Secretary of State Shultz's visit to the People's Republic of China can be counted a success. A success because he has managed to inject a new realism in Sino-American relations and avoid the hoopla and euphoria that have attended such visits in the past. Mr. Shultz perhaps described his stay best when he said: ''My hosts said I should remember that candor was something that could take place among friends. I would have to say, then, that I received a lot of friendship.''
Candor is needed in any relationship and especially where there is such a diversity of systems and viewpoints. Washington and Peking genuinely desire to improve ties, but saying so does not make it so. Mr. Shultz went to listen as well as talk. Doubtless he is now aware that Peking's concerns are deep-seated and that the process of bridging the differences between the two nations will take time. Most important, he has resisted the temptation of his predecessors to view China largely as a strategic asset against the Soviet Union rather than as an important country deserving a strong bilateral relationship in its own right. The geopolitical factor is always present, to be sure, but the US should want to better its ties with Peking whether the Soviet threat existed or not.
This will take working at. No sooner had Mr. Shultz left China than the Chinese press sounded a sour note over the issue of Taiwan. How prepared is President Reagan to step back visibly from a policy that continues to irk the Peking leadership? If he truly wants to pursue the US national interest, he may have to be less sensitive to his domestic political right and become more circumspect toward Taiwan.
It galls Peking, for instance, that the Taiwanese, who do not have normal diplomatic status, today maintain what are in effect consular offices throughout the United States - as many as 10. This is more than the People's Republic has ( 3) and even more than many Western nations have.
Then there is the contentious subject of arms for Taiwan. Surely no one would advocate the United States abandon the economically vigorous and politically plucky island. But there is a difference between supplying it with defensive arms that pose no threat to the mainland and the newer generation of highly sophisticated offensive arms which Taiwan seeks. Taiwan has more than enough for its own defense, and even the US military does not think it needs all it is asking for. Especially now that Taiwan is able to produce weaponry itself and can also purchase equipment from Western Europe.
Finally, in the matter of textile quotas, the US perhaps needs to have a better understanding of the importance of textiles to China, which account for a major share of its trade. They occupy only a minor importance in Taiwan's trade yet the Chinese quota is below that of Taiwan. The US, moreover, maintains a trade surplus with China. What needs to be avoided is a lingering dispute that would impair growing trade links.
The United States is not without its complaints, too - such as the frustrations American businessmen encounter in dealing with the heavy-layered Chinese bureaucracy. It will thus take quiet persistence and a cultivation of trust on both sides to make sure the still-budding relationship stays on a stable course. Despite the lack of sensitivity apparently displayed when the White House unilaterally announced a visit to the US next year of Premier Zhao Ziyang - a move that irritated Peking - Mr. Shultz does appear to have removed much of the tension from US-Chinese relations and put them on a more rational, less emotional basis.
That is a good ''new'' beginning.