China's official news agency charged yesterday that recent remarks by President Reagan "totally disregarded" the main principles of last August's Sino-American accord on the Taiwan arms issue and represent "a serious retrogression" in the U.S. position.
The strongly worded commentary by Peking's New China News Agency was in response to statements by Reagan in an interview with Human Events, a conservative weekly, published a week ago.
Reagan said in the interview that the United States "did not give an inch" in the August joint communique, and he tended to minimize the U.S. commitment in the document "to reduce gradually its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final resolution."
The president's interview said that U.S. commitments about reducing arms to Taiwan are "tied to progress" in a peaceful resolution of the dispute between that island bastion and the mainland.
"If the day ever comes that those two find they can get together and become one China, in a peaceful manner, then there wouldn't be any need for arms sales to Taiwan. That's all that was meant in the communique. Nothing was meant beyond that," he was quoted as saying.
Peking has never accepted the U.S. view that a continuation of China's peaceful policies toward Taiwan is a condition of the promised reduction in arms sales. In view of the disagreement, the U.S. position on this point has usually been stated in oblique and nuanced fashion, rather than in the explicit terms used by Reagan.
Yesterday's NCNA commentary called such U.S. conditions "sheer interference in China's internal affairs." Reagan's remarks "fundamentally ran counter to the spirit of the August communique," the news agency charged.
While Peking rejects any conditions on the U.S. promise, Taiwan's representatives in Washington have expressed the view that there are two U.S. conditions on the reduction in arms sales: continued peaceful policies in Peking and no change in the military deployments on the Chinese mainland near Taiwan.
According to diplomatic sources, the strategy of Taiwan is to let the controversy over the arms sales die down and then appeal to Washington for a new high-performance fighter plane on grounds that it is needed to protect the island not so much against mainland China but against the Soviet Union's increasingly visible military forces in and around the Taiwan straits.
The United States promised in the August communique not to exceed either in quality or quantity the level of previous arms sales to Taiwan. However, Taiwan's representatives argue that any qualitative and quantitative ceiling should not be static but should be adjusted over time in keeping with improvements in technology and changes in price levels.
The Reagan administration has not disclosed how it will calculate the promised ceilings.
In a symbolic display of his regard for Taiwan, Reagan had a social conversation a week ago with Frederick Chien, the new chief representative of Taiwan in Washington, during a reception for about 60 couples in connection with the Conservative Political Action Forum at the Sheraton Washington Hotel.
Chien's predecessor in Washington, Dr. Tsai Wei-ping, met Reagan on the same occasion in previous years, according to diplomatic sources. But this was before last August's Sino-American communique, which was intended to settle the controversies about Taiwan between Washington and Peking.