250. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to China (Woodcock) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1

262. Subject: The Vice President’s Visit to China. Ref: WH91359.2

1. I appreciate your sending me the memorandum to the Vice President regarding his trip to China (ref), which is filled with useful [Page 892] ideas. As the highest level visit to China since President Ford’s trip in 1975, and the first visit by a member of the Carter administration at this level, the Vice President’s trip is an unusually important one, and we should do our utmost to ensure that it helps to advance and consolidate our relationship. At the same time, we must recognize that the visit is occurring during a year of unprecedented mutual exposure to each other. Three U.S. Cabinet Secretaries have visited China already this year, and three Chinese Vice Premiers, including Deng Xiaoping, have been to the U.S. since January. These high-level visits have been extremely useful in getting our new relationship off to the right start. But they also carry with them the risk of creating the “China euphoria” syndrome, which can lead to swings of mood in the other direction. Accordingly, I consider it important that the Vice President’s visit to China be a sober and dignified one with the emphasis on substantive talks and on broadening mutual understanding. In this way, his visit will prepare the ground for the President’s visit next year.

2. I am in general agreement with the substantive objectives set forth in the memo to the Vice President. In addition, he should be prepared to review our bilateral relationship to date.

3. I see three areas in which we may wish to pursue prospects for substantive agreements during the Vice President’s visit:

A. Civil Aviation. We should give high priority to concluding an interim civil aviation agreement during the visit. We have already laid the ground work for progress in this area, and the visit should help to stimulate forward momentum.

B. Consular Relations. Under the best of circumstances, we would be hard pressed to be in a position to open our Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou by the time of the Vice President’s visit. Nevertheless, we have an urgent need to have a functioning Consulate in Guangzhou as soon as possible, and we may wish to explore the possibility of formally opening that Consulate during the visit, if only in a token sense. This would be contingent upon our ability to acquire satisfactory physical facilities in Guangzhou by the time of the Vice President’s visit. We should have a clearer picture of possibilities in this area within the next few weeks. At the same time, we attach considerable importance to concluding a consular convention with the Chinese which will include provisions for prompt access by consular officials to detained Americans. The Chinese have been dragging their feet on negotiating such a convention, and we may wish to use the momentum provided by the Vice President’s visit to seek to galvanize the Chinese into action on this question.

C. Maritime Agreement. We should also explore the possibility of concluding a bilateral maritime agreement during the visit, even [Page 893] though this may be less feasible than concluding an interim aviation agreement.

4. We expect to sign the trade agreement with the Chinese in Beijing on July 7. We should also take a look at the possibility of concluding Congressional action on this agreement so that we could extend MFN to the Chinese during the visit. If we were able to do so, this would be a particularly meaningful step in our bilateral relationship. There are also possibilities in areas such as cultural exchanges, but the Chinese leadership has a heavy program of foreign travel scheduled over the next couple of months, and in some areas we may encounter difficulties in completing the necessary substantive negotiations by the end of August.

5. On the question of hydroelectric power projects, there have been some recent indications that the Chinese are downgrading their capital investment plans in this area and that they will be giving higher priority to developing coal as a power input. For this reason we should not stress cooperation in this area unless the Chinese display keen interest.

6. There is also merit in expanding contacts between our defense establishments. An exchange of visits by our respective Defense Ministers could be a useful step in this direction. This could be initiated either through a visit by Secretary Brown to China or by inviting the Chinese Defense Minister to visit the U.S.

7. Itinerary. The development of a suitable itinerary in China will be somewhat constrained by the availability of suitable airports and guest houses for the Vice President’s party. For the reasons cited above, we may also wish to consider alternatives to visiting hydroelectric sites in the Yangtze Gorges. To increase our exposure in China, there might be advantage in keeping away from the major coastal cities most frequently toured by foreigners and visiting the heartland of China, where the vast bulk of China’s population resides. One such itinerary might include visits to Xi’an, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.

A. Xi’an was China’s capital for over a thousand years and is an area rich in China’s history. In addition, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Shaanxi Province, of which Xi’an is the capital, has just visited the U.S. A stop there might properly emphasize visits to historical and archaeological sites (including the exciting excavations in the area of the tomb of China’s first Emperor), to industrial establishments and to Jiaotong University.

B. Chengdu is the capital of China’s most populous province and is in the center of a rich agricultural area, where irrigation has been highly developed for over two thousand years. A visit there would provide exposure to China’s accomplishments in agriculture and irrigation. The leader of the province, Zhao Ziyang, is also a comer in the Chinese leadership.

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C. Guangzhou. A visit to Guangzhou should take advantage of the rich associations of the area with Sun Yat Sen. The city is also the capital of the home province for most Americans of Chinese origin.

D. These are preliminary thoughts only and are keyed to the fact that Mike Oksenberg will be meeting with the Chinese Embassy on June 26 to discuss the visit.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 9, China (PRC): 6–7/79. Confidential; Via Voyager Channels; Eyes Only.
  2. Telegram WH91359 from the White House to Beijing, which transmitted a memorandum on Vice President Mondale’s trip to China, was not found. A June 23 memorandum from Brzezinski to Mondale argued that the purpose of Mondale’s visit “should be, in bold and imaginative ways, to push the relationship to new levels both symbolically and substantively,” as Deng had done during his visit to the United States. (Ibid.)