A toughly worded Chinese warning to the Netherlands last week against selling warships to Taiwan appears to have been directed equally at the United States, especially the incoming Reagan administration.
China bluntly told the Netherlands last Sunday that its planned sale of two submarines to Taiwan would jeopardize seriously future political and trade relations between Peking and The Hague.
Registering China's "strong disapproval and deep regret" over the Dutch government's approval of the sale, the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily also admonished "certain people" who want more than unofficial ties with the Nationalists on Taiwan that "this is intolerable to the Chinese people."
"The Chinese government and people will not give in on a matter of principle," the People's Daily declared in a commentary. "Any action that encroaches on their legitimate interests is bound to meet with their strong opposition."
If the $250 million sale goes through, the Netherlands' relations with China will deteriorate sharply, the paper warned, and Dutch sales to China will be cut sharply.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the "sale of arms to Taiwan has gone far beyond the range of people-to-people trade" and was a serious violation of the 1972 agreement establishing diplomatic relations between China and the Netherlands. The sale is seen here as an "unfriendly move," the spokesman said, and would certainly "have a negative impact on relations between the two countries."
On Dec. 3, the Dutch ambassador to Peking, Jan Kneppelhout, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and given a stiff protest about his government's decision Nov. 29 to grant export licenses for the sale of the two submarines.
The government of Prime Minister Andreas van Agt, who visited Peking only last month, has supported the sale by a Rotterdam firm to boost Dutch exports and increase shipyard employment.
The Dutch government's position is that at a time of severe economic recession it cannot afford to throw away an opportunity to safeguard employment in the depressed shipbuilding industry, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
[Approximately half of the $500 million contract is for two modified Zwaardvis (Swordfish) class submarines and the rest for nonmilitary equipment such as boilers for steam-generating plants. The Taiwanese authorities have cleverly made a package deal with the Dutch Rijn-Schelde-Verolme firm under which the civilian purchases will not be made without the naval component, the Monitor said. Taiwan has two outdated former U.S. submarines.]
Significantly, China has not objected to the other half of the sale.
During the U.S. election campaign, Ronald Reagan said that as president he would upgrade the United States' unofficial ties with the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan and increase American arms sales to it. This drew strong Chinese protests, and Reagan backed away without fully clarifying his position.
Chinese hackles were raised again when Ray Cline, Reagan's senior adviser on Asian affairs, said Peking should renounce the use of force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland and should "return to the norms of civilized behavior" in international affairs.
"The Chinese government's position on Taiwan is never equivocal," the People's Daily commented, speaking as much to the new Reagan administration as to the Dutch government.
"It is the prerequisite for all countries entering into diplomatic relations with China that they must recognize Taiwan as an inalienable part of Chinese territory and the government of the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate government of the country.
"In the world today, there are certain people who approach and would like to handle their relations with the Chinese people as they used to. They agree to China's position, recognize the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China and normalize their relations with it. Yet, at the same time, they want to have ties with Taiwan above the nongovernmental level and even to create two Chinas."
In another commentary, the official New China News Agency, reviewing Peking's chief foreign policy concerns, said that "some shadows have been cast over Sino-American relations this year as a result of some people advocating 'two Chinas'" because "some Americans keep their eyes only on the old relations with Taiwan, on their investments and interests in that Chinese province."