199. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Scope Paper for the Visit of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping of the People’s Republic of China January 29–February 5, 1979

The visit by Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping (Teng Hsiao-ping) symbolizes both an end and a beginning.

It is the end of an era of almost three decades during which the United States and the People’s Republic of China dealt with each other only at arm’s length or, as in the past seven years, through contrived and often strained mechanisms.

It is the beginning of a new era in which, while we may often disagree on approach or even objectives, we are no longer constrained by the nagging question of “legitimacy” which hovered over all of our talks in the past.

The factor which initially brought us together (1969–72) was a common concern with the Soviet Union. But the importance of normalization transcends that. The relaxation of tensions between the United States and China can have a dramatic impact on the political and strategic landscape of Asia, and on the world.

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Deng’s Objectives

Deng probably sees his trip to Washington as the capstone of his extraordinary career—the ultimate survivor of China’s internal struggles now casting a role for himself and his country on the world stage greater than even his legendary predecessors Mao and Chou. His visit vividly symbolizes the two principal thrusts of Chinese policy under his leadership—modernization and opposition to the Soviet Union.

His specific objectives and themes will include:

1) An effort to help us sell normalization to the Congress and the American people. While this may not be Deng’s first priority, the Vice Premier and his colleagues have clearly made a decision to help us with our domestic problems concerning normalization, and this will strongly influence his conduct here. This effort was most evident during Deng’s discussion in early January with Senators Nunn, Glenn, Hart and Cohen—a conversation which I recommend you read in its entirety.2 Thus, we can expect him to make as strong a set of statements as he can afford about the peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue, and we should encourage him to do so. He will not make a pledge to refrain from using force, of course, but he can go far in this direction (“We will not change the society by force,” he told Nunn and Glenn) and it should be of immense help to us in the legislative battles ahead. He will also make China trade look very attractive to American business. Most important of all, his style will effectively dramatize to Americans our changed relationship and the non-belligerent PRC posture toward Taiwan.

2) Beyond helping us with our domestic needs, Deng will seek to “broaden and thicken” the US–PRC relationship across the board for his own political purposes and to bolster China’s modernization effort. At the age of 74, Deng is anxious to make the historic changes now taking place in China irreversible. He is in a great hurry, and one of the best ways to put roots deep into the Chinese political system is to expose his people to the advantages of a relationship with Japan and the US—and to create a wide-ranging series of formal and informal ties which will survive his passing as well as any future buffeting from winds of political change in Peking. Deng of all people knows that in politics rapid change and reversals are the norm; he has survived three major political defeats in the last forty years to outlast his enemies and emerge on top; now he wants to leave behind an enduring legacy. This trip is central to that long-range objective: we have many things that he [Page 730] wants, and wants fast, including high technology, markets, credits, and US acquiescence in third-country arms sales.

3) In the field of global and strategic policy, Deng’s central direction will be clear: to press us for the most vigorous resistance to the expansion of Soviet power.

What is not so clear is the exact form that Deng’s efforts will take. In the last eight months the Chinese have abated their harshest criticisms of the US as a country that “appeases” the “polar bear.” But they still view SALT as an act of weakness; Africa as an area of unchecked Soviet expansion; Iran and Pakistan as defeats for the West; Yugoslavia as a dangerous post-Tito crisis region; and Vietnam as a Soviet surrogate that has just swallowed up Peking’s protégés in Cambodia.

It is in our interest that his criticisms of us be muted, and that he leave here with a more positive—or less negative—view of SALT. I shall turn to these matters in the following section on US objectives.

Deng may attempt to get us to abandon our policy of “even-handedness” (for example on export controls and MFN). He may also try to move us towards a more overt US-Japanese-PRC informal alliance structure against the Soviet Union; he might even suggest arrangements that would give practical effect to such a strategic concept.

4) Deng’s final objective will be more focused than the others, but closely related to the point above: he will seek to maximize American hostility to the Vietnamese and their recent invasion of Cambodia, portraying them at all times as Soviet surrogates and agents. He will press this line especially hard with Congress and in response to the inevitable questions he will receive on the matter. China has suffered a public setback with the fall of Pol Pot, and they are looking for ways to recoup some of their losses.

A critical question, to which we do not know the answer, is whether or not the Chinese are likely to take any sort of military action against Vietnam.

US Objectives

Our objectives for the visit are in some respects similar.

1) An immediate goal is to gain public and Congressional support for normalization and for the legislation which will permit both it and our substantive ties with Taiwan to continue. The visit has been designed to reinforce that point, and the opening rounds of the debate over our Taiwan omnibus bill and Leonard Woodcock’s nomination will follow immediately. The series of agreements that we will either be signing or mentioning for the future—S&T, consular, cultural, trade, claims/assets, press representation—will contribute importantly to the public perception that normalization does make a difference. Here, then, we want to encourage Deng to support our Congressional needs.

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2) We also want to broaden and thicken our relationship with China, although our reasons for doing so are different from Deng’s. For us, these agreements and the rapidly expanding relationships are important because they draw the Chinese further into involvement with us and the rest of the world. To the extent that the Chinese become part of the community of primarily non-Communist nations at this time in their development, so will our ties with China be more enduring when and if they are later tested by strategic or political strains.

In this regard, it is important to note that if the present positive trend in Sino-American relations is to become enduring, it should also involve Chairman Hua. During your discussions, it is important to find ways to indicate that you consider Hua an important Chinese leader whose role in the emerging relationship is essential. We should be careful not to put all our China eggs in Deng’s basket.

3) In regard to the Soviet Union, in its simplest terms, we want to use the visit to demonstrate to Deng that the United States remains the world’s strongest nation; that a SALT treaty will not be to our or to Chinese disadvantage; and that we will respond as necessary to Soviet attempts to change the strategic balance in other parts of the world.

4) In regard to Vietnam, we wish to make clear to the Chinese that we strongly condemn the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, but could not support action by China in the region which could widen or escalate the fighting.

If the Chinese were to attack Vietnam shortly after Deng leaves the States, as is possible, we would be viewed as implicated in such action. A Chinese action against Vietnam would furthermore weaken us on the Hill, since we wish to avoid conjuring visions of attack on Taiwan and we have said publicly that normalization was a step toward stability and peace in the Pacific. In addition, the Soviet Union, under its new treaty with Vietnam, would probably increase its support for the Vietnamese, thereby heightening tension and even fears of a Sino-Soviet clash.

We have talked in clearcut terms to both the Soviets and the Chinese; during your talks you will want to urge caution and restraint on Deng, although you should expect to find him extremely emotional on this particular issue.

5) On Korea, we wish to encourage the Chinese to support Pyongyang’s latest indications of willingness to accommodate with Seoul. We should explain to Deng our position, our treaty commitments to Seoul, and your intention to visit there later this year. Deng will not want to get out ahead of North Korea, particularly at this point, and we should not expect any sudden change in Deng’s position during the visit; this is the global issue on which the US and China have been in the most open disagreement for the longest time. Nonetheless, [Page 732] while your discussion may in itself be inconclusive, it will be useful now to make clear that we want the Chinese to take account of our position and actively support bilateral North-South talks. (Your talking points on this issue reflect our detailed discussions with both Tokyo and Seoul.)

6) We will want to highlight the dangers of Pakistan’s current nuclear policy, focusing on the implications for the power balance in the area.

7) Deng has already said publicly that he does not wish to discuss human rights because he “has his own views” and the talks would be acrimonious. There will be many press queries on this matter, and despite Deng’s remarks (or perhaps because of them) we should explain our world-wide commitment to the human rights issue in terms of our overall foreign policy. There have been improvements in China, notably a decision to revitalize the entire legal system, and we can inquire about further steps the PRC may plan to take. This would be an appropriate topic for a private discussion in the car or at dinner Monday evening.3

8) On a host of specific bilateral issues—trade, claims/assets, S&T, and other agreements—you will be receiving specific talking points and papers.4 I will not cover them here. I would note, however, that a protracted delay in resolving issues related to trade will not be helpful to our relationships. We need, therefore, to get early movement on claims/assets.

9) Although there has been some moderation of PRC rhetoric since December 15, Peking continues to portray the United States as an enemy, a superpower exploiter of the poor and weak, and, though less dangerous than the USSR, a menace to world peace. This line is not only offensive to us, but it fails to reciprocate the more constructive image we convey of China as a key factor for global peace, and it undercuts our arguments about the improved relationship. I think you should note this to Deng and suggest a meaningful modification in the PRC’s public position.

10) Expansion of our relationship will require expansion of our mission in China—initially in Peking and later in consulates in Shanghai and Canton. Office space and living quarters are exceptionally hard to come by in the PRC, and it would be helpful if a brief reference to this problem by you could elicit a pledge of cooperation from Deng.

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A Note about Personalities

I have met with Deng on several occasions over the last four years. He is a remarkable man—impatient, feisty, self-confidently outspoken, direct, forceful, and clever. He now seems to have enough power to make certain types of decisions on the spot—but he is not a dictator with absolute power to commit his nation, and will have to be sensitive to potential criticism from the Politburo and other colleagues watching him carefully from Peking. (For example, we have some indications that: Hua, rather than Deng is the hardliner on Vietnam; that colleagues may feel that he has been overplaying the anti-Soviet line to advance the Sino-American relation; that criticism of Deng’s “democratization” steps is sharpening.) He will have an important associate travelling with him, Vice Premier Fang Yi, the senior science and technology planner in China. Fang’s presence on this trip symbolizes the restoration of experts to positions of power, and China’s single-minded pursuit of progress.

Scenario for Your Talks

You will have four and a half hours of talks with Deng, divided into three sessions (11 a.m.–12 noon and 3:30 p.m.–5 p.m. on January 29, and 9 a.m.–11 a.m. on January 30). These can be expanded if necessary. Detailed scenarios and talking points for each meeting are being provided to you, backed up by individual issues/talking points papers for each main topic and a number of background papers.

Here I would like to sketch out a scenario which I believe would be most effective. Keeping in mind that Deng will want you to speak first, I recommend the following order:

First session:

—Congratulations on normalization, hopes for deeper relationship

—Underscore importance of Deng’s impact on the Hill on the Taiwan peaceful settlement issue

—State US global objectives

—Review US-Soviet relations/balance

NATO, strength of US relations in Europe

—Yugoslavia, post-Tito situation

Second session

—East Asia

—Regional overview



ASEAN (including specific mention of Philippine bases)


—South Asia

—Pakistan nuclear program


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—Sino-Indian/Sino-Pak relations

—Middle East


—Arab-Israeli negotiations

—Africa (Horn, Angola, southern Africa)

Third session: Bilateral issues

—Reiteration of key Congressional role

—Expansion of US mission in Peking

—Review of joint statement and its elements (S&T cooperation, consular arrangements, trade, cultural exchange, exchange of journalists)

Blumenthal trip—MFN, claims/assets

Kreps trip (Deng may raise export controls issue)

—Other issues (aviation, maritime and textile agreements)


Although the first session will be brief, I recommend that you immediately underscore the crucial nature of Deng’s impact on the Hill: referring to his very useful discussion with Senators Nunn, Glenn et al, the positive benefit which their reports have had on Americans in general and Members of Congress in particular, and your hope that he will take the opportunity of his visit to follow up on that conversation with others. In this context, you could note the high importance which Americans—and others—attach to peace in East Asia and the future well-being of the people on Taiwan, and the critical bearing which his remarks can have on the avoidance of controversy within the United States as the Congress begins to consider legislation to implement normalization.

As you move into the global issues, I believe it would be most effective if you provided Deng with a comprehensive statement of our policies, beginning with a statement of our objectives along the lines of your Notre Dame speech.5 Then move to review of the US-Soviet balance and the strength of NATO, and, because of its special concern to Peking, a statement about our policies toward a post-Tito Yugoslavia. Your purpose would be to stress our vigilance and strength, while expressing your conviction that SALT II and other aspects of improved relations with Moscow are necessary contributions to world peace. You will want to demonstrate that pursuit by NATO of both a strong defense and détente—including a stable military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact—are complementary goals that serve China’s interests as well as our own. I suggest you review the results of the Guadeloupe Summit.

I suggest you then turn to Asia to make clear that we consider that area of equal concern to US strategic interests. A review of the strength [Page 735] of our security ties with Japan (of keen interest to China) and with ANZUS, would be followed by a discussion of Korea, including the importance of an active, constructive Chinese role. President Park’s desire for indirect trade contacts with the PRC should be noted.

A review of the importance we attach to ASEAN—including the refugee issue and the political impact of continuing PRC support of local Communist parties—should precede what could well be the most difficult issue during the entire visit—Indochina. We will want to make clear our position on both Vietnamese aggression and any Chinese military action.

In South Asia, the key issue is Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, which includes efforts to acquire enrichment and reprocessing facilities. The consequences could be severely destabilizing: a nuclear arms race on the subcontinent, legally mandated cut-off of US assistance to Pakistan, and a resultant Pakistani turn to Moscow. China could play a critical role in deterring Islamabad from its present disastrous course. Peking could also influence President Zia to prevent the execution of Bhutto. Improved Sino-Indian ties, while carefully nurturing relations with Pakistan, could have a significantly favorable impact on long-term power relations in the area.

Deng will be skeptical of our policy in Iran but anxious to hear us out. He will also want some reassurance that the Arab-Israeli situation is not deteriorating to Soviet advantage.

Regarding Africa, you will want to impress upon Deng that while we are concerned about continuing Soviet-Cuban military involvement, we have a strategy to meet this challenge which includes support for national aspirations, independence, social justice, and black majority rule, military assistance to friendly nations, economic assistance and ties, and diplomatic efforts to help the parties resolve disputes such as Namibia—and that this strategy is working.

The thrust of your discussion of bilateral issues will be to give concrete form to our new relationship in ways which benefit both nations. Deng will seek to maximize access to advanced technology; we will need to balance this with our concerns about sensitivities of other Asian nations and even-handed treatment insofar as the Soviet Union is concerned. Science and technology will also be the focus of Deng’s attention in the exchange area; we need to complement this with programs in the social sciences.

Before getting to substance, however, you may want to highlight for Deng that Chinese characterization of the US and of our long-term relationship is intimately related to public and Congressional perceptions of normalization. Therefore, I believe you should at least take passing note of the disparity between US public statements about the PRC’s positive contribution to world peace and Peking’s continuing [Page 736] use of past, more confrontational, rhetoric linking the US and the USSR as hegemonistic superpowers.

Also you might observe that as we look forward to the expansion of our relationship, we will appreciate the help Deng can provide in assuring that we have adequate office and living space for our expanded staff in the PRC.

Among the specific issues, it currently appears that formal agreements will be signed during the visit only for S&T and on cultural exchange. Letters may be exchanged on consular relations, but other cooperative agreements will be announced as items for negotiation in the near future (trade, exchange of journalists, and possibly aviation, maritime affairs and textiles).

Deng will be interested in the prospects for MFN, and I recommend that we tell him that, while MFN is difficult at this stage Secretary Blumenthal will be prepared to discuss prospects in more detail when he visits Peking next month. An initial element will be the question of settling US private claims against China and Chinese assets blocked in the United States. Deng has already indicated that this issue should be easily resolved; your explicit expression of hope for successful talks would help move the Chinese bureaucracy—and our own—toward early resolution.

The Chinese have just put off a proposal for civil aviation talks in February. You could express your hope for early talks on aviation matters as well as indicate the importance of eventual discussions on maritime issues. You could also express hope that textile issues talks (now in progress) will be quickly and amicably resolved; their resolution would be of great assistance in securing support for MFN.

  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; Sensitive.
  2. See Document 191.
  3. January 29.
  4. Carter’s briefing book for his meetings with Deng is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 2, China: Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, 1/28/79–2/1/79.
  5. See footnote 13, Document 131.