A United States Embassy source characterized as ''misleading'' a recent report in an American newspaper that said more than 1,000 applications for political asylum had been filed by Chinese in the US.
Information supplied by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to the embassy showed, the embassy source said, that 95 percent of the applications had been made by Chinese from Taiwan or from Hong Kong. The immigration service follows a ''one China'' policy in that it does not differentiate among Chinese from the mainland, from Taiwan, and from Hong Kong when processing such applications, the source said.
Political asylum has become a touchy issue between China and the United States recently, especially since the July request by tennis champion Hu Na while on a tour of the United States. Some Chinese leaders have accused Americans of actively persuading Miss Hu to take this step.
There have been several other such requests by Chinese visiting or studying in the United States during the past several years. Of the more than 1,000 requests received since 1979, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has approved eight and rejected 87. The remainder are still pending. The US Embassy here had no information on how many of the eight approved cases were from mainland China.
Political asylum is often requested for reasons that have little to do with fear of political persecution; it is sometimes the easiest method of allowing continued residence in the United States. There is no accurate figure for Chinese studying in the United States today; estimates range from 6,000 to more than 10,000. This is because, although accurate records are kept of non-Americans entering the United States, departure figures are much less comprehensive.
Political asylum is only one of several ways a foreign student or other visitor to the United States can change his status. It has been estimated that 80 or 90 percent of Indians and Taiwanese who have received PhD degrees in the United States do not return to their countries of origin. So far Chinese with skills marketable in the United States have not elected to remain in comparable numbers. But there is little question that authorities in both Peking and Washington are well aware of the possibilities.
A Chinese source with access to official thinking on the subject commented that China has enough people and that if some Chinese preferred the American social system, ''OK, they can go.'' Last year the US Embassy here gave about 1, 500 visas to officially sponsored exchange scholars and students, and this year it is doing the same. Privately sponsored students can also receive Chinese passports to study abroad.
Despite official irritation over the political asylum issue, Chinese sources say they have every intention of continuing their cultural exchange programs with the United States.