Northeast Asian Affairs files, lot 60 D 330, “Briefing Book: Geneva Conference, Korean Phase”

No. 183
Background Paper Prepared in the Department of State for the United States Delegation to the Geneva Conference1

GKI D–5/1

The Sino-Soviet Relation and its Potential Sources of Differences

basic features of the sino-soviet alliance

1. In its most general features the Sino-Soviet relationship may be compared to that between Great Britain and the US. Compelling considerations of military security cement the alliance of the two countries. There are strong ties of trade and similarity of political institutions. While Communist China presently assumes a junior position in the alliance, its geographic position and sources of independent power are such as probably to persuade the USSR to a considerable extent, at least, to respect its independence in its internal affairs and its right to an important voice in Communist planning for Asia.

2. At the same time important differences distinguish the SinoSoviet relationship from that of Britain and the US. Ideological fanaticism plays a critical role in the obeisance of Peiping to Moscow, whereas the strong forces of culture and tradition prevailing between Britain and the US are absent. The long common frontier between Communist China and the USSR provides an element of strength and also of fear not present in British-US relations. But while both relationships are characterized by a strong current mutuality of interests, that of Peiping and Moscow appears in the long run to be confronted with far the greater potential conflicts.

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adjustments in soviet policy occasioned by the rise of mao

3. The emergence of Communist China as a major Asian power (certainly from the military point of view the major Asian power) required a very substantial adjustment in Soviet thinking. For the second time, a Communist nation emerged in a situation where Soviet military strength was not the major factor in the gaining and consolidation of power. The first time was in Yugoslavia; the implications for China of Tito’s break with USSR were certainly not lost on the Soviet leaders.

4. The Soviet inability to develop the usual satellite organizational controls over Peiping likely confronted Stalin with two facts inconsistent with his previous objectives. One was that the vast territory and population of China could not be directly manipulated and controlled; and the other was the calculation that future Communist gains in East Asia would not be in areas geographically contiguous with areas under Soviet military control.

5. The Soviet Union was thus probably forced to recast the concept of its relations with Communist China. It is impossible to determine to what extent this change in Soviet attitude was due to counter demands made by the Chinese Communist leaders during the Korean War or to the death of Stalin and the relative rise of Mao’s prestige which resulted. These factors, however, apparently did have important effects on the Soviet attitude toward Communist China and upon Chinese Communist self-confidence. The Soviet Union has, as the Tsarist regime before, now come to recognize that her relations with Communist China were central to her Far Eastern policy. She has apparently also gone further in acknowledging the Chinese right to an important voice in the determination and carrying out of Communist policy in Asia.

forces of soviet influence and authority in communist china

6. Necessarily, the independent power base of the Chinese Communists and Soviet-acknowledged “great power” status for China makes it impossible for the USSR to think in terms of the usual satellite controls over China. The USSR must rely for China’s continuing allegiance primarily upon a mutuality of interest and economic and military interdependence. In some few respects the USSR may have a direct lever upon Chinese Communist policy. Soviet advisers can provide Moscow with intelligence on Communist China, but they are believed to have considerably limited influence on overall Chinese policy. Through a nearly monopolistic position in Chinese Communist trade and technical assistance, the USSR can have a hand in shaping the Chinese Communist industrial program, a major preoccupation of the Peiping regime at [Page 403] present. Soviet military aid to China gives Moscow some voice in Peiping’s military modernization and operation. However, direct Soviet interference in Chinese Communist affairs is probably kept at a minimum. Nevertheless, the USSR as leaders of a world “bloc” may expect that Peiping adhere to the general lines of Soviet foreign policy.

potential differences: soviet aid to chinese economic development

7. The possibilities for important Sino-Soviet differences seem to be greatest in the field of Soviet response to Communist China’s need for industrial and technical services. Such equipment and services are essential to Communist China in the achievement of her most important national objectives, recreation of a modern industrial state.

8. Having staked an all-out effort on successfully pushing through its economic program, Peiping must press the USSR for delivery of such equipment and services at the fastest rate they can be absorbed. The goods and services obtained from the Soviet Union must be paid for in cash or in Chinese raw materials. Both must be squeezed from the Chinese people at the expense of their nourishment and living standards. There is evidence that, as a consequence of Moscow’s unwillingness to meet Communist China’s requests in a less mercenary manner, the latter has already been forced to alter drastically the magnitude of her first five year plan.

9. Allied trade controls on Communist China make China’s dependence on the USSR the more complete. They tend to maximize Moscow’s inadequacies and Peiping’s dissatisfactions therewith and temptation to seek alternative sources in the West or Japan. The more that trade channels become set in Russian techniques, terminology, standards, spare parts, and institutional framework, the more difficult it becomes for China to turn to other sources. On the other hand, under present circumstances, the dependability of the Soviet sources for equipment must be a somewhat reassuring factor to the Chinese Communists.

10. The advantages which the Soviet Union gains from Communist China’s dependence upon it for goods and services, from “institutionalizing” Communist China’s trade in Soviet channels and integrating her economy into the Communist bloc’s economy are extremely important. At the same time, they are in some degree offset by the economic drain and by the Chinese restiveness and ill-will which are brought about by Moscow’s trade terms and inadequacies. The very fact that the Soviet Union could make the scale and terms of its trade more liberal tends to limit the use it can [Page 404] wisely make of economic “aid” as a club over Chinese Communist policy.

outlook on world affairs

11. While the Soviet leaders are heirs to a revolutionary tradition which they will not hesitate to exploit for expansionist purposes, their motivation internationally is essentially one of preserving leadership already won; this could be contrasted with the “onthe-make” surge of the Chinese Communists. In addition to their headier revolutionary elan, the Chinese Communists are powerfully motivated by the urge to restore China’s traditional greatness in Asia. This does not imply that Peiping is not keenly aware of risks to its security which must be guarded against. Rather it indicates merely that Communist China’s ambitions in Asia, subject to avoidance of such risks, may be proportionately greater than those of the USSR.

12. Quite different geographical situations also tend to give the Soviet Union and Communist China varying outlooks on world affairs. The Sino-Soviet Alliance and the Himalayan Mountain chain together tend to limit areas of danger to the national security of Communist China to the Pacific Coast and Southeast Asia. The Soviet Union on the other hand has equal if not greater interests in Europe and the Middle East; the greater opportunities for the expansion of national influence and the more acute threats to her industrial and military complex lie in the belt running from Iran to Finland (the chief aerial threat actually comes from across the polar regions). Because of these factors, the Soviet Union must take a vital interest in European and Middle Eastern as well as Asian problems. Communist China, on the other hand need not be directly concerned with the solution of European and Middle Eastern problems, except to the degree that participation in their consideration would tend to give her increased stature as a world power.

the developing chinese communist orbit

13. That the USSR recognizes Communist China as having the primary responsibilities for military protection of the orbit in Asia is indicated, among other things, by the recent Soviet build-up of China as “the Asian power”. China is also recognized to have a powerful voice in the economic polities [policies] of the Far Eastern part of the Communist orbit. It continues to be a moot point, however, whether Moscow views the outward flow of Peiping’s power into the peripheral Communist parties and against the free countries of Asia as entirely in Soviet interest.

14. Recent events show that Peiping is becoming the center of Communist activity in Asia. There have been no open frictions up [Page 405] to now, but both countries can’t help but be aware that their Asian political and economic interests might diverge at some later time. The degree to which Soviet and Chinese Communist interests conflict in Southeast Asia is difficult to distinguish. Certainly Chinese strategic and historical interests in this area are paramount and apparently the Soviet leaders have been inclined to let the Chinese Communists take the center stage position there. The Soviet Union has never possessed a strong foothold in Southeast Asia, in terms of direct control of the Communist movements or its influence on the governments. It may feel that native forces favoring the spread of Communism may not favor direct control by Peiping. There are some few indications that Moscow fears complete exclusion of its own voice in Communist affairs in Southeast Asia.

15. Just as the Soviet Union looks on Eastern Europe as its sphere of influence, so probably does Communist China look on Southeast Asia as the most promising and proper place to carve out a sphere of influence. Communist China further stands to reap great advantage from promoting the concept of the Orient against the Occident for the immediate expulsion of white influence from the area. Such a course might win for her great popularity, prestige, and influence in Asia and might lead to her increased acceptance as unchallenged leader in Asia, whether or not the specific incident when such pressure were exerted should result in a further western retreat. To the Soviet Union, however, the advantages of further Communist expansion are outweighed by the possibility that any anti-white campaign could boomerang in developing an anti-Russian imperialism movement in Asia and arouse Asian interest in a separatist Asian Communist movement or in Asian Communist leadership on a largely Chinese base.


16. During the Korean hostilities, Moscow and Peiping’s common concern for the military and political security of the North Korean regime dictated a cooperative military effort and a division of responsibility as an emergency expedient. Moscow and Peiping’s common interests will undoubtedly dictate continuing cooperation in the reconstruction of North Korea and in political negotiations with the West. The economic burden during this period will fall largely on the USSR because of Communist China’s limited potential for aid and its own domestic requirements.

17. The large area of Sino-Soviet cooperation in Korea, however, should not obscure the underlying area of potentially conflicting Sino-Soviet interests. Conflicts may arise between the probable Soviet desire to maintain or reestablish its undisputed predominance in North Korea and the probable Chinese Communist desire [Page 406] not to yield its newly gained role in Northeast Asia. It is unlikely that Peiping would willingly yield its influence in North Korea, paid for at heavy cost during the war and sanctioned by a centuries-old tradition of Chinese influence in Korea, particularly since a Korean political stalemate and even an uneasy peace could require continuing Chinese Communist military commitments for the defense of Korea. It is equally unlikely that Moscow would retreat from its role of control in Korea, except under extreme pressure.

18. It seems that at best and granting a maximum of strategic agreement between Moscow and Peiping, the Sino-Soviet relationship in Korea will be one of compromise and uneasy condominium. Problems in Sino-Soviet relations may arise from the presence in Korea of Chinese Communist troops, from possible competition between China and Korea for limited Soviet economic aid, from possible variations in Chinese and Soviet preferences in regard to tactics toward the West, and from possible friction between pro-Chinese and pro-Soviet cliques, in Korea.


19. Both the Soviet Union and Communist China have at this time a common interest in containing the expansionist tendencies of the Japanese, in gaining for themselves access to Japanese productive facilities and raw materials, and in preventing a firm alliance between Japan and the western powers. Future identification of interests, however, is less certain, particularly should a Communist or other leftist Japanese Government willing to cooperate with the Communist Bloc come to power. Control of the Japanese Communist Party and of that government would be an important, perhaps a vital factor in the internal balance of power in the Communist Bloc. There is some evidence that the two countries even now are preparing for that possibility.

the peripheral areas of china

20. The Soviet Union, and before that the Russian Empire, long had an interest in the penetration and control of the peripheral areas of China, Sinkiang, Mongolia, Manchuria, and to a lesser extent even Tibet. Despite rather aggressive moves during the twenties and thirties, only Outer Mongolia came finally under full Soviet control. The Soviet Union has now publicly acknowledged complete Chinese Communist sovereignty over Sinkiang, Manchuria, and Tibet. Despite the presence of large numbers of Soviet technicians and advisers, Chinese influence in Manchuria appears to have asserted itself generally since 1949. Manchuria’s raw materials, industrial capacity and strategic position are of immense importance and cannot be regarded with indifference either by China [Page 407] or by the Soviet Union. On Sinkiang, evidence is scanty, but it appears that there has been no further extension of Soviet influence and that the Peking Government now exercises more effective control there than the National Government ever did. In the event of deterioration in Sino-Russian relations, Sinkiang might again become a point of friction. The Chinese Communists, superficially at least, appear to have political control of these areas. Intelligence on this question is scanty.

doctrinal differences

21. It has now become an axiom in the Communist world that “the thought of Mao Tse-tung is the integration of the theory of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete experience of the Chinese Revolution”. Mao Tse-tung is allowed by Soviet commentators a special position as exponent of Marxism-Leninism in the Chinese context. Mao’s treatise “On New Democracy” (1940) was indeed put forward as a new Chinese contribution to the theory of Marxism-Leninism, but its ideas can be traced back to earlier orthodox pronouncements. Mao’s originality appears in fact to lie more in the field of practical statesmanship than of doctrine. Nevertheless, his unique position among non-Soviet exponents of Marxism-Leninism is a potential cause of friction. Though it seems unlikely that Mao should have any idea of succeeding to Stalin’s position in the world Communist movement, he may on doctrinal Marxism be less ready to accept the authority of Stalin’s successors than he was to accept that of Stalin himself.

  1. A covering note stated that the paper was prepared by Robert O. Blake of the Office of Eastern European Affairs and reflected the comments of the Office of Chinese Affairs and the appropriate divisions of the Office of Intelligence Research.