PEKING, -- Former President Gerald Ford today delivered President Reagan's personal reassurance of the 'continuing relationship' between China and America to Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
Ford, arriving at a time of unease about Reagan's earlier support for the government in Taiwan, spent about two hours with Deng, considered the most powerful Chinese leader, and later met for 90 minutes with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang.
'I gave Deng Xiaoping the message that President Reagan had requested,' Ford said, 'which was one of very best wishes and one of reassurance of the continuing relationship between the United States and the People's Republic.'
Ford told reporters his meetings with the Chinese leaders had 'been very, very enlightening and interesting and very constructive.'
His meeting with Deng and Reagan's meeting last week with the Chinese ambassador to the United States were apparently a concerted effort by the administration to allay concern over its policy on Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.
Reagan's election campaign pledge to upgrade relations with Taiwan and the possibility of a sale of F-16 jet fighters to the Taipei government had threatened relations between Washington and Peking.
Ford, visiting at China's invitation, said earlier he would 'hand-deliver' a message from Reagan to Deng but said it did not concern the president's proposal for a new ambassador to Peking. The post has been vacant since the departure a month ago of Leonard Woodcock, a Carter appointee.
Deng warmly welcomed Ford into the Great Hall of the People for the talk and the two bantered about their last meeting in 1975, when Ford was president.
The 77-year-old Deng, vice chairman of the Communist Party and considered the man who runs China, recalled his desire at the time to complete normalizing relations with the United States.
'Unfortunately I was later struck down by the Gang of Four,' Deng remarked before they met privately. Ford, defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, noted that he, too, was driven from office.
The Chinese treated Ford's visit with top priority. Foreign Minister Huang Hua met Ford just hours after the former president arrived Sunday.
'There is no reason why Sino-U.S. relations should not develop still further,' Huang said at a banquet for Ford. However, the Chinese leader restated the basis for ties between the two countries.
Both countries should handle relations 'in the context of overall strategy and abide by the principles laid down in the joint communique on the establishment of Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations,' Huang said.
The communique states there is only one China and Peking is the only government. The Chinese adamantly oppose the United States upgrading ties with Taiwan or selling arms to it.
Ford arrived in Peking two days after Reagan and top aides received Chinese Ambassador to the United States Chai Zemin and a key Chinese foreign ministry official in charge of relations with the United States.
The Reagan administration has also stated that it attaches importance to its ties with Peking and will abide by the terms establishing relations. 'We welcome these remarks,' Huang told Ford.