300. Memorandum From Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff to President Carter1


  • China Policy: Accomplishments and Tasks Ahead

At Zbig’s suggestion, I offer some thoughts on your China policy.

Your Role

As I organized my files for my successor, I was reminded of the extent to which the policy is your personal achievement:

—In June 1977, you stipulated to Cy, Zbig, et al, your terms for normalization, which we met exactly.2

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—In June 1978, you specified the date on which you would like to announce normalization—Dec. 15, 1978—saying it should come before SALT. (I had forgotten this prescient injunction until reviewing my files!)3

—You gave January 1 as the target date in the draft recognition communique Woodcock tabled in Nov. 1978.4 Zbig had recommended January 15, and Cy recommended not conveying a date.

—In Feb. 1979, you insisted we not go overboard in criticizing China’s incursion into Vietnam.5

—You made sure the trade agreement was sent up in timely fashion, and you insisted Harold’s trip take place.6

Your Accomplishments

I feel confident future historians will see your China policy as the most enlightened and effective one our country ever had. In the recent past, Roosevelt’s policy was too romantic; Truman’s too reactive; Eisenhower’s, Kennedy’s, and Johnson’s too hostile; Nixon’s too manipulative; and Ford’s too timid. Your policy has been distinctive for its insistence on realism, reciprocity, and long-run considerations.

The new relationship has yielded many publicly identifiable benefits (other important gains must remain confidential):

—We enjoy good relations simultaneously with both China and Japan, an unprecedented development and an enormous plus in our strategic picture globally and in Asia.

—With our China relations in order, we can concentrate our resources on our real adversary; our new China relationship has enhanced our diplomatic flexibility.

—Trade is increasing on a realistic basis; impressive student, culture and scientific exchanges are underway.

—China is beginning to participate in international forums dedicated to solving transnational problems: checking the arms race, protecting the environment, eradicating communicable diseases, etc.

—And all of this has occurred while the relations of the American people with Taiwan have expanded and while Taiwan’s trade and prosperity increases.

So there is a lot for which you should and can take credit, and my trips around the country convince me your policy is widely supported.

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Your Tasks in 1980 and Beyond

This is not to say China policy is all clear sailing from here. These aspects of our China policy require your continued, personal attention:

—Now that the competitive aspects of our relations with the Soviet Union have sharpened, it is tempting to use China tactically. Your China policy has been successful, however, because you approached Beijing from a historical, strategic perspective, and you should continue to eschew playing the so-called “China card”.7

—The phenomenal growth in our China relations during 1979 entailed both sides making large numbers of commitments. Rather than seeking to expand the relationship, the task for 1980 is to consolidate our gains and ensure that previous commitments are met. Since some of our commitments were made over objections within the US Government (such as declaration of China as a friendly country, extension of Ex-Im credits and sale of non-weapon military equipment), your continued support will be very important.8

—Our sprawling, somewhat undisciplined bureaucracies have proposed innumerable projects to the Chinese, all of which end up on the same policy-maker’s plate in Beijing. The Chinese are overloaded with proposals we have made, and you have to convey to them—perhaps through Zbig—what our priorities are.

—You must ensure that our policy, particularly toward Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, does not inadvertently and seriously undercut our China policy. Some in our Government might push us in that direction.

—Some skeptics question the utility of our China connection, and it is important for you, should the issue arise, to make clear to the American people that the relationship is mutually beneficial and will be in our interest in the next four years. I suspect this question will arise in the course of the campaign, and you should demand from the NSC a thoroughly explored, good answer to this question.

—Finally, you should encourage thinking in the government about several complex issues in our China relationship: what kind of security and economic relations will really serve our interests? How can we better nest our China relationship among our other relations, particularly Japan, the USSR, India, and Western Europe? China policy has been successful because it was well thought through. We have now reached the end of our road map, and if we are to avoid the “ad [Page 1093] hockery” that plagues us elsewhere, you must demand now that planning begin for your second term.9

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 42, Weekly Reports (to the President), 121–135 (12/79-4/80). Top Secret. Printed from an uninitialed copy. At the top of the page, Carter wrote, “Good advice. C.” This memorandum is attached as an opinion piece to the February 15 NSC Weekly Report to Carter, in which Brzezinski noted that Oksenberg was leaving the NSC Staff to return to the University of Michigan, but would “remain available to us as a consultant.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 31.
  3. See Document 123.
  4. See Document 149 and Document 166 and footnote 7 thereto.
  5. See Document 214.
  6. See Document 273.
  7. In the right margin next to this paragraph, Carter wrote, “I agree.”
  8. Carter underlined, “to consolidate” and in the right margin wrote, “True.”
  9. At the bottom of the page, Carter wrote, “We should not push now for new achievements with PRC.”