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Title :CHAPTER 12.02: AN OVERVIEW OF CHINA'S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Date of record:04/19/1994

Text : AN OVERVIEW OF CHINA'S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Affected by the confluence of a myriad of factors, including its

historical legacy, worldview, nationalism, ideology, the

decision-making process in Beijing, and the international

situation, China's foreign relations have had a rich and varied

development in the years since 1949. Two aspects of Chinese

foreign policy that have led to wide fluctuations over time are

the degree of militancy or peacefulness Beijing has espoused and

its ambivalence in choosing between self-reliance and openness to

the outside world. Although dividing something as complex as

foreign policy into time periods necessarily obscures certain

details, Chinese foreign relations can be examined roughly by

decades: the Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s, isolation and

radicalism in the 1960s, increased international involvement in

the 1970s, and the independent foreign policy of the 1980s.

During each of these periods, China's relations with the rest of

the world underwent significant changes.

Sino-Soviet Relations

After the founding of the People's Republic, the Chinese

leadership was concerned above all with ensuring national

security, consolidating power, and developing the economy. The

foreign policy course China chose in order to translate these

goals into reality was to form an international united front with

the Soviet Union and other socialist nations against the United

States and Japan. Although for a time Chinese leaders may have

considered trying to balance Sino-Soviet relations with ties with

Washington, by mid-1949 Mao Zedong declared that China had no

choice but to "lean to one side"--meaning the Soviet side.

Soon after the establishment of the People's Republic, Mao

traveled to Moscow to negotiate the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of

Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance. Under this

agreement, China gave the Soviet Union certain rights, such as

the continued use of a naval base at L_da, Liaoning Province, in

return for military support, weapons, and large amounts of

economic and technological assistance, including technical

advisers and machinery. China acceded, at least initially, to

Soviet leadership of the world communist movement and took the

Soviet Union as the model for development. China's participation

in the Korean War (1950-53) seemed to strengthen Sino-Soviet

relations, especially after the UN-sponsored trade embargo

against China. The Sino-Soviet alliance appeared to unite Moscow

and Beijing, and China became more closely associated with and

dependent on a foreign power than ever before.

During the second half of the 1950s, strains in the Sino-Soviet

alliance gradually began to emerge over questions of ideology,

security, and economic development. Chinese leaders were

disturbed by the Soviet Union's moves under Nikita Khrushchev

toward de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence with the West.

Moscow's successful earth satellite launch in 1957 strengthened

Mao's belief that the world balance was in the communists'

favor--or, in his words, "the east wind prevails over the west

wind"--leading him to call for a more militant policy toward the

noncommunist world in contrast to the more conciliatory policy of

the Soviet Union.

In addition to ideological disagreements, Beijing was

dissatisfied with several aspects of the Sino-Soviet security

relationship: the insufficient degree of support Moscow showed

for China's recovery of Taiwan, a Soviet proposal in 1958 for a

joint naval arrangement that would have put China in a

subordinate position, Soviet neutrality during the 1959 tension

on the Sino-Indian border, and Soviet reluctance to honor its

agreement to provide nuclear weapons technology to China. And, in

an attempt to break away from the Soviet model of economic

development, China launched the radical policies of the Great

Leap Forward (1958-60; see Glossary), leading Moscow to withdraw

all Soviet advisers from China in 1960. In retrospect, the major

ideological, military, and economic reasons behind the

Sino-Soviet split were essentially the same: for the Chinese

leadership, the strong desire to achieve self-reliance and

independence of action outweighed the benefits Beijing received

as Moscow's junior partner.

During the 1960s the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute deepened

and spread to include territorial issues, culminating in 1969 in

bloody armed clashes on their border. In 1963 the boundary

dispute had come into the open when China explicitly raised the

issue of territory lost through "unequal treaties" with tsarist

Russia. After unsuccessful border consultations in 1964, Moscow

began the process of a military buildup along the border with

China and in Mongolia, which continued into the 1970s.

The Sino-Soviet dispute also was intensified by increasing

competition between Beijing and Moscow for influence in the Third

World and the international communist movement. China accused the

Soviet Union of colluding with imperialism, for example by

signing the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the United

States in 1963. Beijing's support for worldwide revolution became

increasingly militant, although in most cases it lacked the

resources to provide large amounts of economic or military aid.

The Chinese Communist Party broke off ties with the Communist

Party of the Soviet Union in 1966, and these had not been

restored by mid-1987.

During the Cultural Revolution, China's growing radicalism and

xenophobia had severe repercussions for Sino-Soviet relations. In

1967 Red Guards besieged the Soviet embassy in Beijing and

harassed Soviet diplomats. Beijing viewed the Soviet invasion of

Czechoslovakia in 1968 as an ominous development and accused the

Soviet Union of "social imperialism." The Sino-Soviet dispute

reached its nadir in 1969 when serious armed clashes broke out at

Zhenbao (or Damanskiy) Island on the northeast border (see fig.

3). Both sides drew back from the brink of war, however, and

tension was defused when Zhou Enlai met with Aleksey Kosygin, the

Soviet premier, later in 1969.

In the 1970s Beijing shifted to a more moderate course and began

a rapprochement with Washington as a counterweight to the

perceived threat from Moscow. Sino-Soviet border talks were held

intermittently, and Moscow issued conciliatory messages after

Mao's death in 1976, all without substantive progress.

Officially, Chinese statements called for a struggle against the

hegemony of both superpowers, but especially against the Soviet

Union, which Beijing called "the most dangerous source of war."

In the late 1970s, the increased Soviet military buildup in East

Asia and Soviet treaties with Vietnam and Afghanistan heightened

China's awareness of the threat of Soviet encirclement. In 1979

Beijing notified Moscow it would formally abrogate the

long-dormant Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and

Mutual Assistance but proposed bilateral talks. China suspended

the talks after only one round, however, following the Soviet

invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

In the 1980s China's approach toward the Soviet Union shifted

once more, albeit gradually, in line with China's adoption of an

independent foreign policy and the opening up economic policy.

Another factor behind the shift was the perception that, although

the Soviet Union still posed the greatest threat to China's

security, the threat was long-term rather than immediate.

Sino-Soviet consultations on normalizing relations were resumed

in 1982 and held twice yearly, despite the fact that the cause of

their suspension, the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, remained

unchanged. Beijing raised three primary preconditions for the

normalization of relations, which it referred to as "three

obstacles" that Moscow had to remove: the Soviet presence in of