The Causes Of The Sino-Soviet Schism 1927-1969

Essay, Research Paper Causes and Elevation of the Sino-Soviet Schism 1927-1969 It can be argued that the most significant effect on foreign policy during the Cold

Essay, Research Paper

Causes and Elevation of the Sino-Soviet Schism 1927-1969

It can be argued that the most significant effect on foreign policy during the Cold

War, besides the arms race, was the schism and eventually antagonism between the USSR

and China. Some historians have argued that the schism between the USSR continued to

elevate throughout the Cold War. Alvin Z. Rubenstien, in his book “Soviet Foreign Policy

Since World War II” makes the argument that “The Sino-Soviet rift is more complex

today [Rubenstien wrote his book in 1985] than ever before.” (Rubenstien, 148) Some

historians argue that the schism has continued to grow long after the end of the 1960’s.

Other argue that the schism had reached its climax by 1965, when both nations almost

completely broke off relations with one another. By 1965 the schism between the USSR

and the Soviet Union was complete and it had become a policy between the two nations to

pursue antagonistic policies against one another. (Nogee, 256-61)

After the end of the second World War it was a goal of Stalin and the Soviet

Union to encourage, and even coordinate, the rise of communist regimes in other

countries. (Salisbury, 33-7) But this was not the case in China, where the Soviets were not

able to incite a communist revolution. Instead, Mao Zedong carried out a communist

revolution that was independent of Soviet influence. (Nogee, 199) This, of course,

irritated the Soviets and cause them to oppose the People’s Republic of China for about

the first fifteen years of its existence. Many historians feel that this was the first of the

many Sino-Soviet disputes- the mere fact that China was able to engender a communist

regime. (Simmons, 17)

In 1927 the Soviets had unsuccessfully tried to incite a communist revolution in

China, this attempt not only failed but brought the deaths of thousands of Chinese

communists and the expulsion of Soviets from China. After this failure the Soviets refused

to invest anymore time into the Chinese cause. The Soviets even joined the United States

in support of the nationalist (and anticommunist) government “in unifying their country

[China], improving their military and economic conditions.” (Warth, 56-9). Even after a

Mao, a communist, had taken power Stalin seemed reluctant to cut ties with the head of

the nationalist government, Chiang Kai-Shek. This reluctance of Stalin’s led China to

distrust the motives of the Soviet Union, espicially in the 1950’s when the USSR asked

China to help North Korea in the Korean War. (Westard, 36-7)

Some historians claim that the roots of the hostility between the Russian and the

Chinese an be traced back to the thirteenth and fourteenth century when Mongol Tartars

conquered most of Russia. During the nineteenth century Russian tsars conquered large

parts of China and imposed unfair treaties on the Chinese empire. (Salisbury, 48-50) With

this new information in mind, combined with the shaky start of Sino-Soviet relations, it

become more understandable that two neighboring nations, both with similar ideologies,

might not have completely affable relations.. The first indication of cooperation between

the USSR and communist China was in February 1950 when China and the Soviet Union

negotiated the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Alliance. A portion of this treaty dealt with a loan of

300 million dollars at one percent interest to the Chinese by the Soviets. This miserly loan

left the Chinese resentful. Only a few months before the loan was made to the Chinese the

Soviets had given a 450 million dollar loan to Poland at no interest. Moreover, the

Chinese needed the money to fight the Korean War, a conflict which Stalin had asked the

Chinese to support. Mao did not have complete confidence in the North Korean cause but

he finally consented his aid on behalf of Stalin and Kim Il Sung, the leaders of the North

Korean Communists. The Chinese had felt that the Korean War was a common struggle

with the Soviet Unions and the USSR’s attempt to profit (the USSR had charged 1%

interest on the loan) was uncalled for and an insult to the Chinese government. (Nogee,

261-5) There were a few reasons that the Soviet Union gave China such a scanty loan. In

some ways the USSR was still unsure on where they stood in China because they had not

engineered the rebellion there. This was also before China decided to help in the Korean

War and the USSR was unsure of the motives of China. They knew that they would not be

able to control China like they controled contries in the East European Bloc.

The schism between the USSR and China has occurred in three phases in the post-

Stalin Cold War period. The first phase is roughly 1956 to 1960. In this period the Soviets

and the Chinese were on relitivly good terms. Differences that arose between the two

nations were expressed in an understanding and receptive manner, however these cordial

relations began to deteriorate by the end of the 1950’s. From 1960 to 1964 the disputes

between the USSR and China escalated into a schism between the two countries. In the

final phase, which is 1964 onward, the two nations had split into separate “socialist

systems.” While the Chinese were never formally expelled from the world communist

camp, they did not feel that they were allied with the Soviet socialist camp. By the end of

the 1960’s China and the USSR had become rivals in the global political struggle.

(Westard, 51)

The first real signs of Chinese dissatisfaction came early in the reign of the

successor to Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev had condemned the actions of Stalin

when he became the head of the Soviets state. China felt that this was damaging to the

Chinese communist cause, for Mao was developing his own “cult of personality” and

beginning to act in the manner that Stalin did. (Halle, 127-131) But these minor

disagreements were not enough to end the cordial relations of between Mao and

Khrushchev. In November 1957 the Soviets agreed to help the Chinese in making a

nuclear bomb. (Arabtov, 68-71) Relations bewteen China and Russia began to improve as

both nations began to trust one another again.

But events of 1958 soon strained relations between the USSR and China. In the

fall of 1958 the Chinese began to bombard the Nationalist held island of Quemoy. The

Americans, who supported the Chinese Nationalists, said that they would protect the

island of Quemoy with air and naval forces in the Pacific if the Chinese did not cease their

bombardment of the island. (Griffith, 61-2) The Soviets did give their verbal agreement to

back China against the United States but were very cautious. The Soviets had also

promised in 1957, with the development of the first Soviets ICBM (a missile that carries

nuclear warheads) and the launch of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik, the global balance of

power had shifted to favor the Soviets. Before the Chinese had began their bombardment

of Quemoy, they were convinced that the Soviets would be able to defend them. But the

Soviets soon caved in to American demands and withdrew their support. The Chinese

were infuriated. They were convinced that if the Soviets were more firm in their stance

against the Americans, the US would retreat. The Soviets had caused the Chinese to end

their bombardment of the island of Quemoy and give in to “capitalist” demands from the

United States and the Chinese Nationalists. (Simmons, 52-5) The bombardment of

Quemoy is seen as the first of many stumbling blocks in Sino-Soviet relations.

If the Chinese thought that the Soviets were too conservative, the Soviets

considered the Chinese far too hasty. In May 1958, the Chinese proposed a plan called

“The Great Leap Forward” which claimed that they had a formula to be the first nation to

ever to be fully communist. They decided that they would substitute mass enthusiasm and

total mobilization for the lack of material and technical resources. The Soviets felt that the

Chinese were far too hasty and the full “communization” of a nation took a long time. But

what the Soviets were even more afraid of was that the Great Leap Forward would be a

great success and that the Chinese would overtake the Soviets. (Griffith, 98-101) The

Soviets’ lack of support in the Great Leap Forward left the Chinese disappointed and

angry. They felt that they had been very loyal to the Soviets, espicially in the Korean War,

and they Soviets had reapyed their kindness by supporting the Americans and scoffing that

Chinese ambitions.

A further straining of relations came in 1959 when the Chinese outlined their

future objectives. The Chinese had laid claim to the Nationalist island of Formosa, they

wanted to conquer Tibet and adjust the Sino-Indian border their favor. The USSR also

had a few objectives in mind- they wanted to equal the United States as a world power

and avoid a possible conflict with the Americans. The Soviets visited China and asked the

Chinese to accept the “Two Chinas” formula, which basically said that the Chinese

communists should not try to conquer the lands of the American-supported Nationalists,

even though the Nationalists were very weak. Khrushchev also wanted to court India as

an ally, and when the Chinese tried to gain land along the Sino-Indian border, Khrushchev

chose to desert China and declare neutrality on the issue. (Simmons 62-7) The Chinese

were outraged. They felt that the Soviets, the so-called leaders of the communist

movement, had betrayed them again. The Soviets had supported democratic coutries

twice- once in the bombarment of Quemoy and now in Sino-Indian border disputes.

Tensions became even more heated in late 1959 when the USSR suddenly refused

to give the Chinese data for the construction of an atomic bomb, which was promised in

1957. Then, in the summer of 1960, some three thousand Soviet specialists left China and

destroyed all the blueprints of their projects. The Chinese claimed that these incidents

were evidence of bad faith on the part of the Soviets. (Westard, 86-9)

The Chinese had their revenge in April 1960, when the Russians held a celebration

for the 90th anniversary of the birth of Lenin. Prior to the celebration the Chinese wrote a

lengthy critique of the Russians called “Long Live Leninism.” In this critique they claimed

that they were the ones that truly followed Lenin’s communist tradition and the Soviets

had strayed from it. At the celebration, a debate over the critique quickly became a heated

argument and the communist parties gathered there were forced to take sides. While only

a dozen of the 81 parties took the side of the Chinese, the USSR was embarassed by the

incident. (Griffith, 115-8) “Long Live Leninism” set off a series of public battles between

China and the USSR. Good faith quickly soured and the spilt between the two nations


Sino-Soviet relations took a nose-dive from 1960 to 1963. During this time many

attacks from both sides came in the form of conferences, the press, radio, and letters.

Albania, the only Chinese ally in Europe received harsh criticism from Khrushchev during

the Twenty-second Congress of the Soviet Party. The Soviets soon broke relations with

the Albanians just to spite the Chinese. The Chinese openly criticized Khrushchev’s

surrender to the United States during the Cuban missile crisis. China was also very angry

over the USSR’s tacit support of India during the Sino-Indian War. After a failure to

resolve differences in 1963 the Chinese wrote a scathing attack on Soviet foreign policy.

Soon the focus of criticism shifted from foreign policy to internal regimes. The Chinese

claimed that the USSR was turning into a imperial and capitalistic society and the Russians

claimed that China was turning into a military dictatorship. (Westard, 103-9) In some

ways, the Chinese began to criticize the Soviet policy because the Soviets regarded the

Great Leap Forward in the utmost contempt. Relations bewteen the two nations were

strained to the point of collaspe and any real cooperation bewteen the two nations was


The Soviets also criticized the territorial ambitions of the Chinese. The Chinese

had many disputes over borders especially with India, Hong Kong, and Macao. They

asked the USSR why they were allowing these countries to stay in capitalist and

imperialist hands. The USSR responded by saying “The artificial creation of any territorial

problems in our times….would be tantamount to embarking on a very dangerous path.”

The two countries also accused each other of inciting border incidents. In the early 1960’s

China accused the Soviets of conducting “large-scale subversive activities” in the Chinese

province of Sinkiang. This is the province that borders the Soviet republics of Tadjikistan,

Kirghizia and Kazakhstan. The Chinese claimed that the Soviets coerced ten of thousands

of people into fleeing to the USSR. The Soviets in turn accused the Chinese of persecuting

Kazakhs and causing some 50,000 Kazakhs to seek refuge in the Soviet Union. These

sorts of unwarranted accusations caused great strife between the two nations. (Nogee,


Many historians agree that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time when each

country decided that the other constituted the greatest threat to it, but most historians feel

that the point was reached sometime in the mid 1960’s. Khrushchev began to plan for a

showdown with China very early in his regime, he had said in 1957 that “Conflict with

China is inevitable.” Had Khrushchev remained in power the Chinese would have been

expelled from the world communist movement as early as 1965, but Khrushchev’s

overthrow prevented him from taking action against the Chinese. In 1966 the Chinese

named the Soviet Union as their number one threat. (Salisbury, 85-9) In March of that

year the Chinese boycotted the Twenty-third Party Congress, the first time that they had

ever done so. The Chinese put out this statement concerning the boycott. “Russia….used

to be the center of the international working-class movement. Now however, the

leadership of China has become the centre of modern revisionism.” (Nogee, 278)

Now the schism bewteen the Soviet Union and China was complete. Both nations

severed ties with one another and cooperation in the near furture was not a likely

possibility. However, this did not mean that the USSR and China did not have

disagreements. The two nations continued to have disagreements and even confrontations

until the end of the Cold War, but this animosity was merely an extension of the hositility

caused by the Sino-Soviet rift. For example, in 1967 China jailed a Soviet officer who

refused to wear a badge bearing Mao’s portrait. The officer was put in an open truck and

paraded around in Bejing until the Soviets wrote a formal letter asking the Chinese to

return the officer to the USSR. Another tense confrontation came in 1969 when Chinese

troops attacked Soviet troops on the small island of Damansky. The Soviets relatiated by

invading a province of China, where they met heavy Chinese resistance. Both sided

incured heavy losses. These events may seem as if they were an escalation of the

Sino-Soviet schism, but in reality they were merely events that occured because of the

schism between China and the USSR. By 1965 the schism between China and the USSR

had become complete. After 1965 both nations continued to shape their foreign policies

owards each other in an antagonistic manner. Disagreements and confrontations between

the two nations were merely events that were following the trend that was layed out in the

late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The Chinese and the USSR pursued antagonistic policies

towards one another, a trend that was already set by 1965.

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Cambridge, MA Winthrop Publishers (1981)

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Korean War New York, NY New York Free Press (1975)

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1945-1963 Standford University Press, (1991)