Secretary of State George P. Shultz began four days of talks with Chinese leaders today in search of "renewal" of a strategically important relationship which has deteriorated notably in recent months.

The first indications were that the Chinese were greeting Shultz's low-key overtures cautiously. Initial public remarks by Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian lacked either the ambitious hopes or the open discord that has characterized the relationship at various points in the past.

Shultz, who has never been to China before, apparently brought no new concessions or special gestures to the Chinese, and sought to relegate the bitterly contentious issue of Taiwan to the background of the Sino-American discussions.

For his part, the Chinese foreign minister called for "further solid efforts" to "remove the obstacles and dispel the dark clouds" in the relationship. In the context of his remarks, delivered at a banquet toast in the Great Hall of the People, Wu appeared to be speaking of the Taiwan issue.

Wu, who has been foreign minister less than three months, called last August's joint Sino-American communique on Taiwan arms sales "an important step" toward removing obstacles between the two countries. "However, that does not mean our relations have since embarked on a smooth path," he said.

Both in his public remarks and an initial private meeting of 3 hours and 15 minutes, the Chinese foreign minister emphasized his country's newly proclaimed "independent foreign policy," which includes a shift away from quasi-alliance with the United States and a lowering of tensions with the Soviet Union. China's new policy, formally proclaimed last September at the 12th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, has generated worldwide speculation about this country's international political future and caused uncertainty about the long-term basis of Sino-American relations.

Speaking to reporters as his airplane flew over the flat, brown farmlands of the east China plain toward a landing in Peking, Shultz said he would explore and try to identify areas where U.S. and Chinese interests are parallel.

Tonight, speaking in the code language of diplomatic nicety, Shultz sought to point out in his banquet toast that even in its new "independent" mode, China needs a solid connection with the United States.

"In this modern world," Shultz declared, "even the strongest and most independent nations cannot live in isolation." He went on to say that "the actions we take often have repercussions for others," whether those others are "peaceful or aggressive."

This was Shultz's way of pointing out that China's actions could affect the policies and actions of the Soviet Union. Since President Nixon's reestablishment of links with China nearly 12 years ago, common opposition to Soviet policy has been the keystone of Sino-American relations. After an initial meeting last October, Chinese and Soviet negotiators are scheduled to resume talks in Moscow early in March. It is widely anticipated that the outcome of Shultz's mission here will affect the Chinese position in the Moscow talks.

In his banquet toast, Shultz quoted President Reagan as saying that "there is a great need for renewal in United States-China dialogue." On other occasions in recent days, Shultz and his aides have described the U.S. aim as a "stable" and "sound" basis for a lasting relationship without the "roller-coaster effect" of giddy ups and downs.

According to State Department officials, today's closed-door business meeting opened with a general statement by Shultz on the world economic situation, followed by Wu's discussion of the new "independent" Chinese foreign policy.

The two ministers then spent most of their time exchanging views on the Middle East and Africa, two areas where the United States and China have been in longstanding and now increasing discord.

China condemns Israel and South Africa as "aggressors" and increasingly attacks the United States for supporting them. Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang criticized U.S. policy during a recent tour of Africa, and afterward promised "material assistance" to the guerrilla forces of the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in Namibia.

In another area of historic cross-purposes, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily, accused the United States today of "war provocations" against North Korea by carrying out joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which began yesterday. But U.S. officials said Korea was not discussed in today's round of Sino-American talks.

Shultz told reporters aboard his plane that he was willing to discuss U.S. arms supplies to China in general terms if the Chinese brought it up but "I'm not here selling arms."