81. Memorandum From Michel Oksenberg of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Conversation with Dick Holbrooke on China Policy

I had a long talk with Dick Holbrooke about China policy on March 2, and the highlights should be of interest to you:

Vance is beginning to tell some Senators that we intend to normalize relations with the PRC after the elections. For example, he mentioned this to Kennedy in a private conversation. I think this is a mistake on Cy’s part for two reasons: First, such statements might leak; and second, normalization is not an issue the timing of which is entirely for us to decide. Cy should be cautioned about this.

—If indeed Cy, you, and possibly the President do believe that we should attempt to normalize after the fall elections, we must begin now or at the very latest immediately after the Canal Treaty vote to undertake measures toward the PRC which will create the proper environment for an effort to normalize in the fall. Dick Holbrooke and I decided to draft a paper for a meeting with you, Cy, and Harold—a meeting similar to the one we had on arms sales to the PRC [ ROC ]2—which would discuss a strategy for normalization. It is not good enough to say that you would like to consider the issue after the elections; unless we undertake steps to generate some momentum to the relationship, we will really enjoy no options on the issue in the fall. Among the measures we have in mind would be renewal of Taiwan troop drawdowns, recall of Unger in mid-summer, a major arms sale to Taiwan in late summer, in my opinion a trip by you to China in May, the licensing of several key technology exports to the PRC coupled with a major PRC purchase of U.S. grain, and possibly a major effort to settle the claims/assets issue. Dick and my idea would be to attempt to get the President to approve a sequence of moves, the purpose of which would be to give him the option of then making an effort to normalize after the November election. We should have this paper for your consideration by the end of the month.

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—Dick told me that Cy remains skeptical of both your trip to China or a possible trip by Mondale. I suspect Dick has not sought to turn Cy around on this one; Mike Armacost agrees with me on Dick’s position. The only reason in our opinion that Cy and certainly Holbrooke are opposed to such trips is bureaucratic. Cy apparently is going to propose to the President that Bergland and Schlesinger be offered to the Chinese. I hope you will resist a Bergland trip very strongly. It would be insulting to the Chinese to have Bergland go to China while Mondale visits Southeast Asia. Do we take the Chinese seriously or not? Further, what is Bergland going to talk about—peddling wheat when the Chinese have made it clear the U.S. is a residual supplier?

Holbrooke told me that he probably would go against his EA Bureau advisors and support the sale of F–4s rather than F–5Es to Taiwan, providing that we manage such a sale to gain political credit on the Hill.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of): 2–5/78. Confidential. Sent for information. A note in an unknown hand at the top of the page reads, “RI, lunch item.”
  2. See Document 82.