It is disappointing that George Bush, an able chief of our liaison mission in Peking and an excellent ambassador to the United Nations when the People's Republic was first seated there, should have seen fit, in The Post's Outlook section Dec. 24, to drag out several shop-worn red herrings about U.S.-China relations.

Bush says that the United States, by normalizing relations with the People's Republic and cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has "abandoned a faithful friend" and "diminished American credibility in the world." With all due respect, those remarks raise more questions about Bush's credibility than about America's.

The United States continued to recognize the Nationalists on Taiwan and the government of China for nearly 30 years after they had fled the mainland and their effective rule had been confined to some 17 million out of a total of more than 800 million Chinese. Whether that was faithfulness, myopia or domestic politics I leave to the reader to judge.

In any case, once Richard Nixon, in the Shanghai Communique of 1972, had formally accepted the fact that "there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China," and had declared his intention to normalize relations with the People's Republic, any logical rationale for diplomatic relations and a defense treaty with Taiwan disappeared.

Henry Kissinger has repeatedly said that, had it not been for Watergate, the process of normalization would have been completed during Nixon's second term. There is little likelihood that it could have been completed at that time, when Chairman Mao Tse-tung was still alive and Teng Hsiao-ping's pragmatic posture had not yet prevailed, on any better terms than President Carter obtained. Very probably the terms would have been less satisfactory.

As to "American credibility in the world," I can testify, as one who dealt for many years at the United Nations with the question of Chinese representation, that our credibility is much more likely to be enhanced than diminished by our recognition of the facts of life in East Asia. Our European allies have been urging us for years to establish normal relations with China. Japan did so several years ago.

Bush correctly points out that the primary Chinese preoccupation at this time is building barriers against "hegemonism," that is, what they perceive as the "Russian threat." They themselves would hardly have sought a relationship with the United States that they thought would undermine U.S. "credibility" vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Obviously, they believed it would have the contrary effect. Most people would agree with them.

In East Asia in particular, U.S. "credibility" is likely to be enhanced by the establishment, after so many years of mistrust and misunderstanding, of a stabler, more normal and more constructive relationship with the principal power on the mainland. It seems fair to judge, for example, that the small non-Communist countries on China's periphery -- South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines -- will henceforth be more, rather than less secure.

As to the future of Taiwan itself, the Chinese position is that this is an internal matter and that they will make no formal commitment in regard to it. Nevertheless, Vice Chairman Teng has recently assured a group of visiting congressmen that Taiwan has no intention of using force against Taiwan and that its autonomous economic relations with the United States and the rest of the world will not be affected by normalization of U.S.-China relations. Peking has, moreover, in recent days made a number of amicable moves in regard to Taiwan, suggesting a policy of reconcilation and gradualism rather than force or threat of force.

Of course, policies and leaders can change. However, there are two durable, inhibiting factors. First, China does not now have and will not soon have the military capability to launch an amphibious assault on Taiwan. Second, any attempt to launch or threaten such an assault would obviously shatter both the valuable political relationship and the mutually profitable economic association with the United States, Japan and Western Europe that Chairman Hua Kuo-feng and Teng are promoting in pursuit of Chinese security and modernization. It seems most unlikely they would risk the benefits they are seeking by such a course to seize an objective they expect, as Bush points out, to fall into their laps in any case in "one year, ten years or even a hundred years."

The situation on Taiwan depends primarily on the Taiwanese. If they wish to preserve their autonomy, they will -- with their booming economy and foreign trade -- be able to do so. If they wish to draw closer to the rest of China, they have the option. The choice in any near future will be theirs.