219. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • State
  • Cyrus Vance
  • Warren Christopher
  • Richard Holbrooke
  • Defense
  • Harold Brown
  • Charles Duncan
  • JCS
  • David Jones
  • CIA
  • Stansfield Turner
  • Robert Bowie
  • White House
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Jody Powell
  • NSC
  • David Aaron
  • William Odom
  • Michel Oksenberg


  • Sino-Vietnamese Conflict


I. Situation Report

The Chinese have penetrated 10 km on two different fronts and are holding. There is very little information about the tactical situation on the ground. The Chinese are informing their cadre that the struggle may be a protracted one in which the Chinese will sustain losses.

II. Foreign Response to our Various Démarches

Brzezinski read the Brezhnev response, which he linked to the official Soviet statement.2 The Soviets, it was concluded, have yet to commit themselves to a course of action.

[Page 809]

III. U.S. Objectives in the Conflict

The group agreed that the following statement summarizes our objectives: In the context of avoiding any direct U.S. involvement, we should: (1) minimize the adverse effect of the conflict upon our bilateral relations either with the People’s Republic of China or the Soviet Union; (2) deter a Soviet escalation of the conflict; (3) secure the withdrawal of both Vietnam from Kampuchea and China from Vietnam; (4) seek the emergence of a neutral Kampuchea; and (5) reassure ASEAN and Japan in the process.3

IV. U.S.-Chinese Bilateral Relations

The group approved Cy delivering a short démarche to Ambassador Chai on Tuesday, February 20, essentially seeking information about Chinese intentions and hinting that without a clear understanding of Chinese intentions the expansion of our bilateral ties could eventually be adversely affected. (A draft of Vance’s statement is at Tab B.)4

The group decided to postpone for 36 hours a decision on whether Blumenthal should continue his plans for a Friday departure to Peking, until the limits of China’s penetration of Vietnam become a bit clearer. There are five options with respect to the trip: (1) persist with original plans; (2) persist with the trip, but alter the instructions to take into account the new situation; (3) postpone the trip for a week; (4) postpone the trip until Chinese have withdrawn forces from Vietnam; (5) keep the trip on schedule but have Carswell substitute for Blumenthal.5

Vance thought the trip should not go forward while Chinese troops are stationed in a foreign country. We might inadvertently be seen to support Chinese action through a Blumenthal trip. He advocated a one-week delay.

Holbrooke thought the trip should go forward. Without Blumenthal in Peking and without Woodcock there, we would have no high-[Page 810]level representation on March 1st when the Liaison Office is upgraded to Embassy status. In addition, cancellation of the trip would be interpreted in the United States as Administration admission that we have suffered a setback and that we are steering an erratic course.

The Vice President believed we must avoid any appearance of becoming involved in the conflict. To delay Blumenthal’s trip would be to tip in the Soviet-Vietnamese favor; to persist as is would be to tip in China’s favor. Blumenthal should go, but make critical remarks.6

Brzezinski argued that the trip should go forth [forward], though with altered instructions. The Blumenthal trip is part of the normalization process, and we seek that to go forward in spite of the Vietnam conflict. Frank Press went to Moscow recently, even though the Soviet-backed Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea had just occurred. There is bilateral advantage to be secured in Mike’s trip, and we would only be punishing ourselves if we hold back.

Powell thought the press would react negatively no matter what we do, but the reaction would not be too strong if Blumenthal left on Friday. Powell believes that the basic U.S. public reaction is that Vietnam deserves to be beaten a little bit over the head.

V. United Nations

The group decided to authorize our UN Mission to explore, particularly with our Allies, inscribing both Indochina issues for Security Council debate. Neither China nor the Soviet Union wish the entire range of Indochina issues to be debated—China wants Kampuchea debated and the Soviets want Vietnam debated. It was judged that we would secure political advantage by taking the issue to the UN and by adopting a stance that would be balanced between Moscow and Peking.

VI. Intelligence Gathering

[1 paragraph (2½ lines) not declassified]

VII. Contingency Planning for Soviet Military Involvement

The group began contingency planning in the event of (1) a direct Soviet military involvement in the Sino-Vietnamese conflict; or (2) a Sino-Soviet conflict. The group will consider at a subsequent meeting whether, if the Soviets appear to be moving toward acquiring Cam Ranh Bay for a naval base, we should inform Moscow before they make a final decision that their action could lead to our reconsideration of our [Page 811] position that we would not enter into a security relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Meetings File, Box 14, Folder 20, SCC Meeting #141 Held 2/19/79, 2/79. Secret. Sent to Carter under a February 19 covering memorandum from Brzezinski that Carter initialed. (Ibid.)
  2. According to the translation of Brezhnev’s response to the U.S. message (see footnote 6, Document 214), he declared, “I would not be candid if I did not call your attention to the fact that China’s aggression against Viet Nam was undertaken soon after Deng Xiaoping’s visit to the USA, during which he made pronouncements openly inimical to the cause of peace, including direct threats to Viet Nam. And is this simple coincidence? We and others must, of course, draw from this the appropriate conclusions. Therefore, we do not understand why you are appealing to us to exercise restraint. Such an appeal must be directed only to the aggressor—that is, to China.” Brezhnev’s message is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VI, Soviet Union. The official Soviet statement, February 18, was published in The New York Times, February 19, 1979, p. A11.
  3. Carter wrote, “all good” in the right margin next to this paragraph.
  4. Oksenberg’s draft of Vance’s statement to Ambassador Chai is attached but not printed.
  5. See also Tab C. [Handwritten footnote in the original. At Tab C is a backchannel message, initialed by Carter, from Callaghan, February 19, in which the Prime Minister describes the U.K. response to the crisis: “In the days before the Chinese action in Vietnam, we strongly urged on both the Vietnamese and Chinese governments the dangerous consequences of any build-up in tension. Since then we have reiterated to the Vietnamese our view that both Vietnam and China should show restraint and uphold the principle of the territorial integrity of UN member states. We also deplore the fact that the Vietnamese Government has still not withdrawn its forces from Cambodia. Furthermore, we have urged restraint on the Russians and rebutted the allegation that the West is in collusion with the Chinese. With the Chinese we are taking the line that we are looking for early indications that their forces will be withdrawn from Vietnam as the Chinese themselves have undertaken.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Meetings File, Box 14, SCC Meeting: #141, Held 2/19/79, 2/79)]
  6. Carter wrote in the right margin next to this paragraph, “He should go as scheduled.” Blumenthal was scheduled to visit Beijing February 24–March 2 and Shanghai March 2–4. (Telegram 37792 to Beijing, February 13; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790069–0290)