268. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Trip to China

Following our Thursday discussion,2 here is how I see the schedule, purpose, and scope of my forthcoming trip to the PRC.

To avoid any connection with a possible “second lesson,”3 the visit should be in October, well before any PRC action is feasible in terms of the dry season and the necessary buildup. Also that will make my visit part of a previous scheduled trip to the region.

I envisage a stopover of several days in Beijing for talks with PRC leaders. I would also hope to see a bit of China, but have no intention of visiting particularly sensitive geographical areas or military installations. I would not expect to engage in the kind of global tour d’horizon of shared political and security concerns which characterized earlier conversations with PRC leaders. Rather, I believe my substantive exchanges with them should concentrate on the global military balance with emphasis on 1) trends in the Soviet defense buildup, 2) the inherent strengths (as well as some vulnerabilities) in the US military posture, 3) the appropriate size and characteristics of China’s military [Page 978] capabilities, and 4) arms control issues of mutual interest (to emphasize this aspect I suggest having George Seignious accompany me). I expect that Deng and leading members of the PRC defense establishment would be my principal interlocutors.

The principal purpose would be further to broaden and deepen our bilateral relationship with China. Our relationship with Moscow has long contained a security component (i.e., arms control negotiations), and there have been occasional military-to-military contacts. During my recent discussions with Defense Minister Ustinov, I invited him to visit the US. With the full normalization of our ties with Beijing it is time to develop a parallel dialogue and contacts with the Chinese by accepting their invitation.

More specifically, the ends I see are:

1. The trip—and the inference that Sino-US ties could take on more tangible security overtones in the future—can elicit from the Soviets greater restraint and sensitivity to US interests in third areas. This lever is one of the few we have, and the visit will point this out to the Soviets.

2. Substantive exchanges during my visit—[2 lines not declassified].

3. The visit should strengthen domestic bipartisan political support for our foreign policy efforts by demonstrating a capacity to deal with the realities of triangular politics on a hardheaded basis across a broad spectrum of issues. (This would help with SALT, but the political benefits should extend beyond that.)

4. I will begin an evolving interchange with the Chinese on defense subjects. This can produce, over time, greater benefits in terms of adjustments in the global balance of forces, the complementarity of our respective defense efforts, a greater measure of US influence over PRC policies, and a more responsible Chinese attitude towards arms control. It would be appropriate, for example, to encourage a dialogue about what makes sense for the PRC in the way of force structure.

It is important to minimize risks by careful attention to the details. To this end, I will:

1. Not generate Chinese expectations that we may be unable to fulfill—particularly on the matter of arms sales. I would indicate frankly what we can do (e.g., provision of some dual use technology), and what we cannot do (e.g., sell F–15s).

2. Stay away from any gratuitous “baiting of the Polar Bear,” in connection with the trip, and emphasize that it balances parallel arrangements and/or initiatives (Ustinov invitation) with the Soviets.

3. Plan for timely advance notice to key US allies of the trip and close consultations with them on the substance.

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4. Consult with key Congressional leaders to avoid any misunderstanding about the objectives of the trip.

Since Ambassador Chai will be back in a few days, specific dates and other details should be proposed to him promptly in line with Deng’s suggestion.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 33, Meetings, Vance/Brown/Brzezinski: 8/79–9/79. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. At the top of the page, Brzezinski wrote a note to Gates: “RG, V-B-B luncheon. ZB.”
  2. Vance, Brown, and Brzezinski met for lunch on Thursday, September 6. In a memorandum the day before, Oksenberg advised Brzezinski that the lunch “should set the date for the Brown trip.” In regard to “Sensitive Issues,” Oksenberg wrote, “You should inform Vance and Brown that you are establishing a special SCC Committee under David Aaron to develop options [less than 1 line not declassified] and maps. The group will include Carlucci, Newsom, someone Brown is to designate, and Bobby Inman. You should indicate the President’s desire for this matter to be treated with the same secrecy that we handled normalization, with all policy papers remaining under NSC control. No more people are to be cut into the circle unless the President approves.” (Memorandum from Oksenberg to Brzezinski, September 5; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 25, Brown (Harold) 1/80 Trip, 8–9/79)
  3. The “second lesson” refers to a possible second Chinese invasion of Vietnam in response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.