China, the United States, and the Soviet Union: Tripolarity and Policy Making in the Cold War

By Robert S. Ross | Go to book overview

4 Sino-Soviet Relations: The American Factor

Robert Legvold

In 1949, the triumph of the Chinese Communists vindicated the Soviet Union's apocalyptic faith and served as critical reinforcement for the Soviet regime's self-justification. When it strayed from Soviet orthodoxy, that orthodoxy was diminished. What it chose to do at home with its revolution stirred Soviet concern for its own revolution, not, of course, by endangering the Soviet system's immediate stability, but by tearing at the unity of values so zealously guarded by Soviet leaders. What the Chinese said and did about revolution elsewhere involved the integrity and coherence of the entire socialist world, particularly those East European parts directly under the Soviet thumb. When China refused to honor the Soviet way of seeing reality, when it challenged Soviet priorities, China, as no capitalist state ever could, raised doubts about the rightness and virtue of Soviet foreign policy itself.

Hence, for Soviet leaders, dense layers of prejudice and concern surrounded the emergence of the Sino-Soviet-U.S. triangle in the early 1970s. More than the long- lingering effects of an ancient conquest colored Soviet views of this stunning turn of events (never mind that the Soviets were confusing the Chinese with the Great Horde). More than the simple apprehension arising out of the enmity of a nation sharing a four-thousand-mile border was at work. Different worlds, in effect, were wrapped in the outlines of this new configuration. Marxism-Leninism, a socialist alliance system, Asia, and a contest in more distant arenas were all part of it. These factors always made understanding the triangle and its impact on Soviet policy toward the United States many-sided and much more involved than merely following the flow of influence along the contours of a geometric shape.

It all seems so distant now--the din and passion of Soviet and Chinese antag-

-65-

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