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The Sino-Soviet split (1960–1989) was the deterioration of political and ideological relations between the neighboring states of People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) during the Cold War. In the 1960s, China and the Soviet Union were the two largest communist states in the world. The doctrinal divergence derived from Chinese and Russian national interests, and from the régimes' different interpretations of Marxism–Leninism.
In the 1950s and the 1960s, ideological debate between the communist parties of the USSR and China also concerned the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West. Yet, to the Chinese public, Mao Zedong proposed a belligerent attitude towards capitalist countries, an initial rejection of peaceful coexistence, which he perceived as Marxist revisionism from the Soviet Union.
Furthermore, since 1956 (when Nikita Khrushchev denounced the legacy of Stalin), China and the USSR had progressively diverged about Marxist ideology, and, by 1961, when the doctrinal differences proved intractable, the Communist Party of China formally denounced the Soviet variety of communism as a product of "Revisionist Traitors".
The split concerned the leadership of world communism. The USSR had a network of communist parties it supported; China now created its own rival network to battle it out for local control of the left in numerous countries. Lorenz M. Lüthi argues:
- The Sino-Soviet split was one of the key events of the Cold War, equal in importance to the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Second Vietnam War, and Sino-American reapproachment. The split helped to determine the framework of the Second Cold War in general, and influenced the course of the Second Vietnam War in particular.
The divide fractured the international communist movement at the time and opened the way for the warming of relations between the United States and China under Richard Nixon in 1971. Relations between China and the Soviet Union remained tense until the visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Beijing in 1989.
- 1 History
- 2 Onset
- 3 Conflict
- 4 Equilibrium
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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The ideological roots of the Sino-Soviet split originated in the 1940s, when the Communist Party of China (CCP), led by Mao Zedong, fought and took advantage of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) against the Japanese Empire, while simultaneously fighting the Chinese Civil War against the Nationalist Kuomintang, led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In fighting the overlapping wars, Mao ignored much of the politico-military advice and direction from Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin and the Comintern, because of the practical difficulty in applying traditional Leninist revolutionary theory to China.
During the Second World War (1939–45) Stalin had urged Mao into a joint, anti-Japanese coalition with Chiang. After the war, Stalin advised Mao against seizing power, and to negotiate with Chiang, because Stalin had signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Nationalists in mid-1945; Mao unwittinglly obeyed Stalin's advice and followed Stalin's lead, calling him "the only leader of our party". Chiang opposed the USSR's annexation of Tannu Uriankhai, a former Qing Empire province; Stalin broke the treaty requiring Soviet withdrawal from Manchuria three months after Japan's surrender, and gave Manchuria to Mao. Yang Kuisong, a Chinese historian, said that in 1945–46, during the Soviet Red Army occupation of Manchuria, Stalin commanded the USSR Red Army general Rodion Malinovsky to give Mao Zedong huge amount of weaponry that had been spoils of war from the Imperial Japanese forces. Chiang Kai-shek received no assistance during the Berlin Blockade in 1948, because the United States Air Force was putting all its efforts towards helping the people of Berlin during that time. The Americans were preoccupied in Europe and did not turn to help Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang Army in China until the Kuomintang were losing the Liaoshen, Huaihai and Pingjin Campaigns. After the CCP's victory over the KMT, a Moscow visit by Mao from December 1949 to February 1950 culminated in the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (1950), which included a $300 million low-interest loan and a 30-year military alliance.
However, during the Chinese Civil War, Mao had begun attempting to displace the Moscow regime as the ideological leader of world communism. Mao and his supporters argued that traditional Marxism was rooted in industrialized European society and could not be applied to Asian peasant societies. In 1947, Mao gave US journalist Anna Louise Strong documents, directing her to "show them to Party leaders in the United States and Europe", but he did not think it was "necessary to take them to Moscow". Earlier, she had written the article "The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung" and the book Dawn Out of China, reporting that his intellectual accomplishment was "to change Marxism from an European to an Asiatic form... in ways of which neither Marx nor Lenin could dream", which the Soviet government banned in the USSR.
Years later, at the first international communist conclave in Beijing, Mao advocate Liu Shaoqi praised the "Mao Tse-tung road" as the correct road to communist revolution, warning it was incorrect to follow any other road; moreover, he praised neither Stalin nor the Soviet communist model, as was practice. However, because of tensions over the partition of Korea, and the possibility of US military intervention there, geopolitical circumstances disallowed any overt split.
During the 1950s, Soviet-guided China followed the Soviet model of centralized economic development, emphasising heavy industry, and delegating consumer goods to secondary priority; however, by the late 1950s, Mao had developed ideas for direct advances to the communist stage of socialism (per the Marxist denotation), through the mobilization of China's workers. These ideas became the basis for the Great Leap Forward (1958–61).
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After Joseph Stalin's death in March 1953, there was a temporary revival of Sino-Soviet friendship. In 1954, the Soviets calmed Mao with an official visit by Premier Nikita Khrushchev that featured the formal hand-over of the Lüshun (Port Arthur) naval base to China. The Soviets also provided technical aid in 156 industries in China's first five-year plan, and 520 million rubles in loans. These moves enabled the PRC and USSR, at the Geneva Conference of 1954, jointly to persuade the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh to accept the West's division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel north.
These occurrences shocked Mao, who had supported Stalin ideologically and politically, because Khrushchev was dismantling Mao's support of the USSR publicly rejecting Stalin’s leadership and actions  — such as the disavowal of the Marxist–Leninist tenet developed by Stalin regarding dictatorship of the proletariat, announcing the end of the Cominform, and (most troubling to Mao), de-emphasising the core Marxist–Leninist thesis of inevitable war between capitalism and socialism. As a result, contradicting Stalin, Khrushchev was advocating the idea of "Peaceful Coexistence", between communist and capitalist nations—which directly challenged Mao's "lean-to-one-side" foreign policy, adopted after the Chinese Civil War, when he feared direct Japanese or U.S. military intervention, the circumstances that pragmatically required a PRC–Soviet alliance.
The onset of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958 coincided with Mao's Great Leap Forward as a two-pronged ideological and military assault against the U.S. The Great Leap Forward was itself a product of 'traditional' Marxism–Leninism and opposed Khrushchev’s less aggressive and more appeasing Soviet policy with the U.S. Mao did continue to support the Soviet initiative to make East Asia a nuclear-free zone, but warily; if the U.S. and USSR continued to stockpile nuclear weapons, China would no longer be a viable military asset to the Soviet Union. This would also remove China from the global military power scheme. However, Mao's hopes for the Great Leap Forward aimed to change China's military, industrial, and political status. Mao also publicly stated that he desired the PRC to become a nuclear superpower, and asserting that Khrushchev and Eisenhower had decided on nuclear détente, U.S.–Soviet agreements would not apply to China.
The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis surprised Khrushchev, as the Soviet leader was not informed that bombardment was to begin. Khrushchev attempted to diplomatically advise Mao from making any rash decisions regarding the engagement of American military forces. Mao saw weakness in Khrushchev's direct dealings, and took an aggressive stance toward American interference in Taiwanese waters. However, the renewed threat of nuclear war scared Khrushchev, who attempted to reaffirm Soviet power by supplying Mao with military equipment.
Khrushchev soon grew uneasy with Mao's rashness, seeing as diplomatic correspondence between the U.S. and USSR over the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis brought the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war. Mao's Great Leap Forward only served to bring a larger affront to the Soviet Union via Mao’s boastful attitude that the PRC would surpass its socialist ally.
Mao hoped to build a newer, more reliable form of Stalinist ideology, as well as emancipate China from Soviet socialism overall. The Soviet model involved a considerable amount of inefficient state bureaucracy and moreover emphasized heavy industry and capital construction to the point where China's agricultural sector was left neglected. This had left China with underperforming agricultural production, which was to be changed with the Great Leap Forward's policies. The Great Leap Forward, however, led to paradoxical policy development regarding the USSR—with Mao challenging the USSR’s power in one aspect and calling for Soviet industrial assistance in the next. Mao's hopes of propelling the PRC into superpower status challenged Khrushchev’s power directly, which led to a deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations.
The orthodox planned Soviet model, while loathed by Mao himself, nonetheless commanded a strong following among many in the CCP and the army and would continue to be invoked as the ideal system through the 1980s by various Party elders. While implementing his reforms in the '80s, Deng Xiaoping had to contend with numerous political rivals who were convinced that a Soviet-style economy was the only correct path to socialism.
Economically, the Great Leap Forward required a large amount of capital investment from Moscow. Politically, the prospect of the PRC forming an independent and non-Soviet-affiliated brand of socialism was worrisome to Khrushchev. Khrushchev’s reaction to Mao’s deviation from the Soviet model was negative.
In de-Stalinizing the USSR, Khrushchev was dissolving the condition that had made the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship (1950) attractive to China. Mao thought that the Soviets were retreating ideologically and militarily from Marxism–Leninism and the global struggle to achieve global communism, and by apparently no longer guaranteeing support to China in a Sino-American war; therefore, the roots of the Sino-Soviet ideological split were established by 1959.
1958–59 are often considered the key years in convincing Mao that the USSR was not to be trusted. In 1959, Premier Khrushchev met with US President Dwight Eisenhower (1953–61) to decrease tensions with the Western world. The USSR was astonished by the Great Leap Forward, had renounced aid to Chinese nuclear weapons development, and refused to side with them in the Sino-Indian War (1962), by maintaining a moderate relation with India—actions offensive to Mao. Thereafter, he perceived Khrushchev as too tolerant of the West, despite the sometimes confrontational Soviet stance toward Western powers. The Chinese Communist Party believed that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was focusing too heavily on "Soviet-U.S. cooperation for the domination of the world," with actions counter to Marxism–Leninism.
Mao expected Khrushchev's reaction to the American U-2 spy plane incident to be much more aggressive. Khrushchev demanded an official apology at the 1960 Paris Summit from Eisenhower, who refused. Mao and the CCP took Eisenhower's brash response as an affront to all socialist countries, and the PRC responded in kind. Mass rallies were held to demand that Khrushchev take action against the American aggressors. When Khrushchev did not respond with military force, his image in China as a Communist leader was wounded. Mao and Khrushchev then argued at the Bucharest Conference of the World Communist and Workers’ Parties, heatedly attacking each other's ideologies. Mao argued that Khrushchev's emphasis on material development would make the people soft and un-revolutionary, while Khrushchev said, "If we could promise the people nothing except revolution, they would scratch their heads and say 'Isn't it better to have good goulash?'"
At first, the Sino-Soviet split manifested indirectly, as criticism towards each other's client states. China denounced Yugoslavia and Tito, who had pursued a non aligned foreign policy, while the USSR denounced Enver Hoxha and the People's Socialist Republic of Albania, which had refused to abandon its pro-Stalin stance and sought its survival in alignment with China, at the peak of Khruschev's De-Stalinization agenda. Bao Sansan described the Party's message to the cadres in China, "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." The USSR also offered moral support to the Tibetan rebels in their 1959 Tibetan uprising against Red China.
By 1960, their mutual criticism moved out in the open, when Khrushchev and Peng Zhen had an open argument at the Romanian Communist Party congress. Premier Khrushchev insulted Chairman Mao Zedong as "a nationalist, an adventurist, and a deviationist". In turn, Mao called Khrushchev a Marxist revisionist, criticizing him as "patriarchal, arbitrary and tyrannical". Khrushchev then denounced China with an eighty-page letter to the conference.
Khrushchev materially responded to Mao by withdrawing around 1,400 Soviet experts and technicians from China, leading to the cancellation of more than 200 scientific projects intended to foster cooperation between the two nations. To Mao, the Soviet withdrawal of personnel from China justified his accusation that Khrushchev had caused not only the PRC's massive economic failures, but also the famines over the course of the Great Leap Forward. In truth, the Soviet withdrawal did little to aid or hurt the agricultural crisis; only a few Soviet experts were working on alleviating China’s famine. Diplomatically, though, the damage had been done.
The PRC and the USSR both still had reason to prefer unity. Mao needed to continue economic relations, to help with China's famine and its border problems with India; for his part, Khrushchev had lost significant ground in his policy of détente with the U.S. His accusations of espionage against Eisenhower and the breakdown of diplomacy at the Paris Summit had exacerbated tensions between the two superpowers and the PRC remained the USSR’s closest military asset and ally.
In November 1960, at a congress of 81 Communist parties in Moscow, the Chinese argued with the Soviets and with most other delegations, but still compromised, wanting to avoid a formal ideological split. In October 1961, however, at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union they again had an open confrontation. In December, the USSR cut diplomatic relations with China-backed Albania, escalating the dispute from the level of political parties to that of nations.
In 1962, the PRC and the USSR finally broke relations. Chairman Mao criticized Premier Khrushchev for withdrawing in the Cuban missile crisis (1962), stating that "Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism". Khrushchev replied angrily that Mao's confrontational policies would lead to a nuclear war. At the same time, the USSR was siding with India against China in the Sino-Indian War (1962).
When India forcibly occupied the Portuguese enclave of Goa in 1961, Moscow lauded the action while an unimpressed Beijing declared that "India's apparent contribution to anti-imperialist struggle consists of taking on the world's smallest imperialist power."
In the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear disarmament was brought to the forefront of geopolitics. To curb the production of nuclear weapons in other nations, the Soviet Union, Britain, and the U.S. signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty on August 5, 1963. At the time, China was developing its own nuclear weaponry, and Mao saw the treaty as an attempt to slow China's advancement as a superpower. He was angered that Khrushchev had once again failed to deal aggressively with the U.S. This was the final straw for Mao, and from September 1963 to July 1964, he published nine letters openly criticizing every aspect of Khrushchev’s leadership.
The Sino-Soviet alliance had now completely collapsed, and Mao turned to other Asian, African, and Latin American countries to develop new and stronger alliances and to further the PRC’s economic and ideological redevelopment.
Formal ideological statements
Each régime followed their actions with formal ideological statements. In June 1963, the PRC published The Chinese Communist Party's Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, and the USSR replied with its Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; these were the last formal communications between them. By 1964, Chairman Mao asserted that a counter-revolution in the USSR had re-established capitalism there; The Soviets broke relations with China, and the Warsaw Pact countries followed.
After Leonid Brezhnev deposed Premier Khrushchev in October 1964, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai travelled to Moscow, to speak with the new leaders of the USSR, Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin. He returned disappointed to China, reporting to Mao that the Soviets remained firm. Chairman Mao denounced "Khrushchevism without Khrushchev," continuing Sino-Soviet hostility.
China accused the Soviet Union of colluding with the United States. During the Glassboro Summit Conference of June 1967, between Kosygin and American president Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, Radio Peking claimed that the two men discussed "a great conspiracy on a worldwide basis ... criminally selling the rights of the revolution of Vietnam people, Arabs, as well as Asian, African, and Latin-American peoples to U.S. imperialists." This was a significant change in power dynamics, with subtle, lasting effects on American-Soviet relations.
Meanwhile, in China, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) to prevent the development of Russian-style bureaucratic communism of the USSR. The schools and universities were closed as students, following Mao's proclamations, organized themselves into Red Guard, grassroots-led units of radicals. However, this process was chaotic and violent and had no real leadership, and so over time the Red Guard divided into factions, and their subsequent violence provoked civil war in some parts of China; Mao had the Army suppress the Red Guard factions; and when factionalism occurred in the Army, Mao dispersed the Red Guard, and then began to rebuild the Chinese Communist Party.
The vast grassroots experiment that was the Cultural Revolution stressed, strained, and broke China's political relations with the USSR, and relations with the West. Nevertheless, despite the "Maoism vs. Marxism–Leninism" differences interpreting Marxism, Russia and China aided North Vietnam, headed by Ho Chi Minh, in fighting the Vietnam War (1945–75), which Maoism defined as a peasant revolution against foreign imperialism. The Chinese allowed Soviet materiel across China for the North, to prosecute the war against the Republic of Vietnam, a U.S. ally. In that time, besides the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, only the Communist Party of Indonesia advocated the Maoist policy of peasant revolution.
National interests conflict
Since 1956, the Sino-Soviet ideological split, between Communist political parties, had escalated to small-scale warfare between Russia and China; thereby, in January 1967, Red Guards attacked the Soviet embassy in Beijing. Earlier, in 1966, the Chinese had revived the matter of the Russo-Chinese border that was demarcated in the 19th-century, and imposed upon the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) monarchy by means of unequal treaties that virtually annexed Chinese territory to Tsarist Russia.
Despite not asking the return of territory, the Chinese did ask the USSR to formally (publicly) acknowledge that said border, established with the Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860), was a historic Russian injustice against China; the Soviet government ignored the matter. Then, in 1968, the Red Guard purges meant to restore doctrinal orthodoxy to China had provoked civil war in parts of the country, which Mao resolved with the People's Liberation Army suppressing the pertinent cohorts of the Red Guard; the excesses of the Red Guard and of the Cultural Revolution declined. Mao required internal political equilibrium in order to protect China from the strategic and military vulnerabilities that resulted from its political isolation from the community of nations.
Meanwhile, during 1968, the Soviet Army had amassed along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi.) border with China—especially at the Xinjiang frontier, in north-west China, where the Soviets might readily induce Turkic separatists to insurrection. Militarily, in 1961, the USSR had 12 divisions and 200 aeroplanes at that border; in 1968, there were 25 divisions, 1,200 aeroplanes, and 120 medium-range missiles. Furthermore, although China had detonated its first nuclear weapon (the 596 Test), in October 1964, at Lop Nur basin, the People's Liberation Army was militarily inferior to the Red Army.
By March 1969, Sino-Russian border politics became the Sino-Soviet border conflict at the Ussuri River and on Damansky–Zhenbao Island; more small-scale warfare occurred at Tielieketi in August. In The Coming War Between Russia and China (1969), US journalist Harrison Salisbury reported that Soviet sources implied a possible first strike against the Lop Nur basin nuclear weapons testing site.
The John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations had considered attempting to destroy the Chinese program before it succeeded, but the USSR had refused to cooperate. Now the U.S. warned the USSR that a nuclear attack against China would precipitate a world-wide war, and the USSR relented. Aware of that possibility, China built large-scale underground shelters, such as Beijing's Underground City, and military shelters such as the Underground Project 131 command center, in Hubei, and the "816 Project" nuclear research center in Fuling, Chongqing.
In 1969, after the Sino-Soviet border conflict, the Communist combatants withdrew. In September, Soviet Minister Alexei Kosygin secretly visited Beijing to speak with Premier Zhou Enlai, and in October, the PRC and the USSR began discussing border-demarcation. Although they did not resolve the border demarcation matters, the meetings restored diplomatic communications; by 1970, Mao understood that the PRC could not simultaneously fight the USSR and the USA, whilst suppressing internal disorder. Additionally, as the Vietnam War continued, and Chinese anti-American rhetoric continued, Mao perceived the USSR as the greater threat, and thus pragmatically sought rapprochement with the US, in confronting the USSR.
In July 1971, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly visited Beijing to prepare the February 1972 head-of-state visit to China by U.S. President Richard Nixon. Moreover, the diplomatically offended Soviet Union also convoked a summit meeting with President Nixon, thus establishing the Washington–Beijing–Moscow diplomatic relationship, which emphasized the tripolar nature of the Cold War, occasioned by the ideological Sino-Soviet split begun in 1956.
Concerning the 4,380 km (2,738 mi.) Sino-Soviet border, Soviet counter-propaganda advertised against the PRC's drawing attention to the unequal Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860). Moreover, between 1972 and 1973, the USSR deleted the Chinese and Manchu place-names—Iman (伊曼, Yiman), Tetyukhe (from 野猪河, yĕzhūhé), and Suchan—from the Soviet Far East map, and replaced them with the Russian place-names Dalnerechensk, Dalnegorsk, and Partizansk.
In the Stalinist tradition, the pre–1860 Chinese presence in lands Tsarist Russia acquired with the Treaty of Aigun and the Convention of Peking became a politically incorrect subject in the Soviet press; "inconvenient" museum exhibits were removed from public view, and the Jurchen-script text about the Jin Dynasty stele, supported by a stone tortoise in the Khabarovsk Museum, was covered with cement.
International Communist rivalry
In the 1970s, Sino-Soviet ideological rivalry extended to Africa and the Middle East, where the Soviet Union and Red China funded and supported opposed political parties, militias, and states, notably the Ogaden War (1977–1978) between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Rhodesian Bush War (1964–1979), the Zimbabwean Gukurahundi (1980–1987), the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), the Mozambican Civil War (1977–1992), and factions of the Palestinian people.
In 1971, the failed coup d'état by and death of Lin Biao, Mao's executive officer, concluded the radical phase of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). Afterwards, China resumed political normality, until Mao's death in September 1976, and the emergence of the politically radical Gang of Four.
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 Russo–Chinese border were twice as large as the 1969 garrisons. That continued military threat prompted the Chinese to denounce "Soviet social-imperialism", and to accuse the USSR of being an enemy of world revolution — despite the PRC having discontinued sponsoring world revolution since 1972, when it pursued a negotiated end to the Vietnam War (1945–75).
After thwarting the 1976 coup d'état by the radical Gang of Four, who argued for ideologic purity at the expense of internal development, the Chinese Communist Party politically rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping and appointed him head of the internal modernization programs in 1977. While reversing Mao's policies (without attacking him), the politically moderate Deng's political and economic reforms began China's transition from a planned economy to a semi–capitalist mixed economy, which he furthered with strengthened commercial and diplomatic relations with the West.
In 1979, on the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the PRC, the government of Deng Xiaoping denounced the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as a national failure; and, in the 1980s, pursued pragmatic 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 Russian Marxist revisionism; the Sino-Soviet split had lost some political importance.
After the régime of Mao Zedong, the PRC–USSR ideological schism became useless domestic politics, but useful geopolitics wherein the Russian and Chinese hegemonies conflicted in the pursuit of national interests. The initial Russo–Chinese proxy war occurred in Indochina, in 1975, where the Communist victory of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) and of North Vietnam in the thirty-year Vietnam War had produced a post–colonial Indochina that featured pro-Soviet régimes in Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam) and Laos (Lao People's Democratic Republic), and a pro-Chinese régime in Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea).
At first, Vietnam ignored the Khmer Rouge domestic reorganization of Cambodia, by the Pol Pot régime (1975–79), as an internal matter, until the Khmer Rouge attacked the ethnic Vietnamese populace of Cambodia, and the border with Vietnam; the counter-attack precipitated the Cambodian–Vietnamese War (1975–79) that deposed Pol Pot in 1978. In response, the PRC denounced the Vietnamese deposition of their Maoist client-leader, and retaliated by invading northern Vietnam, in the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979); in turn, the USSR denounced the PRC's invasion of Vietnam.
In December 1979, the USSR invaded the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan to sustain the Afghan Communist government. The PRC viewed the Soviet invasion as a local feint, within Russia's greater geopolitical encirclement of China. In response, the PRC entered a tri-partite alliance with the U.S. and Pakistan, to sponsor Islamist Afghan armed resistance to the Soviet Occupation (1979–89). (cf. Operation Storm-333) Meanwhile, the Sino-Soviet split became manifest when Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader of China, required the removal of "three obstacles" so that Sino-Soviet relations might improve:
- The massed Soviet Army at the Sino-Soviet border, and in Mongolia.
- Soviet support of the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia).
- The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
In 1981-82 however, Sino-US relations became strained by several factors including disagreements over geopolitical conflicts such as the Israel-Palestine situation and the Falkland War. At the CCP's 12th Congress in September 1982, Deng Xiaoping revived the Maoist "Three Worlds" idea that characterized China as a neutral player in a world divided by conflict between the superpowers. Meanwhile, in March 1982 in Tashkent, USSR Secretary Leonid Brezhnev gave a speech conciliatory towards the PRC, and Deng took advantage of Brezhnev's proffered conciliation; in autumn of 1982, Sino-Soviet relations resumed (semi-annually), at the vice-ministerial level.
When Brezhnev died in November, a Chinese delegation headed by Foreign Minister Huang Hua attended the funeral, where Huang praised the late Soviet leader as "an outstanding champion of world peace" and expressed his hope for normalized relations with Moscow. However, his overly hasty actions led to his dismissal from office as soon as he returned home.
Three years later, in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the USSR, he worked to restore political relations with China; he reduced the Soviet Army garrisons at the Sino-Soviet border, in Mongolia, and resumed trade, and dropped the 1969 border-demarcation matter. Nonetheless, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan remained unresolved, and Sino-Soviet diplomacy remained cool, which circumstance allowed the Reagan government to sell American weapons to China and so geopolitically counter the USSR in the Russo–American aspect of the three-fold Cold War.
Sino-Soviet relations at the state level warmed during the 1980s and trade and cultural exchanges grew, however intra-party relations did not and the CCP still refused to accept the CPSU as their equal.
China and Afghanistan had neutral relations with each other during the King's rule. When the pro Soviet Afghan communists seized power in Afghanistan in 1978, relations between China and the Afghan communists quickly turned hostile. The Afghan pro Soviet communists supported China's enemies in Vietnam and blamed China for supporting Afghan anti communist militants. China responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by supporting the Afghan Mujahidin and ramping up their military presence near Afghanistan in Xinjiang. China acquired military equipment from America to defend itself from Soviet attack.
The Chinese People's Liberation Army trained and supported the Afghan Mujahidin during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. China moved its training camps for the Mujahideen from Pakistan into China itself. Hundreds of millions worth of anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns were given to the Mujahidin by the Chinese. Chinese military advisers and army troops were present with the Mujahidin during training.
In May 1989, Soviet President Gorbachev visited the People's Republic of China, where the government doubted the practical efficacy of perestroika and glasnost. Since the PRC did not officially recognize the USSR as a socialist state, there was no official opinion about Gorbachev's reformation of Soviet socialism. Privately, the Chinese Communists thought that the USSR was unprepared for such political and social reforms without first reforming the economy of the USSR.
The Chinese perspective derived from how the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, effected economic reform with a semi-capitalist mixed economy, while the political power remained with the Chinese Communist Party. Ultimately, Gorbachev's reformation of Russian society ended Soviet-Communist government and provoked the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
- History of the Soviet Union (1953–64)
- History of the Soviet Union (1964–82)
- History of the People's Republic of China
- Sino-Albanian split
- Sino-American relations
- Sino-Soviet relations
- Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship
- Soviet imperialism
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