21. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT; CTB, Indian Ocean; Africa, Middle East; Belgrade Conference; Vietnam; Fukuda Visit; Claims/Assets; Exchange Program


  • People’s Republic of China
  • Ambassador Huang Chen
  • Counselor Tsien Ta-yung
  • Third Secretary Hsu Shang-wei
  • United States
  • The Secretary
  • Richard Holbrooke, EA
  • Harry E.T. Thayer, EA/PRCM (Notetaker)
  • Michel Oksenberg, NSC


After a brief discussion of Ambassador Huang’s recent trip to Georgia and Florida, the Secretary said he wanted to brief the Ambassador on his trip to the Soviet Union and to provide a general outline on matters to be covered there;2 this would enable Huang to report to his Government. The main subject in Moscow, the Secretary said, would be SALT, on which he would proceed as outlined in the President’s speech to the UN 3 by suggesting two basic alternatives for discussion.

[Page 57]

The Secretary identified the first alternative as a comprehensive arms control package involving substantial reduction of the Vladivostok numbers on both sides,4 coupled with a freeze on development, testing and deployment. If this agreement is acceptable for negotiation, this would lead to substantial arms control progress on both sides. Alternatively, the US would propose a more limited package, based on elements of the Vladivostok accord on which the two sides could reach agreement at this time. The two sides might set aside for action in the future the more contentious issues and the deeper reductions outlined in the more comprehensive package. In other words, Backfire and Cruise Missile would be set aside for discussion at a later date. Our preference would be for the more comprehensive package, but we are willing also to discuss the deferral package. The Secretary invited Huang to ask any questions on this subject. Huang said he had none.


The Secretary said that another subject for discussion would be the issue of a comprehensive test ban. We would discuss the possibility of negotiating for a ban on all tests of nuclear weapons for a limited period. As the President had indicated to Huang,5 this is an issue between the Soviets and ourselves; but we would hope that some time in the future other nations would join such an agreement.

The Secretary said he expected that a number of issues would be raised in this connection, such as peaceful nuclear explosions being permitted under this test ban. Second, what kind of verification would be required under such an agreement? Third, whether or not the Soviets are prepared to enter such an agreement if it is only a bilateral one. The Secretary said that, at this point, we have no idea as to how the discussions will come out or if the Soviets have a serious interest in such a discussion.

Indian Ocean

The Secretary told Huang that the Indian Ocean would be a third issue to be discussed in a very preliminary fashion. The Soviets had for a considerable period of time made propaganda out of the suggestion of a peaceful initiative with respect to the Indian Ocean. President Carter decided that he wanted to find out whether the Soviets were merely making propaganda or had a serious interest in discussing the issue. The Secretary said he planned to ask the Soviets very specifically and precisely what they have in mind when they talk about limits on [Page 58] activity in the Indian Ocean and find out the precise nature of any proposal they might have. As in the case of the comprehensive test ban, the US does not plan any negotiations on this issue on this trip; rather, the discussions will be exploratory in nature to find out how serious the Soviets are.


The Secretary said he would also probe the Soviet intentions toward both central and southern Africa. As Huang knew, we had already protested the Soviet Union’s supply of arms to southern Africa which has not been helpful and, if continued, would have an adverse effect on bilateral relations.

In Moscow, the Secretary continued, he would also seek to ascertain Soviet intentions toward the Horn of Africa. Quite frankly, the US is concerned: the Soviets seem very active there now and this may contribute to destabilization of the area.

Middle East

The Secretary said that another subject to be discussed in Moscow is the Middle East. He noted that Huang had received a briefing from Under Secretary Habib, who had brought Huang up-to-date on what took place during his trip.6 As Habib had pointed out, it is quite clear that we have influence on and the confidence of the parties on both sides of the conflict. We intend to be very active in working with the parties to find a solution to the Middle East problem. We will indicate to the Soviet Union that we believe we are the ones who should continue to play the leading role. We recognize their position as Co-chairman but it would not be useful for the Soviets to play an active role at this moment. If the Geneva Conference is reconvened, obviously they will have to be present as one of the Co-chairmen. However, the job of working with the parties to negotiate an agreement has to be the role of the U.S.

Belgrade Conference

The Secretary told Huang that the Soviets have also indicated they wish to discuss the Belgrade Conference.7 We have said that we are prepared to do so. The Secretary said he would tell them that we wish to review at the Belgrade Conference the implementation of all three “baskets”: one, two and three. We will indicate that we believe this should be the central focus of the Belgrade Conference and that it would be a mistake to introduce new issues instead of reviewing the re[Page 59]sults to date of the existing agreement. The Secretary said we think the Soviets want to discuss new issues and thus avoid discussing the lack of progress in implementing the three baskets.


The Secretary said he thought Huang would be interested in a brief report on our relationships with Vietnam as they developed on the Woodcock mission for the President.8 The mission, we judge, has been helpful, but until we assess the results we won’t know what the process of normalizing our relations with Hanoi will be. We think that the atmosphere between our two countries is much better as a result of the mission and that both sides, in moving toward discussions of normalization, will be able to avoid extreme positions.

Ambassador Huang interjected that he had just heard on the radio that President Carter had decided to accept the invitation to resume negotiations in Paris. The Secretary confirmed this, adding that he hoped the end of the road was near, and that we could resume normal relations. He thought it would be in the interest of both the U.S. and Vietnam and in China’s interest as well.

Fukuda Visit

Turning to the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister,9 the Secretary said the visit, in our judgment, was highly successful, and he believed Fukuda shared this view. The visit confirmed that our relations are in excellent condition. This is important since Japan is central to our position in East Asia. He believed Huang’s view was the same.

Claims/Assets; Exchange Program

The Secretary mentioned that he hoped the PRC would give serious attention to our March 17 proposal for making an effort to resolve the claims/assets issue,10 and then turned to the Sino-U.S. exchange program. He said we are pleased about the increase in the number of [Page 60] exchanges this year. As President Carter had indicated to Huang, we hope we can grow closer together in the cultural field.

The Secretary said he had concluded his brief review and would be glad to answer any questions and have any advice.

Ambassador Huang

Ambassador Huang, after thanking the Secretary, said that some of the issues already had been touched on in his meeting with the President. Nevertheless, he would repeat some points made then. With respect to the US-Soviet talks and relations, China’s basic view was still the same. The US had vested interests to protect around the world and the Soviet aim is expansion. This is unalterable.


As he had said to President Carter, the PRC had never been interested in the so-called disarmament agreements reached by the Soviet Union and the US. He had already explained the reason to President Carter. President Carter had mentioned the comprehensive test ban, including asking others like France and China to join following Soviet and U.S. agreement. China’s consistent policy, Huang told the Secretary, is to oppose nuclear blackmail proposed by the Soviet Union and the U.S., and China will not take part in any of these activities. The PRC felt that the Soviet Union and the United States now had conducted enough tests and don’t want to allow others to do so. There is no reason for this under Heaven.

Indian Ocean

Huang noted that the Secretary had spoken of probing the real intention of the Soviet Union in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. may try its best. China had always believed that the Soviets were stepping up their expansion efforts behind a smokescreen. The Secretary jokingly asked Huang if he thought we would find the Soviets were just making propaganda. Huang answered, in the same spirit, that perhaps the Secretary would make a new discovery. Both laughed.


Referring to recent Soviet expansion in Africa, Huang recalled that the “People’s Daily” had recently carried a “Commentator” article that strongly condemned Soviet mercenaries from Angola invading Zaire. The PRC had expressed firm support for Zaire’s resistance against foreign aggression. Since the Soviets had started influencing Angola, the Soviet Union not only had sent 10,000 mercenary troops but also had mustered old colonialist forces there to serve its aggressive activities. This was another demonstration that the Soviet Union was stepping up its criminal activities of aggression and expansion in Africa. Huang [Page 61] said he had told Dr. Kissinger that today’s developments were inseparable from U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Repeated U.S. concessions had served to boost Soviet ambitions. The U.S. should draw a lesson.

The Secretary said he would add a comment on Zaire. The U.S. had given assistance at Zaire’s request and had been working with other countries in the region. We had received a good response, particularly from the Nigerians, who are much concerned about territorial integrity.

Middle East

Huang told the Secretary that the Chinese were grateful that Under Secretary Habib, with the Secretary’s instructions, had provided a detailed briefing on the Middle East. Huang had summarized China’s basic position to Habib, and therefore, he would not repeat it.


Huang noted that the Presidential Commission had successful talks, and that the U.S. was going to probe the road to normalization. As he had said to President Carter, this was good. (Huang at this point asked his staff if that covered everything. Tsien reminded him of other topics.)


Huang noted that the Secretary had reported that Fukuda’s visit had reinforced good relations between the U.S. and Japan. As China had said before, Japan–U.S. relations should come first and Japan–China relations second.


Huang said he had addressed this issue after President Carter had raised it. A few days ago Han Hsu and Mr. Holbrooke had discussed the issue. The PRC’s principled view had already been expounded. It is up to the U.S.

The Secretary asked Mr. Holbrooke if he wished to comment. Mr. Holbrooke said we had outlined our understanding, specifically referring to our hope that we could resume discussions started in February 1973. He said he didn’t want today’s meeting to leave the wrong impression. We had made a proposal for which we were awaiting a reply. At the March 17 meeting, Han Hsu asked what the new proposal was, and we expressed our wish to sweep away diverting and side issues introduced since February 1973. That was a serious proposal we had made on behalf of the Government.

Ambassador Huang noted that Counselor Tsien had attended the March 17 meeting. Tsien then said that Ambassador Huang had mentioned that he had already expressed the PRC’s basic position to Presi[Page 62]dent Carter. Mr. Holbrooke, Tsien continued, had just mentioned what had been discussed in the meeting with Han Hsu. The Chinese side had no expectation that the issue would be discussed today, since Ambassador Han had expressed his view at the last meeting.

Exchange Program

Referring to the increase, Huang said that China’s basic attitude is that it will always act in accordance with the principles of the Shanghai Communique. People to people contacts, according to the Shanghai Communique, are helpful to increased friendship and understanding between our two peoples. A couple of days ago, Mr. Oksenberg had informed the PRC Liaison Office that the U.S. would like to send a Congressional delegation in the near future. This has been reported to Peking.

The Secretary concluded the meeting by saying that Huang would be reading in the newspapers much about what was happening in Moscow. If the Ambassador would like, the Secretary would be pleased, when he returns, to tell Huang what really happened. Ambassador Huang laughed in appreciation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat Files: Lot 84 D 241, Box 10, Vance NODIS Memcons, 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Thayer (EA/PRCM). Holbrooke sent Vance a briefing memorandum in anticipation of this meeting. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 42, Meetings: 1–3/77)
  2. Vance visited the Soviet Union March 27–30.
  3. Carter’s March 17 address before the UN General Assembly is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, pp. 444–451.
  4. In November 1974, President Ford and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev met at Vladivostok and reached an agreement that set limits on various strategic weapons.
  5. See Document 5.
  6. See Document 13.
  7. The Belgrade Conference, held October 1977–March 1978, was the first follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
  8. The mission led by Leonard Woodcock visited Hanoi to discuss POWs/MIAs, assistance to Vietnam, and normalization of relations.
  9. Fukuda met with Carter on March 21 and 22.
  10. On March 17, Holbrooke proposed to Han Hsu that the agreement in principle reached in February 1973 be used as a starting point for a new effort to work out a settlement on the claims/assets issue without reference to the subsequent negotiating history. Holbrooke said that the U.S. understanding of that agreement was that all of the blocked Chinese assets would be available to reimburse the U.S. claimants, and all of the private U.S. properties left in China would be used to satisfy the Chinese claims. (Telegram 62960 to Beijing, March 22; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770097–0716) In the 1973 agreement, reached in counterpart meetings during Kissinger’s February 1973 visit to China, the PRC agreed to settle U.S. private claims through an assignment of blocked Chinese assets to the U.S. Government for use in compensating American claimants.