309. Editorial Note

On May 1, 1980, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, sent a briefing memorandum to President Jimmy Carter in anticipation of a foreign policy discussion designed to inform Edmund Muskie, Secretary of State-Designate, about the Carter administration’s principles and approach to world affairs. The section on East Asia warned, “The Soviet Union and Vietnam are trying to split us from China and to divide the ASEAN states on the Cambodia issue in the hope of forcing acceptance of Vietnamese control over Cambodia. If successful, they would seriously damage U.S.–China relations, weaken ASEAN, create opportunities for increasing Soviet influence in the region, and set a precedent for an Afghanistan settlement.” In regard to Taiwan, it predicted, “In the area of managing irritants in the U.S.–China relationship, Taiwan and U.S. industry will press for an earlier decision on an F–X fighter for Taiwan. A decision on this could be postponed past the election.” In the longer term, the section advised, “Move our relationship with China toward a model that would be regarded as ‘normal’ and an acceptable equilibrium, e.g., along the lines of the U.S.–Yugoslavia relationship. This would involve permitting some level of arms sales.” It also recommended, “Explore ways to encourage rapprochement between China and Taiwan. The unresolved Taiwan issue is a major impediment to the development of a [Page 1109] U.S.–China security relationship.” (Memorandum from Brzezinski to President Carter; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 38, Memcons: President: 5/80)

During Carter’s May 3 meeting with top officials of the National Security Council and the Department of State, the participants discussed foreign policy disagreements within the Carter administration. Brzezinski “said there had been differences in the past over the role of the Soviet Union and Africa, over our opening to China. But these had been resolved.” Carter later added, “our normalization of relations with the Peoples Republic of China was a major step for stability in the world and in the Pacific. He said we imposed limits on ourselves on how much we will favor the PRC over the USSR, for example, in the sale of lethal weapons.” (Memorandum of conversation; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 38, Memcons: President: 5/80)