Peaceful reunification does not mean ''the mainland swallowing Taiwan up,'' nor does it mean ''Taiwan swallowing the mainland up,'' says senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
Mr. Deng's remarks, the most conciliatory towards Taiwan so far made by a Chinese leader, were released by the official Xinhua News Agency July 29. They were made June 26 at a meeting in Peking with Dr. Winston I.Y. Yang of Seton Hall University.
Deng rejected the concept of ''complete autonomy'' for Taiwan. But if his remarks are taken at face value, they indicate that Peking is prepared to go quite far to concede the substance of autonomy to Taiwan.
A spokesman for Taiwan's Foreign Ministry described Deng's offer as a communist trick and said his government would never seek a compromise with Peking.
Deng said ''only the People's Republic of China is entitled to represent China in the international arena.'' But, he added, ''We recognize the Taiwan local government's right to follow its own internal policy. Although a local government, the government in Taiwan, which will be a special administrative region, will be different from other provincial, municipal, and even autonomous regional governments.''
After reunification, Deng said, ''the Taiwan special administrative region may have its own independent nature, and may practice a system different from that of the mainland. It will have an independent judiciary and the right of final judgment need not rest with Peking. Taiwan may also have its own armed forces, so long as they do not constitute a threat to the mainland.
''The mainland will station neither troops nor administrative personnel in Taiwan. The political party, government, and armed forces in Taiwan will all be administered by Taiwan itself. Seats in the central government will be reserved for Taiwan.''
The Xinhua report did not mention two points which Dr. Yang said Deng had made during the interview: first, that Taiwan could continue to acquire arms from abroad; second, that it could maintain an ''appropriate'' status in international organizations and relations with foreign countries. Dr. Yang made these points in an interview with Reuter.
Taiwan has said that Deng's remarks contained nothing new, and indeed they did not go beyond what Marshal Ye Jianying had promised in his nine-point proposal of September 1981. But Deng went into much more detail regarding the specific content of Taiwan's possible autonomy.
Although Peking honors Dr. Sun Yatsen, founder of the Republic of China in 1911, Deng said that reuniting China on the basis of Dr. Sun's three principles (nationalism, democracy, and the peoples' livelihood) was not realistic. But he welcomed party-to-party talks between the Kuomintang, which Dr. Sun founded and which rules Taiwan today, and the Communist Party.
''We are ready to send our people to Taiwan at any time,'' he said, ''and it is okay just to have a look and no talks. They are also welcome to send people here. We will guarantee their safety and keep secrecy.''
Deng said if Taiwan President Chiang Ching-Kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek, and those who have devoted themselves to reunifying China can accomplish this cause, they will find themselves better recorded in history.