A Tennessee college professor says China has been a U.S. card to play against the Soviet Union.

John F. Copper, a professor of international studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, told BYU students that this country's inability to keep pace with the Soviet military buildup in the early 1970s made a relationship with the People's Republic of China attractive.The United States re-established a relationship in 1972, when President Nixon signed an agreement with mainland China. This left a touchy situation with Taiwan, which the United States had recognized as China.

The 1972 agreement also constructed a bridge that had been uncrossed since the Communist takeover in 1949. That takeover did not set well in the United States. "It was a shocking thing for us. We remained hostile toward China through the '50s and the '60s."

The majority of the time that Mao Tse-Tung was chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, the U.S. view was that China was worse than the Soviet Union, Copper said. "Officially we spoke of China as being much worse than the Soviet Union. It was a country that was anti-status quo, unstable and led by a lunatic, who made statements to the effect that China could lose 300 million people and still win a nuclear war. American reporters did ask him later if he said that, and he never denied it. He said, `China's lost half of its population a couple of times and so what?' "

That apparent lack of respect for human life, added to a communist form of government, kept U.S.-China relations non-existent until 1972.

That's when Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger molded an agreement with China, which let Nixon be vague about the Taiwan issue and included some wrong translation that Copper implied might have been conveniently wrong.

Copper said President Carter thought the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy strategy of taking advantage of poor Sino-Soviet relations was dishonest. U.S. relations with China had been on hold since Mao's death in 1976, and Carter chose to emphasize human rights and to place more emphasis on developing nations. He also had his hands full with the Panama Canal debate. Those issues, in addition to a failing SALT 2 treaty with the Soviets, occupied the president's foreign policy agenda during the first few years.

In 1979, however, Carter sought a normalization agreement with China that officially recognized China as a nation. The treaty stated that there was only one China, prompting Congress to make foreign policy decisions of its own to help longtime ally Taiwan. Copper said that legislation is the only time in U.S. history that Congress has written a bill that establishes a relationship with another country.

In 1982, President Reagan signed an agreement to decrease and eventually eliminate arms sales to Taiwan. When Reagan returned, he said the agreement was based on China's willingness to settle, by peaceful methods only, the dispute with Taiwan. Chairman Deng Xiaoping said he didn't agree to that. Since then, according to Copper, the United States has cut back on its arms sales to Taiwan in a doublespeak fashion.

The U.S. government has figured a way to add inflation to its base of before-agreement sales to Taiwan and is able to say that it has decreased arms sales, and the United States has exported technology to allow Taiwan to manufacture more of its own weapons.

Despite the attention U.S.-China relations have received, Copper said he doesn't believe China has ever been, nor will it ever be, a major part of U.S. foreign policy goals. "I don't predict that anything dramatic is going to change."