A key factor to keep in mind when examining the Sino-Soviet dispute and its impact on foreign relations in South East Asia is that the region is characterised by shifting and fluid interactions and security arrangements (Yahuda, 1996: 9). This means coalitions can change, former enemies can become future allies and conflict is not easily defined. The Sino-Soviet alliance, based on a mutual belief in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, degenerated over a period of more than ten years. While there is some disagreement about the exact duration of the conflict many scholars say it began in 1956 (Yahuda, 1996: 57) culminating in military escalation and the threat of nuclear war in 1969 (Barnett, 1977: 260). The dispute had its origins in a combination of factors. Chinese perceptions about their rightful international position, ideological differences and concerns about national security all played a part in the division of two powers that were at one stage closely aligned. These same factors defined China's response to this growing divide, and the way that it conducted its relations with the states of the East and South East Asian region.
The Historical Chinese Position
The Chinese description of China - Zhong guo - or Middle Kingdom, provides an excellent insight into the Chinese view of its position in the world. The traditional idea that Chinese civilisation is superior and complete, that neighboring states should offer tribute has shaped the way Chinese leaders have seen their country (Miller, 1967: 82-83). In more recent history, China's forced submission to dominant European powers, the imposition of unequal treaties and the Japanese occupation have contributed to a Chinese view of foreign powers that further defined its relations with the Soviet Union (Miller, 1967: 83). These factors combined to make the Chinese leadership during the Sino-Soviet alliance uneasy, as evidenced by the early indications that while China could benefit from Soviet assistance it must not overly rely on the Soviet Union. As early as 1956, Mao said of the Soviets "We must say to them: We learn from you, from whom did you learn? Why cannot we create something of our own??(Schram, cited in Yahuda, 1978: 106). This sense of individualism and national identity also affected the evolution of the ideology of the Chinese communists, further inflaming the growing division between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), as shown below. Mao Zedong Thought
This concept of Chinese supremacy and the methods by which the CCP achieved power affected the way the philosophy of communism in China developed. In the early years of the conflict, the basic disagreements between the two governments were expressed in vague ideological terms (Zagoria, 1962: 24-35, 197, Robinson, 1982: 176), however, by the early 1960s each government was accusing the other of being "communist traitors?(Yahuda, 1996: 58). When the CCP adopted "Mao Zedong thought?as its guiding principle, it was in effect saying that the Maoist interpretation of Marxism was superior to the Russian view. It was also suggesting that Mao was a leader of socialist thought rather than a follower of Stalin (Zagoria, 1962: 14-15). At one stage Zhou En Lai demanded that the Soviet Union officially recognise that "Mao Zedong thought?was a guiding principle of the international communist movement, a proposal not well received by the CPSU (Hart, 1987: 47). Further evidence of this dispute can be seen in the issue of the communes. In 1958 China claimed it had solved the problem of communism in underdeveloped countries by building communes, a view the Russians did not agree with. At the heart of the issue was the implication that if China was right, that Maoist thought was better suited to underdeveloped countries, then it should assume a leadership role in the drive to build socialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Zagoria, 1962: 146). Permanent Revolution...
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