Despite high expectations here for next month's visit by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., China is growing increasingly edgy over the Reagan administration's policy on Taiwan.
After months of quietly waiting for the new president to make clear his China policy, Peking has begun to pounce on remarks by administration officials that it views as signs of partiality toward Taiwan.
Presidential counselor Edwin Meese drew sharp criticism two weeks ago after telling reporters in Washington that the administration will carry out the U.S. congressional act allowing arms sales to Taiwan.
Reemphasizing Peking's view that the act violates earlier Sino-American agreements to treat Taiwan as part of China, the official press here warned that Meesehs statement "cannot but arouse serious concern among the Chinese people." The Foreign Ministry then added its opposition to "any remarks and acts that violate the principles of Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations and hinder development of those relations."
A similar warning was issued after Treasury Secretary Donald Reagan said at a Senate hearing in early May that he supports Taiwan's reentry into the World Bank "as a separate nation."
Then this week the official New China News Agency lambasted nonadministration, pro-Taiwan witness at a recent U.S. congressional hearing, calling them tricksters who made recommendations that, if implemented, "would damage state sovereignty and national interest of a country of 1 billion people."
The Chinese commentators regularly note the Reagan adminsistration's stated policy of support for past agreements recognizing Peking as the sole legitimate government of China. But Reagan's continued silence on the China-Taiwan issue while his advisers and others speak out has caused confusion and irritation among Chinese officials, Peking sources said.
Diplomatic analysts in Peking say the complaints appear timed to set the framework for Haig's coming visit, the first by an administration official. They should be seen as signals by China that it will not give way on its opposition to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan or any upgrading in U.S.-Taiwan relations, diplomats said.
The Chinese "obviously feel that unless they keep making their position clear some people in the United States will assume they are willing to tolerate some [U.S.] moves on the Taiwan question," one analyst said.
Diplomats here point out that the criticism thus far has been limited to press commentaries and a Foreign Ministry statement. Although the protests are said to reflect official views, observers here consider it significant that top policymakers have remained silent.
Moreover, the tone of Peking's complaints is considered mild when compared to the "strong response" Chinese authorities have threatened if Washington decides actually to sell weapons to Taiwan or increase its contacts with the Nationalist Chinese government.
In private, high-level foreign policy makers say they are looking forward to the Haig visit both as a symbol of U.S. interest in China and as an opportunity to clarify relations and to discuss Soviet moves in southern and southeast Asia, diplomats reported.
According to a Western news report, the ruling Politburo recently completed a review of its foreign policy and decided to pursue its association with the United States, Japan and Western Europe to counter what the Chinese see as a dangerously expansionist Soviet Union.
This Western orientation to Peking's foreign policy, however, requires Washington's willingness to keep its distance from Taiwan. Chinese officials emphasize at every opportunity that they will not participate in an anti-Soviet alliance at the expense of losing ground on Taiwan.
The Chinese reaction to the sale of two submarines to Taiwan by the Netherlands is seen as a test case of that principle. When the Hague ignored Chinese warnings earlier this year and approved $500 million worth of contracts with Taiwan, including the two submarines, Peking downgraded relations.
This was widely interpreted as a warning to Washington, which is considering Taiwan's request for an improved jet fighter and is still mulling Reagan campaign pledges, however vague, to upgrade U.S. relations with the island government.
So sensitive is Peking about possible U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan that Chinese officials took pains to shoot down a suggestion by an American newspaper columnist -- which authorities here acknowledge was never actually proposed by Washington -- under which the United States would sell arms to both Peking and Taipei, similar to the way it sells to both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Chinese officials, unsure if the column reflected White House view, quickly let Washington know they opposed it, according to well-placed Chinese sources here.
"If the sale is linked," said one Chinese official, "we would rather have no American arms at all."
China repeatedly has said it considers arms sales to Taiwan an intrusion into Chinese domestic affairs and an obstacle to its goal of reuniting Taiwan with the mainland after 32 years of separation.
China continues to test Washington's commitment to agreements signed in 1978 normalizing relations in which the United States recognized Peking as the sole legitimate government of China. Peking considers the 1978 pact "mutually exclusive" with the Taiwan Relations Act later passed by Congress that allows U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
When Reagan repeatedly cited the act during his campaign as a justification for improving relations with Taiwan, Peking openly worried that he would make some dramatic gesture to Taiwan shortly after entering office, according to sources here.
Peking's fears lessened, however, after a State Department spokesman said in early February that the United States would abide by the normalization agreement. Peking has gained further assurances in messages from the White House and a Reagan note delivered by former president Gerald Ford during his visit here in March.
Despite the assurances, however, Chinese officials often conclude discussions on the new administration with an old Chinese saying: "Listen for words, but watch for deeds."