Michael B. Yahuda
The beginnings of triangular diplomacy in 1971 brought the People's Republic of China immediate recognition as a power of great influence in shaping the strategic relations between the two superpowers. Some North American scholars went so far as to suggest that the world, which used to be structured on bipolar lines, became restructured in the 1970s on a tripolar basis. 1 The debates about the character and significance of tripolarity have tended to be conducted within the realist perspective. As a result, these debates did not raise the question of the impact of the divergent domestic political systems of the parties concerned on the dynamics of the triangle. Insofar as domestic issues were addressed, it was with concern for the possibly divergent foreign policy courses that domestic struggles for power may engender.
There was thus a paradox that if bipolarity, by common consent, went beyond considerations of power politics to emphasize the existence of a deep divide based on systemic and ideological incompatibilities, somehow tripolarity could be based on power politics alone. The strains involving the legitimacy and structure of Communist power in both the Soviet Union and China--but especially the latter--in participating in the triangular process tended to be overlooked. Moreover, these strains necessarily intensified when first China, and then the rest of the Communist world, recognized that there was, in truth, but one international economy that operated along capitalist lines and that they had no alternative except to develop relations of interdependency with it.
This chapter first considers the systemic challenges to their domestic legitimacy that China's leaders confronted as they maneuvered in the complex rela-