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Beijing, the Sino-Soviet Border Clashes, and the Turn Toward Sino-American

Rapprochement, 1968-69


Introduction and annotation by Chen Jian and David L. Wilson

n retrospect, the years 1968-1969 witnessed profound | Beijing's changing attitude toward Washington—and if so,
changes in both the People's Republic of China's how? To answer these questions, we need to dig into
(PRC's) external relations and the international

Chinese documentation. The fifteen documents and
history of the Cold War. In August 1968, the Warsaw Pact extracts translated in the following pages do not offer
forces invaded Czechoslovakia. In the months following complete answers to these questions. But they provide
the invasion, long-accumulated tensions between China useful clues to help us understand the motive of Beijing's
and the Soviet Union evolved into open confrontation. In leaders, Mao Zedong in particular.
March 1969, a bloody border conflict erupted between the As shown in Mao's wide-ranging discussions with
two Communist giants, bringing them to the brink of a Albanian defense minister Bauir Balluku and Australian
general war (Soviet leaders even reportedly considered Communist Party leader E. F. Hill, in October and
using nuclear weapons).

November 1968, respectively, Mao was deeply concerned With Sino-Soviet relations in deep crisis, Beijing's by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. While the policy toward the United States began to change subtly. Soviet action confirmed Mao's long-existing suspicions After two decades of total confrontation, the first signs of about Soviet expansionist ambitions, the Chinese leader Beijing's changing attitude toward the United States came tried hard to comprehend the meanings of Soviet behavior in autumn 1968, when the Chinese responded positively on deeper levels. Most importantly, he wondered out loud and with unprecedented speed to a U.S. proposal to if the Soviet invasion should be interpreted as the prelude resume the stagnant Sino-American ambassadorial talks in to a more general war, which, he believed, might trigger Warsaw,' and in early 1969, when, in a highly unusual “revolution” and could only be prevented by “revolution.” manner, Mao Zedong ordered the publication of newly- In any case, China had to be prepared. elected U.S. President Richard M. Nixon's inaugural

Against this background, Mao in January 1969 address in all major Chinese newspapers (see Document 3). ordered the publication of Nixon's inaugural address, in Three years later, Nixon would visit China and meet face to which the American president implied a willingness to face with Mao in Beijing.

improve relations with all countries in the world. When The Sino-Soviet border confrontation and Sino

the Sino-Soviet border battles erupted in March, Mao American rapprochement represented two of the most further instructed four marshals (all of whom had been important events in the international history of the Cold criticized during the Cultural Revolution but had long War. The great Sino-Soviet ideological and, now, military enjoyed reputations as being experienced in practical rivalry further drained both material and spiritual

policymaking) to discuss the changing international resources from international communism. Beijing's situation and present proposals on how China should deal emergence as a dangerous enemy forced Moscow into an with new circumstances. The four marshals produced two ever-worsening overextension of power. In the meantime, insightful reports, providing powerful strategic the Sino-American opening enormously enhanced

justification for Beijing to improve relations with the Washington's strategic position in its global competition United States (see Documents No. 9 and 11). The with the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War did not escalation of the Sino-Soviet confrontation did not provide occur until the late 1980s and early 1990s when both the a complete explanation for Beijing's rapprochement with Soviet Union and the Communist bloc collapsed, but one Washington, but it represented one of the most important of the most crucial roots of that collapse certainly can be factors underlying the decision. traced to 1968-1969.

Reading Mao's talks, a striking feature is his sense of Why did the Sino-Soviet border conflict erupt in space. Several times Mao used the expression “all under March 1969? Did the border clashes relate to the Soviet the heaven is (was) great chaos” to describe China's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Did the clash relate to

domestic and international settings as he perceived them.

This important concept dominated Mao's vision. The chairman was China's single most important policymaker (much more so during the 1968-69 period), but he was also a philosopher. (Mao's desire to be regarded as such is clearly demonstrated in his discussion with Hill.) In his conceptual world, China's domestic and international policies were closely interrelated. This explains why in his various talks he freely jumped between domestic and international topics. But his vision certainly was Chinacentric. When Mao stated that the languages of the world should be unified one day, one must ask, what language would the human race then use? The answer is clear: it should be the language that the chairman speaks. That, of course, is Chinese, with terms and expressions incorporated from other languages, such as the chairman occasionally did during his talks with Hill.

All documents have been translated by Chen Jian from Chinese to English, with Li Di, a Ph.D. student in the Department of History at Southern Illinois University, contributing to the translation of Documents No. 9 and 11. Material appearing in the text in brackets has been supplied to clarify meaning or to provide missing words. The notes include explanatory information to place key individuals and events in context or to provide additional background on the material being discussed.

Document No. 1 Conversation between Mao Zedong and Beqir

Balluku, 1 October 1968

class education. He had committed mistakes, and originally was not convinced by the criticism of the masses. But later he not only accepted the criticism of the masses, but also recognized and corrected his mistakes.

Mao Zedong: How is he now?

Balluku: He has been elected vice chairman of the factory's Revolutionary Committee. The revolutionary masses helped him with Marxist-Leninist patience. In our country, a Revolutionization Movement is now under way. We should educate our cadres and expose the bad elements. Some traitors and rich peasants have penetrated our state agencies. A revolutionization movement like this one will provide good education to the youth.

Mao Zedong: Many young people have not lived a bitter life. (Mao pointed to the interpreter) The Foreign Ministry has been divided into two factions. The one headed by Wang Zhongqi is an ultra-leftist faction, and has been strongly influenced by anarchism. (Pointing to the interpreter) He stood at the middle at that time and did not stand on the side of Wang Zhongqi's ultra-leftist faction. Even among that faction, ultra-leftists were only a small minority, and the majority can be won over to the correct side. The Foreign Ministry is a big department, with more than 3,000 people working there. Intellectuals are piled up there.

Balluku: The ministry should be downsized in the future.

Mao Zedong: Downsize it by ninety percent.

Balluku: In the Soviet Union there emerged the Khrushchev revisionism. This is a bad thing, but revolutionary communists in various countries have learned a lesson from it.

Mao Zedong: In a historical sense this is only a temporary phenomenon.

Balluku: During such turmoil, it is surprising that no significant (anti-revisionist) activities exist within the Soviet Union.

Mao Zedong: There are some small organizations, and they are secret organizations. It is true that the Soviet Union is bad, but it can still provide material supplies (to its people). For example, it does not have enough food, but it can buy from abroad. Unless a famine erupts there, the people there will not rebel. Another example is France, a capitalist and imperialist country. Although a big rebellion movement emerged there in May this year, it did not stop providing material supplies to the people. It is difficult to try to overthrow a government under such circumstances.

Balluku: Will your Party soon convene a national congress?

Mao Zedong: Yes. We need to sum up our work and elect a new central leadership.

Balluku: The comrades at the Textile Knitting Plant also introduced us to the problem of rectifying the Party organizations.

Mao Zedong: All factories must go through reforms. All people's communes, schools, and party and government organs must go through reforms. We should

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Mao Zedong: We have not seen each other for quite a while. When did we meet the last time? Did Liu Shaoqi} and Deng Xiaoping“ also attend one of our meetings?

Balluku: That was in 1964. The last time I met with you was in February 1967, that is, twenty months ago came together with Comrade Kapo.”

Mao Zedong: Oh, yes. At that time, all under the heaven was great chaos, and the working class had just been mobilized.

Balluku: Now you have realized your own strategic plans. At that time, you told me and Kapo that the Cultural Revolution was facing two possibilities, success or failure, and that the problem concerning which path (socialism or capitalism] would overwhelm the other had not been solved. But now this great revolution has achieved great victory.

Mao Zedong: Now the working class dominates everything in the major cities. In most areas in the countryside, the peasants occupy a dominant position too. In the past, until the first half of this year, the students were the vanguards of the revolutionary movement, but now they have lagged behind.

Balluku: Yesterday, our delegation visited the Beijing Textile Knitting Plant. There a cadre who had committed mistakes in the past used his personal experience to give us a vivid introduction, which for me was a good lesson of

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mobilize the masses. For a department as large as the officers and the soldiers there are problems. Now the Foreign Ministry, with 3,000 people working there, Soviet Union sends soldiers from such Soviet republics as nothing can be done without mobilizing the masses. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan who do not speak Russian to Among the ambassadors we dispatched to your country, Czechoslovakia to take over defenses there. At present two are bad. We did not know this in the past. One issued Yugoslavia is strengthening its border defense against an anti-Communist statement in the newspaper, and the Bulgaria, preventing the Soviet troops from attacking the other, though no evidence to show that he had issued such territory of Yugoslavia from Macedonia. a statement, surrendered to the enemy. They have not just committed mistakes; their problems belong to the category (Source: Chinese Communist Party Central Archives of the contradiction between ourselves and the enemy. (hereafter CCA).]

Balluku: As far as those who have committed mistakes are concerned, as you have taught us, we should save them by curing their disease. “Cure the disease and

Document No. 2 save the person.” But we certainly should not do the same Conversation between Mao Zedong and E. F. Hill, thing toward the enemy. When the masses have been

28 November 1968 mobilized, everything is easy to handle. This is your genius teaching: We must trust the masses.

Mao Zedong: Did you visit China last year also at this Mao Zedong: We have no other choice. Because they time? will not listen to us, but they will have to listen to the

Hill: Yes, I came here last year around this time. masses. The Bulgarian news agency, in negating so-called Mao Zedong: At that time, the working class in “rumors,” claimed that no (Soviet] foreign troops were Beijing was not so united, and bad elements were stirring stationed on Bulgarian territory. But our embassy has up trouble among the workers and dividing them into two learned that foreign troops are there.

factions in


factories. Balluku: We have intelligence reports to prove that

Hill: Now the situation has improved tremendously. Soviet troops are stationed on Bulgarian territory. The

Mao Zedong: Yes. When the bad elements have been Italian ambassador to Bulgaria revealed to us that the exposed, things become better. Soviet Union has nine to ten airborne divisions in

Hill: Yes. Bulgaria.

Mao Zedong: We have never cleaned up the factories Mao: That many?

in the past. Our schools had been dominated by bourgeois Balluku: Yes. Because these are airborne divisions, intellectuals. A large portion of the countryside had been each with 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, the total number of controlled by bad elements. It seems to me that it is not so soldiers is between 35,000-40,000. They also have missile difficult for revisionism to prevail. units stationed on Bulgaria's naval and air bases. The

Hill: Indeed, it is not. Soviet troops are wearing Bulgarian uniforms.

Mao Zedong: For example, in a People's Commune, Mao Zedong: For what purposes does the Soviet some brigades have been composed of several hundred Union send troops to Bulgaria?

households, some have been composed of several Balluku: First, the situation in Bulgaria is not stable, thousand households. Let's say, 2000 households and and great chaos exists in Bulgaria. The Soviets know that 10,000 people, and they are under the leadership of a party Žhivkov? is without authority. They thus are afraid that he branch committee. If the branch secretary is not a good will collapse, and that the leftists will take the power. They person, the whole brigade will be in trouble. Have you are also afraid that a pro-Western, Dubček-style

visited two factories in Beijing? revisionist may seize power. Second, they claim that they .

Hill: Yes, I did. are there to prevent the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Mao Zedong: Are the party secretaries at the factories from attacking Bulgaria. But now there is no sign for such bad elements? an attack, and no such possibility exists.

Hill: I cannot remember exactly what they told me. Mao Zedong: Even Titoo becomes quite nervous. But the leadership of the factories has been changed. Yugoslavia thus becomes our indirect ally. It has problems Mao Zedong: (Turning to Yao Wenyuan") Have you with the Soviet Union, and we must utilize the

been to the Xinhua Printing Plant? contradiction between them. If we include the Romanians Yao: Yes. Neither the plant manager nor the party and Dubček, East European countries are now divided into secretary were good persons. two groups. The Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia Mao Zedong: This plant has 3,000 workers. Together by using force, and many in the Soviet Union,

with family members, almost 10,000. It printed money Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany are not

during the Qing times, and served the Beiyang warlords satisfied with it. They do not support the Soviet invasion during the Beiyang period. "2 When the Japanese took of Czechoslovakia.

over, it served the Japanese. When the Guomindang took Balluku: Yes. Even among the Soviet] occupation over, it served the Guomindang. During the ten-odd years forces there are many problems. Between the commanding since we took over the plant, it has served us. Many

workers have remained unchanged. The main body of the work force has not changed, still consisting those who had served during the late Qing period and the Beiyang period.

Zhou Enlai:13 Now we have added some workers. We have expanded the number of the workers.

Mao Zedong: I mean that those who are in charge have not changed. This is the social foundation for revisionism to prevail in China. Without mobilizing the masses, without thoroughly mobilizing the working class, these problems will never be solved. But if this is not enough, we should send in the People's Liberation Army, and only then can the problems be solved.

Hill: Yes.

Mao Zedong: I want to ask you a question. Do you know what the imperialists will do? I mean, are they going to start a world war? Or maybe they will not start the war at this moment, but will start it after a while? According to your experience in your own country and in other countries, what do you feel?

Hill: In my opinion, they have not decided to start the war. They are facing tremendous difficulties now. And it seems to me that they will not start the war for a while. At least they do not have the strength to start a war on a global scale at the present time. This is the view held by the majority of people I know. However, viewing the situation from another angle, as they have lost the ability to make correct judgments, danger for military confrontation exists. But in an overall sense, they are not in a position to start a world war now.

Mao Zedong: Both the United States and the Soviet Union have the capacity to start a war. Next to them are such defeated countries as Japan, West Germany and Italy. Neither Britain nor France is much interested in fighting a

Zhou Enlai: He did not recognize the Versailles Treaty.

Mao Zedong: He did not recognize the Versailles Treaty. At that time, the workers, intellectuals and the students in those (capitalist] countries were still willing to support the governments. The German Communist Party was such a big party, but it collapsed quickly.

Zhou Enlai: The Italian Communist Party collapsed even earlier.

Mao Zedong: The (German) Socialist Democratic Party also collapsed. The Nationalist Socialist Party and the Storm Troopers (Sturmabteilung) emerged in Germany. According to the rules of the two world wars, the United States always let other countries fight the war first, and it would take action to enter the war only after the war had been fought for two years. Now both in Korea and in Vietnam, the United States was the first to bear the brunt. It has stationed 200,000 troops in Europe, mainly in Germany. In Vietnam, there are half million. In Korea, two divisions, more than 70,000. There are also (American troops) in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand. Its military forces are scattered. It has extended two arms, one in Europe, one in Asia, involved in some small battles. Of course, the capitalists have their own calculations.

Zhou Enlai: They can make money.

Mao Zedong: The capitalists are not happy if there is no war for a long period. The capitalists in Australia are also included. They want to dispatch some troops (to Vietnam), but not many.

Kang Sheng: Only four battalions and 22 planes.

Zhou Enlai: They dispatch some troops, and the Americans will give them some money.

Mao Zedong: And they can also make some money.

Hill: Now the capitalists in Australia think that they have not made enough money, and they are not satisfied.

Mao Zedong: When they are not satisfied, they will quarrel with the Americans, hoping to get more money. How could (Harold) Holt's have drowned during swimming

Hill: In that area the seashore is somewhat dangerous, and many people have drowned there in the past. He went there to have fun by taking risk.

Mao Zedong: That is not bad.
Hill: This is a good way to finish them.

Mao Zedong: What is the name of your prime minister now?

Hill: [John) Gorton. 16
Mao Zedong: This name sounds good, Gorton.
Hill: It only sounds good.
Mao Zedong: Your name also sounds good-Hill.
Hill: It only sounds good.

Mao Zedong: Indeed, it sounds good. Is it “Hill" (Mao pronounced it in English)?

Hill: Yes, it is Hill.

Mao Zedong: How about changing it to "Mountain" (Mao pronounced it in English)? I have read many articles you have written. I am not so diligent as you are. I am


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Zhou Enlai: (Charles De Gaulle even has reduced (France's) military expenditure.

Mao Zedong: Even in Japan and West Germany, I cannot find signs to show that they are willing to fight a war. West Germany wants to annex East Germany so that Germany will be unified. Japan hopes to take back Okinawa. In actuality, Japan has not won its independence.

Zhou Enlai: The United States controls Japan militarily. There are so many American military bases there.

Mao Zedong: The situation after the end of the Second World War has been different from that after the end of the First World War. I do not know whether or not these of my opinions are correct. After World War II, the defeated countries have been unable to separate themselves from the victors. Not only in the field of finance and investment, but also in international and military affairs, they are unable to be independent from the victors. This is different from the situation after World War I. After World War I, Hitler emerged only after he had tried for a few short years.

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lazy. I have not revised some of my own writings. Some of them should be revised. For example, when some of them are to be published in a second edition, I should revise them a little bit. When there is a third edition, I should revise a little bit once more. It is not necessary for some articles to be that long. Comrade Lin Biao' has invented a new method, that is, to compile quotations.

Kang Sheng: The Greek language edition of Chairman Mao's Quotations is translated by them (pointing to Hill).

Mao Zedong: Oh, it is translated by them. Confucius' Analects is a collection of quotations. Buddhism also has collections of quotations.

Zhou Enlai: The Adamantine.

Mao Zedong: I am a very lazy person. I have never read the Bible. It does not attract me, and I do not know what is said there. Occasionally I will pick it up, but simply do not want to read it.

Hill: I fully understand what you mean as I often have the same feeling. I cannot read through it. But when I was a small boy, I was forced to read the Bible.

Mao Zedong: That is good. When you are forced to read something, that probably is good for you. Some say that I have never committed any mistake. As a matter of fact, I believed in Confucius' feudalism when I was a little boy. Later, when I entered school, I believed in capitalism, taking (George] Washington and Napoleon as great heroes, and looking upon (Oliver] Cromwell, (Duke of] Wellington, and Admiral [Horatio] Nelson as wonderful human beings. During (Nikita) Khrushchev's times, he often claimed that war was inevitable. But now they (the Soviet leaders] no longer make this kind of noise. To say that war is inevitable really means that war is avoidable. In recent years they no longer mention this issue. Isn't that they seldom touch upon this issue?

Kang Sheng: They never mention this issue now. They sent troops to Czechoslovakia. At the Polish Party's Fifth National Congress (Ed. note: 11-16 November 1968), this issue was not mentioned.

Mao Zedong: If that is the case, they, both the United States and the Soviet Union, and some other countries, preparing to spread the war. As far as this is concerned, it seems that a war might begin. I am not quite sure about this question. Therefore I want to ask for your advice. But I can not force you to answer this question immediately.

reflect on this issue? We will come back to discuss this issue in one year's time. But we must take people's consciousness into our consideration. When the United Sates stopped bombing North Vietnam, American soldiers in Vietnam were very glad, and they even cheered. This indicates that their morale is not high. Is the morale of American soldiers high? Is the morale of Soviet soldiers high? Is the morale of the French, British, German, and Japanese soldiers high? The student strike is a new phenomenon in European history. Students in the capitalist countries usually do not strike. But now, all under the heaven is great chaos. Mainly in Europe, in the

United States, in Latin America, and in Japan, there are student strikes. Are there also student strikes in your country?

Hill: Yes.

Mao Zedong: In another five years, our country, in a relative sense, will be in a better position to serve the revolutions of the people in various countries, the workers' movement, the students, and the development and expansion of real Marxist parties. Since Japan's surrender in 1945, 23 years have passed. In another five years, 28 years will have passed. Without a war in 28 years? In reality, all kinds of wars have occurred since the end of World War II. According to Lenin, capitalism is war, and capitalism cannot exist without war. There are two superpowers in the world today. They not only have conventional weapons, but also have nuclear weapons. This is something that is not easy to deal with. They themselves also know this. Khrushchev's theory was that if the atomic bomb were used the earth would be destroyed, and that no winner would emerge in the war. The United States also holds the same view. These two superpowers are nuclear powers. Our country, in a sense, is still a non-nuclear power. With this little nuclear weaponry, we cannot be counted as a nuclear country. 18 If we are to fight a war, we must use conventional weapons. Since we are neither the chief of staff of the Americans nor the chief of staff of the Soviets, we have no idea what exactly they are going to do, and we can only make our judgment by observing the situation. The populations of these two countries are similar, if they are to fight a large war, they will feel shortage in manpower. Now, by fighting a middle-size war, such as the war in Vietnam, the United States already has difficulties with manpower, the shortage in pilots in particular.

(Mao Zedong turned to Chen Boda' and Kang Sheng) What have you discussed with them?

Kang Sheng: We have discussed our Party's Twelfth Plenum and that we are planning to convene the Ninth Party Congress. We also have discussed the true Marxist parties and groups in the world, such as the Stalin Group in the Soviet Union and some new Marxist-Leninist groups in Czechoslovakia and Poland. We also have discussed the parliamentary election questions you have discussed with the Italian comrades. Comrade Hill is particularly interested in your opinions on the “thoroughly establish” issue and on the "absolute authority” issue. He says that this discussion has been particularly enlightening for him.

Mao Zedong: The so-called “thoroughly establish” issue was mainly put forward by our former acting chief of staff Yang Chengwu.20 Actually he was to “thoroughly establish" the authority of himself, while at the same time pursuing polycentrism. So far as “absolute authority” is concerned, I do not believe that such a thing ever exists on the earth. Marx, Engels, and Lenin seldom mentioned absolute authority, they only talked about the absolute truth. The so-called "absolute truth" is nothing but the

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