295. Telegram From Secretary of Defense Harold Brown to President Carter, Secretary of State Vance, the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Claytor), and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1

Subject: China Visit—An Assessment.

1. The relationship between the American and Chinese defense establishments is off to a positive though cautious start. The symbolism of the trip and the fact of the cordial, business-like meetings themselves made the visit worthwhile, particularly against the backdrop of Soviet action in Afghanistan.

2. The positive results of the meetings included:

—Evidence of close convergence between US and Chinese views on broad strategic interests. To counter Soviet expansion, the Chinese endorsed the need for a strengthened NATO and a stable, prosperous Northeast Asia, both closely linked to the United States. We had similar views on the danger represented by the Soviets in Afghanistan and the need for substantial aid to Pakistan (the Chinese will cooperate by permitting overflights, provided the scale is substantial).

—Agreements to expand contacts between the two military establishments. Vice Premier and Military Commission Secretary General Geng Biao, my most authoritative interlocutor in the Chinese structure, has agreed to visit the US. The Chinese military academy will also send a delegation. We will work together on further defense visits and consultations.

—A solid groundwork for future dialogue on technology transfer. The Chinese learned from our LANDSAT D decision that we are willing to differentiate between what we sell to them and to the Soviets. They now know that we will consider case-by-case the sale of some military equipment other than arms, as well as dual use civilian technology. Perhaps more fundamental, the Chinese have a better understanding of our procedures and realize that we are the ones who will decide what to transfer after they have informed us of their needs rather than, as they proposed, us offering them a department store’s worth of items from which they can choose.

—The beginnings of a dialogue on arms control. The Chinese listened far more than they talked, but acknowledged the compatibility of [Page 1083] some arms control measures with strengthened national security and the need to keep a dialogue going.

3. The Chinese were not consistently responsive, however. My urgent request on your behalf for support of UN sanctions against Iran did not succeed, despite our spending more time with top leaders on this one subject than any other. Subsequently I did press them to make at least a symbolic grain purchase. They made clear that they did not wish to address the question of ship visits at this time. They did not respond to our “hot line” suggestion (another Chinese way of saying “not at this time”). Though neither Premier Hua or Vice Premier Deng raised the issue, Geng Biao warned me that arms sales to Taiwan are unacceptable as a long term proposition. Finally, their desires for transfer of technology go well beyond what we can prudently provide at least in the near term, it will not be easy to prevent this divergence from becoming an irritant in our relationship.

4. Except for this issue, the Chinese clearly want to proceed with caution. Their hesitancy on ship visits, regular consultations and a hot line suggests an understandable unwillingness to acquire the symbols of a close defense relationship before the substance warrants it. I judge that this is because they want to keep their options open as to how close they place themselves to us, how they deal with the Third World, and even with the Soviets. The world has changed a great deal in the past few years. It could do so again in the next few and in a different direction; the Chinese will want to know which direction before they commit further. There is no question, however, that they want to move forward. The agenda includes:

—[1 paragraph (3 lines) not declassified].

—Scheduling and planning of Geng Biao’s visit.

—Developing within COCOM procedures for differentiating between the treatment of China and the Soviet Union.

—Development within the US Government of guidelines concerning types of military equipment (as opposed to arms) that might be sold to China.

—Consultations with the Chinese on their list of desired technology transfers.

If we move forward carefully to follow up on the results of my visit, the prospects for developing a relationship of substance are good. Moreover, I think both sides now realize that the relationship is important enough so that the occurrence and existence of refusals and differences must be accepted without being allowed to poison the relationship. But we must make clear as we go, as I lost no opportunity to do [Page 1084] so during my visit, that the Sino-American relationship must be a two-way street involving mutual obligations as well as benefits.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–82–0217, China (Reds) Jan–Feb 1980. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.