Sino-Soviet Relations During the Cold War

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If one was to think of the Cold War, what would first come to mind? For the vast majority of Western people, notions and tales of American and Russian conflict and tension and all related events spring to mind. Yet, Vietnam and the Korean Peninsula were far from the only regions in the Far East to be affected by the Cold War. The Sino-Soviet relations post World War 2 are fascinating both in their ideological diversities as well as the political implications of their differences. The transpiring conflict deriving from this divergence in beliefs defined the two major Communist government models and highlighted the flaws that would emerge in both styles of leadership.

Any effective study of 20th Century Sino-Soviet relations, one must begin with the origins of the links of the two powers to World War 2. In order to expel the Imperial Japanese forces from China, Stalin, Mao and Chiang Kaishek (the leader of the KMT, a party which was at civil war with the Communist Party of China) became reluctant co-belligerents. Following the successful expulsion of the Japanese from China, a further dispute arose over Manchuria and a civil war erupted between the US backed KMT and Mao’s CPC which was utilizing weapons seized from the Japanese given to them by the Russians. Eventually in 1949, the KMT was defeated and fled mainland China to Taiwan leading to almost complete Communist control of mainland China.

A significant influence in Sino-Soviet relations is the incredibly polarizing view that Mao adopted towards Communism. Mao’s aim was to implement urban Orthodox Marxism theory to China in order to accelerate its modernization and overall development. He believed vehemently in Orthodox Marxism and Stalinism and accepted no major divergence from it, and it was this unwavering belief which led to the ultimate deterioration in his relationship with Nikita Khrushchev and the further resulting deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations and indeed a divisive schism in Communist theory.

Yet, in 1950, Mao and Stalin safeguarded their national interests through the signing of the “Treaty of Friendship, and Alliance, and Mutual Assistance”. This treaty involved major concessions of the Russians to the Chinese such as control of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria, several strategic ports as well as a $300 million loan. However, the CPC also submitted to the geopolitical hegemony of the USSR, yet unlike other various Eastern-European puppet states, Mao kept control of all his governmental duties and activities. It was during the 1950s that Mao aggressively implemented the USSR’s model of “planned economy”. This was disastrous for the Chinese. Mao’s infamous “Great Leap Forward” which was the planned urgent industrialization of the Chinese state proved to be a failure of the greatest proportions. Mao’s unrealistic goals went greatly unfulfilled due to insufficient agricultural production which in itself was caused by the Great Chinese Famine between 1959 and 1961 when between 15-55 million people perished.

Meanwhile, in the USSR Khrushchev, had commenced his policy of de-Stalinization and his beliefs were affirmed in the “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences” which attacked Stalin and Stalinism, especially in respect of the Great Purge. In response to this, the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) altered their political stance dramatically. They transferred from Stalinism’s confrontation of the West, to Khrushchev’s coexistence and co-operation with the West. This ideological divergence is the root cause for the vast majority of Sino-Soviet conflict during the Cold War. This was because Mao utterly detested this ideological differentiation and rejected it as Marxist revisionism and ultimately, the division between Mao’s interpretation of Stalinism (Maoism) and Khrushchev’s communist revision with aims of coexistence with the West, becomes starkly visible in all further actions of the two leaders.

The fractures in the Western misconception and misconstrution of monolithic or universal communism in the Eastern Bloc began to come to light with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. This event is significant as even though Hungary was a communist country, the required military suppression of the revolution reaffirmed to Mao that his desired plan to achieve socialism in China, through Stalinism concepts and practices, was the correct path. This affirmation also came with the denounciation again of Khrushchev and his “Marxism Revisionism”. Further occurrences of similar instances include the Soviet-Albanian split (1955 to 1961), Yugoslavia’s mixed economy and in regards to the US espionage on Russia.

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The latter of these events, the US espionage on Russia, was of particular significance as it indicated to Khrushchev towards Mao’s apparent mental incapacity. In May 1960, the USSR shot down a U-2 spy plane which had been flying over Russian land taking photographs of classified areas. Mao expected Khrushchev to deal aggressively and with decisive action against US President Dwight Eisenhower. Yet, to do so would bring the threat of nuclear war which both the USSR and the USA desired to avoid at all costs. Therefore, at the Four Powers Summit in Paris in May 1960, Khrushchev demanded an apology from Eisenhower for the continued US espionage in Russian airspace. Eisenhower refused to apologize and Khrushchev’s refusal to take military action, caused the loss of Mao’s respect for Khrushchev.

This blatant disregard for the severity of East-West nuclear war is visible also in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis between which occurred August and September of 1958. Earlier that year, there had been conflicting interests between the USSR and China in regards to submarine ports to deter US intervention in the South China Sea, yet Mao took this as Khrushchev’s desire to control the Chinese coastline and negotiations promptly broke down. Soon after this, Mao desired to gain PCP sovereignty over Taiwan, which had become the KMT’s Republic of China. Mao’s invasion of the Matsu and Kinmen islands triggered the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis. As Mao did not inform Khrushchev of this military action, the relations between the two leaders again became strained. This strain was particularly tensing however as the US promised nuclear action against both the USSR and China if a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would take place, thus dragging Khrushchev into Sino-American conflict over “a long lost civil war in China”. Due to Mao’s apparent nonchalance over the threat of worldwide nuclear war, Khrushchev cancelled Soviet foreign aid as well as a shipment of nuclear weapons to the PCP.

These deteriorating personal and ideological relations further burgeoned with the trading of personal attacks and insults at the Romanian Communist Party Congress. Initially, Khrushchev incited Mao as a “Chinese nationalist, a geopolitical adventurist and an ideological deviationist”. In response to this, Peng Zhen, a leading figure in the CPC named Khrushchev as a “patriarchal, arbitrary and tyrannical leader” as a well as a Marist Revisionist. Notions of Russian chauvinism and Chinese backwardness were portrayed in the Albanian-Soviet Split where the Albanians refused USSR aid as they were regarded as backwards by the USSR due to their retention of the Stalinist model of state. Yet China “immediately sent food to their brother country” with this fact being used as a justification for apparent Russian chauvinism.

In response to the attacks, Soviet-Sino joint scientific projects were cancelled by the USSR with the withdrawal of 1,400 Russian scientists from China. Mao in response attempted to justify the Great Chinese Famine and the PCP’s massive economic failures on Khrushchev. To Mao, Khrushchev’s failure to take decisive military action and his overall attitude of harmonious coexistence with the West caused him to lose significant credibility both as a puissant capable leader as well as ideologically. Yet, for Khrushchev, Mao’s unpragmatic levels of sanity and backwards, flawed ideology rendered Mao as a detriment to Khrushchev and his aims in order to achieve East-West coexistence.

Despite these indifferences, it remained pragmatic for the USSR and CPC to stay allies however with the fracturing of relations between Russia and the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, the disputes between the USSR and CPC elevated to a national-government level. With the failure of the Russian implementation of military action in regards to both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion, Mao grew increasingly discontent with Khrushchev and the CPC broke relations with the USSR in late 1962 with Mao stating that “Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism”. Mao further expressed his anger in “Nine Letters” criticizing Khrushchev and his running of the USSR.

The solidification of the Sino-Soviet Split came with the publishing of the “Chinese Communist Party's Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement” and the “Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”. These party general lines served in perpetuating the contrasting views of Orthodox Marxism held by each of the parties and with this, the countries of the Warsaw Pact officially broke all ties with the People’s Republic of China, finalizing the split between the two great nations and the split of Communism.

The concept of Monolithic Communism which is prevalent in most Westener’s views of Communism, strikes contrast with the differing interpretations and doctrinal schisms which developed between the Khrushchev’s USSR and Mao’s PCP, which to this day remain the two most significant Communist ideologies. This division led to the development of a tri-polar Cold War and on numerous occasions perpetuated deteriorating East-West relations. Despite the clear significance of these doctrinal differences, the degree of significance to which these events pose to the Western World is little and even less is the level of knowledge amongst Western people as to the sequence of events which could have forever altered the geopolitical climate of the World.

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Sino-Soviet Relations During the Cold War. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“Sino-Soviet Relations During the Cold War.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022,
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