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9. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • DoD Inputs on US–PRC Relations

1. I enclose a memorandum from Secretary Brown dealing with the significance of our relationship with the PRC for our national security policy, and a memorandum from Secretary Brown transmitting specific recommendations from General Brown (JCS) pertaining to US–PRC military contacts.

2. With regard to the memorandum from Secretary Brown, let me note that I am generally in agreement with his emphasis on the important security benefits which we have derived from our relationship with Peking. We must, therefore, be careful not to slight China in our dealings with the Soviet Union, and an informal interagency group, with NSC staff member Michel Oksenberg, is engaged in reviewing US–PRC relations from that standpoint.

3. With regard to the recommendations for US–PRC military contacts, my view is that your decision should await the outcome of the interagency review. Subject to your approval, I would recommend that you instruct me to request Secretary Brown to prepare a paper analyzing in more detail the six specific recommendations submitted by General Brown. His response would then be included in the interagency review, on the basis of which a more politically sensitive judgment can be submitted for your approval.2

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Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter3


  • The People’s Republic of China and US National Security Policy

The security policy of the US is, and I believe should continue to be, cast primarily within the framework of the Soviet-American political and military balance. At the same time security planning must increasingly reflect the more complex character of the international system. This is particularly true with regard to our policy towards the People’s Republic of China. Whatever the virtues of “triangular” diplomacy, China constitutes a growing power center of continuing importance.

We have gained important security benefits from our new relationship with Peking. We have substantially reduced the danger of a conflict in northeast Asia and eliminated the friction that our China policy caused with major allies such as Japan. At least by comparison with what would otherwise have been the case, the Soviets have so far been forced to divide their military strength. Though this is a consequence of Soviet-PRC tensions rather than better US–PRC relations, the two are not unconnected. Thus, the most important factor for the next decade is that the US–PRC relationship will be a major influence on US-Soviet relations.

I therefore conclude that this Administration must foster a relationship with Peking which gives greater global balance to our national security position. Failure to do so might give us some short term benefits with the Soviet Union but at the price of potentially larger long term costs. Retrogression in our China relations could also have major political costs for you and hinder your management of both domestic and foreign affairs.

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Security Concerns in the Evolution of China Policy

In terms of our security interests as seen from my vantage point at Defense, there are three major policy areas of interest which will be affected by the evolution of China policy and the conduct of our relations with Peking:

US–PRC Relations and Our Dealings with the Soviet Union. Our policies regarding the Chinese will be a growing factor in Sino-Soviet relations and in our efforts to deal effectively with the Soviets. While to date the Russians have been reserved in their responses to the more constructive relationship between Washington and Peking, changes in this relationship are likely to stimulate important reactions from Moscow. Improvements in US–PRC relations and heightened levels of Sino-American cooperation may lead Moscow to inject the “China factor” into future SALT negotiations and other aspects of the diplomacy of détente. This could cause them to seek parity as compared with the US plus China in arms agreements, or could make them more eager to reach such agreements with us and to ease relations with us. Stagnation or deterioration in US–PRC relations could relax Soviet anxieties, harden their negotiating postures with us, and create opportunities for improvements in Sino-Soviet relations.

Effects of “Normalization” of US–PRC Relations. As you decide how to pick up the unfinished task of establishing a stable basis for future US–PRC relations, key issues of concern to the Defense Department will be the timing, the phasing, and the manner in which our present relationship with the Republic of China or Taiwan—with whom we maintain a security treaty—will be altered; [1½ lines not declassified]; the impact of any changes in our relationship with Taiwan on key Asian allies, especially Japan; and what actions we might be willing to take to ensure that there is a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.

US–PRC Relations and Third Country Issues. There are a number of third country areas—Korea, Japan, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe—where the Washington–Peking dialogue has led to parallel policies which have served the security interests of both sides. Defense, of course, has great interest in this process and of how the China relationship might be used to reinforce our security interests on issues like Korea or in response to any future crisis which might affect both countries.

Issues for Immediate Consideration

Our security interests in the evolution of our China policy are clear. They may loom larger and acquire greater importance over the next ten years as our present, “semi-normal” relationship with Peking [Page 36]matures. However, there are some issues that I believe should be addressed early. These are:

—The impact of an enhanced US–PRC relationship on Soviet-American relations and particularly on future SALT negotiations;

—The effect of our actions with the Soviets on our ability to pursue an effective China policy in the future;

—The security of Taiwan under conditions of normalized US–PRC relations; and

—The handling of our security relations in Asia (to include our policies towards friends, allies and the PRC) in the interim, while our longer term China policy acquires shape and direction.

I recognize that China policy raises difficult questions and there may be great uncertainties involved in answering them. But I believe that they need to be addressed in a thorough manner and that this process should begin soon. They have significant implications for our security policy and obviously for the Defense Department in particular.

In the previous Administration China policy was formulated in a very restricted forum by a very few individuals. I recommend against continuing that practice. Our China policy is an integral part of American foreign policy and should no longer, in my view, be managed differently than other major elements of US national security policy. Beyond that there is the need to fashion a broad policy consensus on China policy within the United States Government. Nor does the previous Administration’s practice in this regard fit with the work style you have established for your Administration, a style that produces particularly enthusiastic support among those who have experienced both.

I believe there is a need to bring a broader systematic approach to China policy. You may wish to establish a formal or informal group to review the various aspects of China policy. I have explained all this in greater detail in a separate memorandum to Zbig.4

Harold Brown
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Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Brown) to Secretary of Defense Brown5


  • US-Chinese (PRC) Military Contacts

1. Purpose: To review briefly the record of US-Chinese military contacts, to offer comments on the desirability of US initiatives, and to recommend what military contacts might be undertaken.

2. Background: In 1945, the Chinese Communists requested from the US military assistance in the war against Japan. For a variety of reasons this never came to fruition. The ensuing 30 years saw US and Chinese forces engaged in combat in Korea, and indirect military confrontations in the Taiwan Strait in 1959, 1962 and in Vietnam. This milieu included the signing in 1954 of the US–Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty and the absence of formal military contacts and diplomatic relations between the US and the PRC.

3. Discussion:

a. Although the setting for future US–PRC military contacts is not propitious, such contacts are necessary particularly in view of the recommendations made in the reference.

b. Peking will see expanded US-Soviet military contacts as being directed against the PRC, and as additional evidence of US collusion with the “hegemonistic Soviet social imperialists.” Damage will almost certainly be done to the US–PRC leg of the strategically important US–USSRPRC triangular relationship.

c. “Even-handedness” in our relations with the PRC and the USSR, therefore, requires similar military contact initiatives in the case of China, even though these do not elicit quick responses.

4. Recommendations:

a. Expedite and expand contacts between US and PRC Defense Attaches in all third countries. Use our DATTs to convey substantive messages to the PRC military leadership.

b. Reciprocal visits by DLO Hong Kong military personnel and appropriate PLA officers.

c. Reciprocal visits by US Army, Chief of Military History and his equivalent in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).

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d. Initiate talks with PRC military staff at the UN on military implications of ongoing Law of the Sea negotiations, and offer US military equipment/technology.

e. Invite PLA personnel to observe US exercises in the Pacific region.

f. Institute exchanges between National Defense University/National War College and higher military academies in the PRC.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 8, China (People’s Republic of): 1–2/77. Secret; Eyes Only.
  2. Carter checked the Approve option and initialed “J.”
  3. Secret; Eyes Only. Secretary Brown sent copies of this memorandum to Vance and Brzezinski. On February 1, McAuliffe sent Brown a draft of this memorandum, on which Brown wrote, “2/2. Gene McA—Let me have a) a memo which I can use as a talking paper with ZB and then send to him along the lines marked [illegible] on next page. b) a memo to the President (cc to CV and ZB) urging that we move forward along the lines of this paper. HB.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–80–0035, Republic of China, 092)
  4. See Document 6.
  5. Secret.