108. Briefing by Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


I am delighted that so many of you have joined us today. I particularly want to thank the two main business organizations represented here, and especially their leadership, for their efforts in advancing public understanding of a major foreign policy issue. Both Councils have played—and will continue to play—important roles in strengthening our economic relations.

It is now 1 month since the President announced that the United States and the People’s Republic of China had reached agreement on the establishment of full and normal diplomatic relations.3 Today I would like to share with you some of the background leading up to the President’s historic decision and outline what we believe it means for the United States and for the world.

Few other foreign policy issues have so long divided Americans as “the China question.” In the 1930’s, Americans became deeply aware and often passionately concerned with the tragedy and suffering of China. In the early 1940’s, our two nations fought together against the Axis Powers. In the late 1940’s we tried—ultimately without success—to help the two sides in the Chinese civil war find a peaceful settlement to their conflict.

Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States reached a nadir in the 1950’s. Our armies clashed in Korea, and at home the China issue left a deep mark on the domestic political landscape. One of the tragedies of that period was the destruction of the careers of some outstanding Foreign Service officers because they reported events in Asia as they saw them.

The impasse in our relations with Peking persisted despite the emergence during the 1960’s of incontestable evidence of serious rivalry between the Soviet Union and China. The United States, enmeshed in military involvement in Southeast Asia, and China, preoc[Page 528]cupied with the Cultural Revolution, were unable to make progress toward overcoming our differences.

The year 1971 marked the beginning of a new phase. Across a vast gulf of misunderstanding and mutual distrust, the Governments of Peking and the United States began a dialogue, starting with Henry Kissinger’s dramatic trip to Peking in 1971 and President Nixon’s visit in 1972.4 The Shanghai communique of that year set a framework for our new relationship.5

But that dialogue was incomplete. The United States still formally recognized the Republic of China—whose de facto control encompassed only Taiwan and a few adjacent islands—as the legal Government of China. Despite this, we were able to begin contacts and ultimately, in 1973, even establish Liaison Offices in Washington and Peking.6 But the nature of the relationship with Peking remained limited in scope and depth by the political, legal, and economic implications of our lack of mutual recognition.

Nonrecognition—the delicate state in which we dealt with Peking in the 6 years after the Shanghai communique—presented daily practical problems. Although both sides made major efforts to minimize these limitations, they became increasingly inhibiting. Discussions with the Chinese often foundered on the fact that in the absence of recognition, many activities either could not proceed at all or had to be conducted at a low level. Contacts were constrained, including those that might have produced greater understanding on global issues. Trade was limited, and opportunities often would go elsewhere. Legal problems hung over commercial transactions because of American claims and frozen P.R.C. assets dating back to 1950. More importantly, not to try to move forward would have been to risk moving backward—and backward movement in U.S.-Chinese relations would have caused serious damage to our global position.

So even before he was inaugurated, President Carter made his first China decision. In an act of continuity with two previous Presidents, he reaffirmed the Shanghai communique as the basis for our relationship and specifically reaffirmed its commitment to work toward normal relations.

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We were not at all certain at that time that we could, indeed, reach that ultimate goal. But we felt it essential to try, and we were prepared to take as much time as was necessary to achieve it on an acceptable basis.

With this in mind, we began discussions within the Administration, as well as an intensive series of consultations both with Members of Congress and with a wide cross-section of American businessmen, scholars, and others. From our consultations and review, two central thrusts, and several specific concerns, emerged.

These basic thrusts could not have been clearer. On the one hand, a substantial majority of Americans wished to see the United States and the People’s Republic of China establish diplomatic relations; but at the same time, an equally large majority had deep concerns about Taiwan’s future prosperity, security, and stability. We shared these concerns. The President decided that we would only establish diplomatic relations with Peking if such an action could be accomplished in a way that did not damage the well-being of the people on Taiwan or reduce the chances for a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.

Beyond these basic considerations, several specific concerns emerged.

First, there was widespread and legitimate concern over Peking’s insistence that prior to normalization the United States must unilaterally abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan rather than terminate it in accordance with its own provisions, to which the United States and Taiwan had agreed in 1954.7 Furthermore, we wished to establish that after normalization, even in the absence of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, all other agreements and treaties would remain in effect.

Second, we shared with Congress and the American public a deep concern over the strong assertions by Chinese officials concerning their right to “liberate” Taiwan in any way they saw fit. From an American point of view, the peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue by the Chinese themselves was of critical importance; we could not move forward if Peking continued to talk and think about the Taiwan issue in such inflammatory terms.

Third, a consensus rapidly emerged, inside and outside the government, that it was essential that we continue a wide range of relations with the people on Taiwan on a nongovernmental basis after normalization. In particular, these postnormalization relations would have to include continued sale of defensive weapons to Taiwan.

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With these priorities emerging, I visited Peking in August of 1977, and Dr. Brzezinski went there in May of 1978.8 We found a newly confident leadership emerging in Peking as a period of intense internal turmoil subsided. We found many points of common interest on global matters, although on some important issues we continued to have differences. Our discussions on normalization were of an exploratory nature. These overall discussions reinforced our view that a strong, secure, and peaceful China was in the interest of world peace.

In the early summer, President Carter instructed Ambassador Leonard Woodcock, Chief of the Liaison Office in Peking, to begin a series of presentations outlining our views on normalization. In five meetings, Ambassador Woodcock laid out the American position.9

On September 19, President Carter met with the new head of the Chinese Liaison Office in Washington, Ambassador Chai Zemin.10 Involving himself directly in the discussions for the first time, the President told the Chinese that we were ready to normalize relations if our concerns about the future well-being of the people on Taiwan were met.

In completing his presentations on November 4, Ambassador Woodcock indicated to the Chinese that we would be willing to work toward a January 1, 1979, target date for normalization if our concerns were met. The Chinese began their response in early December. In mid-December, negotiations intensified with Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping becoming personally involved. Finally, on December 14, we reached agreement that met our fundamental concerns,11 and the announcement of our decision to establish diplomatic relations was made on December 15.

We have been able to establish full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in a way that protects the well-being of the people on Taiwan. The importance of this is fully reflected in the arrangements that we have been and will be establishing.

First, the United States will not abrogate the Mutual Defense Treaty. Rather we have given notice that we will exercise our right to terminate the treaty with Taiwan in accordance with its provisions, which permits termination by either party after 1 year’s notice. All other treaties and agreements will remain in effect.

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Second is the critical question of the peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. It is clear from the actions and statements of the P.R.C. in the last month that normalization has, in fact, enhanced the possibilities that whatever the ultimate resolution of the issue may be, it will be pursued by peaceful means.

Since the normalization of relations, the P.R.C. has adopted a markedly more moderate tone on the Taiwan issue.

• On January 9 of this year, Vice Premier Deng told Senators Nunn, Glenn, Hart, and Cohen that: “The social system on Taiwan will be decided by the people of Taiwan. Changes might take 100 years or 1,000 years. By which I mean a long time. We will not change the society by force.”12

• On New Year’s Day, after 25 years, the P.R.C. ceased firing propaganda artillery shells at the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

Third and finally, after the termination of the Mutual Defense Treaty on December 31, 1979, we will continue our previous policy of selling carefully selected defensive weapons to Taiwan. While the P.R.C. said they disapproved of this, they nevertheless moved forward with normalization with full knowledge of our intentions.

In constructing a new relationship with the people on Taiwan, we are taking practical steps to insure continuity of trade, cultural, and other unofficial relations. The President has taken steps to assure the uninterrupted continuation of such relations from January 1, 1979. In the future these relations will be conducted through a nonprofit nongovernmental corporation called the American Institute in Taiwan. This corporation will facilitate ongoing and, we are confident, expanding ties between the American people and the people on Taiwan. Taipei will handle its unofficial relations with this country in similar fashion.

Let me say a word or two about the American Institute in Taiwan, the legislation it requires, and its operations. Congress will be asked to approve an omnibus bill that will authorize the funding of the American Institute in Taiwan and confirm its authority to act in a wide range of areas. I hope we will have your active support for expeditious passage of that bill.13

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The institute will have its headquarters in Washington with field offices in Taiwan. It will provide the full range of commercial and other services that have been previously provided through official channels to businessmen, both from the United States and from Taiwan. In your private business dealings on Taiwan, you may freely contact the institute’s staff for advice or can deal directly with local firms and the authorities there. In short, we see no change necessary in the way private American business has been conducted on Taiwan up to now. Eximbank loans, OPIC [Overseas Private Investment Corporation] guarantees, and other important arrangements will continue.

With these new arrangements in place, we expect Taiwan to continue to prosper. Taiwan’s dynamic economic growth is one of the most impressive stories of the last decade; it is now our eighth largest trading partner, and per capita income is among the highest in Asia.

As anyone who has studied the issue can attest, normalization of relations with Peking was not an easy step to take. The difficulties always argued for themselves, and further delay was always an inviting option for any President. But we all recognized that sooner or later we would have to move. As I have already said, failure to try to move forward would have left us in danger of moving backward—at great cost to our global position. By the time we took the decisive step, every other member of NATO, our two treaty partners in ANZUS [Australia and New Zealand], and Japan had long since recognized the P.R.C., as had most other nations of the world. They were ready for our action—and most of them, including all the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), applauded it.

When we acted, we did so in a way that enhances significantly the prospects for stability and peace in Asia and the Pacific. We acted in a way that will move us toward our objective of a stable system of independent nations in Asia and that will also increase the chances of maintaining a stable equilibrium among the United States, Japan, China, and the Soviet Union.

The United States will continue to play an active role in order to maintain that stable equilibrium. For reasons of geography, history, and economics, we are as much a Pacific nation as an Atlantic nation, with deep and abiding national interests in the region. We will maintain balanced and flexible military forces in the region, as the recent successful conclusion of the base agreements with the Philippines so clearly demonstrates. And we will not hesitate to act, as required, to protect our vital national interests.

The rapidly expanding relations between our two nations in science, trade, and exchanges require the kind of structure that diplomatic relations can provide. It will allow a much freer exchange between our cultures. And with full relations, we are in a far better position to en[Page 533]courage China’s role as a constructive member of the world community. We will be discussing all of these matters with Vice Premier Deng when he visits us in 2 weeks.14

It is particularly useful on this occasion to note some of the economic benefits we expect to flow from the establishment of diplomatic relations with the P.R.C. These include our participation as a regular supplier of agricultural commodities to China; the ability of U.S. exporters to compete on an equal basis with other suppliers; and the resumption of shipping, air, banking, and other normal economic relations with China.

Let me emphasize that in normalizing relations we acted in a way that does not threaten any other nation but can increase the sense of community of nations that we seek to encourage.

We believe that China has an important role to play in the search for global peace and stability. The same is true for the Soviet Union. Our national interests are best served when we seek to improve relations with both nations while protecting our vital strategic interests. This was the case during the late winter and spring of 1972, a period during which both the Shanghai communique and SALT I were achieved. Equilibrium and stability, not isolation, are our strategic objectives. For this reason, we also look forward to the early conclusion of the SALT agreement with the Soviet Union and to improvement of our trade relations with the Soviets as well as the Chinese.

In conclusion, let me urge you to support the President’s decision and the legislation to continue relations with the people on Taiwan. We seek your support in explaining the strategic and historic necessity of this action. And we encourage you to develop greater trade and contact with both the People’s Republic of China and the people on Taiwan.

It was just short of 7 years from the Shanghai communique to normalization of relations. Through a difficult period, two great nations began to restore contact and shape a new relationship. We all recognize that a new era is upon us. Opportunities previously denied to us have now begun to take shape.

The nations grouped in and around the world’s largest ocean—the Pacific—contain close to half the world’s population. These nations must decide whether to choose the path of greater cooperation and growth or to enter into a period of unresolved struggles for influence.

For our part, the United States will enter the closing decades of the 20th century ready to play a leading role in the search for peace and economic well-being. The lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and China was an obstacle to progress for many years. [Page 534]Having now surmounted it, we face the tremendous challenge ahead with a sense of excitement and hope.

[Omitted here are remarks by Blumenthal and Kreps.]


My purpose is to place our China policy in a wider context. As I address you, a number of troubling developments dominate the headlines.

• The Shah of Iran is planning to depart for a rest, leaving behind him a new administration which will seek to return tranquility to an unsettled country in which the United States has an enormous stake.16

• Vietnam has invaded its neighbor, Cambodia.17 Through an act of aggression, it has imposed a subservient regime upon a Cambodian people wearied of the inhumane, callous rule of Pol Pot.

• Among the first governments to recognize the new Vietnamese-installed regime in Phnom Penh was Afghanistan, a strategically important country which borders on Iran and Pakistan and in which Soviet influence has increased significantly in recent months.

• The situation in the Horn of Africa and in South Yemen, Angola, and southern Africa remains uncertain, as Cuban troops continue to promote Soviet interests.

• Indeed, all the developing countries in the arc from northeast Asia to southern Africa continue to search for viable forms of government capable of managing the process of modernization. Their instability, uncertainty, and weakness can be exploited and intensified by outside powers.

Balanced against these unsettling developments, however, are a number of quieter yet more significant, positive developments.

• Progress has been made in bringing peace to the Middle East. The progress is slow and often painful. But through the persistent diplomacy of President Carter and Secretary Vance, we are, I believe, inexorably moving toward the realization of the Camp David accords. We are promoting reconciliation to one of the most volatile disputes in the world.

• In Latin America, U.S. policy has undergone significant change, and our relations with most countries in the region are at or near all [Page 535]time highs. The ratification of the Panama Canal treaties was an historical milestone.

• We have significantly improved the nature of our relations with black African countries.

• Our relations with India have never been better; and we are retaining our ties of friendship with Pakistan.

• In East Asia, a delicate balance of power exists favorable to our interests. We have normalized relations with China, in part, to consolidate the balance.

• Such regional organizations as ASEAN and the Organization of African Unity are playing an increasingly positive role in bringing stability to their regions.

• In recognition of the growing conventional military capability of the Soviet Union, we are increasing our military expenditures—as are our NATO allies—to make sure our European defenses remain strong.

• While we have not yet managed to establish a more stable world monetary and trading system, we have made progress in recent months in stabilizing the dollar and in creating a more orderly and growing world market through MTN.

• We will reach a SALT II agreement which will place a cap on the deployment of new and more missiles and which introduces a note of stability in the precarious strategic balance between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Added to these favorable developments are those of the spirit. After the debilitating decade of Vietnam and Watergate, our people are returning to their social moorings and exhibiting their traditional will and idealism. Worldwide, too, we have once again assumed the mantle of moral leadership, with the importance we attach to human rights, nuclear nonproliferation, and limitation of conventional arms sales. Certainly as much as and probably more than any other major power, the United States is addressing in a forthright manner the problems of our age. We remain an innovative society and a worldwide source of inspiration.

These positive developments are the result of the President’s commitment—as he enunciated at Notre Dame more than a year ago—to a policy of constructive global engagement, a policy of trying to influence the changes of our era in directions that are compatible with our interests and values. Under that broad heading, we have crystallized seven fundamental objectives for our foreign policy:

• To enhance our military security;

• To reinforce our ties with our key allies and promote a more cooperative world system;

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• To respond in a positive way to the economic and moral challenge of the so-called North-South relationship;

• To improve relations between East and West;

• To help resolve the more threatening regional conflicts and tensions;

• To cope with such emerging global issues as nuclear proliferation and arms dissemination; and

• To reassert traditional American values—especially human rights.

At the outset, I should note that American foreign policy confronts a fundamental analytical question: Are the issues of the moment which I mentioned earlier—Iran, Indochina, the Horn, Afghanistan—indications of longer term trends? Do we respond to these issues not only with the sense of urgency which is obviously called for but with a sense of historical despair as well? Or are the positive developments more indicative of our era? Should we continue on course? In short, is an optimistic or pessimistic view of history justified? It seems to me that this issue underlies the emerging foreign policy debate in the United States.

Without being Pollyannaish, this Administration is basically optimistic. We recognize the future is ours only with effort. Continued American vigilance, preparedness, and decisiveness are necessary to grasp the better future before us. But an optimistic view of history and of America’s future lies at the heart of this Administration’s foreign policy and of our China policy.

I do not mean to downplay or belittle the seriousness of the current foreign policy challenges. Important, indeed vital, issues are at stake. But in each situation, we are developing responses appropriate to the challenges involved. The United States will suffer occasional setbacks, but we will continue to be able to offset our losses with gains elsewhere—such as those that have occurred in recent years in our relations with India, Egypt, Eastern Europe, Ghana, the Sudan, and East Asia.

What we emphatically reject are apocalyptic visions about the future ability of the United States to pursue and defend our interests abroad. The pessimism that one hears from many quarters conveys a sense of Armageddon and of the need to rush to the barricade at every challenge without forethought.

Today, we seek neither a world order based on a Pax Americana nor an order based on a Soviet-American condominium. Neither order is possible or just.

Rather, we are in the process of creating a diverse and stable community of independent states. Working with our traditional allies—for we cannot do the job alone—we are beginning to create a framework [Page 537]for wide-ranging international cooperation involving the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and many of the emerging regional powers such as Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, India, and Indonesia. And with the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, we very significantly increase the scope of international cooperation.

We wish, of course, to include the Soviet Union in that framework of cooperation. Indeed, a fundamental choice the Soviet Union faces is whether to become a responsible partner in the creation of a global system of genuinely independent states or whether to exclude itself from global trends and derive its security exclusively from its military might and its domination of a few clients. We hope and encourage the Soviet Union to be cooperative, but, whichever path the Soviet Union chooses, we will continue our efforts to shape a framework for global cooperation based not on domination but on respect for diversity.

We recognize that the world is changing under the influence of forces no government can control. The world’s population is experiencing a political awakening on a scale without precedent in its history. The global system is undergoing a significant redistribution of political and economic power.

The record of the past 2 years suggests, however, that the United States need not fear this change. To the contrary, the record shows that we can shape this change to our benefit and attain security in a world of diversity.

Not only does the record of the past 2 years suggest realistic optimism is warranted. Our own past and the quality of our people also encourage confidence. For our national experience as a nation of diverse origins and of change speaks to the emerging global condition. Not just our wealth, not just our military might, but our history as a pluralistic people and our commitment to the values of freedom and independence which now stir all of mankind give us a naturally key role in shaping the trends of our time.

Given our assessment of history and the goals of the Administration, these points should be made about our China policy.

• We see normalization as having long-term, historic significance. It comprises part of our effort to consolidate and improve our relations with all the emerging powers in the world. And none of these powers is more important than China, with its nearly billion people and third largest defense budget in the world.

• We did not normalize out of tactical or expedient considerations; rather we recognized reality. The People’s Republic of China is going to play an increasing role in world affairs, and it was important for us to have a continuing, broadened, and structured relationship with this government.

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• We recognize that the P.R.C. and we have different ideologies and economic and political systems. We recognize that to transcend the differences and to make our new relationship successful will require patience, wisdom, and understanding. We harbor neither the hope nor the desire that through extensive contacts with China we can remake that nation into the American image.

• Indeed, we accept our differences. Normalization is an important part of our global effort to create a stable community of diverse and independent nations. As President Carter stated in his cable to Premier Hua Guofeng on January 1: “. . . the United States desires a world of diversity in which each nation is free to make a distinctive contribution to . . . the manifold aspirations . . . of mankind . . . we welcome the growing involvement of the People’s Republic of China in world affairs.”18

• We consider China as a key force for global peace simply by being China: an independent and strong nation reaching for increased contact with the rest of the world while remaining basically self-reliant and resistant of any efforts by others to dominate it.

• As Vice President Mondale stated on January 1: “We feel bonds of friendship, but sentiment alone cannot bridge the gap between us. What has brought us together is an awareness of our parallel interests in creating a world of economic progress, stability, and peace.”19

The community of interest we share with China is particularly evident in Asia, where we both desire peace, stability, and nations free of outside domination.

East, Southeast, and South Asia is one of the most important regions of the world today. The economies of the area are booming; the people are dynamic. The United States has great economic and security interests around the rim of Asia: in Japan, South Korea, all the Pacific islands down to the Philippines, and in Southeast Asia as well.

To protect our interests, we retain a strong military presence in the region, we maintain appropriate weapon sales throughout the region, and we are prepared to act on our interests should the need arise.

Few actions will contribute more to the security and stability of our important positions around the rim of Asia, however, than a constructive involvement with China. As we improve our relations with Beijing, China will also wish to keep us involved in the region and not, as in the past, seek to drive us away.

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For the first time in decades, we can enjoy simultaneously good relations with both China and Japan. It is difficult to overstress the importance of this fact. Normalization consolidates a favorable balance of power in the Far East and enhances the security of our friends.

Now the Chinese are turning outward and extending their hand to the West. We are prepared to respond less in confidence that in the future their hand will remain extended than in the knowledge that without a reciprocal gesture, their hand would certainly be withdrawn. And by developing bonds of commerce and shared understanding, we reduce the chances of future animosity.

That is why we have completed the process of normalization begun by President Nixon, President Ford, and Secretary Kissinger.

Normalization, therefore, is an act rooted in historical optimism and political realism. This change in our China policy does not represent retreat or abandonment of our previous positions; rather, it reflects our determination to be globally engaged, to welcome diversity, and to shape our future.

For a generation, we said “no” to the reality of East Asia. We refused to recognize reality, we sought to isolate China, and we lived by myths—with two wars and with incalculable cost to the region and to us. Now, we say “yes” to reality. We are confident that as an Asian and Pacific power with a positive relationship with Beijing, we will significantly contribute to the peace and prosperity of the American people and of all peoples in the region.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, February 1979, pp. 14–21. All brackets are in the original. The Department of State held the briefing for chief executives and other officials from member firms of the National Council for U.S.–China Trade and the USA/ROC Economic Council.
  2. Press Release 13. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. For text see Bulletin of January 1979, p. 25. [Footnote in the original. See Documents 104 and 105.]
  4. For documentation on the July and October 1971 Kissinger visits and the February 1972 Nixon visit, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVII, China, 1969–1972.
  5. For text of the joint communique issued in Shanghai on Feb. 27, 1972, see Bulletin of Mar. 20, p. 435. [Footnote in the original. See footnote 6, Document 29.]
  6. The United States and the People’s Republic of China established the liaison offices in March 1973. Bruce was appointed Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office (USLO).
  7. Dulles and Yeh signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in Washington on December 3, 1954. For the text of the treaty, see Department of State Bulletin, December 13, 1954, p. 899.
  8. For information about Vance’s trip, see footnote 10, Document 68. For information about Brzezinski’s trip, see footnote 21, Document 62.
  9. For documentation on Woodcock’s meetings, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XII, China, Documents 119121, 127, 141, 149, and 159.
  10. For the September 19 memorandum of conversation, see ibid., Document 135.
  11. See ibid., Document 168.
  12. For the transcript of this meeting, see ibid., Document 191.
  13. The Taiwan Relations Act (H.R. 2479; P.L. 96–8), which the President signed into law on April 10, authorized the establishment of the American Institute in Taiwan, which allowed the United States to continue to conduct relations with Taiwan. Taiwan would conduct its diplomacy with the United States under the auspices of the Coordination Council for North American Affairs. The Act also maintained various cultural and other links between the two nations. (Congress and the Nation, vol. V, 1977–1980, pp. 65–68) For the President’s remarks upon signing the bill into law, see Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book I, pp. 640–641.
  14. See footnote 3, Document 104.
  15. Text from White House press release. [Footnote in the original.]
  16. During his January 11 press conference, Vance indicated that the Shah was prepared to leave Iran; see Department of State Bulletin, February 1979, p. 7.
  17. In late December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and took Phnom Penh in January 1979.
  18. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XII, China, Document 185.
  19. Mondale made these remarks during ceremonies at the Chinese Liaison Office in Washington; see Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Officials See a Bright Future in New Relationship With Peking,” The New York Times, January 2, 1979, pp. A–1, A–9.