Sino-Soviet split

Sino-Soviet border conflict Vietnam War Orthodox Marxism

Sino-Soviet split
Part of Cold War and Sino-Soviet relations
Mao Tsé-toung, portrait en buste, assis, faisant face à Nikita Khrouchtchev, pendant la visite du chef russe 1958 à Pékin.jpg
Two years into the Sino-Soviet split, Chairman Mao Zedong of the PRC was host to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in 1958.
Caused byDe-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, Revisionism and Maoism
MethodsProxy war, propaganda and Sino-Soviet border conflict
Resulted inA tri-polar cold war and two-way competition for Eastern Bloc allies

The Sino-Soviet split (1956–1966) was the breaking of political relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), caused by doctrinal divergences that arose from their different interpretations and practical applications of Marxism–Leninism, as influenced by their respective geopolitics during the Cold War (1945–1991).[2] In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sino-Soviet debates about the interpretation of orthodox Marxism became specific disputes about the USSR's policies of national de-Stalinization and international peaceful coexistence with the Western world, which Mao decried as revisionism. Against that ideological background, China took a belligerent stance towards the West, and publicly rejected the USSR's policy of peaceful coexistence between the Eastern bloc and the Western bloc.[2] In addition, China resented the closer Soviet ties with India, and Moscow feared Mao was too nonchalant about the horrors of nuclear war.[3]

In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and Stalinism in the speech On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences (25 February 1956) and began the de-Stalinization of the USSR. Mao and the Chinese leadership were appalled as the PRC and the USSR progressively diverged in their interpretations and applications of Leninist theory. By 1961, their intractable ideological differences provoked the PRC's formal denunciation of Soviet communism as the work of "revisionist traitors" in the USSR.[2] For the countries of the Eastern Bloc, the Sino-Soviet split was a question of who would lead the revolution for world communism, and to whom the vanguard parties of the world would turn for political advice, financial aid, and military assistance: to China or to the Soviet Union?[4] In that vein, the USSR and the PRC competed for the leadership of world communism through the vanguard parties native to the countries in their spheres of influence.[5]

In the Western world, the Sino-Soviet split transformed the bi-polar cold war into a tri-polar cold war, a geopolitical event as important as the erection of the Berlin Wall (1961), the defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), and the end of the Vietnam War (1955–1975), because the rivalry facilitated Mao's realisation of Sino-American rapprochement with the 1972 Nixon visit to China. Moreover, the occurrence of the Sino-Soviet split also voided the concept of Monolithic Communism, the Western perception that the communist nations were collectively a unitary actor in post–Second World War geopolitics, especially during the 1947–1950 period in the Vietnam War, when the US intervened to the First Indochina War (1946–1954).[6] Historically, the Sino-Soviet split facilitated the Marxist–Leninist Realpolitik with which Mao established the tri-polar geopolitics (PRC–USA–USSR) of the late-period Cold War (1956–1991) as well as the quad-polar geopolitics (PRC-UK-USA-USSR) until the Suez Crisis of 1956.[7]


Reluctant co-belligerents

In the Asian theatre of the Second World War (1939–45), Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the KMT expediently allied with the Communist Mao Zedong of the CPC to fight the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) as reluctant co-belligerents to expel Imperial Japan from China; post-war, they resumed the Chinese Civil War (1946–49).

In the course of the Second World War (1939–45), the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT) set aside their civil war in order to fight, defeat, and expel Imperial Japan from China. To that end, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, ordered Mao Zedong, leader of the CPC, to co-operate with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the KMT, in fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). Following the surrender of Japan (15 August 1945), the CPC and the KMT resumed their civil war, which the communists won by 1949.[8]

At war's end, Stalin advised Mao to not seize political power at that time, and, instead, to collaborate with Chiang due to the USSR–KMT Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (1945); in communist solidarity, Mao abided Stalin.[9] Yet, three months after the Japanese surrender, in November 1945, when Chiang opposed the annexation of Tannu Uriankhai (Mongolia) to the USSR, Stalin broke the treaty requiring the Red Army's withdrawal from Manchuria (giving Mao regional control) and ordered General Rodion Malinovsky to give to the Chinese communists the Japanese leftover weapons.[10] [11]

In the post-war 1945–1950 period, the United States partly financed Chiang, his nationalist political party, and the National Revolutionary Army. However Washington put heavy pressure on Chiang to form a joint government with the Communists. American envoy George Marshall spent 13 months in China trying without success to broker peace.[12] In the concluding, three-year period of the Chinese Civil War (1947–1949), between the KMT and the CPC, the Chinese Communist Revolution (1946–1949) defeated and expelled the KMT from continental China. Consequently, the KMT retreated to Taiwan (December 1949).

Chinese communist revolution

Chairman Mao, leader of the PRC, and the American journalist Anna Louise Strong, whose work presented and explained the Chinese Communist revolution to the Western world. (1967)

As a revolutionary theoretician of Communism seeking to realize a socialist state in China, Mao developed and adapted the urban ideology of Orthodox Marxism for practical application to the agrarian conditions of pre-industrial China and the Chinese people.[13] Mao's Sinification of Marx, Socialism with Chinese characteristics, established political pragmatism as the first priority for realizing the accelerated modernization of a country and a people; and ideological orthodoxy as the secondary priority, because Orthodox Marxism originated for practical application to the socio-economic conditions of industrialized Western Europe in the 19th century.[14]

In 1947, whilst fighting the Chinese Communist Revolution against the KMT nationalists, Mao dispatched the American journalist Anna Louise Strong to the West, bearing political documents explaining China's socialist future, and asked that she "show them to Party leaders in the United States and Europe", for their better understanding of the Chinese Communist Revolution, but that it was not "necessary to take them to Moscow".

Mao trusted Strong because of her positive reportage about him, as a theoretician of Communism, in the article "The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung", and about the CPC's communist revolution, in the book Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder Out of China: An Intimate Account of the Liberated Areas in China (1948), which reports that Mao's intellectual achievement was "to change Marxism from a European [form] to an Asiatic form . . . in ways of which neither Marx nor Lenin could dream."

Treaty of Sino-Soviet friendship

In 1950, Mao and Stalin safeguarded the national interests of China and the Soviet Union with the Treaty of Friendship, and Alliance and Mutual Assistance (1950–1979). The treaty improved the two country's geopolitical relationship on three levels: political, military, and economic.[15] Stalin's largesse to Mao included a loan for $300 million; military aid, should Japan attack the PRC; the transfer of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria, Port Arthur and Dairen to Chinese control. In return, the PRC recognized the independence of the Mongolian People's Republic (1924–1992).

Despite the favourable terms, the treaty of socialist friendship included the PRC to the geopolitical hegemony of the USSR, yet, unlike the governments of the soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, the USSR did not control Mao's government of the People's Republic of China. In six years' time, the great differences between the Soviet and the Chinese interpretations and applications of Marxism–Leninism voided the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship.[16][17]

In 1958, guided by Soviet economists, the PRC applied the USSR's model of planned economy, which gave first priority to the development of heavy industry, and second priority to the production of consumer goods. Later, ignoring the guidance of technical advisors, Mao developed the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) to transform agrarian China into the industrialized People's Republic of China, with disastrous results for people and land. Mao's unrealistic goals for agricultural production went unfulfilled, because of poor planning and realization, which aggravated rural starvation and increased the number of deaths caused by the Great Chinese Famine (1959–1961), which resulted from three years of drought and poor weather.[18][19]

Socialist relations repaired

In 1954, Premier Nikita Khrushchev repaired relations between the USSR and the PRC with trade agreements, formal acknowledgement of Stalin's economic unfairness to the PRC, fifteen industrial-development projects, and exchanges of technicians (c. 10,000) and political advisors (c. 1,500), whilst Chinese labourers were sent to fill shortages of manual workers in Siberia. Despite such economic relations between socialist nations, Mao of the PRC and Khrushchev of the USSR disliked each other, personally and ideologically;[20] yet, by 1955, consequent to Khrushchev's having repaired Soviet relations with Mao and the Chinese, 60 per cent of the PRC's exports went to the USSR, by way of the Five-year plans of China begun in 1953.[21]

Discontents of de-Stalinization

The Sino-Soviet split (1956–1966) arose from the ideological clash between Premier Khrushchev's policies of De-Stalinisation and peaceful coexistence and Mao Zedong's bellicose and Stalinist policies.

In early 1956, Sino-Soviet relations began deteriorating consequent to Khrushchev's de-Stalinization of the USSR, which he initiated with the speech On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences that criticized Stalin and Stalinism, especially the Great Purge (1936–1938) of Soviet society, of the rank-and-file of the armed forces, and of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In light of de-Stalinization, the CPSU's changed ideological orientation – from Stalin's confrontation of the West to Khrushchev's coexistence with the West – posed problems of ideological credibility and political authority for Mao, who had emulated Stalin's style of leadership and practical application of Marxism–Leninism in the development of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the PRC as a country.[22]

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the rule of Moscow was a serious political concern for Mao, because it had required military intervention to suppress, and its occurrence denied the political legitimacy of the communist party to be in government. In response to that discontent among the European members of the Eastern Bloc, the CPC denounced the USSR's de-Stalinization as Marxist revisionism, and reaffirmed the Stalinist ideology, policies, and practices of Mao's government as the correct course for achieving socialism in China. In the event, such Sino-Soviet divergences of Marxist–Leninist praxis and interpretation began fracturing "monolithic communism" — the Western misperception of absolute ideological unity in the Eastern Bloc.[23]

From Mao's perspective, the success of the Soviet foreign policy of peaceful coexistence with the West would geopolitically isolate the PRC;[24] whilst the Hungarian Revolution indicated the possibility of anti-communist revolt in the PRC, and in China's sphere of influence. To thwart such discontent, Mao launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956) of political liberalization – the freedom of speech to publicly criticize government, the bureaucracy, and the CPC; but the campaign proved too-successful when blunt criticism of Mao, as head-of-state and party chairman, was voiced.[25] Consequent to the relative freedoms of the de-Stalinized Soviet Union, Mao retained the Stalinist model of Marxist–Leninist economy, government, and society for the People's Republic of China.[26]

Conflicting national interests

The strait of Taiwan

In July 1958, at Beijing, Khrushchev and Mao were negotiating joint Sino-Soviet naval bases in China, from which nuclear-armed Soviet submarines would deter U.S. intervention to that region of east Asia. The naval-base agreement failed when Mao accused Khrushchev of trying to establish Soviet control of the PRC's coast.[27] At the end of August, Mao sought the PRC's sovereignty upon Taiwan island (the KMT's Republic of China), and launched the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (23 August – 22 September 1958) by first attacking the Matsu islands and Kinmen island.

In launching that regional war against the KMT nationalists, Mao did not inform Khrushchev. Formal, ideological response to that geopolitical contingency compelled Khrushchev to revise the USSR's policy of peaceful coexistence to include regional wars, such as Mao's second war-crisis in the strait of Taiwan. Mao's withholding of information from Khrushchev worsened their personal-political relations, especially because the U.S. threatened nuclear war upon China and the USSR, if the PRC invaded Taiwan; thus did Mao's continual shoot-outs with Chiang Kai-shek impel Khrushchev into Sino-American quarrels about the long-lost civil war in China.[28]

In the context of the tri-polar Cold War, Khrushchev doubted the mental sanity of Mao, because his unrealistic policies of geopolitical confrontation might provoke nuclear war between the capitalist bloc and the communist blocs; so, to thwart Mao's warmongering, Khrushchev cancelled foreign-aid agreements and the delivery of Soviet atomic bombs to the PRC.[29]

Two Chinas

Throughout the 1950s, Khrushchev maintained positive Sino-Soviet relations with foreign aid, especially nuclear technology for Project 596, the Chinese atomic bomb; but the political tensions persisted, because the economic benefits of the USSR's peaceful-coexistence policy voided the belligerent PRC's geopolitical credibility among the nations under Chinese hegemony, especially after a failed PRC–US rapprochement. In the Chinese sphere of influence, that Sino-American diplomatic failure and the presence of American atom bombs in Taiwan justified Mao's confrontational foreign policies – such as the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (23 August – 22 September 1958) with Taiwan.[30]

In late 1958, the CPC revived Mao's guerrilla-period cult of personality to portray Chairman Mao as the charismatic, visionary leader solely qualified to control the policy, the administration, and the popular mobilization required to realize the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) to industrialist China.[31] Moreover, to the Eastern bloc, Mao portrayed the PRC's warfare with the nationalist Republic of China and the accelerated modernization of the Great Leap Forward as Stalinist examples of Marxism–Leninism adapted to Chinese conditions. Those circumstances allowed ideological Sino-Soviet competition, and Mao publicly criticized Khrushchev's economic and foreign policies as deviations from Marxism–Leninism in the Soviet Union.

Onset of the disputes

The Communist bloc: pro-Soviet (red), pro–Chinese (yellow), the non-aligned (black) North Korea and Yugoslavia.

To Mao Zedong, the events of the 1958–1959 period indicated that Khrushchev of the USSR was politically untrustworthy as an orthodox Marxist.[32] In 1959, Premier Khrushchev met with US President Dwight Eisenhower (r. 1953–1961) to decrease Soviet-American geopolitical tensions; to that end, the USSR: (i) reneged an agreement for technical aid to develop the nuclear Project 596 (the Chinese atomic bomb), and (ii) sided with India in the Sino-Indian War (20 October – 21 November 1962). Each Soviet-American collaboration offended Mao; thereafter, Mao perceived Khrushchev as a Marxist who had become too tolerant of the West. The Communist Party of China said that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union concentrated too much on "Soviet–US co-operation for the domination of the world", with geopolitical actions that contradicted Marxism–Leninism.[33]

Khrushchev, Mao, and the Balkans

Stalinist solidarity: Mao Zedong of the PRC and Enver Hoxha of Socialist Albania were united in retaining Stalinism as the form of government for their countries.

In the 1950s, the looming occurrence of the Sino-Soviet split was manifested in public denunciation and criticism of the socialist countries respectively allied to the PRC and the USSR. China denounced the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992) as insufficiently socialist for having a mixed economy. Mao personally criticized Marshal Tito as an ideological deviationist for pursuing a politically non-aligned foreign policy that was separate and apart from Sino-Soviet geopolitics. Khrushchev criticized the People's Socialist Republic of Albania as a politically-backward state and the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha, for not transcending Stalinism and for allying with China, which provoked the Soviet–Albanian split (1955–1961). Moreover, to further thwart China, the USSR publicly gave moral support to the Tibetan uprising (10–23 March 1959).[citation needed]

Mao, Khrushchev, and the US

In 1960, Mao expected Khrushchev to aggressively deal with Eisenhower by holding him to account for the USSR having shot down a U-2 spy plane (1 May 1960), the CIA's photographing of military bases in the USSR; aerial espionage that the US said had been discontinued. In Paris, at the Four Powers Summit meeting (15–16 May 1960), Khrushchev demanded and failed to receive Eisenhower's apology for the CIA's continued aerial espionage of the USSR. In China, Mao and the CPC interpreted Eisenhower's refusal to apologize to the USSR as disrespectful of the national sovereignty of socialist countries, and held political rallies aggressively demanding Khrushchev's military confrontation with the American aggressors; without such decisive action, the Communist leader Khrushchev lost face with the PRC.[34]

In the Socialist Republic of Romania, at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties (November 1960) in Bucharest, Mao and Khrushchev respectively attacked the Soviet and the Chinese interpretations of Orthodox Marxism and of Leninism as the wrong road to world socialism in the USSR and in China. Mao said that Khrushchev's emphases on consumer goods and material plenty would make the Soviet people ideologically soft and un-revolutionary, to which Khrushchev replied: "If we could promise the people nothing, except revolution, they would scratch their heads and say: 'Isn't it better to have good goulash?'"[35]

Personal attacks

In the 1960s, public displays of acrimonious quarrels about abstract Marxist doctrine characterized relations between Stalinist Chinese and anti-Stalinist Soviet communists. At the Romanian Communist Party Congress, the CPC's Peng Zhen quarrelled with Khrushchev, after the latter had insulted Mao as being a Chinese nationalist, a geopolitical adventurist, and an ideological deviationist from Orthodox Marxism. In turn, Peng insulted Khrushchev as a Marxist revisionist whose régimer of the USSR showed him to be a "patriarchal, arbitrary, and tyrannical" ruler.[36] In the event, Khrushchev denounced the PRC with eighty pages of criticism to the congress of the PRC. In June 1960, at the zenith of de-Stalinization, the USSR denounced Albania as a politically backward country for retaining Stalinism as government and model of socialism. In turn, Bao Sansan said that the CPC's message to the cadres in China was: "When Khrushchev stopped Russian aid to Albania, Hoxha said to his people: 'Even if we have to eat the roots of grass to live, we won't take anything from Russia.' China is not guilty of chauvinism, and immediately sent food to our brother country."[37]

In response to the insults, Khrushchev withdrew 1,400 Soviet technicians from the PRC, which cancelled some 200 joint-scientific-projects meant to foster Sino-Soviet amity and co-operation between socialist nations. In response, Mao justified his belief that Khrushchev had, somehow, caused China's great economic failures, and the famines occurred in the period of the Great Leap Forward; nonetheless, the PRC and the USSR remained pragmatic allies, which allowed Mao to alleviate famine in China and to resolve Sino-Indian border disputes. To Mao, Khrushchev had lost political authority and ideological credibility, because his Soviet-American détente had resulted in successful military (aerial) espionage against the USSR, and public confrontation with an unapologetic capitalist enemy. Khrushchev's miscalculation of person and circumstance voided Soviet-American diplomacy at the Four Powers Summit in Paris.[38]

Monolithic Communism fractured

In late 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis (16–28 October 1962) concluded when the U.S. and the USSR respectively agreed to remove intermediate-range PGM-19 Jupiter nuclear missiles from Italy and Turkey, and to remove intermediate-range R-12 Dvina and R-14 Chusovaya nuclear missiles from Cuba. In the context of the Sino-Soviet split, Mao said that the USSR's military stand-down was Khrushchev's betrayal of Marxist–Leninist geopolitics.

In late 1961, at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU (17–31 October 1961), the PRC and the USSR revisited their doctrinal disputes about the orthodox interpretation and application of Marxism–Leninism.[39] In December 1961, the USSR broke diplomatic relations with the People's Socialist Republic of Albania (1945–1991), which escalated the Sino-Soviet disputes from the political-party level to the national-government level.

In late 1962, the PRC broke relations with the USSR, because Khrushchev did not go to war with the U.S. over the Cuban Missile Crisis (16–28 October 1962). Regarding that Soviet loss-of-face, Mao said that "Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism" with a negotiated, bilateral, military stand-down. To which Khrushchev replied that Mao's belligerent foreign policies would lead to an East–West nuclear war.[40] For the Western powers, the averted atomic war threatened by the Cuban Missile Crisis made nuclear disarmament their political priority. To that end, the US, the UK, and the USSR agreed to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (5 August 1963), which formally forbade nuclear-detonation tests in the Earth's atmosphere, in outer space, and under water – yet did allow the underground testing and detonation of atomic bombs. In that time, the PRC's nuclear-weapons program, Project 596, was nascent, and Mao perceived the test-ban treaty as the nuclear powers' attempt to thwart the PRC's becoming a nuclear superpower.[41]

As a Marxist–Leninist, Mao was much angered that Khrushchev did not go to war with the Americans over their failed Bay of Pigs Invasion (17–20 April 1961) and the United States embargo against Cuba of continual economic and agricultural sabotage. For the Eastern Bloc, Mao addressed those Sino-Soviet matters in "Nine Letters" critical of Khrushchev and his leadership of the USSR. Moreover, the break with the USSR allowed Mao to reorient the development of the People's Republic of China with formal relations (diplomatic, economic, political) with the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[41]

Formal statements

Sino-Soviet split
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese中蘇交惡
Simplified Chinese中苏交恶
Russian name
RussianСоветско–китайский раскол
RomanizationSovetsko–kitayskiy raskol

In the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet split allowed only written communications between the PRC and the USSR, in which each country supported their geopolitical actions with formal statements of Marxist–Leninist ideology as the true road to world communism, which is the general line of the party. In June 1963, the PRC published The Chinese Communist Party's Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement,[42] to which the USSR replied with the Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; each ideological stance perpetuated the Sino-Soviet split.[43] In 1964, Mao said that, in light of the Chinese and Soviet differences about the interpretation and practical application of Orthodox Marxism, a counter-revolution had occurred and re-established capitalism in the USSR; consequently, following Soviet suit, the Warsaw Pact countries broke relations with the People's Republic of China.

In late 1964, after Nikita Khrushchev had been deposed as Soviet leader, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met with the new Soviet leaders, First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin, but their ideological differences proved a diplomatic impasse to renewed economic relations. Back in China, Zhou reported to Mao that Brezhnev's Soviet government retained the policy of peaceful coexistence, the ideological stance of the previous Soviet government, which Mao had denounced as "Khrushchevism without Khrushchev"; despite the change of leadership, the Sino-Soviet split remained open. At the Glassboro Summit Conference (23–25 June 1967), between Kosygin and U.S. President L.B. Johnson, the PRC accused the USSR of betraying the peoples of the Eastern bloc countries. The official interpretation, by Radio Peking, reported that Soviet and American politicians discussed "a great conspiracy, on a worldwide basis ... criminally selling the rights of the revolution of [the] Vietnam people, [of the] Arabs, as well as [those of] Asian, African, and Latin-American peoples, to U.S. imperialists".[44]


Cultural Revolution

A public appearance of Chairman Mao and Lin Biao among Red Guards, in Beijing, during the Cultural Revolution (November 1966)

In 1966, to regain political supremacy in the PRC, Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) to counter the Soviet-style bureaucracies (personal-power-centres) that had become established in education, agriculture, and industrial management. Abiding Mao's proclamations for universal ideological orthodoxy, schools and universities closed throughout China when students organized themselves into politically radical Red Guards. Lacking a leader, a political purpose, and a social function in China, the ideologically discrete units of Red Guards soon degenerated into political factions, each of whom claimed to be more Maoist than the other factions.[45]

In establishing the ideologic orthodoxy presented in the Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung), the political violence of the Red Guards provoked civil war in parts of China, which Mao suppressed with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who imprisoned the fractious Red Guards. Moreover, when Red Guard factionalism occurred within the PLA – Mao's base of political power – he dissolved the Red Guards, and then reconstituted the Communist Party of China with the new generation of Maoists who had endured and survived the Cultural Revolution that purged the "anti-Communist" old generation from the party and from China.[46]

As social engineering, the Cultural Revolution reasserted the political primacy of Maoism, but also stressed, strained, and broke the PRC's relations with the USSR and the West.[47] Geopolitically, despite their querulous "Maoism vs. Marxism–Leninism" disputes about interpretations and practical applications of Orthodox Marxism, the USSR and the PRC advised, aided, and supplied North Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1945–1975),[48] which Mao had defined as a peasant revolution against foreign imperialism. In socialist solidarity, the PRC allowed safe passage for the Soviet Union's matériel to North Vietnam to prosecute the war against the US-sponsored Republic of South Vietnam.[49]

Sino-Soviet border war

The Sino-Soviet split allowed minor border disputes to escalate to firefights for areas of the Argun and Amur rivers (Damansky–Zhenbao is southeast, north of the lake (2 March – 11 September 1969).

In the late 1960s, the continual quarrelling between the CPC and the CPSU, about the correct interpretations and applications of Marxism–Leninism escalated to small-scale warfare at the Sino-Soviet border.[50]

In 1966, for diplomatic resolution, the Chinese revisited the national matter of the Sino-Soviet border demarcated in the 19th century, but originally imposed upon the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) by way of unequal treaties that annexed Chinese territory to the Russian Empire (1721–1917). Despite not asking the return of territory, the PRC asked the USSR to formally and publicly acknowledge that such an historic injustice against China (the 19th-century border) was dishonestly realised with the Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860); the Soviet government ignored the matter.

In 1968, the Soviet Army had massed along the 4,380-kilometre (2,720 mi) border with the PRC, especially at the Xinjiang frontier, in north-west China, where the Soviets might readily induce the Turkic peoples into a separatist insurrection. In 1961, the USSR had stationed 12 divisions of soldiers and 200 aeroplanes at that border, by 1968, the Soviet Union had stationed six divisions of soldiers in Outer Mongolia and 16 divisions, 1,200 aeroplanes, and 120 medium-range missiles at the Sino-Soviet border to confront 47 light divisions of the Chinese Army; by March 1969, the border confrontations escalated into the Sino-Soviet border conflict (2 March – 11 September 1969), including fighting at the Ussuri River, the Zhenbao Island incident, and at Tielieketi.[50]

Nuclear China

In the early 1960s, the United States feared that a "nuclear China" would imbalance the bi-polar Cold War between the US and the USSR. To keep the PRC from achieving the geopolitical status of a nuclear power, the Kennedy administration (1961–1963) and the Johnson administration (1963–1969) considered ways to either sabotage or to directly attack the Chinese nuclear program — aided either by Nationalist China or by the USSR; to avert nuclear war, Khrushchev refused the US offer to participate in a Soviet-American pre-emptive attack against the PRC. [51]

To prevent the Chinese from building a nuclear bomb, the US military recommended indirect measures, such as diplomacy and propaganda, and direct measures, such as infiltration and sabotage, an invasion by the Chinese Nationalists, at Taiwan, maritime blockades, a South Korean invasion of North Korea, conventional air attacks against the nuclear production facilities, and dropping a nuclear bomb against a "selected CHICOM [Chinese Communist] target".[52] In the event, on 16 October 1964, the PRC detonated their first nuclear bomb, a uranium-235 implosion-fission device,[53] with an explosive yield of 22 kilotons of TNT;[54] and publicly acknowledged the USSR's technical assistance in realising Project 596.[55]

In 1969, the USSR planned to make a pre-emptive atomic-bomb attack on China, and asked the United States to stay neutral. The Nixon administration warned that such an attack on the PRC would provoke a Third World War. The US viewed the Soviets as a greater threat and wanted China to counterbalance the USSR, and was still annoyed by the earlier Soviet rejection of the American proposal of a joint attack on China.[56] Aware of the Soviet nuclear threat, the PRC built large-scale underground bomb shelters, such as the Underground City in Beijing, and the military bomb shelters of Underground Project 131, a command center in Hubei, and the 816 Nuclear Military Plant, in the Fuling District of Chongqing city.

Geopolitical pragmatism

To counter the USSR, Chairman Mao met with U.S President Nixon, and established Sino-American rapprochement, in 1972.

In October 1969, after the seven-month Sino-Soviet border conflict (March–September 1969), at Beijing, Premier Alexei Kosygin secretly spoke with Premier Zhou Enlai to jointly determine the demarcation of the Sino-Soviet border. Despite the border demarcation remaining indeterminate, the premiers' meetings restored Sino-Soviet diplomatic communications, which, by 1970, allowed Mao to understand that the PRC could not simultaneously fight the US and the USSR, whilst suppressing internal disorders throughout China. In July 1971, the US advisor for national security, Henry Kissinger, went to Beijing to arrange for President Nixon's visit to China (21–28 February 1972). Kissinger's Sino-American rapprochement offended the USSR, and Brezhnev then convoked a summit-meeting with Nixon, which re-cast the bi-polar geopolitics of the Soviet-American cold war into the tri-polar geopolitics of the PRC-US-USSR cold war.

Concerning the Sino-Soviet disputes about the demarcation of 4,380 kilometres (2,720 mi) of territorial borders, Soviet propaganda agitated against the PRC's complaint about the unequal Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860), which cheated Imperial China of territory and natural resources in the 19th century. To that effect, in the 1972–1973 period, the USSR deleted the Chinese and Manchu place-names – Iman (伊曼, Yiman), Tetyukhe (野猪河, yĕzhūhé), and Suchan – from the map of the Russian Far East, and replaced them with the Russian place-names: Dalnerechensk, Dalnegorsk, and Partizansk, respectively.[57][58] To facilitate social acceptance of such cultural revisionism, the Soviet press misrepresented the historical presence of Chinese people – in lands gained by Tsarist Russia – which provoked Russian violence against the local Chinese populations; moreover, politically-inconvenient exhibits were removed from museums,[57] and vandals covered with cement the Jurchen-script stele, about the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), in Khabarovsk, some 30 kilometres from the Sino-Soviet border, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers.[59]

Sino-Soviet rivalry in the Third World

In the 1970s, the ideological rivalry between the PRC and the USSR extended into the countries of Africa, Asia and of the Middle East, where each socialist country funded the vanguardism of the local Marxist–Leninist parties and militias. Their political advice, financial aid, and military assistance facilitated the realization of wars of national liberation, such as the Ogaden War (1977–1978) between Ethiopia and Somalia; the Rhodesian Bush War (1964–1979) between white European colonists and anti-colonial black natives; the aftermath of the Bush War, the Zimbabwean Gukurahundi massacres (1983–1987); the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002) between competing national-liberation groups of guerrillas, which proved to be a Soviet-American proxy war; the Mozambican Civil War (1975–1992); and the guerrilla factions fighting for the liberation of Palestine. In Thailand, the pro-Chinese front organizations were based upon the local Chinese minority-population, and thus proved politically ineffective as a Maoist revolutionary vanguard.[60] In the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), China covertly supported the opposing guerillas.[61][page needed]

After Mao

Transition to pragmatism

The elimination of Marshal Lin Biao, in 1971, lessened the political damage caused by Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and facilitated the PRC's transition to the Realpolitik of the Tri-polar Cold War.

In 1971, the politically-radical phase of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) concluded with the failure of Project 571 (the coup d'état to depose Mao) and the death of the conspirator Marshal Lin Biao (Mao's executive officer), who had colluded with the Gang of FourJiang Qing (Mao's last wife), Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen — to assume command of the People's Republic of China. As reactionary political radicals, the Gang of Four argued for regression to Stalinist ideological orthodoxy at the expense of internal economic development, but soon were suppressed by the PRC's secret intelligence service.[62]

The re-establishment of Chinese domestic tranquility ended armed confrontation with the USSR, but it did not improve diplomatic relations, because in 1973, the Soviet Army garrisons at the Sino-Soviet border were twice as large as in 1969. The continued military threat from the USSR  prompted the PRC to denounce "Soviet social imperialism", by accusing the Soviet Union of being an enemy of world revolution.[citation needed] Sino-Soviet relations would slowly and gradually improve during the 1980s.

In late 1977, at the 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (12–18 August 1977), the politically-rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping was appointed to manage internal modernization programs. Avoiding attacks upon Mao Zedong, Deng's political moderation began the realization of Chinese economic reform, by way of systematic reversals of Mao's inefficient policies, the transition from a planned economy to a socialist market economy.[63][64] In the 1980s, the PRC pursued Realpolitik policies, such as "seeking truth from facts" and the "Chinese road to socialism", which withdrew the PRC from the high-level abstractions of ideology, polemic, and the Marxist revisionism of the USSR, which diminished the political importance of the Sino-Soviet split.[63][64]

See also


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