Pursuing the recently evident Soviet policy of seeking to improve relations with China, Yuri Andropov, the new Soviet leader, last week received the Chinese foreign minister. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, as President Carter's national security adviser, was heavily involved in the regularizing of American ties with Peking. Here are excerpts from a conversation with him about the significance for the United States of this turn of events:
I do not aspire to be a charter member of the Yuri Andropov admiration society that is apparently shaping up in certain circles. But what Andropov is trying to do in respect to the Peking-Moscow-Washington triangle is of special interest. He is pursuing with greater boldness the outlines of a strategic design that had emerged in the last year under Leonid Brezhnev. Its purpose is to normalize relations with China, thereby reducing tensions along the Soviet southern frontier, and to continue courting Western Europe, thereby isolating the United States.
In my view, the Chinese are prepared somewhat to normalize their state-to-state relations with the Soviets, although not to engage in a serious political and ideological reconciliation. There is a fundamental difference between the two. The Chinese could yet succeed in inducing the Soviets to make significant concessions on Vietnam/Cambodia and on Afghanistan, in addition perhaps to some reduction in Soviet forces on the Sino-Soviet frontier.
The first two of these changes are certainly not to the disadvantage of the West, for we also share an interest in reducing Vietnamese aggressiveness, which is pointed southward toward our friends, and in finding some solution to Afghanistan.
If the Chinese were also to reconcile with the Soviets on a party-to-party basis and reach some ideological accommodation, that would be a more serious matter. There may still be some leaders in China who are inclined in that direction. That in turn means we should not be passive spectators to a Soviet-Chinese process. We must review the state of the American-Chinese connection.
The Reagan administration has been somewhat remiss in not keeping up the momentum established with Peking in the Carter administration. For the American-Chinese relationship, if broadly construed and given strategic substance, can subsume the more specific bilateral differences which are not immediately subject to genuine resolution, notably Taiwan.
If the American-Chinese relationship becomes increasingly narrow and formal, the Taiwan issue becomes dominant. That is precisely what has happened in the last 18 months or so. A wider strategic framework has not been sustained. It is essential that we treat the Chinese as a serious global and strategic partner.
Nor need we pretend that the American-Chinese connection isn't heavily influenced by the Soviet threat. Alliances are usually the product of a third-party threat. We should not be shy in saying to the world and to the Chinese that there is a mutual American-Chinese interest in stemming Soviet hegemonism.
Under certain circumstances this would mean selling China some defensive arms. We sell arms to a lot of governments whose domestic conduct we may not approve. We have an interest in a strong and secure China. Certainly the Soviets are not shy in providing weapons to countries which are hardly friendly to us.
In the last year or so, I think, Brezhnev saw the American hesitation on China, perceived it as an opportunity, went ahead with his own probe, and now Andropov continues probing. The Chinese must have been struck by the ambiguity of American behavior: strong in anti-Soviet rhetoric but essentially passive in dealing with the Soviets; ambiguous on Taiwan and hesitant about engaging the Chinese in genuinely serious strategic consultations.
When President Carter was in office, we developed a practice of regular strategic consultation with the Chinese which I conducted myself and which involved the exchange of mutually beneficial and sometimes quite sensitive information. I doubt that this dialogue has been continued.
Some 65 years after the Bolshevik Revolution and 37 years after the emergence of what was once called the Sino-Soviet bloc, it is high time for top-level American policy to differentiate between a Chinese communist and a Soviet communist, a Polish Communist, a Nicaraguan communist, a Cuban communist. The essence of global policy is the appreciation of nuance. The world cannot be reduced into black and white or, for that matter, red and white.
In this context, I believe we should operate actively on two fronts, aso probing the Soviets to see if they would be responsive to some constructive initiatives from the West. The contentious issues dividing us and the Soviets happen to overlap with the issues that concern the Chinese: Afghanistan, arms control and Poland. We must do this even as we try to inspire in the Chinese the feeling that we take them seriously as a continous major factor in our own global policy.
In sum, constructive probes of Moscow ought to be undertaken in the context of mutual trust and consultations with the Chinese. If the Chinese are not consulted, and if they continue to be essentially denigrated in terms of our global policy, then even a benign process of normalization between them and the Soviets could adversely impact on our global position.
It should certainly be of major strategic concern to our top policy makers that we could then be in a situation of a simultaneous deterioration in our relations not just with the Soviets but also with the Chinese and with thWest Europeans as well.