286. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • My Trip to China

I depart on January 4 for a week-long visit to China. During my four days in Beijing, it is likely that I will meet with Hua and Deng, as well as with leading members of China’s defense establishment. Subsequently, I am scheduled to visit various Chinese military units, schools, installations, and defense industries in Wuhan and Shanghai. On my way back, I shall stop in Tokyo and Honolulu to debrief the Japanese [Page 1026] government and CINCPAC; I plan to return to Washington on January 16.

The broad objectives of my trip to China are:

—To develop an institutional framework for wider contacts and exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese defense establishments.

—To broaden and deepen the security dialogue between our governments by sharing assessments of the military dimensions of the Soviet challenge, and exchanging views on our respective strategies for countering that challenge.

—To discuss regional security issues of immediate concern (e.g., Korea, Indochina, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan) with an eye to coordinating our policies in those areas to the extent possible.

—To draw the Chinese into a more sophisticated discussion of arms control matters of mutual interest.

—To convey to the Chinese, the Soviet Union, interested allies, and the domestic public that we regard modest steps toward defense cooperation with China as a natural by-product of a normal political relationship. We want further to convey that our relationship with China will evolve as we each see in our own interest, where those interests run parallel; we do not intend to be provocative to the USSR, but we will not let the Soviets dominate the relation between the U.S. and the PRC.

We have agreed with the PRC to discuss the following agenda: Trends in the global and regional military balance, arms control issues, regional security problems, and bilateral questions of mutual concern.

1. Assessment of the military balance. I plan to provide PRC leaders with a hardheaded rundown on Soviet strategic and conventional military capabilities, emphasizing the dangers implicit in current Soviet attempts to exploit opportunities in the “arc of crisis” running from the Middle East through Southeast Asia. I shall detail the actions we are taking to counter the Soviet challenge, with special emphasis on our expanded defense budget, recent NATO decisions on TNF, our moves to carve out a new and expanded security role in the Middle East/Persian Gulf area, and measures we are taking to develop a Rapid Deployment Force. In return, I shall seek to obtain a better reading on Chinese assessments of Soviet strengths and weaknesses; a fuller appreciation of PRC strategic doctrine; and a clearer understanding of where defense fits into China’s modernization priorities, and how these priorities will shape their plans for importing modern military equipment and/or dual-use technology from the West.

2. Arms control. Aside from providing the Chinese a picture of how the Administration’s arms control efforts fit into our broader national strategy, I will encourage PRC leaders to recognize the political as well [Page 1027] as strategic benefits of a more active PRC role on international arms control issues. More specifically, I plan to:

—Offer to establish special communications facilities between Beijing and Washington (a “hot line”) in order to permit rapid and confidential exchanges between our governments during international crises. I would have in mind a “full time” circuit, but less sophisticated and less expensive than the MOLINK. I plan merely to make a general offer as a basis for discussion, leaving the details to be worked out later.

—Urge the Chinese to move their nuclear testing program underground as expeditiously as possible, and indicate a willingness to provide unclassified data concerning underground tests (but not diagnostic materials or restricted information on technology) as an inducement.

—Sound out the Chinese about their accession to multilateral arms control agreements such as the Seabeds Treaty, and Outer Space Treaty.

—Suggest that the PRC implement swiftly its expressed intent to take a seat in the CCD.

3. Regional security issues. Unlike previous trips where U.S. and Chinese leaders have engaged in a global tour d’horizon on security and political issues, I plan to concentrate on a few areas of special and immediate concern.

—On Korea, I shall take note of recent Chinese assurances that North Korea will not seek to exploit the recent political changes in the ROK, emphasize the importance of continued DPRK restraint, remind the Chinese that direct discussions between authorities in Pyongyang and Seoul are indispensable to promote coexistence on the peninsula, and encourage them to urge the North Koreans to reconsider their attitude toward our proposal for Tripartite Talks which remains on the table. I will add that we are not prepared to initiate2 direct contacts with the North—however informal—to discuss Korean issues without ROK representation.

—With respect to Indochina, I will confirm our position that the U.S. and China share many common objectives in Indochina, acknowledge our continued understanding and acceptance of the division of political/military labor discussed during Vice President Mondale’s trip, noting however, political problems the U.S. may face in sustaining current policy efforts if Sino-Thai collaboration in support of Pol Pot forces becomes too blatant and visible. In this latter connection, I intend to reaffirm our conviction that the Pol Pot forces should not be the sole focal point of resistance to the SRV, and explore with PRC leaders the [Page 1028] possibility of diminishing the role of Pol Pot and his close associates in order to facilitate the development of a more broadly-based Khmer resistance—perhaps with Sihanouk playing an increasingly prominent role as a “third force” capable of galvanizing indigenous resistance and wider external support.

—With respect to Pakistan, I intend to inform the Chinese of our intent to improve relations with Islamabad, and explore how they might be helpful in this regard. In addition, I plan to discuss how U.S.–Pakistan and Sino-Pakistan relations may be useful in dealing with current difficulties in Iran and Afghanistan. I shall restate our concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear activities, but without high expectations of securing Beijing’s cooperation in turning them off, and will note that (in Warren Christopher’s year-end trip to Pakistan) we reiterated our position about the Pakistani nuclear program but said we would not let it stand in the way of military sales or other cooperation except as we are bound legislatively (e.g., no FMS credits).3

—As for Afghanistan, I shall share with the Chinese information on Soviet military activities, indicate to them how we plan to respond to recent developments, and consider with them ways to concert our efforts to counter the Soviet’s blatant interventionism and force Moscow to pay a high political price for it internationally. I plan to raise the possibility of joint U.S.–PRC–Saudi action through Pakistan in affecting the situation in Afghanistan. As part of our effort to make the Soviets pay for their actions in Afghanistan, and perhaps to contain them, I will make plain in my public statements that the subject of Afghanistan was discussed with the PRC.

—With respect to Iran, I will give the Chinese a rundown on late developments and seek to elicit PRC support for further U.S. moves to isolate Iran, secure the release of U.S. hostages, and diminish Soviet opportunities to exploit the situation.4

4. Bilateral security issues. As I indicated in my memorandum to you of December 14,5 I believe the nature of our future security connection with China should be left somewhat ambiguous and the attitudes of both sides open-minded. However, I do not intend to encourage any Chinese illusions that we are prepared to contemplate arms sales, joint military planning or formal security arrangements at this stage. I do plan to propose a modest expansion of contacts and exchanges between [Page 1029] our defense establishments, and convey USG decisions on key technology transfer cases. Specifically:

—With respect to contacts, I plan to invite my counterparts (Defense Minister Xu and/or Geng Biao, Secretary General of the Military Commission) to visit the United States, expand our respective military attache offices on the basis of reciprocity; increase cooperation in the field of medical research; suggest a more extensive pattern of visits (including professional lectures on modern military programs and tactics) between our National Defense University and the PRC Military Academy; reaffirm our willingness to have U.S. Navy ships visit Chinese ports; and offer in due course to have U.S. experts discuss with Chinese counterparts our experience in such support areas as communications and medicine.

—As for technology transfers, I shall convey our decision on the Landsat D case as an earnest of our intent to differentiate between the technology we are prepared to export China on the one hand and that which we are willing to authorize for sale to the Soviets on the other. I do not plan to foreshadow to the Chinese the specific approach we will adopt to implement a China differential within COCOM. I will reaffirm our intent to initiate such an effort after the U.S.–PRC Trade Agreement is ratified by the Congress.

With respect to the future trajectory of Sino-U.S. defense cooperation, I intend to convey to the Chinese our belief that there is ample scope for exchanging views, contacts, and some dual-use technology as a by-product of normal political relations, leaving consideration of more sensitive forms of cooperation for circumstances in which our mutual security interests are more directly and ominously challenged. I shall indicate that this incremental approach is not only most likely to exert a salutary deterrent effect on the Soviets, but insure domestic and allied support for broader Sino-U.S. defense cooperation if it should become necessary in the future.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 6, Defense Department: 12/79. Secret. A copy was sent to Vance. At the top of the page, Carter wrote, “Harold—Very good. J.” He added, “Check with me just before you leave. J.” An attached note from Brzezinski reads, “12/29. Mr. President—Harold’s memo is consistent with your earlier instructions. Cy will comment soon. Zbig.”
  2. Someone, probably Carter, crossed out “initiate” and wrote “establish.”
  3. Someone, probably Carter, underlined “bound legislatively.”
  4. On November 4, Iranian militants overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.
  5. Presumably Brown is referring to his December 13 memorandum, see Document 283.