5. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Jimmy Carter, President of the United States
  • Walter Mondale, Vice President of the United States
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Huang Chen, Peoples Republic of China Ambassador to the United States
  • Tsien Ta-yung, Counselor of the Peoples Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Hsu Shang-wei, Interpreter


  • Joint Commitment to the Shanghai Communique; Survey of Sino-American Relations, including the Taiwan issue; a broad global assessment by both sides; Claims Settlement

Conversation During Formal Picture Taking

President Carter: I am very pleased to meet you. The friendship that exists between our two countries is important to all of us.

Ambassador Huang Chen: There exists a traditional friendship between our two peoples.

President Carter: Yes. And I want to see it strengthened. Our two peoples are great peoples. The friendship between them can continue to develop for the benefit of both and for the benefit of future generations.

Ambassador Huang Chen: Yes. This is true. (And then some polite remarks in response.)

(Ambassador Huang Chen then turned to Vice President Mondale calling him an old friend. Mondale responded that it had been kind of Huang Chen to invite him for dinner sometime in the past.)

(After being seated, an audible conversation ensues for the press then in the room):

President Carter: This meeting is very important to our people.

[Page 20]

Ambassador Huang Chen: I am very glad to meet you.

President Carter: We have made progress in recent years in strengthening the relations between our two peoples, and I want to see it continue to be strengthened.

Ambassador Huang Chen: Last month we met Secretary of State Vance, and he indicated that as far as bilateral relations are concerned, they will be conducted according to the Shanghai Communiqué.2 We believe our relations will continue to develop on this basis.

(The press leaves the room, and the President begins the conversation):

President Carter: The basis of our relations will be the Shanghai Communique.

Ambassador Huang Chen: This is correct. The Shanghai Communique constitutes the foundation of the relations between our two countries. We believe that the relationship will continue to improve as long as it is adhered to. Any violations will raise adverse results.

President Carter: I understand that. I hope that progress will be restimulated, that we can grow closer together in the cultural field and in the field of trade, in order to fulfill the hopes of the Shanghai Communique.

Ambassador Huang Chen: When I saw Secretary Vance last, he told me that you, Mr. President, were firmly committed to the implementation of the Shanghai Communique which is basic to promoting our relations. Not long ago, David Rockefeller visited China, and he talked with Vice Premier Li Hsien-nien.3 Vice Premier Li learned that both in the global realm and in terms of improving bilateral relations, the President attaches great importance to Sino-American relations. We also learned from Mr. Rockefeller that he believed the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and Mr. Brzezinski are all aware of the importance of the relations between China and the United States. We understand that all of you have set your hearts to make every effort to improve relations.

President Carter: That is right. We feel our country is strong militarily, economically, and politically. We have great influence in the world. And we see the same thing in China. We think that we should share information and share ideas in solving the problems of the Middle East, southern Africa, reducing weapons, restoring peace and [Page 21] maintaining security, especially in the Western Pacific. I believe that a constant exchange of information and ideas is necessary for our relationship to move forward. The Vice President has just returned from a trip to Western Europe and Japan in order to strengthen our relations with those areas. The Secretary of State will soon go to the Middle East and later to the Soviet Union. We want to share information with you about these trips, and we want your ideas on these policies so we can make the right decisions.

Ambassador Huang Chen: On President Nixon’s visit in 1972, Sino-American relations were opened, and the Shanghai Communique was issued. President Ford subsequently visited China.4 Henry Kissinger visited every year or even twice a year. Our leaders have had long talks with your leaders. Our leaders explained their views on major issues. We hope this continues. The late Chairman Mao and the late Premier Chou En-lai had long talks with President Nixon, President Ford, Secretary Kissinger, not only on bilateral issues but on the international situation and on major world issues. This exchange of views promotes better understanding. Although our two societies have different social systems and operate under different ideologies, under current international conditions, we have many common points. For example, we both must cope with Soviet expansionism and aggression.

President Carter: I hope these exchanges of ideas will continue. We would like to have our leaders visit yours and have your leaders come visit us. I would like to know if you think they could come visit us.

Ambassador Huang Chen: Of course, we sincerely will welcome your leaders. But for us I should speak frankly. Since the U.S. still has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and there is a Chiang Kai-shek Embassy in your capital, under these circumstances it is impossible for our leaders to come here. You can visit China because there is no other U.S. Embassy there. You know our position. You said in the Shanghai Communique that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of it. We are opposed to any activity to create two Chinas or one China and one Taiwan. The crucial question is Taiwan. The way to reach this is [through the meeting of the three conditions: (This phrase was not translated. MO)] for the U.S. to sever diplomatic relations; to withdraw U.S. troops from Taiwan; and to abrogate the defense treaty. We have mentioned this on many occasions, the last time being our explanation to David Rockefeller. Our leaders would like to come to the U.S. after normalization.

President Carter: We understand the Chinese position. This has been presented to us on many occasions. We believe the Taiwan ques[Page 22]tion rests in the hands of the Peoples Republic of China and in the people of Taiwan. Nothing would please us more than to see a peaceful resolution of this question. We understand that this is an internal matter, but we have a long-standing hope and expectation that it can be settled in peaceful ways. I hope this can be resolved. I hope we can see a strong movement toward normalization, and the principles of the Shanghai Communique are obviously the ones to which we are committed.

Ambassador Huang Chen: The President knows quite well our position. How to liberate Taiwan—whether by force or by other means—is our internal affair. No outside power has the right to interfere just as we do not interfere in the internal affairs of others. If it can be solved peacefully, that would be good. But since we see a bunch of counter-revolutionaries on the island, it seems there is no other way than by force. But as to when, it is hard to say.

President Carter: Well, let us move to other concerns. We see our military strength as adequate to meet our needs and to protect our allies. We are concerned about increases in Soviet strength. We must always maintain adequate military strength to meet the Soviets and others. At the same time, we will pursue efforts mutually to reduce their dependence on nuclear and atomic weapons. We obviously have no objection to the Peoples Republic of China knowing about these efforts.

We seek to assure the entire world that we can reduce our reliance on atomic weapons. We have offered the Soviet Union a comprehensive test ban treaty. This would be a bilateral agreement with the Soviets. If it can be worked out, then perhaps others such as China or France can consider joining in some form, but at the present time this is just an effort with the USSR. At the same time we will maintain our equivalent strength and will keep the Chinese Government informed.

Ambassador Huang Chen: We know, as you mentioned, that you have strong military forces. But we also know about the Soviet Union on the other side. In recent years the Soviet Union under the camouflage of détente has been stepping up military preparations for expansion. Not only have the Soviets caught up with the U.S. in conventional forces, but they are seeking overall military superiority. As we know quite well, the Soviet Union has this type of character: They bully the soft but are afraid of the tough. Quite often they do not mean what they say. They talk disarmament but do the opposite. While they discuss disarmament, they build more weapons. They have built their military forces from 3 million to 4.5 million. So we are not interested in that kind of disarmament.

As to a treaty, that is but a piece of paper. When it is of no use to them, they can tear it up.

[Page 23]

As to nuclear weapons, our government position has been constant and clear. We have three points: 1) We are for complete and thorough annihilation of all nuclear weapons; 2) We will never be the first to use nuclear weapons; 3) We propose that all heads of state come together to discuss how completely and thoroughly to ban and annihilate all nuclear weapons. As a first step, all heads of state should agree to a no-first-use pledge.

As to the Soviet Union, the Soviets have wild ambitions. They seek advantage everywhere, while the U.S. has vested interests to protect. This situation is unalterable. The focus of Soviet strategy is in Europe. They feint in the East to attack in the West. By using détente as a smokescreen and military force as a shield, the Soviets are trying to disintegrate Western Europe in order to [subjugate(?)] it.

The U.S. and China believe that a strong Europe is of great significance and is important. Unfortunately, Western Europe is soft, weak, and disintegrated. I think it should be stronger. Western Europe is not strong enough to cope with the Soviets alone. The U.S. alone also may not be strong enough [to cope alone]. This is why the two together should strengthen their unity and cooperate with each other. Since the Helsinki Agreement, under the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, a Munich-like thinking has arisen.5 This is dangerous. It lulls the people and causes them to lose their militant will. They may be caught by surprise. This is why it is important to draw lessons from Dunkirk of World War II.

I would also say a few words about our northern neighbor—a neighbor that is not too far from your country either. We are vigilant and prepared. As Li Hsien-nien said to former Secretary of Defense Schlesinger, we will not attack unless attacked.6 If attacked, we will counter-attack. If attacked, we will drown the Soviet Union in a vast ocean of people’s war. We will adhere to the policies of our late Chairman Mao. We will maintain independence, self-reliance and retain the initiative in our own hands. We are sure we can cope with Soviet aggression and the Soviet threat.

There exists a fundamental dispute between the Soviet Union and China. This polemic will continue for a long time. But this should not inhibit the development of our state-to-state relations.

[Page 24]

President Carter: The reduction of nuclear weapons is of advantage to our country. The life of our country is at stake when I negotiate with the Soviet Union or with China. I feel a great responsibility to protect my country. With your admonition, I will make sure we are never militarily vulnerable, even while making an effort to achieve an agreement with the Soviet Union. We have ways of monitoring compliance with agreements. We have ways of detecting violation of treaties.

There is no doubt that the situation in Europe needs to be improved in military strength. This will guide me in making decisions with respect to Western Europe. To the extent that Western Europe, Japan, the U.S. and China can cooperate, can be friends, and exchange ideas and share mutual purposes, the world peace can be assured and the Soviet threat met.

I view these global issues with deep concern. That is why it is so important to me as the representative of the American people that we strengthen ties with China. We will strengthen ties with Japan. I have recently sent a message to Vietnam that we wish to normalize relations with that country. I hope China will join to prevent aggression by either side in Korea. These are opportunities whereby we can work together. There is no return to a Munich attitude and, if I should see it, I will respond aggressively to make sure we can defend ourselves.

Ambassador Huang Chen: On this, I recall Chairman Mao’s conversation with Henry Kissinger. We have already discussed this. Chairman Mao mentioned what he called a “one-line strategy: Japan, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Western Europe.”7 This line can cope with Soviet expansion and aggression. Maybe you have already been well briefed by Henry Kissinger on this. (Huang Chen looked inquiringly at the President, Vance, and Brzezinski, who laughed.) As to Korea, you know our position. Our position has been declared openly. As to your Vietnam initiative, we think this is good. As to your relations with Japan, we want this. As our leaders have said to the Japanese, Japan should place their relations with the U.S. first and their relations with China second.

[The above paragraph was rendered in English by the interpreter after instruction from the Ambassador to abbreviate his more extensive remarks. Left out were several sentences at the end returning to the theme of China’s main security concern being the Soviet Union.—MO]

Ambassador Huang Chen: Perhaps our friends are concerned about our domestic situation in China.

[Page 25]

President Carter: Before turning to that, let me say that your remarks have been very helpful to me. I hope that we can demonstrate to our friends and the world that we can make progress in our relations. One area where we could do this is to reach a claims settlement. Recently, we nearly reached an agreement on this, as I understand it. If we can do this, it would be helpful. And, if you have advice on the Middle East or on southern Africa, or other places, you can give that advice either to Secretary Vance or to me. We will always welcome the opinion of the Chinese Government.

Ambassador Huang Chen: As to the assets issue, that was dealt with by David Rockefeller and Li Hsien-nien.

President Carter: Yes. Mr. Rockefeller reported to me upon his return.

Ambassador Huang Chen: As you know, this issue was almost settled in the past. We almost reached an agreement. At a critical moment, the U.S. Government created side issues. The asset issue is easy to solve if we can agree to a one-package settlement. This is not a big matter. [This was treated jovially with the Ambassador then tapping the hand of Secretary Vance as if to indicate that this is just a little matter that could be settled.—MO]

As to the domestic situation, we would like to inform the President that the Party Center led by Hua Kuo-feng, at Mao’s behest, smashed the plot and felled the “Gang of Four” with one blow. This was a great victory. The people are in high spirits. Now we can implement in a better way Mao’s line in domestic and foreign policy. Now the Chinese people are full of confidence under the Party Center headed by Hua Kuo-feng. They are striving to achieve bigger victories in socialist revolution and socialist construction. They are determined to achieve the modernization of agriculture, industry, defense and science and technology by the end of the century. This grand program was set by Chairman Mao and put forth by Premier Chou at the Fourth National Peoples Congress. We are fully confident that the grand plan will be realized. In sum, the situation in China is very good and stable.

President Carter: I hope the same is true in our country. Mr. Ambassador, I know you have a background in agriculture, in the military, in politics, in science and diplomacy. I have a similar background. I also understand you are interested in music. Our countries can be friends, and we can be friends. If you wish, I would like to host you at a concert or a play or in some way to show our friendship.

Ambassador Huang Chen: [Laughing and pleased.—MO] That would be very nice. I am a layman in music, but I am very interested in painting.

President Carter: [Turns to Vice President Mondale, asks him whether he wishes to say anything.]

[Page 26]

Vice President Mondale: I am grateful for the meeting.

Ambassador Huang Chen: The Vice President is an old friend. I think this is a good meeting. It is important to acquire a better understanding of our respective views.

President Carter: I have much to learn. I always welcome advice and the counsel of your government.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 55, Policy Process: 10/76–4/77. Top Secret; Sensitive. All brackets are in the original. Drafted by Oksenberg. The meeting took place in the White House. Brzezinski gave Carter a memorandum, dated February 7, to prepare him for the meeting. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of): 1–2/77) The Department of State also sent the President undated briefing notes for the meeting. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 42, Meetings: 1–3/77)
  2. See Document 2.
  3. David Rockefeller visited China in January 1977 at the invitation of the People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs. He met with Li Hsien-nien and discussed prospects for Sino-American political and economic relations. (Telegrams 116, January 17, and 139, January 20, from Beijing; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770017–0465 and D770021–0027)
  4. President Ford visited China December 1–5, 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Documents 134137.
  5. The Sonnenfeldt Doctrine was first articulated in December 1975 when Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department of State, declared, “it must be our policy to strive for an evolution that makes the relationship between the Eastern Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one.” He added, “our policy must be a policy of responding to the clearly visible aspirations in Eastern Europe for a more autonomous existence within the context of a strong Soviet geopolitical influence.” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 1, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1973–1976, Document 68.
  6. Schlesinger traveled to China in September 1975 at Chinese invitation. No record of his meeting with Vice Premier Li Hsien-nien has been found.
  7. At the late night Mao–Kissinger meeting of February 17–18, 1973, Mao said, “we should draw a horizontal line—the U.S.–Japan–Pakistan–Iran (Chairman Mao coughs badly.)–Turkey and Europe.” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 12.