The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on October 1, 1949, and won immediate recognition from the Soviet Union and Eastern European communist nations. Not yet secure after winning the civil war against the Nationalists, China needed support from the Soviet Union. Thus Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), declared his “lean to one side” policy to form an international united front with the Soviet Union.
Mao went to Moscow in December 1949, his first trip abroad, ostensibly to help celebrate Joseph Stalin’s 70th birthday but more importantly to negotiate a treaty with the Soviet Union. A 30-year treaty of friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance was signed on February 14, 1950, clearly directed against the United States. A second agreement allowed the Soviet Union to continue its presence in Port Arthur and Dairen in China’s southern Manchuria and to operate a railway in the region (rights Stalin had obtained at Yalta in 1945 without agreement from China) until 1952. The treaty provided for a $300 million loan from the Soviet Union in five equal annual installments between 1950 and 1955.
During the next decade the Soviet Union sent tens of thousands of scientists and advisers to help the Chinese army, navy, air force, and 156 industrial enterprises during China’s First Five-Year Plan. A total of 6,500 Chinese students went for advanced studies to the Soviet Union instead of Western countries; Russian replaced English as the compulsory second language in Chinese schools. In 1952 the Soviet Union returned to China the over U.S. $1 billion of loot it had taken from Manchuria at the end of World War II. China agreed to recognize independence for Outer Mongolia, a part of China that had become a Soviet satellite in 1924. In October 1950 China intervened in the Korean War to prevent the collapse of North Korea, an ally of both China and the Soviet Union.
By the late 1950s the Moscow-Beijing Axis was collapsing for many reasons. Although both nations were ruled by communist parties, the CCP had from its inception resented Moscow’s domination and interference. Although Mao respected Stalin’s seniority in the communist world, he firmly rejected Nikita Khrushchev’s similar claim after Stalin’s death, and Mao offered himself as the world communist leader. Mao also denounced Khrushchev as revisionist for his de-Stalinization policy after 1956. In 1959 Khrushchev withdrew an earlier promise to help China build a nuclear bomb and recalled Soviet aid workers from China. Mao called Khrushchev a coward for backing down before the United States in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Mao’s claim to be an original contributor to Marxism-Leninism, with special relevance to the non-
Western world, was rejected by Moscow. Finally, China felt aggrieved over large territorial losses to imperial Russia in the 19th century and wanted the Soviet Union to acknowledge that they were the result of unequal and therefore illegal treaties, claims that the Soviet Union firmly rejected. Relations deteriorated further when Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev sent troops to Czechoslovakia in 1968 and announced his doctrine that the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in communist countries that deviated from its interpretation of the socialist cause. Serious border clashes between the Soviet Union and China occurred in 1969, and war loomed.