Sino-Soviet split

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A balding Russian man (Nikita Kruschev) and a younger Chinese man (Mao Zedong) sit and smile, the balding man holding a fan
Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Nikita Khrushchev: publicly, international allies; privately, ideological enemies. (China, 1958).
Sino-Soviet split
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 中蘇交惡
Simplified Chinese 中苏交恶
Russian name
Russian Советско–китайский раскол
Romanization Sovetsko–kitayskiy raskol

The Sino-Soviet split (1960–89) was the deterioration of political and ideological relations between the neighboring states of the 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 Soviet 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.[1]

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".[1]

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.[2] 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 rapprochement. 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.[3]

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 and Mao in 1971. Relations between China and the Soviet Union remained tense until the visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Beijing in 1989.



Communist state alignments in 1980: pro-Soviet (red); pro-Chinese (yellow); and the non-aligned North Korea and Yugoslavia (black). Somalia had been pro-Soviet until 1977. Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea) had been pro-China until 1979.
A Chinese stamp depicting Mao and Stalin shaking hands following the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship in 1950

While the Communist Party of China (CCP), led by Mao Zedong, engaged in 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 (who made up the vast majority of the anti-Japanese resistance), 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 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 obeyed Stalin's advice and followed his 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 a huge amount of weaponry that had been spoils of war from the Imperial Japanese forces.[4] 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.[5] 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, 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 through the mobilization of China's workers. These ideas became the basis for the Great Leap Forward (1958–61).

After Stalin[edit]

After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev made an effort to further the burgeoning relations with China that Stalin had begun, traveling to the country in 1954 and making various deals with Mao Zedong and the Chinese leadership that expanded the economic and political alliances between the two countries. Khrushchev also took a step further with improving relations by acknowledging Stalin’s unfair trade deals, as well as revealing a list of active KGB agents in China that had been placed there during Stalin’s reign.[6] Khrushchev was able to reach many different prominent economic agreements during his visit, including an additional loan for economic development from the USSR to the PRC, an agreement that planned for an additional fifteen USSR-funded industrial projects within China, as well as a trade of human capital.[7] This trade consisted of the USSR sending thousands of economic specialists (the total almost reached 10,000 before their withdrawal in 1960) as well as almost 1500 political advisors to assist the Chinese, while the PRC provided some of their own economic specialists and unskilled laborers to make up for shortages of labor in Siberia. However, the meeting between the two leaders was not completely positive – Mao found Khrushchev’s personality grating, and Khrushchev was unimpressed with Chinese culture.[8]

The furthering of the political and economic alliance were not the only ways the USSR and PRC improved their relationship; they also began to collaborate more extensively in international relations, most notably with their efforts to encourage a peace treaty between North and South Vietnam in 1954. In 1955, relations only continued to improve. By this year, economic trade collaboration had begun to develop to the point that 60% of Chinese exports were to the USSR. Mao also began to implement the Chinese “Five Year Plan”, modeled after the USSR’s own successful Five Year Plans that had begun a couple of decades previously, by the end of 1955.[9] Mao also promoted and encouraged the collectivization of agriculture in the PRC, applauding Stalin’s own policies towards agriculture and industrialization.

This period, from roughly Stalin’s death in 1953 to Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” in 1956 (which marked the beginning of his de-Stalinization policies) has been called the “golden age” of Sino-Soviet relations. This is mainly through the increased economic and political cooperation as well as collaboration in international politics between the two countries.[10] However, relations began to deteriorate in 1956 after Khrushchev revealed his “Secret Speech” at the 20th Communist Party Congress. The “Secret Speech” criticized many of Stalin’s policies, especially his purges of Party members, and marked the beginning of Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization process. This created a serious domestic problem for Mao, who had supported many of Stalin’s policies and modeled many of his own after them.[11] With Khrushchev’s denouncement of Stalin, many people questioned Mao’s own policies in China. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and conflict in Poland – a direct result of Khrushchev’s statements – also worried Mao. He and other members of the Chinese leadership began drafting a public statement that criticized Khrushchev’s new policy and reaffirmed Stalinism (which Mao wanted to continue to commit to and implement), while still trying to maintain positive relations with the USSR.[12] This event showed the beginnings of the ideological split between the PRC and the USSR. Mao was also worried about the “peaceful coexistence” foreign policy with the West that Khrushchev began, although this did not become a big concern for the PRC until 1957.[13]

The Hungarian Revolution had made Mao worried that similar conflicts could potentially rise in the PRC, and he briefly turned to political liberalization in the form of lessened political censorship in 1957. This policy was known as the “Hundred Flowers Campaign”, but was unsuccessful and backfired against Mao, weakening his position within his own party.[14] This only convinced him further that de-Stalinization was a mistake and not ideologically preferable to Stalinist-style Communism. This led Mao to take a sharp turn to the left ideologically, which contrasted with the ideological softening of de-Stalinization. With the failure of Khrushchev’s allies to oust him later that year and the strengthening of his position as Soviet leader, the two countries were set on two different ideological paths. By the November Moscow Meeting of socialist countries in 1957, relations between Mao and Khrushchev were quickly souring.[15] Khrushchev attempted to maintain more positive relations with an offer of assistance in development of nuclear weapons in China, but tensions remained high. China was growing more concerned with Khrushchev’s “peaceful coexistence” policy with the West, especially after their failed talks with the United States. These talks as well as the United State’s positioning of nuclear weapons in Taiwan only increased their conviction that an aggressive foreign policy was needed to confront the US.[16] While the PRC had mainly been preoccupied with the issue of de-Stalinization in 1956 and 1957, their concern with the Soviets “peaceful coexistence” policy came to a head in 1958.

Despite a few agreements in early 1958, divergences between USSR and PRC policies only increased. One notable divergence was Mao’s implementation of his “Great Leap Forward” plan, which utilized communist policies closer to Stalin than to Khrushchev, including forming a personality cult around Mao as well as more revolutionary Stalinist economic policies.[17] Mao also angered the USSR by criticizing Khrushchev’s economic policies through the plan while also calling for more Soviet aid. The Soviet leader was not happy with the radicalization of China’s domestic politics and saw them as evidence of an increasingly confrontational and unpredictable China, and this was reflected with increased stinginess towards further military and economic agreements with China later on in 1958.[18] Khrushchev visited Beijing in late July in order to attempt to work out a military deal to allow Soviet submarines in the Pacific, but instead an angry Mao accused him of trying to take over the Chinese coastline in the Pacific. Khrushchev ended up departing Beijing in early August with no agreement.[19] By the end of August, an incensed Mao had decided to force the issue of Taiwan by attacking the city of Ginmen and beginning the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. While Mao had decided to start the conflict on August twenty-third in advance, he had decided to keep the information from Khrushchev. The crisis forced the Soviets to take a step back from their coexistence policy with the United States and declare their support for China. Khrushchev, however, was very surprised by the Chinese attack and was not happy about the Chinese not informing him of their plans, especially considering he had been in China less than a month preceding the crisis. The US had also threatened nuclear war over the conflict, which made Khrushchev very uneasy and angry over how easily the Chinese had forced the USSR to get involved.[20] He was very skeptical of Mao’s behavior, viewing his actions as irrational and even questioning his mental stability.[21] Khrushchev began to rescind different deals made earlier, such as the delivery of a Soviet atomic bomb to China. This lack of communication on the part of the Chinese, as well as disagreement between the two ideologically concerning China’s Great Leap Forward, significantly damaged Soviet-Sino relations during 1958. Both felt that the other could no longer be trusted, a sentiment that only increased during 1959.


1958–59 are often considered the key years in convincing Mao that the USSR was not to be trusted.[22] 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,[citation needed] 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.[23]

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?'"[24]

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."[25] 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.[26]

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.[27] 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).[28]

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.[29]

Formal ideological statements[edit]

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,[30] and the USSR replied with its Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union;[31] 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."[32] This was a significant change in power dynamics, with subtle, lasting effects on American-Soviet relations.


Cultural Revolution[edit]

Main article: Cultural Revolution
The disputed Argun and Amur river areas; the Damansky–Zhenbao is southeast, north of the lake. (2 March – 11 September 1969).

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.[33]

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.[34]

National interests conflict[edit]

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.

Border war[edit]

The door to the nuclear war shelter complex in the tunnels of Underground Project 131, in Hubei, China.

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.[35]

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.[35]

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.[36] Now the U.S. warned the USSR that a nuclear attack against China would precipitate a world-wide war, and the USSR relented.[37] 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.

Geopolitical pragmatism[edit]

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.[38][39]

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,[38] and the Jurchen-script text about the Jin Dynasty stele, supported by a stone tortoise in the Khabarovsk Museum, was covered with cement.[40]

International Communist rivalry[edit]

In the 1970s, Sino-Soviet ideological rivalry extended to Africa and the Middle East, where the Soviet Union and 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.


The elimination of Marshal Lin Biao, in 1971, ameliorated the Cultural Revolution (1966–76).
Paramount Leader of China, Deng Xiaoping (center), with U.S. President Gerald Ford (left); peaceful coexistence redux. (China, 1975).

The transition[edit]

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).

Transcending Mao[edit]

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.[41][42]

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.[41][42]

Competing hegemonies[edit]

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 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:

  1. The massed Soviet Army at the Sino-Soviet border, and in Mongolia.
  2. Soviet support of the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia).
  3. 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 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 by providing small arms,vehicles and other aid through third parties such as the Pakistani military and intelligence and the CIA, and ramping up their military presence near Afghanistan in Xinjiang. China acquired military equipment from America to defend itself from Soviet attack.[43]

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.[44]


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Chambers Dictionary of World History, B.P. Lenman, T. Anderson editors, Chambers: Edinburgh:2000. p. 769.
  2. ^ Robert A. Scalapino, "Sino-Soviet Competition in Africa," Foreign Affairs (1964) 42#4 pp. 640-654 in JSTOR
  3. ^ Lorenz M. Lüthi (2010). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton UP. p. 1. 
  4. ^ 杨奎松《读史求实》:苏联给了林彪东北野战军多少现代武器
  5. ^ "1948:柏林危机是否影响中国". Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  6. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Historical Background, 1921-1955". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0691135908. 
  7. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Historical Background, 1921-1955". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 40. ISBN 0691135908. 
  8. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Historical Background, 1921-1955". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 39. ISBN 0691135908. 
  9. ^ Shabad, Theodore (December 1955). "Communist China's 5 Year Plan". Far Eastern Survey. 12 (24): 189. 
  10. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Historical Background, 1921-1955". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 38. ISBN 0691135908. 
  11. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Collapse of Socialist Unity". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 0691135908. 
  12. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Collapse of Socialist Unity". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0691135908. 
  13. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Collapse of Socialist Unity". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 48. ISBN 0691135908. 
  14. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Collapse of Socialist Unity". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 71–73. ISBN 0691135908. 
  15. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Collapse of Socialist Unity". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 76–77. ISBN 0691135908. 
  16. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Mao's Challenges". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 80. ISBN 0691135908. 
  17. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Mao's Challenges". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 81–83. ISBN 0691135908. 
  18. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Mao's Challenges". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0691135908. 
  19. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Mao's Challenges". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 93–94. ISBN 0691135908. 
  20. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Mao's Challenges". The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 103. ISBN 0691135908. 
  21. ^ M., Sheng (2008). "Mao and China's Relations with the Superpowers in the 1950s: A New Look at the Taiwan Strait Crises and the Sino-Soviet Split". Modern China. 4 (34): 499. doi:10.1177/0097700408315991. 
  22. ^ David Wolff (7 July 2011). ""One Finger's Worth of Historical Events": New Russian and Chinese Evidence on the Sino-Soviet Alliance and Split, 1948-1959". Wilson Center. Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  23. ^ "Chinese Communist Party: The Leaders of the CPSU are the Greatest Splitters of Our Times, February 4, 1964". Modern History Sourcebook. Fordham University. Retrieved 1 July 2015. 
  24. ^ Mark, "Ideological radicalization," 49.
  25. ^ [Bao] Sansan and Bette Bao Lord (1964/1966), Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China, reprint, New York: Scholastic, Ch. 9, p. 123.
  26. ^ Mark, "Ideological radicalization," 49-50.
  27. ^ One-Third of the Earth, Time, 27 October 1961
  28. ^ Richard R. Wertz. "Exploring Chinese History: Politics: International Relations: Sino- Soviet Relations". Retrieved 15 April 2016. 
  29. ^ Mark, "Ideological radicalization," 53–55.
  30. ^ "A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the InternationalCommunist Movement". Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  31. ^ Archived December 25, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.‹The template Wayback is being considered for merging.› 
  32. ^ "At the Summit: Cautious Optimism". The Free Lance-Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Associated Press. 1967-06-24. p. 1. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  33. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. Columbia University Press:1993. p. 696.
  34. ^ Dictionary of Historical Terms, Chris Cook, editor. Peter Bedrick Books:New York:1983 p. 188.
  35. ^ a b Mueller, Jason: Evolution of the First Strike Doctrine in the Nuclear Era, Volume 3: 1965–1972
  36. ^ Burr, W.; Richelson, J. T. (2000–2001). "Whether to "Strangle the Baby in the Cradle": The United States and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960-64". International Security. 25 (3): 54–99. doi:10.2307/2626706 (inactive 2015-01-09). JSTOR 2626706. 
  37. ^ Andrew Osborn and Peter Foster, 13 May 2010, "USSR planned nuclear attack on China in 1969", Telegraph UK
  38. ^ a b Stephan, John J. The Russian Far East: A History, Stanford University Press:1996. ISBN 0-8047-2701-5 Partial text on Google Books. pp. 18–19, 51.
  39. ^ Connolly, Violet Siberia Today and Tomorrow: A Study of Economic Resources, Problems, and Achievements, Collins:1975. Snippet view only on Google Books.
  40. ^ Georgy Permyakov (Георгий ПЕРМЯКОВ) The Ancient Tortoise and the Soviet Cement («Черепаха древняя, цемент советский»), Tikhookeanskaya Zvezda, 30-April-2000
  41. ^ a b The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition, Allan Bullock, Stephen Trombley editors. Harper Collins Publishers:London:1999. pp. 349–350
  42. ^ a b Dictionary of Political Terms, Chris Cook, editor. Peter Bedrick Books:New York: 1983. pp. 127–128
  43. ^ S. Frederick Starriditor=S. Frederick Starr (2004). Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland (illustrated ed.). M.E. Sharpe. p. 157. ISBN 0765613182. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  44. ^ S. Frederick Starriditor=S. Frederick Starr (2004). Xinjiang: China's Muslim Borderland (illustrated ed.). M.E. Sharpe. p. 158. ISBN 0765613182. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Chang, Jung, and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
  • Ford, Harold P., "Calling the Sino-Soviet Split", Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1998-99.
  • Friedman, Jeremy. "Soviet policy in the developing world and the Chinese challenge in the 1960s." Cold War History (2010) 10#2 pp: 247-272.
  • Goh, Evelyn. Constructing the US Rapprochement with China, 1961-1974: From "Red Menace" to "Tacit Ally" (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • Jian, Chen. Mao's China & the Cold War. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Kochavi, Noam. "The Sino–Soviet Split." in A Companion to John F. Kennedy (2014) pp: 366-383.
  • Li, Hua-Yu et al., eds China Learns from the Soviet Union, 1949-Present (The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series) (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Lüthi, Lorenz M. (2010). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton UP. 
  • Mark, Chi-Kwan. China and the world since 1945: an international history (Routledge, 2011)
  • Olsen, Mari. Soviet-Vietnam Relations and the Role of China 1949-64: Changing Alliances (Routledge, 2007)
  • Scalapino, Robert A. "Sino-Soviet Competition in Africa," Foreign Affairs (1964) 42#4 pp. 640–654 in JSTOR
  • Westad, Odd Arne, ed. Brothers in arms: the rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance, 1945-1963 (Stanford University Press, 1998)

Primary sources[edit]

  • Luthi, Lorenz M., ed "Twenty-Four Soviet-Bloc Documents on Vietnam and the Sino-Soviet Split, 1964–1966." Cold War International History Project Bulletin 16 (2008): 367-398.
  • [Bao] Sansan and Bette Bao Lord (1964/1966), Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China, reprint, New York: Scholastic, Ch. 9, pp. 120–124 [summary of lectures to cadres on Sino-Soviet split].
  • Prozumenshchikov, Mikhail Yu. "The Sino-Indian Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1962: New Evidence from the Russian Archives." Cold War International History Project Bulletin (1996) 8#9 pp: 1996-7. online

External links[edit]