158. Memorandum From Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • The Chinese Internal Situation: Further Developments

Two days ago I sent you a memorandum reviewing the fast-moving Chinese internal scene,2 concluding with four possible outcomes: (1) a major Teng victory; (2) a limited Teng victory; (3) stalemate; (4) a Teng setback. The Party Central Work Conference now seems to be winding up, and may in fact be just over. Subsequent [less than 1 line not declassified], improved reporting from USLO in Peking have given us a firmer fix on the nature and range of the leadership meetings, as well as a sense of its general outcome.

It appears that Teng has emerged somewhere between one and two, with a strong but not total victory. Teng should be able to maintain momentum in pushing ahead with his policies, he has enhanced his personal status through an astute handling of foreign journalists and of public opinion, but he has not gotten everything he wanted in the personnel field.

The Agenda of the Meeting and Decisions Taken

At this point we can be fairly certain that the following subjects have been under review in the past few weeks:

The Modernization Program. This topic obviously got top billing, and several issues were probably discussed—for example, sending students abroad, concluding several major whole plant purchases, and borrowing money from abroad. We see no evidence that major divisions exist on these issues. Teng himself asserted this in a message aimed at the bureaucracy as well as the foreign audience.

—Rehabilitation of former officials and righting of past political wrongs. This clearly was a major topic. A number of important rehabilitations were almost certainly approved at the meeting, the most spectacular being that of P’eng Te-huai, who opposed Mao on both the [Page 607] Great Leap Forward and the break with the USSR. The April 1976 resolution condemning Teng will also be rescinded. Additional rehabilitations are apparently in the offing at a later date.

Politburo shake-up. No removals from the Politburo appear imminent, although an adjustment of Politburo ranking is likely. We may be witnessing a return to pre-Cultural Revolution practice, when defeated leaders ostensibly remained on the Politburo while being deprived of responsibility and power. The meeting may have concluded that Moscow would welcome signs of renewed leadership disarray and would create doubts among Western investors about Chinese stability.

Demaoification. Here the decision was to go slow, with continuing dismantling of Mao’s policies (and endorsement of the corollary assumption that his word was not holy), but no direct, public assault on Mao’s image.

The role of Hua Kuo-feng. Hua’s formal position has been reaffirmed and Hua’s favorite theme of “stability and unity” strongly stressed. Hua won the argument that public exposure of leadership divisions would harm the modernization program. Nonetheless, Teng retains the initiative and has left the door ajar for taking over the premiership. The evidence that he will actually do so, however, is at best ambiguous.

Normalization. Teng’s statements on this subject, particularly his extended remarks to Japanese visitors yesterday (Tab A) could not be personal, off-the-cuff remarks.3 They reveal an eagerness to move ahead rapidly and a desire to visit the United States, hopefully ahead of Brezhnev.

Cambodia–Vietnam. We have no direct evidence this issue was discussed, but it is very hard to believe that it could have been avoided. Silence on this topic itself speaks eloquently of the difficult choices China faces in Indochina.

The Road Ahead

Now that the Work Conference is ending, the next step is a Central Committee Plenum, which will convene after December 10. At its conclusion, a communique will be issued, covering in some form each of the topics noted above with the possible exception of the Indochina question. Further efforts in the modernization drive and in the campaign to rehabilitate former officials should soon be evident. Leader[Page 608]ship tensions have not been wholly removed, and should persist under the surface, at least until the next party congress. The intellectual dissent revealed in the wallposters is likely to continue, but no spontaneous and uncontrollable social movement seems in the offing. Indeed, the ferment of last weekend already seems to be dwindling. In the last day or two posters have begun to show unmistakeable signs of leadership control and manipulation.

Implications for Us

We may have derived the best possible outcome, since a total Teng victory would have tied us too closely to his personal fate. But Teng is sufficiently in control to provide genuine leadership at the top. He now seems to have the capacity to undertake difficult decisions.

His remarks to Takeiri on normalization (Tab A) are directed to us. He went out of his way to broach Sino-American relations with Takeiri when the Japanese politician had not raised the issue on his own. Several aspects of his remarks deserve particular attention:

—He believes normalization can be achieved quickly.

—He now likens reaching agreement on normalization to the process leading to the Japanese PFT, where the Chinese yielded in substance at the last minute in exchange for Japanese yielding on form.

—Teng stated if the preconditions are met, the minor details are easy to discuss and he seemed relaxed about our position on the Defense Treaty.

—Finally, he revealed a strong desire to come to Washington; recognition is the most important item on his agenda.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 57, Policy Process: 10–11/78. Top Secret; Codeword; Outside the System. Sent for information. A handwritten note at the top of the page reads, “ZB has seen.”
  2. Dated November 28. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 39, Deng Xiaoping Series: 8–11/78)
  3. Tab A, a copy of telegram 3524 from Beijing, November 30, is attached but not printed. According to a Japanese transcript, Deng said “There is another wish I have, to go to Washington. I am not sure whether it will be realized or not.” Later in the conversation, Deng said, “I have told you before that it would only take one second to complete the Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty. If we expend the same effort it would only take two seconds for Sino-US normalization. This is our hope.”