President Reagan probably will visit Peking and Moscow during his current term, according to well-placed administration officials. However, these sources say the trips are likely to take place in 1984 rather than 1983.
The tentative decision to visit the People's Republic of China reflects a gradual change of view in the high councils of the administration. After Reagan returned from his Latin American trip early this month, White House officials said the president probably would travel to the Far East in the late winter or early spring next year but not to China. The administration position was that a high-ranking Chinese official should first visit the United States.
This attitude may have pleased the government of Taiwan, a favorite of Reagan when he was a candidate for president. But it gave no comfort to the mainland Chinese government, which has been making noises about patching up longstanding differences with the Soviet Union.
In this context, administration officials recognize that a presidential trip to Asia that excluded China would seem a snub. So, the current planning is for no Asian trip next year and one in 1984 that includes Peking, after preparatory visits by Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. The Moscow plans are more tentative, but administration officials also rate this trip as "probable."
Foreign travel in 1984, according to what's presently on the drawing boards, will stop short of summitry. Administration officials are looking forward to a "small country" trip, probably in the fall. Ireland, Sweden and Austria are on the list of likely candidates for a presidential visit.
When Queen Elizabeth II comes to the United States March 1, the Reagans plan to entertain her western-style at their ranch northwest of Santa Barbara. Then it's up to San Francisco for a state dinner in honor of the British monarch.
White House officials say Elizabeth is likely to return the courtesy in San Francisco harbor March 4 with a party on her yacht Britannia in honor of the Reagans, who will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary on that date.
In the unusual entertainment division, national security adviser William P. Clark broke some new ground last week with what was billed as the first barbecue in the history of Blair House. Clark rented steel barbecue pits to preserve the patio and had 70 pounds of top sirloin flown in from California. It was served with California wine and San Francisco sourdough bread.
Guests included 120 members of the National Security Council staff and the president, who dropped by to say some nice words about the NSC and Clark, his onetime chief of staff in Sacramento.
President Reagan was told of the death of four FBI agents in a Cincinnati plane crash last Thursday when he was slipped a note while meeting with his staff. His face went blank, and he looked distressed and lost interest in the meeting, according to one aide.
The next day, Reagan telephoned the families of the four agents and said to the children of one of them: "You should be very proud of your father, for no soldier on the battlefield did more for his country."
Another round of staff shakeup talk within the administration and the press produced the usual results last week: nothing. Reagan shows no inclination to change aides, Cabinet officers or anything else, according to those closest to him. "Reagan just doesn't focus on staff," one aide says.
There is now widespread expectation at the White House that Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, whom many regard as the ablest of Reagan's Cabinet members and who would like a bigger job, will take one of the several outside business offers available to him.
Rose-colored political assessment of the week: "The simple fact is President Reagan and the Republicans achieved the third-best showing during an off-year election taking place during a recession since the Civil War," observes the Republican publication, First Monday. That's the good news. The bad news is that the president has lost his working coalition in Congress.
And then there's the quip of Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), who not too long ago was predicting GOP gains in the midterm elections: "Did you hear about the new Reagan administration tax on Social Security benefits? It will be an 'incentive' for people to grow younger."
Reaganism of the Week: Speaking to minority businessmen in the East Room last Friday, the president was talking of benefits conferred on them by administration-sponsored tax reductions: "And these same enterprises will continue to be helped because the tax rates will be increased -- or, I mean, will be indexed, not increased. I don't know how that word slipped in. That was a Freudian slip."