The Taiwanese Air Force major who defected to China in an American-built aircraft, saying that he hopes to further the cause of national reunification, has instead sparked an intense propaganda battle between Taiwan and China.

Since Huang Zhicheng landed his F5F reconnaissance plane in southeast China Aug. 8, Peking has rewarded him with a $350,000 bounty and a high rank in the Chinese Air Force. The official press has turned him into a folk hero, detailing everything from his favorite sports to his marital status (single). Top military leaders have escorted him on a traveling road show of rallies and parties honoring his defection as "a great act of patriotism."

On Huang's native island of Taiwan, officials pointedly suggest that the pilot's landing in Fujian Province across the Straits of Taiwan was motivated more by practicality than patriotism.

Huang's copilot, who bailed out of the aircraft before it reached the mainland, has been quoted in Taiwanese newspapers as saying that the plane's radio had malfunctioned and that its fuel supply had dwindled too low to assure a safe return to the island air base.

With the $350,000 he received for bringing the sophisticated F5F aircraft to China, Huang is one of the wealthiest men in the country. His windfall is equal to almost 500 years of pay for an Air Force officer even in his new job of deputy commandant of the Aviation Academy.

In today's editions of the Workers' Daily newspaper, he was quoted as saying that he did not defect for the money.

"I would like to devote the money to the state," he said.

At a press conference today, however, the new national hero was asked how he planned to spend his new fortune.

"So far I haven't given it a thought," he said.