Shortly after the U.S. announced its rapprochement with the People's Republic of China last December after nearly 30 years of bone-deep hostility, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance declared: "A new era is upon us." But the idea of "a new era" is a hard one to grasp, and despite acres of newsprint, miles of film footage and endless commentaries, nothing is likely to drive home the reality of it all more effectively than the tableau that is to unfold this week: a diminutive (barely 5 ft.), elderly (74 years) Chinese gentleman alighting from a white Boeing 707 at an airport near Washington and plunging into a hectic, week-long visit to the U.S.
The visit of China's spry, shrewd Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p'ing is the stunning climax of the Great Leap Outward that he conceived, planned and executed for China after decades of xenophobic isolation. It marks the first official visit to the U.S. by a top-level Chinese leader since the Communist takeover in 1949. Nearly five years ago, when he was China's Deputy Premier, Teng flew to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly, but he was not an official visitor; Washington and Peking did not have full diplomatic relations. This time Teng rates the complete ceremonial treatment. He is to spend at least five hours with President Carter during three sessions at the White House. He meets tout Washington in a dizzying three-day whirl of breakfasts and banquets, sightseeing tours and working lunches. He then embarks on a four-day cross-country fiesta that offers him additional fetes, factory tours, press conferences and even barbecue and wild West shows—plus an unequaled public forum for airing China's views.
Both Teng and Jimmy Carter stand to gain from the state visit. Both hope that their summit talks will enhance their political prestige at home, shore up support for the normalization of relations between the U.S. and China, and pacify domestic critics of the two countries' dramatic new directions in foreign policy.
But the visit also holds potentially grave risks. Moscow's Americanologists are geared up to scrutinize every public statement—every toast, every press conference comment, every offhand remark —by Teng for evidence of an anti-Soviet thrust to his visit. In an interview with Time Inc. Editor in Chief Hedley Donovan four days before embarking on his U.S. journey, Teng was openly, explicitly anti-Soviet, going so far as to urge a U.S.China alliance against Moscow (see following story). Publication of the interview on the day Teng is to sit down for his first talk with President Carter could confirm the Soviets' worst suspicions.
Some Soviet officials have warned that if the Teng visit proves to be an extravaganza of bearbaiting, they may further delay a strategic arms limitation treaty or scuttle it altogether. At the very least, high-level Soviet officials deplore the possibility of what some call a "love feast" between the U.S. and the Chinese.