160. Briefing Memorandum From the Acting Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Mark) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Teng’s Desire to Normalize US–China Relations Soon

Teng Hsiao-p’ing now appears intent on achieving prompt normalization of relations with the US. He is attaching his prestige in part to normalization, and is clearly now the person with whom the US needs to deal directly concerning the issues between us.

Within the past six months, Peking, under his aegis, has adopted an approach intended to encourage rapid US movement toward normalization and help build support in the US for such movement. The key element in this approach has been a gradual return to Chou En-lai’s 1972–73 line that reunification with Taiwan is not urgent and may be [Page 616] accomplished peacefully leaving a significant level of autonomy for the island. It is hoped this will reduce concern over Taiwan’s future and assuage demands for an explicit promise not to use force, a promise which the Chinese will not make.

Other moves which Peking has made, partially for other reasons, are probably also intended to aid these goals. These include:

—expanded trade and exchanges with the US which previously were to have awaited normalization;

—conclusion of the long-stalled Peace and Friendship Treaty with Japan in a manner intended to show that Peking’s interests coincide with those of the US and its primary Asian ally; and

—statements of intent to improve the climate for human rights in China, perhaps partly out of a desire to defuse the issue in bilateral relations.

The evidence suggests that Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-p’ing has been the key actor in these efforts and that he has made steady progress in convincing more cautious colleagues to follow his lead.

Teng’s Perspective. Teng has more reason than others in the leadership to want to achieve normalization within the next year or so rather than set it aside once again. At 74, Teng knows he has a limited time in which to assure that China’s security and progress toward modernization will last beyond his tenure and thus secure his place in history. He believes diplomatic relations with the US are central to thwarting Soviet and Vietnamese pressures on China. They are also important in gaining easier access to the capital, expertise, and technology of the US and its allies. Evidence suggests Teng hopes for significant achievements by next October’s thirtieth anniversary celebrations. Much of Teng’s urgency probably is shared by Vice Chairman Yeh Chien-ying, 80, who has long been closely associated with efforts to improve relations with the US.

During his October visit to Tokyo, Teng projected a strong desire to achieve normalization as soon as possible. He expressed concern to Fukuda that the US preoccupation with other matters would interfere with its determination to normalize. To encourage the US to initiate negotiations, he has said China would “help” the US once it began to make the necessary efforts and that he expects a resolution could be “quick and easy.” In late November, Teng gave Japanese visitors the strong impression that normalization is one of his primary goals before his death; he even offered to visit the US after normalization. (This recalls his offer to visit Tokyo to sign the Peace and Friendship Treaty with Japan if negotiations proved successful.)

Increasing Consensus Behind Teng’s Approach. Others in Peking, feeling less compulsion than Teng, have tended to be more cautious, perhaps preferring to hold off on negotiations until the US is ready to [Page 617] meet China’s conditions fully. Until very recently, they had not repeated Teng’s more encouraging statements. Recent evidence suggests, however, that Teng’s views are gaining stronger backing. Although in July Vice Premier Li Hsien-nien appeared to have undercut Teng’s suggestion to Congressman Wolff that China might once again “cooperate” with the Nationalists, and stressed the probability that force would have to be used against Taiwan, by mid-November he had moved nearer to Teng’s position. He stressed to Senator Muskie China’s own concern about a peaceful future for Taiwan. He made statements, similar to Teng’s, which suggest that Peking is willing to see the “Japanese formula” (allowing post-normalization US-Taiwan economic relations) stretched to include promise of a significant degree of autonomy for Taiwan after reunification.

Implications for Negotiating Normalization. In all, evidence suggests that serious negotiations on normalization would have the greatest chance for success if they were initiated directly with Teng Hsiao-p’ing rather than at lower levels or with other leaders. In dealing with Teng, however, we must also recognize that he must be able to characterize any normalization arrangement as a step toward, rather than away from eventual reunification.

It would be easier for Teng to interpret the future US relationship with Taiwan in a positive light if the US-Taiwan relationship were only vaguely defined during the normalization process. Supporting this proposition, Teng in his public and private comments on the subject has carefully avoided rejecting various future US-Taiwan ties. Most recently, when Senator Muskie’s group directly asked a Chinese official about the post-normalization sale of arms to Taiwan, he replied only that as long as China’s three conditions were met, the US “will be able to handle the problem.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 2, China: Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, 1/28/79–2/1/79: Cables and Memos, 12/15/78–1/24/79. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Hamrin.