China has cut off cultural and sports exchanges with the United States for the rest of 1983 to show its displeasure over Washington's granting of political asylum to tennis player Hu Na.
This is the first time since the normalization of Sino-American diplomatic relations in 1979, and indeed since President Nixon's icebreaking visit to China in 1972, that China has taken specific action to restrict rather than to further promote relations with the United States.
Its impact on the general atmosphere of Sino-American relations is serious, but it does not touch the one area of cultural exchange most important from China's viewpoint: the sending of thousands of Chinese students and scholars to the US to catch up on the science and technology lost during the 10-year chaos known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).
If Sino-American relations continue their unhappy trend, China will face another difficult decision in 1984 as to whether or not to participate in the Los Angeles Olympics.
Meanwhile Hu Yaobang, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, sharply criticized the US but seemed to leave the door open to future improvement. He also criticized the Soviet Union.
''The United States instituted a Taiwan Relations Act, persisted in its arms sales to Taiwan, connived in the enticement and coercion of Chinese athletes and students in collusion with Taiwan agents and even granted political asylum,'' Mr. Hu said during a meeting with Lars Werner, Chairman of the pro-Chinese Swedish Left (Communist) Party, according to the Xin Hua News Agency.
''These are all acts of interfering in China's internal affairs, injuring China's sovereignty, hurting the Chinese people's feelings, which are hegemonistic behaviors,'' Mr. Hu said. ''Some people of the United States administration are willing to pursue an enlightened and friendly policy toward China,'' Hu continued. ''But we will wait and see if there are a few people in the US administration who want to take the 'unfortunate' China policy again and act as the second 'crusade,' '' he said. (The terms ''unfortunate'' and ''crusade'' refer to a book Hu said he had recently read entitled ''The US Crusade in China (1938-45)'' by Michael Schaller.)
Hu Na's defection, meanwhile, is seen here as another victory for Taiwan in the constant propaganda war between Peking and the former Kuomintang rulers of China who fled to Taiwan in 1949.
Peking's bitterness toward Washington for having granted political asylum to the 19-year-old tennis star arises partly from this fact. It is intolerable to Peking that the Reagan administration, which like its predecessors recognizes the People's Republic as ''the sole legal government of China'' as well as ''the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China,'' should seem to be showing partiality toward Taiwan.
In this sense there is a political dimension to Hu Na's defection that transcends the question of whether or not she is a simple citizen seeking to escape persecution in her homeland. The problem is not simply between China and the US; Taiwan is also a factor.
Whenever a Taiwanese defects to the mainland or a mainlander defects to Taiwan, each side hails the act as a success for its cause. In recent years, with the exception of Air Force pilot major Huang Zhicheng, most persons who have returned to the mainland from Taiwan have been elderly intellectuals or former Kuomintang generals hoping to spend their final years in the land of their birth. By contrast, there have been a number of notable defections of younger people from the mainland to Taiwan in recent years.
Peking notes that Miss Hu's lawyer, Edward Lau, is a lawyer for the San Francisco office of the North American Coordination Council, Taiwan's office in the US since losing its diplomatic status, and that Miss Hu visited the US immigration office in San Francisco in Mr. Lau's company the morning after she disappeared from her hotel. Hence Peking's charge, made in its official protest note to the US ambassador here April 6, that ''a handful of Americans working in collusion with some elements of Taiwan'' had engaged in ''enticement and coercion'' of Hu Na.
Many Chinese students resident in the US have asked for and been granted a change of status without causing difficulties between Washington and Peking because they did not request the sensational, emotion-rousing status of political refugee. The point US officials make, that it is up to the person requesting a change of status to specify which status he wants, is not well understood here.
There are anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 students from mainland China in the US today. Each year China sends from 1,000 to 1,500 students on official grants to the US and an equivalent number have gone to the US each year on private scholarships or with the support of overseas relatives.
Given the authoritarian structure of government here and the difference in social systems between China and the United States, problems between the two countries are bound to arise in the cultural exchange fields. Peking knew it was taking a risk when it decided in the late 1970s to send students abroad to catch up on science and technology.
Senior leader Deng Xiaoping was quoted as saying that even if a quarter of these students did not return to China, the homeland would still benefit. These problems would be more manageable, diplomats here say, if Taiwan did not complicate the picture. In any case, the question of political asylum is being restudied and criteria are being tightened. In the process, observers here say, Washington should work hard to avoid being sucked into Taiwan's effort to win over the political allegiance of Chinese living in or visiting the US.