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An Analysis of the Origins of the Sino-Soviet Split and Its Influence on International Relations in the East and South East Asian Region

Essay by review  •  February 15, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,556 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,453 Views

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A key factor to keep in mind when examining the Sino-Soviet dispute and its impact on foreign relations in South East Asia is that the region is characterised by shifting and fluid interactions and security arrangements (Yahuda, 1996: 9). This means coalitions can change, former enemies can become future allies and conflict is not easily defined. The Sino-Soviet alliance, based on a mutual belief in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, degenerated over a period of more than ten years. While there is some disagreement about the exact duration of the conflict many scholars say it began in 1956 (Yahuda, 1996: 57) culminating in military escalation and the threat of nuclear war in 1969 (Barnett, 1977: 260). The dispute had its origins in a combination of factors. Chinese perceptions about their rightful international position, ideological differences and concerns about national security all played a part in the division of two powers that were at one stage closely aligned. These same factors defined China's response to this growing divide, and the way that it conducted its relations with the states of the East and South East Asian region.

The Historical Chinese Position

The Chinese description of China - Zhong guo - or Middle Kingdom, provides an excellent insight into the Chinese view of its position in the world. The traditional idea that Chinese civilisation is superior and complete, that neighboring states should offer tribute has shaped the way Chinese leaders have seen their country (Miller, 1967: 82-83). In more recent history, China's forced submission to dominant European powers, the imposition of unequal treaties and the Japanese occupation have contributed to a Chinese view of foreign powers that further defined its relations with the Soviet Union (Miller, 1967: 83). These factors combined to make the Chinese leadership during the Sino-Soviet alliance uneasy, as evidenced by the early indications that while China could benefit from Soviet assistance it must not overly rely on the Soviet Union. As early as 1956, Mao said of the Soviets "We must say to them: We learn from you, from whom did you learn? Why cannot we create something of our own??(Schram, cited in Yahuda, 1978: 106). This sense of individualism and national identity also affected the evolution of the ideology of the Chinese communists, further inflaming the growing division between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), as shown below.

Mao Zedong Thought

This concept of Chinese supremacy and the methods by which the CCP achieved power affected the way the philosophy of communism in China developed. In the early years of the conflict, the basic disagreements between the two governments were expressed in vague ideological terms (Zagoria, 1962: 24-35, 197, Robinson, 1982: 176), however, by the early 1960s each government was accusing the other of being "communist traitors?(Yahuda, 1996: 58). When the CCP adopted "Mao Zedong thought?as its guiding principle, it was in effect saying that the Maoist interpretation of Marxism was superior to the Russian view. It was also suggesting that Mao was a leader of socialist thought rather than a follower of Stalin (Zagoria, 1962: 14-15). At one stage Zhou En Lai demanded that the Soviet Union officially recognise that "Mao Zedong thought?was a guiding principle of the international communist movement, a proposal not well received by the CPSU (Hart, 1987: 47). Further evidence of this dispute can be seen in the issue of the communes. In 1958 China claimed it had solved the problem of communism in underdeveloped countries by building communes, a view the Russians did not agree with. At the heart of the issue was the implication that if China was right, that Maoist thought was better suited to underdeveloped countries, then it should assume a leadership role in the drive to build socialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Zagoria, 1962: 146).

Permanent Revolution

Another major point of contention between the CPSU and the CCP was related to the nature of conflict. The CCP view, which differed from that of the CPSU, was a product of the distinctive character of the Chinese insurrection (Yahuda, 1978: 102). This can be traced back to the historical context of the communist revolutions of both China and Russia. The Bolshevik uprising took place a generation before the Chinese equivalent, occurred relatively quickly and was largely urban in character. In contrast, the Chinese revolution took over 20 years of predominantly rural guerrilla-based violent struggle (Zagoria, 1962: 16). This led to the development of a key feature of Mao's version of Marxism-Leninism, that of buduan geming, or permanent revolution (Zagoria, 1962: 78). In broader terms, this relates to a preference for situations of chaos and instability as a method for furthering the goals of socialism (Gurtov, 1971: 161). With reference to the Sino-Soviet dispute, these divergent views of strategy can be seen in the disagreement between Mao and Krushchev after the successful Soviet rocket tests in 1957. By October of that year, the Soviet Union had launched the world's first two artificial satellites, Sputnik I and II, demonstrating its dominance in the so-called Ð''Space Race? In China's view, this established the socialist bloc's military domination over the West. Mao advocated an increase in revolutionary action and that the defeat of the "paper tiger?of American imperialism was now possible (Zagoria, 1962: 154-155, 160). Krushchev, on the other hand, took a more cautious approach, preferring to seek diplomacy from this new position of strength (Zagoria, 1962: 154-155). At the heart of the matter was the disagreement over how to conduct relations with the US government (Scalapino, 1982: 167, Yahuda, 1996: 58), The Chinese leaders were concerned about the implications for their national security of a possible Soviet-American accommodation, which is illustrated below (Zagoria, 1962: 18).

National Security

China has a long history of foreign invasion. Within the last millennia, North China has been under foreign rule for more than 500 years (Fairbank, 1958: 67). This contributed to the rise of nationalism that has been a major force in China's modern history and placed considerable strain on its relationship with Russia in the last century. Sino-Soviet tensions developed from simple beginnings in the late 1950s into direct military clashes ten years later. By 1969, under the direction of Mao's slogan "dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere and be prepared for war and natural disasters? the Chinese people were mobilised against a Soviet enemy (Yahuda, 1978: 225). Chinese fears of Russian encirclement

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