299. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of Dr. Brzezinski’s Conversation with Chinese Ambassador Chai


  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Roger W. Sullivan, NSC Staff Member
  • Ambassador Chai Zemin, People’s Republic of China
  • Zhou Wenchung (Interpreter), People’s Republic of China

Dr. Brzezinski: When the Pope was here, I had a long conversation with him about world affairs and the Chinese role in the world.2 He was much interested in my own role in developing US–China relations and expressed hope that at some time in the future he would be able to develop a dialogue between the Catholic Church and top authorities in China. He has now written me a personal letter on that subject and asked if I could transmit a letter from him to Premier Hua. I would like to do that now by asking you to forward to Premier Hua this personal letter from His Holiness. I would be glad, if you wished, to be the intermediary for any response. But you may respond directly if you prefer. It is easy to arrange contact between the Chinese Embassy in Rome and Cardinal Casaroli. This will be treated as a secret. I would only add as a personal message that in my own judgment any such dialogue would be very helpful to the broader global objectives you and we share in common. In any case, I will be glad to be as helpful as is useful, or to disengage if that would be more convenient. I would like Vice Premier Deng also to know that such a discreet dialogue would be strategically valuable.

Ambassador Chai: As far as I know, the Catholic Church in China will perhaps not enter into contact now. It is following a policy of being self-governing and self-supporting.

Dr. Brzezinski: A dialogue between the top leaders of China and the Pope would be strategically valuable. The Pope is a powerful moral [Page 1090] and political force in the West. This Pope is a very intelligent and realistic person, who also knows what is the main danger to world peace. This is something I have discussed personally with him.

Ambassador Chai: The Orthodox Church is not under the Pope, is it?

Dr. Brzezinski: A portion is. The Uniate Church is, but not the Russian Orthodox. The Pope is trying to establish union with the Greek Orthodox Church, which is influential in the Middle East.

Ambassador Chai: I will transmit the letter and let you know when I have anything.

On another point regarding maps. When could you supply them?

Dr. Brzezinski: I thought you said you did not want the maps we have.

Ambassador Chai: We wanted bigger-scale, but if you do not have them, we want small-scale.

Dr. Brzezinski: Mr. Sullivan will take care of that.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 34, Memcons: Brzezinski: 1–6/80. Secret; Sensitive; Outside the System. The meeting took place in Brzezinski’s office. Earlier that day, Brzezinski and Chai had met to discuss Brzezinski’s recent trip to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They also discussed Indian foreign policy and relations between Egypt and Israel. (Memorandum of conversation, 11:15–11:40 a.m.; Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 9, China (People’s Republic of), Discussions with Ambassador Chai: 5/21/78–10/1/80)
  2. Pope John Paul II visited the White House on October 6, 1979, and met with Carter and Brzezinski, among others.