A major political storm blew up last night over President Carter's surprise decision to recognize mainland China and scrap the U.S. defense commitment to Taiwan.
The action was endorsed by former president Gerald R. Ford but denounced as a blow to the credibility of the United States' international standing by most other prominent Republicans.
Two key Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined Republicans in questioning whether Carter had fulfilled a legal requirement for "prior consultation" with Congress before announcing teh end of the U.S. Taiwan defense treaty.
Sens. John H. Glenn Jr. (D-Ohio) and Richard Stone (D-Fla.) challenged Carter on grounds that he had scrapped the treaty without the consultation required by a unanimous Senate resolution and a provision of the defense appropriaiton bill, both passed this year.
"Calling a few of us in one hour before he goes on television doesn't seem like much consultaiton," Glenn said.
The provision was added to the defense bill by Stone and Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who said it was "obvious there has been no full consultation with Congress."
But while Dole was demanding that "our defense commitment to Taiwan remain intact," Ford, his 1976 GOP running mate, was weighing in on Carter's side of the burgeoning debate.
In a statement from his California home, Ford said: "Based on my understanding of the terms for normalization. . . I approve of the action to be taken by the Carter administration."
Ford's was a lonely voice of Republican support, however, as party chairman Bill Brock led a chours of criticism that included leaders of both the moderate and conservative GOP wings.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) called the announcement "one of the most cowardly acts ever performed by a president of the United States" and "a stab in the back" to Taiwan.
George Bush, a former head of the U.S. liaison office in Peking and a 1980 Republican presidential hopeful, said, "We gave all and got nothing" from China in return. He said he favored improved relations with Peking but feared that "in acquiescing to China's three demands, with no apparent guarantee of a Taiwan solution, we are simply diminishing U.S. credibility around the world."
Most Democrats rallied to Carter's side. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) said the establishment of "normal and enduring relations with 900 million people on the mainland" was fully compatible with "assuring the peace and prosperity of the people on Taiwan."
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) called normalization "a natural and positive advancement . . . that will contribute to our national interest and aid the stability of world peace."
Carter told reporters at the White House there had been a "mixed reaction" among senators invited for a briefing, and that was evident in their comments.
Glenn, head of the Far East subcommittee of Foreign Relations, said there was "a little less security for Taiwan than I would like to see," and called on Peking for "a much more positive commitment" to avoid using force against Taipei.
"They don't have the military capability of taking Taiwan right now," he said, "but it's 10 years from now that I'm concerned about."
Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, now a consultant to NBC, told that newwork he supported Carter's move but wanted to be sure the United States fulfilled its "moral obligation to the people of Taiwan."
For more than a quarter century, since the Chinese Nationalists were driven off the mainland onto Taiwan, the United States has hesitated to shift its recongition to Peking.
But eventual normalization was pledged by President Richard M. Nixon in his 1972 visit to Peking-a point Carter cited twice last night in an effort to give his decision a bipartisan coloration.
But GOP chairman Brock rejected Carter's "awkward effort to clothe this act in bipartisan rhetoric" and said, "The president's actions are disgraceful."
In recent months, major U.S. businesses have begun signing big contracts with Peking for industrial and construction projects, and China has emerged as a market for surplus American farm goods.
Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) was one of many backers of the Carter move who cited the "enormous trade possibilites" now that the "obstacle" of Taiwan's recognition has been removed.
Much of the reaction followed predictable lines.
Rep. Phillip M. Crane (R-Ill.), a declared candidate for the 1980 COP presidential nomination, said the action was "a contracdiction of President Cater's own human rights rhetoric" and "can only contribute to a . . . belief that the word of the United States can't be trusted."
Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), new chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Carter's decision "finally brings American policy into line with Asian realities."
But Sen. Jesse A. Helms (R-N.C.), one of Carter's most consistent foreign policy critics, said the president "proposes to sell Taiwan down the river . . . in order to involve the United States in a conflict between two communist regimes."
Sen. Alan Cranston (D Calif.) the Senate Democratic whip, called the move "a very positive step toward world peace."
But Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.) labeled it "the greatest act of appeasement since Neville Chamberlain went to Muncih" and said it would stir a battle that would "make the Panama Canal treaty fight minor by comparison."
In a bitter comment, Charles Moser, executive director of the Committee for a Free China, said Carter "has committed the most despicable act in the history of U.S. foreign policy . . . History will record this day as one of national shame and humiliation."
Carter told reporters he did not believe the China decision would complecate prospects for Senate approval of a strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union.
But Glenn said that if the Soviets "are looking for any reason to be super-tough with SALT, this will give them a "hook to hang their hat on."