31. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Initiatives for Improving Relations with China

I am meeting tomorrow (June 15) for dinner with the head of the Chinese Liaison Office in Washington, Ambassador Huang. In the light of this meeting, I submit this memorandum for your consideration as well as for your approval or disapproval of two specific initiatives listed at its very end. One of these initiatives could be explored by me at the dinner with Huang. (Both items appear on Page 8.)

In addition, the memorandum sketches out more fully a series of discreet measures aimed at restoring momentum to our China relationship. We will soon be considering PRM 24,2 but your general guidance is needed. Moreover, it may be useful for you to have a quick overview of our possible diplomatic, strategic, and commercial moves. The timing and the pace of individual moves should be determined with this larger framework in mind, and that is the reason for submitting this paper to you.

In addition to your decision on the action items on Page 8, you may wish to indicate through marginal notes either your reaction to specific proposed moves or your desire for fuller proposals or deeper analysis.

I. The Sequence for Improving Relations

We can try to improve relations in five areas: diplomatic, strategic, commercial, technological, and cultural. These analytically separable areas are in fact linked. Demonstration of our effectiveness as a global counterweight to the USSR in NATO, SALT, or the Middle East in the months immediately ahead, for example, will facilitate progress on the diplomatic front when Vance visits China later this year. Our global posture—including our policies toward Cuba, Vietnam, Korea, Turkey, Iran and southern Africa—will shape the environment in which the Vance talks take place. If we appear indecisive and yielding, then the Chinese probably will be less flexible on the Taiwan issue, both because it will seem less worthwhile and less necessary to be accommodating. Similarly, progress on the diplomatic front—particularly resolution of [Page 94] the Taiwan issue—would advance commerce and technological exchange and possibly would enable a level of strategic cooperation not now possible.3

Further, since progress depends upon eliciting a Chinese response, the sequence in which we offer proposals becomes important. Some sequences will produce a more positive response than others; some sequences may so alienate the Chinese that no further progress can be made. Without doubt, addressing the Taiwan issue first (though not necessarily solving it immediately) is the best sequence.4 In this regard, it is worth noting that in spite of the intense Soviet pressure which the Chinese faced in 1971 and their eagerness to make use of the U.S., the Chinese responded to Nixon only because his overtures explicitly indicated a U.S. willingness to discuss the Taiwan issue.

Finally, one can either propose substantive measures or cosmetic efforts to improve the relationship. By the end of the NixonFord years, the relationship consisted almost entirely of cosmetics, the Russians knew it, and we reached a plateau in dealings with both Peking and Moscow.

II. Diplomatic Moves

A. Substantive:

1. Embark on a good faith effort to establish diplomatic relations with Peking, in keeping with the commitment of the previous Administration.5 This process need not be completed this year. On his visit, Vance could indicate to Peking that we intend to move in this direction over the coming 18–24 months, our intentions to be demonstrated by a series of smaller steps. The arrangement would involve abrogating our defense treaty,6 withdrawing the remaining forces from Taiwan, and severing our formal diplomatic ties with Taipei. But we would inform Peking that Taiwan would enjoy access to arms purchases for private U.S. firms, that we would retain a full range of economic and cultural ties with Taiwan, and that we would maintain an interest in a peaceful resolution of Peking–Taipei differences. The key quid pro quo would be a clear though [Page 95] perhaps tacit Chinese acceptance of the continued U.S.–Taiwan security relationship which would substitute for the formal treaty.7

In effect, this arrangement would enable Taiwan to survive as a separate entity in world affairs. The subsequent restraints on Peking would be considerable. First, continued security concern with the Soviet Union would make it impossible for China to concentrate all its forces for the major military effort that a takeover of Taiwan would entail; Second, a military effort to seize Taiwan, would have disastrous consequences for China’s relations with Japan, its Southeast Asian neighbors, and obviously the U.S.; finally, Taiwan has the defensive capabilities to make such an attempted invasion prohibitively costly.

There are three variants to this move: a) Demand the Chinese explicitly renounce the use of force; b) Indicate to the Chinese we will make a unilateral statement declaring a continued American interest in non-use of force.8 In negotiations, if the Chinese remain silent to this U.S. position, we would interpret their silence as tacit acceptance of the U.S. position. If they reject the statement, then we would remain firm and there would be no deal; c) Simply assert a continued American interest in the Taiwan issue after recognition, trusting the Chinese will not condemn it. It is not clear whether the Chinese are prepared to accept any of the above formula at this time.

2. Complete the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Taiwan (the options for this step are under review in PRM 24, Part III) and/or reduce the number and scope of our joint military exercises with Taiwan.

3. Reduce our level of diplomatic representation in Taiwan from Ambassador to Charge, by withdrawing Ambassador Unger and not replacing him, and possibly also indicating to the Republic of China that their representation in Washington ought to be lowered as well; also reduce the level of our military representation in Taiwan from a three-star to a two-star admiral.9

III. Strategic Measures10

The most significant strategic measures involve our being an effective counterweight to the Soviet Union in those areas where Chinese [Page 96] and American interests are parallel: maintaining a strong NATO, preventing Soviet dominance of the South Asian subcontinent or the Indian Ocean, retaining a credible military presence in the Western Pacific, and countering the Soviet Union in Africa and the Mid-East. Thus far, none of these have involved more than tacit Sino-American parallelism. We wish to foster a greater coordination of policies, and Vance will ask the Chinese what they are positively prepared to do on such matters as Korea.11

More explicit cooperation could conceivably enhance our position vis-a-vis the USSR, but would entail risks of alienating the Soviets and jeopardizing SALT. The aim must be to strike a balance between two considerations.

A. Substantive:

1. Share intelligence on Soviet capabilities and strategies, troop deployments, military maneuvers, and/or missile launchers. Detailed intelligence briefings on Soviet strength along the Chinese border were given to the Chinese until 1973, after which they were apparently spurned. The reasons for the termination are not clear, and the records in the Nixon Archives shed little light on this previous facet of the relationship. However, it could be easily revived and the recent Soviet buildup in outer Mongolia provides a rationale for it.12

2. Tacitly permit Third Country sales of defense equipment and technology to China. We have already done this with British jet engine and French helicopter sales to China. The danger here is that once we start down this road, we will find it increasingly difficult to restrain our allies from sales that are damaging to our interests.13 We see this now in Japan’s eagerness to sell sensitive computer hardware and French sale of navigational guidance systems in defense [defiance?] of COCOM procedures.

3. Enhance China’s own intelligence capability vis-a-vis the Soviets through sale of intelligence-related technology (i.e., communications and photography technology). The Chinese have evidenced some interest in such technology, although supposedly to assist in their exploration of natural resources.14

4. Sell weapons and military technology to China which would enhance Chinese defensive capabilities vis-a-vis the USSR, such as anti-tank missiles or over-the-horizon radar.15 This step, which is being considered in the [Page 97] PRM process, would be provocative vis-a-vis the Soviets, would probably alarm Taiwan and Japan, and would baffle the American public. Nor have the Chinese requested such assistance from us.

B. Symbolic Measures:

1. Encourage U.S. military attaches at the U.N. and in Third Countries to expand their contacts with their PRC counterparts.16

2. Given Chinese interest in NATO, encourage NATO to invite the PRC to send an observer to NATO, or conversely request the PRC to invite a NATO delegation to visit China.17 (The forthcoming visit of Deputy Chief of Staff Yang Ch’eng-wu to France in the fall presents a particularly opportune moment to establish a NATO linkage.)

3. Request the Chinese to receive a delegation of defense and national security officials from the U.S.18 The delegation could range from (a) Secretary Brown to (b) a lesser group of civilian officials drawn from the NSC, DOD (including JCS and ISA), State P.M., and the Intelligence Community, to (c) a group from the National War College.

IV. Commerce

In the absence of full diplomatic relations, we have been made a residual supplier of goods to China. Even a settlement of the claims/assets issue may have to await full diplomatic relations.

A. Substantive Moves:

1. Extend MFN to China. This would necessitate exempting the PRC from the JacksonVanik Amendment, and would raise the human rights issue for the Chinese.19 This would create an imbalance in our treatment of the USSR and the PRC, but I would favor a tilt in this realm.

2. Expedite sales of “grey” area technologies which have non-defense-related uses but which could be used for defense purposes as well.20 At present, over thirty export applications for the PRC are awaiting decision at Commerce and State, with two of the applications filed in August, 1975, and February, 1976. The bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome, and the law entitles you to intervene and expedite a sale on foreign policy grounds.

I have identified four cases which probably should be expedited:21

[Page 98]

—two seismic computers to facilitate China’s petroleum exploration;

—a fully equipped seismic ship for off-shore exploration;

—a receiving station which can record data from satellites exploring for natural resources.

A special ad hoc committee under Frank Press and myself, with participation of Bill Perry at DOD, could make a recommendation to you on these particular cases. Sale of these items prior to Vance’s trip would be a good signal.

V. Transfer of Non-Defense Related Science and Technology

The idea here is to facilitate the flow of non-defense related science and technology, not on a commercial basis but as a disguised assistance program. Given Chinese sensitivities, the effort could never be referred to as such, but the purpose would be to assist the Chinese overcome some of their key scientific weaknesses, and thereby augment their capacity to overcome their food problem and expedite the development of their natural resources. The current exchange program is inadequate for the purpose in mind, and must be broadened and deepened.22

A delegation led by Phil Handler, President of the National Academy of Sciences, currently is in Peking exploring this dimension of the relationship. They will report back to us, and Vance will include this topic in his discussions in Peking.

VI. Cultural

A major expansion in cultural exchanges awaits full diplomatic relations. A number of proposals have been made, none of which has elicited a response: 1) Language training programs; 2) Student exchange programs; 3) Increased number of athletic and artistic exchanges; and so on.23

VII. Conclusions and Recommendations

PRM 24, Part I—the China options paper, for which the outline has already been prepared—essentially will elaborate upon and evaluate these initiatives. The most important choices involve sequence (which steps should precede the others) and blend (which initiatives should be packaged together).

I continue to believe that the first step must be a good faith effort on Vance’s trip to establish full diplomatic relations. However, I also believe the effort will not yield immediate results, given our terms on the Taiwan issue. Having indicated to the Chinese that we are seriously prepared to address the Taiwan issue, we can then initiate a number of [Page 99] the other steps—reducing the level of representation in Taiwan, facilitating the flow of defense-related technology, and so on.

The two measures I recommend as feasible prior to the PRM process are:

1. Strategic-symbolic: That at my dinner with Huang Chen, I test in a low-key way Chinese receptivity to a visit by Harold Brown in late Spring, 1978. This would enable us to sustain our dialogue in the strategic realm, should Vance’s trip not produce that much in the diplomatic realm.24

2. Trade: That you appoint an ad hoc committee chaired by Frank Press and myself to recommend to you the advisability of licensing the sale of the four items mentioned above: two seismic computers, a ship for testing off-shore geological formation, and an EARTS data receiving station.25

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 43, Meetings: 6–7/77. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. At the top of the page, Carter wrote, “Zbig—J.C.”
  2. See Document 24.
  3. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “Vance talks can be quite frank.”
  4. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “OK,” and at the bottom of the page, he wrote, “Zbig—PRC must show some willingness to meet us as equals. We should make our position clear—& hang tough.”
  5. This option is the subject of the major State Department paper with a covering note of approval from Vance which you have already read. [Footnote in the original. Reference is to Vance’s April 15 memorandum, Document 26, and its attachment.]
  6. In the left margin, with an arrow pointing to “our defense treaty,” Carter wrote, “simultaneous with estab. of diplomatic relations.”
  7. Carter underlined “Taiwan would enjoy access to arms purchases” and “retain a full range of economic and cultural ties with Taiwan,” drawing an arrow to the latter phrase and writing “important” in the right margin. A second arrow from the handwritten word “important” points to the final sentence of the paragraph, concerning “Chinese acceptance of the continued U.S.–Taiwan security relationship.”
  8. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “b) is minimum.”
  9. Carter drew a bracket in the left margin encompassing points 2 and 3 and wrote, “Only if PRC accepts whole deal.”
  10. This section draws heavily on two recently completed DOD/ISA studies on this topic. These measures are also being considered in PRM 24, Part III. [Footnote in the original.]
  11. Carter underlined “what they are positively prepared to do on such matters as Korea” and wrote “important” in the left margin.
  12. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “not yet.”
  13. Carter wrote a question mark in the left margin.
  14. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “only on an individual case basis.”
  15. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “no.”
  16. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “ok.”
  17. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “no objection.”
  18. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “ok.”
  19. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “not yet.”
  20. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “case by case.”
  21. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “ok,” and drew an arrow to indicate his approval of all four cases.
  22. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “make mutual. OK if they gain more info.”
  23. In the left margin, Carter wrote, “all ok.”
  24. Carter checked the Approve option. No record was found of a dinner meeting between Brzezinski and Huang Zhen.
  25. Carter checked the Approve option.