118. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Gleysteen) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Impressions of Your Trip to China

Dick Holbrooke told me you wanted a brief appraisal from me of your Peking visit. The following comments, which are necessarily impressionistic, are based on what I was able to see and hear and on one careful reading of the transcripts.

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General Assessment

Your visit was successful in that you were able to remind the Chinese that our relationship with them is important and capable of mutually-beneficial evolution. On normalization, you avoided formulations which might have risked a setback, and the discussions may have advanced our understanding.

As a strictly personal opinion, I should add that I myself would not have unveiled as boldly as you did—either to the Chinese or to the rest of the world—the full scope for development of the US–PRC relationship, including security cooperation. I think hints suffice for the Chinese and the Soviets. Moreover, I suspect the Chinese are not prepared at this stage of our relationship to be seen in an intimate embrace. I should also note that your repeated emphasis on the President’s “having made up his mind” may have created a credibility problem if we are not able, in fact, to carry through on normalization in the next few months.


Compared to the earlier Kissinger and Vance trips,2 I would rate yours somewhat between the pre-1973 heyday and the low point of public quarreling in 1975. The Chinese treated you with courtesy, and I think, somewhat greater warmth than Secretary Vance. You will remember, however, that they treated Vance quite well while he was in Peking and only jumped on him after he left, apparently because of the way the Administration and the American press played the visit. In any event, the Chinese were obviously interested in what you had to say as well as in using you to influence the President.

Your Presentation

In general, you exposed the Chinese to a well-designed, comprehensive explanation of our overall foreign policy as well as specific policies region-by-region. You did not duck our differences with the Chinese on matters such as SALT and other efforts to reduce confrontation with the USSR. You kept the Chinese feet to the fire regarding the lack of effective Chinese actions against the Soviet Union in many parts of the world, our differences over Korea, and the unhelpfulness to our common cause from Chinese carping in public about our alleged weakness in the face of Soviet expansionism. You may have helped [Page 486] mute Chinese criticisms of us, and certainly forced the Chinese into a more careful and thoughtful exposition of their own policies.

There were certain overtones of your presentation which probably had a greater effect on the Chinese than your general defense of US policy. In the variety of ways available to you, you:

—implied clearly to the Chinese that there has been a shift in our global strategy since the Vance visit so that the competitive elements of our policy vis-a-vis the USSR now heavily overshadow the cooperative elements, and you identified yourself clearly with those who favor a concentrated, worldwide effort to counter the Soviets;

—stated that our common ground with the PRC is now far more important than our differences, in contrast to previous US and PRC formulations which have been considerably more qualified; and

—suggested, rather pointedly, that the goal of our China policy is a far more intimate US/PRC collaboration embracing a security dimension (by your reference to third country arms sales to China, stress on Mort’s presence and invitation for a military delegation).

Your Impact on Chinese Perceptions

I suspect the Chinese reaction was a mixture of receptivity and skepticism. Transparently, they welcomed your assault on the Soviets. They are undoubtedly assessing as carefully as they can the significance of the unmistakable difference between your presentation and Vance’s. They may try to exploit any perceived differences among American policymakers; at a minimum, they hope the effect will be beneficial to them.

Nevertheless, I think the Chinese probably remain somewhat skeptical about us and still doubt that our deeds will match our words. In his comments to you, for example, Teng assumed we will sign a SALT agreement which the Chinese will find excessively favorable to the USSR. The Chinese will continue to criticize us for not taking sufficiently forceful actions against the Soviets in Africa and elsewhere, and, as I have noted above, I am quite sure they still question our resolve on normalization.

Obviously, we will have to wait and see how this mixture of receptivity and skepticism works itself out. Although the Chinese had every reason to do so on their own, your efforts on Cuba probably played a catalyzing role in the Chinese decision to let go at Cuba as a phony member of the non-aligned movement. We may see more moves of this kind. I am less hopeful, but not completely pessimistic, that we will see less criticism of us as appeasers. In addition, the Chinese showed a little more humility and objectivity about their own actions in countering the Soviets and in acknowledging their limited influence in much of the world. And they were also remarkably frank about their painfully-uncomfortable situation in Indochina. All this is to the good and should be encouraged. Basically, however, the Chinese posture toward you was not [Page 487] very different from that taken toward Vance. Both Huang and Teng continued to portray US policy as weak, inadequate, and naive. They also continued, rather sanctimoniously, to defend their actions as all that could be expected of China, and they left little doubt that if China were to take additional actions these would be taken independently of the US.

Normalization Issues

You handled the normalization issue in a way which disarmed the concern I had expressed to you on the plane. The only exception which you saved by your add-on remarks was your suggestion that we might depart from the “Japanese model.” I see no reason why we cannot, in practice, modify the “Japanese model,” but we will create an unnecessary issue with the Chinese if we dispute them on this question.

Huang did two things which I had not quite expected. First, he suggested a degree of impatience with us by asking whether we had an answer to Hua’s message of last year or whether we had anything to say following Vance’s promise last year to study their position further. Some of Teng’s remarks also reflected impatience of a more ambivalent kind. Second, Huang implied, as the Chinese never have before to my knowledge, a linkage between the completion of normalization and their willingness to cooperate with us in our common concern about the Soviet Union. I am not inclined to read too much into either of these points. Huang’s manifestations of impatience strike me primarily as gamesmanship and the usual Chinese effort to throw the ball back in our court. Moreover, I doubt that the linkage between normalization and general cooperation, which was probably intended more as an enticement than as a threat, portends a significant shift in the Chinese position.

Reviewing the record of your talks in the context of Vance’s discussions last year, the Chinese position on normalization now seems reasonably explicit in two respects while remaining ambiguous in the third. On representation, the Chinese have by now made very clear that the form of our representation in Taiwan after normalization must be non-official and non-governmental in character in order to sustain the principle that there is but one China. However, they imply almost as clearly that they will be relaxed about the substance of our representation if the proper form is strictly preserved. This impression was fairly apparent last year, but your talks have reinforced it.

On the matter of peaceful settlement, the Chinese have gone out of their way to draw the parameters of what they are prepared to do, i.e. they seem willing to tolerate a fairly objective statement of US expectations and to state their own position in minimal terms. Thus, they may be willing to refrain from any mention of forceful liberation, perhaps [Page 488] limiting themselves to a statement that settlement of the Taiwan question is an internal matter which brooks no foreign interference. Certainly Teng and Huang went further than they or any other Chinese leaders have before in trying to avoid talk about the use of force. This was helpful.

On the third and remaining issue, arms sales, I am skeptical that Teng’s reference to the US maintaining commercial relations with Taiwan (page 9 of the transcript) was an indirect way of acknowledging the continuance of arms sales after normalization. It could have been simply a reference to Taiwan’s dependence on the US and Japan for economic survival. However, Hua’s open reference to arms sales (page 7 of the transcript) is more interesting because it leaves open the possibility that the Chinese might be willing to tolerate arms sales if we eased off on our demand for a Chinese statement of peaceful intent.

We should not, I believe, assume from this same statement that the Chinese would be willing to make a commitment to refrain from use of force if we in turn terminated arms sales to Taiwan. This would distort Hua’s point which was to underscore the unacceptability of a PRC commitment. In any event, a Chinese statement of peaceful intent would have to be so qualified that it would not conceivably offset the disastrous effect on Taiwan—and here—of an embargo on US arms sales to the PRC [ ROC ?].

But your talk with Teng has rekindled an idea we toyed with during Kissinger days. If the Chinese will not give us a flat commitment not to contradict our statement of peaceful expectations, could we try to extend their stated willingness to tolerate what we say to go somewhat beyond the Shanghai Communique? Specifically, could we couple our statement of peaceful expectations with a warning that if this expectation were threatened, the resulting situation would have a serious effect on our policy toward the PRC? A statement along these lines would be more effective in reassuring Americans than a simple reiteration of the Shanghai Communique.

Probably the most important thing that occurred during your discussion on normalization was that the issue of arms sales surfaced at Chinese initiative in a way leaving the door open. I had feared that we might have been forced to precipitate the issue and that if we had we might provoke the Chinese into a statement of all-out opposition.

Your talks suggest the possible outline of a normalization settlement:

—US willingness to meet the Chinese three conditions, specifically including the ending of all governmental representation on Taiwan, termination of the defense treaty, and removal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan;

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—a joint communique in which we would recognize the PRC as the sole legal government of China and acknowledge the view that Taiwan is part of China;

—a US statement that we expect the Taiwan problem to be settled peacefully and would view seriously any threat to this prospect;

—a Chinese counter statement that the ultimate settlement of the Taiwan problem is an internal Chinese affair in which no other country has the right to interfere;

PRC acknowledgement of continuing economic, cultural and other contacts between the US and Taiwan; and

—unilateral, but public, US acknowledgement of continuing US arms sales to Taiwan for an “historically-transitional” period.

To be sure, we might still find that the Chinese counter statement on Taiwan would be too damaging for our purposes, and that the Chinese might have more restrictions in mind concerning arms sales. They might, for example, try to restrict the types of arms which we could sell to Taiwan (e.g. limiting sales to replacements) or to specify the period after which such sales should terminate. Such PRC qualifications would have a deeply unsettling effect on Taiwan and in Congress.

Mention of stability on Taiwan provokes me to add one final note. On the plane, you indicated you were inclined to hold back on major arms sales to Taiwan with the thought that we might want to discuss these with the PRC or modify them in light of Woodcock’s negotiations in Peking. I agree that any arms sales to Taiwan must take full account of the final normalization process, and it is for this reason that I have always opposed flamboyant items such as F–4s. But I feel just as strongly that we should not further delay the arms sales decisions for Taiwan and that we must not initiate a discussion of these sales with the PRC. If we do, we will begin playing a game which we can only lose. Instead, we should treat the next round of arms sales to Taiwan as a continuation of our post-Shanghai Communique policy toward Taiwan. If the Chinese choose to raise the sales with us, then we will obviously have to respond. If they don’t, we should leave well enough alone.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 29, Brzezinski 5/78 Trip to China: 6/1–6/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. For Vance’s August 1977 trip to China, see Documents 4752. For documentation on Kissinger’s trips to China in 1971 and 1972, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVII, China, 1969–1972, and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Documents on China, 1969–1972. Documentation on his 1975 visits to China is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976.