191. Telegram From the Liaison Office in China to the Department of State1

162. Subj: Codel Nunn Meeting With Deng Xiaoping.

The following is a transcript of the discussion between Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-ping) and Codel Nunn January 9, 1979:

Begin text.

Senator Nunn: It is a great honor to meet with you. As the first American Congressional delegation to visit China after normalization, we are in somewhat of a unique position. I previously had the opportunity to meet you in 1975 when I visited China with Senator Byrd. I was highly impressed then and I am especially honored to again have the opportunity to meet with you this time.

Vice Premier Deng: I have heard that three of the four of you have been here before.

Nunn: Yes, Senator Hart and I are gathering information for a study of United States force structure in the Asian and Pacific region. We will, on our return, report to the Armed Services Committee on our findings in China, the Philippines, South Korea and Japan. Senator Glenn is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Asian Affairs. He is, of course, a former astronaut and has a substantial military background. Senator Cohen has served for six years in the House of Representatives and now is joining the Senate. He will probably [Page 704] serve on the [Armed] Services Committee or the Foreign Relations Committee.

Deng: (Jokes about Senator Glenn having come from “celestial regions”). I welcome the opportunity to exchange views with your delegation, particularly, since you were the first US delegation to come after the opening of diplomatic relations.

Nunn: We have many questions and our time is insufficient. With regard to the confidentiality of our discussion, naturally the news media are intensely curious about everything you say. We will, of course, respect anything that you want kept confidential.

Deng: My hope is that you will not quote directly what I say. We might thus have a freer discussion.

Nunn: We can pass on our impressions without attribution?

Deng: That is right.

Nunn: One of our areas of concern is the situation in Korea. Our two countries have made great progress in normalizing our relations. It would be tragic if an outbreak in Korea were to take place. I know that you too are concerned. Our Intelligence Community has told us that there are more powerful forces in the North than we had previously thought. If the United States were to talk to South Korea and China to North Korea, our cooperation could reduce tension and perhaps bring about direct talks between the two.

Deng: In the past other US friends have brought up this question. During my trip to Japan, Japanese leaders posed the same question to me. In posing such questions, people expressed apprehension of possible military activities on the part of North Korea. The Japanese were apprehensive and spoke to me of a very tense situation in Korea. On that occasion we were told by Japanese leaders that Japan had the same impression of the existence of tensions in Korea. There is no question of the DPRK waging an offensive. We said then that we are aware of the following facts. We [have] faith in what Kim Il Song has said about peaceful reunification and we have rendered our consistent support to that policy.

I say to our American and Japanese friends what deserves attention is that peaceful and independent reunification as spoken of in North Korean policy means reunification in a peaceful manner. We understand that thoroughly. In my view, there is some information that is not correct in this regard. We are on good terms with the DPRK and we understand their situation. You should understand the following facts. In the past President Kim Il Song and North Korea sought to hold direct talks with the South Korean authorities. Later on the South Korean authorities suspended those talks. We are also aware of the fact that Kim wants very much to resume talks with Korea. While we desire that ne[Page 705]gotiations resume, we also express the hope that since South Korea suspended the talks once before, North Korea hopes that the government in South Korea represented by Park and the democratic parties in South Korea will initiate discussions. I wonder if the United States will help bring about direct talks. There is no question that North Korea desires their resumption.

Nunn: We would welcome such a development. But the inclusion of opponents of the present government in South Korea seems unrealistic and seems to be tantamount to the North saying that they don’t want direct discussions. I do believe that China and North Korea, the United States and South Korea have a considerable area to work in. Violence in this region would be a blow to both of our interests. Our relationship should not be subject to such risks.

Deng: I would like to repeat my point. We don’t feel such tension in the situation. As far as China is concerned, years ago the United States made such a proposal. China has no direct responsibility in this area. The United States has; the United States has troops there. The U.S. should enter into a direct dialogue. Through a direct dialogue the two sides can get a deeper knowledge of each other.

Anyway we hope that this matter should not involve the four parties. We have no troubles in Korea. When I was in Japan, the Japanese suggested that China should work with North Korea and Japan with South Korea.

We said this was unrealistic. We said to the Japanese leaders in explicit terms that China and North Korea have a good relationship because we do not interfere in North Korean affairs. What we can do is to convey the North Korean position to you. I hope you will convey North Korean ideas to the South Korean authorities. We think this approach has merit.

Nunn: We hope the two sides can talk directly. China has much influence in the area. In any case, we hope that both sides can peacefully resolve the problem.

Deng: I say to you from deep in my heart that overt interference in a nation’s affairs can only achieve the opposite of what is intended. China and North Korea enjoy good relations because we fully respect them and do not interfere in their affairs. I can tell you something which has not been publicized: the reason North Korean and Soviet relations are bad is because the Soviets interfered in North Korean affairs. The Soviet Union has tried to use its aid to North Korea to assert influence and control and that is why relations are bad. Another point: our position would be better if US troops disengaged from South Korea. When I was in Japan, Japanese leaders asked me if in so doing, US strength in East Asia and the Pacific would be weakened. I said to them that to move US troops several hundred kilometers would not weaken [Page 706] strength in the region. Others questioned whether the withdrawal would lead to a North Korean offensive. I say that the military strength of South Korea is no lower than that of North Korea.

Senator Glenn: I would like to congratulate you on the initiative taken to restore relations between our countries. I would like to explore a different area. Foreign governments often do not understand the importance of the Congressional input into our conduct of foreign relations. As we move into agreements to make normalization work on such matters as claims and assets, loans, our future financial relations, all of these must be approved by Congress. Difficulties in this area could upset and ruin the new relationship between the two countries. Congress is sensitive to the mood of the people. We have millions of people who are still concerned about the security in Taiwan. I have followed closely the statements that the Vice Premier has made and have been gratified and happy to hear what he has had to say about the use of peaceful means. If we are to realize the good things that should flow from normalization then the people of the United States must get behind the normalization process. When Vice Premier Teng visits the United States the American people will be more impressed than anything else by statements on peaceful reunification. This will do more to get public opinion behind most favored nation status, a claims and assets settlement, and financial arrangements that will be most beneficial to the two countries.

Deng: Our position on this question is clear-cut. Ambassador Woodcock, I think, is most well informed about our position. We have covered this question with many US delegations. As far as China is concerned, of course, we hope to use and are pursuing a process of peaceful reunification and a return to the Motherland of Taiwan. However, we have always adhered to the point that how this reunification is accomplished is an internal Chinese question. The reason we cannot unilaterally say that we are not going to use force to settle the question of Taiwan is because if we should undertake such a commitment then the question could not be settled in a peaceful manner, because such a commitment would be equivalent to binding Chinese hands. I told the American correspondents that we can’t tie our own hands. The reason is that if we do, then Taiwan authorities led by Chiang Ching-kuo would become reckless and such action would lead to the consequence that Taiwan would enter into no talks at all. What will the consequence be if we say we will not use force and one or two years go by without talks, and that is all right, but after ten years? What happens? If China just has one hand this will lead to a settlement by armed force.

Let all of us analyze the problem in perspective. There are only two circumstances where force would be used. The first circumstance, if in taking advantage of certain circumstances in the world, Taiwan abso[Page 707]lutely refuses to enter into talks with us. That is, we have adopted a realistic approach towards the question of Taiwan after reunification. This realistic approach includes the ability of Taiwan to maintain a people-to-people relationship with Japan and the United States. There would be no change in social conditions. The people’s living standard would improve. If we permit all this and the Taiwan authorities still do not want to talk, what is to be done? The second circumstance would be as follows: During the course of negotiations some people pointed out the possibility of the Soviets getting into Taiwan after normalization. Our US friends on several delegations posed the same question. We see no such threat. Chiang would find it very difficult to contemplate good relations with the Soviet Union.

While on that subject, besides the purely Chinese aspect, the US would still have people-to-people contacts and would still have a large economic relationship. Japan would also suffer if Chiang Ching-kuo were to embark on such a course. And then, I counter the question to many US friends, suppose the Soviet Union were to occupy Taiwan. Then I assume the US would not oppose China using force. That is why we cannot bind our hands. You must have noticed our message to our friends on Taiwan.2 The tone of our message is always reasonable. I hope I have explained my views clearly.

Nunn: I commend the way you have handled this question. I think you have impressed the American people of your peaceful intentions. After reunification could it be possible for Taiwan to maintain security forces?

Teng: There will be no difficulty. There will be no change in the social society or in the way of life, and the Taiwan authorities will possess the same power they possess now. The only thing they have to do is drop the ROC flag. Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. We extend a welcome to them to enjoy full autonomy. Afterwards, with the development of the Chinese economy and the increase of contacts between the two sides (there will be a closer relationship).

Nunn: Then we are to understand that question of security forces could be worked out over time. The Taiwan authorities could maintain security forces over a period of time without being disarmed?

Deng: No, there is no need.

Nunn: That should be a help in initiating meaningful discussions.

Deng: Even if we adopt such a posture it will not be so easy. In my view the US side can help. We think our demands are rational. [Page 708] Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) had the same concept that we have just mentioned.

Tibet is a case in point. Before the Dalai Lama betrayed us, we said we would not carry out revisions in Tibet. That meant that the Dalai Lama could maintain the slave system. We did not institute democratic reforms for ten years. It was not carried out until the Dalai Lama left. If he wants to come back now he is welcome.

Another example: You know about the question of Hong Kong and Macao. China always considers such questions from an overall political perspective. The reason why we say we need two hands is that we approach the question from an overall political perspective. Chiang Ching-kuo is now saying that the way China plans to go about the question of a united front in the long run is infeasible. But in his heart he knows the fact of our policy.

Glenn: Taiwan is not quite the same as Tibet and the other examples. While the Vice Premier has shown admirable patience in the intentions to make changes over a long period, there is a considerable difference between the free enterprise system and the communist system.

Deng: It is a problem for the future. It is a natural process with long-term consequences. If the people decided for a certain system, then that system should be used. If more than ten million people think so, then the existing system should continue even for one century.

Glenn: We want the new relationship to work well. The announcement was a considerable surprise to us. I want to do my best to make it work. Anything the Vice Premier can do to dampen fears will certainly make arrangements easier.

Nunn: What the Vice Premier has already expressed today will do much to allay those fears.

Deng: It is not merely our idea today, but it has always been so.

Senator Hart: During my visit with Senator Cranston you spoke a great deal of the Soviet threat to Southeast Asia and to China. We are aware that among your duties you are responsible for Chinese security. Do you think the Soviet Navy is a greater threat now to China and other nations in the area?

Deng: I remember on that occasion I said that Soviet forces in East Asia were not only directed at China but primarily at the Seventh Fleet. Of course their troops are also directed toward China and Japan. Now particularly with regard to the buildup of air and naval force in the Far East, the Soviets have no need to control China. I said before specif-ically that China does not fear Soviet troops. The focus of the Soviet threat is in Europe, including the Middle East, the Mediterranean and even Iran and Africa. The focus is in the West. We have no reason to [Page 709] change our point of view. However, new developments merit our attention. The Soviet Union has built up its forces in East Asia and the Pacific. The development which spurred the strength of forces in the Soviet area was the achievement of success in Afghanistan and Vietnam. Vietnam as used by the Soviet Union has played a great role. So has Cuba in the Middle East and Africa. So people say that the Pacific Ocean is even less pacific than before.

As far as China is concerned, frankly, we are not afraid. If the Soviet Union were to attack us, a million troops would not be enough. The Sino-Soviet boundary is seven thousand kilometers long. The Soviets could engage us in small actions, but for massive attack a million soldiers would not be enough. Even if the Soviet Union would attack, they would have to think about the reaction from Japan, the US and Europe.

Just with regard to China, they could occupy Peking but it would only be the start of the war. With regards to developments in Southeast Asia and the attack on Kampuchea by Vietnam, we are not only thinking about the relationship between China and Russia but globally. ASEAN is now exposed at the front. The US and Japan should look on this from a global perspective.

Hart: Does China oppose an increase in ASEAN security arrangements? Does China oppose an increase in US naval forces in the area?

Deng: Very good (presumably meaning he favored an increase in both).

Senator Cohen: I am young and not so skillful in diplomacy as the other Senators. Many people in the United States are skeptical about the way the new relationship has been established. I personally objected to the way the relationship was established because I thought our obligation to our allies had been brought into question. Other countries might wonder about the solidity of the US commitment. This does not build US prestige but damages it. I said skeptical, but it is a healthy skepticism which may diminish if words of peace are matched with deeds of peace. I would point out that I am a member of the same party as Senator Goldwater. In a recent statement your intention to bring democracy into full play has been mentioned. We have followed with interest the poster campaign on Democracy Wall. How will you bring democracy into full play?

Deng: To bring democracy into full use will go on from generation to generation.

Cohen: Without restriction?

Deng: Without restriction.

Cohen: I am not going to discuss human rights because we may have quite different views. In the next session of Congress, however, many will want to discuss the China human rights question.

[Page 710]

Deng: I don’t want to debate the human rights question because the debate would be acrimonious. I have my own interpretation. I would not like to talk about this question now.

Cohen: In the future it might come up.

Deng: I have made it clear that in the US I am not going to discuss this question. Discussion is not helpful. I have a lot to say about the human rights situation in the United States that I would not like to express openly. I want to talk about developing our bilateral relations.

Cohen: With regard to Kampuchea, does China expect to continue supplying aid to Kampuchea and how?

Deng: There are ample ways. We will continue to render assistance as long as it is in our capability. We have always assisted the Government of Kampuchea headed by Pol Pot. We have always opposed Vietnamese aggression. We have also noticed that the United States has a position against foreign aggression. The loss of Phnom Penh and other important places does not mean the end of the war. We have our own experience. During the Anti-Japanese War we just held a few county seats; we once even lost Yenan. We know the situation well. The loss of cities did not mean the end of the war.

Hart: I wonder if in the achievement of your Four Modernizations, the modernization of national defense is equally important as the others in terms of the resources that China will use.

Deng: Among the Four Modernizations the most important are industry, agriculture and science and technology. Without the first three the modernization of national defense has no base to stand on. In national defense we also are introducing sophisticated foreign material into China but our funds are going mostly to industry, agriculture and science and technology.

Hart: Will there be an increase in allocation of funds to the Chinese nuclear capability?

Deng: As far as nuclear weapons go, we try to have just what you have. You are continuing your race with the Soviet Union.

Hart: It costs a lot.

Deng: We can’t afford it.

Hart: I was interested if there had been any change in your viewpoints concerning SALT and disarmament.

Deng: No. There has been no change. Our policy is always the same. Just as always. The Russians will not be restricted by any agreement. We do not blow our own trumpet but perhaps the establishment of Sino-American relations is a good way to contain the Soviet Union. A closer partnership between Europe and the United States is always a good way to contain the Soviet Union as is a strengthened relationship [Page 711] with Japan. As was said when Dr. Kissinger and President Ford met with Chairman Mao, “let’s all get together to fight the bastards.”3

Glenn: Your statements with regard to raising the flag and the recognition on the part of China of full autonomy for Taiwan are most important. Am I clear in understanding that Vice Premier Deng said full autonomy which might last for a century.

Deng: Not raise, take down (i.e., take down the ROC flag). There is not a question of raising the flag. There is a question of eliminating Taiwan as a [garble—country?] making it a regional government of China. This local government will be different from others in China; it will enjoy more self-government.

Nunn: We have enjoyed your hospitality and are looking forward to reciprocating in the United States. The American people and the United States Congress are looking forward to your visit in the United States.

Deng: I am delighted to have the opportunity to go.

Glenn: Can we make public your statement on Taiwan?

Deng: You can say that the social system on Taiwan will be decided by the people of Taiwan. Changes might take a hundred years or a thousand years. By which I mean a long time. We will not change the society by forceful means.

End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790062–0156. Confidential; Immediate Limdis. Repeated Immediate to Hong Kong and Tokyo and to Seoul, Taipei, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. China issued a statement aimed at the people of Taiwan on December 31. (“China Urges Taiwan To Initiate Trading With the Mainland,” The New York Times, January 1, 1979, p. 1)
  3. Although Ford and Kissinger met with Mao on December 2, 1975, there is no statement in the memorandum of conversation corresponding to Deng’s recollection. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 134. Deng is perhaps referring to Mao’s meeting with Kissinger the evening of February 17–18, 1973, during which the Chairman said, “So long as the objectives are the same, we would not harm you nor would you harm us. And we can work together to commonly deal with a bastard. (Laughter)” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 12.