304. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McGiffert) to Secretary of Defense Brown 1


  • China Trip Follow-Up—Visit of Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Wenjin

Zhang’s visit was designed to fulfill the commitment made during your visit to consult on parallel U.S. and Chinese actions in Southwest Asia in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His March 17–19 stay in Washington included conversations with Vice President Mondale, Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, Reuben Askew, and Congressional leaders. Warren Christopher was his principal interlocutor. Nick Platt represented DOD at the talks.

Afghanistan. Both sides continued to see the situation in similar terms, but Zhang viewed with considerable concern the European proposals for “neutralization” of Afghanistan. Christopher explained that such a proposal, if carefully formulated, could become part of an overall strategy to put the onus on Moscow. Zhang seemed impressed when Warren stressed that complete Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan remained a precondition to any other actions and that any successor government must be acceptable to the Afghan people.

Pakistan. Zhang gave the impression that China is also having its troubles with Zia. He never quite said this but the tone of the discussion on Pakistan was markedly different from that in January with you. No longer exhorting us to do more for Pakistan, the Chinese seemed to accept our statement that Zia’s public behavior had made it more difficult to get broadly based support for aid to Pakistan. Zhang urged us to be patient as Pakistan’s strategy evolved. He said that China would continue to provide military aid to Islamabad but its capacity was limited to small arms and supplies for guerrilla units. Pakistan would have to rely, Zhang concluded, on the United States for military equipment capable of countering the Soviet threat.

India. At Vance’s lunch Clark Clifford briefed Zhang on his conversations with Indira Ghandi, remarking that she seemed conciliatory towards the Chinese during the talks. Zhang retorted good naturedly that she had a strange way of demonstrating this attitude, given India’s [Page 1101] strong public criticisms of China since she took office. The U.S. side urged that China make an effort to improve its relations with India. The Chinese said they were willing to do so, and hoped that Mrs. Ghandi’s attitudes would become clearer soon.

Iran. There wasn’t much talk on this subject. Zhang expressed sympathy with our frustration in the hostage crisis and said that he could not “believe they’ll keep this up.” “They must see the Soviet threat.”

Korea. Zhang assured us that North Korea did not want war although it must be “on guard” against the South, and was concerned about instability in South Korea. The North Koreans had “no alternative” but to dedicate themselves to peaceful reunification of the peninsula. The Chinese could not (Zhang first said “would not” then corrected himself) provide the North Koreans with the kind of force necessary to take the South. The Soviets would not do so either. Zhang said Chinese efforts to influence North Korea had to be conducted “with modesty”, given the delicate balancing act required to prevent an increase in Soviet influence in Pyongyang. The North Koreans had no intention of fostering political instability in the South. Zhang was quite open about Chinese support for stability on the peninsula, noting that the Chinese had “told” the North Koreans about their own conciliatory approach to Taiwan. Demands for political liberalization in South Korea were coming from “Democratic elements” not Communists. He agreed that the U.S. and China should encourage dialogue between the two Korean governments.

Indochina. Zhang repeated and updated the standard Chinese line on Southeast Asia. The Khmer Rouge would survive the dry season intact and were attempting to correct their past policy errors. The Chinese reservation of the right to administer a “second lesson” to Vietnam performed the useful purpose of tying down large numbers of Vietnamese forces on their northern border. It would take time to wear the Vietnamese down. With respect to Thailand, Zhang cited Prem’s willingness to permit Khieu Samphan free passage to and from China as evidence that there would be no real change in Thai policy toward Kampuchea. Vance reiterated U.S. unwillingness to support either Pol-Pot or Heng Samrin as genuine representatives of the Khmer people.

The Olympics. China’s support is total, both for the boycott and alternative games.

Impact. Perhaps the most important outcome of Zhang’s visit, aside from starting a process of subcabinet consultations, was the easy relationship that he developed with both Cy Vance and Warren Christo[Page 1102]pher.2 The chemistry between the Chinese and high levels of the State Department has not been good, strengthening an already cautious approach to the pace of developing our relationship with Peking. If Zhang has succeeded in making Vance less apprehensive about dealing with Chinese, the result may be a lower level of disagreement within the Administration on key questions of timing and modality in the normalization process.

David E. McGiffert 3
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–82–0217, China (Reds) Mar–May 1980. Secret; Sensitive. Sent through Komer. Brown initialed the memorandum on March 28, and a stamped notation reads, “SecDef has seen.”
  2. In telegram 77991 to Beijing, March 25, Holbrooke described to Woodcock the chemistry between Zhang and Christopher and related colorful incidents from Zhang’s visit. He also noted, “There is every reason to believe that for both Zhang and Ji, the trip was both a great personal success and also a genuinely emotional experience. For my part, I have never seen such obvious and open emotion on the part of any Chinese officials as was exhibited by both men, particularly towards the end of the trip.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Sullivan Subject File, Box 72, Zhang Wenjin Visit: 3/20/80–4/80)
  3. McGiffert initialed “D.E.M.” above this stamped signature.