196. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Your Meeting with Deng Xiaoping

I. The Broad Setting

For the first time in the post-war era, we now have better relations with Japan, China and India than any of these principal powers in Asia have with the Soviet Union. In East Asia, for the first time in decades, we enjoy good relations with both China and Japan. The constructive involvement of the United States and Japan with China offers great promise for stability for the region and should protect our enormous political and economic interests.

Moreover, on the global scale, we see the makings of closer cooperation also between China and Japan, and China and Western Europe. Thus, cumulatively, a framework of collaboration among the major powers is emerging, replacing the post-World War II bi-polarity (of the 1950s and early 1960s) and fragmentation (late 1960s and early 1970s). Our hope is to fit the Soviet Union into this framework of cooperation as well, provided we can contain Soviet political and military ambitions.

The Triangle

In that context, the U.S.-Chinese-Soviet triangle will require particularly delicate management. By delaying a SALT agreement and his visit to Washington, Brezhnev has positioned himself to discourage a “China tilt” to U.S. policy. Brezhnev’s goal is to get us to assign primacy to our Soviet relationship, while seeking to keep China poor, weak and isolated.

Deng’s interests are to postpone the conclusion of SALT and to limit the détente mood that may accompany SALT. Heightened Soviet-American tension would best serve Deng, because it would increase China’s tactical value to the United States and would shift a portion of the burden for resisting Moscow from China to the United States.

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Balance or Evenhandedness?

Our interest is to improve relations with both Peking and Moscow, and to avoid allowing one to use us against the other. In seeking that objective, we should be careful not mechanically to equate Moscow and Peking. It is the Soviet Union—not China—that threatens us militarily, that is actively seeking to expand its sphere of influence, that is encouraging war by proxies, and that is conducting a worldwide propaganda campaign against us. At the same time, Moscow has hinted that it might link the question of China to SALT, while insisting that we refrain from linking Soviet lack of restraint also to SALT.

This raises the question of “evenhandedness.” Evenhandedness implies a mechanical equality. We should instead stress that we want a balanced relationship with China and Moscow, one that recognizes the need for U.S. recognition of the special sensitivities of each party and one that seeks accommodation with both of them. Mechanical equality could result in rewarding intransigence by one party and ignoring restraint or accommodation by the other; a balanced relationship with Moscow and Peking implies recognition of the need to refrain from allying with one against the other, but it also recognizes the reality of existing differences between the U.S.-Chinese and the U.S.-Soviet relationships.

Global Trends

The Chinese are frightened by recent Soviet advances in Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. They supported the Shah and invested heavily in Pakistan. Though reluctant to admit their vulnerability, they see themselves endangered by Soviet encirclement. Their counter strategy is to foster a line of containment against Soviet expansionism stretching from Japan through China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, to NATO, all backed by the United States. They perceive a crumbling middle sector of this line, a vulnerability at the two wings, and a passive United States.

Against their alarmist view of global trends, we are more optimistic. We believe that Moscow’s recent opportunistic efforts to expand its influence stem less from confidence and strength than from a sense of danger and long-term weakness.

In short, your meeting takes place at a time when both sides are concerned by the lack of restraint in Soviet foreign policy. You will find that you share many parallel interests with Deng as a result. Deng and you also have a common interest in making normalization work. At the same time our different perspectives of history mean we each attach somewhat different weight to the importance of the Sino-American relationship. The Chinese see it as a major bulwark against the imminent [Page 720] Soviet threat. We see it as one of many important relations we are developing for a world of diversity.

II. Chinese Goals

Given their desire to advance both the bilateral and the consultative dimensions of our relations, Deng and company will seek to:

—Allay Congressional and public concerns about the future of Taiwan.

—Project an image of a relationship that is moving toward an alliance.

—Limit further development of U.S.-Soviet relations.

—Commit the United States to a strong anti-Vietnam stance, and to maybe even be able to hit Vietnam with the appearance of United States acquiescence.

—Encourage us to adopt a “China tilt” in our trading relationship, to relax our export controls, and to extend MFN and Ex-Im Bank financing.

—Cultivate an image of China as an underdeveloped country with abundant natural resources which admires the United States, seeks U.S. technology, capital, and equipment, and is willing to pay for it—at least over the long haul.

—Educate the Chinese people about the U.S., perhaps reducing lingering hostility toward us, and portraying us as a wealthy and technologically advanced society which in some respects deserves to be emulated.

III. Our Goals for the Visit

Long-Term Objectives of Our China Policy

Our long-term objective is to include China in the international framework of cooperation which we are attempting to build among the key nations of the world. The global dispersal of power precludes the possibility of either a Pax Americana or a world ordered through a Soviet-American condominium. But we believe we can attain national security in a world of diversity in part by cultivating good relations with the newly emerging countries, none of which is more important than China.

Our common concern with the Soviet Union, however, is an insufficient basis on which to build a long-term relationship with China. More positively, we want to build a durable relationship based on (1) extensive commercial, scientific, and cultural relations; (2) shared views on world affairs, exploiting parallel interests on specific issues like Indochina, the Middle East, and Korea, and (3) weapon deployments that are aimed at our common adversary rather than at each other. But in order to encourage the Chinese to commit themselves to a [Page 721] more binding relationship with us, they must be confident that we have a realistic and adequate strategy for countering Soviet efforts to establish a position of global prominence.

Our effort to attain security in a world of diversity parallels the current Chinese desire for a stable, non-hegemonical world order. We share the view that the Soviet Union is the major threat to a “world of diversity” (in our language) or a “non-hegemonical world” (in the Chinese lexicon).

We also wish China to remain confident of its continued ability to deter a Sino-Soviet conflict in the face of continuing Soviet military buildup on the Chinese border. We have no interest in a Sino-Soviet accommodation secured through Chinese submission to Soviet pressure. That is why we have an interest in a strong, secure, and peaceful China and why we are willing to acquiesce to limited Western European arms sales.

You should reaffirm here flatly our policy, as recently transmitted to Brezhnev: not to encourage or discourage others from providing defensive arms to China, that every nation has the right to acquire defensive arms, and that the United States will not seek to prevent other sovereign nations from selling such defensive arms to China.2 The Chinese are sensitive on this matter and they suspect—or at least they have so indicated—that we have been discouraging the Europeans from engaging in arms sales (notably on the Harrier issue).

Goals for Your Discussion

With these long-term objectives in mind, the specific objectives of your discussions are to:

Convince Deng of our determination to remain a credible counterweight to the increased Soviet military power in Asia. We want him to know that (1) our military deployment in the region will remain and improve in quality; (2) our security relationship with Japan is developing from a protectorate into a genuine alliance; and (3) the conclusion of the base agreement with the Philippines assures our presence at our largest overseas bases until 1991.

—Encourage him to believe that limited Soviet-American détente, particularly in strategic arms limitations, is likely to make the Soviet Union less bellicose and less aggressive. (He prefers a confrontational style.)

Move from consultation to cooperation and coordination on those issues where our interests converge: Korea, Taiwan, Indochina, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Iran, Middle East, Africa. Prior to normalization, the Chinese were reluctant to cooperate with us on specific problems [Page 722] where we recognized we shared common interests. They said normalization would permit a greater degree of coordination. Without harboring illusions about their willingness or capability, nonetheless, a number of promising areas of cooperation exist.

On Korea: Encourage the Chinese to (1) restrain any potential North Korean effort to take the South militarily; (2) influence the North to talk to the South; (3) talk directly to the South.3

On Taiwan: Encourage Deng to make the Chinese position clear, particularly his recent Chinese statements concerning (1) its patience in resolving the Taiwan issue; (2) its hope for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue; and (3) its willingness to see Taiwan continue as an autonomous entity with its own social and economic system and its own security forces.

You should also be careful not to arouse any expectations on Peking’s part that we will serve as a middle man in promoting talks between Peking and Taipei. Peking would like to involve us in this way, but our objective is to disentangle ourselves from the Chinese civil war and to have the Chinese solve the Taiwan issue by themselves.

On Indochina: Deter a Sino-Vietnamese military conflict. While you lack leverage to deter the Chinese, you may influence them if you indicate that (a) we intend to consult closely with them and the Japanese on Indochina in the months ahead; (b) rash action on their part would make cooperation in Asia more difficult; (c) we will not recognize Vietnam until they withdraw their forces from Cambodia.

On Southeast Asia: Develop parallel policies toward ASEAN. The discussions could probably focus on:

• How we might both be helpful to Kriangsak in the wake of the Vietnamese takeover of Cambodia.4

• The cost to China of Deng not foreswearing support of insurgency movements in Malaysia and Thailand.

• The concern of all the ASEAN states over the future of Taiwan. The new Sino-American relationship would win even greater support throughout the region if we could allay ASEAN concerns about Taiwan.

On South Asia: (1) Foster improved Sino-Indian relations; (2) Encourage continued Chinese general support of Pakistan but solicit Chinese discouragement of Pakistani nuclear ambitions; and (3) Ascertain Chinese views about Afghanistan. You should encourage the Chinese to look more favorably upon an active Indian role in the subcontinent [Page 723] as force against Soviet expansion—a view which the Chinese have not held over the past 20 years.5

On the Middle East: Obtain more explicit Chinese support of the Camp David agreements and Chinese willingness to foster contacts with the peoples of Israel. The beginnings of an Israeli-PRC connection would have a beneficial impact upon our own normalization fight.

On Africa: Obtain Chinese support for our approach to Rhodesia, Namibia, and South African problems and encourage them to erode Soviet-Cuban influence in Angola and the Horn.

On Europe: Encourage the Chinese to strengthen their economic relations with Western Europe and their political ties with Romania and Yugoslavia.

[1 paragraph (12 lines) not declassified]

IV. Your Approach

Chinese confidence in you and their willingness to make the commitments we seek from them will stem largely from how you handle your analysis of the Soviet Union. You are most likely to elicit the respect you seek if you:

—Are prepared to challenge Deng when he says something with which you disagree. Toughness toward them will suggest you are also tough toward the Soviets.

—Demonstrate your mastery of the global situation. Show how well you understand how the Soviet Union may exploit opportunities of unrest available to it.

—Reveal realistic confidence in your capacity to deal firmly with the Soviets and your determination to seek a relationship with the Soviet Union, based on reciprocity and mutual restraint.

—Present a balanced assessment of the Soviet Union making them appear neither to be ten feet tall nor five feet short.

—Indicate that while you intend to treat China and the Soviet Union in a balanced way, you recognize the obvious differences between the two as far as our national security interests are concerned. You seek to improve our relations with both, though in different ways.

V. The Agenda for Your Discussions

You will have four to five hours of formal talks with Deng, an opening hour on Monday, January 29, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon; an afternoon session on January 29 from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.; and a morning session on January 30 from 3:00 to 11:00. I propose the following agenda:

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A. First Session: Get Acquainted, Agree on Agenda, Assessment of World Situation.

This meeting would have three major purposes:

—To establish personal rapport, which would probably best be done in a small gathering in the Oval Office.

—To assess the agenda, agree on which documents you wish to issue at the end of the meetings (such as a joint communique), and instruct your aides accordingly.

—To assess the global balance of power, with a particular focus on U.S.-Soviet relations and on the strategic significance we assign to U.S.-China relations in our effort to create a worldwide pattern of cooperation.

The latter topic should consume the bulk of the hour and could be essentially a repeat of your opening statement at Guadeloupe.6 This is an important presentation, for it will set the tone for Deng’s entire trip. You should increase Deng’s confidence in our strategy toward the Soviet Union. You should sketch our progress toward a SALT agreement in unapologetic terms. You should seek to encourage him to think of our relations as “constructive,” “collaborative,” or “parallel,” pointing toward a world of diversity (or, as in the Chinese lexicon, “non-hegemonic). You should emphasize that our enduring relationship is based on a long-term strategic congruence of interests and not on tactical anti-Soviet expediency.

B. Second Session: Tour d’Horizon

This meeting would be a tour d’horizon, with a focus on:

1. Asia, Japan, Korea, Indochina, ASEAN, South Asia.

2. Europe—Eastern Europe, NATO.

3. Mid East—Iran, Camp David.

4. Africa—The Horn, Angola, southern Africa.

C. Third Session: Bilateral Matters

This session would address the numerous bilateral issues which must be solved, if we are to realize the opportunity afforded by normalization. The underlying purpose is to secure Deng’s assent to our proposals not for our benefit but in order that his own bureaucrats have their marching orders. Here are the issues:

—Move toward a claim/assets settlement.

—Eventually reach a trade agreement and extend MFN and ExIm Bank credits to the PRC. Your talks should sketch the steps we see in moving toward a trade agreement.

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—Sign an S&T agreement and with it cooperation in agriculture, energy, space, health, and student exchange.

—Reach a cultural exchange agreement and increase the cultural, athletic, tourist, and journalistic exchanges between our two societies.

—Reach a consular agreement.

—Discuss the purpose of the Blumenthal and Kreps visits.

—Perhaps indicate that the Vice President would like to visit China in the second half of this year, after your trip to Japan and other parts of Asia.

—Address the Taiwan issue in this session.

—Finally, accept in principle a likely Chinese invitation for you to visit China. (In fact, you should give some thought to date—e.g., after the Japan Summit or an earlier trip by the Vice President. The press will keep asking about this, and failure to indicate a date of some sort will be interpreted as a setback.)

VI. A Cautionary Note

The importance of words: The Chinese place great emphasis on both formal public statements and the memorandum of conversation. They will record and analyze every sentence you utter. You should speak with your usual care throughout all your sessions with Deng.

You might also bear in mind the importance of using certain formulas consistently. For example, we seek a balanced relationship, though we recognize that U.S.-Chinese and U.S.-Soviet relations cannot be identical in every respect; we desire a world of diversity, with respect for pluralism, an object which is not in conflict with the Chinese concern for “non-hegemony;” we believe that we can avoid war through a combination of military strength and constructive arms control arrangements—a view which need not clash fundamentally with the Chinese belief that war is inevitable but can be postponed (the latter qualification being a recent addition, indicative of growing Chinese flexibility).

  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, 1/25/79 Briefing Book [I]. Secret. Sent for action. This memorandum was hand-carried to the President on January 25, according to Oksenberg’s January 24 covering memorandum to Brzezinski. (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)
  2. See footnotes 2 and 3, Document 201.
  3. Someone drew a vertical line in the right margin next to this and the next paragraph.
  4. Someone drew a vertical line in the right margin next to this and the next point.
  5. Someone drew a vertical line in the right margin next to this paragraph.
  6. Carter, French President Giscard d’Estaing, German Chancellor Schmidt, and British Prime Minister Callaghan met in Guadeloupe January 4–6.