ABC News Commentary

China – US – USSR Triangle

The recent summit meeting between the Soviet and American leaders has confirmed the trend towards close relations between the two countries. It would seem that this kind of political summitry is to become a regular feature of the international calendar. Indeed, it has already been announced by Mr Nixon, who saw the Soviet leader in Moscow last year, will go back again in 1974 – and that Mr Brezhnev will return to the United States in 1975. Presumably the whole world should welcome the fact that the two superpowers, which have in their arsenals enough nuclear power to destroy the world, are now negotiating and attempting to resolve some of the major international problems. But this has not been the reaction of several of the world’s capitals, notably Paris and Peking, and perhaps with some justification. 

Chinese anxiety is not directly related to the content of the recently concluded Soviet-American agreements. The accords covering such areas as cooperation in developing peaceful uses of atomic energy, in oceanography, in transportation, in agricultural research are perhaps harmless in themselves. On the other hand, agreements on such issues as arms control and the prevention of nuclear war tend to strengthen the suspicion that Moscow and Washington are intent on creating a world order which reinforces their existing military and diplomatic supremacy. And, as we know, the main threat of Chinese foreign policy for more than two decades has been to challenge precisely that supremacy. In both public and private statements, Chinese leaders have constantly repeated their rejection of the situation in which, to quote their words:

. . . two or three countries can brandish their nuclear weapons at will, issue orders and commands and lord it over the world in the concerted belief that they are nuclear overlords.

In other words, China’s unfavourable reaction to the Soviet-American détente is based on the fear that such a détente will be used by the two superpowers to enforce their will in the rest of the world, exploit its resources and thwart revolutionary change in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It should be noted that the increasingly bitter dispute between China and the Soviet Union is directly linked with the improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington. In China’s view, the policy of peaceful coexistence as implemented by the Soviet Union has necessitated the abandonment of the revolutionary cause and the desertion of China as she sought to oppose American military policies in Southeast Asia and the Far East.

It is perhaps ironical that China herself should be pursuing the very same policy of closer relations with the United States which she has been denouncing for more than a decade. In her case, however, the decision has been a question of necessity rather than choice. Faced with a hostile Soviet union with whom she shares a common border more than 4,000 miles long and a ring of American military power, stretching in an unbroken semi-circle from Japan to Thailand. Peking has no option but to establish a dialogue with Washington in the hope of hastening the withdrawal of US forces from Indochina, Taiwan and Japan, while at the same time securing added leverage in the ideological and strategic conflict with Moscow. 

It is clear, however, that China does not wish to confine her diplomacy to a clever three-corner power game with the United States and the Soviet Union. For this reason she has already succeeded in normalizing her relations with Japan, very much on her terms, and in strengthening the political forces within Japan pushing for a neutralist foreign policy. At the same time she is giving public support to the movement for a more united European Economic Community and for greater European economic and diplomatic independence. In the meantime her military programme is proceeding at a great pace, as indicated by the latest Chinese nuclear explosion. Finally, she is making use of the UN forum and of her various aid programmes to the Third World to project an image of herself as “the champion of the poor and the proud.” All these initiatives are calculated to counteract Soviet and American diplomacy and to create a more flexible international situation in which China can more freely extend her influence and encourage the revolt of the underdeveloped world against Russian and American dominance.