In a sign of its continued interest in normalization of relations with Peking, the Carter administration had reduced the number of American military personnel on Taiwan to 750, about half the size of the U.S. force one year ago.
Although the administration has not yet announced any decision to cut all formal ties with Taiwan, as demanded by Peking, the steady military reduction this year marks a significant change from policy in 1977, when troop levels were kept roughly stable.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul W. Hanley, spokesman for the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command, said he could not predict at what rate the reductions would continue, but said he stood by his earlier statement that "right now all the future holds is continued reductions."
"U.S. officials in recent days have sought to deflate rumours that the United States plans to cut all ties with Taiwan and extend full diplomatic realtors to mainland China early next year. Several U.S. senators have indicated that they are opposed to ending the U.S. mutual security treaty with Taiwan and have insisted Carter consult with them before taking that step, which is a key Peking demand.
Harvey Feldman, head of the State Department's Taiwan desk, was quoted Thursday as denying reports he had predicted a full break with Taiwan by the end of Carter's first term.
I said it was only the president's hope. It is not a deadline. It was a goal and whether it [normalization] can be completed or not remains to be seen," Taiwan's Central News Agency quoted Feldman as saying as he ended a visit to the Nationalist Chinese-held island.
Chinese Communist party Vice Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping was also reported Thursday as predicted only gradual progress toward full diplomatic relations with the United States. Japan's Kyodo news agency said Teng told Japanese journalists in Peking that the "Taiwan lobby" in Washington was a problem and that Peking would not hurry in negotiating normalization.
Both China and the United States have sought to increase exchanges and make progress on other issues while leaving aside the Taiwan problem for the time being. Two U.S. Cabinet members, Energy Secretary James Schlesinger and Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, have visited China this month. An agreement for more than 500 Chinese to study in the United States next year has been reached. Peking is negotiating to buy a communications satellite from the United States, although a State Department spokesman denied Tuesday that a deal had been made.
American military specialists say Taiwan is capable of defending itself against attack by the presently illequipped Chinese army. But it could be hurt by a naval blockade and it wants access to America spare parts, which Peking seems to want to prohibit in any normalization agreement. Taiwan, with a population of 17 million, has about 500,000 active duty troops and a much larger ready reserve.
There are no longer any American combat soldiers on the Island. In 1972, when the United States agreed to reduce and eventually withdraw all troops from Taiwan under the Shanghai communique, about 10,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed on the island. The current figure of 750 includes both uniformed service personnel and Defense Department civilians and no breakdown of the two groups is available, Hanley said.
At the current rate of withdrawal, the number would decline to about 600 by the end of this year and all military personnel would be gone by the end of 1979. U.S. officials have, refused to predict however, how fast the withdrawal actually will proceed or what eventually will happen to the many State Department and other civilian U.S. government personnel stationed on Taiwan.
Hanley said the most recent military reduction have cut personnel from all Taiwan-based units, mostly now engaged in communications, maintenance, housekeeping and entertainment work.
"Everybody has had to be a little more efficient," he said.
News services added these details on the two U.S. secretaries in the Far East:
Agriculture Secretary Bergland, in Peking talks, was told of a wide range of agricultural information and technology sought by the Chinese.
Chinese Agricultural Minister Yang Li-Kung and other officials cited interest in purchases of pork and poultry production plants, breeding livestock and fertilizers as well as help in creation of an agricultural education system.
Schlesinger, in Tokyo after his China tour, reiterated that the two countries will hold talks on cooperation in five areas in energy.