Chapter 8 – Setting the New Cold War Strategy: The First Term - Statements and Decisions

11. A Short Summary of Reagan’s Cold War Strategy and the People’s Republic of China (PRC)
The U.S.-China relationship is one of considerable historical complexity, which continues to the present day, and is beyond the scope of this book focused on the Soviet Union. However, the historical context inherited by Ronald Reagan is important and touches on Nixon’s (Chapter 5) and Carter’s (Chapter 6) détente strategies as they related to China.
Historical Context. The historical context includes consideration of direct U.S. military support for pre-Communist China’s war for national survival against Japan’s invasion forces in World War II (e.g., via the “Flying Tigers” air runs) and the decisive U.S. victory over Imperial Japan, achieved at great sacrifice. Other historical realities include U.S. support of anti-Communist Chinese (KMT) nationalists and Taiwan; U.S.-U.N. military conflict when the massive armies of the People’s Republic of China, established in October 1949, entered the Korean War in November 1950 as North Korea’s allies. Other U.S. concerns derived from the PRC’s mid-1960s wave of radicalism (e.g., the “Great Leap Forward” and Lin Piao’s Manifesto on People’s War); and extensive PRC military aid to North Vietnam. Closer in time to the Reagan presidency, developments include the Nixon-Mao U.S.-PRC Shanghai Communiqué in 1972; President Carter’s Full Diplomatic Recognition of the PRC in 1979 (while de-recognizing the Republic of China on Taiwan and reducing security support); and continuing U.S.-PRC differences and concerns on a range of issues.
Reagan’s 1980 Campaign Platform. In his election platform, Reagan expressed a forward-leaning, but noticeably conditional, perspective on the PRC as a potential Cold War ally against the Soviet Union:
Recognizing the growing importance of the People’s Republic of China in world affairs, Republicans—who took the historic initiative in opening the lines of communication with that nation—will continue the process of building a working relation with the PRC. Growing contacts between the United States and the People’s Republic of China reflect the interests of both nations, as well as some common perceptions of recent changes in the global military balance. We will not ignore the profound differences in our respective philosophies, governmental institutions, policies, and concepts of individual liberty.
We will strive for the creation of conditions that will foster the peaceful elaboration of our relationship with the People’s Republic of China. We will exercise due caution and prudence with respect to our own vital interests, especially in the field of expanding trade, including the transfer of sophisticated technology with potential offensive military applications. The relationship between the two countries must be based on mutual respect and reciprocity, with due regard for the need to maintain peace and stability in Asia.
At the same time, we deplore the Carter Administration’s treatment of Taiwan, our long-time ally and friend. We pledge that our concern for the safety and security of the 17 million people of Taiwan will be constant. We would regard any attempt to alter Taiwan’s status by force as a threat to peace in the region. We declare that the Republican Administration, in strengthening relations with Taiwan, will create conditions leading to the expansion of trade, and will give priority consideration to Taiwan’s defense requirements.18
NSDD 12—December, 1982. NSSD 12—82 U.S. Relations with China and Taiwan, issued on December 7, 1982, is an NSC study directive setting the terms of reference for completing a comprehensive review of U.S. relations with China and Taiwan, to lead to an NSC Decision Directive on this subject. Aspects to be included in the NSDD were: Global and Regional Setting; Objectives and Expectations; Political/Diplomatic Relations; Financial, Tax, and Investment Issues; Trade, Export and Import Issues; Nuclear Issues (including efforts to encourage the PRC to join the IAEA); Technology Transfer (including dual-use issues); Science and Technology Relations; Cultural Relations; Military Relations (including contacts and exchanges); Arms Transfers; Intelligence (a separate annex); Taiwan; Hong Kong; and the administration of the study (including coordination of the work done by lead agencies).
NSDD 75: Section on China, Strategic Cooperation—1983. Reagan’s key directive NSDD 75—U.S. Relations with the U.S.S.R., issued on January 17, 1983, which was reviewed earlier in this chapter, includes several short, but revealing references to China. A section on “Geopolitical Arenas of Engagement” includes a paragraph indicating that although many Americans were concerned about Communist China, China was, for reasons of its own self-interest, considered supportive of U.S. Cold War efforts against Soviet expansionism:
[Book pg. 185]