135. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Ambassador Ch’ai Tse-min


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Ambassador Ch’ai Tse-min, Director of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Ambassador Han Hsu, Deputy Director of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Hsu Shang-wei, Third Secretary and Interpreter of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office

The meeting began with Ambassador Ch’ai, accompanied by Interpreter Hsu Shang-wei, being ushered into the Oval Office by Phil Wise to meet the President and to have his photograph taken with the President and with Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Vance. The group then returned to the Cabinet Room for a meeting.

President Carter: Let me first extend the warm welcome of the American people to you as you begin your work as Ambassador representing your great country.

As I said in the other room, I am grateful for the rapid expansion of relations between our two countries—student exchanges, exchanges of scientific groups, and the visits of business leaders to your country. This is to the mutual advantage of your great country and ours.

Of course, we now also have plans for additional important visits, in energy, agriculture, science, and education. I am pleased this expansion is occurring.

Ambassador Ch’ai: We have taken notice that after Dr. Brzezinski’s trip to China, the flow of visits between our two countries has rapidly increased. Especially after the visit of your scientific delegation, there has been an increase in scientific, technological, and cultural exchanges.

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Such an increase in exchanges of visits between our two peoples, and the exchanges in the scientific and technological fields are beneficial to promoting the development of relations between our two countries.

We do hope our mutual relations will be developed beyond their present state with a major stride forward to normalize relations at an early date. These developments are in conformity with the interests of our two peoples and will be beneficial to our joint efforts to cope with the Polar Bear.

President Carter: We also want to see constant and substantive consultations between our two countries. Secretary Vance departs today for a visit to Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. He will be informing the leaders about the agreements of the Camp David Summit. Peace in the Middle East is in your interest as well as ours. I would be glad for Dr. Brzezinski or someone else to brief you in detail on agreements of the Camp David Summit.

We would certainly appreciate the support of the People’s Republic of China in our further efforts to bring about a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East. I ask that you convey this to Chairman Hua and the other Chinese leaders. In view of your influence, I ask that you give us your assistance with Arab leaders and others who want peace in that troubled area of the world.

Ambassador Ch’ai: I will surely convey your opinion.

Before I came to the United States, in Peking our leaders—Premier Hua Kuo-feng; the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Yeh Chien-ying; and Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing—all asked me to convey their best regards to Your Excellency, Mr. President.

President Carter: Thank you.

As you know, this can be a very important year for the relations between our two countries. I have directed our Ambassador in Peking, Leonard Woodcock, to have serious discussions with your leaders concerning the complete restoration of diplomatic relations between our two countries. These are very important matters, and the discussions are serious.

Ambassador Woodcock speaks personally for me, and I personally approve the instructions.2

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If the talks are successful, I am prepared to normalize relations between our two countries without further delay.

These mutual efforts of ours are not undertaken for any brief or transient tactical reasons, but are in the long-term historic interests of the lives of our people. I know that no one need be concerned about this, except for one Third Country which might like to see these efforts fail.

I might say that we have now approached the time of complete and very difficult discussions of importance to your country and mine.

We are willing to honor your three points which your government has made clear to us.3 It is important that your government be ready to honor the need of the United States to demonstrate its dependability, credibility, integrity, and resolve as we change our relations with Taiwan and change our relations with the People’s Republic of China.

We are prepared after a relatively brief interim period to end all official representation on Taiwan. As you know, under our system of government, our Congress must authorize unofficial relations with Taiwan. We will continue to trade with Taiwan, including the restrained sale of some very carefully selected defensive arms—and let me not be misleading—only in a way that carefully does not endanger the prospects of peace in the region and the situation surrounding China.

I recognize this is very sensitive for you.

I would hate to see Taiwan turn to other sources or even to develop dangerous weapons that would be threatening to you.

These are long-standing commitments which we must honor within the constraints I have outlined to you.

As you know, the people of Taiwan have the scientific capability for the development of atomic weapons, and we feel some relations with us are important to prevent this dangerous development.

I would like to make one last point.

We have an interest in the peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue and in a peaceful reunification of China.

We intend at the time of our agreement with you to state our expectations of a settlement of the Taiwan issue through peaceful means. We do not expect you to confirm that statement, but we would expect that the Chinese Government will not contradict us. We recognize that this is a very sensitive point.

The political realities—particularly the U.S. domestic political situation which arises out of our long association with Taiwan—require that difficult issues be dealt with separately by you and by us.

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If these two issues can be resolved satisfactorily, I see no other obstacles to the complete resolution of other issues that have separated our peoples for too long.

(When the last paragraph was translated, the Ambassador asked his interpreter “What two issues?” The translator explained that the two issues were U.S. military sales to Taiwan and the U.S. statement about peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue which the U.S. would expect China not to contradict.)

A last point: Please send my personal regards to Premier Hua Kuo-feng, Chairman Yeh Chien-ying, Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing, and your other leaders. I appreciate the way they received with such hospitality Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, and Frank Press.

We look forward with great anticipation to the time when we can welcome Premier Hua, Vice Premier Teng, and others here. As you know, American Presidents, Secretaries of State, and others have visited China many times. I extend an invitation to Premier Hua, and other leaders to visit us whenever it becomes possible.

Ambassador Ch’ai: To normalize relations between China and the United States conforms with the common interest of both our peoples and is a major strategic step. Both sides are concerned about this issue.

As to how to normalize relations, Ambassador Woodcock is conducting negotiations with you [us] in Peking on this point.4

I think that in regard to our position, Ambassador Woodcock has already reported back to you. I believe, Mr. President, you have already seen the reports, so I need not repeat them.

Our principle is that the United States should recognize that there is only one China, that is the People’s Republic of China, and that Taiwan is a province of China.

The United States must meet our three terms—the severance of diplomatic relations, the withdrawal of military forces and installations from Taiwan, and the abrogation of the Defense Treaty with Taiwan.

As to how and when China liberates Taiwan, this is our internal affair which brooks no foreign intervention.

We think that as to how to solve the problem of our relations, the only way is through the Japanese formula. That is to say, after the establishment of diplomatic relations, the United States could only maintain people-to-people relations with Taiwan. There is no way to maintain official or semi-official relations with Taiwan.

During the negotiations for normalization and after normalization, for the U.S. to continue to sell weapons to the Chiang Clique would not [Page 535] be in conformity with the spirit of the Shanghai Communique. Regarding this issue, Deputy Chief Han had already had two talks with Mr. Holbrooke, and I think, Mr. President, you already know our position. There is no need to repeat it.

As you mentioned the issue of peaceful means for the liberation of Taiwan, we think that there are two different questions—the question between our two countries and the question between ourselves and Taiwan. Let China solve the latter question itself. As to how and when, this is our internal affair, and the U.S. should not ask us to make any promises on this issue. Since Vice Premier Teng has expressed our views clearly to Dr. Brzezinski, I will not repeat that either.

(Ambassador Ch’ai, later in the day, requested us to rephrase this paragraph thusly: We would differentiate clearly between our relations with Taiwan and our relations with the United States. These are two different problems. As to how to liberate Taiwan, this is China’s internal affair which brooks no foreign interference. As to what means for the liberation of Taiwan, this is our own affair. When Dr. Brzezinski and Congressman Wolff visited China, Vice Premier Teng made all this clear to them.)5

As to the question of the Presidential invitation to our leaders to visit the United States, it is impossible at this point because of the presence of the embassy of the Chiang Clique here.

If they come to visit, wouldn’t it appear that there are two Chinas? Besides conveying your invitation, I can only express thanks for this indication of your good will. After normalization, it would be quite possible.

President Carter: I look forward to it.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, China: Normalization with PRC: Events–Aggregate documentation: 8–12/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Alpha. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. A memorandum from Oksenberg to Brzezinski, September 18, noted, “I remain concerned that at some point we must respond to the President’s complaint that we are not keeping him well informed about the progress in Woodcock’s talks to date.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 44, Meetings: 9/17–30/78) The instructions for Woodcock’s fourth meeting with Huang Hua are in backchannel message 81160 from the White House Situation Room to Beijing, September 6. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 44, Meetings: 9/1–16/78)
  3. See Document 98.
  4. See footnotes 2 and 3, Document 127, and footnote 3, Document 141.
  5. See Document 110 for the memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Brzezinski and Deng. Regarding Wolff’s visit, see footnote 3, Document 129.