Amid the hullabaloo over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, American television viewers have been treated to an extraordinary series of images during the past week: US Defense Secretary Harold Brown popping his head up from a Chinese submarine, sitting in the cockpit of a Chinese F-7 fighter plane, and clambering over a Chinese T-59 tank.
The images were deliberate and had an obvious message for Moscow: that Soviet actions in Afghanistan have accelerated the drawing together of US-China ties.
This new security relationship is not a formal military alliance, but rather an environment featuring increasingly close consulations and separate but mutually reinforcing actions.
As Mr. Brown put it in an airborne press conference on his way homeward from Shanghai Jan. 13 (including an overnight stop in Tokyo), "US-China relations have evolved from one where a quarter of the world -- a billion people -- were our enemies, through a situation where we were engaged in a dialogue, into one where we're friends and are cooperating and have a potential of partnership. That puts pressure on the Soviets."
Afghanistan is both an impetus and a test of the evolving Sino- American security relationship. Both Chinese and American officials have expressed great satisfaction over the convergence of their views on the Soviet invasion, but have been extremely reserved about giving specific details of the separate but mutually reinforcing actions they contemplate. (American actions taken up to now have been publicly announced and have favorably impressed the Chinese, Mr. Brown said.)
Mr. Brown said he is certain that the Chinese will take steps to aid Pakistan. At the same time he has challenged the West European allies and Japan to come up with action paralleling that of the US.President Carter's blocking of grain shipments to the Soviet Union was "politically courageous," which the Chinese recognized as a strong action, the Defense Secretary said.
Peking was now "waiting to see what the industrialized democracies do to bolster Pakistan. That will be important to the Chinese," Mr. Brown said.
One important purpose of the Defense Secretary's weeklong visit was to gain a firsthand impression of China's defense establishment. The normally secretive Chinese frankly admitted their urgent need for modernization and gave Mr. Brown access to such representative units and facilities as the Sixth Tank Division near Peking, the 38th Air Force Fighter Division near Tianjin, the Wuchang Shipyard in Wuhan, and the East China Fleet headquartered in Shanghai.
Several times during his visit Mr. Brown said the US would not sell arms to China but would consider selling sophisticated high-technology items on a case-by-case basis.
The rationate for this decision is that the Chinese themselves are more interested in steady modernization of their forces, while continuing to produce the bulk of their defense requirements themselves.