145. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Inderfurth) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Human Rights and the PRC

I have given David my thoughts on where we should go with our human rights policy.2 In this memo I would like to address a single subject—human rights and the PRC.

Several articles on our human rights policy (and not a few politicians) have noted the Administration’s silence on human rights violations in the PRC. I believe we must address this issue. If not, both our human rights policy and our efforts at home to normalize relations with the PRC will be adversely affected.

I have attached (at Tab A) a thoughtful article on this subject from Foreign Policy. 3 It appeared about a year ago. Key passages have been highlighted. The author is right in saying that, should we decide to approach the PRC on this subject, we should do it in the context of our broad definition of human rights. The PRC will certainly object to a “Western” definition of human rights, hence the need to include social and economic rights (which they will stress). The author is also right in suggesting that, should we fail to address this issue,

The Nationalist government on Taiwan, itself vulnerable to criticism for suppressing dissidents, will encourage its American supporters to use the human rights issue to slow U.S. moves toward recognition of the People’s Republic. Friends of Taiwan will continue to point out examples of dissent on the mainland and to publicize instances of Communist repression; they recognize that the lack of democratic institutions in the People’s Republic is a useful point for arousing popular sentiment against recognition among Americans.

Human rights in the PRC is, obviously, a very sensitive subject. I am not suggesting that we take any action at this time. I am suggesting, however, that as a first step we direct Mike Oksenberg to discuss this [Page 576] with his China group and send you a recommendation on how (whether?) and when to raise this with the PRC.


That Mike Oksenberg be directed to look into the issue of human rights and the PRC and forward appropriate recommendations to you.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of), 9–11/78. Confidential.
  2. Inderfurth is referring to David Aaron.
  3. Attached but not printed is a copy of Susan L. Shirk’s article, “Human Rights: What about China?” in Foreign Policy, No. 29 (Winter, 1977–1978) pp. 109–127.
  4. Brzezinski checked the Approve option.