64. Memorandum From the President’s Special Adviser for Science and Technology (Press) to President Carter1


  • P.R.C. Access to U.S. Technology

Over the past few weeks the Chinese leadership has taken a number of actions to move technological development to the highest priority including a decision to strengthen technical education and obtain technological help from abroad. The head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was elevated to the Politburo. Chinese technological delegations touring space, energy and industrial facilities in Western Europe, Japan, and the U.S. have increased.

The Chinese have repeatedly stated a desire to buy U.S. technology and have complained about U.S. Government inaction on export licenses. I have looked into this matter and I believe that bureaucratic delays and indecision on selling civil technology with remote military applications are hindering such sales. Two examples of such delays are the following:

—Two years ago the Chinese placed an order with an American firm for geophysical prospecting equipment. The vendor has been unable to obtain a licensing decision from the U.S. Government. Recently the Chinese indicated they will approach another Western nation for the equipment if the order is not forthcoming.

—For five months the U.S. Government has not answered an IBM request to sell a 370/138 computer to the Shenyang Blower Works. This computer has performance parameters well within the favorable consideration limits. State, Commerce and ACDA view the transaction favorably, but DOE and DOD have not responded. West Germany has requested COCOM approval to export a closely competitive computer to the same plant. The U.S. has already exported two larger CDC Cyber 172 computers to the P.R.C.

Arguments against such sales are based on possible military application and the perceived need for balanced treatment of the P.R.C. and the USSR. U.S. national security concerns, however, generally are not over-riding considerations for limiting technology exports to China. The greatest concern is the anticipated negative reaction in Moscow if a [Page 257] technology export appears to aid Peking in building up its anti-Soviet military capabilities. Other technology suppliers have exhibited less concern about this Soviet factor. In fact, the argument can be made that technological disparity between the USSR and P.R.C. is such that the Soviets can better utilize the same technology export since they are further advanced.

Those who support civil technological sales cite the large potential market which will accrue to Japan and Western Europe, if not the U.S. In addition, contributing to Chinese economic stability and mineral and oil exports is viewed as aiding general political stability in Asia. Perhaps most important is establishing long-term ties between China and American industry, as well as our scientists and engineers. The Chinese are making decisions now on technologies which they wish to acquire abroad and from whom they wish to buy. These choices should be made with a view of the U.S. as a valuable potential source.

These issues will be explored more fully in the ongoing PRM 24 (Part III—U.S.–China Policy) and PRM 31 (Technology Transfer).2 However, you may wish to consider the following options now for the reasons indicated above:

(1) allow present licensing practices and delays to continue pending PRM 24 and 31 recommendations and evolution of relations with P.R.C.

(2) I will work with Dr. Brzezinski and Secretaries Brown, Vance and Kreps, using existing regulations,3 but expediting licensing decisions in selected areas such as oil prospecting equipment and computers eligible for COCOM clearance.

I recommend option (2), mainly to keep open the possibility that the impending major technological expansion in the PRC will be based on cooperation with the U.S., during the period that relations between the two countries develop.4

  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 42, PRM–24 [2]. Secret. A handwritten “C” at the top of the page indicates Carter saw the memorandum, which is also stamped, “The President has seen.”
  2. See footnote 19, Document 59.
  3. Carter underlined “using existing regulations” and initialed “J” in the margin.
  4. Carter checked his approval of Option 2 and initialed “J.”