147. Editorial Note

On June 1, 1976, Thomas Barnes, Richard Solomon, and Clinton Granger of the National Security Council staff wrote a memorandum to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recalling that the previous August they had recommended an interagency review of U.S. interests and security objectives in Southeast Asia in anticipation of the forthcoming Philippine base negotiations. At that time, Kissinger had recommended the expansion of the review to cover the entire Asia– Pacific region. (Memorandum from Barnes, Solomon, and Granger to Scowcroft, June 1; Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–17, SRG Meeting, 6/4/76, U.S. Interests and Objectives in the Asia– Pacific Area, NSSM 235) Accordingly, National Security Study Memorandum 235, issued on January 15, 1976, had tasked the NSC Interdepartmental Group for East Asia to review and prepare a study on “U.S. Interests and Security Objectives in the Asia–Pacific Region,” especially as those interests and objectives pertained to “the upcoming base negotiations with the Philippines.” (Ibid., National Security Decision Memoranda and Study Memoranda, Box 2)

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According to the June 1 memorandum, the NSC staff received the Interdepartmental Group’s study responding to the NSSM in March 1976, and circulated the first section to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Departments of State and Defense, which accepted it without changes. In the pages focusing on the People’s Republic of China, the report argued that the top Chinese priority was “limiting the USSR’s presence and influence in Asia.” China also sought to avoid instability and conflict near its borders, while “constraining Japan’s political-security role in East Asia” by encouraging the U.S.-Japanese alliance. The report stated that China had successfully sought “to isolate Taiwan diplomatically,” but had avoided “a threatening posture toward the island” and placing “public pressure on the U.S. position.” The report noted that the Sino-Soviet rivalry “has helped deter Peking from playing any useful role in brokering compromise solutions to the Korean issue in the United Nations.” Although China sought to discourage offensive military action by North Korea, it had also “become the major supplier of military equipment to Pyongyang.” In Southeast Asia, Chinese policies were shaped by rivalries with the Soviet Union, Vietnam, and Japan. For this reason, it was willing to give countenance to continued U.S. political and military involvement in the region, and had “given its blessing to the concept of Southeast Asian neutrality—as espoused by ASEAN.” China had participated in a number of island disputes, which, the report suggested, could become a source of international tension in the future. Ending on a cautionary note, this section of the report warned that changes in Chinese domestic politics could produce major changes in Chinese foreign policy. (Response to NSSM 235, Section I, Subsection on “The Policies, Intentions and Capabilities of the People’s Republic of China,” undated; ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–17, SRG Meeting, 6/4/76, U.S. Interests and Objectives in the Asia–Pacific Area, NSSM 235)

On June 4, the Senior Review Group held a meeting in the White House Situation Room from 3:10 to 4:08 p.m. to consider the NSSM 235 response. Few of the comments dealt with China. Philip Habib, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, wondered whether “the China section could be beefed up.” Much of the discussion revolved around the appropriate outcome of the NSSM response. Scowcroft said, “What we need is a memorandum ratifying this document, saying that it is a useful background document. I just don’t like things like this to go into limbo.” (Memorandum from Jeanne Davis to Scowcroft with attached SRG minutes, June 28; ibid., H–39, SRG Meeting, 6/4/76, U.S. Interests and Objectives in the Asia–Pacific Area, NSSM 235)