The Soviet Union after Brezhnev

By Martin McCauley | Go to book overview

9 Sino—Soviet Relations *

Christina Holmes

The Sino-Soviet dispute existed long before it burst upon the world with the Amur-Ussuri border clashes of March 1969. What has been generally regarded as a 20-year period of friendship and co-operation between the most powerful and the most populous communist power was in fact a period of uneasy alliance. Chinese leaders resented Soviet high-handedness and discovered early on that Soviet 'aid' was in fact little more than normal bilateral trade. Peking paid in full, with interest, for instance, for the war materials supplied by the Soviet side during the Korean war.

Since 1969, when Soviet and Chinese troops fought over Zhenbao/ Damansky Island, with over 800 Chinese and 40 Soviet casualties, Soviet leaders have regarded Peking as a serious threat to Soviet security and have sought the best means of containing that threat. Troops and military facilities along the 6,000 kilometre border with the People's Republic of China ( PRC) have been reinforced and a new railway - the BAM - has been constructed to the north of the vulnerable Trans-Siberian line. There is evidence that Moscow at one time considered a pre-emptive strike against China, and diplomatic overtures aimed at improving relations with the PRC have been a consistent element of Soviet foreign policy ( Kissinger 1979, 1982).

This split in the Communist ranks has been of tremendous strategic significance. Fear of the Marxist-Maoist monolith had fuelled McCarthyism in the United States during the 1950s. The demise of the monolith provided a catalyst for East-West détente in the early 1970s. The secret meetings between Henry Kissinger and top Chinese leaders, and the subsequent meeting between President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong, paved the way for normalisation of Sino‐ American relations. Sino-Soviet competition for influence in the Third World led to proxy clashes between the two sides and a proliferation of new alignments.

The consensus among Western leaders and analysts is that the Sino‐ Soviet dispute was a windfall for the West. There seems now to be an assumption that Sino-Soviet rapprochement would be equally

____________________
*
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the Librarian and staff of the Press Library at Chatham House.

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The Soviet Union after Brezhnev
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Soviet Union After Brezhnev *
  • Contents *
  • Maps and Tables *
  • The Contributors *
  • Preface *
  • I the Post-Brezhnev Era *
  • 2 Leadership and the Succession Struggle *
  • 3 Dissent, Opposition and Instability *
  • 4 Soviet Economic Prospects: Can the Soviet Economic System Survive? *
  • 5 Agriculture *
  • 6 Foreign Trade Policy: the Ussr, the West and Eastern Europe as an Eternal Triangle *
  • 7 the Military Build-Up *
  • 8 Soviet-East European Relations *
  • 9 Sino—soviet Relations *
  • 10 is Détente Dead? *
  • References *
  • Index *
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