Soviet Union attacks Chinese policy toward Vietnam

Soviet Union attacks Chinese policy toward Vietnam

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The Soviet Union accuses China of backing U.S. policies in Vietnam, an accusation that illustrates the growing rift between the two communist superpowers. China, which had previously taken a hard line toward negotiations between Hanoi and Washington, softened its position by endorsing a North Vietnamese peace plan for ending the war. Although the peace proposal was unacceptable to the United States, the fact that China advocated negotiations between Hanoi and Washington was significant. The Soviet Union, whose relations with China were already deteriorating, was highly suspicious of what they rightfully perceived as a “warming” in Sino-American relations. This suspicion only grew stronger in February 1972, when President Richard Nixon visited China.

The Sino-Soviet Border War: Why the USSR nearly nuked China

On 2 March 1969, the Strategic Missile Forces went to high alert – their nuclear warheads ready to be loosed at targets 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) away in less than 15 minutes.

On the banks of a frozen river, opposing soldiers of two nuclear powers bled to death in the snow, as a cold war that Kennedy didn’t fight and Reagan wouldn’t win turned hot.

This wasn’t East versus West this was East versus Far East – a murderous mirror image of the standoff between communism and capitalism. This was the other cold war.

In the red corner, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the height of its military expansion under the iron fist of the repressive Leonid Brezhnev. In the other red corner, the People’s Republic of China, in the grip of a cultural revolution that had purged the last independent thinkers to replace them with a fanatical devotion to the unpredictable Mao Zedong.

On 2 March 1969, under what CIA analysts believed were direct orders from Mao’s government in Beijing, Chinese border guards and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ambushed a unit of Soviet KGB border troops. Appearing unarmed, the Chinese threw aside their winter coats and gunned seven of them down at close range on the disputed Zhenbao/Damansky Island in the frozen Ussuri River where Chinese Manchuria meets the Soviet Far East. Instantly, around 300 more PLA soldiers burst out of foxholes and opened fire on the remaining Soviets.

Chinese border guards jostle with their Soviet counterparts on the disputed Zhenbao Island, 1969

This brutal clash was the escalation of a ‘pushing war’ in which Soviet and Chinese soldiers had patrolled the same contested stretch of tundra, shouting and shoving each other for years. Mao’s gambit was that either the Soviets wouldn’t retaliate, or would do so at a small scale, despite the huge buildup of Red Army might in the region.

He was right: the response was small, but coming from a foe considerably better armed, it was still a crushing and humbling defeat.

The KGB’s elite border guards in snow camouflage embedded themselves on the island, cutting down a Chinese detachment with a rattle of automatic fire in a bloody counter-ambush, while state-of-the-art T-62 medium tanks and devastating BM-21 Grad rocket artillery were brought up, resulting in what CIA reports described as ‘several hundred’ Chinese casualties.

The Chinese began to dig in for further conflict, while the Soviets armed their warheads and issued threats, and this bitter clash for ownership of a single waterway and a handful of rocky islands threatened to enter an even more dramatic and deadly phase.

Eventually though, Mao backed down and diplomatic negotiations over the territory resumed. He was ready to endure a land invasion, and perhaps even a nuclear assault, but he wasn’t about to see his fledgling nuclear programme – the key to China’s status as a modern world power – wiped out by a decisive Soviet strike.

Flying back from the funeral of Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, the Soviet prime minister, Alexei Kosygin, stopped in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Zhou Enlai. Mao refused to attend, and the meeting that brought the Sino-Soviet Border War to an end was held in Beijing Airport.

The relationship was normalised, but it certainly wasn’t normal – in fact, it never had been this first bloody-knuckled drag-’em-out between two of the most volatile superpowers is stark evidence of just how real the danger of nuclear escalation was.

“We will not attack unless we are attacked, if we are attacked, we will certainly counterattack.” Chinese troops defend the Sino-Soviet border in this 1970 propaganda poster

The emphasis that Beijing placed on protecting its infant nuclear status is the real signifier that the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict was much more in political terms than just a tussle for strategically inconsequential strips of land on the fringes of both their vast empires.

In fact, China had happily ceded similar-sized territory in earlier treaties with Mongolia and Burma. In demanding the revision of the ‘unequal’ treaties bullied out of the Chinese Qing Dynasty by Tsarist Russia in 1858 and 1860, what Mao really wanted was to force the great bear to take a step back and make some concession, ending China’s junior status in the communist world. His tactic was simple he hectored and needled, denouncing ‘Soviet Imperialism’ openly, while his forces maintained constant probing patrols into the territory claimed by the Soviets.

The violent deterioration of the relationship between China and the USSR came as a shock to the West. The entire foreign policy of the US fixated on the idea of the ‘domino effect’ of communism and newly ‘reddened’ republics all lining up to point their armies at Uncle Sam. Despite the rhetoric that invoked ancient emperors and 19th-century misdeeds, this was only partly an ancient grudge match. Under the rosy propaganda of one unified socialist brotherhood linking arms for a better tomorrow was a very real strain that had been mounting for decades.

In the Chinese Civil War from 1927 to 1950, Soviet aid and advisors interfered in the running of the communist cause. Mao blamed several failures on Soviet influence – eg their insistence of tactics that worked in industrialised Russia during their own revolution, but which wouldn’t work for the Chinese communists whose support came from rural peasantry, and also for treating the Soviet-trained CPC party grandees as more important than leaders in the field like himself.

Stalin and Mao watch a parade in Moscow, 1949

Mao claimed in a 1956 conversation with the Soviet ambassador PF Yudin that these failed urban uprisings in the 1920s and early-1930s had cost the communist forces dearly, reducing its numbers from 300,000 to 25,000.

When the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931 transformed into the bloody assault on the rest of China in 1937, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin encouraged Mao to form a united front with his enemy – the nationalist Kuomintang commanded by Chiang Kai-shek. More galling for Mao, Stalin then signed a treaty of friendship with the Kuomintang and treated the generalissimo as the sole representative of China. Japanese weapons captured by the Soviets were divvied out to both the CPC and the Kuomintang in 1945 and 1946, but the nationalists ended up with twice as many rifles and six times as many machine guns.

The eventual CPC victory and the rise of Mao as leader of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949 did lead to full Soviet recognition, albeit four months after the event. The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance, signed in February 1950, was the subject of much alarm in Washington and braying propaganda from all sides, but this concealed bitter negotiations in which Mao fought off attempts to cede more Chinese territory to the USSR.

Stalin’s interpreter NT Fedorenko recalled in 1989:

“The very room where the talks were held was like a stage where a demonic show was being acted out. When Stalin walked in, everyone seemed to stop breathing, to freeze.”

From the outside though, these two ‘evil empires’ were marching in lockstep, and the 1950-1953 Korean War seemed to prove the hawks in the West right as Chinese and Soviet air support sheltered the North Korean war machine. While communist air power held the skies, Chinese ground troops armed with Soviet weapons took to the field. Despite this apparent axis of evil, tensions between the two were growing.

Chinese troops surrender to US Marines in Korea, December 1950

Stalin was eager to avoid any direct confrontation with the US, limiting Soviet involvement (eg wearing Chinese uniforms, flying under North Korean colours and forbidding speaking Russian over the radio) to the air, and insisted on the Soviet fighters operating under their own command rather than one unified hierarchy along with the Chinese and North Koreans.

With no shared codes or communications at a grass-roots level, this resulted in very high friendly fire as North Korean or Chinese ground troops opened fire on Soviet MiGs whose markings they didn’t recognise, who in turn shot down Chinese pilots for the same reason. Both powers were also severely overstretched the poorly armed and under-trained Chinese relied heavily on Soviet equipment, which the USSR was struggling to produce due to the ongoing strain caused by World War II. In order to balance the books, Stalin slapped the Chinese with a bill of around $650 million (approximately £420 million) that crippled the country’s economy for decades to come.

While the Korean War crystallised on 27 July 1953 into the stalemate that divides the country to this day, Stalin’s ignominious end came earlier that same year. On 5 March the Russian premier died following a stroke and Nikita Khrushchev emerged from the power scrum to a more cordial relationship with Mao. The new Soviet leader quickly pledged technical support for China’s attempts to industrialise, along with over 520 million rubles in loans. The two leaders also encouraged Vietnamese communist premier, Ho Chi Minh, to accept the division of Vietnam into red north and capitalist south at the Geneva Conference of 1954.

Mao certainly didn’t like Stalin, but as Khrushchev increasingly pulled away from the tyrant’s old order, Mao began to see this as an affront – perhaps even threat – to his own regime. Khrushchev’s denunciation of the dead leader’s cult of personality in 1956 came as Mao was building his own, and Khrushchev’s talk of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the West clashed with Mao’s increasing belligerence and militancy. Then the Soviet leader reneged on a pledge to help the Chinese develop their own nuclear arsenal, even using the USSR’s veto to keep China out of the UN.

Mao and Khrushchev make small talk for the cameras, August 1958

All things considered, the initial response was fairly restrained, with China criticising Yugoslavia and the Soviets criticising Albania, whose paranoid despot Enver Hoxha had denounced Khrushchev’s ‘coexistence’ with the West in favour of China. As the denunciations moved into the open in 1960 – the year of the Split proper – they became more overt and more cutting.

Despite the widening gulf between the two countries, the US remained largely oblivious with then vice-president Richard Nixon wondering in a 1959 meeting of the US National Security Council whether any talk of a Sino-Soviet spat might in fact be some dastardly plot. The following year President Eisenhower agreed with Chiang Kai-shek (who by this point was ruling only the island of Taiwan) that:

“The communist bloc works as a bloc, pursues a global scheme, and no party to the bloc takes independent action.”

Though Khrushchev made headlines in Europe and North America for his table-banging rhetoric and his ghoulish declaration of “We will bury you”, the man who started the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis should perhaps also be remembered as the man who ended it. Mao criticised the Soviet leader openly for backing down, and by the time the Soviet leader made his first nuclear threats over Zhenbao/Damansky in 1964, the Chinese premier knew better than to take it seriously.

Only with the rise later that same year of Leonid Brezhnev, who took the Soviet Union to missile parity with the United States and crushed opposition to Soviet influence in Czechoslovakia with force of arms, were the threats backed up. Truck-mounted Scaleboard launchers were placed under the command of the officers on the ground for the first time, and the jingoistic Radio Peace and Progress blared all over the globe in a multitude of languages:

“Are we afraid of Mao Zedong and his pawns, who are making a display of might on our border? The whole world knows that the main striking force of the Soviet Armed Forces is its rocket units.”

“All peoples of the world unite, to overthrow American imperialism! To overthrow Soviet revisionism! To overthrow the reactionaries of all nations!” A propaganda poster from 1969, courtesy of

Even after the Sino-Soviet Border War ended, Brezhnev knew better than to take his eye off the region, and by 1971 44 divisions of around 10,000-13,000 men, or 32-40 aircraft each – up from 22 divisions in 1969 – were keeping watch over the vast 4,380-kilometre (2,738-mile) shared border – along with the complex infrastructure required to support them. Soviet troop numbers in Soviet-aligned Mongolia also grew to 100,000, dwarfing the Mongolian People’s Republic’s own army of around 30,000 soldiers.

Though China and the USSR never waged another open war, they clashed sabres in a multitude of proxy wars across Africa, South East Asia and beyond, through rebel groups and communist regimes. Perhaps more importantly the irreparable collapse of the Sino-Soviet relationship radically changed the global order.

Recognising that he couldn’t fight war on two fronts – and judging the threat of land invasion from the USSR far greater than an American attack – Mao chose rapprochement with the old enemy, leading to an unlikely 1972 state visit of US President Richard Nixon to China. Nixon, the man who once asked if Sino-Soviet discord might be a ploy, saw a closer relationship with China as an opportunity to undermine Soviet influence.

Khrushchev died in 1971 without seeing that his talk of ‘peaceful coexistence’ had come to fruition – but between China and the US, rather than the USSR and the US. Neither did he see the more famous Cold War play out for a further two decades, ending with the Red Army’s bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan and, subsequently, the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

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Ministry of Foreign Affairs Telegram

Class: Very Urgent
From Moscow Station
Foreign Ministry (65) No. Mao-674

Recent Responses from the Soviet Revisionists to the Situation in Vietnam

Over the past ten days, the Soviet Revisionists have made the following responses to the situation in Vietnam:

1. Recognition that the situation is very serious. [Aleksei] Kosygin in his April 7 speech in Poland said: &ldquoan actual state of war has begun&rdquo in Vietnam and that no-one should underestimate how serious the situation is. [Leonid] Brezhnev in his April 8 speech said: &ldquoThe situation gets worse by the day. Not only does this threaten peace in Southeast Asia but also in other areas far outside the region.&rdquo A commentary in the fourth issue of the magazine &ldquoInternational Life&rdquo stated: The &ldquopresent crisis&rdquo in Vietnam is the &ldquomost acute&rdquo since the Korean War. The magazine reported on some foreign reactions including quotes of statements such as &ldquoThe present Vietnam Conflict is in very grave risk of becoming an international war.&rdquo

2. Continuing to make propaganda about its pretended support: The Soviet Revisionists did not give the important statement of March 22 by the South Vietnam National Liberation Front the attention it deserved. However, in its most recent official statements has taken a position, saying that &ldquothe statement was widely welcomed by the Soviet Union, other socialist countries, and by everyone who values peace and progress.&rdquo Some mass organizations also expressed their positions. The Soviet Committee for Solidarity with Asia and Africa in an article resembling a statement announced that it supported the National Liberation Front's statement and stated that if necessary, it would send volunteers to Vietnam to participate in the struggle. Kosygin recently also openly acknowledged that the South Vietnam National Liberation Front is a &ldquoreal force&rdquo, When Brezhnev in an April 8 speech mentioned assistance to Vietnam, he stated that he is prepared to give Vietnam &ldquoany assistance it needs to strengthen its national defense capabilities in order to oppose the invasion of U.S. Imperialism.&rdquo

3. In a phony call for solidarity against imperialism, it made a veiled attack on us. Kosygin in his April 7 speech said &ldquoThe Soviet Union calls on all peace and freedom loving people to unite and be determined as they organize to a counter-attack against the invaders.&rdquo Brezhnev in his April 8 speech made repeated phony calls for solidarity, saying things like Vietnam now needs effective assistance. There is no time for delay. We urgently need solidarity against the enemy. He stated that on the issue of assistance to Vietnam, past and future obstacles are not on our side&rdquo (here he was using a Russian language expression that can be translated as &ldquoThe cause for past and future inaction is not us.&rdquo) A commentary in the fourth issue of &ldquoInternational Life&rdquo made a more naked attack on us, saying that disunity among the socialist countries &ldquothe help that those who adopt measures against solidarity give invaluable assistance to the invaders.&rdquo

4. They have not yet adopted a formal position on Johnson's April 7 speech in which specious peace talks plot. Reports on the speech however revealed some contradictions. Individually signed short commentaries expressed the view that since Johnson did not mention the invasion of Vietnam but announced the willingness to continue for a long time to come, means that the position of the U.S. has not changed. They stated that Johnson's &ldquounconditional discussions&rdquo nonetheless had a condition: the people of Vietnam would have to halt their liberation struggle.

Distribution: Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Peng Zhen, Chen Yi, He Long, Lu Dingyi, Kang Sheng, Nie Rongzhen, Luo Ruiqing, Yang Shangkun, Central General Office Confidential Department, Foreign Affairs Office, Central Propaganda Office Central Liaison Department, Central Investigation Department, Ministry of Defense, Military Intelligence Office, Lengxi, Muzhi

Liu, Zhang, Luo, Zeng, Meng, Qiao, Han, Liu, Gong, Dong, The General Office, Research Department, Division of Soviet and European Affairs, Second Asian Division, America-Australia Division, Press, Ambassador, Confidential Office, Archive 72 copies printed

Received on April 11 at 21:55
Transcribed on April 12 at 14:15
Approved on April 12 at 16:15
Printed on April 12 at 23:53

There’s No Cold War With China

For the past 20 years, the most important, consequential international relationship has been between a rising China and a powerful United States. That remains true today, and it will likely be the case for many years to come, even as the nature of that relationship changes over time. Never static, ties in the past few years have shifted from engagement with an undercurrent of wariness to wariness with an undercurrent of engagement. Yet talk of a new Cold War—and the idea that Chinese-U.S. relations are at their worst since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1979—is its own form of frenzy. And that way of thinking is forcing a 20th-century template of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union onto a U.S.-Chinese relationship that could not be more different.

For the past 20 years, the most important, consequential international relationship has been between a rising China and a powerful United States. That remains true today, and it will likely be the case for many years to come, even as the nature of that relationship changes over time. Never static, ties in the past few years have shifted from engagement with an undercurrent of wariness to wariness with an undercurrent of engagement. Yet talk of a new Cold War—and the idea that Chinese-U.S. relations are at their worst since the two countries normalized diplomatic ties in 1979—is its own form of frenzy. And that way of thinking is forcing a 20th-century template of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union onto a U.S.-Chinese relationship that could not be more different.

If ever there was a case of taking of simplistic view of the past and transposing it on the present, the Cold War framework applied to U.S.-Chinese relations is it. And it is not just a case of the misuse of history, although it is that. It also betrays a deep misunderstanding about what the actual dynamic is between the United States and China, one that appears to the shared even by U.S. officials. The two countries’ war of words is indeed hot. The technology competition is real, ranging from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration’s intent to ban Chinese social media company TikTok from the United States and the long U.S. campaign against Huawei to the Chinese attempt to build its own internal telecommunications and Internet infrastructure. But the economic intertwinement between the two countries remains deep, complicated, and largely untouched by years of sanctions, tariffs, and bad words. The United States and China are not in a cold war. They are in a bad marriage, with no current option for divorce. That will remain the case for many years to come.

Of late, the bickering between the United States and China has certainly gotten much worse. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has assailed Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology.” And the two countries have imposed an escalating series of tit-for-tat measures against each other, ranging from Chinese sanctions on U.S. senators to U.S. orders to close the Chinese consulate in Houston. That, in turn, has led policy experts and China watchers to speak of “a drift toward Cold War,” with potential for all the familiar hallmarks of last century’s Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union: starkly opposed ideologies proxy confrontations that then become proxy wars in other countries mutually exclusive spheres of influence in which each attempts to freeze out the other and a global diplomatic, propaganda, and economic offensive to line up allies and cut off the economic oxygen of the other side.

What these analogies completely miss, however, is the nature of the Chinese-U.S. economic relationship, which is so much more connected and intertwined than the U.S.-Soviet one ever was. That alone renders the Cold War template almost completely irrelevant as a guide to our present and future.

In 1950, the point of no return for conflict between the United States and Soviet Union, the United States represented about half of all global industrial production. Its Marshall Plan was funneling billions of dollars to Western Europe to reconstruct the war-ravaged economies there. But none of that money was flowing to the Soviet Union or the Eastern Bloc. During the following decades, the amount of trade between the two countries was so negligible as to be all but nonexistent. The only real constraint on hot war at the time was nuclear weapons. Instead, war was waged ideologically, economically via those exclusive spheres, and militarily only in peripheral countries such as Vietnam, Angola, and Nicaragua.

The U.S.-Chinese relationship, however, has evolved in the context of extraordinary economic interdependence . Even with two years of Trump administration tariffs on Chinese imports and mass disruptions on global commerce and movement of people due to the pandemic, bilateral trade in goods between the two countries is likely to be around $450-$500 billion this year, with close to another $100 billion in services. That is down from highs over the past few years, but about where it was in 2011. Not captured in those official statistics are the additional $1.1 trillion that China holds in U.S. Treasury securities and the hundreds of billions of dollars of capital stock and factories in China either owned, constructed, or maintained by U.S. companies. These companies not only manufacture goods such as the iPhone for export to the United States, but also sell goods to consumers in China.

The interlocking economies of the two countries, which the historian Niall Ferguson and economist Moritz Schularick once dubbed “Chimerica” and which I have called an economic “superfusion,” both enriched and imperiled U.S. companies and consumers. The opening of Chinese domestic markets after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 was a boon for U.S. companies, such as Yum! Brands, Ralph Lauren, and microchip and hardware companies that sold to a China that was not yet able to make the high-tech products itself. U.S. manufacturing took a hit, just as it had taken a hit from Taiwan and Japan in the 1970s and 1980s and from Mexico in the 1990s, but U.S. consumers benefited from a slew of cheaper products that made middle-class life more affordable. During and after the financial crisis of 2008, the United States was bolstered by Chinese investment in the United States in the form of bond and hard assets.

So why does the language of the Cold War persist? Many observers point to the technological competition between the two, with each distrusting the technology of the other. China has already walled itself off from the social media companies of the United States, and now both are attempting a tech decoupling that the pandemic is hastening, especially as China manages its health crisis through a deeply intrusive use of personal data to monitor and control the movement of its 1.4 billion people.

But even with tech tensions, the sheer scale of the countries’ economic interdependence remains largely intact. Over time, the frostiness may well lead to less and less economic commingling, but that will be measured in years, not months. Unless either China or the United States finds a spare $5 trillion to $10 trillion to rebuild completely independent supply chains, that structure of trade and manufacturing and mutual engagement is with us for a long haul.

Or perhaps the United States just needs a great enemy, as it used to have in the form of the Soviet Union. And it’s true that China is better cast than, say, al Qaeda or that amorphous nonstate thing called “Islamic fundamentalism” or “terrorism.” The U.S. national security establishment was set up in the late 1940s in order to contain and confront a unitary state power with a potent military. In that sense, China is a worthy successor to the Soviet Union. And what is faintly similar is that the two are locked in a great-power contest, in which China has moved to dominate the South China Sea as the United States did and still does in the Caribbean. The two countries do have ideological differences as well, but those are much less acute for the simple reason that China does not seem to seek to export any particular ideology other than state sovereignty.

In short, there is nothing comparable in today’s relationship between the United States and China to the 20th-century rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. With that in mind, the best course for the United States is to focus on itself. If there are fears of China stealing the intellectual property of U.S. companies or the data of U.S. citizens, then the U.S. government and relevant companies should invest heavily in innovation, cybersecurity, and data security. If the United States is concerned about a particular entity such as Huawei, then it needs to develop companies and technologies that can supplant what Huawei or other Chinese companies now supply.

None of that can happen with an executive order or a dramatic speech. It will take time, money, patience, and strategy. Stinging accusations and predictions of cold war catch attention, but they are like paper arrows. The U.S.-Chinese relationship is unlike any other between two grand nations in history in the degree of economic intimacy juxtaposed with genuine rivalry and distrust. Navigating tensions is hard work, and the history of other great powers in the past is of little help. In fact, it could do a great deal of harm if used simplistically. Best to let the Cold War be, and learn new tactics to manage a new rivalry for a different century.

Zachary Karabell is the author of Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power. He is the founder of the Progress Network at New America and president of River Twice Research and River Twice Capital.

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Xi’s China Is Steamrolling Its Own History

Chinese President Xi Jinping is directing a vast ideological war across multiple theaters—politics, culture, ethics, economy, strategy, and foreign relations. Among its most intense flashpoints is historiography, particularly of China’s last empire, the Qing, which ruled from 1636 to 1912. Historians, whether foreign or domestic, who resist Xi’s determination to design a past that serves his ideology have been targeted repeatedly by state propaganda organs. A new editorial suggests that this attack on Qing specialists is escalating.

Xi has a powerful weapon at his disposal. In 2003, 10 years before his assumption of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated an ambitious project dedicated to Qing history. It was granted headquarters in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing, next to China’s leading technology companies. Its budget—never definitively quantified but clearly stratospheric as far as historiographical enterprises go—supported a threefold mission:

Chinese President Xi Jinping is directing a vast ideological war across multiple theaters—politics, culture, ethics, economy, strategy, and foreign relations. Among its most intense flashpoints is historiography, particularly of China’s last empire, the Qing, which ruled from 1636 to 1912. Historians, whether foreign or domestic, who resist Xi’s determination to design a past that serves his ideology have been targeted repeatedly by state propaganda organs. A new editorial suggests that this attack on Qing specialists is escalating.

Xi has a powerful weapon at his disposal. In 2003, 10 years before his assumption of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) initiated an ambitious project dedicated to Qing history. It was granted headquarters in the Zhongguancun district of Beijing, next to China’s leading technology companies. Its budget—never definitively quantified but clearly stratospheric as far as historiographical enterprises go—supported a threefold mission:

The first of these has been to complete the traditional arc in which each imperial dynasty declared its legitimacy by writing the history of its predecessor. At its demise in 1912, the Qing was not succeeded by a new dynasty, though Republican-era loyalists drafted a history that the new government refused to publish. In our century, the CCP has decided to seize the mantle of legitimacy by rewriting and publishing the Qing imperial history, which is now nearing completion.

The second is to digitize all the archival materials relating to Qing history. By 2014, the digitized image files of the documents were reported to total 1.5 million, searchable by metadata, and recent announcements show the number moving toward 2 million.

The third is to translate all foreign scholarship on the Qing period, which could run to tens of thousands of titles. But this task has become part of the intense struggle for control over the characterization of the Qing period—one in which Xi has co-opted the history project to defeat challenges to his historical confabulations from either conventional Marxist historians in China or from foreign scholars of the Qing.

Half a century ago, scholars from around the world agreed on the basics of Qing history. It began in 1644 when invading Manchus seized the former Ming capital, Beijing, and proceeded to establish their control over all of China. Their government followed the Ming model, and in the late 17th century the Qing began to spread Chinese control to Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet, and what is now the province of Xinjiang. The 18th century went well for the Qing, which became the world’s largest economy. Its achievements in architecture, philosophy, and art were celebrated internationally by Jesuit residents of Beijing and their readers in Europe, including Voltaire. But in the 19th century, the empire was afflicted by the bloodiest civil war in history, the Taiping Rebellion an onslaught of foreign gunboat diplomacy that deprived it of full control of its economy and urban spaces and devastating military and economic incursions from rising, modernizing Japan.

But there were variations within this template. Historians who were part of China’s Nationalist movement condemned the Manchus as foreign vandals only too happy to abandon the Chinese to enslavement and massacre by other foreign aggressors. The idea of the “Century of Humiliation”—meaning, roughly, 1842 to 1949—that is now an all-purpose gripe in CCP justifications of its aggressive economic and military maneuvers is a synopsis of the Nationalist narrative of Qing failure, as is Xi’s claim that Confucianism was the core of Chinese tradition and must remain so. (In contrast, for Communist historians in China, the Qing, like other past rulers, oppressed the entire population of China by Confucianism, which blessed the predations of the land-owning elites while indoctrinating the masses in virtues of servility.)

In the late 20th century, historians in the United States, Europe, and Japan focused on the effects of early modern conquest and domination in the broadest comparative contexts—not only in Asia and the Middle East, but also in southern Africa and North America. They closely examined the effects of the great land empires of Russia, the Ottomans, and the Qing.

American historians, particularly, produced a narrative of the Qing as a conquest empire of global prominence, with not only power and wealth but also with the usual dynamics of violence (including genocide), hierarchy, and marginalized cultural identities. They noted that before its conquest of China the Qing was already an empire of considerable size, controlling Manchuria (including the former Ming province of Liaodong, roughly corresponding to the modern province of Liaoning) and dominating eastern Mongolia and Korea they argued that that even after the conquest of China, Qing imperial government continued to show deep traces of its origins in Manchuria.

They used documents from all the empire’s languages, including Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uighur—not just Chinese. They emphasized that the empire had grown to twice the size of its Ming predecessor by means of conquest—indirectly ruling Mongolia and Tibet, imposing an expensive military occupation regime on Xinjiang, and for the first time incorporating Taiwan into an empire based in China.

Xi’s strategy in remixing history is to draw selectively from the Nationalist and Communist historiographies, throw in some volatile nationalism, and resolutely suppress the implications of the new globalized and comparative historiography. The primary historical design shop is the Party History Research Office of the CCP Central Committee.

Through this mouthpiece, Chinese historians are instructed that a history of Qing conquest incites separatist movements in Xinjiang and Tibet, and in Taiwan it encourages those seeking formal independence for the island. Instead of an empire of conquest, Xi has rewritten Qing as a cultural and economic behemoth that awed and charmed the populations of Mongolia, Tibet, Central Asia, and Taiwan into happy submission.

Consequently, one of the first orders of business for Xi’s new administration in 2013 was to mount virulent attacks upon foreign historians of the Qing (including me) that continue today . Foreign historians are derided as imperialists in a new guise these researchers devalue the uniqueness of the Qing as a Chinese dynasty by comparing it to other empires and imply that overland conquest as a historical phenomenon is more significant than Chinese rule. Articles describe them as “historical nihilists” their imperialist and cosmopolitan perspectives override historical fact.

This idea that the full extent of Qing was reached naturally and peacefully is the source of China’s claims today to Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, and it is critical to its claims to the South China Sea. The underlying premise is that sovereign control of any territory is legitimated foremost by the historical geography of the nation that claims it.

Yet no modern state today adheres to such unreliable and patently illegal principles of territorial legitimacy. Before the 17th century, no states anywhere had considered national sovereignty an absolute. The concept later spread via the European empires to the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Today, territorial borders are ratified by treaty and international recognition, not by extravagant and unverifiable historical claims. Nevertheless, only contiguous countries (the Soviet Union, India, Vietnam, and North Korea) have disputed Chinese land borders, and never on a significant scale. Neither the United States nor any European power has questioned Chinese control over former Qing territories within current Chinese boundaries. Tellingly, the most intense applications of these principles have occurred in relation to various areas of the South China Sea—and the sea is the one place where claims of historical Chinese rule can never be proved or even reasonably inferred.

But it is not foreign historians or diplomats who need to be—or can be—convinced by Xi’s version of history. The intended audience is in China. Denunciations of “nihilism” have become louder as Xi pushes his programs for reification of Chinese “tradition.” The party history factory has identified historiography as a primary field of battle between the CCP and its enemies and exhorts Chinese historians to “strike” more frequently and more forcefully against foreign colleagues.

Among the most recent and ominous of these strikes is a recent editorial in the official journal Historical Research (Lishi yanjiu)—republished in both the print and online versions of the party organ People’s Daily—titled “Firmly grasp the right to speak of the history of the Qing dynasty.” The editorial states that too many Chinese historians have fallen under the sway of foreign nihilists, producing a gusher of new scholarship on the Qing that in ideological potency has nevertheless been “far from sufficient to meet the needs of the party and the people.” It prescribes a “Qing history research system with Chinese characteristics, Chinese tastes, and Chinese style”—the essentializing narrative that Xi uses to glamorize himself and his foreign ventures.

Many scholars of Chinese affairs decry Xi’s ruthless war on the cultures and communities of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. That has nothing to do with history but is a matter of humanity and conscience in the present. No pile of historical claims to control of territory can excuse such abuses, in China or elsewhere.

“Historical nihilism” is nothing more than a denial that the past is fundamentally a resource to be plundered by the present. Xi’s imagined history of the Qing as a huge empire of wealth and glory without conquest or tears may seem inane, but Western historians should note the seriousness of the CCP and the Qing History Project, because their Chinese colleagues surely do. China, after all, has a rich record, past and present, of imprisoning historians, many of whom do not emerge from custody. In the “firmly grasp” of the editorial’s title, the character used (lao, 牢) literally means “grip, fix, trap, imprison.” In that grasp can be held both the history prescribed by Xi and the historians who might resist it.

Pamela Kyle Crossley is Collis Professor of History at Dartmouth College and a specialist on the Qing empire and modern China. She also writes on Central and Inner Asian history, global history, and the history of horsemanship in Eurasia before the modern period. Her most recent book is The Wobbling Pivot, China Since 1800: An Interpretive History (2010).

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Sino-Soviet Alliance Edit

The Sino-Soviet Alliance began with the signing of the new Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance on February 14, 1950. Following the signing of this treaty, the USSR advanced $300 million in development loans to the PRC and sent nearly 10,000 Soviet technical advisors to work in China. Over the next decade, extensive technological transfer and development assistance drew the two countries close together, while China firmly allied with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Sino-Soviet split Edit

However, for numerous reasons, the Sino-Soviet alliance weakened in the late 1950s, and the Soviet Union withdrew all economic aid in August 1960. The Sino-Soviet split began once minor political, economic, geographic and ideological issues became major bilateral diplomatic concerns.

Military Build-up Edit

With the intensification of the Sino-Soviet Split, both nations deployed troops to the shared border, which stretched from North Korea to Central Asia. However, for the first part of the Sino-Soviet confrontation, the Mongolian People's Republic, a Soviet satellite since 1921, remained relatively neutral, and facilitated continued trade between the USSR and PRC. This changed with the signing of "The Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the USSR and the Mongolian People's Republic" which superseded previous agreements of economic cooperation between the allied communist nations. The treaty, signed in Ulaanbaatar on January 15, 1966 by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Mongolian Prime Minister Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal, allowed the Soviet Union to station troops in Mongolia to ensure mutual defense. [2] While the Soviet Army had previously operated in Mongolia, this was the first time that troops would be based in the independent nation. [3] By 1967, the Soviet Union had deployed armored units and mechanized troops as well as ballistic missiles inside Mongolia and along the Chinese border. Border incidents and clashes continued to increase with 4,189 border crossing incidents between 1964 and 1969. The border conflict grew worse as each side moved more troops into the borderlands, and tensions in Moscow and Beijing rose to a breaking point. [4] These developments along the northern border put Mao into a potential two front war, what Mao called "[A] new historical epoch of combating both U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism" in a letter to Enver Hoxha in September 1968. This letter, reprinted in the People's Daily, September 19, 1968 illustrated the brewing potential for a trilateral nuclear war. [5]

Two Front Border Conflict (February - August 1969) Edit

In this environment of nuclear showmanship and military tensions, the Chinese side made the first move. In 1969, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) attacked Soviet troops stationed on Zhenbao Island in the Ussuri River, claiming the island for China. In repeated attacks and counterattacks up to 250 Chinese soldiers and 58 Soviet soldiers were killed. [6] In the aftermath, both sides withdrew leaving the island as no-mans-land subject to frequent artillery barrages. [6] The PLA argued that such attacks would not lead to a wider war with the Soviet Union, but China's leadership still prepared for war. The Soviet Union responded with thinly veiled threats of nuclear war if attacked again and counter-attacked on the western border. Minor clashes continued throughout the summer. On August 13, 1969, the Soviet Army invaded Yumin County in Xinjiang, completely eliminating the PLA platoon in the area. [7] In addition, the Soviets transferred strategic nuclear bombers to airbases in the Russian Far East within striking distance of Manchurian nuclear facilities. [8]

What had started as a border skirmish threatened to become a two front nuclear war. The PRC reacted by further preparing for war along the borderlands, while also seeking to reduce tensions in a high-level meeting with Soviet leaders. [9] Premiers Alexei Kosygin and Zhou Enlai met at the Beijing Airport on September 11, 1969 and through a hurried series of meetings attempted to carefully negotiate a step-back from the brink of war. [9] Further letters between the two premiers sought to de-escalate tensions but neither side withdrew troops from the border. [9] However, the sides agreed to meet on October 20 in Beijing to solve the border-dispute diplomatically. [10]

Mao Zedong and Lin Biao feared that the Soviet negotiations were a trick, a ploy to draw off Chinese troops while the Soviets would attack with ground and nuclear forces. Under orders from Mao, Lin Biao put the PLA strategic forces on war-readiness in full preparation for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. [11] What had begun as a diplomatic attempt to calm tensions, instead resulted in nuclear brinkmanship. [12] With the nation on full alert, civilian and military authorities began to prepare for total war, under the premise that the arrival of a Soviet border negotiations team would be a ruse for an all-out nuclear strike. [13] Yet, no strike came on October 20, the Soviet diplomats arrived and border tensions settled for the time being. [13]

Sino-US rapprochement, a major break with previous foreign policies seeking to create a new balance of power in East Asia, greatly affected the Sino-Soviet relationship. Threatened by the potential of a crippling Soviet attack, China turned to the United States. [12] While visiting China, American President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger worked to allay Chinese fears of a joint US-Soviet attack and instead promote ties with China that would undermine the Soviet Union. Li Danhui and Xia Yafeng argue that Mao Zedong's ideological shift toward Sino-US relations was heavily influenced by the continuing threat of the USSR. Pivoting away from military confrontation, Mao declared a policy of "opposing the Soviet Union, irrespective of ideological position." [14] This opened the door for continued cooperation and negotiation with the United States and cooperation balancing against Soviet power in East Asia. According to historian Li Danhui, "after the Zhenbao Island Incident in March 1969, the Sino-Soviet state-to-state relationship was on the brink of war. This prompted Mao to attempt a new policy of aligning with the United States to oppose the Soviet Union." [15]

In the midst of Sino-American reapproachment in 1972, the Sino-Soviet border continued to be heavily fortified, with nearly 1 million Soviet troops, armed with tanks, airplanes, artillery and backed by ballistic missiles. The Soviet Army faced approximately 1.5 million troops consisting of the PLA and People's Militia. The border tensions increased from 1973 through 1976, as both sides sought political victories while also continuing to militarize the border. Brezhnev spoke of China's failure to accept peaceful coexistence between the two nations, while the PRC continued to view the Soviet Union as an existential threat. [16] The presence of the Soviet Navy in the Indian and Pacific oceans as well as well-armed troops across the length of the border reinforced a view of Soviet encirclement. [17]

The death of Mao in September 1976 brought no immediate changes in the Sino-Soviet conflict, although each side had significantly reduced the number of troops stationed along the border. Brezhnev attempted to congratulate Hua Guofeng in October 1976, and was strongly rebuffed with a reinforcement of the late Chairman's anti-Soviet rhetoric. [18] In 1976, each side had approximately 300,000 soldiers deployed on the border, while the Soviet troops were backed by airpower and strategic forces. [19] In 1978, the Soviets began deploying SS-20 missiles throughout the Far East, allowing them to strike any target in the PRC. In addition, large military exercises were performed in both Mongolia and Siberia, specifically modelling different scenarios of a Sino-Soviet war. [20]

The Sino-Soviet Treaty lapsed in February 1979, and Deng Xiaoping announced that China would not attempt to renew the treaty provisions. [21] The stationing of Soviet naval vessels throughout unified Socialist Vietnam gave further evidence of Soviet attempts to encircle the PRC. The increased Soviet presence in the Gulf of Tonkin raised tensions further.

In the midst of these worries, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, toppling the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. [22] In response, China invaded northern Vietnam on February 17, and occupied a small area for a month. Declaring that China had realized its objective of "punishing Vietnamese and Soviet hegemony," the PLA withdrew in March 1979, ending the brief third Indochina War.

After China's withdrawal from Vietnam, Sino-Soviet relations remained locked in tense military confrontation along the border, while diplomatic relations remained frozen. While the Soviet Union continued to supply and support the Vietnamese government in Cambodia, China remained opposed to all Soviet involvement in Southeast Asia the regime continued to lambaste Soviet and Vietnamese "regional hegemony." Minor skirmishes continued along the southern border with Vietnam and the northern border remained heavily militarized. Historian Péter Vámos estimates that "about one fourth of Soviet ground forces and one third of its air force were stationed along or in the region of the Sino-Soviet border" in the early 1980s. [23] Many of these units were stationed in the nominally independent People's Republic of Mongolia, as per the 1980 Soviet-Mongolian Mutual Defense treaty. The massive troop build-up along the border into the 1980s led to an imbalance of military power the Chinese remained overwhelmed by the Soviet show of force. [23] Meanwhile, the Soviet treaty with Vietnam allowed Soviet troops and the use of former American naval bases along the Vietnamese coast. The presence of the Soviet Navy and Air Force in its southern neighbor further enforced the feeling of encirclement. [23]

For China, the instability on the northern border was increasingly seen as an unnecessary threat to the regime's existence and a thorn in the side of Chinese economic reforms. According to Gilbert Rozman, the rise of Deng Xiaoping and Chen Yun meant "the leftist line of opposing most post-Stalin reforms in the Soviet Union could now be replaced by appreciation for reforms in a socialist system." The post-Stalinist Soviet Union was no longer seen as a revisionist empire but instead a potential trade partner in economic reform. This ideological turn brought about a political and diplomatic shift, as China tentatively reached out to the USSR.

"Having normalized its relations with the United States, for the purpose of providing a peaceful environment, Deng also sought improved relations with the Soviet Union. The Chinese had good reasons to seek normalization with the Soviet Union. The Sino-Soviet conflict remained a destabilizing factor for China. With the border issue unsettled and Soviet military deployments in Siberia and Mongolia, the Soviet Union was perceived as the gravest threat to China’s security." [16] - Gilbert Rozman

Getting to the negotiating table proved troublesome. In September 1979, the parties began meeting, but failed to agree on what issues should be covered. The USSR sought to focus on bilateral relations between the two nuclear powers, while the PRC was concerned with current Soviet engagements in neighboring countries, specifically Vietnam and Mongolia the PRC remained worried about the potential of Soviet military encirclement. [21] While the Soviet Union sought to establish bilateral diplomatic relations, for China, there were two major issues that needed to be tackled before normalization of diplomatic relations. These "obstacles" were the Soviet military deployment in Mongolia and along the PRC borders, and Soviet aid in support of Vietnam's invasion and occupation of Cambodia. [23] China refused to begin any discussion of diplomatic or party relations until these obstacles were removed. The Soviets responded by refusing to unilaterally agree to any of the demands, instead insisting on bilateral relations first. Since neither side would negotiate, the attempts to meet stalled. [21]

The Soviet–Afghan War ended this brief warming of Sino-Soviet relations and led to increased military cooperation between China and the United States. [24] The growing semi-official military alliance with the United States allowed the Chinese to strike back at the Soviets. The US and PRC established joint intelligence listening posts in Manchuria to monitor the Soviet Union, and these facilities remained staffed by Chinese intelligence. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan raised tensions between the US and USSR, and provided another realm for Sino-US military cooperation. It also opened another military front on the Sino-Soviet border, and while this border was never the site of direct confrontations, the PRC was worried about the additional Soviet presence. In 1980, the US and PRC jointly opened two further listening stations in Xinjiang, specifically focused on tracking Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Xinjiang became the base of Chinese aid to the Mujahideen, with PLA soldiers training and providing weapons to the anti-Soviet guerillas. According to Yitzhak Shichor, "PLA personnel provided training, arms, organization, financial support, and military advisers to the Mujahideen resistance throughout nearly the entire Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, with the active assistance and cooperation of the CIA." [25] These PLA and CIA joint training camps were located near Kashgar and Khotan, spending $200–400 million training and arming the rebels. [26]

In the wake of the invasion, China solidified its terms for establishing bilateral relations, demanding the end of Soviet military deployment in Mongolia and along PRC borders, the cessation of Soviet aid in support of Vietnam's invasion and occupation of Cambodia, and total withdrawal from Afghanistan making a total of "three major obstacles." There was more to the Afghanistan conflict than just another front for border confrontations. Historian Péter Vámos argues that "the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which had initially seemed so threatening to China’s security, led to a change in the balance of forces between the superpowers and made the prospects of war seem more distant, partly as a result of a tacit strategic partnership between China and the United States described euphemistically as the pursuit of parallel actions." [27] The new listening posts and cooperation between the US and PRC counter-balanced Soviet threats in the West, while the increasing quagmire of the Soviet war appeared to weaken the Soviet Army. [27]

Deng Xiaoping pursued a policy of balance between the US and USSR. While warming relations with the US led to an informal military alliance, the PRC also sought to improve relations with the Soviets. In 1981–82, Chinese fears of Soviet encirclement and a coming war diminished however, the desire to remove these threats remained the top priority for normalization of Sino-Soviet relations. [28] In 1982, Leonid Brezhnev took a big step towards normalization with a speech in Tashkent, Uzbek SSR. In this speech, "the Soviet leader called China a socialist country, supported China’s position on Taiwan, expressed his willingness to improve relations with China, and proposed consultations between the two sides." [28] Deng reacted immediately, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded saying "We paid attention to the sections concerning Sino-Soviet relations in President Brezhnev’s speech in Tashkent on March 24. We categorically refute its attacks against China. In Sino-Soviet relations and in international affairs, we attach importance to the Soviet Union’s real actions." [28] In response, Deng sent Yu Hongliang to give the following message to the Soviet government via the PRC embassy in Moscow.

"There has been an abnormal relationship between China and the Soviet Union for many years, and the two peoples do not want to see the continuation of such a situation. Now it is time to do something to improve Sino-Soviet relations. Of course, the problems cannot be solved in one day, but the Chinese side holds that the important thing is the existence of true willingness to improve relations. It is fully possible to find a fair and reasonable solution through negotiations. The Chinese side proposes that the Soviet Union should persuade Vietnam to withdraw its troops from Cambodia as a starting point, or it is also possible to start with other problems that influence the relationship between our two countries, such as the reduction of military force in the border region. At the same time, both sides should work on finding mutually acceptable measures in order to solve the problem of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Mongolia. The Chinese side also hopes that a fair solution can be found for the Afghan issue. To sum up, only if both sides think about the prospects for the development of the relationship are willing to resume good neighborly relations between our two great countries, starting with solving one or two of the important problems, will it then be possible to open up a new phase in bilateral relations. As to the form of exchanging views, it can be done by consultations between the two sides." [29] - Yu Hongliang

The PRC remained focused on overcoming the "three major obstacles" for diplomatic relations, but this note added flexibility, recognizing that these issues could be solved over time. Vietnam and Cambodia remained the top priority. [30] The Soviets responded positively, agreeing to work towards resolving these obstacles, beginning formal political level meetings at the vice-foreign minister level. Further warming occurred with the writing of the 1982 PRC Constitution, which removed references to "social imperialism" and "contemporary revisionism" which had been inserted during the height of the Sino-Soviet split. [31] The first vice-foreign minister meeting was held in Beijing in October 1982, and eleven further semi-annual meetings were held up until 1988. The discussions which began with political lectures, warmed over the following years. The three major obstacles to normalized relations, however, remained. As evidence of the change in China's position since 1976, the PRC continued to lobby for the withdrawal of Soviet military forces and aid in Vietnam, insisting that peaceful coexistence between the PRC and USSR be the guideline for relations. [31]

Several notable meetings occurred with the resumption of political negotiations: the two foreign ministers met at the UN in 1984, and First Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Arkhipov toured the PRC later that same year. [32] Furthermore, the PRC announced to Eastern bloc diplomats that "China would be ready to re-establish inter-party relations with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries" as long as the Soviets ended military support to Vietnam. [32] Despite progress in cultural and political ties from greater trade to ping-pong competitions, neither nation was willing to compromise on the balance of military power in Asia. China continued to see the USSR as a threat, and the USSR saw the presence of troops in the Far East, Mongolia and Afghanistan, as well as continued military aid to Vietnam, as crucial for its overall geopolitical goals. Despite stagnation in bilateral diplomatic relations, the diplomatic teams achieved numerous other goals in this period. State-to-state economic, scientific, and cultural exchanges were re-established, allowing further warming of state-level relations. [33] Trade between the two nations increased dramatically through the 1980s growing from 223 million Soviet rubles in 1982 to 1.6 billion rubles in 1985. [33]

In the winter of 1984–1985, the first Vice-Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Ivan Arkhipov, traveled to Beijing and, at a state banquet, it was announced that China recognized the Soviet Union as a fellow socialist country. [34] From this point forward, the Chinese propaganda ministry backed away from its attacks on the USSR, ending decades of ideological warfare. In March 1985, while in Moscow for Konstantin Chernenko's funeral, Li Peng met with the new Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, with both sides explicitly stating their desire to normalize all relations. [32] While Gorbachev focused on consolidating his power in the following two years, the PRC and USSR reached towards each other, further establishing a new "network of diplomatic, scientific, cultural, sports, health, and other exchanges" between the two powers. [35]

The gradual warming continued through 1985. At the 27th Congress of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev announced the beginnings of perestroika in the USSR, radically reforming and restructuring the stagnant Soviet economy. In his speech, Gorbachev praised the earlier Chinese reforms, and simultaneously expressed an interest to further improve ties with the PRC. [35] The new Soviet government recognized that economic stagnation had been greatly worsened by overextending its military might across the world, and Gorbachev sought to reduce the load on the Soviet Union by withdrawing troops and aid from several costly conflicts. The USSR simply could not afford its interventionist foreign policy, and overextending the military was at the heart of its financial woes. Gorbachev radically reduced military spending, leading to massive troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and reduced aid to many allied nations. [36]

Furthermore, Gorbachev announced troop withdrawals from Mongolia, Afghanistan and the Russian Far East, announcing his intention to remove the "obstacles" to Sino-Soviet relations, while also recognizing the Chinese view of the northern border, accepting that the dividing line ran through the middle of the main channel of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers. [36] Furthermore, the countries resumed diplomatic relations on the consular level the PRC opened a consulate in Leningrad, and the USSR opened one in Shanghai. [36]

Despite Gorbachev's concessions, both sides continued to make cautious careful moves towards full relations. Scientific and trade expositions resumed in 1986. [37] Gorbachev's new political thinking of 1988 sped up the normalization process significantly. It recognized that disarmament was key to the economic survival of the USSR, including unilateral disarmament and equal participation in regional economic and diplomatic relations. [37]

With Gorbachev's concessions on troops, the Chinese also stepped back agreeing that the "three major obstacles" could be resolved simultaneously to negotiations for full diplomatic normalization of relations. For the first time, the Chinese foreign minister visited both nations in 1988, announcing that all diplomatic relations were to occur on equal footing. The two foreign ministers then set the formal summit meeting between all parties for May 15–18, 1989 in Beijing, where Gorbachev would finally meet Deng and diplomatic relations fully normalized. [38]

In the midst of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Deng and Gorbachev met with “only handshake but no embrace." [39] The two nations established bilateral diplomatic declarations under the five principles of peaceful coexistence. Both sides agreed that there was no dogmatic model for socialism and that both nations were socialist societies, led by Communist parties. Furthermore, Gorbachev rejected the Brezhnev Doctrine on the USSR's right to intervene in socialist nations affairs, while also stating that the USSR did not strive to dominate the PRC politically, economically, nor ideologically. The groups agreed to move forward on settling the Cambodian situation with Vietnam. In economics, the USSR "proposed among others cooperation in metallurgy, the energy sector and transport, whereas the Chinese put forward the idea of a broader utilization of Chinese labor forces in Siberia." [39] The term "only handshake but no embrace" refers to the formalizing of bilateral diplomatic relations without the close party-party alliance relations of the earlier Sino-Soviet Alliance the two nation's mutual diplomatic recognition, and bilateral economic relations avoided the pitfalls that doomed the earlier Sino-Soviet relationship. [39]

On May 18, 1989, the USSR and PRC formally normalized all diplomatic and political relations. [40] These bilateral diplomatic relations would last until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.

In 1969, the Soviet Union and China Nearly Started World War III

A nearly forgotten--but important--Cold War nightmare.

The United States reacted to the clashes with caution. While the border conflict reassured Washington that the Sino-Soviet split remained in effect, officials disagreed over the likelihood and consequences of broader conflict. Through various official and non-official channels, the Soviets probed U.S. attitudes towards China. Reputedly, the United States reacted negatively to Soviet overtures in 1969 about a joint attack on Chinese nuclear facilities. However, even if Washington did not want to see China burn, it would not likely have engaged in any serious, affirmative effort to protect Beijing from Moscow’s wrath.

Americans tend to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis as the most dangerous moment in Cold War brinksmanship. Despite some tense moments, Washington and Moscow resolved that crisis with only the death of U.S. Air Force pilot Maj. Rudolph Anderson Jr.

Seven years later, in March 1969, a contingent of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers raided a Soviet border outpost on Zhenbao Island, killing dozens and injuring scores. The incident brought Russia and China to the brink of war, a conflict that might have led to the use of nuclear weapons. But after two weeks of clashes, the conflict trailed off.

What if the brief 1969 conflict between China and the Soviet Union had escalated?

The incident on Zhenbao Island, where the initial ambush and the bulk of the fighting occurred, represented the nadir of Soviet-Chinese relations. Just ten years earlier, Beijing and Moscow had stood hand in hand as bulwarks of the Communist world. Struggles over ideology, leadership and resources, however, resulted in a sharp split between the allies that had global repercussions. The split exacerbated territorial disputes that had existed since Tsarist and Imperial times. The long, poorly demarcated border left numerous gray zones in which China and the USSR both claimed sovereignty.

After a few minor incidents, the Zhenbao Island incident drove tensions through the roof. A Soviet counterattack incurred serious casualties, as did a similar incident in Xinjiang in August. A consensus has emerged on both sides that the Chinese leadership prepared for and orchestrated the clash. Why would the Chinese provoke their much more powerful neighbor? And what if the Soviets had responded more aggressively to the Chinese provocation?

Avenues of Escalation

In the immediate wake of the conflict, both the USSR and China prepared for war, with the Red Army redeploying to the Far East and the PLA going into full mobilization. The Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming technological advantage over China in 1969. However, Beijing had constructed the largest army in the world, much of which mustered within reach of the Sino-Soviet border. The Red Army, by contrast, concentrated its strength in Eastern Europe, where it could prepare for a conflict with NATO. Consequently, at the moment of the clash, the Chinese could plausibly claim conventional superiority along much of the border.

However, China’s manpower advantage didn’t mean that the PLA could sustain an offensive into the USSR. The Chinese lacked the logistics and airpower necessary to seize substantial amounts of Soviet territory. Moreover, the extremely long Sino-Soviet border gave the Soviets ample opportunity for response. With a NATO attack unlikely, the Soviets could have transferred substantial forces from Europe, attacking into Xinjiang and points west.

The most critical avenue of potential advance lay in Manchuria, where the Red Army had launched a devastating, lightning quick offensive in the waning days of World War II. Despite its size, the PLA of 1969 had no better hope of stopping such an offensive than the Kwantung Army had in 1945, and the loss of Manchuria would have proven devastating to China’s economic power and political legitimacy. In any case, Soviet airpower would have made short work of the Chinese air force, subjecting Chinese cities, communication centers and military bases to severe air attack.

After conquering Manchuria in 1945, the Soviets looted Japanese industry and left. A similar scenario might have ensued in 1969, but only if the Chinese leadership could bring itself to face reality. With the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution in the very recent rear-view mirror, and competing factions still trying to ideologically out-radicalize one another, Moscow might have struggled to find a productive partner for peace negotiations. Continued Soviet advances might have resembled the Japanese main advance of 1937, albeit without the naval dominance that the Imperial Japanese Navy enjoyed. Expecting such attacks, the PLA might have withdrawn to the interior, conducting a scorched earth campaign along the way.

China tested its first nuclear device in 1964, theoretically giving Beijing an independent deterrent capability. However, their delivery systems left much to be desired—liquid-fueled missiles of uncertain reliability that required hours to prepare, and that could only remain on the launch pad for a limited amount of time. Moreover, Chinese missiles of the era lacked the range to strike vital Soviet targets in European Russia. China’s bomber force—consisting of an extremely limited number of Tu-4 (a Soviet copy of the U.S. B-29) and H-6 (a copy of the Soviet Tu-16 Badger)—would have fared very poorly against the USSR’s sophisticated air defense network.

The Soviets, on the other hand, were on the verge of achieving nuclear parity with the United States. The USSR had a modern, sophisticated arsenal of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, easily capable of destroying China’s nuclear deterrent, its core military formations and its major cities. Sensitive to international opinion, the Soviet leadership would have resisted launching a full scale nuclear assault against China (U.S. and Chinese propaganda would have had a field day), but a limited strike against Chinese nuclear facilities, as well as tactical attacks on deployed Chinese forces might have seemed more reasonable. Much would have depended on how the Chinese reacted to defeats on the battlefield. If the Chinese leadership decided that they needed to “use or lose” their nuclear forces in anticipation of decisive Soviet victory, they could easily have incurred a preemptive Soviet attack. Given that Moscow viewed Beijing as abjectly insane, Moscow could very well have decided to eliminate the Chinese nuclear force before it became a problem.

U.S. Reaction

The United States reacted to the clashes with caution. While the border conflict reassured Washington that the Sino-Soviet split remained in effect, officials disagreed over the likelihood and consequences of broader conflict. Through various official and non-official channels, the Soviets probed U.S. attitudes towards China. Reputedly, the United States reacted negatively to Soviet overtures in 1969 about a joint attack on Chinese nuclear facilities. However, even if Washington did not want to see China burn, it would not likely have engaged in any serious, affirmative effort to protect Beijing from Moscow’s wrath.

What Comes Next?

A decade before, Dwight Eisenhower had outlined the Soviet Union’s biggest obstacle in a war with China: what to do after you win. The Soviets had neither the capacity, nor the interest, in governing another continent-sized territory, especially one that would likely have included masses of disaffected resisters. And the United States, husbanding a “legitimate” government on Formosa, would eagerly have supported a variety of resistance elements against a Soviet occupation. Indeed, if a rump Beijing had survived the war, the United States might still have considered “unleashing Chiang,” in an effort to restore parts of China to the Western column.

The most likely outcome of war would have been short Chinese success, followed by a sharp, destructive Soviet rebuke. Such an outcome would have served to drive Beijing even more fully into the arms of the United States, which is likely one reason that the Soviets decided not to risk it.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to the National Interest, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and the Diplomat.

Soviet Union attacks Chinese policy toward Vietnam - HISTORY

By Professor Robert K. Brigham, Vassar College

According to the terms of the Geneva Accords, Vietnam would hold national elections in 1956 to reunify the country. The division at the seventeenth parallel, a temporary separation without cultural precedent, would vanish with the elections. The United States, however, had other ideas. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles did not support the Geneva Accords because he thought they granted too much power to the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Instead, Dulles and President Dwight D. Eisenhower supported the creation of a counter-revolutionary alternative south of the seventeenth parallel. The United States supported this effort at nation-building through a series of multilateral agreements that created the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).

South Vietnam Under Ngo Dinh Diem
Using SEATO for political cover, the Eisenhower administration helped create a new nation from dust in southern Vietnam. In 1955, with the help of massive amounts of American military, political, and economic aid, the Government of the Republic of Vietnam (GVN or South Vietnam) was born. The following year, Ngo Dinh Diem, a staunchly anti-Communist figure from the South, won a dubious election that made him president of the GVN. Almost immediately, Diem claimed that his newly created government was under attack from Communists in the north. Diem argued that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV or North Vietnam) wanted to take South Vietnam by force. In late 1957, with American military aid, Diem began to counterattack. He used the help of the American Central Intelligence Agency to identify those who sought to bring his government down and arrested thousands. Diem passed a repressive series of acts known as Law 10/59 that made it legal to hold someone in jail if s/he was a suspected Communist without bringing formal charges.

The outcry against Diem's harsh and oppressive actions was immediate. Buddhist monks and nuns were joined by students, business people, intellectuals, and peasants in opposition to the corrupt rule of Ngo Dinh Diem. The more these forces attacked Diem's troops and secret police, the more Diem complained that the Communists were trying to take South Vietnam by force. This was, in Diem's words, "a hostile act of aggression by North Vietnam against peace-loving and democratic South Vietnam."

The Kennedy administration seemed split on how peaceful or democratic the Diem regime really was. Some Kennedy advisers believed Diem had not instituted enough social and economic reforms to remain a viable leader in the nation-building experiment. Others argued that Diem was the "best of a bad lot." As the White House met to decide the future of its Vietnam policy, a change in strategy took place at the highest levels of the Communist Party.

From 1956-1960, the Communist Party of Vietnam desired to reunify the country through political means alone. Accepting the Soviet Union's model of political struggle, the Communist Party tried unsuccessfully to cause Diem's collapse by exerting tremendous internal political pressure. After Diem's attacks on suspected Communists in the South, however, southern Communists convinced the Party to adopt more violent tactics to guarantee Diem's downfall. At the Fifteenth Party Plenum in January 1959, the Communist Party finally approved the use of revolutionary violence to overthrow Ngo Dinh Diem's government and liberate Vietnam south of the seventeenth parallel. In May 1959, and again in September 1960, the Party confirmed its use of revolutionary violence and the combination of the political and armed struggle movements. The result was the creation of a broad-based united front to help mobilize southerners in opposition to the GVN.

The character of the NLF and its relationship to the Communists in Hanoi has caused considerable debate among scholars, anti-war activists, and policymakers. From the birth of the NLF, government officials in Washington claimed that Hanoi directed the NLF's violent attacks against the Saigon regime. In a series of government "White Papers," Washington insiders denounced the NLF, claiming that it was merely a puppet of Hanoi and that its non-Communist elements were Communist dupes. The NLF, on the other hand, argued that it was autonomous and independent of the Communists in Hanoi and that it was made up mostly of non-Communists. Many anti-war activists supported the NLF's claims. Washington continued to discredit the NLF, however, calling it the "Viet Cong," a derogatory and slang term meaning Vietnamese Communist.

December 1961 White Paper
In 1961, President Kennedy sent a team to Vietnam to report on conditions in the South and to assess future American aid requirements. The report, now known as the "December 1961 White Paper," argued for an increase in military, technical, and economic aid, and the introduction of large-scale American "advisers" to help stabilize the Diem regime and crush the NLF. As Kennedy weighed the merits of these recommendations, some of his other advisers urged the president to withdraw from Vietnam altogether, claiming that it was a "dead-end alley."

Throughout the fall and into the winter of 1964, the Johnson administration debated the correct strategy in Vietnam. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to expand the air war over the DRV quickly to help stabilize the new Saigon regime. The civilians in the Pentagon wanted to apply gradual pressure to the Communist Party with limited and selective bombings. Only Undersecretary of State George Ball dissented, claiming that Johnson's Vietnam policy was too provocative for its limited expected results. In early 1965, the NLF attacked two U.S. army installations in South Vietnam, and as a result, Johnson ordered the sustained bombing missions over the DRV that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had long advocated.

Nixon's secret plan, it turned out, was borrowing from a strategic move from Lyndon Johnson's last year in office. The new president continued a process called "Vietnamization", an awful term that implied that Vietnamese were not fighting and dying in the jungles of Southeast Asia. This strategy brought American troops home while increasing the air war over the DRV and relying more on the ARVN for ground attacks. The Nixon years also saw the expansion of the war into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, violating the international rights of these countries in secret campaigns, as the White House tried desperately to rout out Communist sanctuaries and supply routes. The intense bombing campaigns and intervention in Cambodia in late April 1970 sparked intense campus protests all across America. At Kent State in Ohio, four students were killed by National Guardsmen who were called out to preserve order on campus after days of anti-Nixon protest. Shock waves crossed the nation as students at Jackson State in Mississippi were also shot and killed for political reasons, prompting one mother to cry, "They are killing our babies in Vietnam and in our own backyard."

The expanded air war did not deter the Communist Party, however, and it continued to make hard demands in Paris. Nixon's Vietnamization plan temporarily quieted domestic critics, but his continued reliance on an expanded air war to provide cover for an American retreat angered U.S. citizens. By the early fall 1972, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and DRV representatives Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho had hammered out a preliminary peace draft. Washington and Hanoi assumed that its southern allies would naturally accept any agreement drawn up in Paris, but this was not to pass. The leaders in Saigon, especially President Nguyen van Thieu and Vice President Nguyen Cao Ky, rejected the Kissinger-Tho peace draft, demanding that no concessions be made. The conflict intensified in December 1972, when the Nixon administration unleashed a series of deadly bombing raids against targets in the DRV's largest cities, Hanoi and Haiphong. These attacks, now known as the Christmas bombings, brought immediate condemnation from the international community and forced the Nixon administration to reconsider its tactics and negotiation strategy.

The Paris Peace Agreement
In early January 1973, the Nixon White House convinced the Thieu-Ky regime in Saigon that they would not abandon the GVN if they signed onto the peace accord. On January 23, therefore, the final draft was initialed, ending open hostilities between the United States and the DRV. The Paris Peace Agreement did not end the conflict in Vietnam, however, as the Thieu-Ky regime continued to battle Communist forces. From March 1973 until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, ARVN forces tried desperately to save the South from political and military collapse. The end finally came, however, as DRV tanks rolled south along National Highway One. On the morning of April 30, Communist forces captured the presidential palace in Saigon, ending the Second Indochina War.

China Policy

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the most dramatic moment in Sino-American relations occurred on December 15, 1978, when, following months of secret negotiations, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that they would recognize one another and establish official diplomatic relations. As part of the agreement, the United States recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, and declared it would withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China [ROC]).

Prior to 1979, the United States and the People’s Republic of China had never established formal diplomatic relations. In 1949, Chinese Communist Party forces defeated the Government of the Republic of China in the Chinese Civil War and founded the People’s Republic of China, eliminating ROC authority from mainland China. Nonetheless, for the next thirty years, the U.S. Government continued to recognize the Republic of China on Taiwan as the sole legal government over all of China. During that period, the U.S. and PRC Governments had only intermittent contact through forums such as the Sino-U.S. Ambassadorial talks in Warsaw, which began in 1955.

A new era began with a rapprochement during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon and his aide, Henry Kissinger, found ready partners in Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, who also wanted to improve Sino-U.S. relations. Their efforts resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the basis for future cooperation between the two countries even while acknowledging continuing disagreements on the subject of Taiwan. As part of this rapprochement, the two countries opened liaison offices in one another’s capitals in 1973, a time when Taiwan still had an Embassy in Washington. The liaison offices, which in many ways operated as de facto embassies, represented a significant concession by the People’s Republic of China, which opposed the acceptance of “two Chinas” because that implied both were legitimate governments. The U.S. Government placated the People’s Republic of China, and helped set the stage for normalization, by gradually removing military personnel from Taiwan and scaling back its official contact with the ROC Government.

When Carter took office in January 1977, a significant improvement in relations between Communist China and the United States seemed far from inevitable. Presidents before Nixon had failed to make significant progress in improving relations with the People’s Republic of China. President Nixon’s attempt to normalize relations with China during his second term had been frustrated by the Watergate scandal. The collapse of South Vietnam and the opposition of conservative Republicans created an inhospitable environment for pursuing normalization during Gerald Ford’s presidency any policy shift that could be depicted as appeasing a longstanding communist enemy and abandoning a loyal, anti-communist ally generated significant political resistance.

The Soviet Origins of Xi’s Xinjiang Policy

Behind the CCP’s horrific crackdown in Xinjiang is a desperate drive to avoid the mistakes that led to the USSR’s collapse.

A child from the Uyghur community during a protest in Istanbul, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, against what they allege is oppression by the Chinese government to Muslim Uyghurs in the far-western Xinjiang province.

Credit: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis Advertisement

Xi Jinping’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang is tinged with an urgency that only historical parallel can provide. The Soviet Union’s collapse haunts his brutal crackdown there. Xi and his advisors have long identified ethnic unrest and separatist forces at the fringes of Soviet empire as one impetus for the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Xi’s eyes, before his extreme intervention, similarities between Chinese and Soviet ethnic policy risked a disastrous splintering of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authority in the region.

Ever since the Soviet Union unceremoniously imploded and dissolved, China’s leaders have parsed the collapse for lessons to inform strategy and mistakes to avoid repeating. Over the course of a year of research, I have examined the powerful sway the Soviet analogy has had on Chinese leaders in the 30 years since. Tracking the Chinese Communist Party’s understanding of the lessons of this collapse has revealed the preoccupations of CCP leadership in crucial periods of crisis and change.

One finding struck me: Chinese narratives about the Soviet collapse have been marshalled to justify the escalating horrors of ethnic assimilation in Xinjiang. Xi’s reading of Soviet history will not dissuade him from cultural genocide in Xinjiang. It will only steel his belief in the urgency of the endeavor.

The terrain west of Xinjiang was once subject to Moscow’s authority. By the 1970s, Central Asia was causing serious trouble for the Soviet leadership. It was a hotbed for the kinds of separatism that would ultimately dismantle Soviet imperial rule there. For over a decade, Ma Rong, an influential academic at Peking University in Beijing, has been publishing articles that point to the “failures” of Soviet ethnic policy in Central Asia. He, and others like Hu Angang of Tsinghua University, believe that the Soviet Union’s inability to subordinate ethnic identity and stamp out local nationalities was the primary reason the federation dissolved.

This type of historical reasoning is now cited to encourage ethnic repression in Xinjiang. In one analysis published in 2019, Ma detailed the way lax ethnic policy triggered the Soviet Union’s downfall. That nation’s biggest governance mistake stemmed from the legal right it afforded to its so-called “autonomous republics” to leave the Soviet Union and form independent nations. In good times, “when [Soviet] state power was stable and the system highly centralized,” Ma said, none of the Soviet Union’s autonomous republics “really tried hard to realize this ‘right to independence.’” However, when Soviet control weakened during the Gorbachev era and “the country’s political system began to waver,” some of these republics “sought to establish independent countries on the basis of the constitution’s ‘right to leave.”

Chinese law nominally grants its autonomous regions, like Xinjiang, a legal “right to leave,” similar in statute to the one that doomed the Soviet Union. Could this right to leave – articulated in a clause within China’s Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law – become “the legal justification through which ethnic autonomous areas could openly challenge the authority of the central government?” Ma wondered. “This is how the Soviet Union, formerly a ‘superpower,’ fell apart.” Without harsher steps to suppress ethnic nationalism, “minority group identity” will be “strengthened and politicized,” instead of cohering around Chinese identity. This would be a perilous development, bound to encourage separatism, according to Ma.

In a series of speeches delivered in 2014 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, Xi explicitly gestured to the Soviet Union’s collapse to explain his overhaul of Chinese ethnic policy. Although Chinese state media have sometimes alluded to the existence of these speeches, they have never officially been released. Instead, they were leaked to reporters at the New York Times, who published their contents in 2019.

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These speeches reveal the degree to which Xi conceptualizes China’s greatest threats through the lens of the Soviet collapse and show how closely Xi has hewed to Ma Rong’s analysis. The Soviet collapse is a long-lasting obsession of Xi’s. While head of the Central Party School 10 years ago, he commissioned a study of the fall of the Soviet Union.

In one speech in Urumqi, Xi referenced the Soviet Union’s dissolution to reinforce his claim that economic investment in Xinjiang would not be enough to prevent the forces of ethnic separatism. The Baltic republics were some of the richest in the Soviet Union, but they were among the first to leave the federation when the Soviet Union fell, Xi pointed out. Yugoslavia, which was also relatively wealthy, did not survive the forces of separatism either. “We say that development is the top priority and the basis for achieving lasting security, and that’s right, but it would be wrong to believe that with development every problem solves itself,” Xi told assembled cadres.

Rising incomes would not be enough to stop Uyghur unrest. “In recent years, Xinjiang has grown very quickly and the standard of living has consistently risen, but even so, ethnic separatism and terrorist violence have still been on the rise. This goes to show that economic development does not automatically bring lasting order and security,” Xi added.

So, instead of traditional methods of taming ethnic unrest in Xinjiang – like economic or infrastructure investment – the experience of the Soviet Communist Party suggested that an ideological propaganda campaign, not an economic investment push, would be required. This calculation undergirds the shocking reeducation and mass internment efforts underway in Xinjiang today.

The violence in Xinjiang could have dangerous implications for the rest of China, Xi has also insisted. Without serious measures to prevent further unrest, “social stability will suffer shocks, the general unity of people of every ethnicity will be damaged, and the broad outlook for reform, development and stability will be affected.”

China does not study the possibility of its own collapse and dissolution – except by proxy. China’s leaders know how separatism plagued their communist neighbor to the north. The centrality of Soviet parallels in Chinese political decision-making today provides compelling evidence of the existential stakes of Xi’s project of repression in Xinjiang. To Xi Jinping and his advisors, the horrific crackdown in Xinjiang is an essential feature of regime survival.

Guest Author

Christopher Vassallo

Chris Vassallo is a Schwarzman Scholar and former researcher for Kevin Rudd at the Asia Society Policy Institute and for Graham Allison at the Harvard Kennedy School. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in history. His twitter handle is @VassalloCMV.

Twentieth Century

1900: The Boxer Uprising

In the late 19th century, anti-foreign sentiments merged with rural unrest and mystical cults to give rise to the Boxer movement. Practicing martial arts and espousing a slogan of “support the Qing, destroy the foreign,” the “Boxers United in Righteousness” targeted all foreigners and Chinese Christian converts, who suffered violent attacks. The Uprising reached a peak in the spring and summer of 1900 when Boxer forces marched on Beijing, with the support of the Qing court. For two months the Boxers occupied the capital and besieged the foreign legation district, where the foreign community and a large group of Chinese Christians barricaded themselves within the legations. The foreigners managed to resist repeated Boxer attacks until a multinational force finally fought its way in from the coast and reached Beijing, lifting the siege. U.S. marines played a key role in defending the legations during the siege and also joined the multinational force that crushed the Boxers.

1901: The Boxer Protocol Signed

After defeating the Boxers, the foreign powers forced the Qing to submit to a punitive settlement that included a huge indemnity ($333 million) to be paid to the foreign nations. This essentially bankrupted the Qing government, which already faced serious financial difficulties.

1902, 1904: Provisions of the Geary Act Extended and Expanded

The U.S. Congress continued to pass restrictive legislation regarding Chinese immigration new laws aimed both at preventing the arrival of more Chinese and establishing guidelines for the ultimate removal of all of those already in the United States. These exclusionary laws contributed to the ghettoization of Chinese communities in the United States as Chinese become more and more concentrated in insular Chinatowns in major urban areas across the country.

1905-06: Anti-American Boycotts in China

After the United States and China failed to come to an agreement on a new immigration treaty in 1904, Chinese in Shanghai, Beijing, and other cities launched boycotts of U.S. products and businesses. Some of the inspiration for the boycotts came from Chinese living in the United States, but the primary motivation was the nationalism that was rising in China.

1908: Remittance of the Boxer Indemnity

On May 25, Congress issued a joint resolution remitting the surplus amount of the U.S. portion of the Boxer Indemnity (roughly $11 million out of an initial $24 million) to the Chinese government. The United States was the first country to do something of this kind, and in response, the Qing decided to send between 50 and 100 students a year to receive their education in the United States. Secretary of State Elihu Root determined that the remitted funds would be used to finance this educational program.

1908: Root-Takahira Agreement

Secretary of State Root exchanged notes with Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, Takahira Kogorō, which confirmed Japan’s special interests and influence in Northeast China and Korea. The agreement also reaffirmed the Open Door policy regarding the preservation of China’s territorial integrity.

1911: The Fall of the Qing Dynasty

Early in the 20th century the Qing finally enacted a range of reforms, including ending the centuries-old civil service examination system and constitutional changes, but these measures proved to be too little, too late. Discontent with the government rose, and when the Qing attempted to nationalize all of the regional railroads, and took out more foreign loans to do so, it proved to be the breaking point. An uprising broke out in the inland city of Wuhan in October, and within a few months local rebellions took place throughout the country. These eventually led to the fall of the dynasty.

1912: Founding of the Republic of China

The Qing collapsed during the fall of 1911, and on January 1, 1912, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) took office as the provisional president of the newly created Republic of China. Although Sun’s Revolutionary Alliance had widespread support, the power lay with regional militaries, and within a few months Sun stepped down in favor of General Yuan Shikai.

1915: Japan’s 21 Demands

After entering World War I on the side of the Allies, Japan seized German territories in Shandong Province. Japan then issued 21 demands to the Chinese Government, seeking extensive new trade and territorial privileges. President Woodrow Wilson objected to these demands as being a rejection of the Open Door policy, and the U.S. Minister in China, Paul Reinsch, advised the Chinese to resist as long as possible. Eventually Japan dropped the portions that most severely compromised China’s sovereignty, and the Chinese agreed to the rest.

1917: Lansing-Ishii Agreement

With this agreement, signed by Secretary of State Robert Lansing and Japanese envoy Ishii Kikujirō, the United States reaffirmed its acknowledgement of Japan’s “special interests” in Northeast China.

1917: China Entered the Warlord Period

Yuan Shikai, in a last-ditch effort to hold China together under his control, had himself proclaimed Emperor in 1916, but soon thereafter he passed away. The following year, China fragmented into territorial fiefdoms ruled by local warlords, with a nominal national regime located in Beijing. The United States maintained diplomatic relations with this Government, but U.S. citizens and companies in China often dealt directly with local leaders.

1919: Treaty of Versailles and May Fourth Incident

China had joined the Allies in World War I, partly at U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s urging, and hoped that in return it would regain control over the former German concessions that Japan had seized. However, this hope was not fulfilled by the Treaty of Versailles, due mostly to secret agreements between Japan, Britain, and France to give those territories to Japan. When word of this reached China, on May 4 students gathered for a demonstration at the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) in Beijing, and then stormed the house of a pro-Japanese minister, to express their discontent. This launched the May Fourth Movement, a mostly urban movement that combined cultural and educational reform with rising nationalism and a new energy for thorough political and social transformation. Although some felt betrayed by Wilson for not fulfilling his promises to promote self-determination, many Chinese looked to the United States for models of reform.

1921: Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) Opened

The Rockefeller Foundation began searching for philanthropic projects in China during the 1910s, and in 1915 it donated a large sum to found this institution. Conceived of as a joint U.S.-Chinese project, the PUMC trained nurses and doctors to serve as the core of a modern medical profession in China. Over time, its graduates did have a substantial impact upon medical practice throughout the country.

1921: Chinese Communist Party Founded

In July, a small group of Chinese leftists met in the French Concession in Shanghai to form the Chinese Communist Party. Within a couple of years, and largely at the urging of advisors from the Soviet Union, the CCP forged a united front with Sun’s Nationalist Party (Guomindang/Kuomintang).

1922: Washington Conference Agreements

The Washington Conferences of 1921-22 focused on settling a number of issues relating to East Asia. Under U.S. leadership, the resulting Four, Five, and Nine Power Treaties returned the now Japanese-held areas in Shandong to Chinese sovereignty, and also set limits on the relative sizes of naval forces in East Asia.

1922: Anti-missionary Movement

The Chinese nationalism sparked by the May Fourth Movement spilled over into a wave of intense anti-missionary activity, much of it directed against U.S. citizens. This in turn gave rise to the Rights Recovery Movement to bring all missionary schools under Chinese control, which was achieved by 1927.

1924: Immigration Act Extended Exclusion

Also known as the National Origins Act, this legislation placed stringent quotas on new immigrants based upon their country of origin. In addition, it enacted a total prohibition on new arrivals from China and Japan, with a few exceptions, such as students, certain professionals, and others who did not intend to immigrate.

1925: United States Established China Foundation

The United States decided to remit all of China’s remaining payments on the Boxer Indemnity, and redirected those funds to establish the China Foundation, an organization devoted to promoting science education and improving libraries in China.

1925: May 30th Incident

Chinese nationalists launched a nationwide anti-foreign movement when Chinese laborers demonstrating against cruel treatment at a Japanese factory were killed by British troops on this day. U.S. citizens were relatively unaffected by these developments in the short term.

1925: Death of Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen)

Sun, the man known as the “National Father,” died in Beijing. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) emerged as Sun’s successor to lead the Nationalist Party, and the next year he launched the Northern Expedition to reunite almost all of China from the party’s base in Guangzhou. Jiang finally succeeded in 1928, when Nationalist forces claimed Beijing.

1927: Nationalist Capital Established

After bringing most of southern China under their military control, the Nationalists established their capital in Nanjing. U.S. citizens and other foreigners were killed as the Nationalists took over Nanjing, but this proved to be an isolated incident that did not stand in the way of the United States establishing ties with the new regime.

1927: End of the United Front

Soon after establishing himself in Nanjing, Jiang Jieshi launched a major purge of Communists in Shanghai. This shattered the uneasy alliance between Nationalists and Communists, and sent the Communists into hiding in the countryside. The two parties remained in a state of civil war for most of the next 20 years.

1928: United States Formally Recognized Nationalist Government

The United States became the first nation to recognize the new regime as the legitimate Government of China when Secretary of State Frank Kellogg signed an agreement granting China full tariff autonomy. Kellogg also expressed a willingness to discuss abandoning extraterritoriality, but did not follow through on that goal.

1931: Manchurian Incident

Rogue elements in the Japanese Army staged an explosion on a rail line outside the city of Shenyang (Mukden), which they then used as a pretext for a military takeover of all of Manchuria. The following year, the Japanese installed the last Qing Emperor, Puyi, as ruler of the puppet state of Manzhouguo (Manchukuo). The League of Nations sent the Lytton Commission, which included a U.S. delegate in an unofficial capacity, to investigate the Incident. It concluded that Japan was at fault and called for the restoration of Manchuria to Chinese political control. As a result, Japan left the League of Nations in 1933. The United States separately criticized the takeover of Manchuria and never recognized the Government of Manzhouguo.

1933: China Requested American Aid in Rural Reconstruction

Jiang Jieshi, who wanted to institute rural reforms in areas formerly held by the Communists in order to maintain control over them, asked a representative of one of the American missionary organizations to lead a rural reconstruction effort in one of these regions in Jiangxi Province. This was the Chinese Government’s first official rural development program, and like other private efforts, it relied to a large extent on American planning, funding, and/or implementation.

1934: The Long March

After a prolonged period of fighting and encirclement around their base camp in the mountains of southern Jiangxi Province, a group of Communists broke through the Nationalist lines and commenced a search for a new base of operations. After wandering for more than a year, they ended up in Yan’an, in Shaanxi Province in north central China, where they remained for the next decade. Along the way Mao Zedong solidified his predominance over the party and army. Less than 10,000 of the original 130,000 who set off made it to Yan’an.

1936: The Second United Front Formed

A Nationalist general named Zhang Xueliang kidnapped Jiang Jieshi while he was visiting the city of Xi’an and forced him to negotiate a new united front with the Communists, so that they could focus their collective efforts against the Japanese. The united front held for several years, but it was not strictly observed by either side.

1937: Second Sino-Japanese War

In July, Chinese and Japanese forces clashed at the Marco Polo Bridge outside of Beijing, and the conflict quickly escalated as simmering tensions turned into full-scale war. The Japanese Army swept down from Manchuria and along the coast to Shanghai, where Chinese troops put up a spirited defense before finally giving way. The Japanese military then pushed inland, with their assault reaching a destructive peak in the Rape of Nanjing in November. Just before the Japanese overran the capital, the Nationalist Government fled inland to the city of Chongqing, where it remained for the duration of the war. Some U.S. citizens became involved in an international effort to protect tens of thousands of Chinese in the International Settlement in Nanjing and to publicize Japanese actions there.

1938: United States Extended Credits to Nationalists

After the outbreak of war in China, U.S. popular and governmental support for China increased dramatically. Although not yet ready to go to war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the advice of his Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, and then Adviser on Political Relations at the Department of State Stanley Hornbeck and extended a $25 million credit to the Nationalist regime so that it could purchase necessary supplies. In 1940, President Roosevelt expanded the credit to $100 million.

1938: Indusco Founded

To help the Chinese produce materials for their fight against Japan, U.S. authors and journalists Helen Foster Snow and Edgar Snow joined with a few other foreigners to create Industrial Cooperatives (Indusco)—small factories that could be established anywhere with very little money. Both Nationalists and Communists picked up on this idea, and cooperatives were set up throughout Chinese held territory. In addition to making an important contribution to China’s early war effort, the Chinese name of the project, with its spirit of concerted and collective action, provided a new word for the English language: gung ho.

1941: Aid to China Expanded

In May, the United States extended the Lend-Lease program to China, so that it could obtain war supplies, and during the summer it enacted an embargo against Japan to pressure it to halt its offensive in China and Southeast Asia. General Claire Lee Chennault, who had been serving as an advisor to Jiang Jieshi since 1937, organized the American Volunteer Group (“Flying Tigers”) and, with permission from President Roosevelt, brought a squadron of planes and pilots to defend China from Japan’s aerial attacks. After Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States formally entered into the war on China’s side.

1942: United States and China Formed Wartime Alliance

President Roosevelt sent General Joseph Stilwell to Chongqing as the chief U.S. military advisor to the Chinese Government and commander of U.S. forces in China. He and Jiang Jieshi had a tense relationship, in which the two disagreed over strategy, troop deployments, and expenditures. Material aid from the United States was limited by the difficulty of getting supplies to Chongqing, particularly after Japan seized control of Burma from Britain in May and cut the Burma Road that had been China’s lifeline. Thereafter, U.S. pilots flew supplies in over “the Hump” from India.

1943: Madame Jiang Jieshi Visited United States

Jiang’s wife, Song Meiling, a graduate of Wellesley College, came to the United States to rally greater support for China’s war effort. She spoke to Congress and generally made a good impression on the U.S. public, and succeeded in gaining more aid. In a show of solidarity, the United States pushed to have China declared a major power in any postwar settlement, and also promised that China would gain sovereignty over all areas seized by Japan, especially Manchuria and Taiwan.

1943: The End of Extraterritoriality and Exclusion

The two nations signed a treaty formally ending 100 years of extraterritoriality in China, bringing an end to the legal privileges long held by foreigners. Simultaneously, the United States passed legislation allowing Chinese immigration for the first time in 60 years, although it was under a very low quota.

1944: The Dixie Mission

With approval from Jiang Jieshi, the United States Army Observation Group went to the Communist base camp at Yan’an to explore the possibility of U.S. aid to Communist forces. The group, which maintained a presence there from July 1944 to March 1947, was on the whole favorably impressed with the discipline and organization of the Communists, and sought to provide direct assistance. However, Jiang objected to this, as did U.S. Special Envoy Patrick Hurley, who came to China that year and also visited Yan’an, and General Albert Wedemeyer, who replaced General Stilwell as the senior U.S. military officer in China.

1944: Vice President Visited Chongqing

Vice President Henry Wallace paid a visit to China’s wartime capital, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to set foot on Chinese soil up until that time.

1945: Japan Surrendered, United States Attempted to Negotiate China’s Civil War

With the common Japanese enemy gone, Nationalists and Communists let their long-simmering disputes erupt again. In December, President Harry S. Truman sent General George Marshall as a Special Envoy to negotiate an agreement between the two sides on a cease-fire and a national unity government. These agreements quickly collapsed, and the Marshall Mission ultimately failed as full-scale civil war began in early 1946.

1947: Wedemeyer Mission to China

President Truman sent General Wedemeyer back to China on a special mission to assess the current conditions in China’s civil war. Wedemeyer returned with recommendations for large-scale aid to the Nationalists. Although a strong U.S> “China lobby” supported this position, it went against the views of others in the Truman administration, who saw the Nationalists as a lost cause.

1948: China Aid Act Passed

The U.S. Government extended additional aid to Jiang Jieshi’s regime, although President Truman signed it largely to gain support for the Marshall Plan aid to Europe. In fact, the United States refrained from getting deeply involved in the conflict. By the end of the year, the Nationalists were suffering from a series of defeats and a Communist victory seemed more and more likely.

1949: People’s Republic of China (PRC) Founded

After driving the Nationalists from the Mainland, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the PRC on October 1. Before this, U.S. Ambassador John Leighton Stuart met with Communist leaders to discuss U.S. recognition of the PRC, but those talks failed when Mao announced his intention to lean towards the side of the Soviet Union. The Department of State issued the China White Paper, which stated that the United States had stayed out of the Chinese civil war because it neither should nor could have influenced the outcome. The Truman administration was prepared to abandon the Nationalists, allow the Communists to take over Taiwan, and perhaps even grant recognition to PRC.

1950: Korean War

Soon after the start of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur led U.S. forces across the 38th Parallel and drove north towards China, which brought China into the conflict and precipitated the first military clash between U.S. and Chinese forces since the Boxer Uprising of 1900. With the United States and China engaged in combat, anti-American sentiment rose in China and almost all remaining U.S. citizens began to pull out. The Truman administration changed its earlier China policy and sent the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Straits to prevent the PRC from launching an attack to reclaim Taiwan. With McCarthyism on the rise in the United States, a debate began over who had “lost China,” and many intellectuals, journalists, and others with connections to China came under suspicion and even attack.

1951: General MacArthur Recalled

After General MacArthur called for authorization to launch an assault deep into Chinese territory, President Truman recalled him from command in Korea. Thereafter, the Korean conflict stalemated at roughly the pre-war boundary, although it was not until 1953 that the various parties signed an armistice agreement.

1954: First Taiwan Strait Crisis

PRC forces massed along the coast opposite Taiwan, threatening Nationalist-held islands just offshore. The United States intervened to support the Nationalists by discouraging the Communists from invading, and thereafter it continued to aid Jiang Jieshi’s government while also pushing it to make various social and economic reforms in Taiwan.

1954: The Geneva Conference

Delegates from around the world met in Geneva to resolve the Korean War and the Indochina War between France and Vietnam. PRC delegate Premier Zhou Enlai attempted to shake hands with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who refused to acknowledge Zhou.

1954: Ambassadorial Talks Began

In spite of Dulles’s snub of Zhou, the U.S. and PRC Ambassadors in Geneva began a long-standing tradition of holding occasional, highly formalized talks. The talks shifted location to Warsaw in 1958. In addition to the peace talks in Korea, these were the only direct official connections between the United States and China in the 1950s and 60s.

1955: Formosa Resolution Passed

The U.S. Government confirmed its commitment to defend Taiwan by enacting this Resolution.

1956: Beginnings of the Sino-Soviet Split

Although Mao had guided China into the Soviet camp, the PRC and USSR had always had tense relations. Their differences became more pronounced when Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his Secret Speech, and Mao responded with a condemnation of Khrushchev. From this point on, the split gradually widened through the end of the decade.

1957: U.S. Students Visited PRC

In August, a group of 41 U.S. students who had been participating in the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students decided to journey to the People’s Republic of China. Most of the group stayed into October, touring Beijing and other cities in the country. This trip was made against the express wishes of the U.S. Government, which seized their passports upon their return to the United States.

1958: The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis

The PRC shelled Nationalist outposts on Jinmen and Mazu Islands off the coast of Fujian Province, sparking a second crisis in which the United States again intervened by sending ships into the Taiwan Strait.

1958: The Great Leap Forward

Mao launched this mass campaign to thoroughly reform society and dramatically increase industrial output in a very short period of time, by organizing the countryside into massive communes that would produce both food and iron and steel. After one year of bumper crops, agricultural output in some areas plummeted, although reports continued to trumpet high productivity. Devastating famines ensued, and rural production of iron and steel in “backyard furnaces” did not meet the targets for industrial production, leading to the near collapse of the Chinese economy by 1962.

1960: Eisenhower Visited Taiwan

President Dwight Eisenhower became the first U.S. head of state to pay an official visit to a Chinese Government when he met with Jiang Jieshi in Taiwan in June.

1960-61: Completion of the Sino-Soviet Split

The tensions that emerged between the PRC and the Soviet Union in the 1950s became more and more apparent, and the split seemed complete when the USSR recalled its last scientific and technical advisors from the PRC and cut off all assistance.

1963: Kennedy Administration Considered Opening Ties with PRC

Amidst a reevaluation of China policy, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman hinted in a public speech that the United States wished to improve relations with the PRC, but no action was taken.

1964: The Vietnam War

Following a decade of gradually increasing aid to South Vietnam, the U.S. Government decided to escalate its involvement in Vietnam in the wake of the Tonkin Gulf Incident. The large and growing U.S. presence in Vietnam posed a potential threat to the PRC, which began to send more military and technical assistance to the North Vietnamese. At the same time, Chinese engaged in mass demonstrations accusing the United States of imperialist actions.

1964: PRC Exploded Nuclear Weapon

The PRC successfully tested its first atomic bomb and emerged as a nuclear power in its own right.

1965: Immigration and Naturalization Act Passed

By passing this act, the United States put an end to the long-standing system of quotas based upon national origin, and opened the doors to more migrants from Asia. Chinese immigration from Taiwan and Hong Kong in particular increased dramatically in the following years.

1965: United States Halted Aid to Taiwan

After 15 years of providing major economic assistance to the Nationalist regime on Taiwan, the U.S. Government halted this type of support in recognition of the growth and stability of Taiwan’s economy.

1966: The Cultural Revolution

With speeches to students gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, unleashing a decade of often destructive mass-mobilization. Bands of student-aged Red Guards were at the vanguard of the movement, which quickly descended into chaos. In 1967, a group of radicals took over and temporarily shut down the Foreign Ministry, forcing the PRC’s foreign relations to a halt for several months. By 1968, the PRC Government had reined in the worst excesses, and it controlled the urban chaos by sending urban youths to the countryside for re-education.

1968: Tet Offensive

In the wake of the stunning Tet Offensive in Vietnam in early 1968, the anti-war movement in the United States gained strength and President Lyndon Johnson began to seriously explore possibilities for withdrawing from Vietnam. In the fall, Richard Nixon was elected President partly on the strength of his claim that he would get the United States out of Vietnam.

1969: Conflict on the China-Soviet Border

A long-standing dispute over the eastern border between the PRC and USSR broke into localized armed conflict, heightening tensions between the two. This conflict bolstered the Nixon Administration in its intention to improve relations with the PRC in order to isolate and pressure the Soviet Union.

1969: Nixon Doctrine Announced

President Richard Nixon proclaimed his intentions to reduce U.S. military commitments in Asia and to reconsider the current policy of containment for the PRC. These objectives formed the basis of the Nixon Doctrine. As an example of reducing military commitments, the U.S. Navy ceased making regular patrols of the Taiwan Strait.

1970: Ambassadorial Talks Restarted

After a hiatus of several years due mostly to the Cultural Revolution, the U.S. and Chinese Ambassadors began meeting again in Warsaw. However, the talks were soon suspended again after the United States bombed Cambodia.

1971: Ping-Pong Diplomacy

While at an international table tennis competition in Japan, a U.S. player ended up riding on the Chinese team bus. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese invited the U.S. team to visit Beijing, and the U.S. Government approved. In April, the U.S. team arrived in China, the first semi-official delegation of Americans there in two decades, and soon thereafter the United States eased trade and travel restrictions with China. The Chinese ping-pong team came to the United States in 1972.

1971: Kissinger’s Visits to China

After several rounds of backdoor diplomacy through go-betweens, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to the PRC in July in order to meet with Zhou Enlai and other senior Chinese leaders to pave the way for a visit by President Nixon. He then made a second public trip in the fall to finalize arrangements. These trips marked the reopening of direct ties between Washington and Beijing, after more than 20 years of non-recognition.

1971: PRC Joined the United Nations

By a vote of the U.N. General Assembly, the Chinese seat in the United Nations was transferred from the Republic of China on Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.

1972: Nixon’s Visit to China and the Shanghai Communiqué

On February 21, President Nixon arrived in Beijing, the first American head of state ever to set foot on the Chinese Mainland. Nixon, Kissinger, and others met with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, and at the end of the weeklong visit the two sides issued the Shanghai Communiqué. In this document the United States and China stated their positions on a number of issues, including joint opposition to the Soviet Union, the U.S. intention to withdraw its military from Taiwan, and U.S. support for a “peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” This began the process of full normalization of relations between the United States and the PRC.

1973: Liaison Offices Established

The United States and China established Liaison Offices in Beijing and Washington, which functioned as informal diplomatic posts during the years prior to normalization. However, for several years the United States maintained its Embassy in Taiwan.

1974: Changes in Leadership

In the United States President Nixon resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal. In China, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai both began to decline in health. Zhou rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping, who had been purged in 1966, to serve as his Deputy Premier and handle some aspects of relations with the United States. These leadership shifts delayed the normalization process.

1975: Ford’s Visit to China

President Gerald Ford visited China for further discussions with China’s leaders, including a very ill Mao Zedong. No progress was made on normalization.

1976: Deaths of Zhou and Mao

Zhou Enlai passed away in January, and without his support Deng Xiaoping was purged again. This meant that the two Chinese leaders with the most experience dealing with the United States were now off the scene, and the radicals opposed to relations with the United States had greater power. Mao then died in September. Soon after his death, the Gang of Four, who had been the architects of much of the Cultural Revolution and the main opponents of re-opening ties with the United States, were arrested.

1977: The Rise of Deng and Carter

Deng Xiaoping returned to power once again, and quickly emerged as China’s paramount leader. President Carter assumed office, and soon sent Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to China to re-start negotiations on normalization. This effort failed.

1978: Agreement Reached on Normalization

In order to complete the process of normalization, President Carter dispatched National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to China to meet with Deng and other leaders. After months of negotiations, in December the two governments finally issued a joint communiqué that established full diplomatic relations. By this agreement, the United States recognized the PRC as the sole government of China and affirmed that Taiwan is a part of China. At the same time, the United States ended official relations and its defense treaty with the Nationalist regime on Taiwan. Formal embassies were established in Beijing and Washington the following year.

1979: Deng’s Visit to the United States

On January 1, the United States and the PRC commenced normal diplomatic relations and soon thereafter Deng Xiaoping visited the United States to meet with U.S. officials and tour some of the companies with which China had begun to make deals. Later that year, the two countries signed a trade agreement that enabled Chinese products to receive temporary most favored nation (MFN) tariff status.

1979: Taiwan Relations Act Signed

President Carter enacted the Taiwan Relations Act, which committed the United States to provide military and other support for Taiwan and provided guidelines for future trade and other relations.

1980: Deng Launched Economic Reform and Opening

In an effort to jumpstart China’s stagnant economy and improve the lives of its citizens, Deng Xiaoping embarked on a major process of economic reforms. One of the main aspects of this was opening the doors to foreign investment and business. Companies from the United States, Europe, and Japan began to flock to China to take advantage of the new opportunities. China also joined the IMF and World Bank.

1982: Third Communiqué Issued

After additional negotiations concerning coordinating positions regarding the Soviet Union and Taiwan, the United States and China released another joint communiqué by which the United States agreed to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan and China agreed to emphasize a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. However, the Reagan Administration offered private assurances to Taiwan that it would continue to support the island and its government. The next year, Deng Xiaoping proposed the “one country, two systems” approach for reunification with both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

1984: Reagan’s Visit to China

President Ronald Reagan became the third U.S. President to visit the PRC. The following year, Chinese President Li Xiannian became China’s first formal head of state to visit the United States

1986: China Joined Multilateral Institutions

China joined the Asian Development Bank and applied for membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States did not initially support China’s entry into the latter two organizations because of reservations about the degree of openness of China’s economy.

1988: Peace Corps to Enter China

The United States and China reached an agreement to allow the U.S. Peace Corps to begin sending volunteers to China. The first group arrived in China to teach English in 1992.

1989: Temporary Hiatus in U.S.-China Relations

In the aftermath of the Chinese military crackdown on demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the spring, the United States and other nations imposed economic sanctions on China, and many U.S. citizens evacuated the country. President George H.W. Bush maintained communications with senior Chinese leaders, and twice sent Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger on secret missions to Beijing to reassure Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese leadership that the United States would maintain ties. Tensions continued into the next year, with criticisms aired from both sides, although diplomatic ties were never severed and China remained open to foreign trade.

1991: China Joined NPT, APEC

The Chinese Government agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reached a compromise formula with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) that allowed China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to join as separate economies rather than separate states.

1992: Reopening U.S.-China Relations

The first high-level contacts in several years occurred when President George H.W. Bush and Chinese Premier Li Peng met on the sidelines of a U.N. conference. At the same time, President Bush maintained support for Taiwan by authorizing new arms sales and dispatching a Special Trade Representative to the island.

1993: Linkage of MFN to Human Rights

President Clinton tied the annual review of Most Favored Nation trading status to China’s record on human rights, a decision that was in keeping with popular opinion on China. When this status came up for renewal the next year, Clinton reversed this position and granted China MFN without requiring any changes regarding human rights.

1995: Taiwanese President Visited United States

After much debate, President Bill Clinton granted a visa to Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui so that he could enter the country as a private citizen to attend a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University. This drew criticism from the PRC and added to rising tensions in the region.

1995: China Hosted International Women’s Conference

China played host to the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, and an associated conference of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with First Lady Hilary Clinton in attendance. This was the largest and highest profile international event to be held in China to date.

1996: Third Taiwan Strait Crisis

With presidential elections looming in Taiwan, the PRC conducted military exercises and ballistic missile tests in the Taiwan Strait, prompting stern warnings from the United States. As tensions rose, the United States sent two carrier battle groups into the Strait, which may have helped calm the situation. Lee Teng-hui was re-elected President in Taiwan’s first ever direct presidential election.

1997: Jiang Zemin’s Visit to the United States

Chinese President Jiang Zemin came to the United States, the first state visit by a Chinese leader in over a decade. The trip suggested that U.S.-China relations were getting back on track.

1998: Clinton’s Visit to China

The year after Jiang Zemin came to the United States, President Bill Clinton paid a return trip to China for a summit meeting. During his visit, he stated that the United States held to a “three no’s policy” regarding Taiwan. By this he meant that the United States does not support Taiwan’s independence, “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” policies, or Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is required.

1999: Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade

During NATO airstrikes on Serbia, U.S. planes accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing three and wounding twenty. This sparked a wave of anti-U.S. demonstrations throughout China, with multiple attacks on U.S. diplomatic properties, in particular the embassy in Beijing. Tensions eased after an apology from President Bill Clinton and the visit of a special envoy to Beijing.

1999: China Sought Entry to WTO

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji traveled to Washington to finalize China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, but even though he made several concessions he failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. negotiators over the conditions for entry. Late in the year, after further talks in Beijing, the two sides finally came to an agreement and China was able to join the WTO.

2000: Permanent Normal Trade Status Granted

The annual debate over China’s trading status within the United States was ended when President Clinton decided to grant China permanent Normal Trade Relations (NTR, formerly MFN).


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