Mr. Reagan and China
There may be partisan rumblings over President Reagan's accommodation with Peking on the issue of United States arms sales to Taiwan. But the President sensibly concluded that the US relationship with the People's Republic of China is too important strategically to let it be buffeted by domestic politics. He and his State Department diplomats are to be commended for working out a compromise agreement which ends the tension in Sino-American relations.
Several points might to be made about the agreement:
One, contrary to the cry of some, Mr. Reagan is not abandoning Taiwan. He would not have agreed to reduce the supply of American arms over a period of time if there were any danger Taiwan would lose the capability of defending itself. The point is that Taiwan not only can buy and has bought defensive weapons from other Western countries but, given its vibrant and growing economy, is able to manufacture its own weapons. Continued coproduction with the Northrop Corporation of F-5E figher planes bears that out.
Two, the US won a strengthened pledge from Peking that it would seek to reunify Taiwan with the mainland only by peaceful means. In the joint communique China characterizes this peaceful approach as ''fundamental policy,'' a formulation regarded by US officials as a concession. If Peking abides by this pledge, the people of Taiwan would be integrated into the People's Republic of China only upon their own free will and consent. That obviously will not take place until political and economic conditions have vastly altered on the mainland.
Three, while agreements are made to be respected and to endure, nations will always act in their national self-interest. If at some future time the People's Republic of China were to move aggressively against Taiwan, there can be no doubt the United States would feel justified to come to the help of the Taiwanese. The present agreement does not specify an eventual cutoff of American arm sales - an issue the deferral of which will continue to rankle the Chinese but which keeps the US hand free.
Realism has in effect won out over political ideology in Washington. Mr. Reagan remains the friend of Taiwan he has always been. But it made little sense for him to let US relations with China deteriorate over the arms issue at the very time he was toughening America's stance toward the Soviet Union. This would simply undercut the objectives of his own policy: to bring maximum pressure to bear on the Russians and prevent Soviet expansionism.
It is a credit to US diplomacy of recent years that economic and cultural relations with Peking have so greatly expanded. But in the past year there has been a decided shift in China's foreign posture, with growing criticism of the United States, attacks on Western ''decadence,'' and gestures toward the Soviet Union. It is hard to know to what extent this reflects Peking's irritation over the Taiwan arms issue or to what extent it may also be a response to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's political opponents who resent his foreign and domestic policies and want to unseat him. It is also hard to know whether China is embarked on major readjustments in its foreign policy.
In any case, the latest US-Chinese communique removes for the near future the major stumbling block to pursuit of a stable Sino-American relationship. Mr. Reagan deserves credit for not letting his emotional ties with Taiwan and political pressures stand in the way of far-sighted diplomacy.