154. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Brown 1



  • Normalization of Relations With the People’s Republic of China

1. During your meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 26 September 1978, issues related to normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were discussed. You particularly requested views concerning the Mutual Defense Treaty with the Republic of China (ROC). Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have examined the basic military considerations and plausible options for [Page 596] dealing with problems which may develop in the normalization process. Based on such examination, they continue to favor normalization. They believe, however, that the process should be carried out in a manner which does not jeopardize the security of the people on Taiwan. US actions should also fully consider past relationships and assurances provided to the ROC by previous administrations.

2. How the United States handles the Taiwan issue during the normalization process will be carefully studied by US allies, the nonaligned states, potential adversaries, and, perhaps more importantly, the people of the United States. At stake is the perceived value of a US alliance and the strength of US resolve to remain a power in Asia. If normalization with the PRC could be accomplished within a framework which adequately assures continued security for the people of Taiwan, it would have a positive, long-term effect on these views. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that this can be accomplished by achieving what is understood to be the current administration’s position on normalization: establishment of a US trade mission on Taiwan, continued US arms sales to Taiwan, and a PRC commitment not to use force against Taiwan.2

3. The PRC has been reluctant to accept all3 of these conditions. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the United States should use the benefits to the PRC of normalization as a lever in an attempt to obtain PRC acceptance of the administration’s position. They further believe that if the PRC can accept a continued special US relationship with Taiwan, including security assistance, and that if the PRC gives adequate assurances of security for the people on Taiwan, the United States could, in exchange, accept the three PRC preconditions for normalization and thus conclude the normalization process. The United States already has agreed that one of its ultimate objectives is the removal of US troops from Taiwan, and the end to diplomatic relations with the ROC can be compensated by a continuation of strong economic and cultural ties to Taiwan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that, by developing adequate provisions for the continuing security of Taiwan, the Mutual Defense Treaty could be terminated. The method by which the treaty is terminated, however, will have a major impact on perceptions, both at home and abroad. The United States should explore alternatives for termination within the terms of the treaty, including possibilities for ROC-initiated termination or termination by mutual agreement.4

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4. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recognize the benefits of normalization. They are concerned, however, that the way the United States handles the Taiwan issue could erode the benefits to the United States. They believe that adherence to the administration’s reported position will have a positive impact on perceptions and will demonstrate US resolve to maintain a substantial and constructive influence in the Pacific. They emphasize the importance of maintaining, as the centerpiece of US policy, a worldwide balance of power with the Soviet Union. As the United States moves toward normalization with the PRC, a fundamental aspect of the developing US–PRC relationship will be the PRC perception of US ability and willingness to maintain that balance.5

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

David C. Jones ,
General, USAF
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), Normalization: 11/20/78–12/18/78. Secret. A stamped notation reads, “SecDef has seen.” A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Someone wrote, “ok” next to the phrases about the trade mission on Taiwan and U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and “no” next to the phrase about a PRC commitment not to use force.
  3. Someone crossed out “all” and wrote “any” above.
  4. Someone wrote, “ok” next to the statement about U.S. exploration of alternatives for termination of the treaty and a question mark next to the statement about possibilities for ROC-initiated termination of the treaty.
  5. Harold Brown responded in a December 2 memorandum that restated many of Jones’s conclusions and noted, “I know you recognize that with respect to assurances concerning the security of Taiwan, the PRC leaders have always rejected public and explicit commitments regarding their future handling of a matter they consider a question of sovereignty.” (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), Normalization: 11/20/78–12/18/78) A notation indicates Carter saw Brown’s response.