241. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Ambassador Chai Zemin


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacific Affairs
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Chai Zemin, People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the United States
  • Zhou Wenzhong, Interpreter, PRC Embassy
[Page 869]

At 4:10 p.m. the President, Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, Ambassador Chai Zemin, and Mr. Zhou adjourned to the Oval Office for a meeting that lasted until 4:25 p.m.

President Carter: I will go ahead and start even though Secretary Vance is not yet here.

It has been four months since the establishment of our relations and three months since the visit of Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping to the U.S. I am pleased with developments that have occurred, and think that they will be beneficial to us both.

We have also had a great accomplishment which I wish you to understand very clearly. (At this point, Secretary Vance and Dick Holbrooke entered.) As you know, in spite of their desires, neither President Nixon nor President Ford were willing to move on normalization because of opposition in the Congress over the change in our relations with Taiwan. I was willing to face this predictable opposition, although I waited two years in order to reach the proper moment.

I understand your government has expressed concern about the legislation ultimately passed to terminate our relations with Taiwan.2 But we consider this a major accomplishment. Nothing contravenes the understandings we made to your government directly by me to you and by Ambassador Woodcock.

We consider the visit here by Vice Premier Deng, the trip of Secretary Blumenthal, the exchange of official ambassadors, and the decision to exchange military attaches all to be very good steps in the right direction.

We need, however, to keep momentum going and to build on this important foundation without unnecessary delays.

I do not know when I can make an official visit to China, but I would like to receive the opinion of your government concerning the advisability of the Vice President making a visit to China in late summer or early fall if I cannot make a visit. If circumstances develop, then I would like to accept your invitation to visit China at an early date that is mutually convenient.

We have also heard concerns expressed by your government about military exercises between the U.S. and Taiwan. No such exercises have been scheduled or planned or even discussed, nor of course will any be carried out.

We do not plan any naval ship visits to Taiwan after June. We have had existing obligations with existing personnel, and we had to remove equipment from Taiwan. This is what necessitated the visits to Taiwan ports.

[Page 870]

The next, most important step between our two countries concerns economic matters, first the agreement on the claims/assets settlement, then a trade agreement and a resolution of the textile question. Then I would submit the trade agreement to the Congress and with the cooperation of your government would request MFN status for China.

My goal is to have a completely normal economic relationship with the People’s Republic of China just as we have with other friends and allies around the world. I hope the visits by Secretary Kreps and Ambassador Strauss will help resolve any remaining issues with China.

I realize your nation has been either blessed by or afflicted with visits by many members of Congress and the many members of my Cabinet who are planning trips. I speak frankly to you. People who participate on these visits relay your views to us. They are eager to learn your problems. But I do not want our visits to be an excessive burden for your people, and if they are, I hope you will express your views to the Secretary of State.

Ambassador Chai: They are no burden (laughing!). Not at all.

President Carter: Good. I am relieved to hear that.

I might say that Prime Minister Ohira and I talked with great pleasure about our new relations with China, and we congratulated each other.

We both expressed our mutual concern with the actions of Vietnam in China. I know you share this concern. If there are any recommendations your government might have about actions we or Japan might take to affect events in Vietnam or Kampuchea, please relay them to Secretary Vance. I will take the matters up with Prime Minister Ohira. Our goal is to restore peace in the Indochina Peninsula. I think we have a good channel through Japan to the Government of Vietnam.

As you already know, we are already approaching the final stages of the SALT negotiations. Either Secretary Vance or I will try to complete the process. We are approaching the final stages, with the possibility of drafting the final language in Geneva.

Then I anticipate the holding of a meeting with President Brezhnev and myself, although the place has not yet been set. Within the bounds of propriety, we wish to keep you thoroughly informed. If you wish, we will make the SALT documents available to you for your reference.

As a general rule, I would like to broaden the consultations between the U.S. and China, not only in this instance but in others. I hope you will take this as a permanent invitation through Secretary Vance or Ambassador Woodcock in Beijing if you have questions, or if you have proposals to make concerning our conduct in matters for which I am responsible.

[Page 871]

I think it is very important that any small differences which may predictably arise between our two countries be settled as much as possible in private fashion. We should let others, and especially the Soviet Union, know that we have as little friction as possible between us and that we have a new spirit of friendship and cooperation.

I have, for example, been concerned with the presence of Soviet naval facilities in Vietnam. I would be interested in having our ships call at Chinese ports in a low-key way, for entertainment purposes as part of a normal relationship, when you think it advisable and permissible and when it would be appropriate from your perspective. I would appreciate it if you would let Premier Hua Guofeng and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping know this so they could let me know their attitudes on this matter.

Those are the points I want to make to you. There is one other item I want to discuss with you privately before you leave. And perhaps Secretary Vance may wish to make some points.

Ambassador Chai: First of all, I would like to express my thanks to the President for taking time out of his very busy schedule to discuss some of the problems in our bilateral relations.

I also wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the resolute actions you undertook to normalize the relations between our two countries. As you all know, the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. has a far-reaching impact on the global situation. The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. has a political basis, that is, the recognition by the U.S. of “one China.”

The legislation adopted by the U.S. Congress concerning U.S.–Taiwan relations includes some provisions which we find unacceptable to China. In his talks with Ambassador Woodcock, Foreign Minister Huang Hua has expressed this view.3 In his meeting with the Congressional delegation of Senator Church, Vice Premier Deng expressed his view, so I will not repeat it.4

[Page 872]

If things which will bring severe harm to this political basis are allowed to happen again and again, it will bring harm to our bilateral relations. It is our hope that both sides will set store by the overall situation in our bilateral relations, and both sides will remove all interference so that our relations may develop in a smooth manner.

As to the question of cooperation in the economic and trade fields, we have consistently taken a very positive approach, and we want to try our best to resolve existing problems.

We hope the forthcoming visit by Secretary Kreps will help resolve the existing problems. We hope that during her visit she will make great effort to promote a trade agreement and to reach an agreement so that our economic relations and trade cooperation will develop further.

It is our hope that talks concerning trade, and especially on textiles, will take into consideration the interest of China.

Of course, before signing of the trade agreement, the claims/assets agreement must be signed. Although it has already been initialed during the Blumenthal visit, at present the situation is that some questions still need to be clarified. Once both sides agree on the final text, the agreement can be signed formally.

In view of the further promotion of Sino-U.S. relations, it is our fervent hope that Mr. President will visit China. Vice Premier Deng expressed this hope on many occasions during his visit. If the circumstances for the visit are not yet ripe, then we welcome Vice President Mondale to visit China before Mr. President visits China. I will report this suggestion immediately to my government and give my response to Secretary Vance as soon as it is received.

As to the SALT II agreement between the Soviet Union and the U.S., it is not something in which China is very interested. If the U.S. needs this treaty because of some reasons, China has no objection. During Vice Premier Deng’s visit, he expressed this view in the U.S. on many occasions.

We believe that this treaty cannot resolve the arms race and cannot restrict the expansion of the Soviet hegemonists. We believe that the current task is to engage in down-to-earth work in the face of Soviet expansionism.

With regard to the situation in Indochina and the U.S. and Japanese actions in this respect, I think Vice Premier Deng has talked about this with the President and expressed his views. Nonetheless, I will transmit this matter back to my government.

It is my personal view that, supported by the Soviet global hegemonists, the Vietnamese regional hegemonists will not withdraw from Kampuchea or Laos easily. This is because the Soviet Union as well as Vietnam want to achieve not only domination over Indochina but also [Page 873] over Southeast Asia. In undertaking their actions in Indochina, the Vietnamese proceed from this broader strategic consideration, as I am sure you know. I think it is not realistic to believe that the Vietnamese can be won over by relaxing relations with the Vietnamese or providing aid to them so that Vietnam would be free of Soviet control.

As to U.S. ships calling at Chinese ports, our Political Counselor Tsao has discussed this with your Deputy Secretary of State (Warren Christopher—M.O.). During a meeting with Senators, Vice Premier Deng also answered a question on this. He maintained that in the light of the influence of the Taiwan legislation, it was not yet convenient at this time. Nonetheless, as to when it might be convenient, I will go back to my government to ask them to examine the matter. (The above is what was said in Chinese. The translator rendered this as “I will transmit your statement to my government for its consideration.”

I wish once again to thank you Mr. President for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your views of our relations. I will transmit your views back to my government.

(At this point, the President, Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, Ambassador Chai, and Mr. Zhou adjourned to the Oval Office.)

President Carter: [4 paragraphs (17 lines) not declassified]

Ambassador Chai: On our side, there will be no problem with keeping it secret, but for you it might be.

President Carter: [1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

Dr. Brzezinski in his continuing strategy [less than 1 line not declassified] discussions with you could outline more completely our interest in this.

If unforeseen problems should arise or concern on either nation’s side, we could abandon the idea. But I would like the Vice Premier to consider this personally [2½ lines not declassified].

I do not expect you to reply now, but the Vice Premier could reply either through Dr. Brzezinski or the Secretary of State.

I would always welcome any personal request from him.

I hope you will extend my personal wishes to Premier Hua and Vice Premier Deng.

Ambassador Chai: I will immediately transmit your message to them.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 52, Chron: 5/1–17/79. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office.
  2. See Document 235.
  3. See Document 230.
  4. In telegram 2362 from Beijing, April 25, Woodcock reported that Deng, in his meeting with Church’s delegation, “made it clear that passage of the Taiwan omnibus bill had placed a strain on the new U.S.–PRC relationship and that the U.S. was overloading the circuits by attempting to continue military relationships with Taiwan that were not foreseen in the normalization agreement.” Woodcock further asserted, “We should begin now to prepare the ground for our future arms sales to Taiwan, which are certain to place strains on our relations with Beijing. The way to do this, in my view, is to establish a record of faithful adherence to the letter and spirit of the normalization arrangements. Now more than ever is not the time to flaunt our military relationships with Taiwan, and I hope we can curb any tendencies to do so.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790191–0823)