Dr. Zbigniew Brezinski

SUSSER: I understand, unfortunately, that Dr. Brzezinski is going to have to leave us a bit early too, but maybe you could go now.

DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Thank you very much. I'm a little baffled by the chronology. We started off by talking about the early '70s and then we moved to the late '80s and now we're moving back to the second half of the '70s.

SCOWCROFT: I just had to talk about something I knew. (Laughter.)

BRZEZINSKI: I suppose that is a device to keep everybody alert and wondering as to what is happening. (Laughter.)

I very much agree with Brent that the American-Chinese relationship is not only important, in all probability enduring, but it is also susceptible to ups and downs, because it is an important but delicate relationship with a lot of sensitivities and not always entirely identical national interests.

Beyond that, I think it is also important to recognize that that relationship has been evolving over now more than 30 years and it hasn't become what it is today all at once as a consequence of the first Kissinger trip to China. Winston, in summarizing the significance of that trip, recounted all of the beneficial consequences that subsequently followed, but I think it is important to recognize that the trip opened the doors to these beneficial consequences but didn't cause all of them. There was a great deal left still undone after that visit and the beginning of the political relationship that it initiated.

To some extent, one might think here of the difference at least in the old days between a romantic first kiss and going to bed. Now, I realize that these days the two are conflated -- (laughter) -- but there was a time when there was at least a decent interval between the two. (Laughter.) And I think that going to bed actually occurred, in fact, in the second half of the '70s. We had by then a political relationship with the Chinese, a very important accomplishment, historically significant accomplishment. But that's what it primarily was. And by the middle of the '70s there was a sense, especially among the Chinese leaders but also to some extent here, that it either had to move forward or it was facing the risk of in some fashion receding.

And that brought up the question whether to move from a political relationship that was fruitful and important to formal normalization which would resolve some of the still highly unresolved issues that the political relationship had put creatively aside. The Carter Administration in the first year hesitated. It was inclined to pursue normalization but it decided that with the Panama Canal treaties coming up, with the SALT negotiations ongoing but difficult, that perhaps it would overload the circuits to try it.

But after some hesitation, it nonetheless sort of halfheartedly decided to explore the possibility of normalization, and that was the purpose of the Secretary of State's visit to China in August of '77. But because it was somewhat halfhearted and unclear, it did not produce the progress that had been hoped. And that led then in 1978 to the President sending me to China, not without some prior encouragement, in fact, of him by me, which took a little time and required building some coalitions within the Administration, particularly with the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense, because the Secretary of State was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of my going to China.

But ultimately the President decided early in '78 that I should go to China and that I should push the process of normalization forward, and then as he became engaged in discussing the modalities of my trip he became quite enthusiastic and really insistent that a complete breakthrough in relationships be sought as the purpose of the mission and perhaps even more than that.

And that led actually to my visit to China. It was unclear whom I would see, whether it would be the Chinese Foreign Minister or whether I would be received by Deng. But as it turned out, I spent a great deal of time with Deng both formally and then later more informally in a private supper that he gave for me. And we had begun to establish somewhat of a personal relationship even. At one point he simply said to me that perhaps he's already too old ever to contemplate the possibility of visiting the United States, but still he hopes that maybe that will come to pass. And I told him that if the relationship that we are now beginning to undertake to construct actually bears fruit, I would hope he would come to the United States and come and have dinner with me in my house.

We then initiated a secret negotiating process controlled largely out of the White House, and that took the next few months. The Secretary of State submitted a memorandum urging that it be finished by December '78. I mention that quite deliberately because it is sometimes alleged that this normalization was artificially accelerated for other reasons by me, but it was a date actually agreed to by the President on the basis of the Secretary of State's recommendation.

In the course of these negotiations, we were able to work out some arrangement for Taiwan that would, in fact, ensure its continued existence. We made it very clear to the Chinese that while we expected to reduce, perhaps at some point even terminate, arms sales to Taiwan, we reserved the right to continue selling arms to Taiwanese, an issue which even on the day before formal announcement produced a last-minute attempt by the Chinese to reinterpret that part of the agreement. And we also made it clear to the Chinese that while Taiwan is an internal Chinese affair in keeping with the protocols which were undertaken in Shanghai by Nixon and Kissinger, that we would not be indifferent if force was used in the Taiwan Straits against Taiwan because it would affect our interests in the Far East.

In effect, the agreement to normalize relationship reversed the existing situation. Heretofore the United States had no diplomatic relations with China in a normal fashion, but only a political presentation, and it was recognizing Taiwan, in effect, as the government of the Republic of China. We had somewhat limited commercial relations. They were beginning to open up but were still lacking a formal context and the benefits of full normalization. And most important of all, we did not have a strategic relationship of any substance. And that emerged as a consequence of normalization and the kind of reaction to the existing strategic context both of the United States and of the Chinese. The Soviet Union was on a roll, or so it seemed. It was becoming more assertive, and in different ways the Chinese and we were concerned about it.

The Chinese also decided, of course, to use normalization of relations to exploit their own specific interests in Southeast Asia. When Deng Xiaoping and his wife came to have dinner at my house, and you referenced about the Texas cookout that the President sent over to Deng, it reminded me of what happened at that dinner. Namely, my children were serving caviar and my little daughter, who was at the time barely ten, deposited a lot of the caviar on Deng Xiaoping's trousers, right on his knee. And I remember he kind of flicked it off very, very skillfully. (Laughter.)

PANELIST: Was it Russian caviar?

BRZEZINSKI: It was Russian caviar and it was Russian vodka, and I told Deng Xiaoping that we're celebrating the new strategic relationship with Russian vodka and Russian caviar, which he welcomed. He incidentally was very quick in conversations. At one point the conversation kind of lapsed a little bit, became a little stale, formal. So to liven it up, I said to him, "You know, the President of the United States has a lot of political problems normalizing relations with you because there's a lot of political opposition in the United States centering on the issue of Taiwan. Do you have any political problems normalizing relations with us?" I thought I was kind of tweaking him. And he looks me in the eye, and just like that he says, "Well, of course. There was a great deal of political opposition in the province of Taiwan." (Laughter.) He was quick. He was quick. The next day when the President at a formal meeting brought up the question of emigration from China, kind of parallel to the Soviet Union, he kind of sat there, looked at him, then leaned forward and says, "Fine, next year I'll allow 10 million to emigrate. Will you take them?" (Laughter.) And we kind of decided to go on to the next item on the agenda.

But he requested the night before a private meeting with the President and I told the President the next day that he wants a private meeting. And the President asked me, "What do you think he wants?" And I said, "I suspect it's going to be about Vietnam." So the President said I should be there, and I was. And Deng Xiaoping then told the President that he's going to shortly undertake a punitive expedition against Vietnam similar to the one that China pursued in the early '60s against India. And I remember the President was not too happy because he thought that normalization of relations with China, in addition to a strategic relationship, was a contribution to world peace and he wasn't enamored of the thought that for Deng it was an opportunity to undertake a military campaign.

So he said to him, "Well, you know, this could produce very serious reactions. The Soviet Union could react, and very, very adversely and there could be serious problems." And Deng looked at him kind of in his very steely fashion and says, "We have thought about it. What can the Soviets do?" "Well, they can send arms to the Vietnamese." "That's no problem because we're going to do it for just five or six weeks. We'll go in, we'll go out, so those arms will have no effect."

"Secondly, if that isn't enough, they might stage intensified border incidents between us and the Soviet Union." "We've thought about that. That doesn't worry us. Since 1969 there have been 5,000 border incidents with the Soviet Union, some of them lethal, so some more won't bother us."

"Thirdly, we have contemplated the possibility that they may actually use their armored divisions -- they have 22 poised on the Sino-Soviet frontier, a lot of them in Mongolia, so kind of pointed towards Beijing -- into China in order to intimidate us. And in which case we will wage a people's war and drown them."

"And last, they may use nuclear weapons against us. We don't have many nuclear weapons," he says, "but we have enough, for example, to take our Bratsk, which is the huge hydroelectric dam or maybe a city like Sverdlovsk or maybe Moscow." And the President I felt was somewhat less enthused at that moment about the relationship, but nonetheless it survived and it continued to thrive.

Let me conclude by adding that it not only thrived on this sort of general level but it produced immediately afterwards a very extensive intelligence relationship between the United States and China which was extremely beneficial, extremely beneficial, especially in view of the loss of the intelligence facilities that took place at the time in Iran. And it was more than a replacement for that. And this produced also an intelligence cooperative relationship which previously had not existed.

And secondly and subsequently, it produced American-Chinese direct collaboration in generating efforts to make the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan very costly to the Soviets. We and the Chinese worked very closely on that.

A final point. Very much like the early opening, this was a politically sensitive undertaking, the normalization of relations with China, the abandonment of the security treaty with Taiwan, the termination of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It was sensitive, much like the initial Kissinger mission. And for that reason it could not be entrusted, and I hate to say it in this building, to the State Department. And that was an explicit presidential decision, very much as in the case of Nixon and the first opening, it was run out of the White House, confined just to very few people.

And I daresay it probably wouldn't have been successful if it had been undertaken otherwise because the issue was so politically charged -- when we were doing it, it was certainly charged. When Nixon and Kissinger were doing it -- that we probably wouldn't have been successful in pursuing it had it been done openly through normal diplomatic channels, and we certainly would have been paralyzed by opposition and the conditionalities involved in establishing the relationship might have been much more difficult for both sides to accept. Thank you. (Applause.)