China continued today to press for a final cutoff in U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, warning that an American pledge to limit further weapons supplies to the breakaway island meets only the minimum Chinese demand for easing the strained relations with Washington.

The American pledge, announced in a joint communique released today, is being presented here, however, as a major diplomatic triumph for Peking. China is portrayed as having given up little in negotiations in exchange for a potentially significant weakening of the U.S. military commitment to Taiwan.

In Taiwan, the Nationalist government sharply criticized the United States, calling the pact with China a "serious mistake," The Associated Press reported.

Severing the U.S.-Taiwanese military relationship has long been a goal of China's Communist leadership, which believes that American arms embolden its old Nationalist Chinese foes on Taiwan to avoid reunification talks that would bring the island back under the control of the mainland.

A copy of the communique was issued along with a Foreign Ministry statement offering an interpretation of the pact that appears at odds with the U.S. view. The Chinese interpretation minimizes Peking's concessions while making the most of Washington's.

The ministry statement and an authoritative editorial in tomorrow's People's Daily newspaper suggest that the United States agreed to an eventual halt in the armament sales. Peking, for its part, failed to obtain its original demand for a timed phase-out of American weapons to Taiwan.

According to the ministry, the U.S. agreement to reduce arms sales to Taiwan gradually while placing limits on future supplies marks "the beginning of the settlement" of an issue that has strained Sino-American relations severely.

The ministry added, however, that the United States must make good on its promise "so that the question of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan can be resolved thoroughly at an early date. This is indispensable to the maintenance and development of Sino-American relations."

In the communique, Washington backs away from a specific cutoff date for ending arms sales to Taiwan. The United States said it intends to decrease gradually weapons supplies "leading over a period of time to a final resolution."

A Western diplomat close to the negotiations in Peking said the term "final resolution" was used by Washington to mean peaceful settlement of the Chinese conflict that forced Nationalist forces to flee to Taiwan after the Communists took over the mainland in 1949.

The Foreign Ministry, however, pointedly interpreted the two words as a U.S. suggestion of an eventual cutoff, saying "the final resolution referred to here certainly implies that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan must be completely terminated over a period of time."

"And only a thorough settlement of this issue can remove the obstacles in the way of developing relations" between Washington and Peking, the ministry said.

Peking originally threatened to downgrade diplomatic relations with Washington unless it pledged a cutoff date for arms sales to Taiwan, which the mainland claims is a violation of Chinese sovereignty and interference in its internal affairs.

People's Daily, the organ of the Communist Party, in an editorial released tonight by the New China News Agency, praised the communique and said, "China agrees that the United States will gradually reduce and finally stop its arms sales to Taiwan." The U.S. promise is "the least the United States can do," the editorial said. "The clouds hanging over Sino-U.S. relations have not been completely cleared away."

"It is our hope that the U.S. government will truly live up to its promises by honestly but not perfunctorily reducing its arms sales to Taiwan," the paper said.

The measures and conditions cited by Peking reflect a U.S. promise included in the communique to encourage Nationalist leaders of the 17 million residents of Taiwan to consider the Communist offers to reunify, which include proposals to share power in a reunited China.