If some of the China enthusiasts in the Carter administration had their way, this Tuesday night at the Capital Centre Chinese Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, who stands 4-foot-11, might have had a face-to-face meeting, of sorts, with Elvin Hayes, who is 6-foot-9.
Teng, who arrives in Washington Today and officially begins his state visit to the United States tomorrow morning at the White House, is said to enjoy basketball. So during the planning for his visit, it was suggested that the vice premier might like to watch Hayes and his Washington Bullets teammates play the Atlanta Hawks.
That idea, and dozens of others for how Teng should spend his time during the nine days he will be in the United States, never got very far.
According to White House officials, President Carter personally "put the brakes on" suggestions to make the Teng visit more elaborate and more of a media spectacular than it already was bound to be.
In early January, these officials said, the president received a memorandum on the Teng visit from a planning group in the White House under the direction of presidential assistant Anne Wexler. The document, according to officials, contained "some over-enthusiastic ideas" for the treatment of Teng, many of them generated by the National Security Council staff.
Carter rejected many of the suggestions, cautioning his staff not to "overdo" it and reminding them that the Teng visit inevitably will be compared with the treatment afforded Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev, who is expected to visit the United States later this year for the signing of a new strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT).
"The operative word was symmetry," one White House aide said of the president's orders.
Balancing the new U.S. relationship with the People's Republic of China against the requirements of continuing Soviet-American relations and Carter's desire to obtain a SALT accord this year was one of the major foreign policy considerations in the planning for the Teng visit.
"We will be cautious in not trying to have an unbalanced relationship between China and the Soviet Union," Carter said in voicing this concern during a news conference Friday.
That is the official administration policy, but clearly the first visit to the United States of a ranking officials of the Pople's Republic of China is something special and is being treated as such.
"I think it is entirely appropriate that this not be just a series of talks between the two leaders," said one administration official, referring to the itinerary that will take Teng to Atlanta, Houston and Seattle After his meetings with the president in Washington. "This is a unique trip.This is the first time our country will be shown to the Chinese and the Chinese coverage of it, broadcast back to China, will be very significant."
In the White House, planning for the visit began shortly after Carter announced his decision Dec. 15 to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. Under Wexler's direction, the planning group involved several senior White House aides, officials of the National Security Council and the State Department, and the Secret Service.
An advance team of Chinese officials has been in the United States since mid-January, inspecting the sites that Teng will visit and working with the White House planning group.
The Chinese also have been working directly with the American television networks on arrangements to televise much of the visit back to China. "They intend to use the visit for their own purposes -- to show what a modern, industrialized society looks like," one State Department official said.
More than 20 U.S. cities requested visits by the Chinese delegation. The three outside Washington that he will travel to were suggested by the White House planning group, but tailored to what the Chinese wanted to see and do in the United States.
The accent will be on science, technology and trade, fields in which the Chinese hope to benefit from their new relations with the United States. In Atlanta, Teng will tour a Ford Motor Co. assembly line. In Houston, he will see the Johnson Space Center and visit the Hughes Tool Co. which manufactures oil drilling equipment. Outside Seattle, Teng will tour the Boeing aircraft plant.
In the course of his tour, Teng will attend a series of lunches and dinners, meet with groups of editors and publishers in Houston and Seattle, and attend a Texas barbecue and rodeo in Simonton, Tex.
Meanwhile, Fang Yi, the Chinese vice premier in charge of the State Scientific and Technological Commission, will keep to his own schedule, visiting research failities at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and will travel separately to Los Angeles before rejoining Teng in Seattle for the trip back to Peking.
The entire visit will be covered intensively in the United States and abroad. Two chartered jetliners will fly more than 200 journalists accompanying Teng around the country.
The White House hopes to use the extravaganza to help the president's political standing and solidify support for his China policy. They are assuming, in the words of one administration official, that Teng's personality will make the visit "a spectacular."
The planners also took care to look after some of Carter's most important interests. On different legs of the trip, Teng will be accompanied not only by Cabinet officials (Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps, Special Trade Ambassador Rebert S. Strauss and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger singer Jr. among them) but a host of congressional figures who are important to administration programs. Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), a key figure in the upcoming SALT debate, will be on hand in Seattle as a member of the official party greeting Teng.
"The last guy anyone thinks about is poor old Teng," one official said of all the pulling and tugging that went into setting the vice premier's schedule. He doesn't have any constituency."