Putin the Great
Russia’s Imperial Impostor
The long-heralded and twice-postponed conference between the Chinese and Soviet Communist spokesmen, held at Moscow in July, was overshadowed, at least for the outside world, by the dramatic publication of the exchange of letters between the two Central Committees. The breakup of the conference was hardly softened by halfhearted assertions of a mutual intention to continue the discussions. It is hard to discern any useful topics for new negotiations until one or another or both parties to the quarrel have made some rather drastic changes in their ideological claims or their practical policy aims. The two facets are inseparable, of course. Quarrels among Communists have been a recurring feature of a movement that claims political omniscience and a monopoly of messianic foresight, and are normally clothed in recondite scholastic terms. But their ideological disputes are always waged over real questions of power and policy.
From this latest phase of the Moscow-Peking conflict, what new can we learn of the nature of the rift? And, more dimly glimpsed, what does this clash portend for the future?
The exchange of charges has clarified in some respects, though obscured in others, the chronology of the conflict. Western analysts of the dispute have generally traced its devious course from the June 1960 congress of the Rumanian Party, or rather from the behind-the-scenes meetings held at that time in Bucharest, among representatives of some 50 Communist Parties, to discuss the clash of views that had arisen over the proper strategy of the international movement. The Soviet letter of July 14 assigns a somewhat earlier date. According to its account, the direct conflict began with the publication by the Chinese Party, in April 1960, of a collection called "Long Live Leninism!" This was, Moscow claims, a direct attack on several main points of the Moscow Declaration of 1957. In it Peking lashed out against the policy of coexistence, against the possibility of averting a world war, against the use of both peaceful and non-peaceful paths to the Communist achievement of power. Similarly, in June 1960, during the sessions at Peking of the General Council of the World Federation of Trade Unions, the Chinese leaders held a number of separate meetings with representatives of various parties to attack Moscow's policies.
The Soviet letter likewise confirms the existence of bitter disputes, previously known in part to the outside world, which preceded the adoption of the Moscow statement of Communist Parties in November 1960. It also reports that secret negotiations were held at Moscow in September 1960 in a vain attempt to resolve the growing differences between the two parties in advance of the general conference of that November.
The exchanges confirm something that has been widely suspected, but not adequately documented-that resentment of each other's domestic policies has played a major part in the process of mutual estrangement. True, informal statements by Soviet leaders in 1958-59 expressed scorn and skepticism of Peking's "great leap forward" of mid-1958, with its communes and its backyard steel furnaces. The statements now make it clear why the Soviet leaders so suddenly fell silent on these matters in mid-1960, as they became more fully aware of Peking's resentment and its intransigence.
The partial breakdown in Sino-Soviet economic coöperation has also been clarified somewhat. The Chinese statement confirms that it was Moscow that took the initiative, in August 1960, of withdrawing its industrial and other experts. On the other hand, the Soviet statement assigns to Peking the initiative of cutting the volume of its trade with the U.S.S.R. by 67 percent and reducing the delivery of industrial plants by 40 times between 1960 and 1963. (If this statement is accurate, it means that deliveries of complete plants dropped by 97.5 percent, as compared with a much smaller decline in over-all trade.) The Chinese letter likewise repeats Peking's outspoken complaints against the large-scale credits and industrial assistance that the Soviet Union has provided for non-Communist countries, in contrast to the absence of any new Soviet credits to Communist China since 1957.
What is not spelled out in the exchanges is the degree to which the Soviet leaders were appalled by the "leap forward" of 1958. They clearly foresaw the serious disruption that it would and did inflict on the Chinese economy; this grave setback to Peking's ambitions has been confirmed by the instructions, recently acquired and published in Washington, which gave directions to the political administration of the Chinese army on how to cope with the crisis of morale in 1960-61. In addition, Moscow must have assumed in 1960 that Peking would require far greater assistance, perhaps extensive long-term credits, from the Soviet Union and the European satellites, in order to make good the losses. For Khrushchev to compound the failure of the "leap forward," as he did in August 1960, by withdrawing the many Soviet experts and, presumably, by making it clear that Soviet credits were not available to tide Mao's régime over, would be sufficient grounds for explaining Peking's open hatred for the Moscow comrades.
The question of how much economic bargaining power the Soviet Union still retains for its future relations with Communist China may be crucial in the next few months or several years. China has long insisted on "going it alone" without Soviet credits, but it still draws the major part of its imports from the Communist bloc, even if on a "commercial basis," offsetting imports with exports under a clearing and rotating short-term credit arrangement. Even the slow but steady recovery of mainland China's industry since 1961 would have been extremely difficult without the supply of Soviet machinery to replace worn-out equipment and complete some of the new plants. And a large part of China's internal transportation, as well as the operation of its armed forces, is largely dependent on petroleum imports from the Soviet Union and Rumania.
If the Chinese leadership is fairly rational, it will want to avoid a complete break in economic relations, such as the Soviet Government carried out in 1961 against Albania-perhaps as a warning of the far more drastic consequences to China of a complete rupture. But it is impossible to say how far the Mao leadership is guided by rational considerations today.
However far Mao may have retreated from the drastic "leap forward" of 1958, he cannot publicly cry mea culpa without also abandoning his claim to be pursuing the sole "correct" Communist policy, thereby surrendering his right to correct the mistakes of the Soviet leadership and to lead the forces of international Communism. The Chinese statement of June 14 sets forth two main grievances against Soviet domestic policy: the denunciation of Stalin, and the proclaiming of the "state of the whole people." Both policies are among Khrushchev's cherished contributions to Communist theory and Soviet policy. In terms of Chinese necessities, these two charges are merely two sides of the same coin.
It is curious to see Mao in the role of Stalin's champion. Stalin the man was hardly gentle or flexible in his dealings with the Chinese Party. One of the first steps of his successors was to undo many of his policies, to abandon the unequal treaties he had imposed on China in 1950, to grant large-scale credits and industrial aid, and to elevate the Chinese Party to a position of outward parity with the Soviet Party. Indeed, it is ironical that these and other changes took place during Khrushchev's rise to power and that Khrushchev was the first important Soviet leader to pay a visit to Mao Tse-tung at Peking!
Mao's objections to the successive waves of de-Stalinization go deeper than personalities, of course. The Chinese statement says, "To raise the question of 'combatting the cult of personality' is actually to counterpose the leaders to the masses, undermine the party's unified leadership which is based on democratic centralism, dissipate its fighting strength and disintegrate its ranks." Thus as early as 1956, de-Stalinization in Russia had come to be regarded by Mao as a challenge to his own rule in China.
While the Chinese Party has shown a remarkable continuity and stability of leadership for more than 25 years, it seems hardly possible that it can have carried out so many profound changes of policy without vigorous arguments and perhaps disagreements within the central core of leadership. These disputes have been generally withheld from outside eyes as a result of several powerful factors: Mao's undisputed authority, the meager margin of resources available, the feeling of being in a beleaguered fortress challenged by the unfinished civil war with Chiang Kai-shek and hemmed in actively by American pressures, and, perhaps increasingly, by a fear that any visible fissures might be exploited by Moscow to subject the Chinese Party to its own domination.
This suspicion, plus the fear that Moscow may be preparing to take advantage of a succession crisis in Peking, may explain why Mao has reacted so bitterly to Moscow's insistence on de-Stalinization. In embarking on the violent reconstruction of mid-1958, and then in trying since mid-1960 to make good the ravages it inflicted, Mao could not welcome any drawing of a parallel-whether intended by Khrushchev or not-between his own policies and Stalin's rule. This was too dangerous, if not to him personally, at least to the rigid discipline and unity which his policies required.
The forthright attack in the Peking statement against one of Khrushchev's favorite goals-the transformation of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" into a "state of the whole people"-reflects Mao's same concern for the absolute unity of his party, both against the tormented masses at home and against any attempts by Moscow to influence it in any of its segments. Of course, Mao deliberately ignores the universally guiding role that the Soviet program assigns to the C.P.S.U. and its unyielding monopoly over controls and decisions even within the future "all-people's state." He shows no hesitation, however, in accusing "certain persons" in the Soviet leadership of "replacing the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state by the bourgeois theory of the state" and of thereby committing "a great historical retrogression." Since Communist China is now involved in a very long period of Stalinist reconstruction-perhaps 20 or 30 years at a minimum- Mao can hardly be grateful to Khrushchev for holding out even the prospect of a less rigorous and hardship-laden rule in Soviet Russia. The example, in China, would be a serious challenge to Maoism.
Three crucial elements in the Sino-Soviet clash relate to the choice of the correct policy toward movements of "national liberation" in newly independent and still dependent countries; the appraisal of the risks and consequences of nuclear war; and the question of who shall lead the Communist forces in world politics.
Unlike several other major points of controversy, which are set forth with eloquent directness in the two statements, the quarrel over the proper attitude of Communists, and especially of the Soviet Government, to movements of "national liberation" has been confused by overlapping and contradictory accusations and countercharges, and by the traditional "battle of quotations" selected from Marx and Lenin. Both sides declare, for example, that the best way to rid the world of "imperialism" is through coöperation between the "socialist bloc" of Communist-led countries and the "oppressed masses" of the former colonies. Both agree, in theory, that the path from "national liberation" to "socialism" can be either peaceful or non-peaceful. Both agree that each new "socialist" country must go through a stage of Communist party dictatorship, or "dictatorship of the proletariat."
Despite this range of common doctrine and perspective, the practical conclusions each party draws are in deep though perhaps not irreconcilable disagreement. Moscow places great stress on the possibility of a "peaceful" path to "socialism," although it admits that no such example has occurred so far. The change in the strategic balance, the possibility of deterring the "imperialists" from armed intervention, the economic achievements and assistance of the Soviet Union, make the "peaceful" path possible. And the dangers of nuclear war make it preferable.
Peking, on the other hand, accuses Khrushchev of strengthening "bourgeois" elements in the newly independent countries, despite the certainty that in the end they will side with the "imperialists" and not with the "camp of socialism." Obviously, Mao is strongly opposed to, and perhaps envious of, the large-scale support and economic aid Moscow has been providing for Nasser, Nehru, Sukarno, the late Colonel Kassem and others. This investment, he maintains, will turn out to the disadvantage of Communism. The "proletarian party," Mao insists, "must always draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and bourgeois nationalism, to which it must never fall captive."
Although the Soviet press and on occasion Khrushchev personally have protested strongly against the repression of Communists in Egypt, India, Iraq and elsewhere, the Soviet Government shows no signs of slackening its political and economic support for these and similar governments of "national liberation." Peking insists, on the contrary, that this policy delays, weakens and may destroy the revolutionary upsurge of genuinely "proletarian," i.e. Communist, forces. The Soviet statement, in turn, accuses Peking of supporting in practice only the non-peaceful path of all- out conflict, of continually preaching armed insurrection regardless of the concrete situation, and therefore, of "Trotskyism."
Certainly, the Soviet approach, more gradualist in temper if no less revolutionary in ultimate purpose, leaves the way open for many types of coöperation between Communists and other local parties, as in Chile and Brazil. The Chinese insistence that armed struggle, to be launched as soon as possible, is the only realistic path to victory, has strong appeal for more exposed parties, as in Albania and North Korea, and for more militant segments in a number of other Communist parties. Indeed, both before and after his flattering reception in the Soviet Union and after signing on the dotted line in support of Khrushchev's policy of coexistence, Fidel Castro has continued to emphasize the crucial role of armed struggle and to point to the absence of any examples of the "peaceful" path to socialism.
The basic and central dispute between Peking and Moscow revolves around their differing appraisals of the present balance of strategic power in the world. In the week of the Cuban missile crisis, both Soviet Russia and America were looking squarely into the horror of a nuclear war. Both came to the conclusion, perhaps Moscow later than Washington, that some mutual accommodations would be far, far preferable to any "victory" that might be won at the price of an unparalleled holocaust. After further reflection, and after being allowed to reap an exaggerated share of the laurels for "saving the peace," Khrushchev decided that, if not much could be done to solve the basic conflicts of purpose, at least something should be done to improve the "atmospherics." One result has been his decision to accept the long-proffered agreement on a partial test ban.
According to Peking's outspoken denunciations of the past winter, on the other hand, Khrushchev was an "adventurer" when he put the 40-odd intermediate-range missiles into Cuba, and he was a "coward" when he decided to withdraw them. He should, as Mao saw it, have accepted the challenge and the reality of nuclear war.
Mao's attack goes beyond this specific case. It is "sheer illusion," the Chinese statement says, to assert (quoting Khrushchev) that "it is possible to bring about 'a world without weapons, without armed forces and without wars'" so long as "the system of imperialism and the exploitation of man by man still exists." To advocate this policy is, Peking says, "deliberately to deceive the people of the world and help the imperialists in their policies of aggression and war." The Moscow rejoinder of July 14 naturally reacts strongly to this accusation and spells out again Khrushchev's countercharges. The Chinese comrades, he says, overestimate the forces of imperialism and have too little confidence in those of socialism. "Apparently," the Moscow statement continues, "the people who refer to the thermonuclear weapon as a 'paper tiger' are not fully aware of the destructive force of this weapon."
Turning the Chinese Communists' reasoning back on them, the Soviet statement goes on to put rather bluntly Moscow's "well-justified suspicion" that "this is no longer a class approach in the struggle for the abolition of capitalism but for some entirely different aims." "If both the exploiters and the exploited are buried under the ruins of the old world, who will build the 'bright future'?" Instead of the "class-internationalist approach expressed in the call 'Workers of the world, unite,' the Chinese comrades stubbornly propagate a slogan devoid of any class meaning: 'The wind from the East prevails over the wind from the West.'"
In conclusion, the Soviet statement rubs the salt of its scorn into the wound: "Is this the position of people who, encountering difficulties in the building of socialism, have become disappointed, do not see the possibility of exerting the main influence on the international revolutionary movement by their economic successes, by the example of the successful building of socialism in their countries?" "They want to achieve the revolution sooner, by other-what seem to them shorter-ways."
The step-by-step rending of the veil of secrecy that usually conceals inter- party disputes, and especially the forthright and comprehensive exchange of charges in the June 14 and July 14 statements, have far-reaching implications for Communist politics and for the rest of the world. Both Moscow and Peking have, for a considerable time to come, given up any hope of reconciling their ambitions and their conflicting claims to leadership. The prospect has evaporated of holding a new "world Communist congress," which Moscow has held out to the Chinese as a reward for working out an agreed compromise in advance. Moscow will not be eager to hold a conference, even of those numerous parties that accept its leadership, because the absentees will be too conspicuous. Peking will hardly wish to organize its own international congress unless or until it has rallied a far wider range of party or factional support than it has so far. Instead of the emergence of two international Communist groupings, as many observers have predicted, it is more likely now that both Moscow and Peking will each pursue the gathering of allegiances through bilateral and factional contacts and visits.
But what are the implications, for Communists, of openly abandoning the traditional concept of a single "correct" policy for all Communist régimes and parties? The idea of "polycentrism," which seemed so improbable in 1956 when it was first advanced and then partially retracted by Palmiro Togliatti, has already become a reality, at least in the ideological sphere. Those régimes, as in Eastern Europe and Mongolia, that are closely dependent on Soviet policy have rallied to the Moscow side. North Korea, which like Communist China desires urgently to unify the national territory under its own control, has plumped, after some hesitation, for Peking. Ho Chi Minh in North Viet Nam has tried to avoid choosing sides, for he needs the backing of both in the struggle to take over Laos and South Viet Nam.
Similarly, Aidit in Indonesia has been caught between Indonesian fears of China and admiration for its strength, between his ambition to inherit Sukarno's power and Moscow's channeling of its economic and military aid to Sukarno. The Italian Communist Party, borne high on the crest of electoral and political gains, is even more moderate and "gradualist" than Moscow. Castro and Che Guevara continue, on the other hand, to urge the more militant among the Latin American Communists forward to armed insurrection and terrorism, against the more moderate position taken by the older Communist parties and leaders. Is this "flexibility" or "disarray"?
The natural reaction of the weaker side is to recruit factions within the existing parties, and the Moscow statement accuses Peking of carrying on splitting activities within the Belgian, Brazilian, Ceylonese, Australian, Italian and American parties. It is only one step farther to the creation of separate parties, since Communist discipline is incompatible with the permanent toleration of organized dissident groups standing in opposition to the party leadership. The party that has been hit hardest is India's-not only by the split but by the open Chinese Communist attack of October 1962 on Indian territory. After a protracted struggle the majority came out strongly in defense of India's territorial integrity and against Peking's policy. The moderate Chairman, S. A. Dange, then traveled to Moscow and London to rally support for India's claims. Meanwhile, the pro-Chinese minority, which has been actively at work, accuses the official leadership of supplying Nehru's police with lists of pro-Chinese Communists, many of whom have been held in preventive detention for many months.
In rallying support to its cause, Peking has not hesitated to appeal to racial prejudices, following its clear ambition to become the leader of Communism in Asia, Africa and Latin America (supposedly leaving Europe and North America to Soviet guidance) . At the Third Solidarity Conference of the peoples of Asian and African countries held last spring at Moshi, in Tanganyika, the leader of the Chinese delegation, according to the July 14 statement, told the Soviet representatives that "Whites have nothing to do here." Against the great Soviet preponderance in political, strategic and economic influence, Peking, it is true, has very little to offer today except its racial appeal and its militant call to insurrection.
How far "polycentrism" will actually develop remains to be seen. The Communists' need for a center of political and ideological authority, the continuing preponderance of Moscow as a power center, the desire within each party to limit the effects of "splitting"-these and other factors may make the practical effects of schism much less far-reaching than many commentators have assumed. In theory, a Communist party may well have the opportunity, when the two giants have a falling-out, to gain its complete independence; in practice, it may not want to be independent.
Another factor of practical importance is the degree to which any given party is self-supported. A strong party, as in Italy, with well-organized and reliable sources of income under its own control, has much to lose if it turns to the militant Chinese pattern; therefore, it is more likely to bolster Moscow's authority than to challenge it. As in the Italian case, a strongly based party may even exert some influence on Soviet policy. When Khrushchev and Ilyichev swung, as they did last winter, into a campaign against the influence of "bourgeois" ideology within Soviet art and literature, the Italian leaders, by expressing their dismay, allegedly contributed to a milder turn in the Kremlin's policy. Such interaction, however slight, between a foreign party and the C.P.S.U.-unthinkable in Stalin's time-may become more frequent in the future.
One longer-range effect of "polycentrism" may be to strengthen the emphasis on gradualist and even reformist appeals in various Communist party programs. If the general movement to "socialism" is assured by the rapid economic growth and great strategic strength of the Soviet Union, the balance of decision in parties abroad may tip more easily toward more gradualism, more caution, less sacrifice and more coöperation with politically adjacent parties. Even in its more militant phases, Communism has tried to capture the "good words," such as "nationalism," "liberation," "peace" and "democracy," for its own advantage. The split between Moscow and Peking will lend greater strength to this effort of ideological aggrandizement than at any time since 1947 and the Cominform Declaration. In three key countries-Italy, India and Indonesia-Communist parties may make major gains during the new period of "coexistence."
To go on from this to assume that Communist parties can be permanently "domesticated" and won over to a genuine respect for parliamentary and free institutions would be a great mistake. Each Communist party retains in its central leadership a capacity for great elasticity of tactics. It can switch on signal from "peaceful" and parliamentary forms of "class struggle" to more militant forms, including sabotage and insurrection, even at the calculated cost of losing its less stable and less indoctrinated fringe membership or support.
A somewhat separate question concerns the ability of the Soviet and Chinese leaderships to exert pressure or influence within the rival party. Perhaps there are many Stalinists who are hostile to Khrushchev's numerous changes within the Soviet system and who might rally-possibly in a succession crisis-to Maoist militancy. And are there, behind the façade or reality of "unanimity" in the Chinese Party, Communists who question the wisdom of China's "going it alone"? Any suggested answers to these questions are and must remain highly speculative, of course.
Although the Soviet press and literature make it clear that the struggle between Stalinist and Khrushchevian styles of rule is continuing, it seems futile to pin a Stalinist label on any organized groups or factions. Many of the same people who served Stalin now serve Khrushchev, and tens of thousands of new administrators have been promoted and given greater initiative and responsibilities, always within the same general system of centralized party rule. Even if Khrushchev has not succeeded in carrying out all his promises, he has done a great deal to make the system work more flexibly and more efficiently, to raise the standard of living, to remove the deadly pall of terror and make life more interesting and rewarding for those tens of thousands of upper-rank Communists and experts on whom the régime relies to achieve its ambitions. These people, new or somewhat reformed, find no attraction in Peking's scorn for their new-found comforts and for their strong desire to advance Russia's power and influence while avoiding a nuclear war. Mao's apocalyptic vision of a "final and definitive" nuclear showdown with "imperialism" leaves them shuddering, as it does all reasonable people.
No doubt, there are some secret Stalinists, people who think that Khrushchev has been twisting Leninist dogma a bit and that Mao sounds more like the Stalin they revered. However nostalgic they may be, such Stalinists will not be inclined to restore Communist unity at the price of transferring the leadership of international Communism to Peking. Stalin insisted, so far as possible, on the complete subservience of foreign Communist parties to Moscow, and for a Stalinist to surrender Russia's primacy is unthinkable. In fact, one of the main complaints of any secret Stalinists-in addition to the demotion of Stalin-would be that Khrushchev has allowed the Chinese Party to build up its power to the point of defying Moscow and claiming first an equal and then a superior right of over-all leadership in the politics of international Communism.
Outwardly, the Peking leadership is just as homogeneous and united as Moscow's and no one expects Mao's authority to be defied or even questioned publicly in his lifetime. Will he be able, however, to hand on his unified authority unimpaired to a single leader, presumably Liu Shao-chih? It may be that, once the founding father has passed from the scene, divergent views will demand a hearing. There may be Communists who disapproved or were disillusioned over the communes, and who agree privately with Moscow's criticism that one cannot force the pace of change too fast. Perhaps leaders in the industrial field would like again to import complete factories from the Soviet Union instead of scrabbling along at a level far below that of 1959. Perhaps some of the military planners believe that China needs the backing of Soviet nuclear-missile power, as well as new Soviet equipment, and understand that a small nuclear capability is of little importance in comparison with U.S. and Soviet stockpiles and advanced means of delivery.
Although so little is known to the West, and possibly also to the Soviet leaders, about potential or real groupings and conflicting viewpoints behind Peking's wall, we cannot dismiss the possibility that, once either or both of the two major figures in the contest has ceased to bestride the scene, their successors may adopt somewhat different policies on the questions that have led to the rift.
One final question. Is Moscow's deep concern over Peking's militancy mainly a reflection of accumulated grievances and quarrels, of disagreement over Russia's duty to "do or die" for China's ambitions? Or does it reflect a conflict over the future division of an expanding Communist sphere? As believing Communists, Moscow and Peking must hold that the area of Communist rule will expand, and therefore the assignment of future areas of preponderance is a matter of great practical concern. Or is Communist China on the verge of some new adventure, perhaps in Southeast Asia?
The Moscow statement of July 14 suggests at one point that practical and immediate questions of policy have been discussed in concrete terms. "The Chinese comrades have advanced the slogan of spearpoint against spearpoint, opposing it to the policy of other socialist countries aimed at relaxing the international situation and ending the cold war. In actual fact, this slogan adds grist to the imperialist policy of brinkmanship and helps the champions of the arms race." What can this passage mean except that Peking has been demanding Soviet backing for some new act of aggression?
The tone of grave and urgent anxiety that pervades recent Soviet statements and speeches may mean that, being more closely attuned than any non- Communist to Peking's ways of thinking, the Soviet leaders are aware that the Chinese leadership, exasperated by its relative failures at home and its actual failures abroad, has been engaged in a crucial debate, as it was in the summer of 1958. One alternative that it may be weighing is, conceivably, to plunge ahead, expand Communist and Chinese control, and challenge the United States to meet its commitments on the Asian mainland. Using its trained manpower, its locally produced conventional weapons and its special facilities for subversive warfare, Communist China could if it chose open a new front of political and military challenge.
Has Moscow perhaps dissociated itself from Peking's militant stance in order to remain aloof from direct involvement in any such adventure? Has it, by helping establish a better atmosphere through joining in the partial test-ban treaty, thrown up an additional safeguard against being drawn into a Sino-American conflict in the hope of lessening the risk that such a war would escalate to a nuclear conflict? Has Moscow's shock-treatment of Peking been a last effort to restrain Mao from adventure? Or does Khrushchev feel that Mao has gone beyond reach of "rational" considerations?
Perhaps the policy debates in Peking have been influenced by Moscow's blunt warnings of the nature of nuclear war. Perhaps Communist China will withhold its hungry hands from the rich and weak lands to the south. One thing seems certain, however. If Mao decides to strike out on an independent and militant policy of his own, even against Moscow's clear warnings of the perils that lie ahead, his purpose will be to destroy the American position and influence in mainland Asia, the only strong barrier to his ambitions.