The State of Washington and the Chinese Province of Sichuan have signed a friendship agreement, and Gov. John Spellman of the Evergreen State says it may well turn out to be ''the most important thing I've achieved'' since he came to office two years ago.
Mr. Spellman, a Republican, spoke in an interview in this bustling port city Oct. 18, the final day of a two-week visit to China. Most of his time was spent in beautiful, mountain-rimmed Sichuan, 1,000 miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai.
The signing of the agreement the previous week in Sichuan's capital, Chengdu, was a moving occasion for the governor and for his bipartisan 25-man delegation. Washington, a recession-hit but technologically advanced state of 5 million people, and Sichuan, a province of nearly 100 million people, adequately fed and clothed but still mostly in the bicycle age, pledged friendship and cooperation in trade, culture, education, and other fields. Sichuan's provincial band played rousing versions of ''The Star Spangled Banner'' and of the Chinese national anthem.
Looking back on that occasion and on a fortnight crowded with trade discussions in Peking and Chengdu and visits to factories, villages, universities, and cultural monuments, Mr. Spellman said simply, ''I'm dedicated to making this work.'' Members of his delegation had spent many hours talking about agriculture, trade, education, culture, and how mutually beneficial exchanges could be promoted in these fields. Although he was not certain what shape further steps should take, he intended to enlist private business, educators, and others in gradually conceived and planned programs.
Washington State is America's natural gateway to China, Mr. Spellman argues. The state already sells logs and many other items to China including such high technology items as Boeing's jet aircraft. It would dearly love to sell its wheat and its apples as well.
Washington State also welcomes Chinese exports such as textiles and other light industry products. Mr. Spellman is a dedicated free-trader, arguing with passion that ''in the long run, if we arbitrarily inflict barriers, if we keep the rest of the world from eating, from having jobs . . . we will surely reap the whirlwind. The people, thus discriminated against, will indeed be our enemies.''
But what of the argument that the United States' first duty is to protect jobs at home?
''It's not a good argument,'' the governor said firmly. ''Certainly we should have jobs.'' But the United States should not seek ''artificially to make jobs.'' To make what the governor calls ''artificial jobs'' would mean that ''at that point a country is in decline.'' But he added, there is ''no reason our country should be in decline. We still have the best science and technology in the world. We have no reason to restrict imports.''
Therefore he continued, if it turns out that in some areas such as light industry the Chinese prove to be more efficient than the Americans, ''We shouldn't try to compete.'' But the Chinese are communists, aren't they?
''They're one-quarter of the world's population,'' the governor shot back. ''It's in our interest and in the interest of world peace that we know and have relations with them. We can't ignore them, can't isolate them, in a rational world.''