323. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in China1

274184. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting with Chinese Ambassador. Ref: Beijing 10000 (Nodis).2

1. (S) entire text.

2. Summary. Secretary Muskie called in Chinese Ambassador Chai Zemin on October 13 to review the bilateral relationship and the issues of difference which have recently arisen. The Secretary underscored his personal involvement and commitment to the improvement in relations, and reiterated the President’s commitment to implement strictly the joint communiqué of December 15, 1978.3 Deputy Secretary Christopher then spelled out in detail our views on the AITCCNAA Agreement on Privileges and Immunities (P and I), and on the reported sale of five “warships” to Taiwan. The Secretary noted the unfortunate timing of these developments in the midst of our election campaign and assured Chai that they were not politically motivated. He also said that Taiwan has its own reasons for portraying our relationship in a different light, but we will continue to abide by our bilateral commitments to China. Christopher regretted the premature leak on the grain agreement and urged that it be concluded without delay. Chai responded that we continued to have differences over Taiwan, and that when issues such as continued US arms sales to Taiwan or the P and I agreement emerge, China “cannot but raise its objections.” However, Chai did not link the current or future status of US–China relations to these issues. The Secretary said that we expected China to watch developments regarding Taiwan closely—indeed, it should do so. But China should also understand that US policy has been consistent in the direction of better relations and that we are abiding by our commitments. Chai agreed to press for early conclusion of the grain agreement. End summary.

3. The Secretary met with Chinese Ambassador Chai at 11:00 a.m. on October 13. Also attending were Deputy Secretary Christopher, [Page 1140] Acting EA Assistant Secretary Negroponte, EA/C Director Freeman, EA/C Political Section Chief Johnson, and interpreter Chang. Ambassador Chai was accompanied by his interpreter Zhou Wenzhong.

4. Chai began by welcoming this opportunity to meet with the Secretary and commented that the Secretary’s schedule had been extremely busy since he had taken office and that it had not been possible for them to hold a separate meeting previously. The Secretary replied that even though they had not held a separate meeting, China had been very much in his mind during his months in this position. He noted that he had gone to China as the head of a Senate delegation in the fall of 1978 and at the time had not been aware of the substantial movement towards the normalization of relations. He had hoped through this visit to help that process, and this was a major reason for going. The trip had been one of the most stimulating and interesting he had ever made as a US Senator, he said, adding that in Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin and Canton he had been impressed that the Chinese people seem to be so extremely busy. When the President had announced, together with the Chinese leaders, the decision to normalize relations, he had felt a personal stake in and a sense of satisfaction with this step.

5. In Shanghai and elsewhere he and the others in his delegation had carried on a continuous political dialogue with their Chinese hosts and with other officials, and through this dialogue had acquired a sense of the important issues to be faced in building a new relationship with China. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he had been involved in taking the necessary legislative steps to implement the President’s decision. There had been a great deal of debate at the time, yet less than might have been expected given the history of difficulties between us in the past. In his state and elsewhere the reaction to normalization had been very positive and in the two years since that time the support has remained strong and even increased. This was a very satisfying development. This support was strengthened by the rapid pace in the improvement of relations which would not have been thought possible two years ago. It was a happy day recently when the President hosted the signing of four new agreements in the Rose Garden.4 This event got good media coverage in the US and was seen widely as a positive and constructive celebration of our new relationship. It is important to understand, the Secretary continued, that normal relations between the US and China have widespread public support in this country. It is a relationship based upon mutual benefit, but it also has a warm human component. It is unavoidable, however, that there will from time to time be incidents or issues of difference which need explaining. He welcomed the opportunity therefore to try [Page 1141] to clear up some issues which had arisen recently and to avoid misunderstandings.

6. Ambassador Chai replied that relations have indeed grown very rapidly. Since January 1, 1979, the two governments have resolved many problems and have reached agreement in many areas. The relationship has evolved in a “generally satisfactory” manner. But sometimes there are problems which need to be resolved in order to help the further development of relations. The international situation—that is, the global strategic situation—required our two countries to cooperate more closely. This cooperation meets the needs and interests of both peoples. He said that as Chinese Ambassador, it was his mission to promote this cooperation.

7. One subject which we have discussed from time to time, but on which we still disagree in some manner or other, is Taiwan. We have discussed this issue since the establishment of diplomatic relations and the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), but the problems still exist. When they emerge, it is necessary that both sides pay attention to them so as to avoid differences—the emergence of new differences. Taiwan is a sensitive issue within China, and a sensitive issue within the US–China relationship. He (Chai) had talked with Deputy Secretary Christopher on this issue several times. China’s views have been clearly stated to Department of State officials in Washington and by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to Ambassador Woodcock in Beijing. There is therefore no need to repeat these points at this time, he concluded.

8. Deputy Secretary Christopher then said that he would like to address two issues which have recently become irritants in the relationship. He reiterated that there was strong support in the US for normal relations and that the communiqué of December 15, 1978 is the basis of our relations. President Carter is personally committed, and has ordered all others to implement the terms of the communiqué scrupulously; we have done so and will continue to do so.

9. On the specific issue of privileges and immunities for Taiwan representatives in this country, the Taiwan Relations Act calls for “functional immunities” for representatives of CCNAA to carry out their nongovernmental commercial, cultural and other activities in this country. Christopher said that he himself had explained to the Ambassador at the time that these would not be full diplomatic immunities. The new agreement had been no secret, but was known to be under negotiation and the direction of these negotiations had been explained earlier. It is important to distinguish the agreement itself from the Taiwan reaction to it, which has been exaggerated and self-serving. The agreement itself is entirely consistent with the intentions of both the Taiwan Relations Act and of the joint communiqué. It says explicitly that the two organizations are unofficial and the actual P’s and I’s [Page 1142] which have been granted are limited to those specified in the agreement. It does not confer other P’s and I’s which the Ambassador and other foreign diplomats have on matters like taxation, blanket immunity from arrest, etc. The official press on Taiwan has portrayed the agreement as having a more official character. We have let our concern about this inaccurate portrayal, and other problems, be known very clearly.

10. The timing of this agreement was unfortunate, but it was not part of any effort to appeal to voters who may favor stronger US support for Taiwan. Ideally the agreement should have been timed differently, but it is important to understand that this was not a political act.

11. Concerning reports that the US was selling five warships to Taiwan, this too was greatly exaggerated. The vessels in question are an oiler, a floating drydock, and a survey ship, all of which are about thirty to thirty-five years old, and can hardly be seen as provocative. The two others are coastal patrol boats, but no decision has been made about their transfer yet because they may be needed by our own Coast Guard. Among the old vessels two have been leased to Taiwan for several years, and the transaction now is really a means of terminating a relationship rather than expanding one.

12. Turning to the grain agreement, the Deputy Secretary said we regretted the premature leak in our press, but as the Ambassador was well aware, this was a common problem in our free society with a very aggressive press. We hoped nevertheless that this disclosure would not delay the initialing, the signing, and the announcing of the agreement. The President himself wanted to announce it and to use the occasion to underscore the importance he personally attaches to the relationship with China.

13. Chai responded that before the TRA had been passed Foreign Minister Huang Hua had raised the question of privileges and immunities and other related questions with Ambassador Woodcock, and he (Chai) had raised them with Mr. Christopher. The Chinese had stated their opposition to some provisions of the Act. But the Congress passed it anyway including some of those provisions. At the signing ceremony the President said that he would implement the act in accordance with the joint communiqué. But in the twenty-one months since normalization, the US has in some respects dealt with Taiwan purely on the basis of the Taiwan Relations Act. This “cannot but evoke a response from our side.” Concerning the recent developments, the continuation of US arms sales is tantamount to interference in China’s internal affairs. “The US recognizes Taiwan as a part of China,” he said. Therefore to continue selling arms is tantamount to interference and China must react. Concerning the P and I agreement, even though it says that it is unofficial and nongovernmental, in fact it grants the equivalent of dip[Page 1143]lomatic privileges and immunities and diplomatic status to the Taiwan representatives. The only exceptions, so far as China can see, are, for example, that the members of this organization are not listed on the Diplomatic List or given diplomatic ID cards. In essence, therefore, this is the same as other P and I, and differs only in form. China raised this point in the past but never accepted the American position. The objections are no different now than before, but the US side signed this agreement anyway. China cannot ignore this development. Concerning the five ships, the issue is that it is yet another arms transaction to Taiwan. After the previous announcement of arms sales, China objected. But the US is continuing to sell arms.

14. Concerning the civil aviation agreement, which was recently concluded, the US had undertaken to issue a statement concerning the Taiwan flag and symbols on its air carrier. But the Embassy has not seen this statement. There has been no mention of it in the US press and China is not aware that the statement was ever issued.

15. EA/C Director Freeman responded that the statement had been publicly distributed on the afternoon of September 17 during a background meeting with members of the press. We had been pleasantly surprised to find that a pro-KMT newspaper in New York, the Shijie Ribao on September 19 had carried the statement in Chinese almost in full. Xinhua had inexplicably not attended the background briefing and therefore may not have received the statement. We would be happy to supply it. Regarding that statement, we have done what we said we would do.

16. Mr. Christopher said that he wanted to respond to one point which the Ambassador had made, namely to emphasize that the immunities which are granted in the new agreement are not essentially the same as those granted to diplomats. There is more than a formal difference. We would be happy to have our experts discuss this point with the Chinese Embassy to point out what the differences are. The agreement does not confer broad immunities but is limited and specific.

17. He then asked whether the Ambassador could predict when the grain agreement might be concluded. Chai replied that in his meeting with Assistant Secretary Holbrooke on Thursday, NSC Staffer Sullivan had raised the question of the agreement and the timing of the announcement. The Ambassador had immediately cabled Beijing and had received the reply that it would not be possible to announce it until the formal procedures had been completed. This involved approval by the State Council and it would not be appropriate to announce the agreement or to initial it before the State Council had approved it. However, he added, he did not expect this to take very long and he undertook to report the Deputy Secretary’s views and to urge the early conclusion of the agreement.

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18. Secretary Muskie then said that the status of Taiwan has been a sensitive issue before and since the normalization of relations. We had sought to resolve it on a pragmatic basis, realizing that we would not meet all of the conditions which China would have preferred. We know that China will watch this issue closely, and it should do so. But China should also keep in mind that the constant thrust of our approach is to solidify, expand and develop further our relationship with the PRC. It is unfortunate that in the current political campaign the question of “official,” or “unofficial” relations with Taiwan have muddied the issue. The Secretary said he could assure the Chinese that our relationship with Taiwan is strictly unofficial, and it will stay that way. We meticulously abide by the understandings reached between the two governments two years ago. Ambassador Chai said that if both sides handle our relations on the basis of the joint communiqué, they would continue to progress.

19. Comment: Chai was careful not to state or imply that our relations would suffer as a result of current irritations. His phrase, repeated in different contexts, was that the Chinese “cannot but voice our objections” when issues like these arise. He also avoided debating specific points, but reiterated China’s consistent opposition to continued US arms sales to Taiwan and to the implication that the P and I agreement confers a degree of official status for Taiwan representatives. Interestingly, he placed arms sales ahead of P and I in his response to the Deputy Secretary, and made it clear that China’s objection was to arms sales per se, not specifically or exclusively to the recent transaction involving naval vessels. Finally, Chai’s tone throughout the seventy-five minute meeting was cordial and pleasant, very much in keeping with the tone which the Secretary set of clearing the air between friends.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870123–0585. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Darryl Johnson (EA/C) and approved by Christopher, Freeman, and Negroponte.
  2. In telegram 10000 from Beijing, October 10, Woodcock reported that Deng had expressed dismay with recent U.S. decisions regarding arms sales to Taiwan and an agreement between the AIT and the CCNAA on privileges and immunities. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P900105–0785) The agreement was signed on October 2.
  3. See Document 171 and footnote 2 thereto.
  4. See Document 319.