149. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and Vice Premier Geng Biao, People’s Republic of China


  • Chinese Side:

    • Vice Premier Geng Biao
    • Wu Xiuchuan, Deputy Chief of the General Staff
    • Zhang Wenjin, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Zhang Zhenhuan, Vice Chairman of Defense Science Commission
    • Zhou Jiahua, Deputy Director, Department of Defense Industries
    • Chai Chengwen, Director, Foreign Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Defense
    • Han Xu, Director of Department of American and Oceanic Affairs
    • Ji Chauzhu, Deputy Director of Department of American and Oceanic Affairs
    • Ling Ching, Director of Department of International Affairs, Foreign Ministry
    • Huang Zhengji, Deputy Chief of Intelligence, Department of the General Staff
  • U.S. Side:

    • Secretary Brown
    • Ambassador Woodcock
    • Mr. Komer
    • Mr. Seignious
    • Mr. McGiffert
    • Dr. Dinneen
    • Mr. Holbrooke
    • Mr. Ross
    • VADM Hanson
    • Mr. Armacost
    • Mr. Platt
    • BGen Smith
    • Mr. Oksenberg
    • Mr. Neuhauser
    • Mr. Jane
    • Mr. Stempler
    • Col Guillilland

[Omission is in the original.]

SECRETARY BROWN: Thank you for this information. It is certainly true that what happened to the Muslims in the USSR will not be attractive to the Afghans. However, it is true that over the last ten [Page 431] years, the Soviets were able to suppress the religious sentiment among the Uzbeks, the Tadzucs, and so on. That is because they obtained little help from the outside. I, myself, visited the area for a few days five years ago—such places as Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bokhara. It was clear to me that the Soviets have been successful in “pacification” and Russification of these Muslim nationalities in the USSR.


Let me follow up on Pakistan. We must also work with others to provide additional support for Pakistan. One of President Carter’s first moves was to call Zia and reassure him of our support. We offered to send Warren Christopher to Islamabad, but the Pakistanis preferred to postpone this.2

—The Pakistanis’ main concern is what might happen to them if the Soviets do gain control in Afghanistan—especially if the Soviets believe that they have grounds for “punishing” the Pakistanis for helping the insurgents. We will do what we can to stiffen the Pakistanis’ resolve to support Afghanistan. What arguments do you think would be most useful for us to use? What do you think you can say to reinforce our representations?

—We are in the process of working out the dimensions of our own assistance to Pakistan. We have decided to seek an amendment in our Foreign Assistance Bill to exempt Pakistan from current restrictions in our law which currently prevent us from extending FMS credits and Economic Support Fund assistance to Pakistan.3 We have already approached Congressional leaders on the subject. While plans are as always subject to Congressional concurrence, what we have heard from Congress is encouraging. We are thinking in terms of providing very substantial amounts of FMS and ESF over the next five years to the Pak’s. We are also seeking additional support for [from?] Western and Moslem countries.

—While we are planning to resume economic and military assistance to Pakistan despite the nuclear problem, it would obviously be easier for us to secure Congressional support for a large program if the Paks reassessed their nuclear activities. We don’t want to let this stand in the way. But what we can do will be influenced by Pakistan’s nuclear program.


—India remains a critical element. A strategy that preserves Pakistan but propels India into greater dependence on the USSR is unwise. [Page 432] The key is to get India to recognize that the new situation in Afghanistan poses a security problem for the entire subcontinent. It is unfortunate that there has been no effectively functioning Indian government during recent weeks.

—It is important that the most favorable context be created for an Indian policy reassessment. In particular, the Indians must be brought to realize that there is no longer a concern about a threat from China. We think it is important that you renew a dialogue with the new Indian government and seek a compromise understanding on the border issue that would permit India to turn its attention elsewhere. We believe this deserves your serious consideration.


—The events in Afghanistan are a major historical turning point which increases the likelihood of a major US military presence in an entirely new region of the world. Nobody at this point can predict with certitude what the outcome of these events will be, although the Soviet reaction to various protests and denunciations, including those of both the US and China, is completely predictable. These prospects were taken into consideration by the Soviets before they made their move in Afghanistan. It is therefore incumbent on both of us to exceed the Soviet expectation as to what our response would be.4 The Soviets must be made to understand that this decision (to invade Afghanistan) will be much more expensive, much more costly, much more damaging [Page 433] to them than they had reckoned, and that it should not set a precedent for similar further actions on their part.

—At the same time, we will be increasing our own ability to project military power into the Gulf region. Our Indian Ocean naval capabilities are being augmented; we are expanding our facilities at Diego Garcia; we are undertaking discussions with Oman, Somalia and Kenya on base access rights to various bases there, and we are broadening our discussions on security matters with Gulf states—particularly with Saudi Arabia and Oman.

—By this action, we intend to demonstrate that this region is of vital importance to us, and that the US Government is pursuing these interests with a sense of purpose and commitment.

—That is all that I wanted to say about Afghanistan. I would be interested in hearing what your side has to say on this issue.

[Omission is in the original.]


The domestic situation in Pakistan is rather difficult. Zia faces a number of difficulties. If the Soviets’ barbarous aggression goes unchecked, the next target is Pakistan. Now Pakistan also thinks along this line. Now Pakistan’s leaders are very worried about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

If the new Indian Government should keep on opposing Pakistan, even in a more fierce way, Pakistan will be sandwiched between Afghanistan and India with even more problems on its hands. After studying this question, we have concluded we must boost Pak determination to resist the Soviet Union. Now, after the event in Afghanistan, the US has made a decision to extend military aid to Pakistan. We think that you have made the right decision. We hope your aid will arrive in a timely fashion and that there will be plenty of assistance and that we will not see the restrictions to aid you have placed in the past.

[Omission is in the original.]


As for Afghanistan, the Soviet’s massive invasion warrants attention and concern on our part. In this respect, the Soviet Union’s own troops are directly involved in undisguised invasion, like the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Now the Soviet Union has extended its so-called theory of limited sovereignty from socialist countries to a non-aligned, Muslim country of the Third World. If the Soviet Union can [Page 434] do this in Afghanistan today, the likelihood is that they can do it to Pakistan, or some other country, tomorrow—the first targets would be Iran and Pakistan. While Afghanistan is the first country, the Soviet Union mainly has its eyes on Asia, and the action poses a threat to South Asia and the Gulf area as well. It occurred at a time the US experienced a tense situation vis-a-vis Iran.6

—The Soviet Union may gain something temporarily, but in the longer term they will gain the opposite of what they set out to do. Now a new situation has been created. All the Muslim countries and peace-loving countries have risen up in opposition to Soviet hegemonism. Even Iran has registered its protest to the Soviet Union over its invasion. And these factors may help to bring an early resolution to the crisis between the US and Iran. It seems to me to a large extent we should talk to other countries about the matter and do a good job of it.

[Omission is in the original.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Thornton, Country File, Box 95, Pakistan: 1/79–1/80. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Great Hall of the People. The original is an extract of the January 7 memorandum of conversation, the full text of which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China, Document 290. The omissions in the original are noted in brackets.
  2. See Document 111.
  3. See Document 151.
  4. In a message to Brzezinski, January 4, Brown noted that in preparatory discussions on the plane trip to China, a question came up for which Brown needed further guidance from the White House: “The Chinese will be extremely interested in what tangible support [less than 1 line not declassified] which might involve the Chinese) we are prepared to supply the Afghan insurgents. I believe that telling them of our arrangements with the Saudis, and whatever the Pakistanis have agreed to, would improve the chance that the PRC will join in or, at a minimum, tell us more about what they are doing along these lines.” (Message 321 from the Secretary of Defense, January 4; Department of State, Executive Secretariat (ES), Sensitive and Super Sensitive File, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Box 3, 1980 Super Sensitive I, Jan, Feb, Mar–1980) Brzezinski replied on January 5: “For over six months we have been providing modest levels of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan insurgents. This has taken the form principally of medicines, food and clothing. Contrary to Soviet allegations, we have not provided any training to the Afghan insurgents. After the Soviet invasion, our assistance has taken on an increased urgency and now includes small arms, ammunition, anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons, and other military items appropriate to this kind of insurgency. Some of this military equipment is probably already in the hands of the insurgents, if not, it will be soon. We would welcome Chinese participation in the support of the insurgency and offer to coordinate what we are doing with them.” Regarding Brown’s question on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Brzezinski answered: “We have no authority from the Saudis or Paks to reveal their participation and believe that, if their participation were made known without their knowledge, it could jeopardize both the current program and our credibility.” (Message 90 from Brzezinski, January 5; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 120, Super-Sensitive: 1–3/80)
  5. This and the next section are comments by Vice Premier Geng Biao.
  6. A memorandum from Holbrooke to Vance, January 31, included the following expanded exchange on Afghanistan between Brown and Geng: “Secretary Brown: I believe we must take action to provide political and material support to the insurgent forces in Afghanistan. And in this regard, I have a couple of questions for you: What support is China currently providing the Afghan insurgents? Do you have plans to expand that support? Vice Premier Geng: We are very pleased to hear the US Government has made the decision to provide assistance to the anti-government forces in Afghanistan and to Pakistan. You know that we have been giving aid to the Pakistanis and they are satisfied with what we have done. As to Afghanistan, we plan to give assistance to various organizations, groups, and peoples in Afghanistan in resistance to the Soviet invasion. We plan to give them assistance via Pakistan. However, our assistance has to be in limited quantity. While Afghanistan is the first country, the Soviet Union mainly has its eyes on Asia, and the action poses a threat to South Asia and the Gulf area as well. It occurred at a time the US experienced a tense situation vis-à-vis Iran.” (Briefing Memorandum, January 31; Department of State, Executive Secretariat (ES), Sensitive and Super Sensitive File, 1979–1983, Lot 96D262, Box 3, 1980 Super Sensitive I, Jan, Feb, Mar–1980)