Russia and China: Controlled Conflict

Courtesy Reuters

It is now eleven years since an ideological dispute between the Chinese and Soviet communist parties burst into the open on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Lenin's birth, and almost eight years since the pattern of world affairs became definitely "triangular" with the open break between the two leading communist powers. Since then, the view of some Western dogmatists that personal rivalry between Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung for the control of "world communism" was the only cause of the rift was plainly refuted as it continued after Khrushchev's fall; but at the opposite extreme, forecasts about tension between the two communist giants building up steadily toward nuclear war appear hardly more plausible at the present time. What events have tended to show so far is rather the persistence of controlled conflict between Moscow and Peking, with the ups and downs of crisis and relative détente familiar from other great-power conflicts of the nuclear age. A new wave of speculation has been generated in recent months by the efforts at a normalization of Sino-Soviet state relations and the subsequent revival of bitter polemics over the Polish December crisis, by the shifts in the Chinese party leadership since the end of the cultural revolution; and by the approach of the 24th Congress of the CPSU. These may justify one more attempt to analyze the factors underlying this strange relationship and its possible impact on the future.

It is useful to recall at the start that history and geography oppose China and Russia far more to each other than they oppose either to the United States, They are neighbors with the longest common frontier in the world; and among the European powers which took advantage of China's weakness in the nineteenth century, Tsarist Russia was the closest and territorially the most rapacious. It was revolutionary ideology alone that tended to bridge this "natural" conflict of interest after 1917, and the bridge remained imperfect and fragile at best. Soviet Russia's Mongolian and Manchurian

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