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The Sino-Soviet Split

In Lenin's Selected Works, VIII, 366, dated May 19, 1919, he stated "We must declare to other nations that we are out-and-out internationalists and are striving for a voluntary union of the workers and peasants of all nations. This in no way precludes wars... We have never said a socialist republic can exist without military force. War may be a necessity under certain conditions." Lenin stated in his "Preliminary Draft of Theses on the National and Colonial Question", June, l920, that the concept of internationalism is a critical foundation of communism. "Proletarian internationalism demands, the subordination of the interests offirstly, the proletarian struggle in one country to the interests of the struggle on a world scale; and secondly calls for the ability and readiness on the part of the nations which are achieving victory over the bourgeoisie to make the greatest national sacrifices for the sake of overthrowing international capital.

This vision of communism was clearly expressed by Nikita Kruschev in January, 1961. The famous speech to the Moscow Congress identified "national liberation movements in the Third World" and that "national liberation wars" were a part of the world order. This feeling did not fade over time. But through the late 1950's and early 60's Khruschev began to change views and he and others in the Kremlin began to conclude that while their original policy in Asia remained essentially correct, it had to be pursued more cautiously, especially in Indochina. It seemed that the Soviets would support the North Vietnam actions but at arms distance and with caution. Their primary concern was with the actions of China. A Chinese inter-party liaison official, Li Shao-pai, told pro-Chinese foreign Communists in May 1965 that the USSR in 1963 had promised to deliver to the DRV, among other things, one regimentof "rocket units" -- presumably SAMs -- and "one air group" of MIG-17s. The CCP official claimed that Khrushchev later reneged on this promise. While there is no confirmation of this Chinese story, it must be considereda8 possible, in view of the precedent set by Khrushchev in cutting off the military assistance program to North Korea because of North Korean political support of the Chinese.

By late 1964 Hanoi's effort to subvert the Saigon government through insurgency clearly threatened the survival of the South. Saigon, therefore, asked for and received increased United States military and economic aid. In late 1966, North Vietnamese policy toward South Vietnam and the United States was based on a four-point formula enunciated on April 8, 1965, and formally endorsed by Communist China and the Soviet Union. This called on the United States to withdraw from South Vietnam its troops, military personnel and weapons of all kinds and, in addition, dismantle its military bases there and cancel its military alliance with South Vietnam.

Hanoi generally refrained from public declarations that would suggest partiality for either Peiping or Moscow. Its attitude toward the dispute, as inferred from Party leaders' statements on specific issues dividing the two Communist powers, varied from time to time and frequently were ambivalent. As a practical necessity, Hanoi apparently sought to maintain cordial relations with both to ensure continued flow of their economic and military aid. From 1956 to October 1962, Hanoi carefully avoided giving offense to either side. In March 1962 and again in February 1963 it called upon the Communist Parties of China and the Soviet Union to bury their differences and restore unity between them.

With the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations after the Sino-Indian border conflict and the Cuban missile crisis, both in October 1962, North Vietnam, however, was inclined to agree more with the virulent anti-American position of Peiping than with Moscow, apparently because of its conclusion that the Soviet Union's anti-American stance and support for revolutionary movements in non-Communist areas were less than militant. Hence, Hanoi's posture, especially from early 1963 to late 1964, was regarded by many Western observers as being pro-Peiping.

In the mid-1960's, North Vietnamese relations with Communist China and the Soviet Union were significantly affected by the widening split between those countries. The Peiping-Moscow rift was, in turn, influenced by the Vietnam war, especially after the intensification of the war in February 1965.

After Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was replaced in October 1964, Hanoi's attitude toward the Sino-Soviet dispute became distinctly more cautious and conciliatory. This was apparently because of the post-Khrushchev leadership's decision to grant increased military and economic aid to North Vietnam.

At the time of the first Gulf of Tonkin incident in early August 1964, the DRV made a direct and unsuccessful request for military assistance (unspecified) from the Soviet Union. The material requested is likely to have included anti-aircraft weapons, and three months after Khrushchev's ouster these began to be forthcoming. In January 1965 aerial photography established the presence of Soviet self-propelled anti-aircraft guns in North Vietnam for the first time; these weapons may have been delivered by a Soviet cargo ship which arrived in Haiphong on 22 December 1964.

When Soviet Premier Kosygin arrived in Hanoi in early February 1965, the new Soviet leadership, in consequence of its decision to compete more actively with Peking for the good will of the North Vietnamese party, had already radically altered Khrushchev's policy regarding military assistance shipments to the DRV.

In December 1965 Peiping's official organ, the People's Daily, derisively referred to the "switch from Khrushchev's policy of disengagement to the policy of involvement" in Vietnam as a plot "to gain the right to have a say, control and representation 0111 the Vietnam question in the name of aid so as to strike a political deal with the United States." Evidently, Hanoi's new attitude toward Moscow was influenced also by a growing realization that much needed modern weapons plus industrial equipment could be supplied more effectively by the Soviet Union than by Communist China.

Since 1965 North Vietnam appeared to be increasingly disturbed by the ever-widening rift between Peiping and Moscow, partly because the question of Vietnam had itself become a major issue in their dispute. The Soviet Communist Party's proposal to Peiping in March 1965 for joint action in support of Vietnam was rejected by Communist China, whereas Hanoi supported it. Peiping asserted that the proposal would only help the "Soviet - United States collaboration for the domination of the world" and that a clear line had to be drawn between Communist China and the Soviet Union because the struggle against the bnited States presupposed an uncompromising opposition to "modern revisionism," a phrase commonly used by Peiping when referring to the policies of the Soviet Communist Party leaders. On the issue of aid to Hanoi, Peiping contended that Moscows support of North Vietnam was far from being adequate, either in quantity or quality.

Moscow, on the other hand, accused Peiping of doing much less than its belligerent rhetoric would seem to suggest. It also complained that Communist China had been hampering the rail shipments of Soviet military equipment and technical personnel in transit to North Vietnam.

The USSR repeatedly suggested that it believed the Chinese wished to provoke a conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Gulf of Tonkin. A widely-distributed CPSU letter to other parties in February 1966 claimed that the Chinese sought such a conflict "in order to be able to, as they themselves say,'observe the battle of the tigers while seated on the hill.'" In April 1966, the Soviet leaders circulated a document at the 23rd CPSU Congress which accused the Chinese of trying to force the Soviet Union to ship its military aid by sea and risk a clash with the Seventh Fleet, and thereby to force a Soviet-U.S. showdown.

What the Soviets apparently wanted was a way to carry weapons by sea to the Far East, yet have someone else assume the burden of actual delivery to the DRV. Such a solution would be available if the Chinese were willing to accept Soviet shipments at Chinese ports -- such as Canton -- for transshipment to the DRV either by rail or by Chinese ship. At various times the Chinese had accepted Soviet economic cargoes, such as POL, for transshipment. The Soviets apparently tried and failed to get the Chineseto handle some military shipments in the same manner.

Caught between the two quarreling Communist benefactors, North Vietnam prudently remained neutral on the issue by praising the Soviet aid as exerting "a good effect" and by thanking Peiping for facilitating rail transit of Soviet aid on schedule. Mindful of the damaging effect the Sino-Soviet conflict would probably have on North Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh, in April 1966, continued to appeal for unity between them. In late 1966, however, there were few firm indications to suggest the possibility of this unity under existing conditions in both countries.

Since 1960 there had been almost no Sino-Soviet military relationship. The Peking Review of 10 March 1967 (p. 25) carried a violent attack against the U.S.S.R. in an article entitled "New Disciples of Goebbels" by "Renmin Ribao," commentator. References are made to a Soviet bulletin which allegedly disseminated " ...a whole lot of fantastic fabrications such as that Soviet supplies for Vietnam have "often just disappeared" in transit through China, that Red Guards "disassembled" some of the Soviet equipment and" 'forgot' to return some of the important parts," that "Chinese characters took the place of Soviet trade marks" on Soviet equipment, that "the latest types" of Soviet equipment "were replaced. . ." This same article (p. 33) defends the Chinese by stating that they have always transported all material through China and warns that "such rum ours and calumny will only make people see more clearly to what low depths this group of Soviet revisionist renegades have sunk. No good awaits them."

But a new phase of Sino-Soviet cooperation relative to Vietnam apparently began in the spring of 1967. According to several sources, including the U.S. News and World Report ("New Turn in Vietnam-A 'Deal' Between Russia and China," 24 April 1967, pp. 42-43), the Russians and the Chinese have concluded a "deal" whereby "free and complete passage of Soviet military equipment across China to North Vietnam" is assured. In the article one U.S. official was quoted as saying: "Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi finally put a gun to Peking's head, threatening to open negotiations with the US unless China accepted an agreement guaranteeing no interference with the movement of Soviet war supplies overland and by air across China."

Both Moscow and Peking, throughout the dispute, had other considerations in mind in addition to North Vietnam's war needs. A paramount Soviet purpose was to use aid to Vietnam as a means of strengthening Moscow's influence over Hanoi and elsewhere at the expense of Peking. The Chinese were motivated by similar desires to expand their influence, but they also had a greater and more direct stake than the Soviets in a Communist victory in Vietnam.

Sino-Soviet political enmity and military rivalry worked to limit to some extent what aid the North Vietnamese received and how they received it. Because of China's insistance on a right to inspect Soviet shipments in transit to North Vietnam, the Soviets held back or delayed shipment of some sophisticated military equipment. For their part, the Chinese refused certain Soviet requests for facilities to transmit aid to Vietnam, being unwilling to give either political or propaganda advantage to the USSR.

Both Moscow and Peking were constrained in their aid to North Vietnam by a desire to avoid adirect conflict with the US. Although Moscow and Peking frequently differed in their assessments of the level of tolerable risk, their constraint has had a restrictive influence on what military aid the North Vietnamese received and the channels through which it has been received. The USSR declined DRV requests for KOMAR missile boats and coastal defense missiles, largely because of Soviet fears that use of such weapons might lead to a direct clash with the United States. In the case of the KOMARs, the Soviets apparently refused also because they were unwilling to deliver the vessels directly to North Vietnamese ports and the Chinese were unwilling to accept them in Chinese ports for transfer to North Vietnam by Chinese and North Vietnamese crews.

There is no doubt that the DRV leadership was often greatly disturbed by, and resented, Chinese obstruction of Soviet aid and Soviet caution in rendering aid.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:35:46 ZULU