The American normalization of relations with China is accepted by most other Asian countries as an inevitable development and by some as a cause for enthusiastic cheering.
They had been expecting it for some time, and although they may be surprised by the sudden timing, they are not shocked by the substance.
It may cause two or three of them to speed up their own accommodation with China, but the effect on most of them is not expected to be profound. Japan and most of Southeast Asia already are in some stage of a process of coming to terms with China and view the new American agreement as sensible and inevitable.
Japan had taken the same step in the early 1970s and the man who hastened it along, then-foreign minister Masayoshi Ohira, is nore prime minister. Informed one hour in advance by President Carter's telephone call, Ohira said calmly that he hopes the move will contribute to peace and stability in all Asia. Japan was not informed of President Nixon's trip to China in 1972.
The move could have a significant effect on South Korea, which, although staunchly anti-communist, lately has seemed to be seeking new way of getting along with Perking. Yesterday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Seoul reiterated an "open door" policy toward communist countriesbut lamented the China "has never shown any positive reaction."
South Korea is seeking its own share of the business bonanza with China and Foreign Minister Park Tong Jin recently declared that it is permissible for anyone to trade with the communist mainland. The U.S. normalization may speed that process. Ambassador William Gleysteen was quoted by Seoul newspapers as saying the United States is prepared to play a role of "middleman" between South Korea and either the Soviet Union or China if that is desirable.
The Foreign Ministry said the normalization was "not a surprising development" and expressed the hope it might promote a resumption of the dialogue between communist North Korea, which China support, and South Korea.
The countries of Southeast Asia with noncommunist governments are divided on how to deal with China but at least two of them reacted to the announcement with hearty support.
Thailand's Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanand hailed it as a "diplomatic breakthrough which will ease tensions, retore stability and promote peace in Asia." He also expressed satisfaction that the United States "is still interested in the welfare of the people of Taiwan with whom they intend to maintain good cultural, commercial and other unofficial relations."
Phillippines Foreign Minister Carlos Romulo called it an "important step" that may improve the propect for a real balance of power in Asia and contribute to peace. His words are considered important in this part of the world because he usually represents the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) in that regional body's dealings with the United States.
Of the five ASEAN countries, three-Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia-have full diplomatic relations with China. Singapre and Indonesia do not and some observers speculate that hose nations may now find it easier to reach an accommodation.
Both are worried, as is Malaysia, about the presence in their countries of indigenous communist movements that in the past have received at least verbal support from China.
They might have been prepared to move faster if China would agree publicly to stop supporting those movements. But in a recent journey through Southeast Asia, Chinese Vice Permier Teng Hsiao-ping bluntly told leaders of those countries that China would not stop backing the indigenous communist parties and said that to do so would create a vacuum into which the Soviet Union would be likely to move.
Most of the Southeast Asian countries are now far more worried about Vietnam than they are about relations with China. Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia has sent tremors through Thailand and Malaysia. They are more inclined to judge their interests in relation to that threat than to the behavior of China. Reliable sources here said they could see no way in which the reconciliation of the United States and China could affect the war in Indochina.
Observers here and in Tokyo said that although Asian countries generally go along with the U.S.-China normalization, each has a core of resistance to Chinese communism. Right-wing elements in Ohira's Liberal Democratic Party in Japan are opposed to any more accommodation with China. In Thailand, some high-ranking military officers are said to be disturbed at the American abrogation of the security alliance with Taiwan. And South Korea made a point of saying that the new U.S.-China agreement would not affect its relations with the Nationalist government in Taipei.
As one observer here put it, there are a lot of people in Asia who would have preferred the status quo but are not in a position to do anything about it.