathered from Peking's 15 largest non-Communist trading partners indicate a 7 per cent drop in trade volume, and analysts here have seen nothing that would suggest that Chinese trade with the Communist world increased enough to make up the difference.
The Chinese are negotiating what would be a historic trade agreement with the European Common Market and reportedly have made large purchases from the order-starved West German steel industry in recent months. The Chinese press has been full of praise for West German statements about the Soviet menace, Peking began for the first time this month to publish an edition of its propaganda magazine, China Reconstructs, in German.
Teng has unusual personal ties with France and is expected to do much of the talking when Barre arrives. The Chinese vice premier lived in France for about six years in his late teens and early twenties and actually joined the Chinese Communist Party there, as did a number of other leftist Chinese students during Sojourns abroad.