1979 is the year of the Ram, and Taiwan just got gored -- needlessly.

It didn't have to be that way. It has been six years since the Shanghai communique was drafted, which laid the basis for an agreement on normalization of ties with the People's Republic of China, with eh details to be worked out. On the issue of Taiwan, the United States gave nothing away. The operative language said we acknowledge that "all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The U.S. government does not challenge that position." The statement, written by weary U.S. negotiators in the middle of the night in Shanghai, was not bad. It was sufficiently ambiguous to satisfy the U.S. desire to keep the ultimate resolution of Taiwan's status still open, and it statisfied Peking's need for a face-saving gesture from us on that issue.

But the key passages kin the Shanghai communique were the anti-hegemony clauses aimed at the Soviets. Peking was willing to lay aside Taiwan with almost no concession by us in return for our help against Moscow. Peking saw Taiwan as a minor irritant compared with the Soviet danger. Subsequently, U.S.-P.R.C. ties developed quickly despite the Taiwan issue. Taiwan was the "Panama Canal" of Chinese politics, "forgotten except as a banner with which to rally the factional faithful during leadership contests." A year later the lessening importance of Taiwan was underscored when Peking agreed to open a liaison office a few blocks from the Republic of Chinahs embassy.

In retrospect, our China policy after 1973 was probably flawed. We were so sure that we could make a deal with Peking that would preserve Taiwan's security that we began to cover our domestic flank from a right-wing attack by strengthening our ties with Taiwan, thus making it more agonizing than necessary when the inevitable break came. We increased the number of Taipei's consulates, sold more sophisticated weaponry than ever before, appointed a prior consultation before making any future major moves. Instead, we should have smoothed the road to normalization by systematically reducing our ties to Taiwan and giving it time to adjust. We should have reduced our embassy to the charge level, withdrawn all our troops (this would have psychologically prepared Taiwan better than anything else we could have done) and discussed with the Congress the most effective means of replacing the mutual defense treaty.

The defense treaty was, of course, the bottom line, and of Peking's three demands (break dipplomatic relations with Taiwan, withdraw our military and end the treaty), that is the one we should have worked on. And, in fact, the Nixon administration did have a package of minimum conditions in its mind to implement.

The most important element in the Nixon plan included the ways and means to find a plausible substitute for the treaty.First, the United States would cite only those People's Republic statemetns that spoike of resolving the situation peacefully and ignore the more belligerent ones. Second, the president would issue with te Congress a statement after normalization with Peking was achieved that any use of force by anyone in the Taiwan Straits would cause the United States to consider whatever military actions appeared necessary to preserve peace.

Moreover, we would continue to ensure that the international waters existing between the mainland and Taiwan would be open to all countries, and, finally, we would continue to sell defensive equipment to Taiwan. Our assumption was that we were in the driver's seat, and Peking needed us more than we needed it. While Peking had its conditions for normalization, we had ours. As for the future of Taiwan, we would follow the Shanghai communique by keeping the door open on its ultimate status, in the same way Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and others have done.

The rest of the story is well known. Watergate drove Richard Nixon from office, and Ronald Reagan's challenge to Gerald Ford prevented the latter from normalizing relations. Then the proponents of a born-again foreign policy came in. The first policy actions about East Asia and China were not reassuring: a proposed rapid withdrawal from South Korea, a plan to give up U.S. bases in the Philippines, a disastrous visit to Peking by the secretary of state, which was denounced immediately after by Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping. The lack of effective consultation with Congress was apparent early on, and a new harder line by Peking began.

Instead of limiting itself to its original three conditions, Peking sensed the weakness in our leadership and very shrewdly began to escalate its demands. First, Teng would tell visiting congressmen that Peking could not accept a unilateral U.S. declaration about Taiwan's security. Next, Chairman Hua Kuo-feng would inform a U.S. trade delegation that continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan after normalization would not be allowed.

Somehow, somewhere, the corporate memory about our China policy failed. We forgot that we held most of the trump cards and that we could obtain both the kind of agreement needed to preserve Taiwan's security and yet proceed in a more important relationship with Peking. When we overcame one of Peking's new demands (that we end arms sales to Taiwan), we took that for a great concession, again forgetting that Peking at first had only three conditions. In spite of the fact that we enjoy more leverage and influence over Peking now than in 1972, we obtained no concessions from Peking and gave Tiwan precious little security. The presidenths statement that the United States "continues to have an interest in the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue" is woefully inadequate.The failure to consult with key members of Congress about the conditions of normalization leave that body of individuals in a rebellious mood when both branches should be united in their views. Failure to give early warning to Taiwan and the Congress leaves us scurrying around the find a solution to (among many others) our nuclear sharing agreement with Taipei.

And most unaccountably of all, the administration tried hard to close the door on Taiwan's ultimate status by stating that Taiwan is part of China. The enormous difference between President Carterhs statement and the language contained in the Shanghai communique seems lost to National Seucity Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. In his press backgrounders, he cited the Shanghai communique as the foundation for this agreement. He simply has misread it. None of our major allies had to make that concession. Taiwan is obviously not under the de facto control of the mainland, and to say that it is part of China, de jure or otherwise, is a gratutious concession to Peking, and deprives us of leverage we might need later.

The statement by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that it "doesn't" make any sense" for the People's Republic to opt for a violent solution is, unfortunately, just an opinion. This group of leaders kin Peking may put Taiwan on the back burner, but a different group might not. The leadership coalition is hardly stable (Teng is 74), and the costs of a Western style modernization to China may create a domestic, xenophobic backlash, as it has so often in the past, and produce a more reactionary leadership. We obviously cannot rely on good sense in Peking for Taiwan's security.

As happened so often in the past two years, the professionals are yet again picking up the pieces. Taiwan will no doubt forgive us our clumsiness and inexcusable speed if we quickly get Congress to maintain some 59 treaties we have with the island and issue a strong statement about its security. But the whole exercise is depressing. Once again, this administration has proved itself inept, taking a problem already mostly solved and turning a mall success into a small fiasco.