Chinese leader Hua Guofeng started a three-week, four-nation tour of Western Europe today by hinting broadly that China regards the region as a potential counterweight to the Soviet Union.
There is still a serious state of military confrontation in Europe, Hua said in a speech at an Elysee Palace dinner tonight. Europeans, he said, must "look reality in the face, be vigilant and take effective measures" for a strong and united Europe -- an apparent reference to Chinese support for stationing on the continent U.S. missiles that can reach the Soviet Union.
France is the starting point is this first visit to the West by the highest ranking Chinese Communist leader.
It is a visit whose political significance is regarded in Western Europe as being somewhat reduced since China and the Soviet Union have started talks aimed at a reconciliation. When the trip was originally scheduled in the spring, Western analysts saw it as an attempted diplomatic flanking movement by China against the Soviet Union.
European diplomats, especially the French and West Germans, seem to be taking the Sino-soviet talks in Moscow far more seriously the U.S. diplomats do.
"It may take 10 years, but those two nuclear powers have to learn how to get along," said a French analyst.
An important Western Communist just back from Moscow said that the Soviets are saying privately that they are determined to come to an understanding with the Chinese, no matter how long it takes.
Nevertheless, the French press quoted Radio Moscow as saying the Hua visit to Europe has provoked "a perfectly understandable feeling of disquiet in Western public opinion" because of Peking's "openly hostile attitude toward detente, disarmament and the maintenance of peace."
The Soviet radio noted that the Hua trip coincides with the need for Western capitals to reply to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's proposals to negotiate limitations on medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
On his visits to France, West Germany, Britain and Italy, Hua is generally expected to urge, at least in private, that the Europeans not succumb to Soviet pressure to renounce deployment in Western Europe of U.S. missiles that can reach Soviet soil.
But he has already displayed public sensitivity to European concerns about coexisting with the Soviets. Holding his first Western-style press conference in Peking a week ago, Huasaid: "We are not against detente and we understand that the German Federal Public, given its position, wants to have normal relations with Eastern Europe."
Nevertheless, some Chinese spokesman are not being so prudent. Chinese writer Han Suyin, who acts as an unofficial cychinese spokeswoman in the West, said in a radio interview that Hua wants to find out what France's real policy is since "we sometimes have the impression that the French are prepared to make compromises in order not to displease the Soviet Union. We think it is very dangerous for Europe to make too many compromises."
The Chinese are particularly upset that France and other West European countries sided with Vietnam during the recent Chinese invasion. The vietnamese are, in Suyin's words, "the Foreign Legion of the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia."
French prudence has led to a decision against selling China the Mirage 2000 jet fighter-bombers or any other "offensive weapons that China has sought to buy from France, Paris officials say.
Some French officials say that the sharp decline in Sino-French commercial trade is the Chinese way of increasing pressure for arms sales. Yet, the Chinese seem to have accepted West Germany's decision not to sell them any arms at all. West Germany is second only to Japan as China's leading trading partner.
The chinese are apparently very interested, however, in increasing the number of Chinese students and technicians in Western Europe, especially West Germany, as part of their ambitious program to modernize the Chinese economy with Western technology.
The French reluctance to sell Mirage 2000s to China contrast with the willingness of Britain to sell Harrier jets. The British officials say they stand about midway between the skeptical attitude of the Americans on Sino-Soviet rapprochement and the seriousness with which the French and West Germans take the Sino-soviet talks.
There has been agreemant beforehand that the traditional final communique that usually ends consultations between heads of state and government will not follow the three days of talks here between Hua and President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. There are apparently too many fundamental differences on such subjects as the Soviet Union and Vietnam for the two sides to issue a joint text.
This has not stopped the French from pulling out all the protocol stops. Giscard announced tonight that, as a special mark of his esteem, he would accompany Hua on Tuesday to a private ceremony he was holding for the mounting of a plaque on the building where the late German premier Chou En-lai lied while studying in Paris from 1920 to 1924.