87. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of Dr. Brzezinski’s Meeting with Ambassador Han Hsu


  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Michel Oksenberg, Staff Member, NSC
  • Ambassador Han Hsu, Acting Chief of the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Tsao Kuei-sheng, Political Counselor, People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
  • Yang Yu-yung, Interpreter, People’s Republic of China Liaison Office
[Page 310]

(Background: Ambassador Han Hsu shook Dr. Brzezinski’s hand warmly, clasping his hand in the friendliest Chinese fashion. Mr. Oksenberg had informed him by phone on Friday, March 17, that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the matter which Mr. Oksenberg had raised earlier with Mr. Tsien Ta-yung and which Ambassador Huang Chen had earlier raised during the Mondale lunch.2 During that conversation, Han Hsu understood immediately what Oksen-berg meant, saying “Yes, that matter. I would be glad to see Mr. Brzezinski.”)

Dr. Brzezinski: How are you? It is good to see you again.

Ambassador Han Hsu: I am fine.

Dr. Brzezinski: I have been traveling. I went with the President over the weekend to visit the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, which weighs 95,000 tons. It is huge. Can you guess how many sailors it has?

Ambassador Han Hsu: 1000.

Counselor Tsao: 1500.

Dr. Brzezinski: 6000. It is like a sailing fortress. It contains over 100 aircraft. I had no idea how enormous it was before I visited it. It is 17 stories tall. One has to use the stairs. President Carter and Mrs. Carter went all the way up and down.

The mechanisms for launching and landing a plane are impressive. For a plane to take off, there are huge catapults that propel it off the ship and within two to three seconds the plane has cleared the deck and is flying at 100 miles an hour. Landing is also extraordinarily difficult. As the pilot touches down, he speeds up so that in case the tripping mechanisms fail to hold him, he will have sufficient speed to go off again.

The President gave an important speech at Wake Forest.3 I asked Mr. Oksenberg to deliver it to you. I hope you got a copy and hope you read it.

Ambassador Han Hsu: The New China News Agency has already carried excerpts of this speech, and I have brought you a copy of the NCNA dispatch.

[Page 311]

Dr. Brzezinski: I have read Hua Kuo-feng’s program, which he delivered to the National People’s Congress—its mention of 120 key development projects and the development of 14 industrial regions in China.

Ambassador Han Hsu: Yes. The next eight years for China will be decisive years. We are entering a crucial period until 1985. The four modernizations depend upon a major effort. If we are able to fulfill our targets in the first eight years, then we will meet our targets to the year 2000.

Dr. Brzezinski: Is the goal more ambitious than that of the programs of the 1950s and early 1960s?

Ambassador Han Hsu: It is a program which seeks to grow on the basis of what was accomplished during the 1950s and early 1960s. But in terms of overall growth, we hope to achieve within the next eight years what was accomplished over the past 28 years.

Dr. Brzezinski: Will it involve a great deal of sacrifice?

Ambassador Han Hsu: Our hope is to minimize the sacrifice. We will make efforts to increase the standard of living. We hope that wages will be able to increase every year. We seek to secure increases for 90 percent of the peasants annually and their incomes. No targets have been set for wage increases. The increases will depend on productivity, for we must combine the interest of the individual with the interest of the state.

Dr. Brzezinski: Well, I have not read the full Hua Kuo-feng statement, but Mr. Oksenberg has given me a summary of it and key excerpts from the speech.4 I was struck that it is balanced, integrated, and systematic. The program that has been outlined envisions a scientific and modern China.

Let me change the subject. I know you are busy. You will remember that your predecessor said it would be opportune for me to visit China. The President has approved, on the Secretary of State’s recommendation, for me to make such a visit and to explore with you whether such a visit would be possible and what its implications would be and how to arrange it.

Ambassador Han Hsu: Because Mr. Oksenberg had previously mentioned this to the Chinese side, the Chinese side has already expressed a formal invitation and said that you would be welcome.

Dr. Brzezinski: I am gratified with this invitation. I have always had great admiration for your country, your history, your people. I will [Page 312] welcome this opportunity to visit your country. Here I speak personally, aside from the substance of the conversations I hope to have in China, which are also of great interest to me.

Let me outline my thinking on the timing and outline of the visit and its special characteristics. You may respond now or when I have finished outlining my thinking.

Ambassador Han Hsu: I would prefer to listen to your total views.

Dr. Brzezinski: The visit would have maximum utility if we could have authoritative consultations on matters of common interest. It will be useful for us to examine together the current world situation, to exchange perspectives, and to share our best thinking and latest information.

I would think, for example, that the Chinese side might be interested in and might wish to hear about U.S.-Soviet relations in SALT, our analysis of Europe, Yugoslavia, and the Central European front, the Middle East, the Horn, and southern Africa. We would be interested in having a Chinese assessment about these areas as well. Of course, we would wish to assess the situation in the Far East and Asia and also discuss and learn your estimates of it.

I cite these items as possible agenda items. Our hosts may wish to add. But we need to prepare the visit so that it is of maximum useful advantage, and it would be useful to discuss beforehand the agenda in some detail. So this is the first point—the agenda. We would like to be able to set the specific meetings and with whom we would discuss these issues.

As to the timing of the trip, from our point of view, the President has a trip coming up to Africa and Latin America. You then have your May Day celebrations. So it seems to me that perhaps sometime in the middle of May would be most appropriate. We would welcome the Chinese view.

As for the appropriate duration for such consultations, I would envision a meeting from two to three days, with the first day of talks, then a break during the second day when I might see some of Peking, and then a third day of conversations.

I would like to take only a small party of five or six officials with no press accompanying. Until this has been arranged, we would intend to make no announcement. If a leak occurs—and we recognize the proneness of our government to such leaks—we would state that no plans have been made for such a visit. But it is probably desirable to make an announcement as soon as possible.

When an announcement is made, perhaps we should make a joint statement of my visit. In any case we would coordinate the text so that you know what we intend to say. That, in essence, is the way we want [Page 313] to approach the visit. I would appreciate your reactions now or when you wish to convey them.

Ambassador Han Hsu: I will convey what you have said to Peking, and as soon as Peking replies, I will inform you. But let me make sure I understand what you have said. I have one question: You only wish to visit Peking and do not wish to visit other places?

Dr. Brzezinski: Time does not allow me to go elsewhere.

Ambassador Han Hsu: So, with regard to your forthcoming visit, I will convey your ideas and I will reply to you.

Dr. Brzezinski: Maybe you can seduce me to stay longer to travel elsewhere. I would be interested in your suggestions.

Ambassador Han Hsu: We would like to know your assessment of the Horn. The Somalians have withdrawn from Ethopia, but the Russians and Cubans do not wish to go away.

Dr. Brzezinski: My concern is that the Soviet Union and Cuba will crush the Eritrean movement. This concerns both the Saudi Arabians and the Egyptians, and we will be talking to them about this. I am also concerned that the Soviet Union and Cuba will give aid to elements in the patriotic front and become involved in the Rhodesian situation giving them an arc of influence across Africa.

When the President visits Nigeria, he will talk to the leaders of the front line states and the patriotic front. He will also have extensive conversations with General Olusegun Obasanjo. Only if the leaders and people in the region are concerned about and understand the nature of Soviet imperialism can its hegemonistic designs be thwarted.

Our objective is to create in all Africa governments based on a black majority which are genuinely independent and not an extension of Soviet influence.

I know that over the years China has played an important role in Tanzania and Zambia. You have relations with a number of African movements. We need to talk seriously with you about the African states, even if we have different ideological and historical perspectives. Let us talk again.

Ambassador Han Hsu: What is the situation in the Middle East?

Dr. Brzezinski: The discussions are in a difficult stage but progress must be made. It is important that we make all efforts to obtain a Mid-East settlement. The African and Mid East situations are related.

I apologize, but I am late for another meeting.

Ambassador Han Hsu: I understand. I look forward to seeing you.

Dr. Brzezinski: I look forward to hearing from you.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 56, Policy Process: 1–4/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House. Oksenberg drafted a cable for Woodcock and Vance summarizing the meeting. In a covering memorandum to Brzezinski, Oksenberg wrote, “When you give a copy of this cable to Cy, if you think it appropriate, you might ascertain Cy’s disposition to inform Dick [Holbrooke]. My own preference would be for Cy to keep Dick informed and for us to know that Dick has been informed. Mike [Armacost] and I have worked effectively with Dick over the past year because we shared information. I would like to minimize any potential strains in the relationship as we begin to plan for your trip. Certainly Dick drew me fully into the planning for the Vance trip last fall. I think it will be easier to get him to accept his not being included on the final trip if he has been made part of the process at an earlier stage.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of): 2–5/78)
  2. That is, Brzezinski’s proposed trip to China. The memorandum of conversation of Mondale’s lunch with Huang Zhen is Document 66. Regarding Oksenberg’s meeting with Tsien, see footnote 2 thereto. Brzezinski commented in his memoirs about the “warm personal relationship” he developed with Han Hsu: “our conversations grew increasingly candid and far-ranging. I came both to trust him and to like him.” (Power and Principle, p. 203)
  3. Carter’s speech at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on March 17 addressed national security. It is printed in Public Papers: Carter, 1978, pp. 529–535.
  4. Oksenberg’s March 7 memorandum to Brzezinski describing Hua Guofeng’s speech to the National People’s Congress is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 26, Brzezinski: 1–3/78.