He is the least likely looking mover and shaker with his pixieish smile and his bouncy five-foot-four stature. Yet beyond question China's Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-Ping is the principal architect of a revolutionary change in a nation with perhaps one-fourth of all the people in the world.
He has demonstrated it once again by his visit to Japan to ratify the signing of the peace treaty between the two Asian powers so long alienated by war. Teng, with a large delegation from Peking, was also furthering the trade agreement that will amount to more than $20 billion over five years. The agreement is part of China's drive to modernize industry, technology, science and education.
Teng is determined to make up for the 10 lost years of the Cultural Revolution and the rigid, simplistic communism of Chiang Ching, Mao Tse Tung's widow, and the Gang of Four. Trade missions from Britain, Germany and France are almost daily visiting Peking to bid for a piece of the action that is part of the modernization drive.
These industrialized nations, with Japan in the forefront, have all granted Peking full diplomatic recognition. That is almost a prerequisite for large-scale exchange with the Peoples Republic of China.
During a long talk with Teng in Peking last summer, I asked him if he had any plans to visit Washington. His answer was the obvious one - he could not go so long as there is an ambassador from the Island of Taiwan in the American capital, while Peking and Washington exchange only liaison missions.
It will be seven years in 1979 since President Richard Nixon opened the door to China with his historic visit and, signed in Peking, a communique that said, by implication, if not directly, that relations should be normalized. The American failure to act, with American troops and an American ambassador still in Taiwan, is deeply resented, as Teng made clear in a press conference during his stay in Japan.
There have been indications from the White House that President Carter will act early in the new year. But a long bassle over Senate ratification of a SALT II agreement with the Soviet Union could mean a further delay.
Teng, as he made clear in our discussion, wants to buy advanced American technology. Two requests to American firms were vetoed, reportedly on orders from Washington because of military potential in certain aspects of those purchases. Teng had also been told that China could not buy equipment that had been denied to the Soviet Union; a sore point, since Peking is obsessed with the Soviet threat on the 3,000-mile northern border and fear of what is called Soviet "hegemony."
The United States did loosen up a bit, as Teng put it, and permitted the purchase of an advanced geological survey apparatus. It was hoped the next purchase would be a deep-sea oil-drilling rig as part of the development of the offshore oil China is believed to have in great abundance.
A limited quantity of oil is already being exported to Japan in payment for Japanese high technology exports. The volume of oil is expected to increase greatly, not only making the mainland self-sufficient but permitting far larger shipments to Japan, which is without oil and must depend on Middle East sources.
Because of the long isolation imposed by American policy, it is hard to realize the sweep of the revolution being master-minded by Teng. Thousands of Chinese students who have demonstrated their ability are being sent to universities and technical schools in the West. There could be no more radical departure from the policy of the past decade when education was solely to inculcate Mao-communist doctrine on pupils of peasant origin.
The change currently taking place is hardly more remarkable than Teng's own story. Twice he was put down during the Cultural Revolution as a "capitalist roader," a damning term of denunciation. One picture at the height of the Cultural Revolution showed him strapped to a chair being dragged through the streets and pelted with refuse.
If any scars are left from this treatment they are not visible. When I talked with him in a conference room in the Great Hall of the People he was cheerful, ebullient, full of confidence about a future in which the Chinese people were unified after the ordeal of the lost decade.
He was a protege of the late Premier Chou En-lai. Chou preceded Mao in death and thereby gave Chiang Ching her opportunity to carry out with her cohorts enforcement of a primitive communism.
Many who urge normalization of relations with Peking point to the Japanese model. U.S. relations with Taiwan were broken and American troops removed, a trade mission would be established to act as liaison for the extensive American trade interests with the island. This, however, will not be easy since Taiwan maintains, a powerful and tireless lobby in this country.