The Reagan administration has used former President Ford's current private visit to Peking to give reassurances that the US has no intention of reversing the normalization of relations between the US and mainland China.
And both Mr. Ford and the Chinese leaders have apparently sounded each other out on the touchy question of Taiwan.
The Reagan administration came to office hinting broadly that it would try to sweeten US relations with Taiwan, with which the Carter administration had been obliged to break when full diplomatic relations were established with the People's Republic of China in 1978. President Reagan, along with some of his more ideologically inclined supporters (particularly from the Pacific Coast), has long had warm feelings toward Taiwan and felt that the Nationalists there had been treated shabbily by the US in the 1978 normalization arrangements.
The new administration in Washington may still want to show itself more sympathetic than its predecessor toward Taiwan. But the basic anti-Soviet attitude of President Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander Haig has won out over any desire to move somewhat away from Peking and back toward Taiwan.
Apparently, Mr. Reagan has seen the logic of continuing normalization of relations with an unswervingly anti-Soviet Peking if the overall aim of his administration's foreign policy is to contain any further Soviet expansion at the expense of American influence.
The pro-Taiwan statements of presidential candidate Reagan and of some in his transition team had deeply disturbed mainland Chinese Deputy Chairman Deng Xiaoping and his associates.
Their misgivings were not removed by Mr. Reagan's dispatch to Peking last August of then vice-presidential candidate George Bush. Mr. Reagan himself continued to raise the hackles of the mainland leadership during the election campaign in the US by keeping open the possibility of his resuming some kind of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. That would have been anathema to Peking.
As far back as last January, Secretary of State Haig -- during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- signaled that the new administration was after all going to put Peking before Taiwan. He said: "It is in our interest to continue the normalization process" with the People's Republic of China. That may well have been Mr. Haig's conviction throughout. After all, he was deputy to Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser, in 1971 when the latter negotiated the breakthrough to Peking for President Nixon.
After Secretary Haig's signal to Peking in January, President Reagan identified himself with it by inviting the Chinese ambassador to Washington to the White House.
Yet Peking was apparently still not completely convinced about future US policy. The State Department was unequivocal about not reversing anything in the normalization process. But some hardliners in the Republican Party still harbored deep loyalties to Taiwan and seemed to be hoping to upgrade the "front" of a supposedly private American Institute in Taipei through which the US maintains contact with the Nationalists.
Both Mr. Ford and his Chinese hosts have been circumspect about the talks they have been having in Peking. But there is little doubt that Mr. Ford has reaffirmed in President Reagan's name the US intention not to backtrack from normalization by any dramatic gesture toward Taiwan.
There is speculation that, for his part, Mr. Ford has been trying to discover just how far the Reagan administration could go in being a little sweeter toward Taiwan without causing too great offense in Peking.
The legislation of 1979 setting up the American Institute in Taipei (the private substitute for a US diplomatic office) affirmed that it was US policy "to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character." This assurance compensated Taiwan in some measure for the termination of the US-Taiwan mutual defense treaty involved in normalizing relations wit h Peking.