White House science adviser Frank Press said yesterday that the United States and China will soon begin student and information exchanges as the forerunner of a broad cooperative program in space, agriculture, energy and public health.

"Our talks were friendly, serious and constructive," Press said in describing the five days he and 12 of the top scientists in the Carter administration spent in China last week. "Most important, it was the beginning of a serious cooperation in the future."

Press said joint research projects between the U.S. and China will not get underway until diplomatic relations "normalize," meaning when the two countries have full diplomatic relations. China has said this can happen only when the United States no longer recognizes Taiwan or when it downgrades its diplomatic relations with Taipe.

"To have a signed agreement before normalization is unrealistic," Press said. "On the other hand, cooperative projects like student exchanges can surely be worked out before normalization occurs."

Among the joing projects the U.S. delegation discussed with China last week are research programs on earthquake prediction, infectious diseases, pest control and new strains of crops. Space research was also discussed, but Press declined to identify what kinds of projects were mentioned.

"But I will say that Bob Frosch (administrator of NASA) was invited to the Chinese satellite launch site," Press said. "I believe he was the first foreigner so honored."

High energy physics is also a field where joint projects will be undertaken, Press said. One sign of this is that China is about to begin construction of its first large particle beam accelerator, which it hopes to have in operation by 1982.

"In mathematics, high energy physics and astronomy, China has fallen way behind the rest of the world," Press said. "China wants to make a commitment big enough to basic research to gain back the ground it has lost."

Press denied the United States is about to "tilt" toward China and away from the Soviet Union.

"We've had 20 years of cooperation with the Soviets and all we're doing with the Chinese is to build a similar relationship," Press said. "It just doesn't make sense not to cooperate with the world's most populous nation."