113. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Report on My China Visit (May 20–23)


1. My trip to China had four objectives: (1) to deepen our consultations on strategic matters of common concern and, where possible, to make our separate actions in such places as the Horn, southern Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Japan mutually reinforcing; (2) to expand our cultural and economic ties; (3) to set the stage for Woodcock’s June presentations; (4) to acquire a personal feel for Chinese leaders. I think the trip was productive in all four realms.

Global Consultations

2. The Chinese recognize the strategic importance of their relationship with us, and they were somewhat reassured by my presentation on our strategic objectives, on our military strength, and on our willingness and ability to compete with the Soviet Union.

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3. Their hostility toward the Soviet Union remains particularly striking. They consider Moscow to be the major source of instability in the world today. There is utility in stressing publicly this fundamental convergence of views.

4. I was struck that the Chinese were more relaxed about American resolve vis-a-vis the Soviets this time than they had been in August. I had anticipated that a major objective of the Chinese would be to lecture us and to scorn our weakness. They did not. Fortunately, our actions in Zaire provided a reassuring backdrop for my visit.

5. I stressed to them a central point: that we seek to create a pluralistic world order and that we are historically confident that such an order can be created. Hence, our approach toward China is not based on tactical expediency nor is it motivated purely by anti-Soviet design. Rather, it reflects an enduring commitment. Hua Kuo-feng in particular listened closely to this presentation, asked a couple clarifying questions, and agreed with this view.

6. Our approach should be to enmesh the Chinese in the maintenance of the global equilibrium, so that their own interests and aspirations could gradually change. At the same time, we must be aware that our capacity to alter the Chinese world view—rooted as it is so deeply in Chinese tradition—is likely to prove only partially effective.

7. In their conversations with me, the Chinese were not particularly condescending and did not accuse us of appeasement. That was new. The only real area of professed disagreement was Korea, where they claimed to favor a total U.S. withdrawal. I rejected this outright. Chairman Hua conveyed to me, however, North Korean assurances that there will not be a North Korean attack against the South. In thanking him for it, I pointedly referred to the assurance as involving no repetition of the North Korean attack—a point not lost on my hosts but also not contested.2

8. The Chinese were clearly preoccupied with the situation in Indochina. They specifically referred to it as a Soviet-backed design to establish pro-Soviet hegemony. With a hostile Vietnam to their south, China now faces adversaries both to its south and its north. The Chinese concern, I think, should lead us to stop saying that we wish to normalize relations with Vietnam. State should be instructed to delete this sentence from its standard descriptions of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia.

9. They were scathing in their condemnation of the Cuban role in Africa, responsive to my suggestions that the Cubans be exposed in the nonaligned movement and approving of our reaction in Zaire.

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10. In the course of my global overview, I presented a detailed case for SALT.3 There was subsequently no criticism of SALT as appeasement. I also gave the Chinese a glimpse of our new weapons technology (with specific examples) as part of the argument that we are not weaker than the Soviets. They listened open-mouthed. Finally, I told them outright that their descriptions of the United States as weak and as appeasing are “objectively” helpful to the Soviets.

11. We were able to have constructive talks on the normalization issue in part precisely because the discussions were called “nonnegotiations.” The Chinese negotiate best when the illusion is created that everyone is sticking firmly to their principles. The highlights of the discussion included these points, though we must not call the results “progress:”

—The Chinese demonstrated greater eagerness to move forward on normalization, and indeed implied a certain impatience with our sluggish follow-up to Woodcock’s last presentation in Peking in November.4

—More clearly than before, the Chinese linked normalization to their willingness to cooperate with us in matters of common strategic concern.

—Teng hinted at understanding of our need for a non-contradicted statement regarding peaceful reunification of Taiwan. But both he and Hua rejected any American demand concerning Chinese statements of intent toward Taiwan as an effort to infringe on Chinese sovereignty.

—Both Hua and Teng understood that we would, as Teng put it, retain a full range of commercial relations with Taiwan. Hua tacitly indicated he understood this to mean arms sales. This is the first concrete indication we have that the Chinese at least understand the kind of relationship we would like to have with Taiwan after normalization.

12. In effect, the Chinese appear ready to offer us a choice if we wish normalization at this point—either to continue arms sales to Taiwan after normalization without receiving a Chinese statement indicating their intent to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully, or no further U.S. arms sales coupled with a Chinese declaration of peaceful intent. As Hua put it, for us to sell arms and request China to commit itself to peaceful resolution of the issue would clearly lead to a “two China solution.”

13. I believe there may still be some give on the Chinese position concerning their unilateral statements, should we decide to select the [Page 472] “arms sales” choice. That is, we may be able to negotiate with the Chinese over the quantity and type of weapons we will sell to Taiwan after normalization, in exchange for some indication of restraint on their part. But this part of the negotiations will have to be handled at the highest levels and done so by indirection.5

14. Since my discussions moved the normalization dialogue further than we had anticipated, in order to sustain momentum, Woodcock will not be able simply to restate what I have already covered. Perhaps the time has come to table a draft normalization communique while edging into the hardcore problems.

15. During the very sensitive period into which we are now entering, our public statements on normalization must be meticulously crafted. Our statements must take into account the subtleties of the situation. I will have a memorandum for you tomorrow summarizing the formulas to which we all should rigorously adhere.6

Cultural and Economic Exchanges

16. The Chinese appear ready for expanded economic and cultural contacts. I propose various steps in this regard: Cabinet visits, a Frank Press delegation (already approved by you) and exchanges of trade and military delegations. These issues will be pursued via our respective Liaison Offices.

The Chinese Leadership

17. There may be some differences of view between Hua and Teng on normalization. I felt some personal urgency with Teng, perhaps because he is 74 and nearing the end of his political career. He curiously mentioned twice that he only had three years left in office. In contrast, Hua was less inclined to hint at the need for rapid movement. While Teng appeared blunt and forthright, Hua seemed more gentle and indirect.

18. Either consciously or because of his innate qualities, Hua has the bearing that a Chinese emperor is supposed to possess. In our society, these qualities are judged somewhat effeminate—softspokenness, delicate mannerisms, a relaxation and gracefulness in personal movement which suggests an inner serenity of mind. Yet, he was self-assured and engaged in a masterful overview of the global situation without recourse to a single note, quoting at times verbatim from my earlier remarks to Teng and Huang.

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19. We are dealing with a capable and tough Chinese leadership but one which seems ready to do business with us. To sustain an improved atmosphere in Sino-American relations will require careful attention to what we say about our relations with China during the coming months, a carefully considered and forthcoming Woodcock presentation in June, and a continued, prudent demonstration of American strength and will in the world today.

20. You should take 30 minutes to scan the protocols of my talks with Teng and Hua—they will give you the needed feel for two major statesmen. (I omit my exchanges with Huang, to whom I made a 3½ hour long presentation of your policies.)7

21. I also attach a letter to you from Woodcock.8 Finally, your gift to Hua was much appreciated.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 46, China: Brzezinski, May, 1978, Trip: 5/25/78–6/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. See Document 111.
  3. See Document 108.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 111.
  5. Carter underlined the word “indirection.”
  6. Not further identified.
  7. See Document 108.
  8. Woodcock’s handwritten letter, May 23, is attached but not printed. In it, he noted, “The possibility of full normalization was a major element in the meeting with Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-ping [see Document 110]. To my mind, it was expressed clearly that the Chinese accept that ‘full commercial relations’ include arms sales as necessary. This cannot, of course, be specifically articulated.” Carter initialed the letter at the top of the page.