For those who enjoyed reading my first term paper I posted, or for those looking for assistance on a paper they are writing on Sino-Soviet relations during the Cold War, here is my term paper for Professor Jacok Kovalio’s HIST 3805A – Twentieth Century China: From Tiananmen to Tiananmen. I learned a lot during my time in Kovalio’s class, and while the final exam didn’t go as well as I hoped, he is one of the better history professors at Carleton University. As with the previous post, I have included the bibliography to not only support what I wrote in this paper, but to give those looking at writing their own papers a good starting point. I would hate to have to remind those intending to pass this paper off as their own that such fraud is can get one expelled from university. This post is a starting point and nothing more.
The Cold War was a conflict between ideologies. Following the defeat of the Axis powers in World War Two, the world was divided into two radically different political spheres, separated by an “Iron Curtain”, with democratic nations united against those that embraced communism. It seemed natural that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China would form an alliance, but it would be short-lived. This essay will examine the Sino-Soviet relations from the Second World War to President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, explaining why this alliance, once believed to be strong, turned into a bitter rivalry during the height of the Cold War.
To say that the Soviet Union was always an ally of Mao Zedong would be incorrect. During the Second World War, Stalin had actually been a supporter of Chiang Kai-Shek, the leader of the Nationalist Party of China and Mao’s political enemy. It was at Stalin’s request that Mao formed an anti-Japanese alliance with Chiang’s Nationalists during the Second World War. After the war ended Stalin requested that Mao not attempt to seize power. The Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Nationalists which it wished to honour, so it could not support any effort by the Communist Party of China to oust Chiang’s government. A dispute between Chiang and Stalin over the USSR’s illegal occupation of Tannu Uriankhai, a province in Northern Mongolia, finally gave Mao his opportunity to seize power without Soviet inference. During the Chinese Civil War, Mao ignored both political and military advice given by Stalin and the Comintern, an international communist organization founded in Moscow in 1919, because unlike Russia, China lacked a large working class population. The country did, however, possess a large force of peasants, and it was through them that Mao would achieve his political goals. By October 1st, 1949, Mao had routed Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist forces and had established the People’s Republic of China, with Beijing as its capital. The civil war left the country in ruins, and with Chinese hopes for a communist utopia fading, Mao turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. Mao believed the Soviet example was the one China should follow, and an alliance with the communist superpower would be in his country’s best interests. In 1950, the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship was the culmination of talks betweens Stalin and Mao, which provided China with a $300 million low-interest loan and a thirty year military alliance. With the help of Soviet advisers, China was able to begin the process of industrialization. This partnership was celebrated throughout China with various pro-Soviet displays, including traditional Russian style dancing. The People’s Republic of China was now a developing country, as well as one armed and trained by the Soviets, but it was treated as a tool by Moscow to continue its campaign of expanding the communist sphere of influence.
While this treaty demonstrated to the Western powers the unity of the Soviet bloc, the relationship between the two countries wasn’t without its problems. During his visit in 1950 Mao was kept waiting in Moscow for two months while Stalin attended to other matters. When the two finally met, the Chinese leader felt he wasn’t being treated as an equal partner. During negotiations, Mao felt not only that the Soviets were trying to annex parts of China, but that Stalin’s real aim was to place advisers within the Communist Party of China and thereafter take over the party and the government. Also during this time there was a divergence in propaganda between the Soviet Union and China. The Chinese claimed that Mao had made new contributions to Marxist-Leninist theory through his writings on China‘s Communist Revolution, claims the Soviets didn’t fully embrace. The ideological divisions caused friction between the two communist powers. American journalist and activist, Anna Louis Strong had written an article, “The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung”, and a book, Dawn Out of China, on Mao’s contribution to communist thought, both of which were banned within the USSR. Strong had also been given documents by Mao to show to communist party leaders within Europe and the United States, but suggested that she need not take them to Moscow. This signaled China’s decision to not only redefine itself and Marxist-Leninist theory, (moving away from the Soviet interpretation), but actually separating itself militarily and politically from the USSR. The People’s Republic couldn’t, however, split from their alliance with the Soviet Union while the United States was engaged in conflict with communist forces in Korea. Under pressure from Moscow, Chinese troops marched into North Korea and fought the American forces to a standstill.
The death of Joseph Stalin not only brought Nikita Khrushchev to power, but it had also caused friction between the Soviets and the Chinese Communists. Khrushchev pushed for a de-Stalinization of the USSR, and in doing so, he provided Chinese critics evidence of Soviet revisionism. Khrushchev would denounce his predecessor in his “Secret Speech” on February 25th, 1956, a speech given to a closed session of Congress which was limited to Soviet delegates. It wasn’t long, however, before transcripts of the speech were sent to Eastern European delegates, then copied and distributed throughout the Soviet Union. Soon afterwards, the “Secret Speech” reached Beijing, where it would fuel anti-Soviet opinion in China. In April 1956, a Beijing People’s Daily article attacked the Soviet Union, stating that the country made many mistakes under Stalin including an “excess in zeal in eliminating counterrevolutionaries“, the “lack of vigilance” before World War II, the failure to substantially develop agriculture, the mistreatment of Yugoslavia’s “apostasy” and “crudely” applying his political policies concerning China. While praising the leadership of Mao Zedong and claiming he was the true defender of Marxist-Leninist teachings, the article also criticized Stalin’s “cult of personality” and the use of mass media to create an idealized, heroic public image of the country’s leader. Ideological differences aside, Khrushchev was also troubled by Mao’s desire for conflict with the United States. He had been critical of Mao’s actions during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis, criticizing him for trying to initiate a superpower war with the United States. During a 1958 meeting between the two communist leaders, the Chinese leader said “Provoke the Americans into military action and I’ll give you as many divisions as you need to crush them.” Mao tried to prevent Khrushchev from seeking détente with the United States, even referring to the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis as “batons that keep Eisenhower and Khrushchev dancing, scurrying this way and that.” Friction began to develop between Moscow and Beijing over the latter’s desire to acquire nuclear technology and weaponry. Mao had expressed his belief to Khrushchev that China could survive a nuclear war.
If war breaks out, it is unavoidable that people will die. We have seen wars kill people. Many times in China’s past half the population has been wiped out… We have at present no experience with atomic war. We do not know how many must die. It is better if one-half are left, the second best is one-third… After several five-year plans [China] will then develop and rise up. In place of the totally destroyed capitalism we will obtain perpetual peace. This will not be a bad thing.
While the Soviets had been prepared to hand over an atomic bomb with documentation, cooling relations, as well as Mao’s comments on China’s ability to weather a nuclear war, kept them from doing so. With Moscow’s and Beijing’s ambitions now in conflict, the Soviets recalled their advisers from China.
Tensions between the two countries soon boiled over. In September of 1960, the Soviets made it clear that communist bloc countries should subordinate their national interests to preserve the “world of Communism” as “dogmatist” efforts were endangering it. It was clear these comments were directed at the Communist Party of China, signalling to them they should cease efforts to distance themselves from the Soviets. The USSR also criticized Mao’s commune and Great Leap Forward programs, both of which had done great social and economic damage to China. November of the same year, Deng Xiaoping criticized what he saw as the Soviet abandonment of communist principles.
The Soviet party is opportunist and revisionist; it lacks any deep knowledge of Marxism; its ideas about disarmament are absurd; peaceful coexistence could mean nothing, except as a tactical weapon to deceive the enemy; the Soviet idea of a division of labor among the countries of the socialist camp is wrong; and China must go her own way.
Mao openly criticized the USSR for not putting more pressure on the West, as well Soviet reluctance to engage Western powers in conflict, especially after the Soviets developed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Chinese criticism at this time was also directed at the Soviets for their denouncement of Enver Hoxha, the communist leader of the People’s Republic of Albania. China had formed an alliance with Albania in direct opposition to the USSR, criticizing various Soviet practices, including the demanding of interest payments on loans made to communist countries. Because of this, the USSR broke off formal relations with Albania the following month. By 1961, it was clear that relations between Moscow and Beijing had broken down, and the two powers were openly quarrelling with each other. In 1962, Mao openly criticized Khrushchev’s efforts during the Cuban Missile Crisis, saying that “Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism”. Even after Leonid Brezhnev deposed Khrushchev and became the new Soviet leader in 1964, following a visit to Moscow by Jou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, Mao stated that it was “Khrushchevism without Khrushchev”.
While the Vietnam war had allowed for cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and China during the 1960s, it was now clear the two countries were on the brink of war. In January of 1967, as part of efforts for the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, Red Guard besieged the Soviet embassy in Beijing. On March 2nd, 1969, Chinese soldiers opened fire on Soviet border troops patrolling Zhenbao, killing thirty and injuring fourteen. On March 15th, Soviets responded by bombarding troop concentrations around Zhenbao. The conflict quickly subsided as both Moscow and Beijing wanted to avert all-out war between the two countries. Tensions were once again raised in May, however, when China accused the Soviets of trying to subvert the Uyghur population when nearly 60,000 ethnic Uyghurs crossed into the USSR, fleeing economic repression. In August 1969, concerned about China’s development of nuclear weaponry, the Soviet Committee for State Security, Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti or KGB, asked U.S. officials at the State Department what would the United States do if the USSR attacked and destroyed China’s nuclear installations. It was clear to the United States that the Soviet Union and China were no longer allies, but instead of allowing the two to continue hostilities, American President Richard Nixon decided he would use this to his advantage. Although China was considered less trust worthy than the Russians, America opened discussions with China in the hope they would be able to use the Chinese to put political pressure on the Soviets. With the United States planning to withdraw forces from South Vietnam, they needed an ally to counter the increasing Soviet presence within Southeast Asia. Northern Vietnamese forces were being aided by Moscow, and while China was still in a military alliance with the Soviet Union, their relationship had become fractured. The first diplomatic meeting between the United States and the People’s Republic of China occurred in 1971 with Dr. Henry Kissinger’s trip to meet with Jou Enlai. This secret meeting helped lay the ground work for Nixon’s visit the following year. Fearing a Sino-American alliance, the USSR yielded to American pressure for détente.
President Nixon’s visit to China not only signalled the end of the alliance between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, it also helped ease tensions between China and the U.S,S.R. The fear of a partnership between the Americans and Chinese kept the Soviets at bay, while the opening of communication between China and America helped ease tensions between China and the Western powers. While initially united against everything the United States stood for, the Soviets and Chinese became divided due to the political and ideological differences of their respective leaders. Both countries fought for greater influence within the Soviet bloc, with the USSR pushing for a more practical approach to communism and China demanding communist purity. In the end it seemed that they were more worried about the threat the other posed than the threat posed to them by the United States.
Declassified: Chairman Mao. Dir. Kosh. Ten Worlds Productions. The History Channel, 2006.
China: A Century of Revolution – Part 2: The Mao Years 1949-1976. Dir. Sue Williams. Zeitgeist Films. PBS, 2002.
Harold P. Ford. “Calling the Sino-Soviet Split.” Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/docs/v42i5a05p.htm.
William Burr. “The Sino-Soviet Border Conflict, 1969: U.S. Reaction and Diplomatic Maneuvers.” The National Security Archive. http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB49/.
“Sino-Soviet split.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Soviet_Split.
“Nikita Khrushchev.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikita_Khrushchev.
“Enver Hoxha.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enver_Hoxha.
“Sino-Soviet border conflict.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sino-Soviet_border_conflict.
“Richard Nixon.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Nixon.
What I found interesting about this project was that the Cold War wasn’t this simple “United States versus Soviet Union” fight, but a three-way conflict that included the People’s Republic of China as a dangerous and unpredictable third superpower. In the 1960’s, Moscow’s attention was centered on the threat Chairman Mao posed, especially with his desire to possess and use nuclear weapons. The military alliance between the Soviets and the Chinese had broken down, and it was in part thanks to former President Richard Nixon that an outright conflict between these two communist powers never occurred. Cooler heads did prevail, but let’s not forget how close we did come to all-out nuclear war.
What can be gained from examining this past? Well, with the exception of Mao Zedong’s anti-Western and anti-Soviet beliefs, the majority of those involved in the Cold War simply wished to maintain this state of non-conflict to maintain political and economic control. Nuclear weapons were and are kept to deter outright conflict between superpowers, but only countries that have shown that they have the restraint necessary to not use them should have them. This is why the Soviets were so concerned about China getting weapons while Mao held the reigns of power. While it the Americans never officially announced whether or not they would allow or oppose Soviet efforts to prevent China from obtaining these weapons, I believe that if it did come down to it, the United States wouldn’t have stepped in to prevent the USSR from attacking Chinese nuclear facilities. I also believe the same could be said about whether or not Russia and/or China would step in to prevent the United States from attacking Iranian nuclear facilities as Iran has expressed a desire to possess and use nuclear weapons. To prevent all-out nuclear war, alliances will be broken with the radical Islamic regime. This is exactly what we saw when Mao discussed his desire to start a war with the United States.
While the Cold War is over, tensions still remain. Superpowers rarely agree on international politics, and we have seen recently that they tended to butt heads over a variety of issues, be it domestic or foreign. In the end, all of them wish to not only maintain their current position of power, but increase their sphere of influence, though not at the cost of human lives. Battles between superpower in the twenty-first century are more about economics than military, and the more interconnected economies become, the less likely it is that we will see an outright conflict between the United States, Russia and China.
Mao wouldn’t be able to recognize his country now, and I am sure that makes many people, especially those in China, happy.