Sino-Soviet relations, 1968-1973 as illustrated by the official Soviet press

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1976

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Abstract

The change which occurred from 1949 to 1973 in the relations between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People’s Republic of China (P. R. C.) was not foreseen by most scholars in the field. Only when the two nations had all but come to blows did the western world discover what the eastern world had already known: the “monolithic� bloc was something less than monolithic. In spite of the common ideology, China and Russia had serious differences of opinion on a wide variety of questions. To understand modern trends, which are usually the end result of past events, the scholar must examine the background of a problem. Beginning in 1634, and even earlier, the Chinese were inundated with adventurous Russian settlers, who, encouraged by their ambitious Tsars, endeavored to turn the Amur River area and Mongolia into Russian provinces. The decaying Manchu Empire tried desperately to turn back the tide of Russian expansion but failed. The unequal treaties of Aigun, Peking, and Tientsin, to name only a few, remained in the minds of the Chinese to color their attitudes in later days. The emergence of the P. R. C. appeared to have created a monolithic bloc of socialist nations. The first few years of their relations were generally calm and gave little hint of the trouble to come. Then, in 1956, the revelation of Khrushchev’s speech to the Twentieth CPSU congress, with its programs of “peaceful coexistence� with the West and “de-Stalinization,� led China to seek her own path to socialism, the Great Leap Forward. Following the failure of the Great Leap, China fell into the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, which was mostly designed to purge the party of “anti-Maoist� elements. The Cultural Revolution gave rise to some of the most vicious exchanges of polemics between the two governments. And indirectly, affected relations on the border. The Czechoslovakian crisis of August, 1968, found the Soviets trying to justify their brutal suppression of Czech liberties to the Chinese. The Soviet Union suffered a serious loss of trust in the socialist bloc countries, who wondered if they would be next. China gained in prestige because of her severe criticism of the Soviets. The war in Vietnam held dangers for both nations. Neither could afford to allow the United States to win, but both feared the emergence of a rival socialist nation in Asia should the Vietnamese gain a decisive victory. Therefore, both China and the U. S. S. R. supplied the Vietnamese in a limited manner, accused the U. S. of imperialism and each other of holding back aid, and worked toward limiting the conflict. The emergence of détente with the West offered China and the Soviet Union an opportunity to ease tensions with the U. S., but increased competition between the two for the allegiance of the non-aligned nations. The Soviets were slow to react to the onset of “ping-pong� diplomacy, possibly not realizing the extent of change which had occurred in Peking and Washington. Moscow treated Nixon’s trip to China as a “show� and was shocked to discover that Peking and Washington were really coming to a form of limited rapprochement. Criticism of the Cultural Revolution continued to be a main-stay of Soviet polemics. The tensions of the Spring of 1969 led to deaths on the river borders, intermittent conferences on “consolidation� on existing borders, and a running dispute on what constituted an “unequal treaty.� Finally, the India-Pakistan War of 1971 gave the first opportunity for the Chinese to expand their attacks on the Soviets in the framework of the United Nations. They took the side of Pakistan with the U. S., in opposition to India and the Soviet Union. The observations made during the study of Chinese and Russian Relations led to the conclusion that the dispute cannot be attributed to one factor only. Both sides use ideology more as a tool than anything else, and territorial claims appear to be matters of principle to the Chinese, rather than a true cause for war. If the recent history of their relations is indicative of future trends, the likelihood of war between China and Russia appears remote. The vast differences of society and outlook between the two and the inescapable factor of national interest, however, will not allow a true reconciliation for some time and may lead to a worsening of their relations before they improve, if indeed any improvement is possible.

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Keywords

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, People's Republic of Chine, conflicts, forgein affairs

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