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Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945-1959.

Shen, Zhihua, and Yafeng Xia. Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945-1959. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

The authors provide a well-researched volume on a crucial decade-and-half period in Chinese history that centers on the relationship of Mao Zedong and the Peoples' Republic of China with the Soviet Union. Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, who previously have written extensively on the subject matter, have used both Chinese and Russian archival material for the study and have critically assessed existing western literature on the topic. At Yalta, Stalin obtained concessions from Roosevelt at the expense of China as the price for the Soviets entering the war against Japan. Among the concessions were the Chinese Changchun Railway (Chinese Eastern Railway), Dalian (Dairen), and Liishun (Port Arthur). As a result of joint US and Soviet pressure, the Chinese Nationalist government of Jiang Jieshi was forced to agree to the concessions when it signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (1945).

Shortly after the proclamation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, Mao visited Moscow, where he was able to renegotiate with Stalin a new Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance in which Stalin renounced Russia's traditional points of interest in Manchuria. In return, Stalin gained Chinese recognition for the independence of Outer Mongolia. In an interpretation that I have not encountered previously, the authors suggest that Stalin's interest in Korea and his authorization of Kim Il-sung's plan to attack South Korea played a role in Stalin's decision to concede control of Manchuria to China. During the Korean War, Chinese intervention was supported by massive Soviet aid in the forms of military equipment and Soviet air force units to provide air cover for Chinese forces. The war cemented the Sino-Soviet alliance. However, the figures the authors cite (that the Soviet air force shot down 1,097 enemy planes and that Soviet anti-aircraft downed 212, while Soviet losses amounted to 335 airplanes and 120 pilots) are questionable (p. 87).

The heyday of Sino-Soviet cooperation occurred during the early years of Nikita Khrushchev, who was willing in 1954-1958 to aid Chinese economic development in a major way. Soviet aid in credits amounted to $1.3 billion (other sources say $2.65 billion). A major part of the aid was military--through advisers and equipment, the Soviets enabled China to build a navy and an air force. The aid eventually included the initiation of a peaceful nuclear energy program in 1954 that blossomed when Khrushchev agreed to provide aid for a Chinese nuclear weapons program (1957). In 1958, Khrushchev had second thoughts and pulled back the aid. The authors do not see the 1956 Secret Speech by Nikita Khrushchev and Mao's reaction to it as the beginning of the rift between the two nations (Mao said of the speech that Stalin was 30 percent wrong and 70 percent right). Indeed, the Chinese played a role in helping the Soviets pacify Eastern Europe in 1956. Mao was becoming an increasingly important political actor in the world communist movement.

The relationship between the two began to deteriorate after the Moscow Conference of 1957. Personality played a role. Mao clearly felt superior in intellect to Khrushchev. Khrushchev was the head of a recognized great power that conducted world diplomacy with the United States and espoused a policy of peaceful coexistence and peaceful competition with the capitalist countries. Mao's Peoples' Republic of China was still unrecognized by many states, including the United States. Because of China's history of struggle and civil war, Mao saw revolutionary struggle against world capitalism as natural. At this point, Mao foolishly embarked on the Great Leap Forward and the Peoples' Commune Movement, which were advertised as distinctly Chinese shortcuts to communism. The failure of these approaches only embittered Mao toward the Soviets. Foreign policy issues with regard to Taiwan and India exacerbated tensions even further. Mao horrified the Soviets and the East Europeans by nonchalantly dismissing the destructiveness of nuclear war and naively arguing that human society would still be able to recover from a nuclear war that had wiped out half of the world's population.

The authors generally downplay the role of ideology (especially with Stalin) in leading to the alliance and then to the split. Yet Stalin's thinking on China was embedded in ideology--a Marxist-Leninist view that Asian countries needed to first undergo a national liberation from western imperialism. Hence, Stalin's ideology led him to underestimate the possibility of a Chinese communist victory after World War II. For Stalin, there was a difference between a Communist Party in power (Soviet Union) and a Communist Party struggling for power. As a result of his ideological beliefs, Khrushchev, a firm believer in the demise of the capitalist system and the ultimate triumph of communism, was willing to partner with a Communist China in his early years. When the rift occurred, it had to be justified in ideological terms. Nevertheless, for students of the Soviet Union and modern China, this is the book to read on post-World War II Sino-Soviet relations.


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Author:Arens, Olavi
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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