The UK Telegraph publised an article which repeats an assertion that the Soviet Union was on the brink of launching a nuclear attack against China in 1969 and only backed down after the US told Moscow such a move would start World War Three, according to a Chinese historian, Liu Chenshan.
Liu Chenshan, the author of a series of articles that chronicle the five times China has faced a nuclear threat since 1949, wrote that the most serious threat came in 1969 at the height of a bitter border dispute between Moscow and Beijing that left more than one thousand people dead on both sides. Liu Chenshan writing was in a publication sanctioned by China’s ruling Communist Party
Note: Getting a true understanding of the geopolitical events and relationships is important for understanding how relations between Russia, China and the United States are likely to develop in the future. It is also important to understand the actual level of risks for wars of the nuclear and non-nuclear variety.
The Foreign Policy Journal indicates that this is old news and that they believe the memoirs of Richard Nixon’s aide John Haldeman who seems to have first broken the nuclear attack story in his memoirs in 1978.
Haldeman stated that for years the USSR had been trying to warn the USA not to allow China to become a nuclear power. This claim by Haldeman seems to directly contradict the claim by Liu that Nixon, when responding to the 1969 Soviet request for neutrality, did so not only because he regarded China as a means of containing Russia, but also because he was still “smarting from a Soviet refusal five years earlier to stage a joint attack on China’s nascent nuclear programme.”
If we place this all into context, I believe that the 1978 Haldeman version is more likely than that of Liu’s present contention. If the USA had asked for support from the USSR to bomb China’s nuclear programme in 1964, this was a year following Sino-Russian border conflicts amounting to 4000 dead. In 1960, there had been 400 clashes; in 1962, 5000. The USSR would have no sentimental, comradely, ideological, diplomatic, or geo-political reasons to oppose such a US proposal and then change her mind five years later and make a similar suggestion to the USA.
The relationship between China, the USA, and the USSR is quite contrary to how it is generally perceived. A more accurate scenario is that the USA backed Mao and the USSR backed Chiang Kai-shek. Stalin, prior to Mao’s assumption to power, regarded him as a Trotskyite. While Stalin had previously backed Mao as a counter to a Trotskyite coterie in China headed by Prof. Chen Tu-hsiu, Mao’s onetime mentor, by 1938, Mao was being denounced in the USSR as a Trotskyite.
During World War II, while the USA was pushing Chiang to make an alliance with Mao against the Japanese, Stalin was counselling Chiang against this. Gen. George Marshall warned Chiang in 1946 at a crucial time that if he persisted in pursuing the beleaguered Red Army into Northern Manchuria, U.S. aid would stop. This provided Mao with a base from which to recuperate and finally defeat Chiang. On the other hand, Stalin’s aid to Mao was granted according to Russian interests as distinct from communist fraternity, one particularly dramatic example of which was the demand for repayment in food that resulted in 10,000 peasants dying of starvation in Yenan. This was a prelude to the debilitating Sino-Soviet Treaty that was to result in the “Great Famine” for the same reason.
For now, the two giant neighbours have been thrust together by their shared suspicion of America and they cooperate as tactical allies, working in the United Nations Security Council to contain Washington’s power. But this affinity is based on little more than having the same rival. The empty lands of the Russian Far East, far closer to Beijing than Moscow, contain major sources of tension between the two powers.
…The quest for raw materials is the central goal of the country’s foreign policy. And virtually every natural resource imaginable is found just over the border. Here, beneath steppe and tundra, are large reserves of natural gas, oil, diamonds and gold, while millions of square miles of birch and pine provide immense supplies of timber. All this amounts to an astonishing combination: a densely packed country trying to keep its economy roaring ahead by laying its hands on natural resources, living alongside a largely empty region with huge mineral wealth and fewer inhabitants year on year. Russia and China might operate a tactical alliance, but there is already tension between them over the Far East. Moscow is wary of large numbers of Chinese settlers moving into this region, bringing timber and mining companies in their wake.
The most compelling reason that confrontation between the USA and China is unlikely is that the economies of the two are symbiotic, which cannot be said in regard to the relationship between China and Russia or Russia and the USA.