Pleased with the outcome of his talks with the Chinese, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. appears to have restored momentum to an uncertain US-China relationship.
The most dramatic result of Haig's three days of talks here was an American agreement to loosen controls over arms sales to China. A Chinese delegation will be flying to Washington in August to discuss this and other military matters.
Under the Carter administration, China was already eligible to buy unarmed helicopters and transport planes from the United States. It will now be eligible to buy guns. More likely, though, it will seek antitank weapons and technologically advanced equipment such as night-vision devices (used to detect enemy tanks moving under cover of darkness).
But China's ability to buy American military equipment is limited by its economic weaknesses. And, according to Haig, before the US makes a move in this direction, it must consult with its allies and with the US Congress. For some time to come, the new loosening of restrictions on arms sales to China may prove to be of more symbolic value than anything else.
But regardless of what the Chinese end up buying from the Americans, the new agreement has the effect of moving the US and China closer to a military alliance. This is certain to trigger a strong reaction from the Soviet Union.
At the end of his meeting here with leading Chinese officials, Haig asserted that the talks had been among the most productive he had ever held in any country. He claimed to have dispelled Chinese misapprehensions about the Reagan administration. He said that he had conveyed President Reagan's resolve to expand cooperation between the two nations further.
The Chinese appraisal of the first high- level talks between Reagan administration officials and the leaders in Peking appeared to be more guarded. In a toast at a banquet given by Haig June 16, Chinese Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Huang Hua said the talks were "very useful." He added that both sides saw a need to increase their consultations and coordination. But he also noted that the two sides "do not entirely share the same views." Huang Hua declared that the two sides must prove with their actions that the agreements between them can stand tests.
It is nonetheless safe to say that in addition to loosening restrictions on the sale of weapons to China, the Haig talks in Peking:
* Provided for closer consultation and coordination between the two nations on actions to be taken in several of the world's trouble spots.
* Created the basis for a continuing exchange of high-levels visits, including an eventual trip to China by President Reagan.
* Gave the Chinese a much more detailed appreciation of Reagan foreign policy , including some nuances that might please them. The Chinese have been concerned that in the Middle East, the Reagan administration was ignoring the Palestinian question, and, in Africa, tilting too much in favor of South Africa. They felt this gave the Soviet Union openings in both regions. Haig thinks that he was able to convince the Chinese that Reagan policy in Africa and in the Middle East is more balanced than they might have thought it was.
But while Haig does not talk about it publicly, his visit to Peking has remined both sides of the limits on the relationship. The Chinese would have liked Haig to have given them assurances that the US will not sell advanced aircraft to Taiwan. But Haig was apparently in no position to give such assur ances. They would prove to be unpopular in the US Congress. Furthermore, Haig would not want to be seen to be yielding on such an issue under Chinese pressure.
Because of President Reagan's apparent desire to strengthen US relations with Taiwan, the Chinese were suspicious of the new administration in Washington from the start. They gradually came to the conclusion that the Reagan administration was going to offer to sell arms to them while at the same time "upgrading" the armed forces of Taiwan through the sale to the island government of advanced fighter aircraft.
But Peking had reduced its forces facing Taiwan and, while not renouncing its right to use force, pledged to seek the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.
Taiwan does not appear to be in need of new fighter planes for some time to come. China's antiquated fighters are no match for those of Taiwan.
As one influential Chinese in Peking put it:* "Taiwan asks for arms not because they need them but because they want to use them as a means of destroying relations between the US and China."
As for Haig's visit to Peking, he said, "What we are looking for is not what is said but what is done."
In other words, the Chinese are still reserving judgment. They know that there are differing views on China and on Taiwan in the White House and State Department.
Both sides also know that there are limits on the amount of American investment and technology which China can absorb and the amount of inexpensive Chinese exports, such as textiles, which the US can afford to take in.
As he was driven around the streets of Peking, Haig had only to look out his car window to realize, as Vice-Chairman Deng Xiaoping once said, that the US has acquired a "poor friend."
Among the new billboards in the center of Peking is one proclaiming the virtues of CocaCola.But much of the city is as it has been for decades, with ponies pulling carts loaded with the food from the countryside.Buses and bicycles are the main form of city transport, and the sound of jingling bicycle bells is everywhere.
But despite their great differences, China and the US do share a mutual interest in containing the Soviet Union. This was evident in Haig's discussions of Soviet actions in Afghanistan and Cambodia. Much to the liking of the Chinese, the Reagan admnistration is taking an extremely hard line toward the Vietnamese and their occupation of Cambodia.
The Reagan administration is offering arms sales to China's ally Pakistan in greater quantities than the Carter administration ever did.
In many ways, the Reagan administration is more to the liking of the Chinese than was the Carter administration.And among the Reagan team, the Chinese may have found their best friend in Alexander Haig.
For one thing, Haig does not seem to share in the nostalgia for Taiwan which is prevalent in the White House, and, unlike his predecessors, he does not proclaim the virtues of detente with the Soviet Union, China's chief adversary.