sino soviet alliance

Revisiting the Sino-Soviet Split in the Cold War

First off, my apologies for the blogging hiatus. Now that I am settled down at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, entries should be more frequent.

Historians have long argued that there was more hostility than initially perceived between Mao’s China and CCP and Stalin’s USSR as early as the 1920s and 1930s. I just came across a July review of a new Cold War history piece by Donggil Kim that sheds more light on what is now known as the Sino-Soviet split.

We know that both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai suspected that Stalin did not want the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to cross the Yangtze River in early 1949, eliminate the contending Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and unify China. Kim believes that it was Stalin’s recommendation that the CCP enter into peace talks with the KMT that led Mao and Zhou to conclude that his real purpose was to “divide China into a CCP-ruled Northern Dynasty and a KMT-ruled Southern Dynasty”. Since the PLA had yet to cross the Yangtze, the ceasefire preceding the talks would establish the river as the dividing line.

Kim thinks this is true, and provides interesting insights into why Stalin wanted a de facto partition of China. The first motivation is well-known. After the destructive impact of WWII on the USSR, Stalin’s main aim was to keep Soviet borders secure. Since he both grossly underestimated the strength of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and vastly overestimated the likelihood of U.S. military intervention in China to prevent a complete communist takeover, he believed it would be better to secure a CCP-led north China buffer for the USSR rather than risk the presence of U.S. troops on Soviet borders.

More interesting is Stalin’s second motive. Kim thinks that just like Stalin believed that American intervention in the 1950-53 Korean War would divert U.S. forces away from the critical European theater, the Soviet leader viewed a ‘KMT-ruled Southern Dynasty’ as a potential troop-intensive distraction for Washington.

If he did perceive such treachery early on from Stalin, Kim asks, why then did Mao choose to align China with the USSR in 1950? Simply put, the USSR was the lesser of two evils. Yes, Mao remembered the significant differences he had with Soviet-trained orthodox Communists within the CCP and never forgot Stalin’s betrayal at the Yalta Conference of 1945, where he pledged not to support the CCP in exchange for territorial concessions in China. But Marxist-Leninist ideology told him that U.S. imperialism was much more dangerous than Soviet socialism and that, from a practical standpoint, he needed Soviet assistance in economic and technological development as a model for China.