As Reagan plays the China card, Moscow looks as if it wants to deal
This seems to be an appropriate time to remember that Richard Nixon went to China and reopened American relations with that country before he went to Moscow to try to do business there.Skip to next paragraph
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That sequence is relevant to these times because it is being repeated intentionally or inadvertently by Ronald Reagan, with interesting results.
Right now there is a good deal of talk about an easing in United States-Soviet relations. The turning point seems to have been a grain agreement signed in July.
Since then, as a sort of quid pro quo, US Secretary of State George Shultz and Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige have joined in recommending to President Reagan that he relax controls on the sale of oil and gas equipment to the Soviets.
The President, according to the New York Times, which printed the report on Aug. 2, is expected to approve the proposal even though it is opposed by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. The report has not been denied in official circles.
Three days later, on Aug. 5, Edward L. Rowny, chief US negotiator in the START talks, disclosed that on July 8 the US had submitted new proposals for strategic arms limitations. The new proposals dropped demands for Soviet reductions which the Soviets would never accept. In other words, the US position was moved from an unacceptable demand on the Soviets in the direction of something they might consider.
Mr. Rowny indicated that the Soviets had responded in kind and that the START talks seem to be moving toward possible agreement instead of being stagnated.
But well before these signs of change in US-Soviet relations occurred there was first a thaw in US-China relations.
Mr. Reagan, be it remembered, started out on a policy of reviving formal US ties with Taiwan and abandoning the opening to China which Nixon had originated and which had been carried on by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Reading the record, it appears that he was persuaded with difficulty and only at the end of his second year in office that there might be merit, after all, in the Nixon-Ford-Carter policy toward China.
Apparently he was persuaded - probably in the wake of the November midterm elections, which went poorly for his fellow Republicans in Congress - because Washington's interest in China quickened with the beginning of this year. Secretary Shultz went to Peking in February. The first visible result, on May 5, was a deal between American Motors Corporation and the Chinese government for AMC to build four-wheel-drive vehicles in China.
On May 21 Secretary Baldrige was in Peking just after the signing of a US-Chinese accord which covers cooperation in nuclear physics, transportation, aeronautics, and biomedical technology. This opened up access to scientific information for the Chinese, including the right to purchase high-technology items that could have both civilian and military uses.
On July 30 a seven-month deadlock over US-China trade was broken when the US agreed, reluctantly, to an increase in the US quota for Chinese textiles in return for an increase in the amount of US grain China will buy. A spokesman for the US textile lobby called it ''a disaster.'' It was a concession to China, but there was a quid pro quo, as usual in international relations.