119. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Next Moves on China: Woodcock’s Approach


Zbig and I have both told the Chinese that Leonard Woodcock will undertake negotiations on normalization this month. Those talks will represent the beginning of a serious effort to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC. It may be difficult, but there is a reasonable prospect that the Chinese will come around to accepting our positions on key issues if they are as outlined below.

Closely interrelated decisions on timing and substance are required urgently so that we can draft instructions to Woodcock (which we will then clear with you). We need first to determine what target date for public announcement would best serve normalization from a political point of view. Then we must address the three remaining substantive issues: relations with Taiwan after normalization; public statements on “peaceful settlement”; and arms sales to Taiwan after normalization. All these issues are addressed below.

We will be dealing with three separate parties: Peking, the Congress, and Taiwan. Our handling of the latter two, including the timing of consultations, will depend on the course of the US–PRC track. But as normalization approaches, our dealings with ROC President Chiang Ching-kuo will take on increasing importance, particularly for the Congress.


After considering all the options, I believe that, if we can work out the details with Peking, the best target date for public announcement of recognition would be mid-December.2 At that time we would issue a [Page 491] joint US–PRC communique including agreement to establish full diplomatic relations after we had adjusted our relations with Taiwan.

Before issuance of that communique, the following would have to take place:

Woodcock’s talks with the Chinese this summer, aiming at agreement just after the election;3

—If necessary to conclude the negotiations, a visit by me to Peking after the elections;

—Consultation with the Congressional leadership at appropriate times; and4

—Notification to President Chiang and Japanese Premier Fukuda about three weeks before the announcement.

The actual establishment of diplomatic relations, which would come three to six months after issuance of the communique, could be marked by a high-level PRC visit to Washington.5

In recommending a mid-December date, I am mindful that if SALT is completed this year, both SALT and normalization would be ready for action by the new Congress at about the same time, requiring careful management from both a foreign policy and a domestic political perspective. But I recommend that Congressional action on normalization precede the SALT ratification debate on next year’s legislative calendar.6

The December date would allow us to proceed with Peking at a reasonable pace and would have some negotiating advantages over a stretched-out process. I have in mind Zbig’s remark to Teng Hsiao-ping that “. . . the President is prepared to resolve this question as rapidly as it proves practical. We have no intention of artificially delaying it.”7 Adequate advance notice to Congress, Taipei and Tokyo will be very important to the political success of the policy and to a stable adjustment in Taiwan. But to minimize the likelihood of leaks and the emergence of normalization as an election issue, I recommend against consultations with anyone other than the top Congressional leadership before the elections.8

[Page 492]

Substantive Issues

Residual Relations with Taiwan

After extensive study, we have narrowed our examination to two models of a “private” organization to handle our residual relations with Taiwan. One is a federally-chartered private corporation along the lines of the Red Cross; the other is a corporation privately chartered in the District of Columbia. Whichever model we choose would need legislation empowering it to carry out various activities (e.g. handling nuclear cooperation, arms sales and textile trade) on behalf of the government. Either would constitute a fig leaf for certain relationships for which the US Government—and the government in Taiwan—must ultimately be responsible. Both could arouse strong criticism, primarily in Congress. But both would, I believe, meet the PRC’s conditions and both would be able to handle the relationship with Taiwan adequately.9

Because of the need for Congressional support and legislation to implement normalization in general10 and because of continuing Congressional involvement with the “private” corporation (for example, in appropriating funds annually or in monitoring sale of nuclear materials or arms), it would be advisable to discuss the alternative models with key Congressional leaders. This need not be done prior to Woodcock’s presentation, but Leonard will have to signal to the Chinese that we have made an important step forward from the position on residual representation I took in August. Thus, we will instruct Woodcock to inform the Chinese that after establishment of diplomatic relations we would have no official relations with Taiwan and no governmental representation.11 American presence on Taiwan after normalization would be such as to allow us to continue non-official relations but not contradict the PRC’s “three principles”. Without this key statement by Woodcock the seriousness of our entire approach would be open to question.12

Public Statements about Taiwan

The record of every PRC statement on the “Taiwan question” since the early 1950’s makes clear that, as a matter of principle relating to its claim of sovereignty over Taiwan, Peking will not make a non-use of [Page 493] force statement or any other statement which limits its theoretical options on “liberation” and that it will reiterate its standard line that “liberation”, including timing and method, is an internal Chinese affair which “brooks no outside interference”. Our need to continue arms sales to Taiwan only reinforces this Chinese position.

But the August 1977 and May 1978 conversations13 also indicate that the Chinese understand our position and may be willing to take a stand which, while not endorsing our view, does not contradict it either. As Teng expressed it to Zbig:

. . . You have said on the question of the resolution of the issue of Taiwan the U.S. side has to take into account the reaction of your people at home and people in Taiwan. We understand your viewpoint. In solving the question of normalization of relations between our two countries under the three conditions, the U.S. side can express your hopes [for a peaceful settlement].14 It is quite all right. You can state your views but you should not make it a precondition. And the Chinese side will state our views saying that the solution of Taiwan and how and when we will solve the problem of Taiwan is the business of the Chinese people themselves.

I believe that, in adopting this approach, Teng was implicitly acknowledging the point I made last August, that it would be essential to US domestic acceptance of any agreement we reached that the Chinese not contradict our statement or make a statement of their own stressing forceful “liberation”.

I propose that Leonard indicate to the Chinese that we would issue a statement expressing our expectation that normalization would not lessen the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves and the importance of this peaceful prospect for the further evolution of US–PRC relations. He would state that we expect them to reiterate their position that Taiwan is an internal matter and assume they can find a way to indicate that they will be patient on this question and strive for a peaceful settlement. In any case, Leonard would say, the Chinese should understand clearly that what they say could undercut our efforts for normalization.15

Arms Sales to Taiwan

We must be in a position to state to the Congress that we will continue sales of defensive military equipment to Taiwan and that, although the PRC does not like that, it clearly understands our position [Page 494] and has proceeded with agreement on normalization anyway.16 In order to make that statement, the public and private record must sustain our characterization of Peking’s position—and in a way which does not provoke a public counterattack from Peking.

As Zbig has informed you, Chairman Hua explicitly surfaced the arms sales issue. When he noted to Zbig that China would not commit itself to use peaceful means to settle the Taiwan question, he left the inference that if we did not demand such a statement China might tolerate US arms sales to Taiwan. Hua’s statement was typically delphic and ambiguous, and I believe the arms sales issue remains the trickiest of all and still a potentially insurmountable obstacle.17 But I also believe that Hua’s broaching of the subject reduces the risks from our raising it directly and opens the door sufficiently for us to begin to probe the limits of PRC tolerance.

I propose that Leonard refer to Hua’s statement and observe that we have carefully considered it. He would note that none of the unofficial contacts with Taiwan after normalization would be intended to create “two Chinas.”18 Furthermore, he would say, we are not asking Peking for an explicit public commitment on peaceful settlement or to refrain from expressing its view that resolution of the Taiwan question is an internal matter.

In his opening session Leonard should deal with the representation issue and leave until subsequent meetings the explicit discussion of arms sales. But he should be prepared to acknowledge our intentions if asked about them directly by the Chinese.19

Leonard’s opening presentation may well not be enough to give us confidence about Peking’s ultimate position, but it is a good starting place and should elicit indications about what further steps are necessary. I will proceed to draw up negotiating instructions on this basis if you concur.20

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), Normalization, 1/24/78–11/10/78. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Printed from a copy that does not bear Vance’s initials. At the top of the first page, Carter wrote, “Cy—no copies, no distribution. J.” Vance’s June 13 covering memorandum to the President reads, “I hope we can meet next week to discuss specific instructions for Leonard Woodcock as outlined in the attached memorandum, and the political, strategic and diplomatic implications of normalization. I suggest that the Vice President, Zbig, Harold Brown, Ham Jordan, Dick Holbrooke and Mike Oksenberg also participate.” An unknown person crossed out the names of Jordan, Holbrooke, and Oksenberg. (Ibid.)
  2. Carter underlined “mid-December” and in the right margin wrote, “ok.”
  3. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “ok” next to this point and the next one.
  4. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “Very carefully—act as though it is a press release.”
  5. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “Why the delay?”
  6. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “agree.”
  7. See Document 110.
  8. Carter underlined “the top Congressional leadership” and in the right margin wrote, “as late as possible—very small group—in my office.”
  9. In the right margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote, “‘interest section,’ ‘trade mission,’ ‘military mission?’ What we have now with PRC.”
  10. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “Let’s limit necessary legislation to that which following indisputable decision to recognize PRC, would be supported by ROC proponents to continue some relationship with Taiwan.”
  11. Carter underlined, “no official relations with Taiwan and no governmental representation” and in the right margin wrote, “I’m not sure we need to go this far.”
  12. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “—?”
  13. For Vance’s August 1977 visit to Beijing, see Documents 4752. For Brzezinski’s May 1978 visit to Beijing, see Documents 108111.
  14. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “This is probably o.k.” The brackets are in the original.
  15. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “all ok.”
  16. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “We should insist on no restraints on our trade with Taiwan (not single out arms or any other item). A unilateral (& uncontested) statement may be advisable.”
  17. Carter underlined, “a potentially insurmountable obstacle.”
  18. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “ok.”
  19. In the right margin, Carter wrote, “May be better to spell out our entire proposal initially.”
  20. At the bottom of the page, Carter wrote, “Cy, Devise special procedures: Leaks can kill the whole effort. We should limit the dispatches and negotiating information strictly—maybe just to [less than 1 line not declassified]. Avoid any public hints of degree of progress. I don’t trust 1) Congress 2) White House 3) State or 4) Defense to keep a secret. J.C.” Carter probably meant restricting access to the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs. See footnote 1 above.