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Samuel Huntington to National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, May 11, 1978

NSC staffer and scholar Samuel Huntington met with MIT professor Lucien Pye and Harvard professors Dwight Perkins and Roy Hofheinz to discuss Brzezinski's upcoming trip to China. The memo was labelled "confidential"/"outside the system."

May 11, 1978


  • Your China Trip: Advice from Cambridge Mandarins

I had discussions in Cambridge yesterday with Lucian Pye, Dwight Perkins, and Roy Hofheinz, soliciting their suggestions re your China trip.2 Each has been in China at least twice in recent years, Pye and Perkins having gone with Sen. Jackson. The following are, in brief, a random selection of some of the more salient and useful points one or the other of them made.

1. In order both to keep the Chinese in their place and also to assuage the Japanese and Koreans, your trip should be billed as an Asian trip, not a trip to China with stop-offs in Seoul and Tokyo. (This is, I note, a point which the Japanese have already raised; see Tokyo 7457.)

2. Very early in the discussions it would be helpful for you “to let yourself go” with an anti-Soviet tirade, taking off from some recent particularly outrageous Soviet action. This would generate a very cordial atmosphere for the remainder of the discussions.

3. The Chinese make a distinction between “long-term principles” and “short-term considerations.” Discussion of the former should be avoided, since it can easily become overly abstract (e.g., on the inevitability of war) and since US–PRC differences are greatest at this level. The emphasis should instead be on the short-term considerations, that is, not ideology, but strategy, about which the Chinese will talk in very realistic terms.

4. Where significant differences exist between US and PRC policy, there is little or nothing to be gained from attempting to explain and justify US policy.

5. “Detente” is, of course, a bad word to the Chinese, and hence US policy vis-a-vis the USSR should not be described this way. [In this connection, it occurs to me that it might be useful to adopt the formulation we used in the PRM–10 Net Assessment, referring to détente as a phase which we passed through during the NixonKissinger years, and indicating that we are now in a post-détente “Era II” of US–USSR competition.]

6. To arouse their interest and establish their indebtedness to you, it would be useful to:

(a) provide them with some piece of intelligence information we have concerning the Soviets, the accuracy of which they will be able to verify themselves a few days later;

(b) show them some selected satellite photos of Soviet military installations and/or deployments near their border.

It could also be suggested to them that additional information of this sort could be provided from time to time, but that it would have to be furnished to them through Woodcock in Peking, since we would have to transmit it to Peking through our own channels. This would be a way of gaining greater access for Woodcock to Chinese officaldom.

7. In conversations, Teng Hsiao-p’ing “likes to cut people’s heads off without their knowing it.” One has to be alert to this and be prepared to catch him in the act and call him when he tries to wing some proposition by you, which if unchallenged, will look rather peculiar in the transcript. Teng and other Chinese officials also apparently have an extraordinary ability to lie blatantly with a totally straight face.

8. Chinese “inscrutability” is often simply a mask for their ignorance [less than 1 line not declassified] concerning the outside world. Don’t overestimate their understanding of political trends in the US or elsewhere outside their own borders.

9. The Chinese are now swept up in a great enthusiasm for science and technology. They see science as a “miracle drug,” which will effect great results if it is imported into the PRC. They do not appreciate the need to have scientific processes take root in their institutions and become self-generating. Hence, the results of the importation of Western science are likely to be disappointing. (The parallels with the Soviet experience here would seem to be striking.)

10. The Chinese are placing great hope on the development of their oil resources, with a view to making oil exports their major hard currency earner. Consequently, they desperately need oil exploration equipment. As with other things, however, they are reluctant to get this directly from the US (even where that is possible), but prefer to import European or Japanese equipment (even if inferior) or to get US equipment indirectly (e.g., through Singapore).

11. The present phase in PRC development has many resemblances to the mid-1950s in the USSR: i.e., the release of new energies following the death of the dominant leader. The reaction against Mao has not yet gone as far as the Khrushchev-led reaction against Stalin, but it could conceivably go that far.

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October 15, 2020 - 4:00pm

Please join the USC U.S.-China Institute for a book talk with author David Lampton. His new book examines China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors.