293. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Dr. Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense, and Zhang Aiping, Director of the Chinese National Defense Science and Technology Commission


  • U.S. Side
  • Dr. Brown
  • Dr. Dinneen, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering
  • Mr. Jayne, Staff Member, OMB
  • Mr. Platt, Staff Member NSC
  • Mr. Oksenberg, Staff Member, Department of State [ NSC]
  • Mr. Neuhauser, Staff Member, CIA
  • DCM Roy
  • Chinese Side
  • Zhang Aiping, Chairman of the NDSTC
  • Quian Xusen, Vice Chairman of the NDSTC
  • Liu Huaqin, Assistant Chief of the General Staff
  • Zhang Zhenhuan, Vice Chairman of the NDSTC
  • Zhou Jiahua, Deputy Director of the National Defense Industry
  • Wang Letian, Deputy Chief of the Equipment Department
  • Xu Yimin, Defense Attache

After an exchange of greetings, Secretary Brown opened the discussion by noting that the U.S.-Chinese relationship should be that of a relationship between friends; that it won’t always be where one side asks, but a relationship in which both sides are willing to ask. He noted that it will take us some time to get used to it; to know what each side can give and also what each side cannot give.

Zhang: Mr. Secretary, your visit comes after a trip of 10,000 miles. This visit itself depicts the further friendship between us. As to what you have said, when one side asks something from the other, it puts them in an embarrassing situation. However, in friendship, there is no embarrassment. I wonder if in the U.S. there’s a practice when one does not take enough money to dinner and asks his friends to loan him money if the other says he cannot spend that much, then that is not friendship. The relationship between our two countries is very important to us and to the world. And I hope you don’t have embarrassment.

[Page 1068]

Brown: I was not thinking of the questions my Chinese friends might raise. I was thinking of something which might be very important to the U.S. Something which I raised with Vice Premier Deng. That is to have our friends stand by us. I didn’t feel embarrassed to ask. If the PRC feels different about it, I understand that. We only want to make sure we have talked through all of the arguments for doing something.

Zhang: That is good if there is no embarrassment. His Excellency asks to meet with us separately to discuss our military relationship and to discuss technology. Even though Dr. Quian is very busy, he wanted very much to come to meet you.

Brown: I especially wanted to meet Dr. Quian because many of his U.S. friends have asked me to meet him. Although we didn’t overlap at CalTech, many of his friends still remember him fondly.

—As for the subject of military technology transfer, Dr. Dinneen went over that this afternoon.2 I thought it would be useful to go over some of the same points with some military men who also had special interests in them.

—Perhaps it is worth repeating something that was said this afternoon.3 That is, I would like to distinguish between transfer of arms, transfer of military equipment, and transfer of technology. Further there is technology that is purely civilian, some of which has both civil and military uses, and technology which is purely military. The line between arms and military material is not a clear line. Everyone would agree that trucks are military equipment but not arms. Some kinds of radars, I would say, are arms; others would be considered as equipment. Our position, and I have expressed it earlier to Vice Premier Deng and Geng Biao this morning, is that we will not transfer arms but we are willing to transfer military equipment, and I gave one example.

—I can understand why China would not want to buy large supplies of arms and equipment from the U.S. or anyone for reasons of prudent use of resources. China has a very large army and to equip it with U.S. equipment which, unfortunately, is very expensive, would cost a great deal of money and foreign exchange.

Zhang: Apart from foreign exchange, no country can provide such a large quantity of arms. The U.S. is the most developed country. Production would be great.

Brown: China nor any other country would want to depend on purchases from other countries, rather it would want to produce its own equipment. So if I were to be in your position, I would be inter [Page 1069] ested in acquiring the drawings and going from there to produce the equipment itself. Carrying it out takes a highly developed industry and many well-trained individuals to make and operate the machinery. In the long run, China would be able to produce, to train, to create the technology and industrial base that would be necessary. However, as a friend, I would suggest that it will take much longer than you like and probably much longer than you expect to do that. It is a great deal harder to make high quality jet aircraft engines than it is to make the best automobile. It is much more difficult to make an accurate guidance system than it is to make TV sets. I say this not to encourage you to buy the equipment itself, but to put it into perspective, and lead into what the U.S. might do to help you become more self-sufficient.

—Part of the difficulty is, as Dr. Dinneen might have told your colleagues, is to know exactly what you want to ask for in order to improve your military capabilities. There is no point in asking, to take an example, for a high technology imaging infra-red device. We don’t even transfer that to our NATO allies, and even if you’ve got the blueprint, you would find it very difficult to manufacture. What we would like to do is to work with you, to discover components that we could transfer and which later you might be able to produce yourselves. And the level of technology I now have in mind is not strictly civilian or military but could be used for both. In order to make sure that the transfer can take place, we must talk together much longer. I feel we have a real start on this and it can be expanded.

—We will be looking into this and the procedures which we follow—procedures which may be very cumbersome. And we will also be willing to consider requests for the purchase of military equipment, providing it does not fall into the realm of arms.

—Forgive me if I appear to be too much of a teacher. Much of what I say could be incorrect, and I don’t think our relationship is that of teacher and pupil. We are equal and we can learn from you. But on these issues, I think there has been a great deal of misunderstanding. But I wanted to get it out into the open.

Zhang: Mr. Secretary, we are glad of your decision to help us develop our military technology. Like the other aspects of our economy, our technology lags well behind you. The reason we want access to your technology is that we want to develop at a faster pace. Without the assistance of foreign countries, we can do nothing. The PRC has undertaken to develop some weapons from nothing. Compared to you, we are lagging far behind. In past years we have developed from nothing to something by our own efforts. Having done this, we believe in the future we can develop faster.

—As, Mr. Secretary, you are aware, the main reason we are lagging behind is because of the disruption of the industrial base by Lin [Page 1070] Biao and the Gang of Four. We are confident in the present phases and our strategy and that we will develop. I’m not saying we can catch up to you, but with your help we can develop at a fast speed.

—Mr. Secretary, I would like to know the substance of what you mean by a case-by-case basis. I wonder if my understanding is correct; that, if we need something will you provide it to us? To be specific, does this mean that we can send experts to your country to study in your research labs, or do you send people to visit here, or will you provide blueprints?

Brown: Let me go back to an earlier point in which you assumed that we would assist in developing your military capability. Our intention is to provide you military equipment or sell to you technology, it is not U.S. policy or intention to build up Chinese military capabilities. That is your purpose. We are willing, because we have developed normal relations, to engage in some technology transfers with you.

—As for procedures, this is not an aid program in which we send people to build arms factories. We do want to see your level of technology and equipment improve because we believe it will help stability. We understand, that in building up your industrial capability, it will benefit military as well as civilian capabilities. You must decide what you want and we must decide what we will sell.

—We realize that it is not useful to you if we merely let you guess at what we will sell. Hence, there is reason for more discussions in which your experts say how large a computer capacity you want, that is, how many bits of data per chip that you want and how much we can provide. With the answer to that question, and questions such as how sensitive an infra-red device you want, you will be able to decide how to proceed in your own technology development and what you can get from us.

Zhang: I am not referring to that question. I talked about three methods of obtaining assistance from you.

Brown: As I remember you talked about sending Chinese to visit industries or factories in the U.S.

Zhang: I was saying that you, on your part, would like to help us with our military technology. I was then discussing three ways in which we could obtain your help: sending our people to train in the U.S., or having your experts come to China to train us; or sending us blueprints.

Brown: It is not our intention to build up Chinese military technology, but we are willing to transfer technology that might have military uses. We would be happy to have your military personnel visit the U.S., but we would still have to go through the discussion of what you want and what we are willing to give, how much technology is in [Page 1071] volved, which individual items would be transferred, and how much manufacturing technology and material would be involved—all that would have to worked out in advance.

Zhang: In the very beginning you expressed your willingness to help us with military technology. My question is what methodology do you want to use? What methods should we follow? If this question is solved, we can proceed to discuss specific items.

Brown: In each case, we would have to go through the processes I just discussed. Once it was decided what would be provided, we could follow one of the three courses you have discussed—send your experts over to the U.S., or we could send people to China to train you, or transfer blueprints and specifications. It would depend on the special case.

Zhang: If we can reach agreement on this point, we do not have to discuss each and every case. I have a second question on the point that you raised. Just now you were saying we can have further discussions, do you mean tomorrow?

Brown: I had in mind further visits from China to the U.S. and from the U.S. to China, not through defense attaches. Our attaches lack the necessary expertise, although General Xu does know many things and may have the expertise necessary to do well in all of these discussions. I think we may need another process.

Zhang: When can we have more discussions?

Brown: Either tomorrow or later. Dr. Dinneen and I will still be here. After that, it will have to involve exchange meetings.

Zhang: Tomorrow we can continue our discussions with Dr. Dinneen.4

Brown: Is the People’s Liberation Army side of your government aware of the discussions such as LANDSAT D and the Western Geophysical case?

Zhang: We are aware of them.

Brown: I mention this because it is an example of how discussions can be conducted. Although not necessarily a good example, because of our cumbersome procedures.

Zhang: You have suggested talks tomorrow. You can tell us what you are willing to sell and we will tell you what we will buy. Let us know what items will be in the first batch and we will select. I think this will be much better.

[Page 1072]

Brown: I’m afraid we do not have a large department store with lots of items marked and priced for sale. Technology transfer is much more complicated than that; for example, two separate items can be sold but if they are put together we cannot sell them.

Zhang: Then separate them. You don’t have a department store, but you have aircraft engines, atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs, electronic warfare interference sets and many things.

Brown: If the question is put that way, the answer can be provided very quickly. We will not sell military aircraft engines, atomic bombs and these types of things. The only way we can have a productive relationship is for you to ask us for what you want.

Zhang: I was not talking about atomic bombs. I was talking about technology transfer.

Brown: I can only repeat what I said. We can only make progress if you let us know what you wish to purchase.

Zhang: I don’t want to embarrass you.

Brown: Between friends, there should be no embarrassment.

Zhang: We are glad you want to help us develop our military capability. With your help we can develop faster. We fought once without arms; we are self-sufficient. We can use inferior equipment to defeat a foe with superior equipment. We want to develop our weapons not only for China but also for the interests of the world and perhaps of the U.S. Hence, I must make a very frank statement. Four days ago, I came across a New York Times correspondent’s article.5 He merely covered the issue of the exportation of U.S. military equipment to China. In the article there is the idea that China had a history of xenophobia. Chinese have always been friendly towards foreign friends. The kind of xenophobia he talks about is a misunderstanding. We don’t harbor hatred against all foreigners, only against those that bully us.

—Now we are friends with the U.S. Government, let alone the U.S. people; for example, our government has expressed their warm welcome to you. We would welcome you even if you had not offered to help us develop so don’t be influenced by the statements that the Chinese have xenophobia—don’t be influenced by that. You don’t hold their view, perhaps the article has bad advice for us.

Brown: You need not worry about members of the U.S. Government placing too much credence on newspaper articles or believing everything in the press. I am very flattered by your warm welcome. And I am more convinced than ever through my discussions here that we have very strong interests in common, i.e., preserving peace and re [Page 1073] sisting aggression. For that reason I am convinced of the correctness of the U.S. Government policy of making available to you civilian technology with dual use. We have general criteria for the transfer of such items of technology and they would have to be followed. I hope that we can get down to cases.

Zhang: When can we get together tomorrow? We have raised our requests. Tomorrow we will have your answers. (It was then agreed that the Chinese would meet with Dr. Dinneen the following afternoon.)

Nicholas Platt
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 26, Brown (Harold) 1/80 Trip Memcons: 1/80. Top Secret; Sensitive. Prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Richeson from Platt’s notes. The meeting took place in Guest House Number 4.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 292.
  3. Not further identified. This is probably a reference to the January 8 discussion between Dinneen and Liu.
  4. The memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Dinneen and Liu Huaqing on January 9 at 3:30 p.m. is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 26, Brown (Harold) 1/80 Trip Memcons: 1/80.
  5. Drew Middleton, “Pentagon Studies Prospects of Military Links With China,” The New York Times, January 4, 1980, p. A2.