Growing Chinese caution in spending cash reserves has slowed a final claims and assets agreement with the United States and held back an overall trade agreement, officials here said today.

Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps, here to negotiate a trade agreement solidifying U.S.-China ties, met with Chinese Finance Minister Zhang Jingfu today on the complex claims and assets issue. Officials later said Chinese desires for more U.S. government help in solving the legal difficulties and reclaiming frozen assets in the United States had delayed the Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal here March 1.

Sources said they expected Chinese questions about the reclaiming of assets, which could draw them into actions in U.S. courts, would have to be cleared up before a trade agreement could be signed. The trade agreement itself has been slowed by Peking's surprise at the number of detailed clauses requested by Washington, Kreps said earlier.

The claims and assets agreement reached in principle in March called for China to pay $80.5 million for property seized in China after the 1949 Communist victory. The United States would then release about $80.5 million of Chinese assets mostly frozen in American bank accounts since 1949.

Unfreezing the Bank accounts, however, would not automatically mean that Peking gets the money, particularly if other claimants sued in U.S. courts. Some of the frozen assets are in the form of bank accounts under the names of private individuals in China. The U.S. government has in the past followed a policy of not supplying the names of such individuals to the claiming government, for fear of political reprisals. If Washington holds to this policy, the individuals would first have to ask the Chinese government for help in recovering the assets.

A source called the Chinese failure to accept these risks, in the interests of winning lucrative U.S. trade, part of a growing caution "in any matter involving foreign exchange outlays."

The Chinese appear to have begun to husband their cash resources, delaying further negotiations on particularly*large deals like a preliminary understanding last year tohave a Pan American subsidiary build $500 million in hotels in China.

An editorial in the official People's Daily today said: "At present, priority must be given to items which we urgently need and which can yield quick results and more profits at not too high cost."

The editorial said advanced Western technology is essential for some projects, but others might be carried out as well by repairing and retooling older equipment.

The Chinese remain interested in signing both the claims and assets and general trade agreements because they are necessary before Congress will agree to extending most-favored-nation trade status to Peking, officials said. This would cut tariffs on Chinese goods sold in the United States and increase Peking's profits.

This afternoon, Kreps and Chinese officials signed a series of agreements for exchanges of information and experts in meteorology, oceangraphy, fisheries' research, atmospheric science and technology management. To symbolize American assistance in Chinese weather forecasting, Kreps sent off a weather balloon. The first balloon collapsed when it brushed an American television camera, but the U.S. delegation had brought a spare.