294. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between Secretary of Defense Brown and Premier Hua Guo-Feng


  • U.S. Side:
  • Secretary Brown
  • Ambassador Woodcock
  • Under Secretary Komer
  • Assistant Secretary McGiffert
  • Assistant Secretary of State Holbrooke
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary Armacost
  • NSC Staff Member Oksenberg
  • NSC Staff Member Platt
  • Colonel Gilliland
  • Chinese Side:
  • Premier Hua
  • Geng Biao
  • Wu Xiuchen
  • Zhang Wenjin
  • Lie Huaching
  • Chai Chenwen
  • Han Xu
  • Ji Chiaozhu
  • Huang Zhenji
[Page 1074]

Premier Hua: The general response to your visit is favorable. Because you have come to visit us after the Soviet Union dispatched troops into Afghanistan, various countries are paying close attention to the progress of your visit. There are only a few people not satisfied, for example, our neighbor to the north.

Vice Premier Geng: Vietnam is not satisfied.

Secretary Brown: The events in Afghanistan have given my visit a significance and immediacy it would not have had. My visit, as the rest of Sino-US relations, is not directed against any third country, but is for the purpose of peace and security of both of our countries. If other countries have expansionist ideas, I can see how my visit would displease them.

[Reporters leave.]2

Premier Hua: Once again, I express a warm welcome. One year and nine days have elapsed since the normalization of our relations. Since then, our bilateral relations have developed on the whole in a satisfactory way. Vice President Mondale has visited China and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping has been in the United States. During the same period, a large number of delegations have gone back and forth between the two countries. Dr. Brown, we pay great attention to your current visit; you arrived on the 5th and today is the 8th, so you have already been in China four days. During those four days, you have held good sessions with Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping and Geng Biao, and members of your delegation have held discussions with their counterparts. I am aware of what has been discussed. Generally, we feel that the talks have been conducted in a friendly and cordial atmosphere. On a great number of international issues, our two sides’ views are either close to each other or identical. We have also exchanged views on those questions which we see differently. We think that these kinds of talks have deepened mutual understanding and facilitated our friendship. Generally, we feel Sino-American relations are making constant headway. As I understand it, the two sides have expressed agreement on their broad views of the international situation. If there have been some differences in the past between us on the international situation, then we have come even closer to each other in our views.

For instance, the world has become even more turbulent and tense than before. During my European tour last year, I found that the European countries had moved closer to ours in their views. If some differences remained, Afghanistan has brought us even closer. During my tour, the European leaders asked this question: Was it inevitable that the Soviet Union would launch a war or commit aggression? There was [Page 1075] a question in their minds, but after Afghanistan, these countries have adopted a clearcut attitude.

The United Nations Security Council voted 13 in favor of the Afghanistan Resolution and 2 against—the Soviet Union and East Germany. As far as the international situation is concerned, I have nothing more to add. Do you have any questions to raise?

Please give my friendly regards to President Carter. You have also conveyed President Carter’s invitation to me to visit your country. I would like to express my appreciation for that invitation. As regards timing, you suggested June. My schedule in the first half of the year is already rather full. According to the schedule worked out for me, it is likely that I will visit some ASEAN countries, and this coming May will visit Japan, a commitment that was fixed on the occasion of Prime Minister Ohira’s visit to China. According to our constitution, the Third Plenary of the Fifth National People’s Congress must occur in the first half of this year. So my program is rather crowded. We should discuss the proper timing further through diplomatic channels.

The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan contains some new features, by comparison with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Soviet Union applied Brezhnev’s doctrine of limited sovereignty to invade Czechoslovakia. But that is a doctrine that the Soviet Union does not apply to itself, only to the East Europeans. So far as the Soviet Union is concerned, what is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine, too. In Afghanistan, the Soviets invaded a sovereign Islamic country that is not even a member of the Socialist community. The Soviet Union said it dispatched troops at the request of the Afghan Government and in accordance with its treaty obligations. But this position is untenable. How could Amin invite the Soviets in to kill him and his family? There is no precedent for inviting someone to kill one’s self. The Soviets have killed three Afghan Presidents—Daoud, Taraki, and Amin. So there is every reason for the opinion of the world community to be aroused.

After Afghanistan, the Soviet Union will try to go a step further. As a result, China is in favor of the attention the US Government is paying to the invasion. We are in favor of effective measures you have made to punish the Soviet Union. China will make its own contributions in this direction.

We should adopt a theory of dichotomy in analyzing anything. The Soviet invasion has one good point. It has educated the world by its action. Many countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, have made clear their opposition to Soviet aggression. So my feeling is that in the course of solving a variety of contradictions one should grasp the main contradiction and take into account the general interest in opposing expansionism.

[Page 1076]

Dr. Brown, I am doing a monologue. I should ask our guest to say something.

Secretary Brown: I enjoyed what you were saying. I would like to express some views on the international situation, and later we can both talk about bilateral relations. Let me begin by transmitting to you President Carter’s personal regards, which he asked me to give you when we had breakfast on Friday.

Premier Hua: Please thank him for me.

Secretary Brown: I will. He looks forward to your visit to the United States, and his subsequent visit to China. The dates are complicated by the fact that this is an election year. The election campaign process sets certain problems into the calendar, just as your Third Plenary of the National People’s Congress does. That’s why he suggested the month of June. The political conventions occur in summer and after that campaign activity will become very busy. Probably the first half of July would also be convenient, but I cannot be sure. We should, as you suggest, work this out through diplomatic channels.

Premier Hua: Good.

Secretary Brown: I too am impressed with the convergence of our views on international issues. There are a few places where we see things differently, and I want to come back to that in a moment. But by and large we see things the same. For example, a strong NATO Alliance, and a stable Northeast Asia, are essential for the security of the US and China. If we can have strength in these areas, we can concentrate on holding back the Soviet thrust southward in South and Southeast Asia. The counterpart meeting yesterday afternoon reviewed the military balance in various parts of the world in various categories, such as the naval balance, and came up with similar conclusions.

During the last two years the United States and Western Europe have been building up their forces. The momentum has come from an increasing sense of Soviet expansionism. The events of Afghanistan have heightened the sense of concern, and extended it to many countries in the Middle East, many of whom are worried about the influence of the Soviets directly, or indirectly through proxies like the Cubans, both of which have been growing in the past two years.

The events in Afghanistan have significance for themselves, but are even more meaningful for Soviet designs on Pakistan. I am very pleased with the prospects for our taking parallel and cooperative action with respect to bolstering Pakistan, and making the Soviets pay for their actions in Afghanistan. In some ways Iran is even more important than Pakistan because it is the road to the oil fields. The bad situation between Iran and the United States makes it very difficult for us to act to counter Soviet influence. The situation puts pressure on us to concentrate our efforts toward the return of the hostages.

[Page 1077]

The President has specifically asked me, by a personal message, to tell you that he attaches high personal and political importance to the need of support by the Peoples Republic of China in favor of sanctions against Iran in the up-coming UN vote. This is a matter not of tactics, because we can differ on tactics, but a matter of solidarity between friends. To a large extent the world will see this issue not as a matter of the United States versus Iran, but as a matter of the US versus the Soviet Union. It becomes a question of who can mobilize the largest number of Third World votes, the Soviet Union or the United States. I don’t want to take up your time by rehearsing the arguments, but want you to know the importance the United States and President Carter personally attach to this issue and why. I would be happy now to talk about other bilateral relations, but would ask you to speak first to these or other matters.

Premier Hua: (In Chinese, Hua asked what else Brown talked about? to that the interpreter said; “Iran, that’s it.”) I would like to offer you some observations on US-Iranian relations. First, I have taken note of the fact that the President and the people attach great importance to the release of the hostages. It is wrong for the Iranians to hold Americans hostage. The Chinese Government made this known a long time ago, criticized the Iranians, and told them that the holding of the hostages was the wrong approach. We have worked to use our influence toward the release of the American hostages, both at the United Nations and in other forums. Now there is a new development—the invasion of Afghanistan—which is posing a greater threat to Pakistan. In this connection, I think we should continue to make efforts to get the hostages released, but as to specific measures, these should be adopted with the world situation in mind. If one should impose sanctions hastily, this might give rise to other problems. The Iranians might persist in keeping the hostages, at the same time adopting a totally hostile posture toward the U.S. and possibly falling under the influence of the Soviet Union. I question whether this would fit with our world strategy. This is the question we have been considering since the invasion of Afghanistan. We have conversations in depth with our American friends. We hope that the Americans will consider our point of view. I am afraid that at present, the Iranian question is not one between the U.S. and the Soviet Union because the Iranians are still strongly opposed to the Soviet Union. Of course we are aware of the fact that in the absence of a firm attitude it would be difficult for American leaders to handle the domestic situation because American diplomats are held hostage. Before our meeting, I had an idea of President Carter’s message. I think there is still time for us to consider this question. It would be good for all of us to think hard how to strike the balance between global interests, local events, strategy, and tactics. We see eye to eye with the United States on the hostage question and should [Page 1078] work hard on this point. In this connection, of course our American friends are the leaders, but we should consider carefully how to proceed. We feel that President Carter and the United States Government have been prudent in handling the hostage issue. His reaction has been well received both in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Those are some of our comments.

Secretary Brown: It is useful for us to know that we have China’s good will on this issue. Iran could not be more antagonistic toward us than it is now. Somehow the authorities there, and no one is quite sure who is in authority, have to be brought to their senses.

Premier Hua: The Iranian situation is most unstable. The country is riddled with factions. There have been new incidents in the city of Tabriz. Ayatollah Shariat-Madari, Ayatollah Khomeini, the students in the Embassy, and the Tudeh Party influenced by the Soviet Union—all of these have factions. Not every word Khomeini says carries weight. This unstable situation affects Saudi Arabia and other countries. The event at the Grand Mosque at Mecca has a deep background.3 We hope that people will think very carefully as they handle these issues. There is still time to consider the matter.

Secretary Brown: We will. We want to be restrained. So long as international action continues to promise results, the American people will continue to support President Carter in his restraint. So far, however, nothing has had much effect. If it looks like there will be no sanctions, then American support will break and the chance of unilateral action, with the dangers that are entailed, will increase. There is a point at which prudence becomes regarded as weakness. We cannot afford to pass that point.

Premier Hua: Just now you said it was a matter of the United States versus the Soviet Union to see who can get the most votes. Right now, the U.S. clearly gets more votes. If the Resolution is passed imposing sanctions on Iran, some people will regard these as reasonable because the Iranians are holding the Americans hostage. But one should consider the long-term results. There might be several reactions if a Resolution imposing sanctions were passed. First, the hostages might be released; second the Iranians, because they are in a poor position and have nothing to lose might adopt more extreme actions, perhaps even leading to a shift in the Iranian attitude toward the Soviet Union. Perhaps we can discuss this question more deeply to determine the possible effects of action. It is quite similar to playing Chinese chess. One has to think several steps ahead in the hope that each move will help improve the picture. In any case, I am well aware that President [Page 1079] Carter is greatly worried about the Americans held hostage. Please rest assured that China will not harm the United States’ interests.

Secretary Brown: Let me say a few words about how we can add substance to our bilateral relations. I would like to talk about technology transfer.

Premier Hua: Good.

Secretary Brown: In this area we have clarified our views and made some suggestions. We have had a number of meetings at which we have explained our policy towards arms sales, military technology, and dual use technology, and made some proposals. We have made it clear we are willing to transfer to China some types of technology that we would not transfer to the Soviet Union, such as LANDSAT D. I also said that we are prepared to transfer some military equipment, though not weapon systems, and have given some examples. Subsequently, General Liu (Assistant Chief of the General Staff) has given Assistant Secretary Dinneen some lists of technology that China would be interested in. We will consider that list. I hope this exchange can continue and be a good example of a two way street in our relationship. Each side needs to contribute to accommodate the other. That is the spirit that contributes to mutual benefit. That takes patience. We are prepared to exhibit such patience, realizing that we cannot move over night. I have made a number of suggestions as to how we might contribute to your security. We are willing to wait for your answers. Our relationship is going to be around for a long time. We should proceed patiently and step by step.

Premier Hua: I am aware of what has been discussed on the subject of technology transfer. I am very much in favor of this step that you suggested now. Indeed, in this connection there is a lot that we can do. During my European tour, suggestions like these also came up. We hope to see a strong and united Europe with strengthened ties linking Europe to the United States. The west European leaders also expressed the hope that China would become prosperous and strong, because this would be in the fundamental interest of our two sides. That is why the various countries are ready to cooperate with us in economic aid and technology transfer. During the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister, we touched on these questions, and the two sides expressed similar views. Japan is prepared to allocate some funds designated for developing countries to help us. In return, Japan will get some of the raw materials it needs from China. We are also discussing the possibility of scientific and technological cooperation. There has also been some cooperation between the United States and China in the technological and economic field. Some United States oil companies are helping us drill and prospect for oil in the China Sea. In general, the prospects for this kind of [Page 1080] cooperation are brighter with your country than with others. We are ready to enter into deeper conversations on technology transfer.

Will Assistant Secretary McGiffert go to Pakistan soon?

Secretary Brown: The decision will be taken after the visit is complete and the nature of our aid to Pakistan is clearer.

Premier Hua: The reason for my question is that in terms of the 1980s, the hottest spot will be the Middle East. Of course, there are other vulnerable areas: Indochina, ASEAN, Southern Africa, the Caribbean. Giscard and others in Europe also felt the Middle East was the most important—it has the oil—but also the most vulnerable—the weakest link. That is why the Soviet Union attaches such importance to it. The Soviet Union will not easily make up its mind to attack Europe or China. Either choice would result in moving large numbers of troops and exposing one flank or the other to NATO or China. A war with China would not last just two or three years. As regards the Middle East, the Soviet Union sees its chance to take advantage of what Margaret Thatcher calls the soft belly. The Soviet Union can work to achieve its aims through surrogates. Should they succeed, and oil supplies be adversely affected, the results would be disastrous for the United States, Europe and Japan. The Soviet Union can, as Margaret Thatcher said, win victories without waging war. Both Iran and Pakistan are threatened as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan.

We are in favor of U.S. aid to Pakistan. The Pakistanis have their own misgivings in this respect, however. China gives aid to Pakistan and the Pakistanis accept it. China does not make a fuss about aid so the Pakistanis have no misgivings. If U.S. aid to Pakistan is seen by the Pakistanis as supportive, they will accept it. If, on the other hand, U.S. aid is small and only symbolic in nature, then the Pakistanis will be concerned about three factors; the first is India, which will directly oppose U.S. assistance to Pakistan. Another factor is Iran. An aid relationship with the United States will restrain Pakistan’s relations with Iran. Third, Pakistan’s relationships with the Soviet Union will deteriorate. Therefore, the Pakistanis are working very hard to find out the extent of your assistance. So far, according to our own information, Pakistan has a very strong attitude against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Huang Hua will visit Pakistan on January 18th. If the United States can let the Pakistanis know the extent of its aid this will be the best approach. The struggle will be arduous in the days to come.

Secretary Brown: We are considering the details of aid to Pakistan, and consulting with Congress. I gave Vice Premier Geng Biao an idea of the scope of our assistance. Unfortunately, the United States finds it difficult to do anything of this sort without making a considerable fuss. Perhaps we should send Assistant Secretary McGiffert to Pakistan dis[Page 1081]guised as a member of Foreign Minister Huang Hua’s delegation. (laughter.)

The Pakistanis have raised the issue of a bilateral agreement with the United States. Ambassador Woodcock and others will discuss this with you later. We consider that the present agreement has the same force as that which the Pakistanis have raised as a new possibility.

I agree with you that the Soviet Union sees the Middle East as a great opportunity, more so than any attack on NATO or China. Pakistan is probably more of a stepping stone toward Iran and the Persian Gulf than a prize in itself. Just as you mentioned, the Soviets have been using surrogates—Cubans, and South Yemenese—in the Middle East. Their action in Afghanistan adds an ominous new dimension in the Middle East and the oil producing regions. The five divisions that they are using or about to use in Afghanistan are a very substantial force for that area, but would not amount to much in Europe or along the Sino-Soviet border. We need to build up the countries of the Middle East. Even Iraq has diversified its normal supplies from the Soviet Union with arms from European countries. We have very poor relations with Iraq, perhaps as poor as our relations with Iran before the revolution. But Iraq now sees the danger of Soviet invasion. Perhaps we can cooperate. If they had taken our diplomats hostage, that would have been different.

Premier Hua: Perhaps we should stop here. Your banquet will begin soon. It is very good for Dr. Brown to come and visit us. I hope you can come again. I feel that your visit is a beginning not an end.

Secretary Brown. I certainly hope so. I cannot return, however, until there is a return visit from your side. I have enjoyed our conversation thoroughly, though I regret having taken so much of your time.

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 Platt. The meeting took place in the Great Hall of the People.
  2. Brackets in the original.
  3. The Grand Mosque at Mecca was attacked and seized by Islamic militants on November 29, 1979.