202. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s First Meeting with PRC Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Leonard Woodcock, U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
  • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Jody Powell, Press Secretary
  • Robert Lipshutz, Assistant to the President
  • Jerrold Schecter, Staff Member, NSC
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping
  • Vice Premier Fang Yi
  • Foreign Minister Huang Hua
  • Ambassador Chai Zemin
  • Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Wenjin
  • Acting Head of Department of American and Oceanian Affairs Zhu Qizhen
  • Head of the Department of Protocol Wei Yongqing
  • Pu Shouchang, Member, State Planning Commission
  • Lien Zhengpao, Notetaker

President Carter: We are extremely grateful to you for your willingness to make this visit. I am pleased to reciprocate the hospitality which your country and your leaders have extended to us in the past six years to President Nixon, President Ford, Secretary Kissinger, Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, Dr. Press, Secretary Schlesinger, and Secre[Page 742]tary Bergland. You have received official visits from us on fourteen occasions since 1971. So now the score is fourteen to one. We extend invitations for more of your leaders to come—Premier Hua and others, so the score may become even!

Vice Premier Deng: I am very happy on behalf of Premier Hua to accept your invitation.

For at least five years I have had the hope of visiting Washington, and now that wish can be realized.

In coming to visit your country, not only are all the Chinese people but I personally am very happy.

Since I have stepped on the soil of the U.S., I have received a warm welcome. A warm welcome was organized for me, and I am very grateful.

What is more, Dr. Brzezinski, together with Secretary of State Vance, organized a family dinner for me yesterday evening and gave me a very cordial dinner.2 From the moment I arrived here, I have had the feeling of cordiality. So it made me feel in advance that this visit will achieve great success.

Naturally, I would like to extend an invitation on behalf of Premier Hua and the Chinese people for you to visit China. You would certainly receive a warm welcome from the Chinese people. Of course, we look forward to inviting Vice President Mondale to visit China as well as Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, and others.

President Carter: As President, I accept immediately, and I will let the others wait until later.

I hope your entire visit will be filled with welcome and friendship. This is a historic occasion.

You mentioned in your response to my welcoming statement on the lawn of the White House that we have had good relations for 200 years.3 But this is the first time we have had full relations as equals.

During the earliest part of the period in East Asia, we explored the region under China aegis and then the West tried to dominate the Chinese people. It is gratifying for me to be part of this development and to know that you share in this development.

Vice Premier Deng: That is true.

President Carter: This morning I thought we might review the schedule for your visit, establish the agenda of our talks, and discuss world affairs.

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Vice Premier Deng: I agree. By the way, has your Congress passed a law against smoking?

President Carter: No. Go ahead. We have to keep our tobacco growers happy!

We will have three sessions together plus a signing ceremony and a State dinner.

Today, I suggest that we explore world affairs area by area—Asia, Europe, the Middle East, including Iran and Africa. And if you wish a separate session then that can be arranged.

Tomorrow, I suggest we focus on bilateral relations, on economic affairs, science and technology, trade, embassy and consular affairs, and the normalization legislation directly affecting Taiwan.

Vice Premier Deng: I agree with that.

President Carter: On Wednesday we will sign the science and technology, consular and cultural agreements.

On the issuance of a communique, it is our custom to issue one, but I leave that to you.

Vice Premier Deng: Generally speaking, we do not issue a joint communique on such occasions. We just have a press release. It will not diminish the significance of our meeting if we do not issue a communique. The press release could be brief, but there could be some matters of substance put into it. That is fine. Let us prepare a press release then.

President Carter: Turning in general terms to world-wide trends, I look forward to hearing your views. I have read your statement that was published in Time Magazine,4 and I thought you might be interested in hearing about our policies.

Vice Premier Deng: Yes. Please go ahead.

President Carter: Looking at the world from our perspective, there are many factors of importance. First is the strength of our own country. We are a firm and stable country, and we have adequate strength. We do have problems, but we are trying to deal with them peacefully. Maintenance of the strength of the U.S. and ensuring the beneficial influence of the U.S. in world affairs is a major responsibility which I bear.

Another factor of importance is the growing desire of people throughout the world for an improved quality of life. There are growing numbers of people. There is an intense desire for independence, for liberation, for freedom from outside domination. This is a positive development, and we take it into account.

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Another factor is the shift of power away from a few to many other nations—Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and so on. The security of the U.S. is increasingly based on having good relations with such countries. These three factors are favorable to us—first the strength of the U.S., second the increasing desire of peoples for independence, and third the global dispersal of power.

Two other factors are not so favorable. One is the instability in the arc of countries from Southeast Asia to Africa. There is an inherent instability in this region, and this instability is of great concern to us. We want to bring peace and stability to unstable areas.

The other concern is the rapidly increasing military strength of the Soviet Union. We assess the strength of the Soviet Union and of us to be at parity in the military realm, but the Soviet Union is weaker than we are ideologically, politically, and economically.

I see as a benefit to be derived from Sino-U.S. relations the ability of our two countries to draw upon our strengths in order to deal with the two problems I have just mentioned.

Vice Premier Deng: With regard to our views, we have had many contacts when President Nixon, President Ford, Dr. Kissinger, and later Secretary Vance and Dr. Brzezinski. Many Senators and Congressmen—almost 100 of them—visited China. In all our meetings with these officials, we told them of our views in a systematic fashion.

In fact, in my response to your welcoming remarks, I said the world is very tranquil.5 This is a hard fact which stares in the face of all peace-loving people of the world. Even before normalization, we repeatedly said that we were faced with the situation of instability and a lack of tranquility in the world. This provides the basis for many of the political and strategic points shared between the U.S. and China.

For a number of years, during the period he led China, Chairman Mao repeatedly noted the dangers of war and instability. We all know that during Chairman Mao’s lifetime, he said there were three worlds—with the Soviet Union and the U.S. in the first world. But even at that time, Chairman Mao had as his strategic thinking that the main danger of war came from the Soviet Union.

Mao called for the third and second world to unite in order to oppose hegemony, and even at that time, Chairman Mao meant to include the U.S. in the common front. Even in those days, he said that there were many common points between the U.S. and China.

If one says that one has some disappointments, it is because over a period of some time the U.S.—recognizing the special responsibilities [Page 745] of the U.S.—has not done enough against the dangers of the Soviet Union. It goes without saying that in dealing with the Soviet Union, as it pokes its head everywhere, the U.S. is the main force of opposition.

I have heard a reaction like that from many countries of the third and second world. There is a feeling that the U.S. has fallen short of their hopes. In saying that, they do not mean that the U.S. has done no work. Indeed, the U.S. has done much work. But unfortunately, in spite of the work of the U.S., Western Europe, Japan, and us ourselves, the situation has not been very much improved.

Let us look at the Middle East. There has been no fundamental change there. The crucial thing here is that President Sadat took a heroic step. But after his brave step, two years have passed. If good use had been made of those two years, the situation would have been different.

On the Middle East question, if President Sadat had been given more assistance and if pressure had been put on Israel, then the situation would be better. We can see that the strength of the so-called “confrontation countries” is being strengthened and not weakened, and the Soviet Union makes use of them. Leaving aside countries such as Algeria, Libya, and South Yemen, there is also Iraq and Syria, which are leaning more to the Soviet Union. So the Middle East is far from a solution. Of course, I am not making any criticism or putting forth any concrete suggestion. I am just putting forward some views. If President Sadat and Israel could reach an agreement that satisfies Syria, then the Soviet influence would genuinely be adversely affected.

So far as China is concerned, we consider Israel already to be an entity, an existing country, and it is unreasonable to deny its existence. It would be rather good to return to the boundaries of the 1967 War. If we added to that a solution for Jordan and the West Bank, and a solution to the question of a Palestinian state as an entity, it would win over 100 million Arabs.

If these questions are not solved, it will not only affect the Middle East but in countries near it—Iran, Saudi Arabia—problems will arise in all such countries.

Turning to the Horn of Africa, I note the importance of the goals the Soviets wish to achieve there. The presence of Cuban forces in Ethiopia contributed to the Somali-Ethiopia War. I told Barre in Beijing that Somalia had to deal seriously with its problems with Ethiopia. Barre did not approve lightly Somalia trying to changes its boundaries. I discussed this with Barre in this way: the problem should be looked at from a broader, far-reaching perspective.

France took the position of noninterference and nonintervention. As a result, developments in Eritrea are even more complicated. As far [Page 746] as the Horn of Africa is concerned, both Cuba and the Soviet Union are very happy.

This is also the situation in South Africa where the situation is very complicated. Li Hsien-nien recently visited Zaire, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. He discovered that Soviet influence is far from being weakened. We should say in all frankness that all four of these countries have had long relations with China, but now only Zaire and Zambia have good relations with us. Mozambique makes propaganda about a “family of socialist nations,” but it is still under the influence of the Soviet Union. I cannot say that Soviet influence in Africa has been reduced in Africa.

If we go further east, we all know the situation in Iran and Afghanistan and the causes of the situation there. Iran and Afghanistan influence the stability of Pakistan.

Pakistan is on very friendly terms with China. Not only Bhutto but Yaya Khan and Ayub Khan were also good friends of China. The relations of General Zia with us are very good. Vice Premier Li stayed in Pakistan on his return from Africa. General Zia knew that I was coming to Washington, and he requested that I bring this message: He always feels that the U.S. in the past has placed its emphasis exclusively on India. Pakistan is not opposed to improving its relations with India, but it feels that you only pay attention to India at a time when the situation in Pakistan is difficult. In passing, General Zia told us that the life of Bhutto is not in danger. On many occasions, we advised the authorities of Pakistan to be lenient in dealing with Bhutto. Pakistan wants and hopes for aid from the U.S., especially military aid. The PRC has given military aid to Pakistan, but our aid is backward. For a time, attitudes in Pakistan were awkward, and the leaders wanted to withdraw from CENTO. We advised against it, and the leaders of Pakistan accepted our advice. The problem of strengthening CENTO is something to organize and nourish.

Frankly, as I see it, what is unreliable is not CENTO but India.

To be sure, since the fall of Madame Gandhi, we have experienced some changes in our relations with India, and the situation is turning for the better. But it is unrealistic to expect India to divorce itself from Soviet influence.

In fact, recent events saw that India is still unstable. After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and the establishment of the puppet regime, the Indian Government said that if the new Cambodian Government asks for recognition, India would recognize it. With the exception of the Soviet Union and its cohorts, India is the only country to so respond. But China is still trying to improve relations with India.

The Foreign Minister of India will come to China on February 12. Illness postponed an earlier visit.

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These changes in India may be somewhat related to developments in Iran, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. These changes encourage India to develop in certain directions. It is important to strengthen CENTO and aid Iran.

Also related to CENTO, there is a realistic problem demanding attention—the strengthening of Turkey. We will continue to help Pakistan, but our strength is limited. You are rich, and we are poor.

Then, we should go further east, Vietnam is 100 percent the Cuba of the East. If we do not pay attention to this, the role of Vietnam will greatly exceed that of Cuba. Vietnam is different from Cuba. There is a nation of 50 million people and has a large military force. You have had much contact, and we have had even longer contact with Vietnam.

And I can say that there is nothing on which we wronged them. We did not expect the way they suddenly turned against us. Still, we are not sorry for our past assistance, but we must give a full appraisal to the role of Vietnam, especially since the Treaty they recently signed with the Soviet Union is of military significance. That is why the Soviet Union has again put forward the proposal for an Asian security system.

The reasons are clear. Afghanistan, Iran, Vietnam—the Soviet Union is beginning to get bases. Vietnam is promoting the Soviet dream of an Asian security system. That was before its invasion of Cambodia. Earlier, Vietnam wanted to join ASEAN, but ASEAN refused. So we see the situation from Iran to Afghanistan to Vietnam as related. The Soviet Union is attempting to build two positions of strength in the East and in the West linked by the sea. The situation is analogous to a bar-bell.

We see no possibility of détente. We can say that the situation is becoming more tense year by year.

If we wish to create world peace, security, and stability, we must deal seriously with the present international situation. I told American correspondents that we are not opposed to SALT. It may even be necessary. But we believe that of those really down-to-earth and effective is for Western Europe, China, Japan, and the U.S. to unite in a serious way to deal with events that occur in different parts of the world.

China does not wish for war.

Mr. President, you asked for a sketch of our strategy. To realize our Four Modernizations, we need a prolonged period of a peaceful environment. But even now we believe the Soviet Union will launch a war. But if we act well and properly, it is possible to postpone it. China hopes to postpone a war for twenty-two years.

Under such a premise, we are not recommending the establishment of a formal alliance, but each should act on the basis of our standpoint and coordinate our activities and adopt necessary measures. This [Page 748] aim could be attained. If our efforts are to no avail, then the situation will become more and more empty.

I should also tell you, Mr. President, that this is a view held unanimously by the Chinese leaders and the Chinese cadres. A lot of people are saying that China is carrying out Demaoification. But actually this is what he wanted us to say and do.

President Carter: Thank you. We will meet this afternoon, and I look forward to responding to your assessment of the individual trouble spots around the world. This has been an interesting discussion by you of the world situation, and we share many of your concerns. It is important that you understand what we are trying to do for we differ in some places.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 57, Policy Process: 10–11/78. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. See Document 201.
  3. The exchange of remarks between Carter and Deng at the welcoming ceremony are printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pp. 189–191.
  4. The interview appeared as “World: An Interview with Teng Hsiao-p’ing” in the February 5, 1979, issue of Time.
  5. This sentence is probably incorrectly transcribed. During the welcoming ceremony, Deng said, “The world today is far from tranquil.”