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China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998

Edited By Jeffrey T. Richelson

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 19

Published – September 24, 1999

For more information contact:
Jeffrey T. Richelson 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

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China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998

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Washington, D.C., September 24, 1999 The relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) over the fifty years since the PRC was established on October 1, 1949 has been extraordinarily complex. Extreme hostility turned into outright military conflict in Korea. Rapprochement in the early 1970s became a strategic partnership during the latter part of the Cold War--a partnership that was followed by today's often rocky relationship. Today and for the foreseeable future China will represent a key focus of U.S. foreign and international economic policy.

Several years ago the National Security Archive initiated a project to shed more light on U.S.-China relations. The purpose was to obtain critical documentation on key aspects of the U.S.-Chinese relationship, with a focus on the years 1969 to the present. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, collection of relevant publications, and archival research, the archive has amassed a collection of approximately 15,000 pages of documentation on U.S.-China interaction on foreign policy issues, the U.S.-PRC military relationship, the growing economic relationship between the two countries, as well as documents related to the several issues that separate the countries.

The documents, which include policy and research studies, intelligence estimates, diplomatic cables, and briefing materials, are published (with the exception of  Document 15) in the the NSA's China and the United States: From Hostility to Engagement, 1960-1998 document set, part of the Archive's Special Collection Series. The following documents represent a small sample of the documents contained in the set.

This briefing book was prepared by Jeffrey T. Richelson, a Senior Fellow at the Archive. He is the director of the Archive's China and the United States project and previously directed Archive projects on intelligence, the military uses of space, and Presidential national security directives. He has published several books on intelligence, as well as articles in a variety of magazines and academic journals.



Document 1: Special National Intelligence Estimate,
"Communist China's Advanced Weapons Program," July 24, 1963.


This SNIE was focused on one of the primary fears of U.S. policy makers in the early 1960s--that the PRC would soon acquire nuclear weapons. The fear was so great that thought was given to a preemptive strike to forestall PRC acquisition of such weapons. The estimate also reflects the increasing information the U.S. was obtaining from its spy satellite program, codenamed CORONA, about the Chinese nuclear and missile programs. At the same time, the estimate also reflects the potential limitations of overhead photography--for despite the newly available imagery CIA analysts were uncertain about many aspects of the Chinese program, and wrong about others--including the path China would take to its first atom bomb and the activities at some of the key facilities. That uncertainty was at least one significant factor in the decision of U.S. leaders not to attempt to eliminate China's nascent nuclear capability through a preemptive attack.

Document 2: National Security Study Memorandum 124, "Next Steps Towards the People's Republic of China, "April 19, 1971.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

President Nixon and national security adviser Henry Kissinger clearly came into office believing that the United States should reorient its China policy. But, in order to implement such a change, they required support from the various elements of the national security establishment. Possible initiatives had to be assessed in terms of how the People's Republic of China would probably respond, the potential costs and benefits of the initiatives, and the impact on U.S. relations with its long-time ally, the Republic of China. Through National Security Study Memorandum, such as NSSM 124, Kissinger tasked the national security bureaucracy to explore such questions.

Document 3: Memorandum for the Chairman, NSC Senior Review Group, "NSSM 124: Next Steps Toward the People's Republic of China (PRC)"

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

A 1971 memorandum reported the results of the study initiated by NSSM 124. The study examined a variety of alternative policies the U.S. might adopt ranging from relatively modest steps to those that would involve more extensive policy changes with respect to the PRC and Taiwan.

The study also examined the issues involved, U.S. objectives and tactics and PRC objectives and tactics.

Document 4: Special National Intelligence Estimate, "Security Conditions in China", February 10, 1972.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

In support of President Nixon's forthcoming trip to China the intelligence community was tasked to produce a special intelligence estimate examining the possibility of incidents that would either endanger or seriously embarrass President Nixon during his trip. The estimate examined the possibility of incidents stemming from internal Chinese conflicts as well as from the Soviet Union, Taiwan, or individuals. The estimate concluded, in part based on clandestine intelligence reports, that "we have no evidence suggesting that President Nixon (or members of his party) will be exposed to any danger or embarrassment while in China.

Document 5: The White House, Memorandum of Conversation, [Participants include Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger], February 21, 1972.

Source: National Archives

The meeting which is the subject of this memcon is the first between Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong. The transcript reflects an effort on both leaders part to engage in light, complimentary, even humorous conversation before they address more serious issues. Eventually, they turn to issues such as relations with Japan, India-Pakistan, and the Soviet Union. At one point, Nixon tells Mao that they are brought together by the situation in the world as well as the recognition that a nation's "internal political philosophy"--in contrast to that nation's policy toward the rest of the world and the United States.


Document 6: Message, White House to U.S. Liaison Office, Peking, August 9, 1974.

Source: National Archives

On August 9, 1974 President Nixon, facing certain impeachment, resigned the residency. That same day, a Top Secret cable was sent to the Ambassador David Bruce, head of the U.S. Liaison office in Beijing. The cable instructed Bruce to deliver the enclosed personal message from Nixon's successor, President Gerald Ford, to Mao Zedong. In it Ford assures Mao that as "one of my first acts as President" he wishes to "reaffirm the same basic approach to the international situation that has been carried out under President Nixon" and that "our relationships with the People's Republic of China will remain a cardinal element of American foreign policy."


Document 7: Memorandum for the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, "U.S. Security Assistance to the Republic of China: NSSM 212," April 12,1976.

Source: Freedom of Information Act request

Taiwan, the Republic of China, has been the most consistent and serious irritant between the United States and China from the beginning of the normalization process (particularly for China). As a price of normalization and establishment of diplomatic relations the United States withdrew from the defense treaty it had with the ROC, agreed to a policy limitations concerning weapons sales, and withdrew forces from the island. Taiwan had not simply been a recipient of aid, but had provided a base for U.S. forces, pilots to fly U-2 and other reconnaissance missions over China, and territory close to the mainland from which the National Security Agency could conduct electronic eavesdropping operations. This memo represents part of the internal U.S debate over how to handle the arms sales question. It presents various options on the sale of weaponry along with the Department of Defense's recommendation. The issue persists to this day, but the process of U.S. disentanglement from its security relationship with Taiwan is a key element in the history of U.S.-China relations.

Document 8: National Security Decision Directive 140, "The President's Visit to the People's Republic of China," April 21, 1984.

Source: Freedom of Information Act request.

Despite President Reagan's strong anti-Communist philosophy, his administration continued to expand the relationship with China, including in the intelligence and military sphere. During the Reagan administration National Security Decision Directives represented the most authoritative form of guidance on national security matters. The directive reproduced here outlines the President's goals for his forthcoming trips to China in three key areas--political/diplomatic, economic/trade/scientific and technological/cultural, and strategic/military. Specific objectives covered in the directive concern expanding U.S-Chinese political consultation in areas of common interest, nuclear cooperation, improving trade relations, collaboration with respect to the USSR, technology transfer, and expansion of contacts between U.S. and Chinese officials.

Document 9: Defense Intelligence Agency, Defensive Estimative Brief, "Nuclear Weapons Systems in China, "April 24, 1984.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

The closer relationship with China did not lessen the requirement to produce intelligence on China's domestic, foreign, trade, and military activities and policies. Chinese nuclear weapons was the focus of this short analysis. The brief explores Chinese nuclear weapons testing practices, nuclear warhead technology, and other related topics. Part of the discussion notes that "qualitative improvements that the Chinese are developing for their nuclear warheads will depend on both overt contact with U.S. scientists and technology, and the covert acquisition of U.S. technology."


Document 10: Cable, Department of State to U.S. Embassy Bonn, "Background on Chinese Missile Sales," September 29, 1988.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

In 1988, U.S. intelligence discovered that a key U.S. ally had covertly acquired from the PRC a number of CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The prospect of the introduction of such weapons into the volatile Middle East became a subject of great concern to U.S. national security policymakers. In anticipation of the trip of the West German Foreign Minister to Beijing, the State Department provided the embassy in Bonn with talking points in discussing the issue with West German officials, clearly in the hope that those points might be picked up on and reinforced during the Foreign Minister's trip.


Document 11: Department of State Briefing Paper, "Chinese Prisons and Forced Labor," April 25, 1991.

Source: Freedom of Information Act

Among the human rights issues that have become part of U.S-China relations is Chinese use of prisoners (including political prisoners) to produce goods for export. This State Department briefing paper provides basic information concerning the issue. It discusses the scope of the Chinese prison system, the number of individuals incarcerated, the number of political prisoners, the magnitude of prison exports, and the evidence that such exports are approved by Chinese policymakers.

Document 12: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, Memorandum for the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, "U.S-China Military Relationship," August 1994.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

The U.S-China military relationship was severely damaged by the events at Tiananmen Square. It would not be until October/November 1993, when Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles Freeman traveled to Beijing that high-level contacts would resume. The following October, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry would travel to China to meet with Chinese officials, and address China's National Defense University. In this formerly Secret memo, written a few months before Perry's trip, the Defense Secretary gives his views concerning the direction of the renewed military relationship. The memo summarizes Perry's view of China's status and future, his objectives, and the means of attaining those objectives. He also notes some of the current limits to the relationship.

Document 13: DIA, Biographic Sketch, "General CHI Haotian," October 1995.

Source: Freedom of Information Act request.

The Defense Intelligence Agency's responsibilities include the production of biographic sketches on foreign military officials, even low ranking ones. The sketches describe the subjects position, his significance, politics, personal details. It also provides a chronology of the subject's career. The subject of this sketch, General Chi Haotian, served as Chief of the General Staff of the PLA during the Tiananmen crisis. He subsequently became Defense Minister. Two planned visits to the United States were postponed, the second postponement a result of China's March 1996 exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan. General Chi did make an official visit to the U.S. in December 1996. In response to reporters questions about allegations of PRC sales of nuclear technology, Chi says that "Some of these issues have been exaggerated and some of these issues simply do not exist."


Document 14: Office of Naval Intelligence, "Chinese Exercise Strait 961: 8-25 March 1996."

Source: ONI Public Release.

The United States decision to grant a visa to the President of Taiwan to attend a June 1995 class reunion at Cornell was one of a number of events that angered the PRC. Taiwan's higher international profile and its forthcoming democratic elections also caused concern in Beijing, and heightened the fear of an eventual Taiwanese move to declare independence. The PRC used extensive military exercises, involving missile strikes, as well as ground, naval, and air operations (some of which were canceled due to weather) to express its displeasure and intimidate Taiwanese voters. The exercises were analyzed by the Office of Naval Intelligence, which concluded the exercises were one in a series of rehearsals of a contingency scenario for the invasion of Taiwan.


Document 15: DIA, Biographic Sketch, "Lieutenant General
XIONG Guangkai," October 1996.

Source: Freedom of Information Act Request

The subject of this biographic sketch is the Deputy Chief of the PLA's General Staff, with responsibility in the areas of intelligence and foreign affairs. General Xiong is reported to have told a former U.S. official that the United States would not fight to defend Taiwan because "you will not sacrifice Los Angeles to protect Taiwan." It has also been alleged that in 1989 he supervised provocation operations against Chinese students.


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