Sino-Soviet Relations

February 4, 1977

Report Outline
New Phase in the Relationship
Russian-Chinese Feud in History
American Policy in Tripolar World
Special Focus

New Phase in the Relationship

U.S. Fear of Chinese-Russian Rconciliaiton

This year is likely to witness the beginning of a new era in relations between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The only thing that is certain about this new era is that the United States will play a significant role in it. There have been indications since the death of Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung last September that Moscow and, to a lesser extent, Peking would like to patch up some of their differences. The reaction of each to overtures from the other has been mixed, but the admittedly scanty information available to date suggests that there has been a slight thaw in the bitter confrontation.

The feud between the two Communist giants, which broke into the open almost two decades ago, is both ideological and nationalistic. The Russians contend that they are upholding true Marxism-Leninism and that the Chinese are “deviationists.” Peking charges Moscow with the same offense. The antagonism also involves a border dispute over lands that czarist Russia seized from China before 1917 and competition for influence in the rest of the world. U.S. policymakers seem to be agreed that it is in this country's interest to keep the Sino-Soviet dispute alive. But apparently there is also the conviction that no one would benefit if the situation got worse and erupted into a war between the two Communist giants.

That view was summed up by Henry Owen of the Brookings Institution, a former State Department policy-planning director: “The tension between China and the Soviet Union…serves U.S. interests. Growing hostility leading to war would not….” Quite aside from the human tragedy, “the effects of such a war…[throughout the world] are impossible to predict.”

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