In a remarkable bid for cooperation, the People's Republic of China played host to a U.S. delegation two weeks ago at the remote Inner Mongolian missile launching site known as "East Wind." The Chinese said the Americans were the first foreigners ever to visit the sensitive facility.
The purpose and focus of the visit by 11 officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was discussion of China's embryonic civilian space program, but military implications were unavoidable.
There is little separation between military and civilian aspects of the Chinese space program.Military men were much in evidence at the desolate desert test site, where eight experimental satellites and a larger number of China's relatively crude intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles have been launched.
NASA's visit to "East Wind" and 17 other Chinese space facilities illustrates the fast-developing ties and exchanges between the two countries. Since the normalization of diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, both the quantity and importance of Sino-American contact have grown dramatically.
According to State Department officials, about 30 Chinese groups each month are visiting the United States, more than four times as many as a year ago.
The groups run the gamut from highly technical missions exploring U.S. machine tools, petrochemical industry and opthamology to sports teams, women's leaders and journalists.
Senior officials find it hard to keep track of all the missions. During a recent luncheon here, Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal and Vice Premier Kang Shien enthusiastically hit upon the idea of American assistance in the recovery of additional oil from existing Chinese oilfields, only to discover that a special Chinese delegation was already traveling in the United States exploring such a project.
The flow of travelers in the other direction has included Blumenthal, Commerce Secretary Juanita M. Kreps, Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, trade negotiator Robert S. Strauss and a variety of agency heads, members of Congress and business-industry leaders.
Postmaster General Benjamin F. Bailar negotiated a direct mail exchange during a visit to China last month. Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. is to work out further exchanges of students in a forthcoming visit.
The first permanent American news correspondents, representing the Associated Press and United Press International, set up shop in Peking in March. Four newspapers, including The Washington Post, have been given permission to join the Peking press corps. China has sent representatives of its Xinhua news agency to Washington, and a team from People's Daily is to follow soon.
On the sensitive question of military relations, China last month played host to the first U.S. military delegation to visit the mainland since 1950. The National Defense University group, headed by Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, was on an "unofficial" trip because the visit had been set in motion before normalization.
Nevertheless, the U.S. officers were received by Defense Minister Xu Xiang-quian and given access to forces and bases of the Chinese army, navy and air force as well as the top Chinese military school.
Similar missions from the U.S. institution, which encompasses the National War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, have visited the Soviet Union in years past, but without nearly as much access to troops and commanders as during this first trip to China.
The Chinese leadership, in the face of its quarrel with the Soviets, is bidding for as much of a quasi-military alliance with the United States as it can obtain. The dominant and official policy in Washington is to maintain careful distance from Chinese military programs to avoid conflict with the Soviets.
Space technology provides a vivid example of the intertwining of civil and military programs, and the practical questions of drawing a line.
China has a great interest and demonstrated need, for example, in space satellite communication to knit together such a vast country. But the advanced technology of the design, manufacture and launch of the satellites would also be of great military value.
The present U.S. solution is to sell the Chinese a communications satellite for telegraphic, voice and television transmission, but to deliver it already in in orbit at 32,000 miles above the earth. That way the sensitive technology would not be exposed to Chinese eyes and ears.
NASA officials said a spare satellite to take over in case of trouble may be sold to China in "parking orbit" high above the earth.
A Chinese space mission to the United States at the turn of last year was given access to civilian, but not military, launching sites. The distinction is more difficult in China. The "East Wind" site is believed to be China's only missile test launching facility.
Asked about the nature of future space cooperation, the visiting U.S. delegation, headed by NASA Administrator Robert A. Frosch, told the Chinese that the new relationship should proceed "one step at a time."
The U.S. officials suggested, and the Chinese agreed, that the early contracts and ventures should be made a success before more complex and more sensitive arrangements are discussed. CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Dave Cook - The Washington Post