278. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in China1

262984. Subject: Secretary Vance’s 10/04/79 Bilateral With Chinese Vice Minister Han Nianlong.

1. (C)—entire text.

2. Following is the full text of the memorandum of conversation between the Secretary and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Han, held October 4, 1979 (10:00 a.m.) at New York.

Memorandum of Conversation


Vice Foreign Minister Han Nianlong

Ambassador to the UN Chen Zhu

Counselor of PRCMUN Zhou Nan

[Page 1002]

Deputy Director of MFA, Asian Affairs Dept., Liang Feng

PRCMUN First Secretary Gou Jiading

Interpreter Yang Chen Yi


Secretary Vance

Ambassador McHenry

Under Secretary Newsom

Assistant Secretary Holbrooke

Deputy Assistant Secretary Sullivan

Embassy Beijing DCM Roy

(After an initial exchange of pleasantries and introductions.)

Han: I saw Foreign Minister Huang Hua on the eve of my departure from Beijing, and he asked me to convey to you his best regards.

Vance: Thank you.

Han: Foreign Minister Huang will be accompanying Premier Hua on his trip to Europe.

Vance: Please convey my best regards to the Foreign Minister on your return.

Holbrooke: When will Premier Hua’s trip begin?

Han: Around October 14 or 15. He will arrive in Paris on the 15th.

Vance: It would be useful to begin by bringing you up to date on where we stand with the Soviet Union concerning the presence of the Soviet brigade in Cuba. I don’t know whether you have read the President’s speech.2 In it he outlined the situation leading up to the identification of the brigade as being combat capable, and following that my negotiations with Gromyko and Dobrynin and the exchanges of messages between the heads of our two governments, President Carter and Mr. Brezhnev.3

Han: Yes. I have read President Carter’s speech.

Vance: Let me go over this briefly. You are aware of the Soviet assurances made in my conversations with Gromyko and in the exchanges of messages. As the President pointed out, our view remains unchanged concerning the combat capabilities of the brigade. However, we have noted as significant the Soviet assurances made with respect to the future. Nevertheless, we do not consider these sufficiently satisfactory, so President Carter outlined eight steps that he will take directed A) to the Caribbean area and the specific problems we face [Page 1003] there and B) certain other steps relating to the broader area, such as the strengthening of our rapid deployment forces and of our forces in the Indian Ocean. With respect to the Caribbean, we will monitor the status of Soviet forces by increased surveillance in order to insure that no Soviet units in Cuba can be used as combat forces to threaten the United States or any other nations in the Hemisphere. We are establishing the headquarters in Key West of a force with responsibility for planning, the conduct of exercises and the mobilization as necessary of forces to be used in the area. We will also expand our military manuevers in the area. In so stating, the President made clear that we intend to remain in Guantanamo in accordance with our treaty rights. Finally, we will increase our economic assistance to the nations of the Caribbean and Central America, which will be of major importance. These are the current actions on which we are embarked in the light of the situation in Cuba.

Han: As regards the Cuba incident, that is the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba, China like other countries is following the situation. Of course, this constitutes a challenge by the Soviet Union to the United States. As our U.S. friends have pointed out, 2–3,000 men do not constitute a threat to the United States.

Vance: Right.

Han: The Soviet Union is fond of minor maneuvers. As Vice Premier Deng said to Vice President Mondale, this is only a trial balloon on the part of the Soviet Union to see how you will respond—to see whether you will give a strong reaction or not. I think your reaction is quite strong. It should be strong. Even though 2–3,000 men do not have much clout, there should be a gesture against them. This is the right approach. The present incident is reminiscent of the 1962 missile incident. When the United States reacted on that occasion, Khrushchev behaved himself. He tucked in his tail and went away. In view of the U.S. actions, the Soviets had no choice but to provide some explanations. They could not admit that they were combat troops, so they could only explain that they were there for training purposes. The Soviets say that the troops are not new and have been there for a long time. I think that the United States is very clear on this point, that is how long the troops have been there. Since the Soviets have taken this action, it was correct for the United States to make a gesture on its part. Based on our experience in dealing with the Soviets, whenever the Soviet Union takes an action, it must be countered with another action. As for what action should be taken, this depends on the circumstances. It can be soft or strong. I do not wish to comment too much on this point.

Vance: Let me say one thing. The situation now is different from in 1962. In 1962 it was a clear threat to the United States—the Soviets were placing nuclear missiles and bombers capable of carrying nuclear [Page 1004] weapons only 90 miles from our shores. So the actions taken had to be stronger than in this case.

Han: I did not mean to say that the two incidents were of equal magnitude. I only said that the present incident reminded me of the 1962 incident. Perhaps the United States had even more talks with the Soviets concerning the present incident as compared to 1962.

Vance: I had six talks with Dobrynin and two with Gromyko.

Han: That makes eight altogether.

Vance: Let me turn to Indochina. We share some objectives concerning the problems in Indochina. The defeat of the Soviet and Vietnamese efforts to replace the Government of Democratic Kampuchea with their candidate, the rejection by the General Assembly, is a big fact. The size of the margin is very interesting coming after the Non-Aligned meeting.4

Han: That is right.

Vance: We are obviously concerned by the new dry season offensive getting underway now and by the consequences in terms of loss of life as well as the political consequences that could flow from this offensive. First, on the humanitarian side, we must continue to press very vigorously for the movement of food supplies in to feed the starving people and those who have been driven from their homes and land by the military operations underway. We must keep the spotlight of public opinion focused on the fact that we are not getting the kind of cooperation needed if these people are to be taken care of. Don (referring to Ambassador McHenry), could you give the latest report on where we stand concerning the extension of visas and the expansion of the number of people working for UNICEF and the Red Cross.

Amb. McHenry: Initially we encountered some problems with the continued presence of UNICEF and ICRC representatives in Kampuchea. They were given exit visas, but after representations to them (Hanoi and Phnom Penh), North Vietnamese and Phnom Penh officials informed the United Nations that they could continue to stay and in fact that their numbers could be increased and that they would continue to cooperate on the food program. Shortly afterwards, we received some mixed signals which left some doubt concerning the precise nature of the cooperation that the United Nations will receive. One of the UN officials left for Geneva, but is prepared to go back. The United Nations was reluctant to have both representatives leave at the same time. It is still an open question as to the extent of the cooperation [Page 1005] that the Phnom Penh people will give to the UN. One of the difficulties was that as soon as the Secretary General received the information that the Vietnamese and the Phnom Penh people would be cooperative, there were statements from Phnom Penh and in the UNGA which suggested that they were pulling back since they viewed the relief program as a means of getting food to Pol Pot as well. Of course, the food program must take care of both elements and not simply go to Phnom Penh to feed its troops, which would make the problem much more difficult.5

Vance: Let me say two things. Because of the foot-dragging and pulling back on commitments already made, it is important for our two governments to work together in the UN to keep the spotlight on the situation and to make sure that the food gets in there.

Han: (Nods.)

Vance: Let me mention one other aspect. It seems clear that as the dry season offensive goes on, more refugees will go to Thailand. This will increase tensions and the prospect of a conflict which could embroil the Thais with the Vietnamese. This is a source of concern to us. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on these problems with us.

Han: First, I agree with what the Secretary said—that the most important thing in bringing relief to the famine-stricken people from a humanitarian perspective is to make sure that the relief reaches the hands of these people. We must be extra careful that the food does not help the Vietnamese troops to continue their war in Kampuchea. Otherwise, it will only serve to help Vietnam and to enable them to continue their offensive.

Vance: We agree on that.

Han: In addition, the Phnom Penh government is a puppet regime inseparable from Vietnam. Even more obvious, Vietnam is at the beck and call of the Soviets. On the things you mentioned above, Vietnam will certainly report to the Soviets, and Soviet backing will be at work. We must be alert to this and have a clear perspective on it. At the present time, there are quite a few countries in the world who from a humanitarian standpoint want to give aid to the famine-stricken people. The question is how to do it. During the last few days I have been in touch with the chairmen of several delegations. They all raised the question of how to get the food to the needy people. On the relief question, I think one should get in touch with many sides—not simply with Phnom Penh but also with Pol Pot and the Democratic Kampuchean forces. After contacting various quarters, we can try to resolve [Page 1006] the matter. On your last point, I agree that the war in Kampuchea is escalating, and the Vietnamese dry season offensive will start soon. The Vietnamese are making full preparations for an offensive. Two things concern us as a result: This is bound to create more refugees fleeing to Thailand; and when the offensive begins, because of the disparity between the forces, the 200,000 Vietnamese troops will move from the east to the west closer to the Kampuchean-Thai border and will pose a greater threat to Thailand. I touched on this in my speech to the UNGA.6 I hope all countries and peoples interested in this will pay attention to the above points. The purpose of another Vietnamese dry season offensive is to wipe out all DK forces. In our view, the DK forces will suffer considerable losses, but it will be impossible for them to be wiped out completely. But there is a great disparity of forces. The DK side faces many difficulties, including shortages of ammunition and food. They are certain to pay dearly. All peoples and governments who uphold justice should render political, moral, and material support to the Kampuchean people. We also think that military and arms aid should also be rendered to the Kampuchean people. Many of our friends in the world are very dissatisfied with the conduct of the Pol Pot government and say that the Pol Pot government did lots of killing. But this should be put in perspective. The Pol Pot government made mistakes in its external and internal policies. This is a fact. We are aware of it. But these events in Kampuchea have been greatly exaggerated. Recently, Democratic Kampuchea issued a program calling on people of various strata and parties in Kampuchea to organize a united front, including Sihanouk, in jointly resisting the Vietnamese invasion. This is only on paper, but judging from elements of the program, they have now realized their past mistakes and want to correct them. We should allow people to correct their mistakes after they have made them. What’s more, it is a fact that the forces of Democratic Kampuchea have taken up arms in a firm struggle against the Vietnamese aggressor troops. This is a just struggle against aggression and in defense of national independence and freedom. This is the reason for the vote in the UN of 71 to 35. This shows that the sympathies of most people are on the side of Democratic Kampuchea. On the question of the threat to Thailand, this indeed exists but I do not think for the time being that Vietnam will launch aggression against Thailand when it has not yet solved the Kampuchean question. This is impossible.

Vance: I agree that the food should go to people in the Pol Pot areas as well as those in the area controlled by the Phnom Penh government.

[Page 1007]

Han: It should go to the needy people.

Vance: Second, we will continue to press as firmly, strongly, and vocally as possible for withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea. However, we have differences with you on the question of Pol Pot. We have said that we do not believe either Heng Samrin or Pol Pot really represents the people of Kampuchea. After Vietnamese troops have pulled out, the Kampuchean people should be given the chance to choose their own government freely.

Han: The premise must be that all Vietnamese troops should be pulled out forthwith.

Vance: I agree.

Han: Of course there are not just the two parties represented by Democratic Kampuchea and Heng Samrin. There are also other patriots such as Sihanouk, Penn Nouth, and Son Sann.

Vance: I agree.

Han: I hope you will be aware of the fact that Democratic Kampuchea is engaged in a real struggle to fight against the Vietnamese. I just said that Heng Samrin is a Vietnamese puppet and that Vietnam is a puppet of the Soviet Union. It is the Cuba of the East. We have a Cuba in the East and you have one in the West. In an editorial in their own party organ, the Vietnamese said that they are proud to be a twin brother of Cuba. They had the gall to say this openly. I myself wrote two poems in response to this. They were not really serious ones, but in them I said that since you are so proud of being twin brothers, then let me ask, who is your father? One has to take a deeper look at this question. The fact is that the image of Pol Pot is not good. This is not only the opinion of the United States. I have met many others with the same view. We have made clear that he made mistakes, that we were dissatisfied with his conduct, and that we have criticized it. We also note that many of our friends in a number of countries hope to have a political solution in Kampuchea to make the Vietnamese pull out their troops. Some even think of granting aid to Vietnam to make them pull out. The United States has even considered lifting the embargo, granting aid, and establishing diplomatic relations in exchange for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops. We think it is not realistic to pursue that now.

Vance: Let me clarify our position. We have said that there is no way that we could discuss establishing diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese while they have troops in Kampuchea and before the Kampuchean people have solved the problem themselves. We have not gone further than that to discuss aid or other questions. These are our conditions for even discussing diplomatic relations. After the refugees began to be forced into the sea, we halted the talks.

Holbrooke: We have never discussed aid at all with them.

[Page 1008]

Han: I said that I had heard such talk. People have raised this idea. We do not think it is realistic and know that you do not have it in mind now.

Vance: That is right. Time is limited, but there are one or two bilateral matters I would like to raise. We will be sending the Trade Agreement up (to the Hill) on October 23. We indicated when the Vice President was in China that we would do this by November 1. We have now reached agreement with Senator Byrd, the Majority Leader of the Senate, that we will do this on October 23.7 Secondly, we are very pleased with the Vice President’s trip to your country.

Han: We are also very satisfied. It was a major event and a very fruitful visit. The visit further advanced our friendly relations.

Vance: We share that view. We look forward very much to Chairman Hua’s visit to the United States and would like to receive your preferred dates for the visit.

Han: We are very pleased that Premier Hua has accepted your invitation for a visit. We are also pleased that President Carter has accepted our invitation to visit China. Next year there will be two major events. As for the dates for the visits, I propose that we engage in discussions later to determine mutually convenient times for both sides.

Vance: Good. I will leave this in your hands, Dick (Holbrooke). I am also pleased that Secretary Brown will be going to China later in the year. He is looking forward to the visit.

Han: We are presently considering dates for the visit.

Vance: Following up on the Vice President’s visit, we hope for the early conclusion of a consular convention and a civil air agreement. We should both work to bring these to an early conclusion.

Han: We hope so.

Vance: Mrs. Watson, who is in charge of our consular affairs, will be going to China next month. Perhaps when she is there we can work out the final details of the consular convention.

Han: Good. She will be welcome.

Vance: I wish we had more time.

Han: We will find another occasion.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790459–0452. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. Drafted by Roy and Freeman (EA/PRCM) and approved by Roger Sullivan (EA). Repeated Priority to Moscow, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Manila, USUN, Hong Kong, and Vientiane.
  2. President Carter addressed the nation the evening of October 1 on the Soviet combat troops in Cuba and SALT II. The text of the address is in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pp. 1802–1806.
  3. Documentation on the U.S.-Soviet negotiations regarding the Soviet troops in Cuba is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union.
  4. Regarding the debate in the UN Credentials Committee and the General Assembly, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 291–293. The most recent meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement was in Havana September 3–9.
  5. For information on the UN efforts to channel international aid to Kampuchea, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 277–278.
  6. Han addressed the UN General Assembly on September 27, denouncing the “brutal aggression” by Vietnam. (Bernard D. Nossiter, “Peking Official, in U.N., Calls Moscow Threat to Peace,” The New York Times, September 28, 1979, p. A9)
  7. In a letter of October 23, Carter transmitted Proclamation 4679 to Congress for approval. The proclamation included the text of the trade agreement signed on July 7 by Woodcock and Li Xiang (see footnote 2, Document 256), which granted most-favored-nation status to China. Carter included a copy of Executive Order 12167, which granted China a waiver of the JacksonVanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Act. See Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pp. 2000–2007.