Defense Secretary Harold Brown has begun his visit to China with a rousing condemnation of Soviet actions in Afghanistan and a suggestion that the United States and China could respond "with complementary actions in the field of defense as well as diplomacy."
Evenhandedness, long a tenet of American policy toward Peking and Moscow, seems to have gone out of the window -- at least as long as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan continues.
Mr. Brown, the first American defense secretary to visit China, appears almost more eager than his Chinese hosts to bring China into some kind of security relationship with the United States. He is not talking about a formal alliance. But phrases like "parallel actions" and "incipient security relationship" fall from the lips of senior officials in his entourage.
The highlight of Mr. Brown's visit will be his meeting with Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping Jan. 8, at which the Chinese response to the American initiative is likely to become clear.
This meeting, in turn, will be followed by a private dinner hosted by deputy chief of staff Zhang Ai-ping. Detailed discussions of the kind of technology transfers the Chinese desire in order to modernize their defense establishment are expected to be part of the dinner-table discussions. Qien Xuesen, an American-educated rocketry expert and deputy chief of the scientific and technical commission of the defense ministry, will be present.
United States defense officials accompanying Mr. Brown say categorically that there will be no arms sales to China. But technology transfers, such as that of Landsat -- an earth survey satellite used, among other things, to survey crops -- will be considered on a case-by- case basis.
The American goal, as enunciated by these senior officials, is to broaden contacts already begun between the American and Chinese defense establishments; to encourage parallel actions wherever their strategic interests converge; to narrow differences wherever these still exist; and to draw the Chinese into arms-control discussions by explaining the reasoning behind Washington's approach to this complicated subject.
Referring to Afghanistan in his speech at a welcoming banquet in the Great Hall of the People Jan. 6, Mr. Brown accused Moscow to overthrowing a "friendly government" and of expressing its friendship "by having the president of that government and his family executed."
The same day, at a different banquet, Mr. Deng attacked Moscow in language equally strong."The Soviet Union," he said, "brazenly sent massive troops to invade Afghanistan and crudely interfered in the internal affairs of this nonaligned and Islamic country of the third world.
"This is a grave step taken by the Soviet Union to make a southward thrust to the Indian Ocean, control sea lanes, seize oil-rich areas, and outflank Europe so as to gain world hegemony."
Mr. Brown's banquet was hosted by pink-cheeked, venerable Marshal Xu Xiangchien, veteran of the long march, while Mr. Deng spoke at a banquet for visiting Egyptian Vice-President Husni Mubarak.
Sino-American defense cooperation "endangers no third party," Mr. Brown concluded. "But it should remind others that if they threaten the shared interests of the United States and China, we can respond with complementary actions in the field of defense as well as diplomacy."
An official in Mr. Brown's entourage hinted that provision of arms to Afghanistan resisting the Soviet invasion could be one such complementary action.
During his week-long visit to China, Mr. Brown will meet not only with Mr. Deng, but also with Premier Hua Guofeng, Vice-Premier Geng Biao, and Defense Minister Xu Xiangqian. He will visit the sixth tank division outside Peking, the 38th fighter division south of the capital, a plant building naval vessels in Wuhan, a machine tool plant in Shanghai, and the east sea fleet. He will return to Washington after a brief stopover in Japan Jan. 13 and 14.