Independent voices keep their civil tones

On the world scene over this past week the most important single event was, of course, the political swing from center-left to center-right in the West German Federal Republic. Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt handed over the federal chancellorship to Christian Democrat Helmut Kohl in Bonn.

The change ended an era in German politics. It meant that in domestic economic affairs the West German government would be walking more in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States. It meant a cutting back on welfare spending with a new focus on encouraging industrial efficiency, modernization, and expansion.

But, contrary to what many Washingtonians might see as logical, it did not mean a swing in Bonn away from detente.

On the contrary. The new German chancellor intends to proceed with building the gas pipeline from Siberia to Western Europe, which President Reagan is still trying to block. And while Herr Kohl stressed loyalty to the NATO alliance and ''friendship and partnership'' with the US, he said this does not mean ''dependency.''

No dependency in this case seems to mean that West Germany, along with France , Britain, and Italy, will do as much commercial business with Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, as it chooses to do regardless of Washington's wishes. The new conservative West German government is no more inclined toward a confrontationist attitude toward Moscow than was its socialist predecessor.

In other words, the turn from Schmidt to Kohl in Bonn is a setback for socialism, but it does not seem likely to mean a departure from the tendency of the last decade for the lesser powers to insist on more independence from the superpowers. Just as the countries of Eastern Europe are acting as independently as they can be of Moscow (with varying success, Poland currently being the least successful), so the West European countries increasingly insist on their right to disagree with Washington.

The week has witnessed another example in Asia of the independent inclination of others. In Peking a Chinese deputy foreign minister, Quian Qichen, began a series of talks with a Soviet deputy foreign minister, Leonid Ilyichov.

The mere opening of these talks after a three-year freeze in Sino-Soviet relations moves China just a little more toward a position of equidistance from Washington and Moscow. Chinese propaganda continues to treat the Soviets as being slightly worse than the Americans, but the difference has been attenuated.

The talks themselves are probably not going to make a major change in relations between Peking and Moscow. It is unlikely that China will move back toward intimate relations with the Soviet Union unless or until Moscow reduces substantially the enormous armed force (nearly 50 divisions) it has stationed along the Chinese frontier and is willing to give back to China some of the territories China claims.

The day is certainly far off when Moscow can be expected to relinquish voluntarily any substantial amount of territory.

But when deputy foreign ministers talk after a three-year freeze, China is saying something for others to notice. In this case it is saying that it might like to normalize its relations with Moscow, just as the US normalized its relations with China when Richard Nixon went to Peking.

A similar arms-length kind of talking was going on at almost the same time in New York. The new US secretary of state, George Shultz, had a second in his current series of talks with Moscow's Andrei Gromyko.

Both the Sino-Soviet meeting in Peking and the Soviet-US meeting in New York were ''secret.'' The Chinese didn't even put the fact of the meeting into their own press. No communique was issued. There was a ''briefing'' for the press after the Shultz-Gromyko talk, but how much did it disclose?

The briefing officer said the talk had been ''nonpolemical, serious, and businesslike - with no raised voices.''

So there was an exchange of views in New York between US and Soviet foreign ministers which was conducted in civil tones. And there was an exchange of views in Peking between Soviet and Chinese deputy foreign ministers. It seems likely that it also was conducted in civil tones, or it would not have happened.

The ''nonpolemical'' talk in New York would probably not have happened in the days of former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The change from Haig to Shultz makes a difference in the tone of the US-Soviet dialogue. It may not make much difference in substance. But at least the two could meet and talk in civil tones. This might relax some anxieties in Europe about Reagan foreign policy.

Of other events during the week it is worthy of note that the government of King Juan Carlos in Spain has survived another attempt at a military coup d'etat. More colonels went to jail. The country's secret police seem to have learned how to detect these things in advance. The government and King take appropriate countermeasures. This is the second time the King has had the better of the old guard in the Army. Democracy in Spain is strengthened each time this happens.

The Middle East waits now for the findings of the judicial process in the matter of the massacres. A busload of Israeli troops was ambushed southeast of Beirut by unknown, probably Palestinian, assailants. The Israeli Air Force knocked out more Syrian SAM batteries the next day. But the Israelis did not launch a major offensive. The condition could almost be called ''all quiet on the Middle East front.''

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