206. Oral Presentation by President Carter to Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping1

To Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping:

You asked my opinion about a possible punitive strike against the Viet Namese.2 I think it would be a serious mistake for the following reasons:

a) Success would be unlikely if one of the objectives is to interrupt the action of the Viet Nam invading forces now in Kampuchea. A token action would not be considered as significant “punishment.”

b) The peaceful image of the PRC and the aggressive invader image of Viet Nam would both be changed. Now—for the first time—Viet Nam stands condemned by most of the nations of the world. The Soviet Union and Cuba are seen as co-conspirators.

c) The long range result of this U.N. and worldwide condemnation will have some significant adverse effect on Viet Nam provided a concerted effort is made among industrialized nations to curtail economic aid and among the “non-aligned” nations to take U.N. action and to invoke sanctions.

d) A serious incident may escalate into regional conflict.

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e) Plans for a brief and limited action may have to be abandoned if China is given an ultimatum to withdraw. This would make it very difficult to withdraw.

f) Armed conflict initiated by China would cause serious concern in the United States concerning the general character of China and the future peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue. Our claim of peace and stability resulting from normalization would be refuted to some extent.

g) The Kampucheans seem to be doing better than expected as guerilla fighters.

h) Your border threats can create problems for Viet Nam even without intrusion into Viet Nam.

i) Such action may create an additional excuse for greater Soviet presence in Viet Nam.

Because of these reasons the United States could not support such action, and I strongly urge you not to approve it.

In my opinion, Vice Premier Deng, a concerted effort through United Nations or other international fora could prove to be much more damaging to Viet Nam and her allies.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), President Meeting with (Vice Premier) Deng Xiaoping: 12/19/78–10/3/79. No classification marking. Handwritten by the President on White House stationery. At the top of the page, Carter wrote, “Read by me to Deng. Interpreter transcribed for him. JC.” Carter made this presentation near the beginning of the meeting on the morning of January 30. See Document 207.
  2. See Document 205.