267. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron) and Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Implications of Security Issues Raised During the Vice President’s Trip to China

The Vice President’s trip was much more significant than we had anticipated. Not only have we committed ourselves to securing a major economic package from Congress and the bureaucracy in the months ahead—trade agreement, OPIC, ExIm budgeting adequate for China in FY 1981 and beyond, licensing—more importantly we have moved significantly into the beginnings of a genuine security relationship with China.

To an extent, our public rhetoric has kept pace with the change. We attracted the attention we sought with the sentence: “Any nation which seeks to keep you weak or isolated in world affairs assumes a stance counter to our interests.” In press briefings we carefully qualified our old, flat assertion that our policy toward China and the Soviet Union is one of balance by adding that while we seek to improve relations with both simultaneously, since our relations with each and our interests with respect to each differ, the ways in which we seek to improve relations with each will also differ.

In private, as you know, beginning with the President’s May 3 presentation to Ambassador Chai Zemin2 and your May 30–June 1 exchanges with Chai, we began to move into new territory. The Chinese request of May 30 for the F–15 or F–16 was the beginning. [2 lines not declassified]

The change in our policy is equally substantial, for we have put the Chinese on notice that we will differentiate between them and the Soviet Union. Chinese expectations have been aroused, and we have identified ourselves with a regime that faces a somewhat uncertain future.

As we move ahead, at least a moment’s reflection is called for. We are moving swiftly into uncharted waters with a regime whose credi [Page 975] bility and constancy has yet to be fully proven. We are running risks as to the Soviet reaction. [1 line not declassified] but we are less sure about the Chinese, since they may have an interest in letting it leak out.

While we support the new venture because of the extraordinary long-term promise as well as possible tactical benefits, others—including many who supported normalization—will shy away from the policies. That is one reason to avoid leaks, because as with normalization, it will be preferable to have our ducks lined up before the Congress is informed.

As a result of discussions in Beijing, we face these concrete issues:

—[less than 1 line not declassified] We need to analyze our options and develop a specific posture over the next few weeks.

—[1½ lines not declassified] There are many complexities we will undoubtedly discover as we proceed. Further, these issues pose great political sensitivities to the Chinese. The [2½ lines not declassified]. We have to proceed carefully, for we stand not only possibly to gain a permanent security relationship with China, but we possibly could lose our entire relationship as well. Deng Xiaoping let it be known that he had faced opposition on this, but had overcome it. [1½ lines not declassified]

Maps: What more can we do for them? They are very keen on assistance in this area.

—[1 paragraph (4½ lines) not declassified]

Weapons: We are not prepared to sell weapons to China. Interestingly, however, Deng disclosed that only the British will sell them military aircraft, meaning the Mirage fell through. One wonders about French willingness to sell the HOT and MILAN anti-tank missile. While we will not sell weapons, it may be that we should be even more active behind the scenes than the President was at Guadeloupe.3

In a private conversation, we also inquired whether the Chinese would welcome advice on how they might best respond to the Soviet threat, and they replied positively.

The key points here are that, first, our actions at this point can affect China’s defense posture for years to come—thereby possibly reducing the potential harm they can inflict on us—and second, we have an interest in maintaining a military balance along the Sino-Soviet border. But in the last five years, certainly at the conventional level, Chinese vulnerabilities have increased significantly.

In short, though we do not wish to sell arms to China, we do have an interest in China’s arms procurement and deployment policies. It [Page 976] behooves us to begin to explore their capabilities and strategies in greater depth, if they are willing.

Brown Visit: The Brown visit has assumed even greater significance in the new situation. It should be scheduled soon, but enough lead time should be allowed to play [plan?]carefully for it. We recommend setting a November date, but not announcing the trip until October. This will also give us time to monitor developments on the Sino-Vietnamese border. We also need to consider whether we should inform the Chinese that the trip will have to be delayed if they intend to teach Vietnam a second lesson.

A good cover will have to be provided for the Brown mission. To this end, the delegation probably should include ACDA representation. But the major focus should be consultation on the defense problems—as a substitute for actually providing arms.

Next Steps: Underlying all of these issues—[less than 1 line not declassified] weapons sales, [less than 1 line not declassified], maps, the Brown trip—are very important bureaucratic issues. How do we minimize the chances of leaks? How do we develop our options on each of these issues in intelligent fashion? Where do we negotiate these issues with the Chinese?

We strongly believe the following: (a) these issues should be handled as tightly as normalization; (b) only people who are working on the issue should be cut in; (c) all policy papers should be kept within the NSC; (d) pertinent Cabinet officials should be informed orally; (e) negotiations should be carried out in Washington. We recommend that you raise this with the President soon and nail it down—before Lake, Tarnoff, Reggie,4 et al, become part of the circle. We believe if these issues are compartmentalized and tightly controlled from the White House, leaks can be minimized or avoided at this end.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), President’s Meeting with [Vice Premier] Deng (Xiaoping, 12/19/78–10/3/79). Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Outside the System. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 241.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 196.
  4. Reginald Bartholomew.