China's leader warms up to a Reagan White House

By , Editor of The Christian Science Monitor

In his first public comment on Ronald Reagan since the American election, China's powerful senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, broke his previous silence and sent his warm congratulations.

The vice-chairman thus ended speculation about possible official coolness here stemming from preelection Chinese criticism of a Reagan remark about arms for Taiwan.

More important, Mr. Deng appeared to be laying a base for further gains in Peking-Washington relations when he said that "quite a number of people who are involved in the decisionmaking process on the part of Mr. Reagan can be considered our old friends. For instance, Mr. Bush [vice president-elect and former ambassador to Peking] is one."

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Mr. Deng made these remarks in a lengthy interview with this writer and with the Monitor's Peking bureau chief, Takashi Oka. The veteran Chinese leader and i sat side by side in antimacassared easy chairs in the Fukien Room of the Great Hall of the People. The former deputy premier, who now has the title of vice-chairman, was animated, direct, sometimes jovially self-effacing.

In an hour and a half of give-and-take he wove together his scenario in which the long-term growth of China to a prosperous state, the interests of American business in China, the byzantine tale of the "gang of four" whose trial starts here this week, and the global strategy of the Kremlin all fit like pieces in a Chinese puzzle.

It was obvious that he expected the bipartism American policy of improving relations with Peking to continue. He made it clear, in a few terse sentences, that he had not changed his objection to the Taiwan Relations Act under which Washington continues unofficial relations with what Peking considers one of its provinces. But he was otherwise warm to the incomeing Reagan administration.

Asked whether he might invite Mr. Reagan to visit China after a period of settling in, Deng answere: "Of course, we welcome him to visit China. This depends Deng pointed out that Sino-Americans relations had resumed after a 25 -year break under two Republican administration and had become official under a Democratic administration. "It is our hope," he continued, "that during the presidency of Mr. Reagan the sino-US relation will develope more, not just mark time or retrogress . . . because this is required by global strategy."

The Deng outlook on global strategy is not new. But he elaborated on his concept of Soviet expansionism and related it directly to the often-asked American question: Would China, after a period of strengthening, no longer need close Washington ties? And, if Peking's interests diverged from Washington's, would US business find trade and investment turning risky?

His basic thesis was that American ofFicials and businessmen need not worry about a fickle Peking.

"It's common sense," he said, punctuating the air with a pointed finger, "that if China dares to stand up to the Soviet Union even if it's poor. . . . why should China try to seek reconciliation with the Soviet Union after it gets rich."

Looking at the reverse side of this equation, the vice-chairman was scornful of the argument that Chinese and American global aims would diverge. "According to this logic," he retorted. "once China has become strong economically and militarily, China will not keep up good relations with the United States so as to deal with the Soviet challenge. This logic is not sound." In broadest terms the major points he made in our interview were: (1) that the Soviet challenge to China and the West will continue, and (2) that the internal threat from his "gang of four" opponents and entrenched bureaucrats opposed to his massive modernization are ended for good.

He described the Soviet threat to China as he has before: "In Khrushchev's time only a dozen Soviet divisions were massed along the Sino-Soviet border. Now in Brezhnev's time 54 divisions. . . about 1 million men [$K$Are there] He saw the troops in Siberia amd Mongolia, the Afghan war, and Soviet aid to Vietnam on China's southern flank as part of a global pincer movement.

Elsewhere, he and his colleagues have argued that the aims of these pincers are to cut oil supplies to Western Europe and Japan through the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca. Their argument adds that this would leave Western Europe subject to "Finlandization" -- neutrality favorable to Moscow -- and that once this were accomplished, Moscow would be free to concentrate on China.

Although Mr. Deng spelled out a great

Although Mr. Deng spelles out a great length his view that the Soviet threat to his country would persist, he seemed confident that China's economic would in the end outstrip the threat. Nevertheless he said he welcomed an American "presence in the Pacific region."

Asked if he thought the Reagan-Bush team agreed with his view of Soviet strategic aims regarding the straits of hormuz and Malacca, he replied that there is "a large area in which we have a commn perception.c But he added that "the Soviet challenge can only be coped with if the US maintaines unity with its allies."

this led me to ask whether he had been able to persuade such major Western leaders as Schmidt, Giscard, and Suzuki of his gloomy view of Soviet plans. His answer was diplomatic but nonetheless blunt: "The problem is that some people still don't have a clear perspective. . . . some people think that they will be able to alleviate the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to slow down the Soviet pace by adopting certain tactical moves, by using mild language, and by such conferences as [the Madrid conference]." Depsite this view, the quiet but confident leader in his gray Mao suit he had no quarrel with Mr. Reagan if the American leader wished to start SALT III talks with Moscow soon after his inauguration.

We're not opposed to negotiations or to the signing of agreements, but they won't have a restraining effect on the Soviet Union." this was the negative side of his argument that US and Chinese interests would not diverge. The positive side had to do with his modernization program.

Deng said it had been four years since the gang of four fell from power. He admitted that in the first two years. "We wandered about." But he asserted that modernizing the economy was now firmly accepted by the Chinese people. And he argued that economic management was now on its way to being more democratic and less centralized.

He said that followers of the gang of four were no longer a threat to these economic and political reforms. Western diplomats here agree that the reforms remain popular with the public. what is less clear is whether entrenched bureaucracy might yet thwart the reform plan.

The vice-chairman admitted the difficulty: "This is a problem. there is the . . . bureaucratic style of work in china and the mentality to seek tribute. And these people don't respect science. There is the problem of overconcentration of power. . . . there are other problems. but these phenomena will be changed step by step."

Throughout the interview the short, sturdy Mr. Deng showed flashes of the extrovert joviality that was frequently evident during his 1979 American tour. In starting our conversation he mentioned in mock deprecation that he had made "many mistakes," then chortled.

When I suggested that he should write his memoirs so that his son at the University of Rochester and mine at nearby Cornell University could benefit from his account of modern Chinese history and his three returns from political oblivion, he demurred.

With a brief twinkle in his eye he said, "They have their own matters to attend to and we are not in a position to manage them." Besides, he added, "I'm not fond of hawking my past." Nevertheless he eventually softened his reply on memoirs: "Perhaps when I retire I may write something -- or I may not."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...