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Less Revolution, More Realpolitik: China’s Foreign Policy in the Early and Middle 1970s

President Ford and daughter Susan watch as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger shakes hands with Mao Tse-Tung; Chairman of Chinese Communist Party, during a visit to the Chairman’s residence.
President Ford and daughter Susan watch as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger shakes hands with Mao Tse-Tung; Chairman of Chinese Communist Party, during a visit to the Chairman’s residence.

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CWIHP Working Paper 93

Less Revolution, More Realpolitik: China’s Foreign Policy in the Early and Middle 1970s

Zhou Yi

February 2020

It is well known among China historians that archival access in the People’s Republic of China has become more difficult since Xi Jinping came to power. Scholars studying China’s foreign policy face considerable difficulties in finding Chinese language primary sources to substantiate their research, especially for the post-1949 period.[1] Reliance on published materials only takes us so far: official sources like nianpu, wengao, and so on often skirt the most sensitive issues in China’s domestic and foreign policy. Historians such as Michael Schoenhals, Jeremy Brown, and Sergey Radchenko (among many others) have supplemented their archival endeavours with “garbology,” or lajixue. Schoenhals, for instance, based his book on the history of Chinese intelligence on formerly top-secret documents that were picked up from flea markets.[2] Radchenko purchased multiple documents from the online book site Kongfuzi.

One of the documents in Radchenko’s collection, which he donated to the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP), is a March 1975 speech by Geng Biao, a senior official of the CCP. Geng headed the International Liaison Department of the Communist Party of China from 1971 to 1979 and was in charge of contacting foreign political parties. (He also served in several other positions in the 1980s, such as Minister of National Defense. Xi Jinping was his secretary from 1979 to 1981.) The 1975 speech was delivered at the National Tourism Working Forum, where Geng Biao was likely speaking to CCP cadres in charge of tourism.

Why did Geng speak about foreign policy to tourism officials? It was probably because, as the former director of the Tourism Administration Yang Gongsu put it, during the decade of the Cultural Revolution “tourism work is a part of diplomatic work.”[3] The Tourism Administration was an institution led by the Foreign Ministry. Zhou Enlai instructed that the tasks of Tourism Administration were “propagandizing ourselves, understanding others, expanding influences, winning over sympathies, promoting people’s understanding of each other, progressing together and uniting all of our strength to form an international united front.” In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, in order to support world revolution, only leftists, middle and lower-class workers and peasants, and people otherwise friendly to China were allowed to visit the country. Most of the visitors were radicals who admired (or in some cases, worshipped) Mao Zedong. In 1971, Mao instructed that “some rightists can come.” China then began to receive “rightists,” a term that included capitalists/businessmen, nobles, officials from capitalist countries, journalists, and those who had criticized the Cultural Revolution.

Yang often discussed Chinese politics with such foreign tour groups. He recalled: “they [foreign tourists] needed to know not only Chinese domestic politics, economy and the situation of the Cultural Revolution, but also Chinese views on the international situation and Chinese foreign policy. It was a good opportunity to propagandize Chairman Mao’s three worlds theory and the Chinese policy of opposing the two hegemons.” Yang also recalled that Chinese sometimes had disputes with foreign tourists on issues such as China’s opposition to the Soviet Union. The fact that some visitors were only anti-American (and not anti-Soviet) frustrated CCP officials.[4]

These anecdotes help to explain why Geng Biao discussed Chinese foreign policy at the tourism forum in 1975. The cadres in charge of tourism, Geng felt, needed to understand their country’s foreign policy well, so that they could create a positive impression of China and answer questions when communicating with foreign visitors.

Geng Biao’s speech, despite its very informal and colloquial style, exemplified distinctive features of Mao Zedong’s foreign policy in the mid-1970s. It quoted Mao’s favourite assertion about international situation – “chaos under heaven” – and criticized the two superpowers, especially the Soviet Union. It also mentioned Mao’s anticipation of a new world war, and emphasized the three worlds theory and unity with Third World countries. These points were frequently expounded upon in CCP leaders’ speeches, such as Zhou Enlai’s report to the 10th National Congress in 1973 and his report on the work of government in 1975, as well as Deng Xiaoping’s speech at UN General Assembly in 1974.[5] But Geng’s talk also conveyed certain information absent in these well-known public speeches. A noticeable aspect of Geng’s speech is its underlining of the CCP’s relations with other fraternal parties, while at the same time revealing the CCP’s cooling passion for exporting revolution. Its tone was also relatively more realistic than high-profile revolutionary public speeches.

Geng, as the director of the International Liaison Department, was responsible for party-to-party relations. We can thus assume that his opinions on this issues were representative and largely reflected a consensus among the CCP leadership. As an internal talk with a “top secret” designation on the front page (which did not necessarily mean it had significant secrets), the 1975 speech divulged some thoughts that the CCP leaders did not want to publicize. The source thus provides a unique angle on China’s foreign policy in the mid-1970s.

Opposing the Two Superpowers in Theory, but Only “Soviet Revisionists” in Reality

The year 1972 witnessed rapprochement between the US and China. Since 1949, China and the United States had viewed each other with hostility. However, the US President Richard Nixon visited Beijing on 21 February 1972. This was a landmark development. Described by Nixon as “the week that changed the world,” communist China turned to its erstwhile enemy, the United States. The main reason for this rapprochement was China’s antagonism toward its former ally, the Soviet Union. As Henry Kissinger commented, “Peking needed us to help break out of its isolation and as a counterweight to the potentially mortal threat along its Northern border.”[6]

The Sino-Soviet split began in the late 1950s, largely because Mao Zedong wanted to challenge the leadership of the Soviet Union in the communist bloc.[7] The Zhenbao Island conflict, in March 1969, was the lowest point in the two communist states’ deteriorating relations. Far from an accidental clash between the border patrols of the two countries, it was, in fact, a pre-calculated action by the CCP leadership, in response to escalating border frictions since 1968. Mao Zedong and his fellow leaders only wanted to teach the Soviets a bitter lesson; thus the planned action was restrained. However, tensions rapidly escalated. Soviet leaders became increasingly apprehensive about the possibility of an outright war against China. In August 1969, there was another border clash, raising tensions further. Soviet diplomats sent out private feelers to gauge US reaction to the possibility of a pre-emptive Soviet strike on China’s nuclear facilities. The CCP was frightened by the threat of war. Many parties and government cadres were evacuated from Beijing. Mao himself went to Wuhan. Only Zhou Enlai stayed in Beijing, having his office moved to an underground command centre.[8]

China’s tense relations with its neighbours and its isolation caused by the Cultural Revolution worsened the situation. Mao perceived the danger of the predicament, “We have the Soviet Union to the north and the west, India to the south, and Japan to the east. If all our enemies were to unite, attacking us from the north, south, east, and west, what do you think we should do?” Mao was thinking about seeking a new alliance with China’s “archenemy,” the United States, the only superpower able to confront the Soviet Union. “Negotiating with faraway countries while fighting with those that are near” (yuanjiao jingong), Mao explained his consideration with traditional Chinese thinking.[9]

Even before the Zhenbao Island conflict, Mao Zedong was sending signals about improving relations between China and the United States. When Richard Nixon became the president of the United States in January 1969, Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily), Hongqi (Red Flag), and other major newspapers in China printed Nixon’s inaugural address, albeit alongside an anti-American editorial. The publication of a US president’s inaugural address was unprecedented, indicating Mao’s special interest in this US president. Mao would later tell Nixon that he had paid attention to the presidential election in 1968 and hoped Nixon would win.[10]

Before Nixon’s visit, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger conducted detailed negotiations in his 1971 visit to China. The thorniest issue faced by the two countries was Taiwan. Beijing reaffirmed its position in the Shanghai Communiqué, signed in 1972 during Nixon’s visit: “the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China's internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere, and all US forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan.”[11] However, the US expressed a different position in the Shanghai Communiqué: it accepted that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,” but did not mention the status of the PRC; the withdrawal of forces and military installations was the “ultimate objective,” but the Communiqué did not make any specific promises. The differences in the Communiqué indicated that both sides shelved their disagreements. Kissinger expressed: “The overwhelming impression left by Chou, as by Mao, was that continuing differences over Taiwan were secondary to our primary mutual concern over the international equilibrium. The divergence of views on Taiwan would not be allowed to disturb the new relationship that had evolved so dramatically and that was grounded in geopolitical interests.”[12] In order to achieve their common geopolitical interest of confronting the Soviet threat, both sides made concessions, one of which was to postpone the Taiwan question for a later date.

Although China eagerly awaited US resistance on the Soviet threat, it still pursued its anti-American discourse in public. Mao did not want to sacrifice China’s revolutionary image. After all, it had denounced the American imperialists vehemently for more than 20 years. The United States was still called “Meidi,” or the “American imperialists,” even after Richard Nixon visited Beijing. Chinese leaders continually denounced American imperialism. They ridiculed the US’s unsuccessful military campaign on the Korean Peninsula and were pleased to see the US withdraw from Vietnam.[13]

Geng Biao’s 1975 speech revealed this ambivalence. CCP political rhetoric remained anti-American, but the undeniable fact was that China was aligning itself with the US against the Soviet threat. As Geng explained:

Nixon visited China because his policy of isolating China had become bankrupt, not at all because he had positive feelings toward China. He perceived pressure when contending with the Soviet revisionists. He wants to use the Sino-Soviet conflict; Chinese rapprochement is his trump card to overpower the Soviet revisionists. We allowed Nixon’s visit, not in the slightest due to positive feelings toward the US, let alone want to derive benefits from it. It is wrong to have such a thought. We don’t rely on one imperialist country to oppose another, let alone derive benefits. We are taking advantage of their conflict to strike the Soviet revisionists while simultaneously undermining the American imperialists. The American imperialists also want to take advantage of our conflict with the Soviet revisionists to cope with the Soviets. They are unable to use us. Rather, we can use them.

The CCP leadership knew it would not be easy for the public to accept their long-time enemy as a new friend, so it had to maintain its revolutionary rhetoric. It is important to remember that Geng Biao’s comments came at a time of growing frustration in Beijing at what seemed like America’s failure to deliver on rapprochement. Therefore, it was important for China to display that it was not a supplicant that asked the US for help. By emphasizing how “we [China] can use them [the Americans],” Geng Biao depicted China as being much more in control of the bilateral relationship than it actually was.

Mao was disappointed that the US and the Soviet Union held several summits after 1972. The two superpowers agreed to control arms and enhance economic ties; hostile relations were gradually replaced by détente. Mao realized the United States was in an advantageous position and its need for China was not as critical. In a meeting with Kissinger in November 1973, when Kissinger commented that “if Europe and Japan and the US hold together, and we are doing in the Middle East what the Chairman discussed with me last time—then the danger of an attack on China will be very low,” Mao replied: “We are also holding down a portion of their troops which is favourable to you in Europe and the Middle East.”[14] Mao had a deep sense of pride. He refused to make China appear weak and rely on other great power to protect China. This stance had been made explicit before Nixon’s trip to China, and continued in the months that followed. In January 1972, Zhou Enlai told Alexander Haig that “No country should rely on outside powers to maintain its independence and survival.” Beijing was offended that the US doubted China’s ability to survive without help.[15]

“Three Worlds” and the Third World Policy: the Anti-Soviet Front

The PRC’s contact with non-western countries went back to its formation in 1949. At the end of 1953, China premier Zhou Enlai introduced Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence when meeting an Indian delegation.[16] In 1954, this set of principles was further elaborated on during Zhou’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Burmese prime minister U Nu. At the 1955 Bandung Conference, Zhou emphasized China had a common colonial history with other Asian and African countries, and also endeavoured to communicate with the leaders from other countries. These efforts reflected China’s attempt to play a more influential role in the international arena, as well as challenge the western powers by introducing new norms into international affairs.[17]

The early 1960s, the period before the Cultural Revolution, witnessed Beijing’s waxing activism in the Third World. Due to the deeper Sino-Soviet split in this period, China was keen to seek other allies; in 1963 alone, Liu Shaoqi and Zhou Enlai visited twenty Third World countries. More cheap loans were provided and more advisers, including military experts, were sent abroad. However, China’s diplomatic accomplishment in the Third World was damaged by the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Not only did the chaos it brought hinder China’s normal foreign diplomatic activities, but the revolution also propelled China’s self-conceit to an apex. Beijing insisted that other countries and parties adopt the Maoist model if they were to succeed, which made others feel encroached upon.[18]

In the 1970s, China’s radicalism gradually ebbed, and it adopted a more restrained foreign policy. It improved its relations with post-colonial and developing countries. Mao shaped his “three worlds” thesis in this period. In December 1972, Mao said that Western Europe, Japan, China and the Third World were all “meats” that both the two hegemons wanted to grab. He had not yet categorized China as a Third World country, but his rhetoric changed quickly. On 26 March 1973, Mao talked to the President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, stating, “Asia, Africa and Latin America are called the Third World except for Japan.” Three months later, on 22 June 1973, Mao said to the President of Mali, Moussa Traoré: “Both of us are called the Third World (countries); that is, developing countries.”[19] On 22 February 1974, Mao met Kenneth Kaunda, the president of Zambia. The Chinese chairman explained his elaborated “three worlds” theory to Kaunda:

I hold that the U.S. and the Soviet Union belong to the First World. The middle elements, such as Japan, Europe, Australia and Canada, belong to the Second World. We are the Third World…The U.S. and the Soviet Union have a lot of atomic bombs, and they are richer. Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada, of the Second World, do not possess so many atomic bombs and are not as rich as the First World, but richer than the Third World. The Third World is very populous…All Asian countries, except Japan, belong to the Third World. All of Africa and also Latin America belong to the Third World.[20]

Mao explained why China was a Third World country: “China belongs to the Third World. China is unable to match the rich and powerful countries in terms of politics, economy, and in all other aspects. [China] can only stay with a number of relatively poor countries.”[21] Mao’s division of the world was further explained by Deng Xiaoping in April 1974 in the General Assembly of the United Nations. According to Deng, the First World or two superpowers were the biggest exploiters and oppressors. The Second World countries were controlled and dominated by the two hegemons to different degrees but some still maintained colonial policies. The Third World was exploited and oppressed, but they were the main force of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism.[22]

It was not the first time for Mao Zedong had talked about the Third World. As early as 1946, Mao had noticed the role of the developing countries in the context of the confrontation between the two superpowers. He used the term “intermediate zone,” referring to all the countries except the two hegemons. Mao said:

There is a vast intermediate zone between the United States and the Soviet Union. Here are the capitalist countries and colonial and semi-colonial countries of the three continents Europe, Asia and Africa. Before the American reactionaries force these countries to submit, the invasion of the Soviet Union is out of question… The American people and all people from the countries, which are threatened by the invasion of the US, should unite together against American reactionaries and their running dogs.[23]

When Mao talked about the “intermediate zone,” he regarded the developing countries and the colonial world as potential allies to confront American hegemony. But the background of the “three worlds” theory, developed in the 1970s, was based in the Sino-Soviet split and Sino-American rapprochement. This time, it was the “Soviet revisionists” or “social imperialists” that had become the main threat to China. 

Therefore, what China really needed from the Third World in the mid-1970s was to find anti-Soviet allies. Historian Chen Jian points out that when making policies toward a specific Third World country, the CCP leaders paid great attention to countries’ relationship with the Soviet Union. China thus proceeded to improve relations with anti-Soviet, right-wing countries. But its relations with pro-Soviet countries were generally tense.[24]

“I like rightist,” Mao told Nixon, “People say that you people are rightist—that the Republican Party is on the right—that Prime Minister Heath is also to the right…They also say the Christian Democratic Party of West Germany is also to the right. I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power.”[25] Not only were rightists preferred in the First and Second World, but China also adopted this rightist-preferring logic in its relations with the Third World countries.

China’s relations with Chile were a notable example. In 1973, the left-wing Salvador Allende’s government was overthrown. Most communist countries denounced this coup d’état and cut off relations with Chile. In contrast, Beijing continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the far-right Augusto Pinochet’s government. In fact,China was one of the only two communist states that did not cut off relations with Chile(the other was Romania)[26]. Since Pinochet was anti-Soviet, the Chinese leaders were unwilling to break diplomatic ties.[27] Geng Biao defended the Chinese position:

Some people don’t understand why we don’t sever diplomatic relations with Chile… If we severed relations with them, they would build relations with the Guomindang. Our delegations and our publications are not allowed in. We are unable to contact their people and do not understand the situation. We don’t know what the Soviet Revisionists do there either.

China was dissatisfied with Allende and his pursuit of the parliamentary road, which had been supported by the Soviet Union. “Their [the Soviets’] parliamentary road failed in Chile. They don’t drop this idea but want to promote Chile’s parliamentary road model in Italy, Spain, Peru, and Argentina: unite with six or seven parties and win the majority of votes in parliament and put another Allende in power. It’s difficult to succeed. Even if it works, the result will be fascist,” said Geng Biao.

Interestingly, despite existing propaganda on solidarity with Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China never truly identified with the Third World. Rather, it was only a strategic consideration. This comes out with particular clarity in Geng Biao’s speech. “We say we are in the Third World; this is not to degrade us to the level of a nationalist country. It promotes more efficient working conditions and unity with the Third World; the aim of which is to oppose the two hegemons.” He continued: “It is for the need for opposing the two hegemons that China is included in the Third World. This is for internal discussion; we mustn’t mention it in public.” This somewhat condescending tone reveals the CCP’s true perception: communist China was more ideologically advanced, and perhaps economically stronger than the “nationalist countries” as well. It refused to be “degraded” to the level of a nationalist country – in itself a loaded term. Instead, China wanted to take leadership in the Third World without identifying itself with it.

It should be noted that “opposing the two hegemons” was more of a propaganda banality than a real policy. Geng explained: “Some countries are agents of the bourgeoisie, but we mustn’t mention that either. If we want to oppose the two hegemons, we must gather support and unite 95 per cent (of the Third World). We will defeat imperialism. We will also defeat the bourgeoisie. However, there are priorities that are more important than others. Some countries are the agents of bourgeoisie, but we cannot say that. If we want to oppose the two hegemons, we should try to unite with the remaining 95-percent. Imperialism we are going to defeat. The bourgeoisie we are also going to defeat…we should concentrate on striking the Soviet revisionists.” The CCP leadership knew clearly that being anti-Soviet was more urgent than being anti-American. Additionally, “the agents of the bourgeoisie” were no longer an ideological problem. They became China’s potential allies.

Fraternal Parties: Decreasing Support

Mao Zedong regarded himself as the leader of the world revolution, which helped promote revolution in other countries. Supporting other socialist parties, including political endorsement and economic and military aid took an important role in the CCP’s foreign policy from the late 1940s to the early 1970s – especially in Southeast Asia.

Guided by Mao’s three worlds theory, in the 1970s, China made a great breakthrough in Southeast Asia. It normalized its relations with Burma, and established diplomatic relations with non-communist countries: Malaysia (1974), the Philippines (June 1975), and Thailand (July 1975),all of which had been regarded as “lackeys of American imperialism” in the past.[28] In the context of confronting the Soviet Union and rapprochement with the United States, China adjusted its attitude towards these Third World countries. Meanwhile, China pursued a “dual-track” policy: it still provided a certain degree of support to anti-government left-wing parties.[29] Geng Biao used Sino-Burmese relations as an example: “We have diplomatic relations with Burma. [Prime Minister] Ne Win comes, and we have to welcome him. But the Burmese Communist Party conducts armed struggle, and we strongly support it. However, we can’t sever diplomatic relations with the Burmese government just because we support the Burmese Communist Party.”

Although the CCP claimed it strongly supported the armed rebel groups, this support inevitably grew weaker because it needed to maintain relations with their governments. In May 1974, China and Malaysia formally established diplomatic relations. The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdul Razak Hussein, in his meeting with Mao Zedong, repeatedly asked the latter to promise that the CCP would not have any relations with militant communists in Malaysia. Mao refused to sever the CCP’s relations with the Malaysian communists, but he compromised that “it is your internal affairs; we can’t intervene.” When Abdul Razak claimed he would “use troops and police to kill them,” Mao still said “it is your policy”; “we don’t intervene in your internal affairs.”[30] Later in July 1975, Mao told the Prime Minister of Thailand Kukrit Pramoj: “Someone asked me not to have relations with the communists in their country (Mao meant the rightest governments). I said no. How can communists not support other communists?... As for how you deal with the communists (in your country), we don’t intervene. Nothing more than condemning, fighting and killing. We don’t and are unable to manage it. (We) can’t intervene in other countries’ internal affairs. ”[31] By reiterating “we don’t intervene,” Mao implied his declining endorsement to the communist rebellions in Southeast Asia, although he didn’t completely abandon them.

Geng’s speech also illustrated the subtle change of Mao’s foreign policy. “We should not intervene in their internal affairs,” said Geng Biao. “Each countries’ Marxist-Leninist parties’ guidelines, policies, and strategies can only be made by themselves and through the integration of Marxist-Leninist principles and their practical situations. No matter how correct you are, if you don’t understand their situations, it will be very dangerous to command them. In the past, the Soviet revisionists always wanted to command us, but we didn’t listen to them.” Geng’s talk justified China’s declining support to the fraternal communists in Southeast Asia by referencing Mao’s philosophy, “integrating the principles of Marxism-Leninism and the particular situations.” The CCP wanted neither to participate in other communist parties’ conferences nor to invite other parties’ members to join CCP events. “The meetings we hold are to solve our own problems. What happens if they disagree with us when we are giving a report? If they invite us to attend a conference, we cannot keep silent about what is wrong. The moment we speak, we will disagree with them and quarrel with them. They are the hosts, and we are the guests. It’s not good to quarrel with them on their own turf.” China was also reluctant to train military personnel for its communist brothers. “We should tell them that fighting is not a big issue; they can learn when they fight. Some always ask to send military cadres to come here to study. We should tell them there is no need to do so,” said Geng Biao.

The CCP emphasized the role of “political support” - “political support is primary; economic support is secondary,” according to Geng. But in fact, this political support was also decreasing. Propaganda support was one of Beijing’s traditional means of political endorsement for the fraternal parties. The left-wing parties’ armed struggles were often the focal point in the Chinese media. In the middle of the 1970s, when China had improved its relations with Burma, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, Chinese media gradually reduced its reporting on the revolutionary insurgencies in these countries. It also avoided criticizing the Southeast Asian leaders by name. Additionally, in the past, the Chinese media had underscored the importance of Mao’s approach of armed struggles in the countryside when reporting the insurgencies in Southeast Asia, while in the middle of the 1970s, the reporting had to admit the complexity in Southeast Asia and encourage political movements in cities.[32] Three China-based clandestine radio stations—the Voice of the People of Thailand, the Voice of the Malayan Revolution, and the Voice of the People of Burma—were still able to pursue different lines from Beijing’s media. They continued carrying anti-government propaganda. But, Chinese media references to these clandestine stations became less frequent as the 1970s progressed.[33] The above demonstrated a dimming in Chinese zeal to spread revolution.

Mao Zedong himself was reluctant to give up revolutionary ideals, as well as the endorsement to fraternal parties, but he had no better option. He realized other communist parties did not live up to his expectations because they achieved little and were unable to overthrow their governments. He had to compromise and placate those foreign government leaders.[34] Revolutionary ideology declined in Chinese foreign policy in the 1970s.


Geng Biao’s speech offers a useful snapshot of China’s foreign policy in the early and mid-1970s. As Geng articulated, China perceived a greater Soviet threat, which pushed it to turn to the imperialist United States. The Sino-US rapprochement blurred the ideological divide that underlaid Cold War tensions. Ideological opponents were able to become closer while the former two communist brothers were on the brink of war. The pattern of ideological confrontation changed when China allied with the US against the Soviet Union. Ideological confrontation evolved into a realpolitik of checks and balances. To resist Soviet pressure and create an anti-Soviet front, China also improved relations with the Third World. Meanwhile, its passion for promoting the international communist movement waned in the mid-1970s: though the Chinese continued to pay lip service to fraternal parties, this support became weaker as China began to pay more attention to state-to-state relations. Still, Chinese leaders did not give up the radical revolutionary discourse. It would not be easy to divert from what it had insisted on for a quarter-century; Mao still tried to maintain his status as a world revolutionary leader. It was only with Deng Xiaoping’s rise to power that the hopes for a China-led world revolution would finally and irrevocably extinguish.

Zhou Yi is a PhD student at School of Law and Politics, Cardiff University. Her current research focuses on China’s nationalities policy from the late 1940s to the 1970s.

The author would like to express my best gratitude to Charles Kraus, Sergey Radchenko, Stephanie Hand, and Yike Han, who suggested key revisions and offered critical feedback to the draft versions of this paper.


[1] Charles Kraus, “Researching the History of the People’s Republic of China,” Cold War International History Project, April 2016. Due to the difficulty, scholars are also pushed to explore the international archives to research the history of the PRC. See

[2] Michael Schoenhals, Spying for the People: Mao’s Secret Agents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2013.

[3] Yang Gongsu, Cangsang Jiushi Nian: Yige Waijiao Teshi de Huiyi [Ninety Years of Vicissitudes: A Diplomatic Envoy’s Memoir] (Haikou: Hainan Chubanshe, 1999), p. 301.

[4]Ibid., pp. 298-309.

[5] See Zhou Enlai, Zhou Enlai zai Zhongguo Gongchandang Dishici Quanguo Daibiao Dahui shang de Baogao [Zhou Enlai’s Report to the Tenth National Congress of the CCP], Delivered on 24 August 1973, Adopted on 28 August 1973,; Zhou Enlai, 1975 Nian Guowuyuan Zhengfu Gongzuo Baogao [State Council’s Report on the Work of Government in 1975], 13 January 1975,; Deng Xiaoping, Deng Xiaoping zai Lianda Diliujie Tebie Huiyi shang de Fayan [Deng Xiaoping’s Speech at the 6th Special Session of the UN General Assembly], April 1974,

[6] Henry Kissinger, The White House Years (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson and Michael Joseph, 1979), p. 1049.

[7] About the Sino-Soviet relations and split, see Lorenz M. Lüthi, The Sino-Soviet split: Cold War in the Communist World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945–1959: A New History (Lanham: xington Books, 2015); Danhui Li and Yafeng Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Split, 1959-1973: A New History (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018); Sergey Radchenko, Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962-1967 (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2009); Jeremy Friedman, Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (Capel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

[8] About the detailed explanation of Zhenbao Island conflict, see Yang Kuisong “Sino-Soviet Border Clash of 1969: From Zhenbao Island to Sino-America Rapprochement,” Cold War History (2000), 1:1, pp. 21-52.

[9] Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician, translated by Tai Hung-chao (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 514.

[10] Chen Jian, Mao’s China and the Cold War (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001), pp. 238-239.

[11]Joint Communique of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, 1972.

[12] Kissinger, The White House Years, pp. 1073-1074.

[13] For example, see Zhou Enlai’s speech in 10th National Congress of the CCP in 1973

[14] Kuisong Yang and Yafeng Xia, “Vacillating between Revolution and Détente: Mao’s Changing Psyche and Policy toward the United States, 1969-1976,” Diplomatic History, Volume 34, Issue 2, 1 April 2010, pp. 412-413. William Burr (ed), The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow (New York: The New Press, 1998), p.184

[15]Mao Zedong Nianpu, 1949-1976 [The Chronicle of Mao Zedong, 1949-1976], vol 6 (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe), p. 423.

[16] “Heping Gongchu Wuxiang Yuanze” [Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence], in Zhou Enlai Waijiao Wenxuan [Selected works of Zhou Enlai’s Diplomacy] (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe, 1990), p. 63.

[17] Chen Jian, “China's Changing Policies toward the Third World and the End of the Global Cold War,” in Artemy M. Kalinovsky and Sergey Radchenko (eds), The End of the Cold War and the Third World (Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2011), pp.102-103.

[18] Odd Arne Westad, The Global Cold War: Third World Intervetions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 161-163.

[19]Mao Zedong Nianpu, vol 6, pp. 461, 473, 483.

[20]“Guanyu Sange Shijie Huafen Wenti”[About Diving the Three Worlds], in Mao Zedong Waijiao Wenxuan [Selected Works of Mao Zedong’ Diplomacy], (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe), 1994, pp. 600-601.

[21] “Tong Kawengda, Bumaiding Tanhua Neirong de Tongbao” [The Bulletin of the content of the conversation with Kaunda and Boumédiène], in Jianguo Yilai Mao Zedong Wengao [Mao Zedong’s Documents since the Foundation of the PRC] (Beijing: Zhongyang Wenxian Chubanshe, 1998), p. 379.

[22] “Deng Xiaoping zai Lianda Diliujie Tebie Huiyi shang de Fayan” [Deng Xiaoping’s speech in the 6th Special Session of the UN General Assembly], 10 April 1974. 

[23]Mao Zedong Xuanji [Selected Works of Mao Zedong], vol 4 (Beijing: Renmin Chubanshe, 1991), pp. 1193-1194.

[24] Chen Jian, “China’s Changing Policy toward the Third World,” pp. 108-109

[25] Richard Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1978), p. 562.

[26] Julio Samuel Valenzuela and Arturo Valenzuela, Military Rule in Chile: Dictatorship and Oppositions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 316.

[27] Chen Jian explains China’s relations with Chile by Sino-Soviet split, see ibid p.109. Other opinions believe because Chile supported a One China Policy. See Juan Diego Montalva and Patricio Navia, “Chile and China: Building Relations Beyond Trade?,” Latin America Task Force, 2007, p. 3. Geng Biao’s speech quoted below proves that both arguments are persuasive. 

[28] Geng Biao’s speech was delivered in March 1975, before the establishment of diplomatic relations with Philippines and Thailand, but this period saw warming relations with these two countries.

[29] “Peking’s ‘Dual-Track’ Policy in Southeast Asia Produces Gains,” 22 August 1975,

[30]Mao Zedong Nianpu, vol 6, p. 535. The whole record of the Mao Zedong and Abdul Razak’s conversation can be seen in Song Yongyi (ed), Jimi Dangan zhong Xin Faxian de Mao Zedong Jianghua [Mao Zedong’s Speech Newly Discovered in the Secret Archives], (Guoshi chubanshe, 2018) (It only has an electronic version)

[31] Mao Zedong Nianpu, vol 6, p. 594.

[32]“Peking’s ‘Dual-Track’ Policy in Southeast Asia Produces Gains,” pp, 2-3.

[33] Ibid., p. 3.

[34]Yang and Xia, “Vacillating between Revolution and Détente,” pp. 420-421.

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