235. Editorial Note

On March 16, 1979, Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua complained to Ambassador Leonard Woodcock about the legislation then before Congress concerning Taiwan (see Document 230). On March 23, Woodcock reported that an official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry had informed the Embassy that the Chinese Government was still awaiting a response to Huang’s démarche of March 16. Woodcock commented, “I feel that we owe the Chinese a response to their objections.” He added, “If the President decides to sign the bill, it is incumbent on us to reaffirm strongly to the Chinese prior to signature that the bill is fully consistent with the spirit and letter of the normalization arrangement.” (Telegram 1592 from Beijing, dated March 25 but more likely sent on March 23; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])

Following this telegram from Woodcock, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, sent a memorandum to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance (it is not clear whether Vance saw it) that stated, “The President has read Embassy Beijing’s cable 1592 (March 23) in which Ambassador Woodcock concludes that if the President signs the Taiwan omnibus bill we should reaffirm strongly to the Chinese prior to signature that the bill is fully consistent with the spirit and letter of the normalization arrangement. The President noted in the margin, ‘I agree’ and added, ‘hold down public PRC complaints as much as possible.’” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Sullivan Subject File, Box 71, Taiwan Relations Act: 2–6/79)

Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher addressed Chinese complaints during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin on March 27. Christopher opened by referring to Chai’s (see footnote 3, Document 230) and Huang’s earlier démarches: “The President asked me to request that you come in today so we can provide your government with our comments on points you and Foreign Minister Huang have made regarding legislation on our unofficial relations with the people on Taiwan. My meeting with you today is meant to reflect the importance we attach to this subject and to your concerns. We want you to know we have taken great pains to ensure that our normalization agreement was not overturned by Congressional action. As you well know, this is a government of three branches and we must work in close cooperation with Congress on issues such as this legislation. There are some words and phrases in the bill that do not read as we would like and Congress has obviously added its own touches. Nevertheless, the bill clearly provides a framework for our unofficial relationship with Taiwan and in a way which is consistent with the record of [Page 858] negotiations on normalization. To ensure that there is no misunderstanding of our views on this legislation, the President is prepared to state publicly that in implementing the legislation he will fully carry out our agreements on normalization. He is granted discretionary authority in some areas of the legislation, and he will implement the bill in a way fully consistent with our agreements.” (Telegram 77424 to Beijing, March 28; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 9, China (PRC): 1–3/79) Christopher also gave a classified talking paper to Chai, which reiterated points that he made verbally and systematically responded to Chinese criticism. (Telegram 77805 to Beijing, March 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840163–1620)

On March 31, J. Stapleton Roy, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy in Beijing, called on Han Xu, Director of the American and Oceanian Affairs Department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in order to review points covered in Christopher’s March 27 meeting with Chai. According to the telegram that reported on the meeting, Han, after hearing Roy’s remarks, “offered a prepared statement of his ‘personal view’ in response, in which he characterized the U.S. explanations as unsatisfactory and reiterated the charge that various provisions of the omnibus bill violate the normalization agreement. He did not, however, repeat earlier Chinese statements that passage of the bill in its present form would cause ‘great harm’ to the US–PRC relationship. He justified the PRC’s decision to make its views public on the grounds that failure to do so would have led to misunderstanding that China had agreed to or acquiesced in the bill. We interpret Han’s statement as intended to put on the record the PRC’s position of not acquiescing in the omnibus bill.” (Telegram 1779 from Beijing, March 31; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 9, China (PRC): 1–3/79)

A House–Senate conference committee wrote the final version of the Taiwan omnibus legislation. The House adopted it on March 28 by a vote of 339–50, and the Senate did so on March 29 by an 85–4 vote. (Congress and the Nation, 1977–1980, volume 5, page 67) James M. Frey, Assistant Director for Legislative Reference of the Office of Management and Budget, evaluated the legislation, which was called “Enrolled Bill H.R. 2479, Taiwan Relations Act,” in a memorandum to the President, stamped April 5. Frey noted that the relevant executive agencies had either approved or not objected to the legislation, and concluded: “While not entirely in the form you proposed, the enrolled bill will enable us to resume with the people on Taiwan, through unofficial means and to the degree consistent with normalization of our relations with the PRC, those programs and activities which were suspended on January 1, 1979. While the PRC may perceive certain of the features de [Page 859] scribed above as inhibiting the normalization process, we join State in believing that the risk of such misunderstandings would be substantially reduced if you issue a signing statement (1) emphasizing the unofficial character of the relationships with Taiwan authorized by the enrolled bill and (2) expressing your intention to implement this legislation in a manner fully consistent with our normalization of relations with the PRC.” Frey added that “State has prepared a draft signing statement, for your consideration, which appropriately makes the points discussed above.” (Carter Library, Staff Office Files, Counsel, Lipshutz, Box 7, China, Taiwan Presidential Memorandum and Legislation, 12/78–6/79 [CF O/A 710])

President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 2479 into law on April 10. His signing statement reads in part: “The act is consistent with the understandings we reached in normalizing relations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China. It reflects our recognition of that Government as the sole legal government of China. Having normalized relations with China in the spirit of the Shanghai communiqué, I look forward in the coming years to a deepening and broadening of U.S.–China relations which will contribute to the welfare of our two peoples and to peace in the world.” Concluding, Carter said, “In a number of sections of this legislation, the Congress has wisely granted discretion to the President. In all instances, I will exercise that discretion in a manner consistent with our interest in the well-being of the people on Taiwan and with the understandings we reached on the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China, as expressed in our joint communiqué of January 1, 1979, on Establishment of Diplomatic Relations.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pp. 640–641)

The provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act, Public Law 96–8, contain a number of concessions to supporters of the former Republic of China. For example, the act states that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic relations with China rested “upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” It also declares that it is the policy of the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” In the section on implementation, it affirms, “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability. The President and the Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, in accordance with procedures established by law.” (93 Stat. 14; 22 USC 3305)