[Page 650]

171. Backchannel Message From Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to the Ambassador to the Republic of China (Unger)1

WH81623. 1. You are to request an immediate and urgent meeting with President Chiang. You should encourage the President to see you alone or with one trusted interpreter and indicate that the information you are conveying must be kept in the strictest confidence. The United States has not yet informed anyone else. At this morning meeting with President Chiang Ching-kuo you should deliver the following message from the President.

2. President Carter has asked me to inform you that at 2100 hours EST on December 15 (10:00 A.M., December 16, Taipei time) he will announce that the United States and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to establish diplomatic relations effective January 1, 1979. In so doing the United States will recognize the People’s Republic of China as the government of China and acknowledge the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of it.

3. Although diplomatic relations between the United States and the Republic of China will cease on January 1, the President wishes to assure you that there need be no interruption in practical relations between our people. These relationships can be facilitated, if you agree, through non-governmental agencies.

4. To insure continuity in trade, travel, and other practical ties, all our existing agreements, with the exception of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954, will remain in effect until substitute arrangements can be worked out.

5. Continuation in force of the Defense Treaty would be inconsistent with my government’s decision to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the government of China. I am therefore instructed to inform you that on January 1 we will give formal notice which will result in the termination of that treaty after one year in accordance with Article X.

[Page 651]

6. The President has particularly asked me to assure you that he will honor all your government’s arms requests already approved. We have also made clear to the PRC that after a one year transition period and the termination of the treaty, you will be able to resume purchase of carefully selected defensive weapons in the United States.

7. If you agree, the President proposes to send representatives to Taipei to talk with you in further detail and to begin the process of adjustment to a non-governmental relationship. These will be trusted advisor(s) who will be fully empowered to speak on the President’s behalf.

8. This is a difficult time, but I can assure you we stand ready to do everything we can to insure continued confidence, stability and prosperity on Taiwan. We value your friendship and admire the strength and dedication to self-reliance you have demonstrated in adjusting to the new realities which we know have been painful.

9. I will not attempt to persuade you to accept our conviction that normalization of U.S.–PRC relations will significantly advance the cause of world and regional peace. But you have our solemn assurance that the United States is not abandoning its interest in the peace and security of the region or its concern for the well being of the people on Taiwan.

10. I have also been instructed to inform you that I will return to Washington at an early convenient date following the January 1 termination of diplomatic relations. The remaining members of the Embassy staff will remain pending the establishment of an appropriate non-governmental agency.

11. Following is the text of the U.S. unilateral statement:

United States Statement

As of January 1, 1979, the United States of America recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. On the same date, the People’s Republic of China accords similar recognition to the United States of America. The United States thereby establishes diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

On that same date, January 1, 1979, the United States of America will notify Taiwan that it is terminating diplomatic relations and that the Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of China is being terminated in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty. The United States also states that it will be withdrawing its remaining military personnel from Taiwan within four months.

In the future, the American people and the people of Taiwan will maintain commercial, cultural, and other relations without official government representation and without diplomatic relations.

[Page 652]

The administration will seek adjustments to our laws and regulations to permit the maintenance of commercial, cultural, and other non-governmental relationships in the new circumstances that will exist after normalization.

The United States is confident that the people of Taiwan face a peaceful and prosperous future. The United States continues to have an interest in the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue and expects that the Taiwan issue will be settled peacefully by the Chinese themselves.

The United States believes that the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic will contribute to the welfare of the American people, to the stability of Asia where the United States has major security and economic interest, and to the peace of the entire world.

12. Following is the text of the joint communiqué:

Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China

January 1, 1979

The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to recognize each other and to establish diplomatic relations as of January 1, 1979.

The United States of America recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China. Within this context, the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.

The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principles agreed on by the two sides 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 of 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 other states.

—The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.

[Page 653]

—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.

The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China will exchange ambassadors and establish embassies on March 1, 1979.2

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 45, Meetings: 12/13/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Via Privacy Channels. Sent with the instruction: “Deliver one copy of this message immediately to Ambassador Unger. You are to retain no file copies or make any other distribution.”
  2. President Carter addressed the nation the evening of December 15 on the establishment of U.S.–PRC relations, during which he read the joint communiqué. The texts of his address, the unilateral U.S. statement, and his remarks at a White House briefing after the address are printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, pp. 2264–2268. On the afternoon of December 15, Brzezinski met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin to inform him of the announcement. Brzezinski recalled that Dobrynin “looked absolutely stunned.” (Power and Principle, p. 232) Brezhnev sent a message to Carter on December 19 that Carter characterized as “very positive in tone.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, pp. 2275–2276)