Only Nixon could go to China, the saying ran. But even Richard M. Nixon, the architect of America's opening to the world's most populous communist power, could not complete the full normalization of U.S. ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Indeed, he and Gerald R. Ford, as well as their secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger, developed significant reservations about whether the final step was at all possible.


By the time he ran for president, Jimmy Carter had adopted the Democratic Party position on China -- that the process of normalization, or recognizing Beijing as the sole government of the Chinese and breaking formal ties with Taiwan, should be completed. Carter understood that Taiwan was a political problem that had to be solved, but he was willing to lead the country to a new state of relations, one that reflected the reality of modern China.

There was never any doubt in Carter's mind that he would be the president who took the final difficult step, and he said as much when he outlined his foreign policy goals for those who would serve under him. No one had imagined, however, that when the China breakthrough came, it would come as a result of all-out civil war within the Carter administration, or that Carter's achievement on China would rise from a destructive collision of personalities and from the irreconcilable world-views of his secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, and national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose poisonous competition would add to the perception that Carter had lost control of his presidency and his own political destiny.

The night of Carter's victory in 1976, Vance, Brzezinski, and their wives gathered at the New York apartment of Richard C. Holbrooke, a rising Democratic foreign policy specialist. It was neutral territory for the competing clans. They watched the returns come in until after midnight, then parted cordially, wondering who would get the upper hand as Carter's chief strategist.

During the weeks that followed, as the president-elect grappled with forming his cabinet, the Democratic scion Averell Harriman led an effort to open a secret channel between Carter and the Soviet leadership, cutting Brzezinski out of the loop. Harriman's intervention seemed a preemptive strike to ensure that the management of Soviet policy (and, therefore, China policy) remained in what the traditional Soviet specialists considered safe hands. They believed that the worst manifestation of triangular diplomacy -- the game that Nixon and Kissinger had begun -- would be to play the China card to pressure Moscow and play on its fear of encirclement. That could only lead to miscalculation, or even war. Harriman and Vance did not want to confront the Soviet Union as much as they wanted to engage it in an extended process of arms reduction and diplomatic cooperation to defuse conflicts in the Third World.

Three weeks after the election, Harriman returned to the United States from Moscow, where he had seen Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and delivered, with Carter's blessing, a private, conciliatory message on behalf of the new administration. Then the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin, had taken the extraordinary step of flying to Harriman's home at Hobe Sound, Florida, with a personal reply from the Soviet leader. The Soviets, it seemed, were also trying to open a private channel to Carter.

Arrangements were hastily made. With Dobrynin's reply in hand, Harriman called Holbrooke to Hobe Sound. Together, they drafted a Carter response to the Soviet leader. Then they flew to Plains, Georgia, by chartered jet to confer with the president-elect. Brzezinski was out of the circuit, and a whispering campaign was initiated against him, no doubt by the Harriman circle: Brzezinski was too divisive, too much like Kissinger.

At the end of November, Holbrooke got the opportunity he had been waiting for. The switchboard in Plains alerted him that a call from the president-elect would be coming through. Carter was on the line because he was canvassing all of his foreign policy advisers on his cabinet choices. Holbrooke wholeheartedly endorsed Vance for secretary of state, Harold Brown for defense, Michael Blumenthal for treasury, and Theodore C. Sorensen, John F. Kennedy's speechwriter and confidant, for CIA director.

When he was done, Carter said, "Okay, but you haven't said anything about Zbig, or the NSC job, or yourself."

Zbig was very talented, Holbrooke told Carter, and had done a lot for the campaign, but he couldn't see how Zbig and Vance were going to make a good, coherent team. Their world-views were too distinctly different. Holbrooke tried to stick the knife in with as much delicacy as possible. But as he spoke, he could feel the chill coming down the phone line. It was almost as if he could see Carter's eyes narrowing. Holbrooke suddenly realized that he had misjudged Carter's receptivity. The silence lasted an eternity, and then, bloodlessly, Carter thanked him for his advice and rang off.

Carter never initiated another conversation with Holbrooke. Their relationship was over. Holbrooke would be offered the job of assistant secretary of state for Asia under Vance. It was a good job, the same one that Harriman had held under Dean Rusk during the Kennedy years. But by challenging the makeup of the president's team when it was already clear that Carter wanted Brzezinski, Holbrooke had declared his opposition to Carter's judgment.

When Brzezinski's appointment was announced, Holbrooke also understood that if Brzezinski ever found out how Holbrooke had stuck the shiv in him, there would be hell to pay.

Like Nixon and Ford before him, Carter came to Washington with the overarching goal of reducing the danger of nuclear annihilation, and he focused his attention on the Soviet leadership. The Carter team assumed that Beijing could be taken for granted. Normalization with China was something to shoot for after a new Soviet arms deal was locked up. That was Vance's view, in any case.


Then came February 27. That morning, Joseph Kraft, a syndicated columnist, wrote in The Washington Post that Nixon and Kissinger had made a secret deal with the Chinese to complete normalization in Nixon's second term. Kraft also reported that the chief Chinese envoy in Washington, Huang Zhen, had made a point of asking Carter whether the new president was aware of this pledge when the two men met for the first time on February 8.


On the CBS show Face the Nation that Sunday, Vance was caught off guard when asked about the secret pledge. "There are an awful lot of papers," he lamely answered. "We have only been there for five weeks, and we are, you know, in the process of reviewing many different subjects to complete our work, and I simply, myself, haven't had a chance to go through all these papers yet."

When Vance got back to the State Department, he told his staff, "I don't ever want to have to answer that question that way again."

A crash investigation into the record of U.S.-Chinese relations began. Michel Oksenberg, a gregarious China scholar from the University of Michigan, was thrown into the exercise by Brzezinski. Oksenberg had just arrived from Ann Arbor to coordinate China policy for the National Security Council (NSC). On his first day in the Old Executive Office Building, which adjoins the White House, Oksenberg was ordered to work with Holbrooke to reconstruct the record of the Nixon-Kissinger era. But where was the record? Kissinger and his deputy, Brent Scowcroft, had ordered their aides to leave "empty safes" for the incoming Democrats; everything that was not carted off to presidential libraries or Kissinger's private archive at the Rockefeller estate was shredded or dispersed in the hinterland of the bureaucracy.

Holbrooke and Oksenberg had first met in Plains, when a large group of foreign-policy specialists was summoned to meet the president-elect. On the sidelines, Oksenberg also learned of the apprehensions that Holbrooke and another rising Democratic star, Anthony Lake, harbored about Brzezinski.

In January, Holbrooke invited Oksenberg to breakfast. They were both for normalization with China, that was obvious, Holbrooke said. That meant they were going to work closely on a great enterprise. "I want to make one commitment with you -- one promise," Holbrooke said. "We will not keep secrets from each other. We will tell each other everything we know so that there is no rivalry between us."

Oksenberg, still full of idealism, thought this an excellent idea. When Holbrooke said, "Let's shake on it," Oksenberg immediately reached across the breakfast table and took his hand.

Eventually, Oksenberg and Holbrooke pieced together the secret understandings. Oksenberg considered them perfectly defensible. He drafted a memo to Brzezinski recommending that the president authorize the secretary of state, at the first opportunity, to reaffirm the Nixon-Ford assurances. Brzezinski took the memo, added his own cover note, and sent it in to the president for approval.


The explosion went off when the memo reached the State Department. Vance was outraged. He lectured Brzezinski on the protocols of how foreign policy was going to be made while he was secretary of state, warning the national security adviser not to make policy recommendations to the president without clearing them first through the State Department. Washington already was awash in stories that Brzezinski was angling for a dominant role in foreign policy just as Kissinger had done. Right after the inauguration, Holbrooke, Lake, and Peter Tarnoff, Vance's chief of staff, had tried to warn the new secretary that Brzezinski was rigging the system so as to dominate it. The very first presidential directive had laid out the procedures for interagency coordination in making and managing foreign policy. Brzezinski had put the NSC at the center of the process, just as Kissinger had.

The national security adviser was the first person in the Oval Office every morning to give the president a worldwide briefing. At first, this briefing was listed on Carter's schedule as the "daily intelligence brief." But when CIA Director Stansfield Turner asserted that he should be in charge of any intelligence briefing, Brzezinski changed the next day's schedule to read "the President's national security briefing."

Vance's biggest problem was that Carter liked Brzezinski immensely and relied on him to spin out a broad range of options and analysis -- even jokes and wild ideas -- that Carter found helpful in forming his judgments. Carter did not agree with Brzezinski's loopier ideas, but he liked their range. Vance had no similar daily forum. But more, Vance was too much the Wall Street lawyer, too much the restrained Presbyterian elder to connect with Carter in the same way. Carter clearly felt a little more comfortable with a brilliant rogue like Brzezinski, and Vance would never be that; he had too much Yankee rectitude. One had only to look at the young men around the president -- say, Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell, and Gerald Rafshoon -- to see that Carter was imbued with that southern gene that placed churchgoing virtue alongside an appreciation for mischief.

At the end of each day, Vance sent Carter an "evening notes" memorandum on foreign policy developments and decisions that were either in progress or needed to be made. But Brzezinski kept exploiting the magical morning hour when the president was in his most activist mood. Notes began to go over to the State Department saying, The president has decided this . . . The president wants this . . . The president thinks this . . . And Vance would have to decide: Do I agree? Should I try to catch up? Is it better to turn this around or just throw up my hands?

Sitting around Vance's conference table, Lake, Holbrooke, Tarnoff, and Hodding Carter, the press secretary, tried to tell Vance that the State Department was getting euchred by Brzezinski, but Vance would just slam his hand down on the table and end the conversation. He could manage Brzezinski, he would say. They had their differences, but he was sure they could work together. This was not going to be a replay of the Kissinger-Rogers relationship, and he was not going to indulge the competitive obsessions of his aides.

Giving China a set of detailed assurances was premature, Vance said. State was not ready for a China initiative. He demanded the Oksenberg memorandum be withdrawn and that all copies of the original memo be collected and shredded.


A blueprint for Carter's China policy did not get started until April 1977. By then, the Chinese were showing impatience. "There is no sign in sight at this point that the United States has made up its mind to discuss normalizing relations between the two countries," an unnamed and senior Chinese official complained to The Washington Post.

When Presidential Review Memorandum No. 24 was completed in June 1977, it stated what was already self-evident -- that it was in America's interest to complete the normalization task along the lines of the Japan formula: a clean break in relations with Taiwan, abrogation of the Mutual Defense Treaty, withdrawal of U.S. troops. But the Carter policy would also try to ensure that Taiwan's security would not be endangered. And Brzezinski added an anti-Soviet angle, pushing for the sale of high-technology equipment to China, including "dual-use" items that could have military applications.

These were the goals, but for Carter the sequence was everything. Vance believed that arms control with the Soviet Union should come first. In July, Carter startled America's ambassador to China, Leonard Woodcock, a retired president of the United Auto Workers. The president asked Woodcock how he thought the administration should proceed. Woodcock had assumed that Carter would have had it all figured out by then. At the end of the month, Carter called his advisers to the Oval Office. He was going to send Vance to Beijing to tell the Chinese that he intended to complete the normalization deal and to get a feel for Chinese terms and expectations.

Everybody assumed that Carter was going to stick to the Vance script -- that China should come after the United States got back on track in negotiations with the Soviet Union. But Vice President Walter Mondale reminded Carter that history had saddled the Democrats with "losing" China after World War II. If, for instance, China swung back into the Soviet orbit, it would invite another generation of recriminations. So it was a considerable surprise to everyone in the room when Carter abruptly turned to Vance on July 30 and said, "Cy, lay it all out on the line" in Beijing. If the Chinese were ready for normalization, so was Carter. "I've never gained anything from procrastinating. Describe our full position." By that Carter meant that he needed some political cover on the issue of Taiwan, some commitment to a peaceful transition, and an understanding that the United States would continue to sell defensive arms to Taiwan after breaking the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Carter said he believed he could win support for a new China policy from the American people. He was willing to take the political responsibility for doing so.

No one was more rattled by Carter's decision than Vance. He knew that he had been headed for tough negotiations in China, but suddenly the mission had been transformed. The bar was now set very high.

Vance arrived on August 21, 1977, the last day of the 11th Communist Party Congress. A huge crowd of more than a million people surged into the streets of Beijing just as Vance's motorcade was coming in from the airport. Of course it had nothing to do with his arrival; the Communist Party machinery had turned out the huge crowd to cheer the new leadership slate of Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping.

In his meeting with Deng at the Great Hall, Vance explored aspects of normalizing relations. When he got to the subject of keeping a U.S. consulate or liaison office on Taiwan, Deng interrupted. "No!" the Chinese leader said sharply.

A translator said something to Deng in Chinese, but he needed no prompting. "This is a retreat from the position of Ford in 1975," Deng said, his face showing his irritation. He reminded Vance of Ford's commitment to normalize along the lines of the Japan formula. China would not accept a so-called liaison office on Taiwan, Deng said. That would just be an embassy without a flag. It would promote the image of two Chinas, or one China and one Taiwan. It was completely unacceptable, he said.

Vance plodded through three days of meetings and banquets, showing the stiffness and formality of a diplomat uncomfortable with his circumstances. Deng, too, just emerging from political banishment, was wary and punctilious in enforcing Mao's long-standing dictum on Taiwan. He could do no less.

As Vance was leaving China, a newspaper story was leaked in Washington saying that the White House was pleased with Vance's talks in Beijing and that the Chinese had shown new "flexibility" on normalization. Vance erupted with anger. Someone was trying to sabotage the whole trip by provoking the Chinese. It was a pernicious leak, and everyone on the Vance plane saw Brzezinski's hand. Vance fired off a cable to Woodcock, instructing him to rush to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and discredit the story, but it was too late.


Deng chose the visit of Arthur O. Sulzberger and Katharine Graham, publishers of The New York Times and The Washington Post respectively, to fire his cannon. The publishers had come to Beijing as part of a delegation headed by Keith Fuller, then managing editor of the Associated Press, and were delighted to find themselves ushered into an audience with the mysterious and powerful new Chinese leader.

Deng came right to the point. The secretary of state's visit to China had been a failure, he told them, because Vance had backtracked on the commitment of the Ford administration. That was unacceptable to China, Deng said.

Woodcock had not been included in the Graham-Sulzberger session, but he was anxious to glean any bit of intelligence. He invited the press barons to a reception at his residence. By prior agreement, the publishers stayed mum about Deng's blast, but in the middle of the reception, they thought better of it.

"Mr. Ambassador," Fuller asked, "did Secretary Vance propose to the Chinese the establishment of a liaison office in Taiwan as a result of normalization of relations with the PRC?"

Reflexively, Woodcock replied, "No, he didn't."

"That's strange," Fuller said, adding that Deng had just told them in their meeting at the Great Hall that the Vance mission was unsuccessful for that very reason.

Woodcock tried to soften the blow, but Deng's rebuke was crystal clear. It hit the newspapers the next day.

In late September, Vance called his China team together and asked for suggestions. Woodcock, back in the United States for a U.N. meeting, surprised them by arguing that the United States could not wrest a guarantee from the Chinese not to use force against Taiwan. That was already clear from the record. The Chinese considered Taiwan an internal Chinese affair -- a matter of sovereignty. How could the United States negotiate a guarantee on how China would recover sovereign territory? That would be like asking Lincoln to promise England that he would not use force to recover the Confederacy. It just wasn't going to happen.

Woodcock believed that the president had the constitutional right to conduct foreign policy, which meant recognizing whatever government Carter saw fit. But to ensure the security of the Taiwanese people, the president should be prepared to protect Taiwan from invasion, including selling defensive arms. Carter could reserve this right without putting it on the negotiating table.

Vance listened without commenting. In a half-joking, half-serious tone, Holbrooke declared the birth of the "Woodcock Formula." When they broke up, Vance assured Woodcock that instructions would be ready for him to take back to China by the following Monday, October 3.

But Monday came and went. Three weeks went by. Still nothing from Vance. Woodcock would call Bill Gleysteen, Holbrooke's deputy, and Gleysteen would say, "We are having more trouble than we thought," or "It's taking longer than we thought."

Then Philip Habib, who had made the transition from Kissinger's staff to Vance's, telephoned Woodcock and told him that he would have to return to Beijing without instructions. They would follow later, he said. Woodcock suspected Vance was filibustering, unwilling to move on China. He puzzled over the reason. During his stay in Washington, Woodcock had gotten the first whiff of the debate over the sequencing of Soviet and China policy, and he wondered whether that was the issue. In any case, Woodcock told Habib that he would not go back to China without first seeing the president.

Habib was first startled, then angry. But Woodcock held his ground. "If I am to go back without instructions, then I am going to insist that I ask to see the president," he said.

Habib quickly shifted his ground. "Of course, you'll see the secretary before you see the president, won't you?"

Invoking his presidential connection had worked for Woodcock. At the end of October, he finally got a piece of paper from Vance, but it was not an outline on how to proceed with normalization. Rather, it was a clarification. The Carter administration, it said, was aware of the Ford commitments on Taiwan and would not insist on maintaining a liaison office there. When Woodcock returned to Beijing and delivered the note to Huang Hua on November 14, the Chinese foreign minister looked at him as if to say, "All this time, and this is it?"


The weather in Washington was balmy in early November, so when Brzezinski and two of his aides emerged from a luncheon at the International Club, Brzezinski suggested they walk back to the White House. He was in an expansive mood, instructing Oksenberg how to navigate the sidewalks of a big city, how to watch the traffic and the street lights so as to pace one's advance toward each intersection to catch a green light. It was typical Zbig: irrepressible presumption.

Their lunch guest had been Lee Kuan Yew, the leader of Singapore, who was creating one of the tiger economies of Southeast Asia with transparent, laissez-faire business policies and an authoritarian regime. At the lunch, Lee had been quite insistent that America's approach to China was wrong. "Why don't you normalize relations with China?" he had prodded Brzezinski. The whole of Asia expected the Carter administration to make the move. Indeed, Asia wanted it. After Mao's death, it was time to draw the Chinese out of their isolation, and Deng Xiaoping was the right leader at the right time.

As Brzezinski, Oksenberg, and Mike Armacost, the senior NSC policy coordinator for Asia, strolled along the sidewalk on H Street, Oksenberg changed the subject from streetlights back to China. "You know," he said, "Lee Kuan Yew was right."

Brzezinski did not respond directly. Instead, he blurted out a question: "Do you think you could get me an invitation to China?"

"Jesus, Zbig," a startled Oksenberg replied, "Of course I could. They would love to have you." He wondered, though, if Brzezinski had the president's permission to make such a drastic encroachment onto the State Department's turf.

"No problem," Brzezinski grinned. "Just get it."

Oksenberg wasted no time. He arranged a lunch with a Chinese diplomat and advertised Brzezinski's interest. A few days later, Huang Zhen strolled into the Roosevelt Room of the White House, escorted by the vice president, who was hosting a farewell luncheon for the retiring Chinese diplomat. There, in front of Vance and his aides, Huang loudly declared that Brzezinski was most welcome in Beijing. "I am extending an invitation for you to come," he said.

It was as if a dead animal had been thrown on the table. Vance's face was frozen; Habib and Holbrooke were wide-eyed with disbelief.

Brzezinski graciously accepted the invitation as if it were a routine matter. As soon as lunch was over, Oksenberg's telephone rang. It was Habib calling on a car phone, probably Vance's. They had not waited to get back to the State Department to register their indignation.

"What the hell have you been doing?" Habib demanded.

"I don't know anything about this whatsoever," Oksenberg protested.

Habib's call was followed by a Vance call to Brzezinski and a Holbrooke call to Oksenberg. Holbrooke was yelling over the phone. "Have you been playing games?"

Oksenberg played dumb. He wondered whether his boss had enough presidential backing to take China policy away from the State Department. Over the next several months, Brzezinski would use his invaluable briefing hour with the president at the beginning of each day to gently press his case.

All during February and much of March, Vance thought he had contained Brzezinski's ambition to go to China. Carter stalled on making any decisions, keeping his eye on the Senate debate over the Panama Canal treaties. He even snapped at Brzezinski to stop pestering him about it. Victory on the treaties came in March, giving Carter a political boost and the freedom to act. Harriman was just back from Moscow with news that Brezhnev was ready to move forward on arms-control negotiations. That gave Carter the pretext for a Solomon-like decision -- sending Vance to Moscow and Brzezinski to Beijing. Vance was crestfallen. He thought he had convinced Carter to send Mondale to China.

In early May, Brzezinski bluntly told Carter what was ahead. "To establish diplomatic relations with Beijing," he said, "we will have to close down our official representation on Taiwan, terminate the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan, and withdraw our remaining military personnel and installations." With concurrence from Vance and Brown, he recommended a formula under which the United States would "make a unilateral statement indicating the importance of a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves," and the two sides would "issue a joint communique establishing diplomatic relations, in which we would recognize the PRC as the sole legal government of China."

Brzezinski wrote his own instructions for Carter's approval. The most difficult task, he said, would be to win acceptance for the American requirements that the transition on Taiwan be peaceful and that the United States reserve the right to provide arms to Taiwan as it saw fit. Both Carter and Brzezinski knew from the Kissinger record that Deng was a tough negotiator. They had accepted Woodcock's view that they could not negotiate a Chinese guarantee on peaceful transition for Taiwan. They opted instead to make a "unilateral" American statement backing peaceful transition and insist that China not contradict it. That way Beijing could say that it had preserved its sovereign right to use force if all else failed and Washington could say that it maintained a continuing interest in Taipei's security, leaving it ambiguous whether U.S. military power would back up those words.

Though Vance had insisted that Holbrooke and Gleysteen accompany Brzezinski to China, Brzezinski would not even allow them to read the "talking points" he was preparing for his meetings with Chinese leaders. Brzezinski's access to the president gave him extraordinary license, and he used it to humiliate the State Department staffers, especially Holbrooke. As they were preparing for the trip, Holbrooke tried to expand the number of State Department officials involved in the planning. Brzezinski retaliated with a screaming telephone assault at 6:30 in the morning, threatening to throw Holbrooke off the plane. A shaken Holbrooke complained afterwards that he had been subjected "to the most humiliating treatment."

"I have never heard such a vile, profane man," he told Oksenberg. "Zbig yelled at me over the phone so loud that it woke up my wife!"

Just days before the departure, Oksenberg summoned Gleysteen to the White House and offered to show him Carter's instructions, but only if Gleysteen would swear not to reveal the contents to Holbrooke or Vance. But then Holbrooke discovered that he had been cut from the roster of aides who would accompany Brzezinski to the most important meeting in Beijing -- Brzezinski's session with Deng himself. Appalled but unwilling to directly confront Brzezinski, Holbrooke sent secret instructions to Woodcock to fly to Tokyo and meet the Brzezinski delegation as it made its way toward China.

Woodcock had no idea what was going on. When he arrived in Tokyo, Holbrooke pulled him aside and told him what Brzezinski had done. It seemed unthinkable to Woodcock that the assistant secretary of state in charge of Asia would be excluded from the key meeting in Beijing.

Would Woodcock speak up for him, Holbrooke asked?

At dinner that evening with Brzezinski and his wife, Woodcock furrowed his brow and wondered aloud whether the Chinese would understand why the State Department was not represented at the critical meeting with Deng.

"You represent the State Department, don't you?" Brzezinski asked.

"Frankly," Woodcock replied, "I don't think of myself as representing the State Department. I think of myself as representing the president."

Brzezinski laughed. Without saying so, he seemed to understand now that Woodcock was fronting for Holbrooke, and he held his ground. No one could challenge Brzezinski at this late hour without going to the president, and no one had the stomach for that, certainly not Holbrooke. Woodcock told Holbrooke that he had tried his best but failed.

The next day, during Brzezinski's tour of the Forbidden City, Gleysteen -- also fronting for Holbrooke -- made a final plea. "Zbig, this is totally wrong, you are destroying the processes of government, you have to have Holbrooke in the meeting," he said.

But Brzezinski just turned. "Screw you," he said over his shoulder. "I'm not going to."

Brzezinski entered the Great Hall of the People in early May 1978, triumphantly poised to finish the task that Kissinger had failed to complete. He had outmaneuvered Vance and was gaining ground in the running debate over how to deal with the Soviet Union. Within the administration, he had drawn a line across the world map from Angola to Ethiopia to the Middle East and South Asia and described it as an "arc of crisis" arising from relentless Soviet challenges to the West. The CIA was coming to a similar conclusion, arguing that Moscow had found a useful new working model for intervention in Third World conflicts -- the airlift of Cuban troops armed with Soviet weapons to overpower indigenous forces.

Vance and the Soviet specialists disputed the metaphor, arguing that Angola and the Horn of Africa were essentially local conflicts and should not be turned into superpower confrontations. Still, the advantage was shifting to the cocky national security adviser. The Chinese, not surprisingly, embraced Brzezinski's view of the world. Deng was happy to greet a fellow hard-liner.

Brzezinski told Deng that America would continue to play a leadership role. Carter was going to build up NATO forces in Europe and hold the line against Soviet expansion into the Middle East. And on normalization with China, he said, Carter was ready to act. The president wanted to start secret negotiations immediately, with an eye toward completing a normalization agreement by the end of the year.

Deng agreed that it was past time for America to act. "The question remains how to make up one's mind," he said. "President Ford was not reelected, and of course the new administration has a right to reconsider this question."

The United States, Brzezinski replied, had "certain domestic problems" and "certain historical legacies" that would have to be overcome. "These are complex, difficult, and in some respects very emotional issues," he said. "That is why we will have to find some formula which allows us to express our hope and our expectation regarding the peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue, though we recognize that this is your own domestic affair."


Then, as Brzezinski broached this most sensitive issue, he descended into what could only be called mumbo jumbo. America wanted to be known as trustworthy, he said. The American military presence in the Far East -- though reduced by continuing withdrawals from Taiwan -- should continue in a manner that was not destabilizing so that the situation could not be exploited by the Soviet Union, our mutual adversary. Brzezinski then said, "This consideration must be borne in mind when resolving the issue of normalization and when defining the full range of relations during the historically transitional period of our relationship with the people of Taiwan."

Even if Deng spoke English, he could not have understood the sentence. But this brief and highly ambiguous statement was as close as Brzezinski ever got to explaining how Carter intended to accomplish normalization by reserving an American right to sell limited amounts of defensive weapons to Taiwan.

Nevertheless, Deng accepted the proposal that Woodcock and Foreign Minister Huang begin meeting to discuss normalization in secret. At the same time, he indicated that he did not have high expectations.

"I think that is all on this question," Deng said. "We look forward to the day when President Carter makes up his mind. Let's shift the subject."

"I have told you before," Brzezinski injected. "President Carter has made up his mind."

"So much the better," Deng replied evenly.

Brzezinski's visit was a success largely because Deng saw in him someone with whom China could do business, a strategist close to the president who shared China's self-interested view of the Soviet threat. Brzezinski was not afraid to talk about confronting "hegemony" or hectoring "our mutual adversary" -- the Polar Bear. During his visit to the Great Wall, Brzezinski challenged his Chinese hosts to a race. "If we get to the top first, you go in and oppose the Russians in Ethiopia," he said. "If you get there first, we go in and oppose the Russians in Ethiopia." When Vance read Brzezinski's remarks in The Washington Post, he was mortified.

But Brzezinski sensed the connection he had made with Deng, and Deng accepted an invitation to dine at Brzezinski's home if the Chinese leader ever visited America. Brimming with self-satisfaction, Brzezinski skated past his wife and Sharon Woodcock during breakfast one morning with his hand poised high in the air as if he were a waiter carrying a tray.

"I have Richard Holbrooke's head on my platter, and I am going to serve it to the Chinese," he crooned.

Holbrooke was a target of constant scorn. Muska Brzezinski criticized Holbrooke for coming to a state dinner looking disheveled. And someone -- it could only have been Brzezinski -- ensured that Holbrooke's car was placed at the end of every motorcade. It got so bad that Holbrooke would get out and run forward to ask Woodcock if he could ride with him.

Brzezinski did not want Vance or anyone else at the State Department to see the "memcon" transcript of his talks with Deng before he had a chance to brief Carter, so Oksenberg was instructed during the flight back to Washington to keep Holbrooke in the dark. "He is not to see them," Brzezinski insisted.

Oksenberg tried to compromise, allowing Holbrooke's deputy, Gleysteen, to read them, but Holbrooke just lost his temper. Raging down the aisle of the Air Force plane, he grabbed Oksenberg by the collar and accused him of violating the pledge they had made to each other at the outset of the administration.

"If you don't give me those memcons after we get back, I will destroy you!" Holbrooke yelled.

Oksenberg seized Holbrooke in the same manner. The two men were now locked in combat. Oksenberg yelled back, "If I give you those memcons after we get back and you violate our trust, I will destroy you!"

The two stared fiercely at each other, but neither wanted to take the personal confrontation over the cliff. Holbrooke disengaged and asked indignantly, "Are you trying to threaten me?"

Brzezinski's trip to China ruined Carter's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at the end of May. The frosty encounter reinforced Vance's growing concern that it was a mistake to play the China card amid the final, delicate stages of arms control negotiations with Moscow. But Carter insisted to Vance that he was not playing a China card. He was determined to establish relations with China on its own merits and, at the same time, he very much wanted a second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (salt) agreement with the Soviets to get the arms race under control.

All of Carter's men agreed that the end of the year was the right time to bring both negotiations to a climax. But Vance was still maneuvering to stage the Soviet breakthrough first, and Brzezinski seemed determined to upstage him.

This schedule saddled Woodcock with a nearly impossible negotiating strategy: he was to take the issues of normalization one by one, without ever laying down the full American position. So starting in July 1978, Woodcock dutifully sliced the baloney, serving up each bit to a cantankerous Huang, who could see that the Americans were stretching out the negotiations until after the congressional elections.

That autumn Carter became preoccupied with his drive to bring Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat together to craft a peace plan that would return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and ensure greater security for Israel. After a September breakthrough, a buoyant Carter came down from Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains more determined than ever to push forward on all other fronts. Beijing had sent a new envoy to Washington, Chai Zemin, who had arrived in August. Carter called him to the White House both for introductions and to pump up the momentum.

Oksenberg flagged for Carter the sensitive issues that had not yet been broached in Woodcock's secret negotiations. With Chai seated before him, Carter went right to the heart of the matter. The Chinese leadership, he said, would have to understand one thing: No American president could complete the normalization deal without ensuring the security of Taiwan. America had to continue to sell limited amounts of defense military equipment to Taiwan after normalization. Chai took it all in, and Carter's men congratulated him afterward on a brilliant delivery. When the president takes on an issue, everyone has cover. In particular, Oksenberg was delighted that the president had spelled out so clearly what Brzezinski had left so vague in May.


Nevertheless, just two weeks later, Foreign Minister Huang delivered a shocking reply. On October 2, Vance was in New York again for the U.N. General Assembly meeting. It was Huang's turn to host the annual dinner for his American counterpart. When they settled in at the Chinese mission on the west side of Manhattan, Vance took forever to broach the most delicate subject, and when he did, Huang pounced. The government of the People's Republic found it absolutely unacceptable for any residual security relationship to carry on between Washington and Taipei after normalization. China rejected Carter's suggestion that there could be American arms sales to Taiwan after the Mutual Defense Treaty was canceled. Huang warned that if Carter insisted on such a condition, the whole normalization deal was in jeopardy. They might as well call off the talks.

Woodcock, who had flown back just to join Vance for the dinner, listened to the heat and fire in Huang's presentation. What a grim evening, he thought. He was more convinced than ever that the arms sales issue could not be put on the table.

When the transcript of Huang's remarks reached the White House the next day, Brzezinski could see that they were looking at a stalemate.

Woodcock stayed on in Washington that fall. He and Huang really had nothing to negotiate until Carter and Vance figured out how to confront the remaining issues, especially arms sales to Taiwan.

Vance had recruited a former Republican attorney general, Herbert Brownell, to bless the State Department's plan to terminate the Mutual Defense Treaty without going to Congress for approval. Brownell asserted that Carter did not need to go to Congress if he voided the treaty under its one-year cancellation clause. Barry Goldwater and the Senate might challenge the action, but they would lose, Brownell believed.

With the end of the year in sight, Carter called his China staff together on October 11. Brzezinski maneuvered to keep Vance out of the meeting, which was billed as a private discussion between the president and Woodcock. Of course, Brzezinski joined them.

Carter wanted some hard-nosed assessments on the China front. Was there a stalemate, or could they get an agreement done by January 1?

As he had from the moment he went to China, Woodcock believed that an agreement was possible. He also thought that American public opinion would support it and that Congress would follow. Woodcock added an outline of the remaining issues. Deng already understood from Carter's forceful statement to Chai in September that the United States was going to do what it had to do -- sell defensive arms to Taiwan after normalization. Deng had to oppose it. That was why Huang had been so vehement. So there was no need to respond to Huang's outburst or even bring it up again. Woodcock could not "negotiate" a right to sell arms to a portion of a sovereign country. The key would be to propose a draft communique on normalization and see if the Chinese took the bait. If Deng was willing to go ahead, even though the document was silent on the arms sales question, it meant that China understood that the United States would continue to provide for Taiwan's security, albeit discreetly.

Carter told Brzezinski that he wanted a communique drafted immediately so Woodcock could take it back to Beijing and present it. They were going ahead. Carter would fill in Vance later.

Back in China, Woodcock put the draft communique on the table for Huang on November 2. It said that the United States and the People's Republic agreed to establish full diplomatic relations and that Beijing was the sole government of China. It carried a proposed date of January 1, 1979.

Huang said nothing. The Chinese government would reply in due course, he said, and that was it.

In early December, Woodcock was finally summoned to the Foreign Ministry by Han Nianlong, a vice minister. For the purposes of meeting with Woodcock, Han was given the title "acting foreign minister" so there would be no sense that the Chinese were downgrading the negotiations.

Han presented a counter-draft of the communique. It also carried the date January 1. Both sides were now locked in to a schedule to complete the normalization agreement by the end of the month.

Han also delivered a key Chinese concession on Taiwan. If the United States made a public statement that it expected a peaceful transition on Taiwan, the Chinese side would not contradict it, Han said. The Woodcock Formula was succeeding.

When Woodcock got up to leave, Han said, almost casually, "Deng Xiaoping will see you soon."

Back in Washington, the news of Woodcock's session made Brzezinski frenetic as he tried to stay ahead of Vance and the salt negotiating team in Geneva.

When Woodcock reported that he would see Deng on December 12, Brzezinski called Chai to the White House, ostensibly to update him on American foreign policy developments around the world, which included the Middle East, salt, and the mounting revolution in Iran. Chai's appointment was not placed on Brzezinski's official calendar and the Chinese envoy, who had always come in the front gate of the White House, instead was met by Oksenberg at the west gate to keep him away from the press or any State Department spy who might be wandering about.

Brzezinski quickly reviewed the international scene and then said he would like to go off the record, which only accentuated the importance of what he was about to say since they were already meeting in secret.

President Carter, Brzezinski said, was going to extend an invitation to Chairman Hua or Vice Premier Deng to visit the United States as soon as the normalization negotiations were concluded.

"Now I want to speak to you as a friend," he said. A salt agreement was very near, and there was a good chance that Leonid Brezhnev would visit Washington in January. Brzezinski said he hoped that events would enable Deng to come to the United States before Brezhnev.

Oksenberg just sat there in awe. Was Brzezinski freelancing without the president's knowledge? Or did Carter know? If Carter put him up to it, it was all the more amazing for what it said about Carter's subterfuge against his own secretary of state.

When Woodcock entered the Great Hall on December 12, he expressed the hope that the long negotiation on normalization was almost done. He gave Deng the latest one-page draft of the proposed communique and told the Chinese leader that in order to avoid a fight in Congress, the Mutual Defense Treaty would have to be terminated over a year's time under Article 10, the provision that provided for such an eventuality.

Deng interrupted him. He had been forewarned about the American proposal. Brzezinski had laid it out to Chai in Washington the day before, giving the Chinese time to think about their own negotiating strategy.

"Now during that one-year period," Deng asked, while the treaty was still in effect, would the U.S. side agree to make "no new commitments" of arms sales to Taiwan? Deng hastened to add that any weapons already in the pipeline could be delivered. He didn't care about that, he said, but he wanted arms sales to end.

Woodcock said that he would relay the proposal back to Washington, but Deng was not finished. He wanted Woodcock to understand why the arms sales issue was so important -- how arms sales, in his view, injected a destructive psychology between the mainland and Taiwan. Deng was looking ahead. He was planning to offer reunification to Taiwan the following month. His formula would guarantee near total autonomy. Taiwan could keep its own political and economic system -- even its own military -- but under the banner of one China, with national sovereignty residing in Beijing. The concept would come to be called "one country, two systems."

Arms sales to Taiwan injected into the talks a big psychological factor that undermined reunification, Deng told Woodcock. They would stand between Beijing and Taipei. To sell any kind of arms to Taiwan, Deng said, would only make Taiwanese President Chiang Ching-kuo's "tail feathers grow 10,000 meters high!" He would be impossible to deal with, and that would increase the risk of conflict.

Woodcock didn't dare engage Deng's point. He just listened. Woodcock was not going to lay the president's position on arms sales out there on the table again, as Carter had in September. That would be a deal-breaker. Woodcock was sure he was doing the right thing.

Deng looked at the draft communique -- one page and in English -- and called his interpreter, a young woman named Shi Yanhua, to look over his shoulder and sight-translate for him. She stooped to the diminutive Deng's level as he dictated his proposed changes, making his decisions on the spot, without consulting any other Chinese official.

Back at the Liaison Office throughout the afternoon, Woodcock and his deputy, J. Stapelton Roy, drafted their cables so that they would reach the White House by dawn on the same day.


In Washington, it was hours before dawn. Oksenberg had stayed at the White House until 1:00 a.m. in the vain hope that Woodcock might have dashed off a quick summary of the meeting with Deng. But nothing came over the CIA circuits. Oksenberg instructed the communications clerk in the Situation Room to call him -- no, wake him -- as soon as the cables came in from Beijing.

At 5:30 a.m. Oksenberg rolled over in bed and looked at the clock. He reached for the telephone on the nightstand and called the Situation Room.

"Have you gotten the message?"

"No message yet," the clerk said.

He waited an hour, then called again. Still no cable.

Oksenberg drove to the White House with a gathering sense of dread. It was night in Beijing already, and the meeting with Deng had been held at 10:00 a.m. Beijing time. What was going on?

He arrived at the Situation Room at 8:30 a.m. The clerks looked at him deadpan. "No message."

When Oksenberg got to his office, Harry Thayer, the China desk officer from State, was already on the line conducting reconnaissance for Holbrooke. What had come in from Beijing? Then Holbrooke himself called. What was going on?

Finally Oksenberg called Brzezinski.

"Zbig, we still don't have a message from Beijing. I can't understand this."

Brzezinski betrayed nothing.

"Come over right away," he said.

When Oksenberg walked into Brzezinski's office, the national security adviser was sitting behind his desk. Before Oksenberg could say anything, Brzezinski said that the cables from Woodcock had come in the middle of the night. He had instructed the Situation Room clerks not to show them to Oksenberg or anyone else.

"The deal has been made," he said. "Normalization is going to occur. The president wants to announce it Friday evening, and I want you to draft a statement that the president will read on television."

Oksenberg's head was spinning.

Brzezinski handed him the cables. They had been marked up by Brzezinski and then by the president. As he read, Oksenberg felt a twinge of concern. The transcript of Woodcock's session with Deng and Woodcock's personal report on the meeting revealed several outstanding items. It was clear they were almost done, but another negotiating session was still needed to clean up the details of the communique.

Oksenberg wondered what had been said between Brzezinski and the president. Carter wanted to announce it Friday. It was now Tuesday morning, and both sides had not even agreed to the communique. What was the rush? It had to be Vance and salt. The secretary of state was in the Middle East, and in Geneva the arms control talks were on the threshold of a new agreement. Brzezinski knew Vance did not want to announce any China deal before salt was wrapped up. But Carter had obviously taken sides. He was going with Brzezinski. They would use the China announcement just as Kissinger had in 1971: to build a fire under Brezhnev.

Brzezinski ordered Oksenberg to tell no one at State that the China deal was done and would be announced that Friday. But Oksenberg could not draft everything that needed to be drafted by 5:00 p.m. He called Roger Sullivan on the China desk.

"Roger, you have got to get sick and go home," he said. "Then you have got to come over here right away."

For the rest of the day, Oksenberg and Sullivan worked in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House as Oksenberg took call after call from Holbrooke and Thayer. Under orders from Brzezinski, he lied to them time after time.

Because Vance was out of town, Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher was running the State Department. Holbrooke called him and shared his suspicion that something was going on at the White House. Christopher reached Brzezinski, who asked the deputy secretary to come over late in the afternoon. Christopher left the building without telling Holbrooke, who finally went home, exasperated.

At the White House, after Christopher had read everything, he asked Brzezinski, "When will Dick Holbrooke learn about this?"

Brzezinski, savoring the moment, replied, "Well, maybe Friday evening" -- when all of America saw it on television.

Christopher said that he did not want to lose an assistant secretary, which was the risk if they kept him in the dark. But Brzezinski was unmoved. He did not think the president wanted Dick Holbrooke in on it. Holbrooke was a leaker, and he was dating Diane Sawyer, the CBS journalist, which made him a security risk.

In his lawyerly way, Christopher told Brzezinski that he just couldn't cut the assistant secretary of state responsible for China out of China policy. Besides, Christopher needed him. If it would help, Christopher said, "I will take the responsibility. I will vouch for Dick."

The phone rang about 10:30 p.m. at Holbrooke's house. He was already in bed.

"I am sitting here in Zbig's office, and we've got a message from Beijing," Christopher said. "Would you like to come down and see it?" Holbrooke dressed in an instant and drove to the White House.

Brzezinski was smirking as Holbrooke read Woodcock's account of the session with Deng. Then he read the messages that Brzezinski proposed to send to Beijing.

He read over Deng's "no new commitments" proposal on arms sales and Brzezinski's draft reply accepting Deng's formulation. Holbrooke could see that nothing in the communique or its accompanying documents showed that the Chinese either understood or agreed that the United States reserved the right to sell defensive weapons to Taiwan. At the same time, the United States was agreeing to make "no new commitments" in arms sales during the one-year period. The ambiguity leapt off the page.

Holbrooke looked up and said, "Zbig, Chris, if you send that message out, we're never going to be able to get Congress to approve what we have done." If there was not an explicit statement that the United States reserved the right to sell arms to Taiwan, Congress would simply revolt. After all, Holbrooke was the person who was going to have to sell the package on Capitol Hill, and he was alarmed at what was about to happen. But Brzezinski just waved him off.

Having failed to change anything, Christopher and Holbrooke left the White House and headed to Georgetown. Over a drink at Nathan's, a favorite watering hole for Carter aides, they commiserated. Had Christopher told Vance yet what was going on? Holbrooke asked.

No, Christopher replied. He still wasn't sure himself what was going on. The only thing that was certain was that Brzezinski was running rampant over the department.

The overnight cables were late in arriving in Beijing, and Woodcock was startled by his instructions. He was to seek an immediate audience with Deng and tell him that the United States, upon review of the record of Deng's session the previous day, considered the negotiations essentially concluded. The president therefore wanted to advance the announcement of a normalization agreement from January 1 to December 15, at 9 p.m. Washington time, which would be 10:00 a.m. on December 16 in Beijing -- 72 hours away.


Deng seemed puzzled when Woodcock reached the Great Hall for a hastily arranged audience. The Chinese leader was still waiting for an answer to both his "no new commitments" proposal on arms sales and the minor changes he had proposed in the communique. Why the hurry, Deng wanted to know?

The president was afraid that the normalization decision would leak, Woodcock explained. Carter wanted to be the first to announce it to the American people so that normalization's opponents could not tear it apart before all the facts were known.

How would it be done? Deng asked.

Woodcock did not know, but he said he assumed that there would be an address by the president or a press conference broadcast nationally on radio and television.

Deng thought for a moment then agreed. He also accepted Carter's invitation to come to America, another indication that his influence had eclipsed Hua Guofeng's.

Everything seemed to be falling into place. Woodcock returned to Deng at 9:00 p.m. Thursday night with the approved American language for the communique. Washington was willing to pledge that there would be "no new commitments" of arms sales to Taiwan during the year it would take to end the treaty.

Brzezinski had disregarded Holbrooke's concerns, but the telltale signs of another land mine suddenly appeared.

On December 14, Ambassador Chai came to the White House to discuss with Brzezinski the sequence of cabinet-level visits to China after diplomatic relations had been established. Everyone in the administration wanted a piece of China. As Chai was getting up to leave, Brzezinski asked him if he was informed of the latest developments in Beijing. Chai said it appeared that everything was moving extremely well, especially since the United States had agreed to end arms sales to Taiwan.

Brzezinski tried not to show his surprise and quickly begged to differ. This was not the case at all, he said. What the two sides had agreed to was a one-year moratorium during which weapon sales already in the pipeline could be delivered. After the year was up, limited sales of defensive arms would resume, Brzezinski said.

Chai looked very surprised. That was definitely not his understanding of what had been agreed to, he said.

Suddenly Brzezinski was facing a debacle. First Holbrooke had warned that the agreement was flawed. Now the Chinese were insisting that their interpretation of "no new commitments" amounted to an American agreement to end arms sales to Taiwan.

In a way, it was a striking replay of 1972, when Kissinger had cut the State Department out of the Shanghai Communique negotiations that launched the era of normalization, only to have one of Holbrooke's predecessors, Marshall Green, spot a fatal flaw and force an embarrassing 11th-hour scramble. Brzezinski had also cut the State Department out of the process, and again the White House faced an humiliating last-minute crisis. Congress would savage any agreement that was flimsy on the critical question of Taiwan's security. And everyone knew that Brzezinski had exclusive control over the negotiations. Any disaster would be a Brzezinski disaster in a very personal way.

Brzezinski quickly cabled Woodcock asking whether he was certain that the Chinese understood Carter's determination to continue limited sales of defensive equipment to Taiwan.

Woodcock may have thought that this was Brzezinski trying to cover his backside at the last minute. But he wasn't going to let anyone's weak knees get the better of him. Woodcock told the White House that any careful reading of the record would show that the pact left it "implicit" that arms sales could continue after the one-year termination period had ended. But nothing seemed to calm the storm.

Carter made it clear to Brzezinski that there was only one thing to do. Deng would have to understand that the deal could not be made if the president could not reassure Congress that American security assistance to Taiwan would continue. Such aid would be limited and defensive, but Carter had to reserve that right and Congress had to know that he had reserved that right.

In Beijing, more than five hours had passed since the arrival of the first cable seeking clarification on the arms sales question. When a second one arrived, Woodcock's heart sank. It instructed him to seek an immediate meeting with Deng to ensure that the Chinese leader both understood and agreed that the United States reserved the right to sell defensive arms to Taiwan.

Good grief, Woodcock thought.

They were 15 hours away from the joint announcement that the United States and China were going to reestablish diplomatic relations. The communique was all locked up. And now Woodcock had to go in and say explicitly that the United States intended to do the very thing that the Chinese had made clear they would never accept.


Woodcock and Roy fought their gloom as they climbed the steps of the Great Hall at 4:00 p.m. on December 15. Deng was waiting for them. Woodcock laid it out, making clear he was under instructions. Did Deng understand and did he agree that the United States reserved the right to continue selling arms to Taiwan?

The look that came over Deng's face foretold the explosion. He slammed the arm of his chair.

"We do not agree! We will absolutely never agree, and we absolutely oppose . . ." Deng just unloaded. This was impossible! It could not be allowed!

Woodcock and Roy shrunk into the cushions of their chairs as Deng thundered. They both believed that he was calling off the whole deal. Everything was going down the drain.

Deng went on. If America was going to continue to sell arms to Taiwan, he said, why would Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, ever come to the negotiating table? And if he would never come to the negotiating table, China would have to use force to recover Taiwan. How was that in the interest of the United States? How could the United States say it was in favor of a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan question while it was arming Taiwan so extensively that its leaders would turn away for good from negotiation with the mainland? That, too, would lead to war.

Deng went on for some time, his anger still connected to the logic he was trying to impress on the Americans. And when he was done, he looked across at Woodcock and asked what he thought they should do.

At this point, Woodcock was beyond his instructions. He told Deng that it was essential to get normalization behind them, because then everything would change. A transitional era would open up in which they could solve the problems left over by history. Because Washington would recognize Beijing as the sole government of the Chinese people, the transitional era would not only change the relationship between the United States and China but between China and Taiwan.

Woodcock just kept repeating the point about how much things would change after normalization and how much easier it would then be to solve problems.

They had been talking -- and yelling -- for an hour. When Woodcock finished, Deng stared at him for a moment, shrugged, threw up his hands, and uttered a single word: "Hao." Okay.

Fourteen hours later Carter went before the cameras and stunned the world, as Nixon had. Republican reaction was fierce. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) accused Carter of "lying, thumbing his nose at the Constitution and the U.S. Congress, and selling out Taiwan." Ronald Reagan decried Carter's act as a "betrayal" and made a campaign trip to Taiwan. Even George Bush, a former envoy to China, lashed out in a Washington Post commentary: "For President Carter, who professes a strong belief in Christian ethics, it should be a tormenting thought that by his hand, the United States has put an entire people adrift in a cruel, hostile sea -- and for scarcely any purpose." Only former President Ford, whom Carter had beaten, publicly voiced support.

An angry Congress transformed the Taiwan Enabling Act into the Taiwan Relations Act, which included a security commitment to Taiwan nearly as strong as the one in the now-canceled Mutual Defense Treaty.

Deng felt betrayed. The two sides had agreed to normalize relations and leave arms sales to Taiwan for future negotiations. Now Congress was resolving the matter unilaterally. Still, for the Chinese, neither the misunderstandings nor the betrayal were great enough to overwhelm Deng's strategic realignment, moving China closer to America than it had ever been under Communist rule.

The revolt in Congress notwithstanding, Carter, like Nixon, understood that the opening to China was a redemption, a moral crusade, and a piece of farsighted diplomacy that for many Americans transcended politics. The diplomatic mudslide that occurred, greased as it was by Brzezinski's subterfuge and Woodcock's freelancing, let both Washington and Beijing assert that they had not compromised their principles. Normalizing ties with China was the fulfillment of a great enterprise, and Carter staged it with that same sense of drama and surprise that Nixon evoked so skillfully when he orchestrated his journey to China in 1972. For both presidents, the surge of public approval overwhelmed the opposition.

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  • Patrick Tyler is former Beijing Bureau Chief for The New York Times. This essay is adapted from A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China, a Century Foundation book published in 1999 by Public Affairs. All rights reserved.
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