Earthy, humorous dynamic Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-Ping describes himself as commander of the logistics of China's effort to catch up with the West in science and technology after the damage done by the cultural revolution and the Gang of Four. I recently had a 1 1/2-hour-long interview with the man who really is running China.
His role puts him at the center of a crucial test for this nation in overcoming the loss of 10 years or more not only in education but in production as well.
Under Mao Tse-tung's widow, Chiang Ching, and her co-conspirators, the whole emphasis was on ideology, with scholars and intellectuals rejected and despised.
Teng, who besides being vice chairman of the Communist Party is also first vice premier, is eager to turn everywhere in the West for advanced technology and science. With hope, he views the United States as one source of advanced technology and science. But recently the government here has met with two rebuffs.
A bid was made to private firms in the United States for an advanced computer capable of several million calculations in one second and for a large-scale integrated circuit. The firms were prepared to comply with the request. Teng is convinced that, on orders from Washington, they were not permitted to sell that advanced technology to Communist China.
When Henry Kissinger was in Peking following the Vladivostok meeting with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, Teng says, Kissinger told him that such advanced technology could not be sold to China because it could not be sold to the Soviet Union.
After the rebuff by Washington, Peking turned to Japan to buy the same equipment. But the Japanese were told that because the computer and the circuit contained American elements with military implications, the deal could not be approved. A coordinating committee of representatives of advanced Western nations and Japan sits in Paris and approves or disapproves such requests.
The United States did loosen up a bit, as Teng puts it, and allowed China to buy a geological survey apparatus. There is currently a desire to buy a deep-sea oil-drilling rig for development of the offshore oil China is believed to have in abundance.
Teng is ready to find capital by any means to advance education and science. Repayment will be in oil. Small quantities of oil already are being exported to Japan, and within a few years China will not only be self-sufficient but will have a sizable volume for export.
Teng makes no secret of the fact that China would prefer to trade with nations having diplomatic relations with Peking. That, of course, raises the most sensitive point in the relationship between the United States and the People's Republic.
And that sensitive point is the failure, after more than six years of the Nixon opening and the Shanghai Communique, to arrive at full diplomatic relations with Peking. The fact of an American ambassador and American troops - albeit in greatly reduced numbers - on Taiwan when there is only a liaison mission here is a deep grievance.
The Japanese pattern, with a trade office on Taiwan and full diplomatic relations in Peking, is held up as a model. When Teng is asked whether he might go to America, to Washington, to advance his drive for science and technology, his reply is the obvious one that he could not go so long as there is a Nationalist Chinese ambassador in our capital.
Teng knows full well that the decision lies solely with President Carter. But he refers in a humorous vein to the president's troubles: Congress, newspaper columnists - everyone going after him.
As are others I have talked with in the hierarchy, Teng is confident the country is on the way to being unified after the trauma of the Gang of Four conspiracy. With his fresh, almost buoyant manner, Teng shows no signs of the ordeal he himself went through when twice he made his was put down and twice he made his way back. His is a personal triumph with few parallels in China's history.