''Maintaining close Chinese-American ties must be among the highest priorities of this administration and the Congress,'' said Rep. Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, speaker of the US House of Representatives.
Mr. O'Neill said he'd come to China because he felt American policy toward China had been ''slipping'' and that he was leaving with a commitment ''to do everything I can'' to improve Sino-American ties.
He offered no specific solutions nor did he criticize the Reagan administration directly. But when meeting senior leader Deng Xiaoping March 30 he pointedly said he brought greetings from ''President Carter'' without mentioning President Reagan.
At a press conference in Peking March 30, O'Neill said that he and his fellow delegation members were leaving with a better understanding that ''Taiwan is the No. 1 problem on the Chinese agenda.'' He did not think, however, that the Taiwan Relations Act, which Chinese leaders describe as the root of the problem between China and the United States, could be easily repealed.
Chinese leaders gave O'Neill and his 13-man congressional delegation red carpet treatment. The congressmen met with senior leader Deng Xiaoping, with Premier Zhao Ziyang, two other Politburo members, and with Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian. They will go on to Xian, Hangzhou, and Shanghai before leaving China April 3.
The Chinese have been telling every recent American visitor that American arms sales to Taiwan are an obstacle to improving Sino-American relations. (The English-language China Daily, on the final day of the O'Neill visit to Peking, accused the US of duplicity on Taiwan, according to Reuters. ''Continued double-dealing will further endanger relations between the two countries, which are not as they should be for a fundamental lack of trust,'' the China Daily said.)