TENG HSIAO-PING, the guiding light of the People's Republic of China, is beginning what promises to be a week-long festival of Cinese-American amity. He has been preceded by a reputation as a formidable survivor in the jungle of Chinese politics, an ardent communist determined to speed modernization by adopting some capitalist ways, and a strategist who sees in ties with the West -- particularly with the United States -- a means o offsetting a deeply felt Soviet threat. Vice Premier Teng made China's half of the normalization agreement, which led a few weeks ago to full diplomatic relations and made possible this first visit here by a political leader of the People's Republic. Jimmy Carter, who made the American half, welcomes him today. So do we.
Mr. Teng is said to have a winning way with foreigners. It should serve him, and the United States, well. For though there has been a broad popular acceptance of normalizing relations with Peking, there has also been a broad popular insistence on caring for the security and welfare of Taiwan. Mr. Carter is still involved in engineering consent for the deal, and Mr. Teng will have an important, perhaps even crucial, impact on how it comes out.
Now, Mr. Teng's pledges of respect for Taiwan's "autonomy" and his stated preference for achieving reunification by peaceful means have fitted well with the American intent to maintain an interest in Taiwan's security, to continue relations across a broad front on an unofficial basis, and to sell defensive arms. Yet anxieties have been stirred, or strengthened, by the Chinese refusal to put an absolute bar on using force to regain Taiwan, and by Mr. Carter's admission that he tried, and failed, to gain an explicit Chinese commitment to that effect.
Mr. Teng should understand that it is not only "conservatives" and special friends of Taiwan who feel some of these anxieties. They are evident across much of the political spectrum, and they account for the range of congressional proposals to reinforce the new arrangements the administration proposes to make with Taiwan. Mr. Teng cannot avoid being drawn into that debate.
Mr. Teng hopes to enlist American technology and capital in the modernization of his country, and American businessmen are licking their lips at the prospect. Yet the principal means China has to pay for large new purchases is in oil and coal still in the ground and, to a lesser extent, in light manufactured goods, which are scarcely in short supply. The ways in which the two countries' economies can serve each other need to be carefully explored.
Mr. Teng also hopes to enlist American political strength in the support of his country against Soviet power. Here Americans are likely to find him insistent, not to say fanatical. He may find many Americans naive. With 40 Soviet divisions on his border, Mr. Teng has credentials as a witness. His credentials as a counselor are less apparent. The United States has a general interest in detente, and a specific interest in a SALT agreement, that China at this point simply does not have. Regardless of the ties China and Russia may have with each other -- and they may change -- it is to surpassing American advantage to have good relations, of different sorts, with both.