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


  • NSC Weekly Report #155

[Omitted here is material unrelated to China.]

Military Technology Delegation to the PRC

General Odom of my staff accompanied Bill Perry’s delegation to the PRC.2 I am summarizing his observations for you.

He was surprised at the degree of access to tank, aircraft, naval, and electronics R&D and industrial production permitted to Perry’s group. Chinese candor and openness allowed these major findings: (a) production technology stagnated at the level provided by the USSR in the 1950s; (b) Chinese recognition of their military vulnerabilities and of their inability to remove them soon without foreign assistance, and (c) Chinese determination to develop, preferably, a cooperative military technology relationship with the U.S., and if not with the U.S., then with other Western states.

Technical stagnation has reduced the PRC military capability to insignificance except for masses of infantry troops. Chinese tanks are so [Page 1135] poor that they have dropped to 15–20 percent of output capacity to avoid arming the PLA with equipment that will only cause casualties to itself and not to Soviet or Vietnamese forces. Chinese combat aircraft use only optical sights with machine guns and cannons, wholly inadequate for air operations against the USSR or Vietnam. Chinese computer R&D is at the 4K microcircuitry level, struggling to move to 8K chips.

The Chinese pled for any kind of assistance in improving their military posture. Perry’s technicians identified many low and medium level technology transfers that could serve an “evolutionary” upgrading of Chinese military industries (e.g. anti-tank ammunition, longer life diesel engine and jet engine technology, radars for the new F–8 fighters). They concluded that high-technology transfers will do virtually nothing for the Chinese military capability in the coming decade, perhaps never because they lack the cadre infrastructure to exploit them.

The policy choice that seems to be shaping up is whether to proceed as in the past on the scientific and high technology level, eschewing military technology cooperation, or to shift the emphasis to modest but direct technology improvements for the Chinese military industrial base. If we do not shift the emphasis, we will achieve nothing in redressing the Sino-Soviet military balance; yet we will be perceived as having tried to do so and failed. At the same time, we will transfer very advanced technology which can only frustrate the Chinese without improving their helpless military posture.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 42, Weekly Report (to the President), 151–161 (8/80–12/80), 155. Secret. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates that Carter saw the memorandum.
  2. Perry’s account of his trip reads in part, “Having gained some understanding of the level of Chinese technology, their ability to absorb new technology and their needs, I believe we will need to consider, by early next year, some evolution in our present policy. First, I am convinced that the lack of a government-to-government relationship will severely hamper the effective transfer of technology.” He added, “The second evolutionary policy change to be considered is the extension of our guidelines to include improving the tactical effectiveness of the PRC military forces without producing a threat to our other allies in Southwest Asia.” (Memorandum from Perry to Harold Brown and Claytor, September 25; Department of State, Files of Nicholas Platt, DOD 1980–1981)