China’s foreign policy in the post-1949 period was in large part moulded by the country’s experience of the past century. Mao Zedong wanted China to play a pivotal role in world affairs from 1949, but his view of China’s place in the world rested on two doctrines that he had formulated in the 1920s and 1930s. 1
The first was the theory of ‘semi colonialism’ in which Mao argued that China was actually in a stronger position as the object of many great powers’ attention than if it had been the outright colony of only one power. When China found itself isolated internationally in the 1960s Mao reminded his col-leagues that once again there were two dogs (the United States and the Soviet Union) tussling over the Chinese bone of meat and because both were in contention neither would get it.
The second doctrine was the ‘theory of the intermediate zone’. Mao argued that the real cold war struggle was not taking place in Europe between the two superpowers, but in the vast ‘intermediate zone’ of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the struggle was between revolutionary nationalism and imperialism. China was to play a leading role in supporting countries in the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s to achieve independence. This was Mao’s way of denying the importance of the Soviet—American rivalry.