The Sino-American relationship will continue to grow despite ''bumps along the road,'' says Gov. John Spellman of the State of Washington. Right now the bumps seem more conspicuous than the smooth places, with disputes over Taiwan, textiles, high-technology exports, and the Hu Na political asylum case upsetting feelings on both sides of the Pacific.
But Governor Spellman, who is engaged in people-to-people diplomacy through a sister-state relationship between Washington state and the populous Sichuan Province, says he is optimistic over the long run. ''I've always said this is a 50-year project,'' he said of the Washington State-Sichuan tie in a recent interview at his office in the handsome state capitol.
Last autumn Mr. Spellman headed an official state delegation to Peking, Shanghai, and Sichuan. In September he expects to welcome a delegation headed by Gov. Yang Xizong of Sichuan.
Reports about people-to-people relations at this level do not often get into the news media. Yet grass-roots ties such as those developing between Washington and Sichuan are a significant contribution to more substantive and less polemical relations between China and the US.
The exchanges growing out of Mr. Spellman's visit to China last year and the Washington-Sichuan friendship agreement signed include the following, according to the governor:
* Exhibits of photography and of children's art.
* A delegation to Sichuan by the Boeing Aircraft Company to look for tools, work gloves, and other articles to procure. This is part of Boeing's effort to increase purchases from China partially to offset its substantial aircraft sales to China.
* Visits to China by experts from Washington State forestry companies to discuss forestry management techniques and machinery to offload timber.
* Student exchanges between universities in Sichuan and Washington. These exchanges are still in the discussion stage.
* Also in the discussion stage are the reception of Chinese agricultural trainees by farmers in Washington. Sichuan authorities are particularly eager to absorb the advanced management techniques of American farmers.
* Next year Sichuan expects to send a handicraft exhibition to Washington, while Washington State is organizing a buyers' mission to the Canton spring fair and to Sichuan.
* Sichuan has also shown interest in buying a fiberboard or particleboard processing plant similar to the one Washington Ironworks Company has built for Fujian Province across the strait from Taiwan.
In short, Mr. Spellman said, there is much more than atmospherics to the Washington-Sichuan relationship. The better people get to know each other, the greater will be the likelihood that any frictions which develop will be perceived and handled as problems between friends, the governor said.
The China relationship is part of a many-pronged effort Washington State is making to promote trade and cultural ties across the Pacific.
Governor Spellman has visited Japan and South Korea as well as China, and his state has a sister-state relationship with Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, while Seattle has a port-to-port relationship with Shanghai and Kobe, Japan. With three major export industries - forest products, aerospace, and agriculture - Washington State is more conscious of the need for foreign trade than many of its sister states.
At least 1 job in 5 in the state depends on foreign trade now, as compared to 1 job in 15 in 1963. Because Seattle and Tacoma are outlets for grain and other products coming from a hinterland extending deep into the midwestern US, Washington ranks seventh among American states in terms of foreign trade volume, even though in population it ranks only 27th.
Governor Spellman has been an active promoter of world trade through Washington ports, and what is more, he is a convinced free trader. He faults Japan for being slow to open up its own markets to imports from other countries, but opposes efforts being made in Congress to restrict imports or to impose domestic content legislation. Each part of the world should make the best products it can and compete on that basis, rather than trying to shut out products of other countries that may make some of its own industries obsolete, the governor said.
Mr. Spellman was one of the founders of the Committee of Employment through Exports, an organization bringing together state officials, private companies, labor unions and others to promote the idea that exports create jobs. Wisconsin and Florida joined Washington in starting the organization, which today covers 20 states, Mr. Spellman said.
''People are very provincial,'' he said. ''But look at subcontractors. There is hardly a state in the union that is not affected by foreign trade.''