The New Thrust in China's Foreign Policy

Since the death of Mao Tse-tung on September 9, 1976, two sets of influences have combined to produce significant movement in Chinese foreign policy. The first impetus to change, and certainly the most important, has been the domestic political requirements of the new leaders for legitimacy and stability. The second has been external developments to which the Chinese government has had to be responsive. Superficially, very little has changed in Chinese foreign policy since its main parameters were laid down by Chou En-lai around the time of the Lin Piao incident in the fall of 1971. In fact, however, the changes have been considerable. The two influences on China's foreign policy managers have unspectacularly but decisively pushed the People's Republic into positions that are new for China and that hold the promise of a significant effect on the world balance of power.

Domestic political influences on foreign policy arise from Hua Kuo-feng's so far successful succession to the chairmanship. The way in which Hua is continuing to consolidate his position has had very real foreign policy consequences. Facets of this complicated matter include the need to maintain Mao's authority and transfer it to his successors, while reversing many of Mao's policies of the past decade; the need to service Hua Kuo-feng's main military backers; and the need to reestablish the internal solidarity of the Politburo after years of disunity. External political developments include confusion in U.S. foreign policy, worsening of relations between the U.S.S.R. and Japan, conflict between Vietnam and Cambodia, territorial and offshore resource disputes in the China Sea, and the successes of Soviet foreign policy during 1977 in Africa and elsewhere.

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