The United States and China have added a defense dimension to their already-growing political and economic relationship. This is the main significance of Defense Secretary Harold Brown's visit to China this week. It is bound to cause deep concern to the Soviet Union as it tries to solidify its military occupation of Afghanistan.
As Mr. Brown wound up three crowded days of talks in Peking Jan. 9, few concrete results were visisble. Yet, as he said in a farewell speech here before going on to visit military, naval, and industrial establishments in other parts of china:
"The fact of the visit is its own central feature. I hope our global strategic relationship will broaden and deepen, and the first step on such a journey is alway the most important one."
One important though unspoken purpose of Mr. Brown's visit would seem to be to cause the Soviet Union maximum concern that china and the United States are entering into an alliance against Moscow. The word "alliance" is eschewed by the Americans, although it has been enthusiastically and hyperbolically mentioned by the Chinese.
But if there is a message for Moscow in Mr. Brown's visit to Peking, it is this: The US and china are approaching a common assessment of the significance of Soviet actions in Afghanistan and of the nature of the soviet threat to world peace and stability. Without koining hands in a formal alliance, china and the US will increase their defense contacts and take independent but mutually reinforcing to counter the percieved threat.
Thirty years ago American and Chinese foot soldiers fought each other on the frozen ridges and valleys of Korea. Today the erstwhile enemies raise toasts to friendship and talk of a reciprocal visit to Washington by Mr. Brown's counterpart, Vice-Premier Geng Biao (deputy to the venerable Marshal Xu Xiangqian, also Vice-Premier and Minister of Defense).
Again, it is largely Moscow that is responsible for the change. A common appreciation of the threat posed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has given the Brown visit an urgency and a momentum it might otherwise have lacked. If there is alarm in Moscow over the bugbear of a Peking-Washington axis, it is Moscow's own actions that are beginning to clothe this bugbear with some substance.
Referring specifically to Afghanistan, Mr. Brown told a press conference Jan. 9, "I will be able to report to President Carter that I found a growing convergence of views between the two governments on the outrageous and brutal actions by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan." He refused to go into details about possible responses by the United States and China, saying only that each side was taking appropriate steps.
On the sale of sensitive high-technology products to China, Mr. Brown disclosed that there had been "extensive discussions" embodying "real progress," but again refused to go into details.
He reiterated, however, what had been made clear at lower levels before -- that the United States is prepared to sell China technology that it will not sell to the Soviet Union.
This is technology that has dual applicability, in both civilian and military fields. There has already been an announcement that the US is going ahead with one such project -- the supplying of a ground station with sophisticated computers for a satellite known as Landsat D. Other items in the dual-capability category will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Mr. Brown seemed determined to enrage the Soviet Union when he said that while such sales will be submitted to Cocom, the Western nations coordinating committee for sensitive exports to communist countries, there was no reason for Cocom to be "more restrictive toward China," while there was every reason for it to be "more restrictive toward the Soviet Union.