On December 15, 1978, the United States and the People’s Republic of China issued a joint communiqué that established diplomatic relations between the two nations. Although an historic achievement for then President Jimmy Carter, the rapprochement in U.S.-Sino relations came to have a significant impact on the administration’s foreign policy agenda. Significant differences emerged during the process between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski on the issue of normalisation as well as its broader ramifications on U.S. foreign policy. A closer investigation of the period, expanding on the current literature, by examining witness testimony and analysing primary documents reveal how normalisation was beset by internal disagreements within the administration, emanating from the institutional rivalry between the national security council and the state department.
Presented at the 2017 International History and Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century conference, this paper examines how the conflict between Vance, Brzezinski and their respective departments during the Carter years impacted on the administration’s attempts to establish diplomatic relations with China. Normalisation exposed ideological and bureaucratic fault lines, which contributed to the struggles between the principals and fuelled the departmental rivalry. As this paper will illustrate, the disagreements were clearly evident and had a significant impact on the administration’s foreign policy agenda.
The IHDTC conference was held in Liverpool, the hometown of my maternal ancestors, at John Moores University. This was my first paper of 2017 but also my last as a PhD student. It is a humbling thought that the next time I present a paper at a conference it will be as Dr. Wallis. Fingers crossed anyway.
The conference was organised by the IHDTC research group and this was their second annual conference. The calibre of the papers presented was truly fantastic. Never have I been so impressed with the quality of the presentation, in both substance and delivery. Papers subjects included from the role of supranational organisations, the culture of British foreign policy, the media and the Falklands War, diplomacy and sport in the Thatcher era as well as developments in U.S. foreign policy. The quality of research on show was exceptional, I was privileged to present my work with such excellent scholars. The full programme is available on IHDTC site.
The group did a great job organising what was a great day!