DRESSED in an austere gray tunic, Premier Chou Enlai, 73, moved along a line of respectfully silent visitors in Peking's massive Great Hall of the People. Adhering to strict alphabetical order, he shook hands first with the Canadian table tennis team, then the Colombians, the English and the Nigerians. Finally he stopped to chat with the 15-member U.S. team and three accompanying American reporters, the first group of U.S. citizens and journalists to visit China in nearly a quarter of a century. "We have opened a new page in the relations of the Chinese and American people,"he told the U.S. visitors.
Even two weeks ago, the prospect would have seemed incredible. After years of xenophobia and anti-American fulminations, after an era in which China seemed as tightly closed to Americans as the Forbidden City ever was to outsidershere was the Chinese Premier being amiable to Americans. Here, after years of hearing that Americans were foreign devils, were masses of schoolchildren smiling and waving to the U.S. visitors.
For more than two decades. Americans and Chinese Communists have regarded each other with a brittle hostility that has shaped Asia into rival power blocs and contributed to two wars. Yet in last week's gestures to the U.S. table tennis team, the Chinese were clearly indicating that a new era could begin. They carefully made their approaches through private U.S. citizens, but they were responding to earlier signals that had been sent by the Nixon Administration over the past two years.
Probably never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy. With its premium on delicate skill and its onomatopoeic name implying an interplay of initiative and response. Ping Pong was an apt metaphor for the relations between Washington and Peking. "I was quite a Ping Pong player in my days at law school," President Nixon told his aides last week. "I might say I was fairly good at it."
In the wake of Chou's statement to the Americans, Nixon deftly released a new statement on trade with China that, in effect allows Americans to deal in China on nearly the same basis as in the Soviet Union. The decision was actually made two weeks ago, but the timing of its announcement was decided by events. The President said that the U.S. would welcome visitors from China, abolish currency restrictions for American businessmen dealing with that country, allow U.S. companies to provide fuel for ships and planes traveling to China, and authorize American ships and planes to carry Chinese cargoes and American-owned foreign flag ships to call at Chinese ports. He also disclosed that the Administration is drawing up a list of nonstrategic goods that U.S. companies will be allowed to ex port directly to China. The remaining embargo on sales to China will still restrict some goods that can be exported to the Soviet Union, which has a more sophisticated technology than China. Even so, trade with China could amount to several hundred million dollars over the next decade (see BUSINESS).
It was, as Nixon stressed, too early to talk seriously about U.S. recognition of Peking or to look for immediate solutions to the many problems that have convulsed U.S.-Chinese relations since the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung drove Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his