CHINESE FOREIGN POLICY UNDER MAO ZEDONG & DENG XIAOPENG (1949-1997)
Korea had always been strategically important to China given its close proximity. The war had been started by the North Koreans, at Stalin’s bidding (he wanted a pro-Soviet regime on the whole of the peninsula). Mao really had no choice, but to support Stalin. Mao was also worried that a US victory and a consequent US presence on their doorstep would destabilise the PRC. Millions of Chinese troops became involved in the war. The war was a disaster for the PRC. Foolhardy Chinese tactics resulted in the death of a million Chinese soldiers, including Mao’s own son. The North Koreans were pushed back to where they had started and the US was now convinced that it had to protect Taiwan from a Communist attack. The war further soured already strained Sino-US relations and also Sino-Soviet ones, and certainly made the Cold War frostier; the North Korean dictatorship became more and more brutal, and survives to this day an increasing embarrassment to its Chinese ally.
A Nationalist stronghold and fiefdom of the Chiangs until 1988, Taiwan is an obsession of the PRC; above all, the PRC’s leadership is nationalist and yearns to reunite all of China; the PRC did (and does) not have the ability to invade the island, especially since the US has guaranteed its safety; the PRC has always refused to acknowledge Taiwan as a sovereign state; the replacement of Taiwan by the PRC in the Security Council in 1971 was a major victory for the Communists; the PRC also wants Taiwan back because it is such a wealthy and successful island, with a GNP growth rate and per capita income, twice that of the PRC; Taiwan, from 1991, was also a multi-party democracy, but continued to elect the GMD –a direct snub to the PRC; both the PRC and Taiwan claim sovereignty over the whole of China and though there has been dialogue, both sides refuse to budge on the issue of which is the legitimate government of the whole of China.
Relations had been sour since 1949 and the US’ refusal to recognise the PRC or allow it onto the Security Council in place of Taiwan; they were made worse by: CIA involvement in Tibet; the direct conflict in Korea; the US protection of Taiwan (to which the entire 7th Fleet was allotted); the fact that by 1964 the PRC had the A-bomb and, by 1967, an Hydrogen bomb, only increased tensions in the region; combined with the ideological differences, the Cold War was very much alive and well in the Far East. The CR and Vietnam War saw tensions increase even further, as the PRC supplied the NVA and Viet-cong; like Stalin, Mao was also convinced that America wanted to invade and destroy his country, to this degree he created an internal defence system called the ‘Third Line’; relations improved in the early ‘70s under Nixon, because both sides came to regard the USSR as their main enemy (and also both were anti-Vietnam by this stage); so Taiwan was replaced on the Security Council by the PRC in 1971; in 1979 full diplomatic relations were established; the USA, as a capitalist country, perhaps sees the value of having the hugely populated China as a trading partner and market for its goods; the PRC sees better relations with the US as necessary for obtaining the technology of the West; Taiwan, though, remains an obstacle in the way of even better relations; the present approach of the US is best summed up by its present principle of ‘engagement without endorsement’, this is why it effectively ignored the outrages of 1989, as did an equally pragmatic GB.
A British colony since the 1840s, HK was handed back to China in 1997; as an imperialist colony its possession had always understandably rankled, but given China’s own imperialism we should find this more than a little hypocritical; the PRC wanted it for both nationalist reasons and because ‘the pearl of the orient’ is so prosperous; the area has special status and will continue to be molly-coddled for a number of years yet (until 2047); from 1949, HK had been a centre for those Chinese opposed to the PRC; perhaps by its success it also served to show up the limitations of the ‘socialist utopia’ across the border; the 1984 agreement, which incorporated Deng’s pragmatic principles of ‘one country, two systems’, was largely a Chinese success; a placatory GB was prepared to make the deal to guarantee its continued access to China’s one billion person market place;
Initially, Sino-Indian relations were good: both had achieved independence around the same time; both were anti-colonial in outlook; both had been exploited by the British; the Tibetan invasion, given Tibet bordered with India, was to sour relations; to get to Tibet more easily the PRC started building a road through Indian territory in 1956; India granted sanctuary to the Dalai Lama in 1959, angering Beijing; in 1962 a full-scale war broke out along the disputed border, which India lost; relations between the two most populous countries in the world remain strained to this day; once again, the PRC had shown its interests to be primarily nationalist and territorial when it came to foreign policy.
The PRC has always claimed that Tibet is an integral part of China; historically, culturally, linguistically and ethnically though, Tibet is not Han Chinese; instead it is an occupied country; invaded by the PLA in 1950, it confirms once again how Mao saw himself in the image of an emperor and as a Chinese nationalist first and foremost; a policy of “cultural genocide” was introduced –Tibet was to be forced to become Han Chinese; any signs of dissent 9as in 1959) were ruthlessly put down; Buddhist temples were destroyed; monks and nuns imprisoned; the mid-late 80s saw numerous Sino-Tibetan clashes; the PRC has certainly lost the propaganda war over the issue; Deng’s policy had been as hardline as Mao’s, if a little more subtle at times, at least when the world was watching;
Like Korea, Vietnam’s close proximity means it has important strategic importance to China; China may have supported Vietnam during its war with the US, but only until more pragmatic considerations became dominant (an agreement with the US); in 1979, the PLA invaded Vietnam ostensibly for ideological reasons (Vietnam was a close ally of the rival USSR), but more prosaically over territorial disputes and the fact that China’s close ally, Pol Pot’s Cambodia was involved; the PLA performed badly in the resulting conflict and the Chinese were forced to withdraw; the PRC has also seen Vietnam as a rival in the Pacific rim area, and the two have clashed violently over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, an area China regards as within its sphere of influence.
The Developing World
China has seen itself as the foremost anti-colonial power in the world and consciously tried to displace the USSR in Africa and elsewhere (sponsoring the Tanzanian-Zambian railway in the time of Zhou, e.g.); it also tried to replace the USSR’s influence in Europe but succeeded only in Albania; in Latin America, it subsidised Castro’s Cuba, but had little impact elsewhere; Zhou Enlai’s statesmanship did create a number of admirers and friends (including Nehru, initially), but few staunch allies; China lacked the economic and military resources to be an effective and respected leader; the CR (during which the Indonesian and British embassies were burnt down, and Zhou was removed from office), the perceived arrogance and isolationism of ex-patriate Chinese communities, and the PRC’s ruthless policy in Tibet, also won it few friends; the PRC was never able to replace the USSR as the leader of ‘world revolution’.
Relations had soured since the First FYP; historically, Russia and China had been centuries-old rivals in east Asia anyway, especially as they shared a 4,500 mile border, much of which was disputed; Stalin, the wannabe Tsar, had always had covetous eyes on Manchuria, and had effectively looted and plundered the area of $2 billion worth of plant and machinery, after WWII; the last Soviet footholds in China were only relinquished when the conciliatory Khruschev came to power; Mao stressed the ideological differences between him and the post-Stalinist leadership of the USSR, but really it was territorial disputes like the Amur-Ussuri border incidents in the 1960s, that almost led the two Communist giants into direct conflict; Mao had hated Stalin, because of Stalin’s policies of using China in his Cold War struggle (and the almost disastrous advice he had given during the civil war), as a source of funds (depleting China’s gold reserves), and for personal reasons – he had, in Mao’s eyes, not shown enough personal respect towards the Chinese leader; Khruschev’s accession to power and criticism of Stalinism and its ‘cult of personality’, Mao also felt to be a direct criticism of him and his policies; also if Stalinism was discredited so too, by implication, would Maoism; the mutual jealousy between the USSR and the PRC as great powers far exceeded, in my opinion, their ideological disputes; it is even thought today that Stalin purposely caused the Korean War to drag on - in order to exhaust the Chinese! Khruschev’s overtures to the West (’peaceful coexistence’) also frightened Mao, as they promised to isolate the more hardline PRC and subvert the true on-going revolutionary nature of Communism; Mao and Khruschev personally did not get on either; the USSR withdrew its advisers and support in the late ‘50s; the PRC started supporting Moscow’s enemies like Albania; in 1961 diplomatic relations were broken off, to be resumed only under Gorbachev; the 1962 war with India saw the USSR give its support to the sub-continent; during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, China accused the Soviets of ‘adventurism’ and then ‘capitulationism’; both sides also introduced racial overtones into their disagreements; Mao’s assertion that China could easily survive a nuclear conflict, given its size, further alarmed the Soviets; Brezhnev’s accession to power hardly improved relations between the two powers and in 1969 the two countries came close to war; the death of Mao in 1976 & Brezhnev in 1982 led to considerably better relations and an easing of tension under the more pragmatic Deng; Deng has abandoned the pretences of ideology in favour of a policy of re-creating the power of a once historically dominant nation.
SUMMARIES OF MAO AND DENG’S FOREIGN POLICY ACTIONS