The White House announced yesterday that a high-ranking delegation of American scientific officials led by President Carter's science adviser, Frank Press, will visit the People's Republic of China next month.
Press secretary Jody Powell said the four-day visit was not intended as a signal to the Soviet Union or an attempt to play the Soviets and Chinese off against each other.
The idea of the trip, the White House said, was first raised last month in Peking by Zbigniew Brzezinski, CCarter's national security adviser. The visit should be seen as consistent with overall American policy toward China and as "in keeping with the Shanghai communique of February 1972," which said both countries favors more exchanges, the White House said.
Announcement of the Press mission - which will include many of the government's senior science officials - followed by one day Carter's assertion that the United States will never try to play the Chinese and Soviets off against each other.
Last Sunday, Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev warned the United States sternly of danger in "playing the Chinese card" in an anti-Soviet fashion.
During his visit to Peking in late May, Brzezinski made two widely publicized remarks suggesting a common Sino-American interest in contesting Soviet power in Africa and elsewhere, and upon his return to Washington Brzezinski let it be known that Chinese leaders had given him brilliant" analysis of the world situation.
This led to speculation in diplomatic circles - and apparently in the Soviet Union as well - that the administration sought to advertise improved relations with China as a means of pressuring Moscow indirectly.
But Carter denied this Monday. Another senior administration official dismissed the idea of playing a "China card" against Moscow as diplomatically illusory and not in American interest. This official said pursuit of normal relations with China will continue for its own sake.
Another official said Carter has told aides he has serious hopes of normalizing th Washington-Peking relationship in 1979. White House planners have tentatively worked out a formula to do this, the official said.
Normalization would mean extending full recognition to Peking, resulting in a break of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan and probable abrogation of the defense treaty with the Taiwan government.
Administration officials acknowledge that this would be politically difficult, particularly if the administration appears to be abandoning Taiwan, a friend and important economic partner, in the process of recognizing Peking.
Officials say privately that the White House's intention is to maintain a security relationship with Taiwan after recognizing Peking, primarily by continuing to supply arms. The administration also intends to maintain the important economic relationship with Taiwan, according to these officials. They predict that Peking will tolerate such arrangements.
Conversations this week with a number of administration officials and with China specialists outside the government evoked varying predictions about Sino-American relations in the short-term future.
Carter's reported interest in early normalization is questioned by some as too optimistic, interms of both Peking's attitudes and the American political pressures working against normalization.
Soviet sensitivity about American overtures to Peking is intense. Last month the Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, Lectured Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sternly on the inappropriateness of Brezezinski remarks in China indicating shared Sino-American hostility for the Soviets, according to informed official sources.
The White House went out of its way to try to depict the new scientific mission to Peking as normal and unprovocative. Press secretary Powell said the delegation would confine its discussions to "civillian technology." Brzezinski in Peking reportedly discussed the possibility of Chinese acquisition of European-made military equipment.
Besides Press, the delegation on the July 6-10 trip will include: Robert A. Frosch, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Richard C. Atkinson, director of the National Science Foundation; Donald S. Fredrickson, director of the National Institutes of Health; William H. Menard, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, and the chief scientific officials of the Energy, Commerce and Agriculture departments.