China's independent foreign policy

If the United States reduces arms sales to Taiwan by $1 per year, it will take 10,000 years to reduce these sales by $10,000, and a hundred million years to reduce them by $100 million.

This was Deng Xiaoping's pungent way of expressing his reservations about the American promise to ''gradually reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan.'' The commitment was made in a joint communique issued Aug. 17. Mr. Deng made his remark in a conversation with visiting Japanese politician Yoshikatsu Takeiri, according to Japanese sources.

(Mr. Deng, China's paramount leader, is chairman of the Communist Party's Central Advisory Commission.)

China these days is stridently asserting its independence both of the US and of the Soviet Union. It has just finished what Mr. Deng described as the ''first round'' of Sino-Soviet talks aimed at improving relations between Moscow and Peking. But, again according to Deng, although the talks were cordial, ''the distance between the two sides did not change.''

As if to underline its independence of the superpowers, China is currently hosting Muammar Qaddafi, the mercurial leader of Libya. President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan has just left the country for North Korea, and French Communist leader Georges Marchais is about to end his visit after restoring party-to-party ties with the Chinese and agreeing that no communist party has the right to infringe on the internal affairs of others.

There is little question that despite the Aug. 17 communique confidence has not really been restored between the Reagan administration and Peking. Deng was generous enough to tell Mr. Takeiri that confidence was a mutual thing and that the US may have the same questions about confidence in China that the Chinese have towards the United States.

China's consistent policy has been to develop relations with the US, Deng said. There's been no change in this policy. Some people say that Chinese politics are unstable. But in fact there's been stability in China since the fall of the ''gang of four.'' This has been especially true since the third plenum in December 1978 when the Deng line triumphed.

But the US is not like China, Deng complained. Every time a person changes, policy changes. China quarreled with the US over the Taiwan arms sales issue. Eventually the Aug. 17 communique pointed the way to solve the dispute. But the communique must be carried out seriously, and China is watching American actions.

It was at this point that Deng made his remark about what would happen if the US reduced arms sales by a dollar a year.

Toward the Soviet Union, Deng expressed himself in somewhat similar terms, saying that improvement of relations ''accords with the wishes of both peoples and with the cause of world peace.'' But Soviet actions in Afghanistan, its support for Vietnam in Cambodia, and the presence of ''1 million Soviet troops'' on the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia hampered better relations. There would be no change in Sino-Soviet relations, Deng said, unless Moscow decided to do something about these three obstacles.

Reading between the lines of Deng's remarks, he does seem to make a distinction between the US and the Soviet Union. In the case of the former, Washington and Peking have already signed a communique. Mr. Deng's questions are over the amount and the speed of the promised reduction in US arms sales to Taiwan.

In the case of the Soviet Union, there is as yet no bilateral agreement. China is demanding, as a prerequisite for such an agreement, actions on Moscow's part which the latter so far shows no signs of initiating. Deng said no date had been set for the second round of talks, which are to be held in Moscow. And he pointedly mentioned that border talks begun in 1969 had dragged on for 11 years without showing any progress, until interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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