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Deng's China and the US

Page history last edited by Bob Andrian 7 years, 1 month ago

 Deng Xiaoping's China and the United States -- 1971-89


Zhou and Kissinger Lead the Way


It would fall to President Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, and Mao Zedong's right-hand man, Premier Zhou Enlai, to pave the way for Nixon's historic visit to the People's Republic of China in February of 1972. So, in July of 1971, in a clandestine mission, Kissinger's diplomatic team arrived in Beijing. What Zhou (and thus Mao) desired according to Kissinger "was a world in which China could find security and progress through a kind of combative coexistence, in which readiness to fight was given equal pride of place to the concept of coexistence." (Kissinger, 235) In a sense both Nixon and Mao sought the same objective, a restructuring of a world order that would effectively neutralize perceived Soviet aggressive intentions. Rather than be provocative both sides would seek to find their respective "cards" in the deck. From an economic perspective, China's petroleum experts needed American technology for offshore exploration and drilling.


Others propitious factors had contributed to a healthy atmosphere for negotiations between the two sides. The U.S. finally halted its opposition to the PRC being seated in the Security Council (thereby displacing Taiwan---though the U.S. tried unsuccessfully to get the General Assembly to let Taiwan keep its seat as well); a ban on the transfer of American dollars from Chinese-Americans to relatives in China ended; U.S. owned ships under foreign flags now could bring goods to China, and Chinese exports were allowed into the United States.


Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger



Kissinger's delegation would discover a Chinese negotiating style steeped in a history of using "hospitality, ceremony [and orchestrated formality], and carefully cultivated personal relationships as tools of statecraft. ... China had survived, and generally prevailed, by mastering the art of fostering a calibrated combination of rewards and punishments and majestic cultural performance." (Ibid, 237) Furthermore, 


The Chinese Communist leadership retained some of the traditional approach to barbarian management. In it, the other side is flattered by being admitted (italics mine) to the Chinese "club" as an "old friend," a posture that makes disagreement more complicated and confrontations painful. When they conduct Middle Kingdom diplomacy, Chinese diplomats maneuver to induce their opposite numbers to propose the Chinese preference so that acquiescence can appear as the granting of a personal favor to the interlocutor." (Ibid, 245)





In a sense the weight of Chinese history might invoke a sense of humility and perhaps even awe in the foreign negotiator across the table. It was "Zhongguoism" all over again. And yet, Zhou Enlai was careful to project the reality that China was economically backward compared to the United States and that geopolitically it was not seeking a Sino-centered world. Nonetheless the leader of the Western world's superpower had traveled to the "Middle Kingdom" to meet Chairman Mao and "listen to his political wisdom."


Kissinger was overwhelmingly impressed with Zhou. He offers this comparison between the Chinese Premier and his "boss:" 


Mao dominated any gathering; Zhou suffused it. Mao's passion strove to overwhelm the opposition; Zhou's intellect would seek to persuade or outmaneuver it. Mao was sardonic; Zhou penetrating. Mao thought of himself as a philosopher; Zhou saw his role as an administrator or a negotiator. Mao was eager to accelerate history; Zhou was content to exploit its currents." (Ibid, 241) 


Kissinger, Zhou and Mao in 1972 



Two thorny issues had to be addressed before the Nixon-Mao visit could become a reality. One, of course, was the Taiwan question. China wanted the U.S. to accept the one-China principle that Taiwan was an inalienable part of the PRC. The United States needed to withdraw its forces and abrogate the defense treaty with the renegade Republic of China. The Americans insisted that before they could begin to satisfy Chinese demand, China had to promise not to use force in bringing Taiwan back into the fold, which the Chinese refused to do. The seemingly intractable matter was "resolved" by both sides taking less provocative stances. The Chinese did not push the issue to the point of no return, and the Americans agreed to "one China" while at the same time continuing to help Taiwan economically, politically and militarily. In a sense, that delicate balance is where we are today.


Another potentially divisive issue was America's role in the Vietnam War. On the surface a presumed Chinese ally was being attacked on China's borders, and earlier in the war in the 60s the Chinese had sent both soldiers and weapons to North Vietnam. They had helped the Vietnamese even earlier in the First Vietnam War against the French. But in 1972, while the Chinese felt sympathetic towards the North Vietnamese, it was not in reality the Communists who had historically been guilty of ruling over Vietnam but the Chinese emperors of the past, so in Mao's and Zhou's eyes, China was not going to become further involved militarily in opposing the Americans even as they condemned U.S. imperialism there and elsewhere.



Mao Welcomes Nixon to China


If Richard Nixon was trying to distance himself and his country from the Vietnam War, arriving in China in February of 1972 might have seemed calculated given that the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam had just occurred. Perhaps it was only Nixon, the virulent anti-Communist, who could legitimize such a visit. According to Kissinger, in a study overstuffed with books and containing a simple wooden bed, the sickly Mao welcomed Nixon like an emperor granting an audience to some delegate from a tributary nation. Still there was a handshake and a photo for posterity (and especially) the Chinese media and people).




There was much at stake for both men and for both nations. Mao's objectives included that Taiwan should not be discussed, that China should be not be viewed as a threat to the United States, and that there needed to be more bilateral cooperation between the two countries. The Chinese wanted trade and military technology; the former came along more quickly than the latter. As Mao pointed out to Nixon,


"At the present time, the question of aggression from the United States or aggression from China is relatively small; that is, it could be said that this is a not a major issue, because the present situation is one in which a state of war does not exist between our two countries. You want to withdraw some of your troops back on your soil; ours do not go abroad." (Ibid, 259)


Mao also let Nixon know his preference for "rightists" in the United States, meaning Republicans, indicating he would vote for Nixon during the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Nixon's desire for a rapprochement with the PRC was rooted in a foreign policy based on national interest, and in this case what he perceived might be a mutual national interest, despite the stark ideological differences between the two nations. Nixon was interested in nuclear arms reduction talks with the USSR. Closer ties with China could provide necessary leverage to mollify a Soviet hard line. He also realized that China could benefit from the American presence in Asia because there were so many Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border. Normalization of relations with U.S. allies (Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Western European nations e.g.) could also proceed. Finally improved relations with China would help the U.S. extricate itself from the Vietnam War. North Vietnam saw Mao's rapprochement with the U.S. as treasonous but realized they had better think about negotiations quickly. 


Here is a short video clip with some analysis of Nixon's arrival and meeting with Mao:



     The Houston Grand Opera performed Peter Sellar's production of Nixon in China in 1987. 




Nixon had one meeting with Mao and, when he was not meeting with Zhou Enlai, was happily taking in tourist sites like the Great Wall and the Ming tombs while enjoying one Chinese banquet after another. Out of the one week visit came one of the great documents of global diplomatic history, the Shanghai Communique of Feb. 27, 1972, which allowed both countries to state their views, seemingly irreconcilable (e.g. on Taiwan) on global geopolitics while agreeing that "Neither [side] should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony." (Ibid, 270) Both sides appeared to be calling for a new world order that would contain the USSR. Despite the bombastic anti-American imperialism rhetoric coming from China, it was in the Chinese national interest to pursue an American foreign policy that would effectively deter the Russian "polar bear." Mao fully believed that even if the U.S. and China had antithetical political ideologies, they could have the same strategic goal of isolating the USSR. But there were problems.


The success of Nixon's visit began to be undone by ongoing revelations about the Watergate affair. Communications between China and the U.S. slowed. Mao was also not completely aware of the American interest in detente with the Soviet Union. The U.S. wanted improved relations with both China and the USSR for maximum diplomatic flexibility; the China "card" and the Soviet "card" could then be played when circumstances were advantageous. In addition, the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), which provided for the collective security in the Cold War world did not fit Mao's commitment to China's self-reliance to maximize their security. Mao did not buy into the security provided by so many nuclear weapons (of course China did not have but a couple). As Kissinger observes about China,


No other society could imagine that it would be able to achieve a credible security policy by a willingness to prevail after casualties in the hundreds of millions and the devastation or occupation of most of its cities. ... Chinese history testified to the ability to overcome depredations inconceivable anywhere else and, at the end, to prevail by imposing its culture or its vastness on the would-be conqueror. ... It was not only that there were so many Chinese; it was also the tenacity of their culture and the cohesiveness of their relationships. (Ibid, 288-89) 


Nixon's resignation in 1974 was accompanied by the rise of the Gang of Four (led by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing) and a return to the revolutionary ideological fervor of the Cultural Revolution. Even the Nixons had seen the socialist realist opera, The Red Detachment of Women, during their visit. During the Cultural Revolution, whenever Mme. Mao did not approve of a production being staged, she would deliberately interrupt the performance to castigate the actors for their lack of proletarian zeal. (This behavior actually occurs in the opera, Nixon in China, when Mme. Mao stops the ballet and belts out the aria, "I am the Wife of Mao Zedong.") Below is a scene from the original Red Detachment of Women ballet where we see the heroine overcome by emotion and gratitude after being rescued from the evil landlord by the People's Liberation Army.



The ascension of the Gang of Four until Zhou's and Mao's deaths in 1976 meant that China would look inward and not outward in terms of its foreign policy. Mao had tried to balance pragmatism with continuous revolution but allowed Jiang and the Gang to pay no heed to foreigners. Deng Xiaoping, who took over for Zhou Enlai as primary Chinese negotiator, on the other hand, knew that China needed to open up to be able to modernize, which meant developing closer ties with the United States. Deng realized that China could not achieve strength and greatness by willpower and ideological fervor alone. Mao had viewed China as a leader among Third World (underdeveloped) countries who had resisted attempts at hegemony by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Indeed, during the Cultural Revolution, China had supported various development projects in 3rd world nations. It was Mao's "Little Red Book" that served as a "bible" for many anti-colonial resistance movements for national independence in Africa and Asia.


Red Guards in Tiananmen Square waving the Little Red Book





Reform and Opening Up


Deng Xiaoping was China's great reformer. When he became China's paramount leader in 1978, he undertook a modernization program (articulated before his death by Zhou Enlai) in industry, science and technology, defense, and agriculture. Deng was a true pragmatist. He believed in seeking truth from facts, and he believed that it did not matter whether the cat was black or white, as long as it could catch the mice. Thus rigid Communist ideology gradually became tempered with Western capitalism in the economic arena.


Deng called it "socialism with Chinese characteristics," but as we know today, the tens of thousands of Chinese capitalists who are Chinese Communist Party members are not tormented by any adherence to Marxist or Maoist ideology. To get rich became glorious even if it meant the advent of social and economic hierarchies and growing gaps between rich and poor, gaps, incidentally, that continue to grow as 2013 comes to a close.


Deng was all about opening up to the outside world, and he realized that easing tensions with the United States would be a key factor in China's economic development. China's competitive position in the global economy had never been a huge concern of Mao's. In 1972, for example, the total value of U.S. trade with China was a mere $4.7 million; at the start of 2013 it was roughly $536 billion (with a negative balance of $320 billion).


A number of historians who wonder why Deng's modernization reforms took off so successfully argue that it was Mao's (China's "perennial gale of creative destruction"),


periods of ... most uncomprising nihilism that finally managed to bring about what no previous reformer or revolutionary had been able to, namely, a forceful enough demolition job on China's "old society" to finally free Chinese from their traditional moorings. Seen this way, Mao's brutal interim was perhaps the essential, but paradoxical, precursor to China's subsequent boom under Deng Xiaoping and his successors, the antecedent to the Chinese people being able to free themselves at last from their past and catapult themselves into their present single-minded and unrestrained pursuit of wealth and power. (Schell and DeLury, Wealth and Power, 390)


In other words, the very "capitalist road" that was anathema to Mao's ideology, and that which the Cultural Revolution was established to prevent, is precisely what occurred under the "demolition man", Deng Xiaoping. As historians Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals assert, "no Cultural Revolution, no economic reform." (MacFarquhar & Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution, as quoted in Ibid, 391)


Deng's domestic reforms did not include political liberalization, however. The primacy of the CCP was unassailable. In the 1980s as economic ties continued to grow with the west, Deng and his comrades became increasingly concerned by what they called "spiritual pollution" from foreigners especially those from the West. As we shall see in 1989, that line was drawn clearly in the sand in Tiananmen Square. To learn more about Deng's reforms, click here.


In terms of his foreign policy, in 1979, the year that the normalization of relations between China and the U.S. took place during the Carter Administration, Deng was able to launch an invasion of Vietnam, a fellow Communist country, with the tacit acquiescence of the United States. How? During the Second Vietnam War, the U.S. saw Hanoi as part of a Sino-Soviet monolithic Communist conspiracy to dominate Asia. The domino theory helped to justify our entry into the war. China looked at the U.S. in Vietnam as both threatening Vietnamese independence and strategically encircling China in "wei qi" terms.


However, in reality, even a unified Communist Vietnam, despite its ideological affinity with the PRC, might prove to be more of an issue for the Chinese than the Americans, especially given Hanoi's desires to establish a kind of "Indochina Federation" by invading Cambodia. Thus, Deng and others understood the importance of an independent Cambodia and therefore did not help Vietnam militarily. In turn, for Hanoi, China became an enemy, and thus the Vietnamese looked to the Soviet Union for help, and a military alliance was formed. In 1978 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and set up a pro-Vietnamese government there.




With arms talks with the USSR breaking down, the time for normalization of relations with China seemed especially favorable. That said, however, full diplomatic relations (meaning the U.S. embassy moved from Taipei to Beijing, and Taiwan embassy in Washington was sent home) did not mean that arms sales to Taiwan did not continue. Undeterred, Deng was more interested in traveling abroad to the United States, Japan and elsewhere to portray China as a victim of a joint Vietnamese-Russian plot.


Paradoxically Deng was looking to have China operate from a position of strength by emphasizing China's weakness and need to learn from others. The goal was to use psychological warfare ultimately to intimidate the Soviet Union into not assisting Vietnam if and when China would invade that country. One tactic would be to woo the United States by showing how much China needed to learn from the Americans, while conveying the strategic importance of a close Sino-American relationship to deter a presumably determined Soviet Union from launching a war, especially if China attacked Vietnam. Deng's approach was the antithesis in attitude and tone of the Qianlong emperor's letter to King George after Lord McCartney's visit. And, as we shall see, it largely had the desired effect. 


                         Sporting the Ten-Gallon hat in Texas                                                            Man of the Year in 1985


http://en.showchina.org/Features/sinous/index.htm                       http://www.whosdatedwho.com/tpx_2779974/time-magazine-united-states-6-january-1986/


Deng was looking for moral support from President Jimmy Carter, and while he (Deng) succeeded in getting the President to isolate Hanoi, Carter responded with great concern when Deng suggested that China needed to teach Vietnam a lesson.


"This [invasion] is a serious issue. Not only do you face a military threat from the North [Russia], but also a change in international attitude. China is now seen as a peaceful country that is against aggression. ... It would be difficult for us to encourage violence. We can give you intelligence briefings. We know of no recent movements of Soviet troops towards your borders. ... I have no other answer for you. We have joined in the condemnation of Vietnam, but invasion of Vietnam would be [a] very serious destabilizing action." (Ibid, 366)


But Deng was convinced that winning the "wei qi" strategic game superceded having to deal with negative world opinion. And after garnering the support of Japan's prime minister, he ordered a Chinese quick strike on Vietnam followed by a quick retreat in February of 1979. The "Counterattack in Self-Defense of the Sino-Vietnam Border" as it was called, though horrific in lives lost, achieved the goal of slowing down and ultimately stopping Soviet momentum for war. It also illustrated the conflict for American policy makers when it came to choosing between national interest and morality. 




A scene from the Battle Cao Bang during the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979

In closely collaborating with the Chinese, President Carter and Reagan after him decided that it would be best to supply aid to Cambodian resistance groups against the Vietnamese invaders. These guerillas were primarily known as the Khmer Rouge, which had been led by the murderous dictator, Pol Pot. In effect, in the short term, the U.S. decided to support what had been a genocide a few years earlier---captured in the superb film, The Killing Fields, even as they told China that they could not support Pol Pot. In a tug of war, power politics had supplanted principles. It was not the first time, nor the last. On the other hand, power and principles seemed in concert when U.S. responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


In any event, it appeared that the U.S. believed a stronger China rather than a stronger Russia would be better for a stable world order. That the Soviet Union did not come to the aid of Vietnam suggested the beginning of a slow decline culminating in the demise of Soviet communism a decade later. A weaker China had once again (as with the Korean War), at enormous human cost, succeeded in achieving its objectives. 



The 1980s


While President Nixon was visiting the People's Republic of China, he sent the governor of California, Ronald Reagan to Taiwan to reaffirm American friendship for the Nationalist government. Reagan himself supported the normalization of U.S.-China relations but not at the expense of unwavering support for Taipei. Indeed, President Reagan always conceived of two Chinas. He was also a vigorous apologist of the Taiwan Relations Act passed in 1979 by Congress, the result of a strong Taiwan lobby that was troubled by any appearances of American "softness" on communism. The Act declared that the U.S. "will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity." (Ibid, 382). The PRC, not surprisingly, did not acknowledge the Act at all. They did, however, agree to a rather ambiguous, though presently still in effect, joint communique in 1982.


"[T]he United States Government states that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends to reduce gradually its sales of arms to Taiwan, leading over a period of time to a final resolution. In so stating, the United States acknowledges China's consistent position regarding the thorough settlement of this issue." (Ibid, 383)


In the fall of 2011, Congress approved an almost $6 billion package of arms sales to Taiwan. Behind the not unexpected, vociferous Chinese protests lay the realization that the money was for upgrading existing F-16 fighter jets not for the 60 new ones Taiwan was requesting.


During the 80s, as it was supporting the Afghan insurgency, the U.S. continued to give more aid to the PRC including weapons technology (aviation and missile). President Reagan, determined to dismantle the Soviet "evil empire"---"Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev"---worked to create a Strategic Defense Initiative that would prove costly to the USSR in their attempts to match it. For his part, Deng Xiaoping wanted to make China one of the world's top military powers by the start of the 21st century. The 80s would see the gradual waning of Soviet influence in the world and economic stability at home. By 1991 there were no more Vietnamese troops occupying Cambodia, no more Cuban troops in Angola, no more Soviet troops in Afghanistan or Ethiopia, and even the Sandinistas had agreed to accept free elections in Nicaragua. (Of course, the Reagan administration's illegal defiance of Congress's Boland Act preventing assistance to the Nicaraguan contras---the infamous Iran-Contra scandal---may have contributed to this last eventuality.)


Unquestionably the Sino-American alliance had served to strategically weaken the Soviet Union so much so that in 1985 Gorbachev began to seek a way to end the Cold War. But had the Chinese overplayed their "U.S. card?" After all, as Odd Arne Westad observes,


"By teaming up with the Americans, China had contributed to the death wounds of the weaker superpower, while helping thestronger, the United States, achieve global hegemony. In the long run this transformation would not be to the benefit of Chinese foreign policy. But from the vantage point of the 1980s almost all contact with America seemed to be to China's advantage." (Westad, 377) 



With the decline of Russia as a superpower, the question arose as to whether China would be a challenger to or a cooperator with the United States in the future, a question that has not gone away. Deng Xiaoping's reforms continued throughout the 1980s and 90s, even as he himself began to back away from public view until his death in 1997, ceding leadership of the Party to Jiang Zemin, who continued along the path of "market socialism," foreign investment, and IMF and World Bank membership and loans, all of which resulted in annual GDP growth of 9%.


As noted above, however, economic liberalization was essentially not accompanied by its political counterpart. Deng's reforms had raised the old question in China about what to learn from the West (especially the United States) while maintaining China's moral essence. Late in the decade, a documentary television series, River Elegy, using the metaphor of China's slow-moving, muddy Yellow River, raised questions about China's soul and destiny. Would society remained stagnant, or would it be forward looking by learning more about science and democracy from the outside world, "the vast blue sea," as it were?  


The Party banned the series. The following spring would see Deng and the hard liners within the CCP put a violent end to the protests that had erupted in Tiananmen Square. The Party's actions would force the United States and much of the rest of the world to rethink its relationship with the People's Republic.


Jiang's and Hu's China

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