14. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

RP 77–10038


Key Judgments

Mao’s successors seem to believe that the US is somewhat irresolute in its attitude toward Soviet deployments globally, and they probably have reassessed the value of the US to China’s national security. They, however, have apparently decided not to downgrade Sino-US relations or upgrade Sino-Soviet relations. The Chinese leaders clearly do not want to return to the pre-1971 situation when the Russians could [Page 46] take comfort from Peking’s actively hostile relations with both superpowers.

The US connection is primarily important to China as a deterrent to a major Soviet attack. This deterrence derives primarily from the US role in NATO. Mao’s successors believe that this would be reduced if the US had to contend with a hostile China in the Far East. They calculate that:

NATO, with US support, and especially as a symbol of a US intention to intervene in Europe if necessary, poses a serious threat to the Russians, in that, in the event of a major Soviet attack on China, the USSR’s western front would have to be seriously weakened.

—Without considerable provocation, the Russians would not attack China unless they had already drastically changed the strategic balance in the west to their favor.

They do not believe that there are sufficient Soviet forces deployed against China in the Far East to gain major objectives deep within China; they calculate that they have the capability to protract a war started by the Russians, eventually requiring their adversary to transfer troops from the west. Thus, the Russians are effectively deterred by the need to maintain equilibrium in the west.

Mao’s successors do not expect that US military forces will be used on China’s behalf in the event of a major Soviet attack on China. The current leadership also almost certainly believes that the US would not assist China (by such actions as deploying American conventional forces or nuclear-capable aircraft and ships) to deter a Soviet attack on China, nor would the US act militarily against the USSR following such an attack.

Their attitude toward acquiring US arms is strongly “self-reliant,” and while they acquire some things from the West that they cannot manufacture themselves, these generally are “spot” and secondary purchases.

Thus, in Peking’s view, the primary military deterrents necessarily will be those offered by China itself. These are its capability to wage a long conventional war against the attacking Russians and its small, but to the Russians worrisome nuclear-weapons force. The Chinese have indicated that they will not permit the Russians to engage in “nibbling” tactics; even a limited attack beyond China’s border defenses would provoke a general war, as the Chinese would not permit the Russians to disengage after an attack. They have also indicated that if the USSR attacks China with nuclear weapons, they will strike back with China’s small nuclear-weapons force, which, as the Russians know, is not completely vulnerable to a Soviet first strike.

The Chinese envisage the role of the US as primarily a peacetime one, blocking expansion of Soviet influence without engaging in a war [Page 47] with the USSR. There is no good evidence that the Chinese desire a US–USSR military conflict, as they cannot be sure that such a conflict, which would greatly increase international tensions, could be confined to those two powers.

They value highly the stationing of US troops in Europe, considering that this unequivocally commits the US to NATO’s defense. They care less for the concept of a US “nuclear umbrella” for Europe, fearing that the US might not use its nuclear weapons in the event of a Soviet conventional attack.

Elsewhere in the Far East, they look primarily to American power to offset the Soviet presence. The US Seventh Fleet is no longer a “menace” but rather an important force challenging Soviet dominance of the seas near Japan, which the Chinese view as “the most Munich-minded” country, unlikely to resist the USSR effectively and, therefore, requiring strong bolstering by the US. The chances are good that they will continue well into the 1980s avoiding challenges to the Fleet (such as trying to attack Taiwan or the Nationalist-held offshore islands). Such restraint probably would continue even if the Washington–Taipei defense treaty were abrogated, as such an abrogation would improve Sino-US relations. They seem to believe that they will eventually have to use force to annex Taiwan, but that is a distant prospect; the political and military costs of such a move deter them at present.

The Chinese leaders do not desire further US pullbacks from bases in the Far East. However, they are confronted by a basic contradiction in their Korea policy. They privately favor a two Koreas policy and maintenance of the status quo on the peninsula, but they are impelled, primarily by their competition with the Russians for Kim’s favor, to support his one Korea policy. This requires them to demand the withdrawal of US troops from the South. They have viewed the US troop presence as a stablizing factor, but they probably calculate that if US troops were to be reduced in number, the remaining troops (and remaining command-and-control as well as air force units) together with the big South Korean army would still be adequate deterrents to Kim’s occasional military adventures. A further deterrent to instability is the silent convergence of interest in Peking and Moscow in keeping Kim cool.

Regarding the Russians, Mao’s successors show the same hostility that Mao had shown. Even if Hua Kuo-feng wanted to reduce the scope and intensity or the dispute with Moscow—and it is not clear that he wants to or will soon want to—Hua is forced to operate by consensus, and anti-Soviet sentiment seems dominant in the Politburo. It may take Hua several years to consolidate his position completely, after which time, if he succeeds, he may still desire on his own authority to sustain the Sino-Soviet dispute.

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By indicating to the new US administration that they, in fact, have not moved closer to the Russians, the Chinese indirectly have suggested that there is no reason for the US to do so.

They seem to believe that the US is still militarily a powerful adversary of the USSR and intends to remain so (despite their privately expressed concern about some erosion in the US position in the US–USSR strategic balance). They perceive no alternative to the US as a counterweight to the USSR.

[Omitted here are the introduction and main body of the report.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Current Intelligence, Job 78 T02549A, Box 3, Folder 9, RP 77–10038. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. A footnote on the first page indicates that the memorandum was prepared in the Office of Regional and Political Analysis and was coordinated with the Office of Strategic Research and the Office of Economic Research.