"Whatever policy the United States decides to follow, it must do so with firmness," the Chinese official said. "The trouble with President Carter is that he has been so weak."
As unfair as the comment may seem to supporters of the man who lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan, this is the way many members of what may be called the Chinese establishment view Jimmy Carter.
The official quoted above is not a diplomat and was speaking on an entirely personal basis. His solution for the Iranian hostage crisis -- an American troop landing in Iran -- would probably send shivers down the spine of many Reagan supporters.
Peking probably welcomes what it perceives as Mr. Reagan's firmer attitude toward the Soviet Union than Mr. Carter's. Vice-President-elect Bush has kept up good relations with top Peking officials, including Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping, since the year he spent here as head of what was then the United States liaison mission. In this sense there is already a pipeline between the incoming administration and Peking.
Also, insofar as Taiwan is concerned, the Carter administration has already done most of the dirty work for President- elect Reagan. The Taiwan Relations Act, defining relations with Taiwan, which Peking does not like, was passed by a Democratic Congress during the Carter incumbency. More recently, an agreement mutually according semi-diplomatic privileges to Taiwan and American personnel manning the "institutes" through which washington and Taipei conduct their relations was signed, occasioning a People's Daily commentary on Washington's "inadvisable move."
A more important substantive question will come up when Mr. Reagan decides what defensive arms to sell to Taiwan, including airplanes. But this quesiton would have surfaced even if the Carter presidency had continued.
Therefore, despite Peking's wariness about a man who had advocated official relations with Taiwan, unless Mr. Reagan "misspeaks" again, as he confessed to having done in his Aug. 25 press conference on the Taiwan issue, the Chinese seem willing to see how Mr. Reagan's foreign policy as a whole unfolds, including what is of paramount concern to them -- how firm the United States stands on the issue of Soviet expansionism.