167. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Liaison Office in China (Woodcock) to Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1

225. Subject: Comment on Meeting with Teng. Ref: Peking 224.2

1. My session with Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping on December 13 has launched us into a new and potentially decisive phase of the normalization process—a phase fraught with both opportunities and pitfalls for both sides. It quickly became evident from Teng’s approach that he was determined to pin down a normalization agreement at an early date. In the process, many seemingly troublesome issues were brushed aside. He did not challenge my flat statement that we could not declare our agreements with Taiwan to be null and void. He gave a clear signal that he would not let our position on arms sales to Taiwan block normalization, although he returned to this issue in another context. He agreed we could open Embassies and exchange Ambassadors even before our troops have been fully withdrawn from Taiwan and after I had made clear that the formal process of terminating the Treaty would take a year. He did not raise questions about the language in the communiqué on the status of Taiwan. In short, on a wide range of issues, many of considerable substantive importance, Teng opted for movement rather than legalistic quibbling over details. In doing so, he has clearly committed his personal prestige to accomplishing normalization within a near-term time frame on terms that could easily be interpreted in China and abroad as compromising long-held Chinese positions. Now that we are at the brink, the risks of hesitating are self-evident.

2. Nevertheless, if the session produced major progress on a wide range of issues, we are still faced with a number of difficult choices. The first relates to the anti-hegemony clause, which I shall return to later. The second involves Teng’s request that we forego mention of Article 10 of the US–ROC Mutual Defense Treaty and that we withhold sales of offensive arms to Taiwan during the one year period before the Treaty loses effect.

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3. On this latter issue, as the transcript will show, there seemed to be some shift in Teng’s position as the discussion progressed. Initially, the Chinese objection to any mention of Article 10 seemed to be based on their assumption that by mentioning this article, we would be confirming that the Treaty would remain in effect for a year. Teng clearly wanted us to act as though the Treaty would end as of January 1, 1979, a view he seemed to equate with the Chinese concept of “abrogation.” As our discussion continued, however, Teng seemed to grasp the point that we needed for domestic reasons to terminate the Treaty in accordance with its provisions, and that this meant technically that the Treaty would not lose effect for a year. This faced him with a potentially difficult domestic problem of his own—i.e. establishing diplomatic relations while the Treaty was still in effect. He responded in typically pragmatic fashion by seeking a U.S. commitment that would lessen his own domestic exposure—i.e. an understanding that we would not sell arms to Taiwan during this period. Teng’s language indicated that a major concern was that arms sales would call attention to the continuing validity of the Treaty at a time when diplomatic relations with the U.S. would already have been established.

4. Teng was quite explicit in indicating that he was talking about a one year period. But he did not explicitly confirm that we could resume arms sales once the Treaty had formally lost effect. Accordingly, even leaving aside the question of whether we can afford to suspend arms sales to Taiwan during such a critical year for Taipei, we cannot blythely assume that the Chinese have given us a green light for arms sales from 1980 on. Nevertheless, this was the distinct implication of Teng’s comments, both when discussing the Treaty and when he sought clarification as to whether our position on arms sales was linked to our time frame for withdrawing troops.

5. On the Article 10 question, my impression is that the main Chinese concern is that we not include a reference to this article in our statement at the time of normalization. If this reading is correct, as I believe it is, we should be able to handle this problem by simply noting in our public statement that we are taking action to terminate the Treaty in accordance with its provisions, which is the language we have used with the Chinese before. At the same time, Teng did not challenge our right to act in accordance with the provisions of Article 10 as required by our domestic needs.

6. One point was not adequately clarified during our discussion. Teng did not apparently grasp the distinction between sentence 9 and sentence 10 of my instructions (paragraph 5 of reftel).3 The first, of [Page 640] course, dealt with the nature of our post-normalization representation on Taiwan, while the latter dealt with the nature of our post-normalization relations with the island. We had moved to other issues before I fully appreciated the problem that he had addressed. From my last session with Acting Foreign Minister Han, it is evident that the Chinese are not challenging us on our representation formula, but it may be desirable for me to clarify the significance of this distinction at my next session.

7. The hegemony clause has a hoary history of its own. For a number of reasons, I do not believe we should let normalization be delayed over this issue. First, an anti-hegemony clause is part of the Shanghai Communiqué, which we have accepted as the basis for our policy. Second, we encouraged the Japanese to agree to inclusion of an anti-hegemony clause in the Sino-Japanese PFT and are thus poorly placed to take a principled stand against such a clause. Thirdly, we are indeed opposed to hegemony, and despite the significance attached by the Russians to this term, should not let this fact dictate our policy. As in the case of Japan, inclusion of such a clause will not prevent us from dealing with both Moscow and Peking in a balanced manner that best serves our own interests.

8. Accordingly, I do not believe we should stake out a position opposing such a clause. I also believe such a clause can be handled better in the communiqué itself than in our separate statements, where its inclusion would be more personalized. Nevertheless, we may wish to consider ways of lessening the impact of an anti-hegemony clause. One method would be to model our handling of the clause after the Shanghai Communiqué, where it is included with a number of other statements that retain their relevance today. Paragraph three of the joint communiqué might then read as follows:

The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principles of international conduct expressed in the Shanghai Communiqué and emphasize once again that:

—Both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;

—Neither should seek hegemony in the Asia–Pacific region or in any other region in the world, and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony;

—Neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at third states; and

—Both believe that normalization of Sino-American relations is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the cause of peace in asia and the world.4

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9. On the arms sales issue itself, I have little advice to offer from this end. As noted above, I believe Teng is reflecting valid political concerns in asking for a moratorium on arms sales during the period when he will be most vulnerable to charges that he has sold out Chinese principles on Taiwan. But acknowledging this does not resolve the dilemma posed by the fact that our respective needs on this issue are contradictory. One possibility, however, does suggest itself. Assuming that we proceed with the January 1 deadline, unless impending arms sales to Taiwan are in an advanced stage, it is doubtful that they could be concluded before we have broken relations with Taiwan and begun the process of placing our relations with the island on an unofficial basis. As part of this process, we will have to modify our procedures for concluding arms sales in order to reduce overt governmental involvement. During this period, we could be engaged in working out the terms of future arms sales to Taiwan but defer the sales themselves until the new non-governmental procedures are in effect, which could well take until the end of the year. In short, a one year moratorium may be forced on us by the realities of shifting to a non-governmental relationship during this period. Conceivably, too, Taiwan interest in the Kfir could revive under the new circumstances facing the island.

10. In looking to the future, I will need prompt guidance on:

A. The text of our proposed unilateral statement at the time of normalization. I assume this statement will be based as closely as possible on the statements we have already made to the Chinese on this subject.

B. Our position on inclusion of an anti-hegemony clause in the joint communiqué.

If instructions are forthcoming, I could begin discussion of these two issues with Acting Minister Han and Vice Minister Chang without waiting for a final determination of how we should respond to the Chinese on arms sales.

11. We should also give attention to the modalities of issuing the joint normalization communiqué. I would be happy to sign the communiqué myself, but given the historic significance of this action, I can see advantage in having a high level U.S. leader come here for this purpose.5

12. The question of briefing Congress, leaders on Taiwan, and our allies (above all Japan) on our intentions should also now be given urgent attention. Once we begin this process, of course, it will be difficult to avoid leaks, but it would be unthinkable not to provide some ad[Page 642]vance warning to our friends whose interests will be most directly affected.

13. The advantanges of dealing at Teng’s level were repeatedly evident during our meeting. Unlike Huang Hua, Teng seemed clearly to have the power of decision in his own hands. With normalization almost in his grasp, he seemed to relish the prospect of his long-awaited visit to Washington.

14. I could not help noticing the absence of Wang Hai-jung and Nancy Tang. The difference was obvious. Wang has yet to say a word in any of our sessions, while Chang Wen-chin and Han Nien-lung both engaged in frequent exchanges with Teng. Chang in particular seemed concerned about the substance of the issue under discussion. Both men seemed to enjoy Teng’s full confidence.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 57, Policy Process: 12/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Via Voyager Channels. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates that Carter saw the telegram, and he underlined numerous passages in it.
  2. See Document 166.
  3. Woodcock is presumably referring to sentences 10 and 11; see footnote 8, Document 166.
  4. Carter drew a line in the margin next to this paragraph and wrote, “good.”
  5. A handwritten note by Carter in the margin next to paragraphs 10 and 11 is illegible. Presumably it concerned whether Woodcock would sign the communiqué.