148. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

PR 76 10053


Executive Summary

Mao’s successors will be confronted with the same foreign policy problem Mao has been facing for a long time—namely, a desire to project China’s influence globally but a limited capability to compete with the superpowers in doing so, or even to defend itself against them. At present, it cannot compete even with the larger European powers in providing advanced-technology material aid to the lower developed countries (LDCs). China is essentially a regional, not a global, power; it is still confined to a secondary role in most international developments outside Asia. Moreover, in some respects it can even be regarded as a LDC, reaching out to acquire the products and advanced technological skills of the developed capitalist countries.

However, its political favor is sought by both large and small countries, mainly because it is big, already much stronger militarily than most other countries, and has the potential military capability to worry even the superpowers. It thus provides an alternative to exclusive political dependence on either superpower. Mao’s successors undoubtedly will try to exploit this situation, and they will have two additional assets:

  • —the Soviets are likely to make a series of overtures for an improvement of relations, and
  • —the successors will not be bound by Mao’s personal intransigence, and are likely to respond to some degree, especially in the border dispute.

Mao is trying to bind his successors irrevocably to his main foreign policies; actually, he has no guarantee of anything, apart from objective considerations that would bind anybody. Mao’s death will provide the opportunity for the successors to reassess and change foreign policies, including that toward the USSR and the US. Whether major foreign policies will be changed probably will depend greatly on the nature of the successor leadership—that is, w ether the relatively simple-minded ideologues or the relatively sophisticated moderates [Page 932] win out. On present evidence, the result probably will be less revolution and more realism.

The trend toward realism, already present, almost certainly will continue if moderates attain a majority in the post-Mao leadership. Those regarded as moderates—such as Party First Vice Chairman and Premier Hua Kuo-feng, the military leader Yeh Chien-ying, and Foreign Minister Chiao Kuan-hua—probably will come to dominate the successor leadership. Most of the ideologues—such as Wang Hung-wen, Chiang Ching (Mme. Mao), and Yao Wen-yuan—do not seem to have an independent power base, and when Mao dies, they will lose their only real source of sustenance. At least two of the ideologues— Chiang Ching and Yao Wen-yuan—are intensely disliked by government functionaries and probably within the party and army as well, and their chances of survival in the Politburo in particular seem slight.

On the other hand, if the post-Mao Politburo should be dominated by an alliance of ideologues and opportunistic military leaders, the result might be an orthodox revolutionary attitude toward the US. That is, there might be more intense opposition to a wider range of US policies. They probably would prefer a more equal balance of anti-US and anti-USSR policies (as the “ultra-Leftist” former Defense Minister Lin Piao had preferred).

In the post-Mao era, Chinese foreign policies will continue to revolve primarily around China’s concerns regarding the USSR. The Russians will still be the “main enemy” to the moderates and still an enemy to the ideologues.

Even if Mao’s successors choose to moderate their line toward Moscow, hatred and fear of the USSR almost certainly will continue to be the principal factor in their foreign relations. They probably will retain their anxiety about China’s national security—namely, whether the Russians will use their overwhelming military superiority to undertake either a large-scale invasion or a disarming nuclear strike. Because China will not be a superpower, the realistic course for the successors would seem to be to continue to try to use American influence to deter the USSR from attacking China and to offset Soviet efforts to encircle China. Clearly, the successors will have nowhere else to go.

However, within a few years after Mao’s death, his successors probably will conclude from a reassessment of the Sino-Soviet border dispute that the danger and material costs to China necessitate a reduction of overt hostility to the USSR. His successors will probably not see the same necessity to use the border dispute as part of an overall political polemic (the “paper war”) against Moscow.

This shift in attitude—again, more likely to occur if moderates (realists) rather than ideologues were to attain a majority in the post-Mao leadership—would open the way for serious border talks. But a final [Page 933] settlement would prove difficult to attain, inasmuch as the Chinese side would have to make the principal concession—i.e., dropping Mao’s demands for a withdrawal of Soviet troops from all disputed areas before the Chinese will enter seriously into negotiations.

Any reduction in the degree of Peking’s hostility toward Moscow following Mao’s death almost certainly will fall far short of the cordiality which existed in the early 1950s. Even after a possible border settlement, the Chinese almost certainly will continue to feel less secure with the USSR (the in-area and still-menacing threat) than with the US (the out-of-area and receding threat).

Thus the successors probably will continue to view the Sino-US rapprochement in strategic terms—i.e., they will view the US as the only effective counterweight to the USSR. This assessment will reinforce the successors’ view of Taiwan as being a secondary issue in the Sino-US relationship, subordinated to the strategic Sino-Soviet-US triangle and the national security of China. The successors will have to be “patient” and willing to “wait” (Peking’s usage) for further US disengagement from Taipei.

Aside from the strategic consideration, there are other reasons for a probable subordination of the Taiwan issue. Briefly, Peking is militarily and politically impotent vis-à-vis Taiwan. The military obstacle (mainly insufficient airlift and sealift capability) forces the successors, like it or not, to try to reincorporate Taiwan by political methods. And that is likely to be a long-term matter.

Taipei’s present leadership, and the immediate successors to the ailing Chiang Ching-kuo, almost certainly will be unwilling to negotiate any form of Communist annexation. Nor are attempts at subversion likely to hasten matters greatly. Central control of the police and security organs (used vigorously to crush real or suspected subversives) as well as general stability on the island will decisively impede Peking’s efforts at least until the 1980s.

If, however, the US were explicitly to retreat from the Washington– Taipei defense treaty (e.g., declaring it void after establishing full diplomatic relations with the PRC), political and economic stability on the island would be put to a severe test. In such an event, the Republic of China (ROC) undoubtedly would act to sustain as much of the relationship with the US as possible, and undoubtedly would take steps to try to insure a “business as usual” psychology on the island. Taipei would make such capital as it could from the likely continuation of US commitments to supply it with defense needs (spare parts and assistance in aircraft manufacture). And it would strive to maintain current levels of trade with as many foreign countries as possible—although some economic diversification away from the US might be imposed as a new policy.

[Page 934]

In any case, however, Mao’s successors probably will be impelled to withhold a decision to gear up for an invasion until well into the 1980s or even later. Even if Taipei develops a nuclear device in the early 1980s, Peking probably would not feel compelled to prepare for an invasion any sooner.

Japan is the key element in Peking’s anti-Soviet strategy in the Far East, and Mao’s successors probably will encourage Tokyo to strengthen its defense forces. However, they probably will not agree to cooperate in any joint defense arrangement with the Japanese. In the political field, there is a good chance that Chinese moderates will be willing to conclude a Sino-Japanese peace treaty on Tokyo’s terms in order to further exacerbate Soviet-Japanese relations.

In Korea and Indochina, the Chinese will be more concerned with impeding the expansion of Soviet influence than with seeking to establish the traditional hegemony of previous centuries.

It is primarily as a result of their decision to compete with Moscow for the good will of Kim Il-sung that the Chinese are now burdened with the task of keeping Kim’s emotional revolutionary and militaristic policies from escalating into a war on the peninsula. The Chinese prefer long-term stability on the peninsula—that is, a de facto situation of “two Koreas”; Kim does not. However, they have increased their support for Kim on political issues apparently as part of the price for maintaining clear advantage over the USSR in Pyongyang.

Mao’s probable successors are no more likely than he has been to extend their competition with Moscow to the point of supporting large-scale (and dangerous) North Korean harassment of the South. However, a Politburo majority of ideologues might be more willing to do so than a majority of moderates in the post-Mao era. Danger of military instability will arise when the US has left Korea and/or President Pak dies, retires, or is overthrown. If, on the other hand, US forces were to remain in the South at least through the 1970s, the Chinese would be assisted in keeping Kim deterred from initiating military provocations.

Although the Chinese are winning the competition with the Russians for influence in the northeast, they are losing it in Indochina. They retain an advantage in Cambodia, but they cannot prevent Vietnam and Laos from leaning toward the USSR. The Russians will continue to have an advantage over the Chinese in the post-Mao period on the matter of helping the Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao in the task of economic reconstruction. The Chinese will have the added problem of trying to manage a friction-sustaining territorial dispute with the Vietnamese over islands in the South China Sea. Moderates probably will do a better job of avoiding firefights between Chinese and Vietnamese forces than will ideologues in the post-Mao era.

[Page 935]

The Chinese provided unprecedented assurances to a non-Communist government when they told Thai leaders in the summer of 1975 that if Vietnam eventually attacked Thailand in force, China would assist Thailand militarily.

The competition with the USSR probably will continue to be the controlling factor in other Chinese foreign policies, such as

  • —trying to regain some of Peking’s past influence in India,
  • —sustaining support for the US policy of keeping troops in Europe and strengthening NATO, and
  • —lining up on the same side as LDCs on most political and economic issues between them and the developed capitalist countries (and of course between them and the USSR).

And the competition with Hanoi probably will become the controlling factor in sustaining Chinese support for Maoist insurgents in Southeast Asia.

Mao’s legacy of revolution probably will not affect Peking’s foreign policies in the future as much as will the material constraint of China’s non-superpower status. Aside from the major political war to be waged against the USSR, China’s goals must continue to be modest.

[Omitted here is the body of the report.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, OPI 10, Job 79–M00467A, Box 9, Communist China, 010176–311276. Secret; Noforn. [name not declassified] of the Office of Political Research in the Directorate of Intelligence prepared this executive summary and the larger paper. On June 29, Lewis J. Lapham, Director of Political Research, sent the executive summary to Bush under a covering memorandum. (Ibid.) On July 6, Bush wrote on the covering memorandum, “Dave—read with interest! GB”