3. Memorandum From Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Initiatives Toward PRC

You asked for my recommendations for initiatives to restore momentum to our relationship with the PRC.2 There are two dimensions [Page 15] to the problem: to develop a long-term strategy for establishing diplomatic relations and to signal immediately to Peking the President’s intent to attach priority to this issue.

I fear that the President has done nothing so far to express his personal interest in this issue, and he is setting policy through non-action. Soviet-U.S. relations receive attention and move forward, while Sino-American relations languish. We are not being balanced. Meanwhile, as your January 24 memorandum to the President noted, our Hong Kong Consul General believes the Soviets are expressing their interest in an improved relationship.3

A. Short-Term Actions

—Establish a time for an early CarterHuang Chen meeting, so the President can indicate that the China issue is of high concern to him. If you agree, I will draft a memorandum for you immediately to go to the President.4

—Write a letter to Premier Hua Kuo-feng expressing the President’s commitment to the principles of the Shanghai Communique. The arguments for are that: a) this will open a direct channel to the Premier; b) it will re-enforce the message to be given to Huang Chen (or serve as an alternative); c) its limited dissemination within NSC and State will communicate the President’s determination. Arguments against are that: a) the Huang Chen interview will suffice; b) the Chinese did not congratulate the President on his inauguration. Since we should strive for diplomatic reciprocity and demonstrate resolve early, we should not initiate correspondence. A counter-argument is that we should be flexible on such matters and save toughness for matters of substance, not protocol. After consulting with others—Gleysteen is against, for example, but Armacost is for—I recommend writing a letter. If you agree, I will draft a letter for the President immediately.5

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—Have Vice President Mondale brief the Chinese on his trip to Western Europe and Japan. This conforms with Ford and Nixon Administration’s practice of keeping the Chinese informed and using all means to retain a dialogue. In addition, it would be useful to have Huang Chen meet the Vice President. I recommend such a meeting take place soon after the President’s meeting with the Ambassador. If you agree, I will draft a memorandum from you to the Vice President recommending this action.6

—Distribute a brief paragraph which sets forth for all Departments the type of language which can and cannot be used in describing the Administration’s China policy. The key goal here is to avoid negative signals. If you agree, I will prepare such a memorandum, either for your signature or for the President’s signature.7

B. Long Term

Establish a working group to detail a strategy for dealing with China during the coming year. The deadline for the paper would be late February. I am talking to a wide range of my counterparts at CIA, DOD, and State to decide whether I will recommend the policy review be done as a PRM or through other means. I will feel more comfortable if I can say you have authorized me to evaluate our choices as to the proper policy evaluation procedure. I will report to you next week. Do you agree that I should carry out this discussion?8

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of): 1–2/77. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for urgent action. On the first page, Brzezinski wrote a note to Oksenberg, “Let’s talk later today. ZB.” No record of a meeting was found.
  2. Brzezinski’s request presumably came after he received a January 19 memorandum from Oksenberg on the prospects of an accommodation between China and the Soviet Union. Oksenberg emphasized the importance of restoring “momentum” to the Sino-American relationship, apparently a reference to the cooling of relations that occurred following the change of leadership in both countries and the failure to normalize relations during the NixonFord administrations. (Ibid.)
  3. The January 24 memorandum to Carter was not found. On November 10, 1976, the Embassy in Moscow reported that the Soviet leadership perceived the death of Mao and the purge of the Gang of Four as an opportunity to improve Sino-Soviet relations. (Telegram 17617 from Moscow; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760418–1240) On January 31, 1977, the Consulate in Hong Kong sent “a companion piece to Embassy Moscow’s excellent 17617,” which stated, “Both public statements and intelligence give no reason to anticipate any significant improvements in PRC/USSR relations.” The Consulate further argued that the improvements in Sino-Soviet relations were more likely to improve than they were to damage U.S. interests. (Telegram 1243 from Hong Kong; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770039–0950)
  4. Brzezinski checked the Approve option.
  5. Brzezinski checked the Disapprove option.
  6. Brzezinski checked the Disapprove option and wrote, “Sec/S to do it.”
  7. Brzezinski checked the Approve option.
  8. Brzezinski checked the Agree option.