WASHINGTON — The era in which the United States and China joined together in confrontation against the Soviet Union is now fading away, China's top foreign policy strategist said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Times, Huan Xiang, the leading strategic planner for China's State Council, said the summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev demonstrates that relations among the United States, the Soviet Union and China have entered "a new stage."
Huan said he believes the two superpowers were both driven toward negotiating reductions in nuclear arms by internal economic difficulties. He predicted that over the next few years, the United States, the Soviet Union and China will all be devoting their energies toward improving their economies and that, at the same time, Japan will be seeking to translate its new economic power into greater military strength.
The Chinese official is in Washington on a trip timed to coincide with the Reagan-Gorbachev summit and has reportedly met with some high-ranking U.S. officials during his stay. His remarks provided an indication that China does not want to be left behind by improvements in Soviet-American relations and may be recalculating its foreign policy to take account of the summit.
During the early 1970s, at the time of the Richard M. Nixon Administration's strategic opening to China, the nation had just fought a series of border skirmishes with the Soviet Union. Relations between the two giant Communist nations were so hostile that the United States had a great bargaining position: It had better relations with both of them than they had with one another.
In the early years of the Reagan Administration, China gained great leverage in its foreign policy because of the deterioration in relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.
As a result, many scholars and analysts have contended that China, which has the world's largest standing army and its own nuclear arsenal, would be threatened by the prospect of improved relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Denial by Huan
In the interview, Huan denied that.
"I think the Chinese welcome this summit and are happy about the signing of the INF (intermediate-range nuclear forces) treaty, because this is the beginning of something which will lead to negotiations on the abolition of nuclear armaments," he said. In addition, he said, the new climate "will give us time to modernize our economy and improve the life of our people."
With the United States and Soviet Union now talking to each other, he said, "We have the chance to talk to both sides on a number of issues."
Warming in Early '80s
China began improving its relations with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, before Gorbachev came to power. Beginning in 1982, China, which had previously been prodding the United States to adopt a tougher attitude toward the Soviet Union, began characterizing its foreign policy as "independent."
Huan described Gorbachev, who came to power three years ago, as an important new factor affecting China's foreign policy.
"Of course, we pay much attention to his new thinking on external affairs," he said. "And we thought the Russians showed some sort of good attitude (by) withdrawing some troops from Outer Mongolia. This shows that the Russians are putting their new thinking into a certain kind of practice. It's not a big step, but anyway, it's a step, showing the sincerity of their new thinking."
For most of the last quarter century, about 60,000 Soviet troops have been stationed in Outer Mongolia, a Soviet ally. Many of them were in motorized infantry divisions along the 2,650-mile China-Mongolia border. Last spring, the Soviet Union withdrew one of these divisions, about 12,000 men.
Threat Still Seen
Despite these improvements, Huan said China continues to be threatened by Soviet troops along its borders, by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its support for Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. He also noted that the Soviet Union appears to be strengthening and enlarging its naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. This base, he said, is "a threat" not only to the U.S. bases in the Philippines but to China itself.
Shortly before coming to Washington, Gorbachev offered to meet with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to reconcile Sino-Soviet differences. But Deng turned down the offer.
Addressing U.S.-Japanese relations, Huan said he believes that at least for the next decade, Japan will maintain close ties.