There is nothing in the official record to tell us whether Chinese Chairman and Prime Minister Hua Guofeng asked President Carter for US guns when the two met in Tokyo at the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Ohira.
Nor does anything in the public record tell us what answer the President made if the question was asked.
But at the Kremlin in Moscow the meeting occasioned obvious uneasiness. The Soviets assume that the Chinese and US heads of state and government at least talked about a more formal relationship between the US and China. They assume that the meeting was deliberately built up as an anti-Soviet measure and that the trend is toward broadening the alliance between the United States and Japan to include China.
Moscow's anxiety is premature.
No one in Peking has ever said that the present government in China would like to have a military alliance with Japan and the United States. And it is extremely doubtful that Japan is yet ready to take on the responsibilities and risks which would be involved in such an alliance. If there is to be such an alliance, it is probably well in the future, which is where it should be because the possibility, more than the actuality, is likely to restrain Moscow from Dangerous adventurism in Asia.
American guns for China, like a conceivable formal alliance with China, are both highly valuable trump cards which can be played in the great game of power politics. But as any bridge player knows, a trump card can only be played once. When played, its value is gone. The player must then worry about the countermeasure his opponent will be planning.
Mr. Carter's decision to go to the Ohira funeral had two obvious reasons behind it. One was to improve relations with Japan which have been strained by avoidable neglect and by soaring Japanese exports spurred by declining American industrial productivity. The other reason, of course, was to give Moscow something to worry about by the meeting with Prime Minister Hua.
That meeting was a logical response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was probably the most effective of all the measures which Washington has initiated as penalty for that invasion. It is certainly more effective tan the Olympics boycott or the wheat embargo because the Soviets have a special sensitivity about China.
The world's longest mutual frontier makes the USSR and China conscious neighbors. China is the most populous country on earth. The Soviet empire stretches over large sections of Asia which once were claimed by China. Moscow has never been able to build a large population in those territories. The Chinese still claim many of those territories and have consistently refused to abandon those claims. There have been repeated military clashes along the frontier. Moscow mans that frontier with approximately one-third of its total military force.
The potential alliance which can give anyone in the Kremlin a nightmare is an alliance of Western Europe, the United States, Japan, and China. Such an alliance would, by any calculation, outman and outgun the Soviets in every category of military and economic power.
A drawing together of the US alliance system and China is a logical result of any fresh Soviet adventure into areas outside the existing and generally accepted Soviet sphere of influence. Eastern Europe is so accepted as being, de facto, Soviet country.Afghanistan was not part of a recognized Soviet sphere of influence. Historically, it had been a buffer zone between Russian and British Empires. Moscow was moving into alien pastures when it began developing a "special relationship" with Afghanistan. That caused Peking and Washington to increase their interest in each other.
The important step now is to let Moscow grow accustomed to the inevitable relationship between their deeds and what those deeds cause in other places. If the Soviets were to begin to taper their presence in Afghanistan it is likely that Peking and Washington would settle into a cautious neighborliness. If the Soviets launch another venture as unsettling as the one in Afghanistan, then the time would certainly be ripe for serious thinking about new alliances.
Meanwhile, the Tokyo chat between the heads of the American and the Chinese governments should be a sufficient warning to Moscow to be careful. More at this stage would be a waste of a trump card.