A young Dalai Lama, and Indira Gandhi, during a visit to Nehru in New Delhi, on Sept. 4, 1959. It was the Dalai Lama’s first visit to New Delhi since fleeing Tibet in March. – living in exile at Birla House in Mussoorie, India.
Peace and stability at last
To the Chinese people, after 50 years of dislocation and disaster, the communist victory brought promise of stability and direction.
Mao’s first decade (1949-1959) achieved three major things.
- China was cured of its opium addiction.
- China’s criminal gangs were busted.
- After many centuries Chinese peasants got land.
But these reforms were not likely to make China into a world power.
Baby steps to a world power
According to Mao, the path to China as a super-power was The Great Leap Forward.
Initiated in 1957-58, the Great Leap Forward saw famine and hunger across China. After the Communist takeover of China, land seized from land owners, was given to peasants in 1949. Ten years later, in 1959, the Chinese State took away the same land from the same peasant, during The Great Leap Forward. Food shortages, starvation followed. Western (questionable) estimates are that 30 million people died during this period.
Some speculate, the China’s war with India in 1962 diverted attention from two domestic catastrophes – after the disastrous Great Leap Forward and before the equally disastrous Cultural Revolution.
There could be another viable cause for the war.
Comfort of size
China had annexed Tibet in 1951, with the Dalai Lama being the nominal but ‘autonomous’ ruler. Seven years after annexation, in 1959, the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, fled to India.
Three years after Dalai Lama’s defection to India, the 1962 war followed.
More probably, the 1962 War between India and China, also served to demonstrate Chinese determination to hold Tibet.
Alexei Kosygin (Soviet PM) & Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent. Photo: RIA Novosti/AFP; courtesy – livemint.com
Middle Kingdom in a muddle
For China, 20th century began on an untoward note.
Failed Boxer War (1899-1900), followed by the fall of Qing dynasty (1912), Japanese occupation of Manchuria (1931 onwards), civil war (ended in 1949) – all this in a space of less than 50 years. To a China recovering from such difficult fifty years, size in itself was a comfort.
Sparsely populated, Tibet’s vast landmass gave bulk to the Chinese nation, making it the 4th largest in the world – nearly equal to USA (No.3) and Canada (No.2). Without Tibet, China would drop to 6th position – smaller than Brazil (No.5) and Australia (No.6). Remove Xinjiang, and another 16% of China gets reduced. Close to 45% of current China is Tibet and Xinjiang.
A larger population means a larger government – and a larger landmass means more raw-material sources, bigger markets. All in all, more economic heft.
On the negative side is of course, sluggish administration happens easily – and often.
In this quest for expanding Chinese frontiers, China took on the Soviet Russia – with unfavorable results.
April 1968, Prague, Czechoslovakia: A Russian soldier lights a cigarette as a Czech walks past a sign which equates U.S. policy in Vietnam with the Soviet (CCCP) occupation of Czechoslovakia (CSSR). A swastika painted inside a star (which is used as a symbol for both the Soviet and the American armies) completes the barb. Since Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia, signs like this were scrawled on walls, windows and even Russian tanks
While the Soviet Union with Khrushchev at its helm, was busy in Cuba (October 1962), expanding and deepening relations in Middle East, Vietnam, and in Russia’s own backyard in Eastern Europe, China started aggressive posturing against Soviet Russia on the border island of Zhenbao-Damanski.
Since this was an undeclared war from both sides, this aspect of international politics is rarely factored into most analysis.
Soviet Russia scaled down military operations against China after China was made to pay a price. The Russians even considered a nuclear attack on China. US support to China, against a nuclear attack stopped the Soviets from completely bull-dozing China.
This Chinese posturing alienated the Soviet Union.
June 7, 1969: Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev addresses the World Conference of Communist Parties in Moscow. In his speech, Brezhnev accused Red China of planning nuclear and conventional war against the Soviet Union. USSR Premier Alexei Kosygin, left, and President Nikolai Podgorny listen to his statement. | Photos: Bettmann/CORBIS; source: wired.com | Click for image.
When Russia thought of nuking China
Soviet Union launched a brutal response against China.
After a Russian diplomat in New Delhi probed for a probable American response to Russian nuclear attack on China, the dove-cote was aflutter. Chou En Lai, of China relayed Chinese concerns about Soviet intentions to Pakistan’s Air Marshall Nur Khan, who in turn briefed Henry Kissinger.
A few days earlier, another Russian diplomat in the U.S., with KGB connections, Boris Davydov had sought similar American reaction to a Soviet nuclear attack on China from William Stearman, of the US State Department. This Soviet approach was escalated to Henry Kissinger and President Nixon.
This was the opening that USA wanted.
Nixon visits China
Based on these developments, Nixon made an approach to the Chinese – and the Nixon-Mao meeting happened later (February 1972). China Daily, a publication that reflects the Chinese Government’s official stance, commissioned a special feature on the ‘40th anniversary of Nixon’s landmark visit to China’ – though diplomatic relations were finally restored only in 1979.
Nixon’s Asia and Pakistan policy was a significant departure in the mechanics. In 1965, before the India-Pakistan War, Johnson cancelled US trips by Pakistan’s General Ayub and India’s Prime Minister, LB Shastri.
Of course, for vastly differing reasons. US wanted to show displeasure to Ayub Khan for getting close to China. US did not want any criticism from Shastri on the Vietnam War.
China lets down all-weather friend Pakistan
Before the 1971 Bangladesh War, the punishment that the Chinese received in the Zhenbao-Damanski Island border (1969) conflict at the hands of the Soviets made the Chinese very careful. Aware of Soviet support to India, in the India-Bangladesh War – the Chinese adopted a complete hands-off attitude. The Chinese dreaded the Soviets.
But this does not explain 1965-Chinese neutral posturing in the India-Pakistan War. Was it fear that India could provoke the secession of Tibet – if China engaged itself with India in a military adventure?
If Tibet goes, would Xinjiang remain for long?
Chinese Talk and Walk
A hall-mark of the Communist Party foreign policy has been pragmatism. Deng reiterated Chinese thinking when he said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” echoing American President Teddy Roosevelt’s suggestion to an emerging USA.
How will China and US engage in the future?
Friends, Followers, Competitors, Collaborators, Rivals or Fr-enemies. Leader, follower. This following extract from a Chinese analyst is revealing.
China has undoubtedly benefited from the world system created and supported by the US. Richard Nixon’s journey to China in 1972 opened the door for China’s return to the international community.
Most of the next two decades were a honeymoon for Sino-US relations. On the economic front, the US not only granted China most-favoured-nation trade status, but also tolerated China’s mercantilist approach to international trade and finance, notably its dual-track exchange-rate regime. In the 1990s, bilateral economic ties continued to expand. US support for China’s integration into the world system culminated with the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Of course, China’s inadequate intellectual property protection has damaged relations. And the role of China’s state-owned enterprises and official Chinese support for technological “national champions” have also hurt relations. (via Couples counselling for US and China – Views – livemint.com).
Were US actions based on benign benefit to the Chinese that will merit gratitude? Probably, he has never given the primer on modern foreign policy.
“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow” Lord Viscount Palmerston, 1848.
Does gratitude have a place in diplomacy?