Chinese Foreign Policy after the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1977 (Magill's Literary Annual 1979)
This timely review of the significant developments in Chinese foreign relations since the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution appears as one of the Westview Special Studies on China and East Asia. Robert G. Sutter, now with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, was for nine years an analyst on Chinese foreign affairs in the Central Intelligence Agency. He endeavors to present materials of interest to both the general reader and the specialist. For this purpose he has divided his slim volume into two equal parts. The first part provides a general overview and summary of the major turning points of the period; the second part concentrates on the policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) toward specific countries and regions, as well as major policy issues. Throughout the volume the author makes use of a textual analysis of recently declassified reports of the New China News Agency (NCNA), as translated and published by the government of the United States.
The astounding internal upheavals of the Cultural Revolution had a tremendous impact on Chinese foreign policy. During this time China was reduced to relative inactivity in its external relations. Its propaganda posture was rigidly dogmatic. Only when the turmoil within China subsided was the strong ideological emphasis on furthering the world revolution gradually abandoned. Instead, a more rational and pragmatic pursuit of the national interest was adopted. It may be said that after the Cultural Revolution the PRC returned to “normal” diplomacy.
The Cultural Revolution began in May, 1966, when classes were stopped before the school term ended. Mao Tse-tung had encouraged the students to forego their studies and to exert themselves on behalf of the proper political “line.” Chairman Mao exhorted China’s youth to fight against elitism and privilege. This meant, in effect, to turn against the established Communist Party organization. Irregular so-called Red Guard organizations sprang up everywhere and spread the revolutionary fever. Allowed to roam freely, the Red Guards effected total disruption of the educational system. Faculty members, in particular, fell victim to humiliations and purges. Under the slogan “seizure of power from below” the Cultural Revolution gained momentum and led to the purging of many prominent leaders who had been identified as opponents of Mao’s proper line.
Ostensibly, the network of Maoist forces battled the regular party organization to eradicate revisionism. Mao continued to place the same high value on egalitarianism and mass participation that he had insisted upon during the original revolutionary struggle. Perhaps he was sincere in wanting to fight an apparent historical pattern, wherein revolutions, once institutionalized, promptly allow for the emergence of a new privileged class. However, it is more plausible to view this period as an elemental power struggle. By throwing China into chaos, the Maoists sought to regain absolute control over the shaping of China’s destiny. In the end, the moderate elements, looking to Chou En-lai for guidance, seemed to prevail. They were able to call a halt to the Cultural Revolution in the latter part of 1968.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was severely affected by the disruptions and the disorganization. Thus, the new Chinese foreign policy emerged only gradually. Some conflict within the leadership group over the general orientation of foreign policy remained. The major issue was the nature of relations with the two superpowers. Lin Piao, earlier considered Mao’s heir, apparently opted for a renewed association with the Soviet Union. In this he was strongly opposed by those working strenuously to free China from any Soviet influences whatever. Ultimately, Lin’s violent death in 1971 appears to have settled the matter. In any event, it helped clear the way for the eventual normalization of relations with the United States.
As an indication of the limited resumption of diplomacy in 1968, Sutter notes a succession of official visitors to Peking from Third World states. Clearly, Peking sought to gain a position of leadership respecting the nonaligned developing countries of the world. To further this objective, a posture of fervent opposition to both superpowers was assumed. However, the thrust of Chinese diplomatic activities was obviously designed to achieve more leverage against the Soviet Union. Cases in point were the stepped-up efforts to solidify relations with Albania and Romania. Regarding Romania, the Chinese were able to take advantage of that country’s strong desire to free itself from Soviet domination by refusing to go along with certain Soviet-sponsored measures affecting Eastern...
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