34. Summary of Conclusions of a Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • State
  • Cyrus Vance, Chairman
  • Philip Habib
  • Richard Holbrooke
  • Treasury
  • Michael Blumenthal
  • Fred Bergsten
  • Defense
  • Harold Brown
  • Mort Abramowitz
  • General George Brown
  • Lt. Gen. W. Smith
  • CIA
  • Stansfield Turner
  • Robert Bowie
  • NSC
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • David Aaron
  • Mike Oksenberg


  • PRM–24, Parts I and II: Options Toward the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan Troop Drawdown


PRM–24, Part I, presented four basic options:2

Option 1: Make a major effort to establish full diplomatic relations in the near future by recognizing Peking, allowing diplomatic re[Page 102]lations and the Treaty with Taiwan to lapse, and remaining satisfied that alternative means will exist to sustain the substance of our current relationship with Taiwan.

Option 2: Seek to achieve qualitative movement toward—but short of—full normalization by recognizing Peking while retaining some official representation and possibly military forces on Taiwan.

Option 3: Seek to advance the relationship not through normalization but through unilateral steps on Taiwan (troop withdrawal, lowering the level of our representation on Taiwan).

Option 4: Maintain official relations at current levels, with focus on collateral enhancements (such as increased security contacts, intelligence sharing, sale of dual-use technology, and/or acquiescence of third country sale of military technology).

PRM–24, Part II, presented three basic options:

Option 1: Complete withdrawal by December 31, 1977.

Option 2: 50% reduction by December 31, 1977.

Option 3: 50% reduction by December 31, 1978.

1. Normalization. State, Treasury, Defense, and JCS all advocate Option 1 of PRM–24, Part I. During his trip, Vance should indicate to the Chinese that we wish to establish full diplomatic relations. However, no one believed we should limit ourselves to Option 1. We should consider engaging in collateral measures (Option 4) and reduce our presence in Taiwan (Option 3) upon Vance’s return.

2. Taiwan Troop Drawdowns. Decision to be deferred until Vance returns. DOD and JCS believe we can draw down to 400 by mid-1978, providing DOD employs civilians and/or contractors for tasks now performed by the military.

3. Minimum Conditions on Taiwan. All agreed we should meet Peking’s three conditions only if we were confident that by so doing, Taiwan’s chances for enjoying a peaceful future would not be diminished and that we would be able to retain unimpaired our economic and cultural relations with Taiwan, including the sale of arms. In addition, Treasury thought we should receive assurances from Peking that our economic relationship would be enhanced post-normalization. State thought we should have a clear sense of China’s post-normalization posture in Southeast Asia and Korea.

4. Minimum Demand of Peking Regarding Taiwan. Vance outlined the choices we face with respect to our minimum demand of Peking regarding indication of its peaceful intent vis-a-vis Taiwan: (a) that the PRC publicly renounce any intent to use force; (b) that the U.S. unilaterally declare an interest in a peaceful resolution of the issue, with prior private assurance from Peking that such a statement would not be challenged; (c) that Peking privately assure the U.S. of its peaceful intent; [Page 103] (d) that the U.S. unilaterally assert its continued interest in a peaceful resolution of the issue, with little or no prior indication of Peking’s likely reaction. No decision was made on which of these four or variants of them would constitute our minimum demand.

5. Approach on the Vance Trip. State was instructed to prepare a paper outlining two alternative negotiating strategies in pursuit of Option 1.3 One approach would have Vance table a forthcoming U.S. position in precise and detailed fashion. A major objective here would be to remove any doubt in Chinese minds concerning the earnestness of our intent. A second approach would be for Vance to foreshadow our position—to sketch our policy in more rounded form—and to sound the Chinese out. This approach might buy us time at the risk of causing the Chinese to conclude we are really unwilling to cut the Gordian knot.

6. Collateral Actions. No one recommended undertaking collateral actions at the present time (such as withdrawal of Unger, immediate initiation of Taiwan drawdowns, facilitating technology transfers to the PRC, etc.). However, such actions should be considered after the Vance trip.

7. Political Considerations. State, Treasury, and NSC all recognized the current political difficulty in selling “recognition” on the Hill. A strategy for dealing with Congress is essential. The Hill problem means the issue cannot be absorbed domestically until sometime in 1978 at the earliest.

8. Intelligence Estimate. CIA is requested to estimate the global reaction to U.S. pursuit of Option 1.4 This study would be both useful and politically wise, so that we can say we assessed the risks of normalization.

9. Appendix One. A transcript of the meeting is attached. It includes the discussion on the current state of the relationship and the rationale for adopting Option 1. That discussion was terse and not amenable to further summary.

Appendix One

I. Current State of Relations

Holbrooke and Oksenberg opened by noting that we are in a situation of watchful waiting. Peking sees U.S. policy as not yet decided. It berates us over our Soviet policy. It wants to move the relationship forward. But it is uncertain that the U.S. is similarly committed. The rela[Page 104]tionship is prone to erosion. In fact, it has eroded since 1973–4. Trade is down; cultural exchanges languish; intelligence sharing has ceased; the rhetoric on each side no longer adequately takes into account the domestic concerns of the other. If the relationship does not move forward, it will continue to retrogress; it is unlikely to be sustained at the current level.

Habib thought the underlying strategic calculus which gave impetus to the relationship—our common concerns with the Soviets—remains unaltered. In this sense, the relationship was not “fragile” or prone to erosion.

Harold Brown noted that erosion was visible in another way: we no longer are securing the leverage from it which we derived in 1971–2. It is not a stable relationship.

Habib called attention to evidence that the Chinese feel “let down” and that we owe them a “debt”. This no doubt relates to their expectation—cultivated by previous administrations—that recognition would have been extended by now. They are trying to give us a message: they want us to move, and move soon.

Vance thought from a Chinese perspective there has also been erosion in the relationship, in the sense they probably fear they have been drifting toward a “two China” position with us.

II. Strategic Importance of Relationship

Harold Brown thought if anything, the PRM understated the strategic and military benefit we derive from our relations with China. To the extent our opening to China reduces the chances of Sino-Soviet détente, we gain enormously. The Chinese tie down a significant portion of Soviet military effort. Any reduction in that burden would give the Soviets enhanced flexibility.

Blumenthal asked what the likely consequences of normalization would be upon Sino-Soviet relations. Bowie responded that one could argue either way, that the evidence is ambiguous, but that on balance the Sino-Soviet relationship appeared relatively independent of the state of Sino-American relations.

Holbrooke suggested that while we do not really know the answer to Blumenthal’s question, it was clear that the Sino-Soviet-US triangle is inherently unstable and that a change in one leg could easily impact in unpredictable ways upon the other legs—hence the desirability of consolidating the Sino-American leg.

Oksenberg observed that no matter what the future course of Sino-Soviet relations, we would be better off with an enhanced relationship with Peking. For, should a Sino-Soviet détente occur at some point 2–4 years hence, that détente would be less likely to be turned against us. An objective of our policy should be to position ourselves so [Page 105] that we could view the prospects of a Sino-Soviet détente with equanimity and not base our security considerations on the assumption the rivalry is immutable.

Blumenthal agreed, noting that the US–PRC relationship must proceed on the basis of our tangible bilateral interests as well as out of strategic concerns.

General Brown stressed that while the effect of Sino-American relations upon Sino-Soviet relations may be hard to ascertain, the impact of the Sino-US connection on Soviet-US relations was more evident. Leverage could be secured over the Soviets.

Brzezinski noted two inter-related problems: (a) how to achieve normalization—a bilateral issue; (b) how to deepen the relationship and expand the areas of tacit cooperation—in many ways, a strategic problem. As to our strategic goals, we have three: (1) to prevent a deterioration in the bilateral relationship that would harm our strategic interests; (2) to keep the Sino-US relationship qualitatively better than Sino-Soviet relations; and (3) to engage the PRC in wider global relations. To these ends, the Vance visit is very important and will set the tone of the relationship for the coming four years.

III. Taiwan Troop Drawdown (PRM–24, Part II)

Harold Brown revealed that DOD had differences on the drawdown, particularly on the viability of the Defense Treaty if all forces were removed. The Secretary had concluded, however, that a PRC attack was not deterred by the remaining 1,350 troops and that an attack was not likely in any event. If the U.S. recognized the PRC, the Defense Treaty with the ROC would lapse.

As to the specific withdrawal options, Secretary Brown thought a complete reduction by December, 1977 (Option 1) was not possible, but that a 50% reduction by spring could be met. He favored a target between Option 2 (50% by December 31, 1977) and Option 3 (50% by December 31, 1978).

General Brown agreed. He stated we could get to Option 2-plus by spring; e.g., we could be down to 400 by spring, especially through more contracting and use of civilians for chores currently carried out by the military.

The consensus was that decision on the rate of withdrawal should be deferred until Vance returns from Peking.

IV. China Policy Options (PRM–24, Part I)

Harold Brown opened the discussion by encouraging us to aim for Option 1. However, he wished to know more precisely what the Option entailed. What would the Chinese reaction be to a unilateral U.S. declaration of continued interest in a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue [Page 106] and to continued U.S. sales of military equipment to Taiwan—all in the context of Option 1 and a meeting of their three conditions? Brown felt Option 2 was not viable, and Option 3 was a fall-back possibility.

Vance asked the Secretary what we would get out of normalization, in terms of convincing U.S. audiences of the advisability of the move. Brown opined there were two benefits: (1) we’d be better positioned in the triangle; (2) the security of Taiwan would actually be enhanced if the PRC would react silently to our statements declaring an interest in a peaceful resolution of the issue. There is no inhibition on an attack as is, in terms of prior PRC commitments that it wished or hoped to resolve the issue peacefully.

Blumenthal supported Option 1, but noted the option set forth a goal without developing a strategy for getting there. In addition, we must have a clear sense of our minimum conditions. Among the bilateral concerns we ought to have are: (1) settlement of the claims-assets issue; (2) continued presence on Taiwan, cast possibly non-officially (such as a Trade Office); (3) an agreed upon formula for continuing our economic links with Taiwan unimpaired; and (4) of lesser priority to Blumenthal, an ability to continue arms sales to Taiwan.

Vance added to the list a unilateral, unchallenged statement by us indicating our interest in a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. Blumenthal commented that this would be highly desirable, but if we accepted the notion of one China, it would be hard to argue that we have a right to sustain such an interest.

Vance agreed with Holbrooke that we might wish to have an understanding of the PRC’s intent in Korea and Southeast Asia after normalization.

Brzezinski argued that given the importance of a successful Vance visit, the Secretary must be able to say in Peking that we desire to normalize, that we are prepared to negotiate the modalities, but that Peking must give recognition to the historical legacies we shoulder. To underline the seriousness of our intent, we should take collateral, unilateral initiatives, some even before the August visit. For example, Ambassador Unger might be called home.

Vance asked why this should come before his visit—what would we gain? Brzezinski replied that we should not be seeking quid pro quo at every step, but view our moves as part of a broader process.

In addition to an Unger return, Brzezinski suggested Taiwan forces should be drawn down considerably over the coming year. He also recommended some of the collateral steps in Option 4: (a) to accept a PRC invitation for Secretary Brown to visit the PRC, should one be extended; (b) to discuss candidly and in detail our policies in all regions of the world and to keep the Chinese well informed of our initiatives where their interests are involved; (c) to facilitate advanced technology [Page 107] sales by allies to the PRC; (d) to discuss a deepening of our economic relations. [On point (b), Habib later noted that such discussions will take place in Peking, but as to cooperative action, these will only occur on a case-by-case basis as a particular situation permits it.]5

In sum, Brzezinski advocated a three part package: Option 1 (normalization); elements of Option 3 (unilateral steps); and elements of Option 4 (to give the relationship greater political substance).

Blumenthal cautioned that normalization requires actions on Peking’s part. The economic relationship could be important in this regard. We should not feel that we simply owe them something. Habib believed that if indeed we are prepared to go the full route, we may find there is give on the other side precisely in the realms which Blumenthal mentioned.

Vance and Habib concluded that while all were for Option 1, how precisely to handle the Taiwan issue was still a topic for future discussion. The chances for and pace toward normalization would be determined by our stance on that issue. Here, Vance thought we essentially had four options: (a) demand from Peking a public renunciation of use of force; (b) assert publicly our continued interest in peaceful resolution of the issue, knowing through prior negotiations Peking would not condemn it; (c) Peking pledges to us privately they will not use force; (d) assert publicly our interest, not knowing whether Peking will condemn our statement.

Bowie observed that in making our decision, we must ask which level of assurance is necessary in order to enable Taiwan to survive.

General Brown reported that the JCS supports Option 1, but before he could recommend this course in testimony, wished an assessment of the global implications of normalization. Vance agreed that such a study would be important. Brzezinski will request Turner prepare such an assessment.

V. Timing: The Domestic Political Issue

Vance initiated the discussion by pointing to the problems on the Hill, where quite a group was forming against normalization, a combination of conservatives with ties to Taiwan and liberals concerned with human rights in the PRC. Holbrooke agreed that there is a Congressional problem where the concern is that we not “abandon Taiwan”. The Congressional role in normalization will be important.

Vance asked whether Congress should be brought openly into the issue before his trip. (Holbrooke is already organizing a series of quiet, small gatherings with Congressmen.) Aaron thought this would be [Page 108] premature. He noted the major issues now on the agenda—Panama Canal, Korea, SALT, Mid-East—and doubted that Congress could absorb another issue in 1977. Further, identifying what we need to get from the Chinese—the minimum demands which would make recognition acceptable to us—is something that has yet to be clearly identified. Until we know that, it will be hard to go to Congress. Concerning the politics of the situation, after all, when one asks Congress for something, one has to be able to indicate what precisely is required of them. [With] These considerations we should seek to build momentum for 1978.

Brzezinski asked how long it would take to negotiate the terms of recognition. How long has it taken others? Habib responded that we’ve already talked before—for five years, in fact. The ground has been well covered and each side understands the position of the other. Holbrooke observed that we must lay out to the Chinese our domestic political problems in normalizing relations, to which Habib responded that this too had already been done quite thoroughly.

Blumenthal believed we confronted a major educational job with Congress. The business community, on the other hand, could be very helpful.

Abramowitz felt that because of leadership changes in China and because we had never seriously negotiated the terms of recognition, we do not know the precise Chinese position on such matters as their tolerance of our continued arms sales to Taiwan. They may not reveal their position during the Vance trip or within a few months afterward; we could be involved in a protracted process.

Brzezinski raised a question about the negotiating process. What sequence of talks do we foresee following the Vance visit? In fact, now that a consensus has emerged for Option 1, there are at least three issues: (a) our minimum demands concerning the Taiwan issue; (b) our approach prior to and during the Vance meetings in pursuit of Option 1; and (c) the procedures or channels for subsequent meetings.

With respect to post-Vance negotiations, Vance and Holbrooke noted that the next round could be a meeting of foreign ministers at the UN General Assembly in September–October. And we have an Ambassadorial channel through Woodcock in Peking or here in Washington.

With respect to approaches, Brzezinski wondered whether we should undertake unilateral steps prior to the Vance meeting. Blumenthal observed that few were available to us, that the available ones would not clearly help set the stage for successful talks, and that adopting a posture of patience could be the most effective negotiating stance in any case. Everyone generally agreed that consideration of unilateral steps after Vance’s visit would make a great deal of sense.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 47, Policy Review Committee 6/27/77 on PRM 24: 6–7/77. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Oksenberg sent both the Summary of Conclusions and the minutes of the meeting to Brzezinski under a covering memorandum dated July 8. (Ibid.) Brzezinski sent only the Summary of Conclusions to Carter under a July 11 memorandum that requested that Carter approve the summary so that it could be distributed to PRC principals. At the bottom of the memorandum, Brzezinski wrote, “I do not attach a transcript of the meeting, to save you time.” Carter approved the Summary of Conclusions for distribution, but wrote, “not asserting approval of options yet. J.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 32 for a summary of Parts I and II of the study prepared in response to PRM 24.
  3. See Document 26.
  4. See Document 39.
  5. Brackets in the original.