43. Letter From President Carter to Secretary of State Vance1

Dear Cy,

I hope your visit to Peking will help establish the tone of our relations with China for the duration of my Administration. Hopefully, it will restore momentum to the normalization process, increase the willingness of both sides tacitly to cooperate where we have common interests, and expand our economic and cultural relations with China.

Before outlining more specifically my instructions for your journey to Peking, I wish to mention three guidelines which I think should govern our policy. First, we must not act unilaterally to improve our relations with Peking; the process must be a reciprocal one. Second, we must behave with the same self-respect and dignity which characterize Chinese behavior; we do not go to Peking as supplicants. Confi [Page 135] dent that our policy is in our national interest and is responsive to basic Chinese concerns, we can afford to be patient. And third, in addressing the Taiwan issue, we must make certain that our actions in no way jeopardize the confidence of the people of Taiwan in a prosperous, tranquil future. Clearly, if we are to alter the form of our relations with Peking and Taiwan, we have an obligation to do so in a way that maintains the peace and stability of the region.

I consider the most important part of your talks to be your discussions concerning our global foreign policy. Without pandering to the Chinese world view, I would hope you would set out a credible, coherent, consistent rationale for the foreign policy initiatives we have undertaken since January. The goal here should be to engage the Chinese in meaningful discussion on issues where we potentially can be helpful to each other: Korea, southern Africa, the Horn, Southeast Asia, and possibly South Asia. In order to draw the Chinese out, I suspect we will have to convince them that they indeed are a central element in our foreign policy and that we genuinely respect their nation and civilization. Moreover, we should give a full exposé of our policy regarding U.S.-Soviet relations, with strong emphasis on our capacity to manage those relations effectively.

With respect to normalization, I would expect you to lay out our basic position as per our discussion on July 30.2 Our maximum goal is to elicit flexibility from them on the Taiwan issue in the context of full diplomatic relations with Peking. This means that we would require tacit or explicit assurances that Peking will not publicly contradict expressions of our expectation that the Taiwan problem will be resolved peacefully. In addition, you should leave no doubt in the minds of Chinese leaders that we intend to preserve Taiwan’s access to sources of defense equipment, though I assume you will wish to broach this subject in a rounded fashion.

Finally, I hope you would indicate to the Chinese our willingness to explore with them ways of expanding our cultural and economic ties, even short of normalization. Such expansion would be to our mutual benefit. It would establish an environment in which normalization would be made easier. Further, enhancement of the relationship in this realm would increase the strategic value of our relationship, for it would communicate to the world that indeed our relationship is moving forward.

In any case, you might indicate to the Chinese that we are prepared to move forward in any of the following three areas: the strategic, the normalization process, or the economic and cultural area.

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Our nation has not enjoyed a particularly happy history in East Asia over the past forty years. We have fought three major wars in the region at enormous cost. But as your speech of June 29 indicated, we now enjoy a favorable position in the region.3 I wish my Administration to have the courage and wisdom to exploit this opportunity.

The success of your trip will not be measured by its immediate results but by whether you have set in motion processes which over a period of time will consolidate our favorable position. I am confident you will succeed, and I wish you well in the effort.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 56, Policy Process: 8/1–21/77. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Brzezinski sent this letter to Carter for his signature under an undated covering memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 41.
  3. On June 29, Vance spoke to the Asia Society on “America’s Role in Consolidating a Peaceful Balance and Promoting Economic Growth in Asia.” See Department of State Bulletin, August 1, 1977, pp. 141–145.