US, China: living with the deadlock on Taiwan arms

China and the United States appear still deadlocked on the emotion-charged issue of American arms sales to Taiwan.

The 10th anniversary of President Nixon's historic visit to China and of Shanghai Communique he signed with Premier Chou En-lai comes at the end of February. But neither side seems to be prepared for much celebration until the arms sales issue has been resolved.

Although Peking wants an end of US arms sales to Taiwan, in other respects it remains conciliatory toward the island state. A September Chinese proposal for talks with Taiwan would allow the island to retain its own autonomous provincial government and its own armed forces.

Peking's public attitude toward Washington has mellowed somewhat since President Reagan's decision last month not to sell advanced fighter planes to Taiwan. But essentially Peking's demands do not seem to have changed much since Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Huang Hua presented them in Washington last October: a step by step reduction and eventual ceasing of all American arms sales to Taiwan.

Said a commentary by the official New China News Agency Jan. 31, ''China is willing to negotiate with the United States for an end to the sales within a time limit. In doing so, China is exercising its right to safeguard its own sovereignty while giving due consideration to the other party.''

China Daily, Peking's English-language newspaper published by the People's Daily, followed up this commentary with one of its own Feb. 3, entitled ''Evasiveness Won't Work.''

''It is painful, as much as puzzling, to most people who cherish growing ties between the two nations to see that United States insistence on selling arms to Taiwan has driven the Sino-American relationship to a critical stage,'' the commentary said.

The US does not accept this position. Washington says it made clear at the time it normalized diplomatic relations with China Jan. 1, 1979, that it would continue to supply arms to Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act approved by Congress in April 1979 specifies no time limit on these sales. A recent report from Washington states that, according to Senate sources, the United States has already turned down Peking's proposal for a time limit.

One Chinese source indicated that, although Peking continues to regard American arms sales to Taiwan as a violation of Chinese sovereignty, it was not ''so stupid'' as to try to cause an open loss of face for the United States. It was not insisting that arms sales cease immediately. It wanted only a reduction in future arms sales to Taiwan.

If the United States insists, as it apparently is doing so far, that President Reagan's decision not to supply advanced fighter planes to Taiwan is its final concession, Chinese-American talks are likely to remain deadlocked.

But the reality behind these public positions is that China is not threatening Taiwan and that Taiwan's defenses remain strong. A compromise reflecting this reality could serve the interests both of Peking and of Washington while safeguarding the inhabitants of Taiwan.

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