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


  • NSC Weekly Report #75

1. Opinion

Our Asian Policy—Or the Makings of a Carter Doctrine

This has been a monumental year in East Asia—and it has far-reaching implications for your global strategy. Trends which have been maturing for some time have come sharply into focus. As a result, many issues which it had seemed possible to postpone are now emerging, and most are connected with our China policy. In addition, both the Soviet Union and Vietnam are intent on making China an issue in our relations with them, and this factor will grow rather than diminish with time.

1. Major Trends

Our policies must take into account the following trends:

The emergence of China as an active diplomatic player. Though not a sudden departure, Chinese diplomatic activity has become more intense since my discussions with the Chinese leaders, and it can be presumed that the Chinese see their activities as complementary to our long-term interests in offsetting Soviet domination of the southern arc countries: the littoral countries on the shores of the China Sea and the Indian Ocean, from Indochina to Southern Africa.

The Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty, which links Japan (already linked with the United States) with China. The immediate effects of the PFT has been to focus Japanese economic interest on China, while diminishing the Japanese interest in the USSR. Gromyko’s comments to you were quite revealing.

Deepening of the Sino-Soviet dispute, which means that the Soviets can no longer delude themselves that the situation will improve in the post-Mao era.

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The continuing Indochinese crisis, which now involves Communist states. An early improvement in Sino-Vietnamese hostility is unlikely, and North Korea appears to be leaning toward China on this issue.

Socio-Economic growth in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong has created a cluster of increasingly successful states. China, in its drive for technology, will probably try to develop closer relations with some of these.

2. Key Issues

We confront now the opportunity to create a genuinely stable relationship with an Asia which shares a common interest in avoiding Soviet domination and in maintaining military stability. In effect, twenty-five years after the creation of relative stability in Europe, we now face for the first time the prospect of attaining similar stability in the Far East. To make this possible, we have to be very deliberate about the following issues:

(1) Timing of normalization with China. Clearly the only window open to us is between December and January. After that, we will probably have to let the matter slip until the fall of 1979. If we were to normalize late this year or early next year, you could have a summit meeting with Hua, possibly in the wake of your meeting with Brezhnev. Do you wish me to use some informal setting to tell the Chinese ambassador, whom I see from time to time, that the Chinese ought to realize that if we cannot normalize within the above mentioned time frame, normalization might slip into late next year? Informal comment like this can be quite helpful and should not be introduced into the formal negotiations in Peking.2

(2) Timing of Vietnamese normalization. This is an important issue. I cannot help suspecting that guilt feelings over the Vietnamese war have something to do with the evident desire of Cy and Holbrooke to move on this issue rapidly:3 if we normalize before normalizing with China, we will leave our relations with China anomalous while coupling SALT with recognition of a pro-Soviet state with whom the Chinese currently have bad relations. Thus recognition immediately after normalization with China seems the preferred course.4

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(3) China trade issues will become more complicated in the months ahead. We are developing a review of such matters as credit, MFN, grain deals, and so forth.

(4) The Chinese factor will also have to be taken into account in our SALT and military posture planning. If our relationship with China develops, gray area discussions with the Soviets will, in some fashion, have to take into account stability and security in the Far East. This matter will be of concern not only to the Chinese but also to the Japanese. And that, in turn, will add further complexity to an already extraordinarily complicated issue.

In the meantime, we may have to give some subtle encouragement to the West Europeans, whom the Soviets are trying to frighten on the issue of technology transfer to China.

3. The Longer Dimension

In effect, the collapse of the world system during World War Two was followed by the creation of a new Atlantic structure which produced stability in the West, to which we subsequently—though somewhat artificially—related Japan. We now have the chance to create a new framework of stability in the Far East, based on our close alliance with Japan, intimate cooperation with ASEAN, and growing collaboration with China.

With our relations with Latin America reaching new maturity, the areas of likely instability and potential conflict will be Indian Ocean littoral states. Our ability to deal with this problem constructively will be heightened if we succeed in matching our cooperative relationship with Western Europe by a newly cooperative relationship with the Far Eastern states (notably Japan and China), and by growing ties with the Persian Gulf region. In such a context, it should also be somewhat easier to generate a more stable U.S.-Soviet relationship, pointing from SALT II towards SALT III.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Sino-American relations.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 42, Weekly Reports [to the President], 71–81: 9/78–12/78. Top Secret; Contains Codeword. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates that Carter saw the memorandum. This memorandum repeats passages used in an October 6 memorandum from Oksenberg to Brzezinski on “East Asian Developments and China Issues.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 39, East Asia, 3/77–10/78)
  2. In the left margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote, “don’t be too specific, but ok.” Brzezinski noted in his memoirs that shortly after he submitted the communiqué to Carter, he “told the Chinese Ambassador that if we missed this opportunity we would have to delay normalization until far into 1979.” (Power and Principle, p. 229)
  3. In the left margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote, “I don’t have guilt feelings & I want to move re VNam.”
  4. Below this paragraph, Carter wrote, “Zbig—You have a tendency to exalt the PRC issue.” He also underlined “after normalization with China” and wrote, “ok if PRC doesn’t delay.”