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

231. Ref: WH81608, Peking 229.2

1. On arms sales, we have each put our position clearly on the record. In my session with Han on December 4,3 I stated: “As the President indicated to Ambassador Chai, there will continue to be restrained sale of carefully selected defensive arms, to Taiwan, but only in a way that is careful not to endanger the prospects of peace in the region and the situation surrounding China.”4 I made this statement in specific answer to Huang’s earlier question as to the nature of the commercial, cultural and other relations we would maintain with Taiwan after normalization.

2. In my session with Teng Hsiao-ping last night (December 14),5 in reviewing the nature of our mutual understandings, I stated: “Normalization will not preclude the American people from maintaining all the commercial, cultural, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan which I described to Acting Foreign Minister Han on December 4. In this connection, the U.S. now assumes the Chinese side has read President Carter’s statement to Ambassador Chai of September 19 with great care.” Both these sentences were accurately and fully translated into Chinese.

3. Acting Foreign Minister Han, of course, in our December 4 session, explicitly noted the “emphatic objection” of the Chinese side to our expressed intention to continue arms sales to Taiwan after normalization. There is no doubt in my mind, therefore, that the Chinese will object to any further sales of U.S. arms to Taiwan. They have said so and I take them at their word. But I do not expect their objections fundamentally to affect our relationship. The vociferousness of their objections will depend on the size of the arms sales in question and the [Page 647] manner in which they are concluded. The more embarrassing to them the sale, the sharper their protests are likely to be. But Peking is prepared to deal with these differences within the context of a normalized relationship.

4. Accordingly, my judgment is that if we state publicly that Taiwan will have access to the purchase of military equipment in the United States after December 31, 1979, the Chinese will publicly express objections to such sales. The substance of their objections will probably be based on Han’s statement to me: i.e. that such sales constitute interference in China’s internal affairs. They may add that such sales lessen chances for a peaceful settlement. If our overall relations are going well, we will be able to ride out such objections with little difficulty. If our relations are going badly, the impact on our relationship will be more severe. But in neither case do I expect the Chinese to act contrary to their own interest, which is in continuing a non-hostile and mutually useful relationship with us.

5. In the initial days of our new relationship, and especially prior to the act of normalization itself, a direct statement by the President on arms sales would be seriously embarrassing to Teng and have potential political consequences in China.6 It is for this reason, I believe, that Teng raised the point on December 14, since he had read my statement as indicating that the President himself would make public reference in his initial statement to our intention not to sell arms during 1979. At the same time, Teng obviously understands the realities or he would not have raised the issue of suspending sales during 1979. And he accepted my clarification last night, even though I made clear that we were indeed only referring to a one year moratorium on sales.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 47, China: Normalization with PRC: Incoming Cables: 12/78. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Via Voyager Channels.
  2. Backchannel message WH81608 from the White House to Beijing, December 14, asserted in reference to future U.S. arms sales to the ROC that “we believe it important that we be clear that if asked by Congress or the press, we will be able to say, ‘Taiwan would have access to the purchase of military equipment in the United States after December 31, 1979.’” Telegram 229 from Beijing is Document 168.
  3. See Document 159.
  4. See Document 135.
  5. See Document 168.
  6. Backchannel message WH81614 from the White House to Beijing, December 15, in response to Woodcock’s statement, declared, “We fully understand your views. However, it is unanimously felt here that we cannot refrain from such statements; indeed, this may be the very first question asked by reporters, and Congressional leaders have long signaled their intense interest in this specific issue. Stripped of an ability to assure the people of Taiwan on this fundamental point, we may induce the instability that it is in our interest—and incidentally the interest of Peking, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul—to avert. At the same time, as President Carter stated to Ambassador Ch’ai Tse-min, we recognize Chinese sensitivities on this issue. We do not expect them explicitly to agree to such sales. What we seek is some forbearance on their part when we explain administration intentions on this issue to the Congress and American public.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 45, Meetings: 12/14–17/78)