Deng Xiaoping has scored what looks like a major coup in his patient, determined effort to woo Taiwan back into the embrace of the motherland. Mrs. Anna Chennault, who to many Americans seems the very embodiment of the so- called Taiwan lobby, has visited Mr. Deng, vice-chairman of the Communist Party and the most powerful member of the current leadership, and seems to have come to terms with what she calls "reality."
Mrs. Chennault was accompanying Republican Sen. and Mrs. Ted Stevens of Alaska, soon to be deputy majority leader of the Senate and chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "You keep an open mind and you keep learning," Mrs. Chennault said at a joint press conference with Senator Stevens Jan. 4. "You look at the world in reality. Today we recognize the United States cannot afford to be isolated."
Mrs. Chennault, Chinese by birth, American by citizenship, is the widow of Gen. Albert Chennault of World War II "flying tiger" fame. An active Republican , she is chairman of the Republican National Heritage Foundation, the arm of the party that deals with minority nationalities.
She is the first woman and the first Asian to hold this position, she said with pride. She did not think, she said, that she could be a "bridge" between Taiwan and the mainland "at this time," although she and Senator Stevens are going to Taiwan Jan. 5 via Tokyo. She does expect, however, to see President Chiang Ching-kuo in Taiwan. Neither Mrs. Chennault nor Senator Stevens would discuss the substance of their two-hour talk with Mr. Deng in the cavernous Great Hall of the People.Taiwan was discussed, and so were defense problems, the aggressive designs of the Soviet Union, energy, and pollution, Senator Stevens said.
On Taiwan, the Senator said Mr. Deng presented his views "very directly and clearly," much as he had done when he visited the United States Senate in 1979 ."We understood the Chinese position then and I understand it today," Mr. Stevens said.
He inferred, without saying so directly, that there is continuing disagreement between Peking and Washington over the Taiwan Relations Act, which Peking claims contravenes. President Nixon's Shanghai communique and the joint communique establishing full diplomatic relations between Peking and Washington in December 1978. As chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Mr. Stevens said, "I certainly don't rule out" arms sales to China in view of the aggressiveness shown by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Poland, and elsewhere.
Both Mr. Stevens and Mrs. Chennault denied that they were carrying any messages from the incoming Reagan administration to China or vice versa. But for Mr. Deng the very fact of Mrs. Chennault's visit is evidence of how previously encrusted positions are changing in the United States and elsewhere.
What concrete effect the visit will have in Taiwan remains to be seen, but in overseas Chinese communities throughout the world the symbolic importance of the visit is great. Mrs. Chennault was born and brought up in Peking but left as a child when the Japanese occupied the city. Her last visit to Peking, she recalled, was in 1948 as the guest of Gen. Fu Tso-Yi, then the Nationalist commander in the region. General Fu subsequently negotiated a peaceful surrender to the communists and became minister of water conservancy in the Peking government. Senator Stevens and Mrs. Chennault are scheduling three days for their visit to Taiwan -- the same length of time they gave to P eking.