Zhou Enlai as Premier of the People’s Republic of China and

Transformation of Western Perception of Mainland China, 1949-1972. 

Part IV: Sino-American Rapprochement of 1972 and Conclusion.

On the center of such a smooth transition in Washington’s stance towards China was a rather odd duo of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, with Kissinger pursuing his Harvard-made brand of Realpolitik without much ideological concerns, while Nixon serving as the leader of conservative Republicans appeasing ideologically-driven opposition from his own party. Such pattern, I observe, bears a striking resemblance with the dual presence of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Chinese political landscape at the time, although the latter duo employed considerably harsher tactics when dealing with opposition. Indeed, while the White House was able to put down its domestic opposition concerning its China diplomacy in a rather smooth fashion, its counterpart in the Forbidden City, as later events would tell, made its move with an utter ruthlessness.

The Nixon Administration’s China diplomacy coincided with its implementation of the so-called Vietnamization policy, which focused on providing South Vietnam with adequate military advising and equipment so it eventually will be capable of defending itself without American presence. In doing so, the White House was obliged to devise a policy to keep America and its allies from being outflanked by Soviet influence should Saigon fall to Communist forces, as such a setback was considered a viable possibility even when Vietnamization policy was in its pinnacle with some news of success.[1] At the meantime, the news of Sino-Soviet confrontation in border areas soon arrived to Washington, after which resumption of diplomacy with China rose from its former obscurity to a very attractive option to contain the expansion of Soviet influence in areas surrounding Indochina[2]. In December 1970, Mao invited Edgar Snow, the author of Red Star over China, from which Mao -though informally- suggested that he would like to meet Richard Nixon in person.[3] At a similar timescale, a friendly encounter between American and Chinese national table tennis teams in Nagoya, Japan in 1971 led to an invitation of American team to the Chinese soil, which brought about what became generally known as “Ping-Pong diplomacy.”[4] This, among other factors, raised the general populace’s anticipation over an improved relationship with China in not a distant future. Nevertheless, the Nixon Administration’s pursuit of new relations with the People’s Republic was carried out in a very discreet manner, with even key Cabinet figures including Vice President Spiro Agnew and Secretary of State William Rogers remaining unaware of the course of Nixon’s China policy.

Nixon’s pursuit of rapprochement with China while leaving the matter unbeknownst to most of American populace was made possible by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s odyssey to China in Summer 1971. A prominent international statesman of his age who found his inspiration from Prince of Metternich, a 19th Century European diplomat who coordinated a longstanding peace in Congress of Vienna in 1814, Kissinger was fond of saying “policy emerges when concept engages opportunity.”[5] Such an opportunity seemed to emerge when China and the Soviet union engaged in a bloody conflict of 1969, yet Washington at the time was yet to materialize any policy to take advantage of the situation. In his attempt to keep the yet fragile China diplomacy in secret, Nixon asked Pakistani president Yahya Khan, who became a staunch U.S. ally after India’s shift towards the Soviet Union, to inquire whether Beijing’s leaders are interested in summit talks with their counterparts in Washington.[6] Upon receiving this message, Zhou responded that  Beijing “has always been willing and has always tried to negotiate by peaceful means … A special envoy of President Nixon’s will be most welcome in Peking.”[7] That “special envoy” of Nixon’s proved to be no less than Henry Kissinger, himself undoubtedly a staunch proponent of China diplomacy as a manifestation of Realpolitik.

Despite these rapid developments, the China diplomacy (or America diplomacy from Zhou’s perspective) yet had one major obstacle to overcome – to bring Kissinger to mainland China while diffusing the public eyes, which by itself proved to be a Herculean task. A kind of good news was that the American populace at the time was just as unaware of a fact that the Nixon administration channeled its communication with Beijing through Pakistan, whereby Kissinger could visit Pakistan with a supposed goal of “information trip” without much suspect. On July 9th, 1971, Kissinger feigned illness and missed a day of “work” in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan.[8] Just hours after Kissinger got off his airplane in Beijing airport. The man who was to delegate the Beijing Politburo was no one other than Zhou Enlai, himself a man of ample reputation as an international statesman. A man who began his political career as a Communist ideologue and Chinese nationalist, Zhou freshly held memories from 1954 when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake his hands. Kissinger, aware of that anecdote, offered to shake Zhou’s hands first, which the Premier agreed. One could describe this moment as a time when one chapter of world history -namely the old Cold War order under bipolar hegemony of Washington and Kremlin- ended to pioneer a new paradigm in world politics that materialized soon after Zhou’s encounter with Kissinger. Less than a month after Kissinger’s secret negotiation with Zhou Enlai, Richard Nixon announced the visit and declared that himself would go to China within a year to pursue a rapprochement with the People’s Republic.[9] Nixon’s announcement immediately inflicted an enormous impact across the globe, with Nationalist regime in Taiwan, still the de jure government of the Chinese subcontinent according to the United Nations, taking this turn of events as something of a death sentence.

Nixon’s declaration of his secret endeavor in China was met with joyous response within the United States. Democratic Senate Majority leader Mike Mansfield, usually a harsh critic of the Administration, commended the President’s attempt, saying “I’m astounded, delighted, and happy.”[10] Such enthusiasm, however, hardly paralleled the kind of reception Nixon’s move received in Washington’s non-Communist allies. Japan, for instance, which had little if any reason to object to the rapprochement itself, protested Washington’s pursuit of such a major shift in its foreign policy without notifying its yet most important ally in Northeast Asia.[11] Similar sentiments could be shown across East Asia, although one could as well argue that such grievance largely stemmed from military dictators -whose legitimacy could be put in jeopardy should the rapprochement succeed-, not those countries‘ general populace. Meanwhile, Zhou, now with assurance from Washington, began pursuing what by far would be his most crowning achievement in a long, colorful diplomatic career: China’s entry to the United Nations with Taiwan’s expulsion.

Before moving on, let us briefly make a flashback to a negotiation that took place between Zhou and Kissinger earlier in the year. Both the Chinese Premier and Metternich from Yonkers[12] could easily agree that each man’s country was to work with one another to counter Soviet threats and sphere of influence. There was, however, one major issue that the two -let alone each country’s hard-line conservatives- could not bring about a full resolution: Taiwan. Taiwan at the time was still somewhat considered as a legitimate government for China, a notion endorsed by mostly the United States and its anti-Communist allies in the surrounding areas. Zhou, by contrast, made it clear to Kissinger that Taiwan is part of a Chinese nation, whereas treating Taiwan as either a legitimate regime of China or an independent country would put Beijing’s national sovereignty into jeopardy, thereby derailing any negotiations between Beijing and Washington. Conversly, Washington was obliged appease its allies in East Asia, who were appalled about the very fact that Kissinger went to Beijing to negotiate with what they considered as a beacon of evil, whereas it had to make at least superficial attempts to prevent Beijing from denying Taiwan its membership to the United Nations.[13]

China’s position towards Nationalist government in Taiwan is made clear in a variety of documents written after the Communist takeover of 1949. In his talks with Kissinger, indeed, Zhou merely reprised his government’s position, which Washington, now just as if not more desperate than Beijing, having to at least partially accept this rule or break up the chessboard altogether.[14] Faced under such dilemma, Nixon, long known for his often unforeseen political tactics[15], devised an adroit solution that left no one to complain. First, Nixon sent the youthful George H.W. Bush, who at the time was in the pinnacle of a distinguished diplomatic career, in the United Nations General Assembly to present Washington’s supposed position that Taiwan was not to be expelled from the organization. At the same time, Nixon sent Kissinger to China to dine and wine with members of the Beijing Politburo, thereby practically assuring his new allies that nothing will happen to Beijing’s dismay.[16] Indeed, in the United Nations General Assembly that year, Taiwan was ousted from the organization -to much joy for Beijing, for both genuine nationalist concerns and a sense of vengeance-, with the elder Bush lamenting what he viewed as a crushing defeat for a country he serves, while Kissinger remarked that the development created “a possibility to make a new beginning. If it is carried out with wisdom and patience on both sides, it can mark the start of a new relationship between our peoples.”

After that fateful day that changed the course of modern Chinese history to an immense degree, Zhou celebrated a capstone in his renowned career with a glass of Mao Tai,[17] a Chinese hard liquor Kissinger described as “not used as a jet fuel just because it is too flammable.“[18] Meanwhile, Taiwan’s ouster, while viewed by the West as a rather natural process, came with a considerable dismay for Washington’s allies in East Asia. In Japan, the longtime Prime Minister Eisaku Sato resigned his post, with his successor Kakuei Tanaka hailing the Nixon Administration’s policy as “a new age,” “a turning point,” and a “new chapter.”[19] Nonetheless, Washington’s pursuit of rapprochement with China did inflict certain amount of damage in Japanese-American relations, as the newly-recognized China demanded a larger amount of apology to Japan for its alleged atrocities during the course of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Republic of Korea, technically still at war with its northern counterpart, went as far as imposing a semi-permanent martial law that remained in effect for almost a decade.[20] However,  Washington’s acquisition of China as a de facto ally against Soviet sphere of influence vastly outweighed such setbacks in a long run, prompting Richard Nixon to later remark that “If we had not taken that initiative and China had been forced back to the Soviet orbit, the threat to the West of Soviet communist aggression would be infinitely greater than it is today.”[21]

Before and during China’s successful entry to the United Nations, both Beijing and Washington managed to tranquilize domestic opposition to a major diplomatic upheaval they were about to complete. In what once again is in a stark contrast with Zhou’s image in the West as a mild-mannered negotiator, the Premier overlooked or played a crucial part in the purge of Vice Chairman Lin Biao -a staunch Communist and once a heir apparent to Chairman Mao-, and evidently took part in later campaign named “Criticize Lin Biao and Confucius.”[22] The purge of Lin Biao, the head of hard-line military operatives, was naturally followed by the removal of military officials against the rapprochement. The only formidable opposition to the United States initiative that was untouchable by the Premier was the Gang of Four led by Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, who genuinely -albeit from ideological concerns- resented both the rapprochement itself and Zhou’s proposed handling of the American guests.[23] Sensing such trends, Zhou also made remarks to reconcile with the remaining hard-liners within Chinese Communist Party, once having been quoted as saying that the United States is pursuing an improvement in its relations with China only because it is now “under immense pressure engendered by the American people to improve Sino-American relations.”[24] At the meantime, Washington also made a series of moves to soothe its opposition within itself, though Nixon’s China initiatives by this point became a virtual consensus in America’s political landscape. During Taiwan’s ouster from the United Nations, Nixon sent California governor Ronald Reagan to the Nationalist realm to explain this apparent betrayal, a duty the Gipper accepted after uttering the following words: “I think Red China is a bunch of murderous bums, but I think this chessboard is turning towards their favor.”[25] Meanwhile, plans for Nixon’s visit to China began to materialize, with February 1972 decided as the time for the conclusion of this historic development.

Nixon arrived to Beijing in February  21, 1972, roughly eight months before he would score a smashing victory over George McGovern in a highly successful reelection bid. As Nixon, Kissinger and their entourage came off their plane, Zhou, still having not entirely erased the image of Dulles in 1954, offered to shake hands with Nixon, a man who built his reputation as a stern anti-Communist. This image, broadcast across the United States with the grandeur of a Broadway picture show, symbolized the victory of prudence and realistic concerns over ideology and belligerence. Indeed, the trio of Zhou, Nixon, and Kissinger was by no means a group of uncalculating ideologues, with each man’s pursuit of his nation’s self-interests stern and unflinching. While negotiating with his formidable counterparts from Washington, Zhou was also obliged to deal with the more ideologically-driven Mao Zedong, who believed that the Premier was being too soft to the Americans, who the Chairman believed were in heart treacherous counterrevolutionaries. On the very sensitive Taiwan issue, for instance, Mao insisted that it cannot be resolved by peaceful means, reminding the Premier of their days in Shanxi Province when both men were surrounded by a horde of Nationalist troops. Attempting to take advantage of an apparent disagreement between the two was the infamous Gang of Four, who attempted to purge from Zhou from his post, a move that was put to a halt only when Mao himself intervene on behalf of his longtime comrade.[26]

Nixon’s visit to China was finalized by the signing of Shanghai Communiqué in February 28th, the last day of this event. The Communiqué, among other contents, made clear that Beijing and Washington was to restore full diplomatic relations, which completed Zhou’s quest for a worldwide recognition for the People’s Republic. Much of the negotiation went rather smoothly, with both camps generally agreeing upon one another in issues ranging from Japan’s status, a gradual withdrawal of American presence in Vietnam, among other concerns. The most delicate issue proved to be Taiwan, as the United States at the time retained formal ties with the last castle of Chiang’s dominion in Formosa. As the end product of the negotiations, American delegation finally agreed that Taiwan was part of China, though it remained rather ambivalent -albeit in document- about who was the de jure ruling faction of the Chinese realm.[27] Despite its rather obtuse nature, the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 practically sealed a pattern where Beijing consolidated both its control of the mainland and recognition as the legitimate governing body of China, as by this point it became clear that Nationalist regime in Taipei stands virtually no chance in recovering its former territories in mainland China.

The completion of Sino-American rapprochement finalized Zhou’s lifelong project of creating a new China that is regarded as a fully sovereign state free of both foreign encroachment and diplomatic isolation. Not only did this permanently change the Western perception of China, with Beijing now universally recognized as a governing body of the Chinese subcontinent, Zhou’s decades-long drive despite a successive hail of obstacles also paved the way for a number of other tectonic shifts in world politics outside China. Later in 1972, the Soviet Union, now under a tremendous pressure from a united front of Beijing and Washington, signed SALT I, the first treaty agreed between the world’s two superpowers to limit its nuclear capabilities. The United States, at the same time, was able to implement its policy of lessened presence across the globe, a move that was anchored by the presence of China as a friendly nation. Perhaps ironically, after completing this colossal task, the Premier’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. Until shortly before his death, Zhou launched a new initiative known as Four Modernizations, which aimed at constructing China to a modern industrialize state by 2000, which was to become the cornerstone of China’s socioeconomic policy shortly after his death. As a man of remarkable sympathy and ruthlessness who possessed the zeal of a Chinese patriot of his age and a keen calculating mind, Zhou Enlai was undoubtedly one of the most compelling and influential figures of the 20th Century. It is now a cliché across the Western world that it was “Chairman Mao” who single-handedly built a modern Chinese state. Given what we evaluated throughout this essay, however, I’d like to conclude this work by suggesting that as a leading politician who shaped much of China’s foreign relations when the Communist state was constantly at its peril, Zhou deserves a considerable degree of credit when one attempts to inquire the making of a modern China.


[1] TIME Apr. 05, 1971.

[2] The Communist victory in Indochina was largely contained in Indochina itself, with neighboring nations of Thailand and Indonesia being able to counter Vietnamese threats through a solid nationhood (which Saigon never possessed) and assistance from Western powers. Even within Indochina itself, the fall of Saigon in 1975 did not necessarily result in a complete Soviet victory in strategic sense, as Cambodia, under its Maoist leader Pol Pot, soon established a regime whose policies often clashed with Soviet and Vietnamese interests, a pattern that explains Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 and Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. The United States and China continued recognizing Pol Pot’s ousted regime as a legitimate governing body of Cambodia (“Kampuchea”), whereas it was Pol Pot’s delegation that represented Cambodia in the United Nations until the very end of Cold War.

[3] Herring, 776-777.

[4] Ibid., 777.

[5] TIME Oct. 01, 1979. The China Connection by Henry Kissinger

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] TIME Jul. 26, 1971. To Peking for Peace.

[10] Ibid.

[11] TIME Oct. 04, 1971. Japan: Adjusting to the Nixon Shokku.

[12] Nickname for Kissinger at the time.

[13] By 1971, the People’s Republic garnered a compelling momentum in its long-fought campaign to enter the United Nations, with Washington, now pursuing rapprochement with Beijing to counter Soviet threats, no longer objecting to China’s entry itself, though it did object the idea of stripping Taipei of its delegation.

[14] Barmouin 292-296.

[15] Thus the nickname “Tricky Dick.”

[16] “Tricky Dick” indeed.

[17] Ibid.

[18] TIME Oct. 01, 1979. The China Connection by Henry Kissinger

[19] TIME Magazine Feb. 12, 1973. Entering an Uncertain Age.

[20] TIME Magazine Oct. 30, 1972. Power Grab.

[21] Nixon, Real Peace, 67.

[22] Barmouin 306-308. Wait… I thought this was a Confucian guy.

[23] Ibid. 294.

[24] Ibid.

[25] American Experience with David McCullough, Nixon’s China Game, PBS.

[26] Barmouin 299-301.

[27] Herring, 719-793.



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Harding, Vincent. Du Bois in China: 1959. Black World/Negro Digest, May 1972.

Herring, George. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. The Oxford History of the United States, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Hsu, Kai-yu. Chou En-lai: China’s gray eminence. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968.

India Times. Chinese Deception, Nehru’s Naiveté led to ‘62 War. CIA Papers. India Times, Jun. 27, 2007.

Ji, Chaozhu. The man on Mao’s right : from Harvard yard to Tiananmen Square. New York, NY: Random House, 2008.

Kissinger, Henry. The China Connection. TIME Magazine, Oct. 01, 1979.

Larson, David L.. The Puritan ethic in United States foreign policy. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1966.

Lee, Chae-Jin. Zhou Enlai : the early years. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Maxwell, Neville. India’s China War. Pantheon Books, 1970.

McCollough, David. The American Experience. Public Broadcasting Service, 1995.

Nixon, Richard. Real Peace: a Strategy for the West. New York, NY: Privately Published, 1983.

New York Times. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a Power in Husband’s China and Abroad, Dies at 105. New York Times, October 25, 2003.

Nixon, Richard. Six Crises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.

TIME Magazine. China: A Stinging Victory. TIME Magazine, Nov. 08, 1971

TIME Magazine. Chinese Reds. TIME Magazine, Jan. 10, 1938.

TIME Magazine. Double Standard. TIME Magazine, Nov. 09, 1962

TIME Magazine. Entering an Uncertain Age. TIME Magazine, Feb. 12, 1973.

TIME Magazine. Japan: Adjusting to the Nixon Shokku. TIME Magazine, Oct. 04, 1971

TIME Magazine. Nixon’s Coup: To Peking for Peace. TIME Magazine, Jul. 25, 1971.

TIME Magazine. Power Grab. TIME Magazine, Oct. 30, 1972.

TIME Magazine. Preparing for the Unpredictable. Oct. 25, 1968

TIME Magazine. The Reaction: Dismay and Disgust. TIME Magazine, Aug. 30, 1968

TIME Magazine. The Shade of the Big Banyan. TIME Magazine, Dec 14. 1959.

TIME Magazine. Trade with China. TIME Magazine, Jun. 14, 1954.

The Taipei Times. JFK, aides considered nuclear arms in China-India clash. Aug. 27, 2005.

Zhou, Enlai. A Great Decade. Beijing: Peking : Foreign Languages Press, 1959.

Zhou, Enlai. Premier Chou En-lai’s letter to the leaders of Asian and African countries on the Sino-Indian boundary question (November 15, 1962). Beijing: Peking : Foreign Languages Press, 1973.

Zhou, Enlai. Quotations from Chou En-Lai.. Melbourne: Melbourne, Flesch, 1969.

Zhou, Enlai. Report on adjusting the major targets of the 1959 National economic plan and further developing the campaign for increasing production and practising economy. Beijing: Peking : Foreign Languages Press, 1959.

Zhou, Enlai. Selected works of Zhou Enlai. Beijing: Beijing : Foreign Languages Press : Distributed by Guoji Shudian, 1981.


Zhou Enlai as Premier of the People’s Republic of China and

Transformation of Western Perception of Mainland China, 1949-1972.


Part III: Anxious Decades: Zhou Enlai and China’s Diplomatic Path in 1950s and 1960s.

Beijing’s -and albeit Zhou’s- string of success in improving foreign relations and recognition as a legitimate state governing the Chinese subcontinent was soon checkered by a series of events that occurred in late 1950s and early 1960s. One major setback was worsening relationship with the Soviet Union, which began surfacing after Khrushchev’s rise to power in Kremlin that saw the beginning of Moscow’s self-criticism of its Stalinist past. While Mao’s brand of Communist revolution and state hardly resembled a model offered by Marx or Stalin, Khrushchev’s liberalization of Communist control over general populace indicated rise of non-ideological pragmatism in Kremlin, whereas Mao believed in creation of a new Chinese society under an ideology. Himself a staunch Communist, Zhou in Quotations from Chou En-Lai remarked that “The Soviet Union of today is the China of tomorrow.”[1] Kai-Yu Hsu, the author of Chou En-Lai: China’s Gray Eminence, suggests that Zhou and other Beijing leaders’ eventual disillusionment over the Soviet Union was partially because of Moscow’s incapacity to fulfill its promises and its intent to reduce China into a Soviet-controlled satrapy as it successfully did in Hungary.[2] Sino-Soviet relations began further deteriorating during the mayhem of Great Leap Forward, an ideologically-driven debacle that was by no means endorsed by the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, relations with some of other politically important neighbors also soured, perhaps the most important of which being an ongoing border dispute with India that later sparked Sino-Indian War of 1962.

From Beijing’s standpoint, a conflict with India was something to be avoided, as strained relationship with India could have inflicted a considerable amount of damage in its attempt to garner a greater amount of political recognition throughout the world. Itself formerly a British colony, India[3] was amongst the first nations to grant the new China an official recognition. Throughout the 1950s, Zhou in fact even attempted to abandon Chinese claim in disputed territories in his attempt to preserve cordial relationship with India. As People’s Republic consolidated its control over mainland China, however, situation changed as Beijing now vowed to recover Tibet from British control. During Chinese invasion of Tibet, Chinese troops advanced southward facing Indian border, while India, otherwise not hostile to Chinese interests, welcomed the fleeing Dalai Lama, a move that Zhou and Chinese leadership found detrimental to China’s territorial integrity in the area. Until the beginning of 1960s, it seemed that the two parties would be able to resolve this concern in a bloodless manner, as vividly described in Zhou’s letter to India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru where the Chinese Premier claimed that Beijing has no intention to escalate the status quo into a warfare. A territorial concerns in the area, Zhou wrote, would be resolve under “an attitude of mutual sympathy, mutual understanding and fairness and reasonableness,”[4] a claim that later events would prove null and void. At the meantime, however, Chinese advance in its Southwestern border was steadily in progress, with one declassified CIA document showing that Beijing by that point had clear intention to consolidate its territorial claims in Tibet area.[5] At the same time, there was a profound mutual misunderstanding between two camps, as it is also documented that by welcoming the Dalai Lama, Beijing mistakenly believed that India was now vowed to gobble up Tibet under its helm. That, however convincing it is, was one of the main rationale behind China’s aggression in the conflict.[6]

Zhou’s conducts during the Sino-Indian conflict, if looked upon in detail, shreds Zhou’s image as an old-fashioned Chinese gentleman with Confucian background, as the Premier’s verbal appeasement of Nehru and implementation of a rather aggressive foreign policy in an attempt to assert the strength of a new, modernized Chinese state shows the picture of a calculating statesman that could be seen -from Nehru‘s perspective- as a cold-blooded thug with a Dr. Jekyll‘s face. Meanwhile, in his Letters to the Leaders of Asian and African Countries of the Sino-Indian Boundary Question, Zhou shamelessly proclaimed that “owing to the causes from the Indian side, there has been a dark side to the Sino-Indian relations from the very beginning.”[7]  In a dazzling contrast with how Zhou himself described what was taking place at the time, a declassified CIA document summed it up well when it said “The Chinese diplomatic effort was a five year masterpiece of guile, executed — and probably planned in large part by Chou en Lai.”[8] Throughout the war period, Beijing was able to seize de facto control of a strategically-important area of Aksai Chin, thereby considerably strengthening its control of historically non-Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. The war itself ended when the United States,  viewing China’s action as an aggression inspired by Communist ideology of new world order,[9] threatened to enter the conflict on India’s side. Nonetheless, The historical importance of Sino-Indian War of 1962 far transcended a mere border dispute between two of the most influential nations that just emerged from a long period of colonialism, as it marked a practical demise of the so-called nonaligned movement that in turn provided each state to engage in Realpolitik to promote its interests in the global arena. The conflict, perhaps ironically, drastically improved Beijing’s relations with Pakistan, an alliance that would later prove to be an invaluable asset to the People’s Republic given Pakistan’s role in Sino-American rapprochement that took place about a decade thereafter.

With border dispute no longer surfacing as a major issue, Sino-Indian relations somewhat recovered, although Zhou’s aggressive policies did plant a profound distrust between the two camps. Furthermore, Zhou’s decision to launch a quasi-war with India also contributed, as China’s display of its capability to assert its agenda made Western experts to speculate that it is even less likely now for the KMT regime in Formosa to reclaim the Chinese subcontinent. It was under such context where France, then under a virtually unitary rule by Charles de Gaulle, finally decided to rebuke its earlier ties with Chiang’s regime in 1964 in favor of the actual occupants of the Forbidden City. This, among other effects, shifted Western perception of People’s Republic of China form an obscure, confrontational regime into a legitimate government of the Chinese realm. To fully achieve that end, however, there was still one remarkable obstacle to remove: American refusal to accept the Beijing regime as legitimate rulers of China, where in turn China’s entry towards the United Nations was at stake.

Besides occasional meeting between representatives from Beijing and Washington, relationship between Beijing and Washington throughout the 1950s and 1960s was characterized by a series of displays of mutual distrust and hostility. There in fact was, however, an encounter between the Chinese leadership and an American dissident more than a decade before the Sino-American rapprochement of 1972. The man who was on the center of this event was W.E.B. Du Bois, an African-American sociologist who envisioned a post-colonial world steered by a grand solidarity of the formerly oppressed non-white populace. A prominent American radical of his days, Du Bois, according to the May 1972 edition of Black World/Negro Digest Magazine, visited China in 1959 defying the warning from State Department that attempted to put the endeavor to a halt. In this article, author Vincent Harding -despite what happened to Jawaharlal Nehru who had similar faith in China and its leaders- naively evaluated China as a beacon of civility and development for third-world nations in Africa, citing such concerns as the reason why Du Bois visited mainland China as “our (African-Americans’)” President.[10] Throughout this article, it seems apparent that Du Bois had a rather naïve if not misleading picture of what was exactly taking place in China, as he commends the disastrous Great Leap Forward in a very elaborate fashion. Within what was going on in China during his visit, he wrote “the Chinese sit high above these fears with laugh and joy. The will not be rich in old age, but they will[11] eat. They will not enjoy sickness but given care. They fear neither food nor epidemic.”[12]

At the meantime, the Chinese evaluation of the merit -let alone usefulness- of Du Bois for their own cause -to emerge as a fully legitimate state of the Chinese subcontinent- was considerably less gracious. In his book The Man on Mao’s Right, for instance, Beijing’s senior diplomat Ji Chaozhu did not even bother to write this chain of events. In other words, it seems safe to presume that Du Bois’ visit, while holding its own historical significance, was by no means taken seriously by Chinese officials at the time. Du Bois’ account could also be contested for its factual accuracy, as China at the time of Du Bois’ visit in fact was confronting some of the most difficult years of the People’s Republic inflicted by the Great Leap Forward debacle. While China’s economy considerably grew throughout the 1950s,[13] such progress was put to a halt by the time of Du Bois’ visit. During the same timescale, the relations -if there was any- between the leaders of Beijing and Washington remained sour, as clearly shown in John F. Kennedy’s denunciation of Chinese aggression during the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

A thaw in a long strained relationship between Beijing and Washington came about through a series of tectonic shifts in international relations that occurred throughout the 1960s. One major pattern was undoubtedly the People’s Republic’s success in assuring a greater amount of recognition from the Western world, whereas by the end of the 1960s, the countries that did not establish formal relationship with Beijing were largely limited upon Washington and its anti-Communist allies in Eastern Asia. The United States, while describing the Beijing regime as “Red China”[14] in its official press, became increasingly alarmed[15] about the recent developments in China’s diplomatic relations. Another colossal event that occurred during the turbulent decade of 1960s was change in Sino-Soviet relations that rapidly deteriorated throughout the decade. It is often suggested that it was Kremlin’s attempt to mold Beijing into its brand of a Communist state, a task that the Soviet Union achieved in Eastern Europe through a hardly consented fashion that propelled the schism between the two Communist colossi. Indeed, while Khrushchev is often known as a liberal-minded reformer, he also dealt with dissent –both domestic and abroad– with an iron fist, with Hungarian Revolution of 1956 being perhaps the most vivid example.

Ironic it is, therefore, to note that it was Mao’s hard-line Communist ideology that often put the People‘s Republic at odds with the Soviet Union -which Zhou fully supported at the time, thus once again acting contrary to his general image as merely a silky, old-fashioned bureaucrat- that accelerated a split between Moscow and Beijing, which in turn paved the way for the United States to pursue a major shift in its China policy. At the same time, however, China’s foreign policy during these times was not necessarily characterized by a foolhardy attempt to implement its ideology throughout its neighbors. One noteworthy evidence of such trait is offered in the course of Sino-Indian War, where Zhou consolidated China’s control over disputed territories even at the peril of Beijing’s relations with India. Chairman Mao, meanwhile, stood by as something of a spokesman for China’s stated goals as a nation, with many of these statements actually contradicting what Beijing was doing at the time.

During the onset of Cuban Missile Crisis, for instance, Mao denounced the Soviet Union for backing down to capitalist threats, while his country was avidly befriending Western nations in pursuit of recognition from what Chinese Communist Party tended to describe as “imperialists.” In retaliation, Khrushchev openly supported the non-Communist India in Sino-Indian War, after which what John Foster Dulles described as “the creed of international Communism” was in fact put into splinter. On the center of such ambivalent trend in the history of Beijing’s foreign policy was an unlikely duo of Mao and Zhou, with the Chairman, with his iconic stature as the most celebrated revolutionary in his days, formulating China’s public image as a staunchly Communist state, while the Premier serving his country’s interests by repelling influence from the Soviet Union through his hardly ideological, yet surprisingly bold moves in international power politics.

A vast array of evidences offered for a schism between Kremlin and the Forbidden City could leave an inquirer rather puzzled, as a thaw in relations between China and the United States did not take place for almost a decade to come. There are nonetheless a number of reasons to explain such an apparent discrepancy. One factor was the continuing presence of ideologically-driven hotheads in both Beijing and the Capitol Hill. While there was a fair degree of suggestions within the United States to normalize its relations with mainland China by late 1960s, condemnation of all forms of Communism regardless of American interests remained vogue for much of the decade. This pattern, for better or worse, was largely reprised in Communist China, with Mao’s cronies in the Forbidden City denouncing all “imperialist” aggression amid the quagmire of Cultural Revolution. The United States at the time also had little incentive to reconsider its foreign policy, as there was no major setback in American policy of hard-headed containment by that point, only to be checkered by its prolonged involvement in Vietnam, which was yet to occur. Furthermore, Sino-Soviet split, which provided a compelling reason for Beijing and Washington to cease mutual hostility, was not in its full throttle until 1969, when a quasi-war erupted between the two Communist titans’ borders.

The timeline of Sino-Soviet split brings another interesting dimension into an analysis of both Zhou Enlai and Chinese foreign relations from 1949 to 1972, as it occurred in 1969, years after the resignation of Khrushchev and the rise of Leonid Brezhnev. An escalation of conflict between Kremlin and the Forbidden City when Moscow Politburo was actually becoming more ideologically rigid, I observe, discredits a commonly held notion that Sino-Soviet Split occurred merely because of Mao’s pursuit of radical peasant revolution that his Russian colleagues tended to disfavor. Indeed, China’s domestic and foreign policy throughout the 1960s was characterized by an utter discrepancy between the two, with Zhou perhaps most vividly demonstrating such trend by staunchly supporting Cultural Revolution at home while loudly denouncing Brezhnev’s Politburo in its decision to crush reformist government in Czechoslovakia led by Alexander Dubcek, remarking “This is the most barefaced and typical specimen of fascist power politics by the Soviet scabs,”[16] something neither the Western world nor even the rebellious Josip Broz Tito dared to say. Still, the United States was rather reluctant to recover its relations with the People’s Republic, with liberals expressing concerns over China’s governance that often proved more oppressive than the Soviet Union and the conservatives still preaching its constituency about the evil nature of all Communist polities. At the meantime, American involvement in Vietnam slowly yet steadily began taking its toll, with strategic victory seeming nearly unachievable while Washington’s stature across the globe started deteriorating as much of the world -including the West, none of which agreed to support the United States in its endeavor- voiced its opposition to what it viewed as a continuum of a 19th Century-style imperialism.

The decrease of American influence throughout the world and the consolidation of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe put Washington in a serious pinch: By 1968, NATO Supreme Commander Lyman L. Lemnitzer noted that after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the West is now in danger of being outflanked by the Communist Bloc both militarily and politically,[17] with the United States, the backbone of the Western alliance, not able to improve such a dismal situation due to its ongoing commitment in Vietnam. Such context, I observe, provided Washington a greater amount of incentive to engage its counterpart in Kremlin through diplomatic means, with Moscow’s schism with Beijing providing a tremendous opportunity for the United States to balance the global geopolitical chessboard in its favor. However, the endeavor for an improved relationship between Beijing and Washington was not a task that every politician in either country were able to sustain, as it needed to be carried out while either appeasing or silencing domestic opposition stemming from ideological or moral concerns. Henceforth, it was the election of Richard Nixon, a man of strong anti-Communist credentials, and his pursuit of improvement of relations with China that virtually neutralized the United States’ domestic opposition for a thaw in Sino-American diplomacy.


[1] Zhou, Quotations, 100-101.

[2] Hsu, 192-194.

[3] and Pakistan – Pakistan will be heavily featured while portraying the events of 1971.

[4] Maxwell Part (I, i), see bibliography.

[5] India Times  Jun.27,  2007.

[6] TIME Dec 14. 1959 The Shade of the Big Banyan.

[7] Zhou, Letters, 6-7.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Taipei Times Aug. 27, 2005The article suggests that JFK viewed the affair as “a blatant Chinese aggression against India”; thus bolstering the notion of all Communist states operating under a monolithic agenda, which, as later events would tell, was in fact an oxymoron. Such a notion, however, would remain prevalent over American political landscape until Richard Nixon, utilizing his credentials as a staunch anti-Communist, almost single-handedly reversed such strand.

[10] Harding, Vincent Du Bois in China: 1959. Black World/Negro Digest May 1972, 14-15.

[11] Many didn’t, perhaps unbeknownst to Dr. Du Bois.

[12] Ibid. 46-47.

[13] Zhou, A Great Decade, 5-11.

[14] TIME Nov. 09, 1962 Double Standard, to take one example.

[15] Herring 764-767.

[16] TIME Aug. 30, 1968. The Reaction: Dismay and Disgust.

[17] TIME Oct. 25, 1968. Preparing for the Unpredictable.

Zhou Enlai as Premier of the People’s Republic of China and

Transformation of Western Perception of Mainland China, 1949-1972.


Part II: From Mountains of Yen’an to Korean War.

Few years after the failure of Jiangxi Soviet Republic, the remnants of Chinese Communists reestablished their base in Yen’ an in northwestern China. A retreat from southern China to Yen’an was a grueling task, from which majority of Communist troops died from combat, malaise, or both. Thus, it was a period where Zhou Enlai, formerly more of an outsider in CCP’s power circle, rose to prominence with Mao being both his overlord and enforcer. The two’s trusting if turbulent relationship, along with Zhou’s reputed skill as a diplomat and a world statesman, was to greatly transform the course of modern world history. Zhou’s early years in Yen’an was thus marked by calls for a staunch support of Mao’s ideological lines, thereby consolidating Mao’s dominance within the party. The increasingly self-assertive nature of Chinese Communist Party alarmed the increasingly paternalistic Soviet Union, who in turn renewed collaboration with China’s Nationalist cause, a pattern that was cemented after Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1932.

Meanwhile, As Chiang emphasized eradication of all Communists from Chinese soil while largely overlooking the incompetent nature of his warlord subordinates, a new threat to the Kuomintang regime and China altogether started to loom as Japan started encroaching into modern China shortly after beginning of the invasion in Shanghai. Thus a context was made where Zhou, known for both his loyalty for Mao’s Communist Party and ability to carry out a smooth compromise, could truly shine, as China’s dire state at that moment obliged various -even warring- factions within China to come together and combat the common enemy. Facing an event that could have threatened the existence of a hard-won modern Chinese state, the country’s intelligentsia started calling for a coalition between warring factions within China to face the common enemy, a demand that Zhou generally echoed in his public appearances.[1]

Taking advantage of a rather inevitable[2] disagreements amongst those who sustained the Kuomintang regime, Zhou started garnering a greater amount of public support through calling for a united front against Japanese invasion before any KMT officials, while agreeing to at least temporarily discard Communist banner in favor of Sun Yat-Sen’s Three People’s Principles.[3] Zhou’s such conciliatory gestures starkly contrasted with Chiang’s insistence on total Communist surrender and disarmament before any collaboration could take place. Communists, still fresh from memories of 1927 Shanghai, refused such demand. The formation of a united front against the ongoing Japanese incursion thus took place only after Chiang himself was put in a grave physical danger by his own disaffected subordinates in 1936.[4] Zhou played a defining role in this crisis by persuading Zhang Hsueh-liang, son of the deceased Zhang Zuolin and the de facto leader of warlords in Manchurian area, to launch a putsch against Chiang to secure a temporary alliance with Chinese Communist Party.[5] In the process, Zhou conceded the coalition’s leadership to Chiang, whose stature as a leader of the Chinese republican cause was yet to be challenged. Throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) that commenced shortly afterwards, however, Zhou and CCP were able to discredit Chiang and garner a greater amount of support for themselves through portraying themselves as authentic vanguards for a new China, which was bolstered by the party’s advocacy for a united front against Japanese from the very beginning of Japanese invasion.

The era of the second KMT-CCP collaboration to counter Japanese threat proved to be breakthrough years for the Communist cause, with Zhou Enlai, now formal representative of Chinese Communist Party, playing a crucial role in establishing both relatively constructive relationship with the still dominant Nationalist regime while garnering support in rural regions that was largely disaffected by Chiang’s incompetence by this point. Ji Chaozhu, a senior Beijing diplomat, later noted that there was an alarming degree of skepticism over China under Nationalist regime up to a degree where “a small act of decency” shown by Communist troops was often enough to assure rural support in that region.[6] This was also a period where Zhou’s stature as an influential statesman of China became known in global scale, with American journalist Edgar Snow, the author of Red Star over China, serving as the one of the most influential figures in such process. A nonaligned[7] investigative journalist who wrote this historically significant book after spending almost a year with Chinese Red Army in 1936. Prior to Snow’s publication, Chinese Communist Party was treated with relative obscurity in the Western world due to lack of reliable resource from a journalist who actually dared to venture such an uncharted territory. Hence, a TIME Magazine article from January 10, 1938 attests that virtually all Western accounts on China’s Communist movement prior to Snow’s Red Star was “wild and fabricated.”[8] A correspondent to prominent Western newspapers and by no means a Communist, Snow informed the Western world about the persistence of CCP in Yen’an,[9] a claim that was bolstered following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Second KMT-CCP Collaboration that took place shortly thereafter.

After Japanese surrender in August 1945, Chiang was misleadingly -albeit briefly- hailed by mainstream Western media as the sole savior of Chinese nation from Japanese imperialism. Such attitude, however, soon evaporated as China after Japanese withdrawal began suffering from an incredible degree of disorder inflicted by both KMT’s incapacity to govern and continuing civil war. Behind remaining Western sympathy towards Chaing’s regime was the Generalissimo’s wife Soong May-ling (generally known as “Madame Chiang“ in the West), a Triad-affiliated matriarch of Chinese Republic who wielded an enormous degree of influence in the Western world through her command of English language and personal charm. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had this to say about this colorful figure: “She (Madame Chiang) can talk beautifully about democracy. But she does not know how to live democracy.”[10] A pattern of speaking beautifully about a new Chinese state and in fact preserving warlord-oriented status quo was largely reprised throughout Nationalist leadership besides Madam Chiang, up to a degree where a TIME Magazine article written during the onset of the Civil War wrote that “His (Chiang’s) name is mud in all classes—they feel toward him as Americans felt toward Herbert Hoover in 1933.”[11]

In the early days of the second Chinese Civil War, however, one could project that the Nationalist regime, however its shortcomings, would be able to subdue Communist resistance within a relatively short period of time, as Chiang and his cronies still controlled an army that was more than twice the size of Mao’s guerillas and was armed with superior –often American-made– weaponry. Chiang’s advantages, however, quickly eroded as the Generalissimo’s loose coalition of warlords failed to either mend their corrupt way of governing or even to act as a unified force. Zhou and other politicians in CCP, at the meantime, was able to gain upper hands in countryside surrounding KMT’s urban bases, thereby exacerbating low morale already suffered by a considerable portion of Nationalist troops. Indeed, by 1949, the remaining struggle between Chinese Communist Party and Chiang’s Nationalist regime was characterized by the Communists’ smooth advance that was met by massive rout (often without a shot being fired)[12] by Nationalist troops, many of whom had little if any incentive to fight back from the very beginning. In October 1949, Mao, Zhou, and the Communists were able to capture Beijing with only sporadic resistance, after which Mao famously declared that “Chinese people have stood up” against long period of foreign and domestic oppression.[13]

Thus the men who were leaders of a ragtag horde of peasant-militia paving their way to caves of Yen’an twenty years ago took the helm as rulers of the most populous nation in the world. Nonetheless, with this colossal event in human history came a hail of daring challenges that were yet to be charted by the victorious Chinese Communist Party. One major bottleneck in achieving the ideal of a new, strong China was an utter lack of international recognition. There were largely two causes behind such a difficulty; one being American -if not western- perception of all Communism and Communist state as a dire threat to Washington’s interests and perhaps the Western Civilization as a whole, as vividly seen in U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ 1959 speech in front of New York Bar Association when he warned the danger of “the creed of international Communism” that attempted to create a Marxist-dominated new world order at all costs.[14] As latter events would tell, it overlooked a possibility where members of such a treacherous creed could actually quarrel between themselves rather than conspiring for a Communist world order. For better or worse, the United States in 1949 tended to generally tended to concur with Dulles over how to deal with any Communist state, an approach that quickly strained relationship between Beijing and Washington. Indeed, Beijing’s entry to United Nations as a legitimate governing body of China was blocked by the United States and many of its allies for decades to come.

Another challenge faced by the new residents of the Forbidden City in terms of obtaining a greater degree of international recognition for People’s Republic of China was China’s perceived incapability to defend itself from foreign invasions, an understandable presumption given the populous nation’s performance in its series of recent wars. The first crisis over Beijing’s largely unrecognized territorial integrity over Chinese subcontinent came in Korean War, when North Korean troops under Kim Il-Sung, despite their smashing victory in initial stage of the war, began a massive rout to Yalu River following the beginning of American involvement in the conflict. Not only was this an issue that affected the world’s perception of China, but it was an urgent question that Beijing’s Communist governance, which came to power under the banner of creating a new China, needed to address. As Premier of the newborn republic, Zhou at first attempted to resolve Korean crisis by diplomatic means through warning Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of American-led United Nations forces, that China will intervene in case the Western alliance advances to Yalu River area, which would put Beijing’s national sovereignty into jeopardy.

Indeed, it could be concluded that Chinese intervention in Korean War was something of a reluctant usage of last resort, as Zhou and his colleagues in Beijing Politburo at the time were busy enough to consolidate its control within the Chinese subcontinent. Once MacArthur[15] made a fateful decision to launch a counterattack to wipe out Communist realm from Korean peninsula, Zhou played a crucial role in convincing the yet ambivalent members of Chinese Communist Party to react against a perceived aggression by Western powers towards a new Chinese state. One major bottleneck to legitimize China’s intervention to the conflict was its status as a largely unrecognized polity, whereas any military act under the banner of People’s Republic of China could have provoked a full-scale war against United Nations troops. This would have put the yet infantile Communist state in its greatest peril, whereas Zhou was obliged to devise a plan that satisfied both need for involvement and neutralization of such political liability. The end product of such circumstances was an informal intervention under the guise of “people’s volunteers,” which enabled China to enter the conflict under the name of international communism, not the People’s Republic itself.

China’s entry to Korean conflict achieved what was then unthinkable by the Westerm world at the time, namely repulsion of Western offensive by China with virtually no foreign assistance. Zhou’s former colleague Ji Chaozhu later noted that as a youth endeavoring to construct new Chinese state at the time, this success gave both the country’s political elite and general populace a strong sense of empowerment as citizens of an independent nation, not colonial subjects.[16] Beijing’s demonstration of capability to defend itself and its interests was naturally followed by improved foreign relations. By 1950s, decolonization captured a compelling momentum in modern history, with France’s utter defeat in Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 attesting to Western powers’ incapacity to stop this inevitable trend. In the process, a number of newly independent nations, most notably the ones in Eastern and Southeastern Asia, started regarding China as something of a role model in its success in achieving independence and asserting its national sovereignty thereafter. Nevertheless, ideological hotheads in Beijing provided a potential obstacle in building constructive relations with these nations, as not all of these newborn states embraced communism as an ideology to create their polity, let alone Mao’s brand of peasant-based revolution.

It was here where Zhou, using his strong credentials within Chinese Communist Party and skills as a conciliatory diplomat, secured China’s role as something of a de facto leading figure in the emerging “Third World” movement at least for that moment. This rewarded Beijing with recognition as legitimate government of the Chinese subcontinent amongst those nations, an achievement that was only the first step of Zhou’s eventual goal: ascension of People’s Republic of China as a major player in global politics. A notable obstacle to that end was the existence of Nationalist government in Taipei, which retained status as de jure government of China through Washington’s refusal to recognize Beijing’s communist regime. Behind Washington’s reluctance to conciliate with government of an actual Chinese nation were two factors. One was a sense of animosity between both camps that was propelled by memories of Korean conflict. The other was dominant political belief in the United States at the time, which asserted that all forms of communism were somehow detrimental to American interests. Perhaps the most unflattering display of such sentiment was shown during Geneva Convention of 1954, when John Foster Dulles, the United States Secretary of State at the time, refused to shake hands with Zhou and Chinese delegation much to the dismay of the Premier and his colleagues.[17] Dulles’ act could be what an American patrician -which at the time was largely restricted on White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant- who believed that his country was beacon of all civility and morals,[18] an attitude that would be contrasted by the more pragmatic Nixon and Kissinger in latter years.

This anecdote clearly shows the mutual tension that existed between Washington and the yet to be recognized leaders of Forbidden City. What was on a stark contrast with this incident was Zhou’s encounter with British Socialist, The Rt. Hon.[19] Harold Wilson, which was marked by cordial talks about improving relations between each man’s nation.[20] Beijing resumed its formal relations with Great Britain shortly thereafter, thus beginning to establish ties with much of the Western World, which in turn pressured Washington to improve relations with what it still described as “Red China.“ Indeed, Beijing’s foreign relations, under Zhou’s leadership, steadily improved following the communist regime’s inception in 1949. The wave of decolonization, as mentioned earlier, worked largely at Beijing’s favor, as these newly-independent nations had little reason to be hostile to China, which also just emerged from the grim period of Western colonialism.


[1] Lee, 126-128.

[2] Given the nature of KMT regime as a loose coalition of genuine -if leaning somewhat rightward- republicans, anti-communists a la Chiang Kai-Shek, and warlords whose regional hegemony was often equally threatened by the Japanese invasion as well as Communist movement. One ironic aspect of such pattern was that in 1927, the leader of left-leaning opposition within KMT was Wang Jingwei, who by this point became head of Japan’s collaborationist government in Nanjing.

[3] Lee, 128.

[4] Hsu, 129-130.

[5] Hsu, 130-132.

[6] Ji, 36.

[7] Edgar Snow never was affiliated with Communist-inspired organizations. (Not every member of American Communist Party was worth purging or had treacherous minds, a la Woody Guthrie – imagine our children singing Irwing Berlin’s God Bless America in their kindergarten show – perhaps they actually do that beneath Mason-Dixon line, for which I couldn’t care less.

[8] TIME Magazine Jan. 10, 1938. Chinese Reds

[9] Ibid.

[10] New York Times October 25, 2003. Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a Power in Husband’s China and Abroad, Dies at 105.

[11] TIME Magazine Dec. 06, 1948

[12] Barmouin 125-128.

[13] Ji, 68.

[14] Dulles, 7-8 (See Bibliography).

[15] United States at the time struggled with implementing the notion of civilian control of military, a pattern that would be clearly shown as late as Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), when Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay insisted on launching a full-scale air attack on Cuba, an idea that could have provoked a full-scale nuclear war and thus was rejected by John F. Kennedy.

[16] Ji, 68-71.

[17] Ji, 127-128.

[18] Larson, 139-145.

[19] “The Rt. Hon.” refers to the “Right Honourable” in British political scene; indeed, there were a good amount of Socialists in the Western World at the time, though their objection to Soviet brand of Socialism proved stern.

[20] TIME Jun. 14, 1954. Trade with China

This is a dissertation thesis I wrote in a university here in the United States and is a rather lengthy essay about Zhou Enlai, who was the first premier of Chinese People’s Republic and perhaps one of the most compelling figures of the 20th Century. Reading this essay may require a considerable amount of time investment and knowledge in related field. Enjoy.



Zhou Enlai as Premier of the People’s Republic of China and

Transformation of Western Perception of Mainland China, 1949-1972.


Part I: The Formative Years


Throughout the modern era, the Western perception of China has been greatly transformed by a series of events that inflicted a colossal degree of upheavals in Chinese history. Prior to the Communist Revolution of 1949, the Western –especially American– view of China was heavily influenced by China’s status as an ally in World War II, with the corrupt and incompetent Chiang Kai-Shek being cast as the faltering nation’s heroic leader against the grim streak of Japanese imperialism. Nonetheless, after the demonstration of an utter inability by Nationalist government against its Communist counterpart following the end of World War II, the image of Chiang and his Nationalist regime became rapidly tarnished. The victory of the Chinese Communist Party in its struggle against Chiang’s regime marked the beginning of an era where western portrayal of mainland China was characterized by a transformation from a normal, friendly nation to a horrifying if mysterious enemy, as seen in the pejorative term of “Red China” suggests.

As the Premier of the People’s Republic of China from its consolidation of power in 1949 to his death in 1976, Zhou Enlai was one of prominent actors in a series of historic events that metamorphosed the West’s perception of the new China from “Red China” to a legitimate power of the Chinese subcontinent. In early stage of the People’s Republic, it was Zhou who quickly garnered recognition from a considerable number of states to keep Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic arsenal in check. When the dire straits of decolonization was in its pinnacle, Zhou skillfully placed his country as a leader of the “third world” struggle, which became a useful bargaining tool for Beijing not only against Washington but also towards Kremlin, whose relationship with China became strained following beginning of the Sino-Soviet Split in 1959. At the time when John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under the Eisenhower Administration, warned his colleagues against the danger of what he described as “the creed of international Communism,” Zhou actively sought collaboration with non-Communist states –many of them hostile to Soviet interests– to promote Chinese interest even at the expense of Kremlin’s.

The capstone of –albeit perhaps the most important part of– Zhou’s career was a thaw in Sino-American relations represented by Richard Nixon’s historic visit to mainland China for the first time following the Communist Revolution. Skillfully crafted by Zhou and his Washington counterpart Henry Kissinger, the Sino-American rapprochement marked the end of the Cold War order as it was known till that moment to usher the world into a new world order that was characterized by multi-polar power orientation. Before and during this remarkable historic event, Zhou paved the road for collaboration with Western states through showing a conciliatory gesture to the supposed enemies that were wary of a relative decrease in American –thus Western– stature across the globe following the failure of Vietnam War. With these events in mind, I in this paper would like to investigate the role of Zhou Enlai and his relations with diplomats from various parts of the globe that helped shaping China’s stature and its perception from the West in a positive fashion from timescale of 1949 (Chinese Revolution) to 1972 when Sino-American rapprochement that pioneered the present relationship between two great powers of the modern world .

Zhou Enlai was born in March 5, 1898 in a family that was known for its rich aristocratic tradition. According to Chae-Jin Lee’s Zhou Enlai: the early years,[1] Zhou’s family claimed ancestry from the ruling clan of Song Dynasty that ruled China from tenth to fourteenth century. As a child, Zhou was raised largely under the hands of Zhou Tiaochi, his second uncle or distant relative,[2] as Zhou’s natural father was unemployed at the time.[3] It is said that Zhou’s foster mother “Madame Chen” had a profound influence on the Chinese Premier’s formative years with her rigid yet caring parenthood.[4] Indeed, it was under this guidance where Zhou started forming his first -and perhaps best known- pillar of his intellectual substance, a blend of classical Confucian education and the emerging “new” studies from Japan and the West. Although originally hailing from southern part of China, Zhou’s foster family moved to Manchuria due to increasingly difficult condition in its homeland. In Manchuria, Zhou was able to study “new” education in local schools and Chinese classics under his household. The experiences Zhou garnered from these years became one his tremendous assets in a distinguished career, as it established a solid basis for Zhou to master the art of old-fashioned negotiation while possessing a solid degree of Communist credentials, with his Washington counterpart Richard Nixon representing similar if not same traits in his colorful political journey.[5]

Another very important breakthrough in Zhou’s early intellectual development was at Nankai Middle School in Tientsin, where the young Enlai started calling for a unified, industrialized China, a principle that Zhou -despite an innumerable amount of compromises he made in his political career- preserved throughout his years.[6] While virtually all students of Nankai Middle School had a consensus on a necessity for creation of a new China, a question of how this will be carried out was left virtually unanswered. Indeed, there was a profound ideological difference amongst various students and faculty of the school, with Chang Po-Ling, the principal of Zhou’s alma mater, later moving on to become one of Chiang Kai-Shek’s leading aides.[7] Nevertheless, Zhou’s intellectual and emotional ties with his alma mater and its Principal was strong enough up to a degree where he stayed in touch with Chang even during the second Chinese Civil War following World War II.[8]

Zhou’s image as merely an old-fashioned practitioner of Confucian values and an expert of silky compromise is put into jeopardy when one observes the events of the prolific statesman’s formulating years spent in Japan. At the time of Zhou’s departure to Japan in 1917, majority of Chinese students venturing abroad were destined to the emerging Asian power, a pattern that perhaps could be explained as a Chinese endeavor to benchmark Japan as an example of successful modernization.[9] Nonetheless, not many Chinese students who studied in Japan in the era chose to embraced the Japanese model of industrialization that was led by a handful of former feudal barons who appointed themselves as vanguards of a revolution from upward. Meanwhile, one of scholars at the time who influenced Zhou’s political vision was Hajime Kawakami,[10] a Japanese Marxist who was also the first serious scholar of Marxism in the Far East, an affiliation that alienated him from Japanese establishment at the time. It was his days in Japan when Zhou started calling for an ideological upheaval amongst the mass, not a revolution from upward led by a Bismarck-esque strongman.[11] Indeed, it seems apparent that unlike Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China as an industrial powerhouse, who carried out his policies without much regard to ideological pedigree, Zhou took his Marxist ideals very seriously. This, I observe, perhaps explains Zhou’s rather ambivalent attitude between pragmatism and ideological purity in many instances, as clearly shown when the Premier, while pursuing a hardly ideological course in international diplomacy,[12] was also one of the staunchest supporters of Cultural Revolution, perhaps one of the most vivid instance of an ideologically-driven blunder in the 20th Century. Even during a series of negotiations with the United States in the wake of Nixon-Mao summit in 1971, Zhou repeatedly asserted Taiwan as a part of China,[13] a position that could have derailed the entire rapprochement scheme that Beijing needed and painstakingly prepared for.

Like many of his generation who later took the helm as leaders of a new China[14], Zhou actively participated in protests of May Fourth Movement, for which he was jailed for a short period of time. One could infer that Zhou played a considerable role in organizing student activism at the time, as upon his release he was offered both marriage to a daughter of one of Nankai Middle School’s leading sponsors and an -at the time- unparalleled opportunity to study abroad in France. Zhou turned down the former yet was guaranteed the latter.[15] In 1920 Paris, there was a large number of Chinese students who usually financed their education through working in blue-collar factories. Communist-inspired[16] student activism flourished, with many of its participants later moving on to found Chinese Communist Party in 1921.[17] It was under this tutelage where Zhou started building his reputation as a skilled demonstration organizer for the yet infantile Chinese Communist cause, a credential that would serve him well for decades to come when the Premier‘s silky ways did not go hand-to-hand with Communist hotheads in Beijing.

It is worth noting that in his early years, Zhou believed that creation of an independent modern China didn’t necessarily require a violent uprising as seen in Russian Revolution of 1917.[18] Indeed, a split within those who attempt to construct a new, modern China was yet to emerge at this point, with the openly Communist Zhou Enlai joining CCP’s future nemesis Kuomintang without much opposition.[19] Chinese political landscape at the time was characterized as a struggle between a broad omnibus of warlord-led factions whose self-serving nature often made them collaborators to foreign -especially Western- interest against a coalition of republicans who vowed to create a new China free of Western or Japanese colonialism. Further, the Soviet Union, the only Marxist state in the world at the time, heavily cooperated with the republican coalition led by Sun Yat-Sen, whose brand of republicanism was hardly consistent with how an orthodox Marxist-Leninist would describe the term.[20] Kremlin’s willingness to collaborate with the noncommunist revolutionaries could be viewed as Realpolitik on Moscow’s part, as any opposition towards pro-Western warlordism meant an ideal counterbalance against Western influence in China. Upon his return from France in 1924 as an accomplished leader for a revolutionary cause, Zhou was thus rewarded with a seat as a political Commissar for the newly-founded Whampoa Military School, a position where he was first acquainted with Chiang Kai-Shek and other Nationalist leaders,[21] perhaps unaware of latter events that saw two of the most influential factions that attempted to create a new China quarreling against one another.

The revolutionary coalition’s so-called “Northern Expedition” was a stinging success, with the largely disorganized armies of conservative warlords being unable to answer a series of offensives from determined, well-disciplined republican forces. Yet 1927, the year when Northern Expedition started gaining a compelling momentum, proved to be a year of tremendous setback for Chinese Communist Party, as Chiang, in heart an anti-Communist, ordered a massive arrest and purge of Communist-related officials that eventually became a precursor[22] to a lengthy retreat generally known as the Long March. A senior Communist official by this point, Zhou was briefly arrested during the quagmire, having attempted to reduce the level of violence across the city. It was only an internal disorder within Kuomintang that saved Zhou’s life,[23] as while purge of Communists was taking place en masse at the time, CCP was still nominally an ally of Kuomintang and a hasty declaration of a split within the republican coalition could have undermined the cause altogether. The Soviets’ unwillingness to help Chinese communist movement during and after -as seen in Nanchang uprising later that year- the debacle arguably became a beginning point of mutual distrust between Kremlin and Chinese Communist Party, a pattern that will be bolstered by latter events.[24] The looming split between Moscow and (more than a decade later) Beijing ironically proved to be the direct cause of breakthrough for a thaw in Sino-American relationship.

Zhou’s conduct from the Communists’ rout from Shanghai to the end of World War II could be characterized as a period that consolidated his credentials as both a devoted Communist and a skilled diplomat. Amid what one could indeed describe as a turbulent era in the history of Chinese Communist cause, Zhou cemented his stature within the party by a method that is hardly in accordance with his silky public image: through confrontational rhetoric and sometimes sheer force, with the enforcer of such strand being Mao Zedong, who took advantage of post-Shanghai context to propagate his vision of peasant-based Communist revolution.[25]

Mao’s rise within the ranks of Chinese Communist Party was in part helped by miserable failures of Soviet-modeled revolution attempts, the endeavor that party establishment at the time embraced and Mao (and Zhou) objected. At the time of Shanghai Massacre, pro-Soviet members were still dominant over the structure of Chinese Communist Party up to a degree where Chen Duxiu, the founder of China’s communist movement, was expelled from the party after voicing his objection over some of the party’s Soviet-inspired policies. Despite a considerable difference in societal structure between China and its western counterparts, the Soviet Union encouraged CCP to focus on urban uprising of laborers. Mao, Zhou and a number of dissident party members had problems with what they viewed as an utter neglect of reality, suggesting that in China, where vast majority of population are peasants residing in rural areas, it naturally follows that mobilization of such rural mass to strangle the counterrevolutionaries’ urban bases is the most effective method for a communist revolution. Henceforth, it was only after the fall of Jiangxi Soviet Republic, a quasi-state CCP constructed in Jiangxi area under Soviet assistance and directions, when Mao and Zhou’s faction arose to dominant position within the party, a status that the faction will maintain for decades thereafter.



[1] Lee, 6-8.


[2] Hsu, 6, Lee, 11. These two sources conflict on whether Zhou Tiaozhi, Zhou’s foster parent, was a second uncle or a rather distant relative.

[3] Lee, 8-10.

[4] Lee, 12-13

[5] Nixon’s pursuit of rapprochement with People’s Republic of China became possible largely because of the statesman’s strong anti-Communist credentials prior to the maneuver, which enable him to avoid being described as being soft on Communism.

[6] Hsu, 11-14.

[7] Hsu, 12-16.

[8] Hsu, 15-17.

[9] Lee, 77-80.

[10] Hsu, 20 (Hsu miswrites Hajime to “Hajimi.”).

[11] Hsu, 20. It is also worth noting that this model, under a not-so-strong man Yuan Shikai, failed miserably, leading to the eruption of popular and intellectual discontent that led to May Fourth Movement.

[12] As clearly shown during Sino-American rapprochement of 1972, one of our main subjects.

[13] TIME Magazine, The China Connection, Oct 01, 1979. American Experience with David McCullough, Nixon’s China Game, PBS.

[14] While each of these men’s vision of a new China -even within the Chinese Communist Party-varied considerably, the evil of incompatible warlord regime(s) following Yuan Shikai’s takeover and fall of Xinhai Revolution temporarily united various groups of revolutionaries into one formidable monolith, a pattern that will persists until Chiang Kai-Shek’s Northern Expedition garnered a compelling momentum.

[15] Hsu, 26.

[16] Not Kremlin-inspired, as this term often implied in American political landscape during Cold War era.

[17] Hsu, 29-30.

[18] Hsu, 23-24.

[19] Hsu, 36.

[20] Hsu, 47. Chiang Kai-Shek himself visited Moscow to evaluate the model of Russian Revolution and its usefulness for the Chinese cause. The Soviet Union used its ties with the KMT regime well until the end of World War II whenever it thought such a maneuver would provide it with greater political leverage. This, among other variables, was one of the most important pretexts for the eventual Sino-Soviet Split.

[21] Hsu, 49-50.

[22] Prior to 1934, there were a number of attempts to establish a peasant-oriented resistance base amongst China’s Communist movement, with its most vivid evidence being Jiangxi Soviet Republic that existed from 1931 to 1934. It was the collapse of this that actually began the “Long March.” (Barnouin 56-58).

[23] Barmouin, 36-38.

[24] Barmouin, 38-40. Ji, 41.

[25] Barmouin, 52-53.

Posted by: williamjsykes | January 20, 2009

Conflict in Gaza – Did Israel Go Too Far?

For many years since the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the creation of a new world order accordingly, a Washington policymaker could often daydream about an ideal state of Pax Americana that would last for decades to come.

Speaking of present tense, it seems to be an utter nonsense to assert that the United States still is an unrivaled superpower across the globe after years of debacle under the Bush Administration –unless you didn’t read news for past three years or are Karl Rove or Robert Kagan.

The grim portrait of an alarming decrease in America’s stature throughout the world cannot be more vividly seen than in Middle East. A struggle against global terrorism as carried out by the Bush Administration saw America’s military power largely contained in Afghanistan and Iraq and its diplomatic arsenal nearly depleted. A major obstacle in building more constructive relations with many Arab states in the region was Washington’s close alliance with Israel, which the former has assured an “unconditional support” despite the latter’s often reckless behavior that has alienated many of America’s potential allies in the region.

That brings us to today’s topic: the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza Strip and how the United States should react when in its stature in the region is in its peril arguably for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

Throughout its history, Israel has repeatedly asserted its nature as a Jewish-dominated state despite the continuing presence of native Palestinians, many of whom Israeli citizens who face de facto discrimination in many respects, according to a research conducted by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. During the Cold War years, this nominally democratic if belligerent nation made a considerable amount of territorial gains facing its equally confrontational Arab neighbors. It was during which Jerusalem’s hard-liners, at least partially inspired by a religious ideology of a creation of the so-called “Greater Israel,” launched an aggressive settlement of Jewish population in these newly-won territories.

Amongst those was Gaza Strip, which already experienced an influx of non-Jewish refugees during the creation of the State of Israel prior the Six-Day War, which Israel emerged victorious and took control over occupied territories. The Israeli-Palestinian relations seemed to have seen a thaw during the Clinton years, when the Oslo Accords of 1994 guaranteed the Palestinians a good degree of autonomy.

Reality, however, was not as promising.

The state of affairs in Gaza Strip after the passage of the Oslo Accords saw a disturbing amount of political instability and deteriorating economic situations that bolstered, not weakened the amount of grievance by the local populace. The economic hardship in the region, which now borders to the conditions suffered by sub-Saharan African nations, was at least partially inflicted by Israel’s unwillingness to overhaul a general border closure throughout the region.

In addition, Jerusalem’s approach towards a violent insurrection by Palestinian dissidents for years has been a stern reaction against the belligerents using Israel’s superior military force, a policy that put 1.4 million Gazans as something of a collateral for a small group of violent dissidents.

The end product of such circumstances was the emergence of Hamas, a borderline terrorist organization, in the Palestinian general election in 2006.

Israel’s policy of answering violence by a wholesale onslaught can be clearly shown in the course of the latest conflict between Israeli forces and Hamas. Data from Bloomberg News shows that during the latest conflict, about 1,300 Palestinians –many if not most of them civilians– died with thousands more insured or left homeless while only thirteen Israeli militants perished.

Should Jerusalem not manage to mend its wanton ways, it would actually strengthen the cause of militant Palestinians a la Hamas, who would be then able to cast Israel as the main belligerent without much difficulty.

In his interview with a German magazine Der Spiegel, the former American Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk made a number of interesting points. Amongst those was a suggestion that given America’s influence in Middle East that diminished considerably in recent years, Washington will need to collaborate with its allies in Europe and Middle East to a greater degree than it did during the Bush years. If so, Washington will have to take a tougher stand on Jerusalem to meet the standards of its potential allies and work to recover American prestige in the region and across the globe.

It is also at Jerusalem’s best interests to work with non-Israeli Palestinians rather than trying to keep ruling them by force. The non-Jewish population in Israel and occupied territories, given their high fertility rate, will outnumber the Jewish portion of the country within not a distant future, as projected by a recent TIME article titled Can Israel Survive Its Attacks on Gaza?

The United States has been Israel’s strongest and most durable ally for decades by far. The prospect of a continuation of a tight-knit alliance between Washington and Jerusalem, however, doesn’t necessarily look good given the concerns I have presented in this column.

An eventual demise of violence and radicalism in Palestine will be anchored only through a substantial degree of socio-economic development throughout Palestinian territories; something Israel has put little –if any– vigor in recent years. Should Israel not consider such options, the incoming Obama Administration may have to take a tougher stand on Israel for the greater good for the country it serves.

Posted by: williamjsykes | January 3, 2009

A Sorry Portrait of Democracy in the Middle East

Upon the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the creation of a new world order accordingly, the United States -at least throughout the 90s and a good part of the subsequent decade- emerged as an unrivaled superpower across the globe in both economic and political terms. This, however, did not mark an easier time for an American policymaker as far as diplomatic issues were concerned. After the onslaught at the World Trade Center in 9/11, 2001, American foreign policy was somewhat preoccupied with preventing similar disaster through a mean of preemption with the greatest degree of focus given to the Middle East – where militant nationalism and anti-western sentiment remains prevalent.

Given the gravity of the present-day situation where the danger of terrorist attack is real, to ask whether we shall indeed wage a War on Terrorism seems to be out of question. Nevertheless, an inquiry concerning how we must conduct such endeavor remains valid. This is especially true with regard to the Bush Administration’s ideologically-driven policy to implant popular democracy throughout the region, something -at least by far- that generated outcomes that hampers, not strengthens our war effort in numerous instances, while also working to weaken our global stature through creating an impression that Washington attempts to intervene in a sovereign nation’s domestic affairs.

Historically, there have been zero instances throughout modern era where an implantation of popular democracy in a predominantly Muslim Middle Eastern nation -both inward and outward- resulted in that country’s prosperity and advancement in human rights. The relative progress in both economy and individual rights in Turkey, to take one example, was anchored only through the Kemalist doctrine that dominated Turkish politics form the country’s founding. Oddly enough, Kemalism in Turkey was implemented largely at the expense of mostly agrarian, traditional Muslim Turkish public through the presence of a benign Leviathan of military junta.

Take the example of the present-day Iraq. A part of the Ottoman Empire prior to the end of World War I, Iraq hardly possessed a sense of nationhood prior to the advent of Saddam Hussein in the early 1970s, whose Batthist regime ruthlessly subjugated any domestic grievance to the Sunni minority rule. George W. Bush’s decision to launch a general election in Iraq shortly before the U.S. Presidential Election of 2004 clearly helped the Dubya’s reelection attempt. By contrast, what we have -as Americans waging War on Terrorism- garnered as a result has been a borderline cleric state dominated by potentially pro-Tehran Shi’a majority that is hardly an asset in our struggle against various terrorist groups, who at the same time could take advantage of our presence in Iraq as a recruiting tool in their malicious cause amongst the region’s misguided youth.

The detrimental nature of popular democracy in the Middle East concerning our War on Terrorism is also vividly seen in Palestine, where Hamas –a known terrorist group funding suicide bombers– emerged victorious in a democratic election for Palestinian National Assembly in 2006. The rhetoric employed by Hamas, which includes a stringent allegiance to Sharia law and the destruction of the State of Israel, makes Yasser Arafat look like a Mother Theresa. A popular movement in Pakistan toppled Pervez Musharraf, our reliable and extremely important ally in War on Terrorism, leaving the country with a provisional government that could be hostile to U.S. interest in many respects. At the same time, the emergence of the so-called “Muslim Brotherhood” in Egypt could pose a serious instability or undesirable political upheaval in a country that is needed to root out militant Muslim extremists across the region.

An empirical study of modern history informs us that a relatively stable and negotiable Middle Eastern state is generated through either conservative governing structure –as seen in Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates– or a bold implementation of secularist politics often against the demand of the underprivileged, misguided public. While one could well argue that a vast array of Muslim extremism in the present was partially spawned by the West’s mishandling of a number of secular progressives of the region in the distant past (e.g. The West’s decision to topple a relatively civil, Sorbonne-educated Mosaddeq of Iran in 1953 that contributed to the 1979 Islamic thermidor of the country), a hasty implantation of democracy in the region as seen in the present-tense seems to have worsened, not alleviated the situation. Our struggle against terrorism could be won only thorough an immense degree of collaboration between moderate, negotiable nations forming a compelling phalanx against religious extremism that is detrimental to any reasonable state. And the introduction of democracy in the Middle East does not seem to strengthen such endeavor.

I consider myself something of a moderate voter who voted for Obama past election. I did so mainly because I didn’t buy the presentation of McCain as a “maverick” after a series of manuavers -including the nomination of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential candidate, something that looks more like a practical joke in retrospect- that seemed to be a gesture to appease groups with radical or inherently dangerous ideologies, a la evangelicals, remaining adherents of neoconservative foreign policy, and so forth. Nonetheless, shortly after Obama’s victory that undoubtedly marked a colossal degree of progress in American political history, I was rather appalled to see the Democratic establishment acting contrary to their platform of “change,” something many if not most Americans find necessary after years of debacle under the Bush Administration.

Enter Caroline Kennedy, one of quite a few remnants of political dynasties (e.g. Tafts, Kennedys, Bushs, Lodges, Rockefellers, Clintons) in American history. A heir apparent to the royal line of JFK and Jackie O, Kennedy boasts an enormous degree of connection and support amongst the establishment of the Democratic Party and a largely undistinguished career as an attorney. While Kennedy’s alleged incompatability is to a much lesser degree than her GOP counterpart in 2008 (You Know Who), the practice of appointing a rather obscure and yet unproven figure -who nevertheless is well-liked within party establishment- by a party that ran under the platform of change and reform, seems to be objectionable if not entirely abominable.

As a President-Elect in these challenging times, Barack Obama will have to not only combat opposition from the increasingly defensive Republicans (i.e. Richard Shelby of Alabama) but also with a horde of party loyalists and borderline radicals within the Democratic Party. While I will abstain from discussing other specific issues now for the sake of brevity, I’d say that the current Senate replacement issue and Caroline Kennedy’s run as an appointee (thus not a candidate) somewhat tells the American populace that should Obama be remembered as a FDR-esque figure who raised his nation from the verge of misery, he will have to confront his own party and its establishment as well as a broad omnibus of opposition that will emerge as a reaction to the President-Elect’s reform policies.

Posted by: williamjsykes | January 1, 2009

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In the latter half of the twentieth century following the onslaught of World War II, the East Asian region has achieved an incredible degree of development in terms of the area’s both political and economic stature across the globe. There was, however, one exception amongst this list: North Korea. Commencing a dialogue concerning North Korea, however, is not a simple process as describing any other nation with failed economy and authoritarian rule, as it is –as most westerners are aware of – also a country that appears in global media the most, though usually as a menace to global security, not as another example of rapid economic development that much of East Asian region was blessed with. While most former communist nations –east or west alike– either enjoyed a successful transition or faded into obscurity, North Korea did not fall into neither scenario and now is one of the most talked-about nations in the world due to its dual face as both one of the most impoverished nations in the world after an economic breakdown that began following the demise of the Communist Bloc, and a threat to global security through its insistence to preserve its heavy armament and its insistence upon developing its controversial nuclear program. Now one question remains: why?

After the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the end of the Cold War in the wake of the 1990s, the world expected a new paradigm of global geopolitics where martial conflicts will be minimized and a good degree of stability across the world was to be assured. Nonetheless, after nearly two decades after the fall of what Ronald Reagan once described as the “Evil Empire,” the world is still prone to a series of disorders and crises in numerous regions, as seen in the crises in Middle East manifested by our prolonged and unsuccessful war effort in Iraq. One aspect we must pay attention to regarding these current conflicts, however, is that a large portion of the current geopolitical crises came as the aftermath of the events during the Cold War era, with notable instances being Iraq, Kosovo, and North Korea.

A study on North Korea is both very intriguing and disturbing, one of numerous reasons being a fact that it possesses perhaps the most bizarre brand of communism even when compared to its most rigid counterparts throughout the former Communist Bloc. As a former member of the Communist Bloc and still a very oppressive Stalinist regime, our subject North Korea must rank high amongst the list of countries whose nature as a threat to global security largely descended from the problems generated following the end of the Cold War. This, I believe, tells us that in order to achieve a full understanding of North Korea’s recent behaviors, the understanding of its history is crucial. With its economy failing miserably and most foreign governments unwilling to provide a substantial amount of aid, North Korea could be considered as a country that is now on the verge of collapse, which may –unfortunately– choose to end itself under the mayhem of nuclear or full-fledged warfare committed by its leadership faced with few alternative decisions. Faced with such concerns, there are a number of points I would like to address with regard to this extremely important issue in this essay. In this writing, indeed, I would like to address the reasons why North Korea is currently on the verge of collapse due to its own incompatibilities, the argument that will be backed by a thorough presentation the political history of North Korea to illuminate why North Korean leadership put itself in such position.

To begin with, North Korea, often dubbed by the mainstream media as the “Hermit Kingdom,” is a nation under an ironclad control of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party that is virtually shut out from any foreign influence. Though defining itself as a communist nation, North Korea’s ruling method could be seen as perverse and oppressive even from an orthodox Marxist’s standpoint. North Korea’s head of state, to take one example, is inherited directly from the country’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, a practice that is unprecedented in any country with past or present communist ruling experience. Furthermore, throughout its history, North Korea has openly devised its own brand of communist ideology in an attempt to justify its totalitarian rule, in what is known as the Juche ideology. In what seems to be a rather tenuous combination of the ideas from Chairman Mao and Il Duce, Kim Il-Sung, the architect of the Juche system, asserts that every communist polity shall be operated under the firm principle of self-reliance, even though North Korea itself largely depended upon the economic assistance from fellow communist nations to support its own economy.

The advent of Juche ideology also marked the practice of personality cult in North Korea, which forced its populace to worship a head of state like a monarch, which one may see as following the footsteps of the Imperial Japan during World War II, ironically the state North Korea condemns as its version of “Evil Empire” alongside the United States. In practice, the Juche idea largely served as a handy tool for North Korea’s leadership to justify its reign of terror, as it could demonize anyone that opposes policies imposed by the Kim Dynasty regime as an imperialistic, counterrevolutionary figure. The Juche ideology also served as a rationale behind North Korea’s intent to develop nuclear arms despite the opposition from Beijing, its reluctant ally, though one could point that Pyongyang’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear warheads is a mere attempt for the current leadership to survive, an aspect of the contemporary world politics surrounding North Korea that I will clearly show in the subsequent parts of this paper. The Juche theory, as we shall explore throughout this paper, would plague North Korea’s sustainability throughout the history of the Hermit Kingdom due to its nature as an ideology that was constructed without much expert knowledge in political economy and under a firm belief in self-reliance despite the necessity of mutual trade in order for a nation to achieve any respectable economic and technological growth.

Before further presenting the argument itself, however, let us cover the political history of North Korea in order to clarify where the Juche idea and North Korea’s current domestic and foreign policies came from. This, I believe, would strengthen the argument I intend to address in this paper, while also clarifying the Chinese mindset behind still seeing North Korea as somewhat of an ally despite the strained relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang with regard to numerous issues, most notably regarding North Korea’s intent to develop nuclear warheads despite the opposition from both China and its neighbors surrounding the East Asian region.

North Korea was established after World War II and the collapse of the Japanese Empire where the Soviet Union, alongside the United States and Great Britain, emerged as the victors of this massive global conflict. The Korean Peninsula, legally a Japanese territory during the war years, soon caught the interest of both Soviet Union and the west, as these newly-emerged superpowers needed a safeguard area where the influence by either nation was as dominant as other countries that already came under either American or Soviet interest. With this concern in his mind, the Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin addressed in Yalta Conference that should Soviet Union enter the war against Japan, it must consolidate what he called “buffer zones” in both Asia and Europe, with its buffer zone in Asia being the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. In the process, a compromise was made between Washington and Moscow to divide the Korean Peninsula in the parallel line of 38. The United States, vowing to consolidate the reconstruction effort in Japan, occupied Korea below the 38 line and eventually established Syngman Rhee, a rather obscure figure who hardly involved himself in Korean independence movement, as its head of state. At the same time, the Soviet Union appointed Kim Il-Sung, a former Soviet officer with some –if dubious– record of fighting against the Japanese, as the leader of the newly-launched communist state in the Korea above the 38 line. What we must notice in this process is that from its very beginning, North Korea –at least behind the eyes of Moscow or Beijing– was a nation whose main purpose is to serve as a buffer state behind its mother nation. This remains virtually unchanged to this day, though the circumstances surrounding the patronage from more influential states have changed over time, especially after the collapse of the Communist Bloc and a massive economic surge China enjoyed in recent years. This, I observe, is the most significant reason why Beijing retains its ties with the Hermit Kingdom despite the recent events, as a breakdown of the status quo in North Korea may lead to an establishment of a pro-western regime in the area, something China does not want to happen.

At the same time, one of Pyongyang’s rationales behind its attempt to maintain its massive –and costly– military and develop nuclear warheads is a technically ongoing war with South Korea, an issue that a number of far right-wingers in Seoul take advantage of as well. To understand this, one must obtain a clear picture of the aftermath of the Korean War, which left the two Koreas with an intense mutual hostility that lasts to this day. The Korean War is also important in one’s attempt to fully understand current North Korean politics, as it was the Korean War –and its unclear outcome– that helped Kim Il-Sung to cement his monopoly of power and thereby establishing a political atmosphere where he could practice his questionable brand of communism.

In several years following the birth of North Korea, Moscow –then controlled by Joseph Stalin– decided to provide Pyongyang with a substantial amount of war materials for potential warfare against the pro-American south, though Stalin himself acted largely upon an assumption that Washington is doing the same in the south and Kim Il-Sung will not provoke a full-scale war. The United States, by contrast, did not expect the Soviet Union to break the balance of power, thus leaving South Korea with only a handful of military units and dismal local military to defend itself. Shortly after its establishment, North Korea –partially inspired by a declaration made by Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State under Truman administration, that United States will not include South Korea as its new defense plan– engaged itself in what is now known as Korean War. Kim, aware of a fact that his army was in far superior condition compared to its southern counterpart, believed that he could end a war within a short period of time. After a rapid –and thus unforeseen– advance of North Korean army in the wake of the Korean War, both Moscow and Beijing had somewhat of an assumption that the western world will not intervene because of their supposed disregard of Korean Peninsula as an important geostrategic spot, and the lack of immediate manpower –after the demobilization of American troops following World War II– to oppose the rapidly advancing North Korean army. Seeing South Korea as a buffer zone to Japan, its newfound and extremely important ally in the postwar Asia, Washington thought otherwise. The United States, with an approval from the United Nations, thus intervened. The subsequent years of the war saw the Chinese entry to the war in rescue of Kim Il-Sung’s regime, and a rather stagnant warfare where neither Beijing nor Washington desired to make a substantial advance due to the fear of another world war and because of the fact that both China and the United States were content with the pre-war status quo, as both sides managed to assure the buffer zone for themselves to retain an acceptable degree of stability in the East Asian region.

The Korean War ended in 1953, with a very unclear result with borders similar to the pre-war level, only leaving an enormous degree of hostility between North and South Korea. From Pyongyang’s perspective, the war was a failure, as it did not succeed in its initial goal: The reunification of Korean Peninsula under the helm of Korean Workers’ Party. Thus, the unclear outcome of the war provided Kim Il-Sung an opportunity to purge the political opponents that he did not like or perceived as a threat. The history of North Korea after the Korean War, therefore, was noted with a series of purges towards Kim’s political rivals that cemented Kim’s dominance in what is called “Korean Workers’ Party,” now an agent of oppression towards its people whose status as the oppressor persists till today. The war, at the same time, provided the authoritarian rulers of both Koreas a rationale to exploit national security as an excuse to devise a more rigid, oppressive regime that bolstered their rule. While South Korea eventually managed to reinvent itself as a somewhat democratic nation due to drastically improved economy in recent decades, North Korea has retained the kind of political structure that is nearly exactly the same with the one Kim Il-Sung consolidated following the Korean War. The North Korean system, however, did not seem to be in danger until the 1970s when its economy still achieved a respectable amount of growth largely due to assistances made from Soviet Union and other nations in the Communist Bloc, the progress that was made under the conditions quite contrary from what the Juche principle insists. Thus, it was following the fall of communism and the end of foreign assistance when North Korea faced its most dire problems: The economic problems.

Throughout the Cold War years, the North Korean economy largely depended upon the military and economic assistance from Moscow and Beijing, a pattern that was largely similar in Pyongyang’s southern counterpart. Even during these years, however, North Korea’s opportunity to further take advantage of the situation was often hampered due to the presence of Juche ideology and the Pyongyang Politburo’s insistence to preserve the principle of “self-reliance” whenever possible. Amid this period emerged Deng Xiaoping in Beijing’s Politburo, who introduced open-door policies to many parts of China’s industries in an attempt to modernize the stagnant Chinese economy. While Deng’s policies proved immensely successful in China, they also brought in the new ideas that the Chinese populace was not able to reach in previous years, which resulted in some people questioning the legitimacy of the dominance of Chinese Communist Party as a whole.

A staunch Stalinist, Kim Il-Sung saw this kind of reform as both a betrayal to communist principles and making the country prone to potential domestic instabilities. To a certain extent, he was right. Soon after Deng’s policies became implemented, a series of domestic insurgencies in fellow communist nations that newly adopted open-door policies –with most notable example being People’s Republic of China as seen in the Tiananmen Incident of 1989– convinced Pyongyang to strengthen its grip in its isolationist policy at the peril of the country’s already fluctuating economy. While this helped North Korea to maintain its Stalinist rule in a short term, in a long term it furthered the ineffective nature of North Korean economy caused by an enormous military expenditure, poorly-planned economic policies, and Kim Il-Sung’s intent to keep his country more as self-reliant as possible to preserve his monopoly of power. Following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc by the year 1991, the North Korean economy started deteriorating due to the lack of foreign trade –which provided virtually all foreign capital in the nation besides a small amount sent from Chosen Soren, a pro-Pyongyang organization based in Japan that is suspected have taken part in abducting Japanese citizens into North Korea. This is during this time period where Kim Jong-Il, the son of Kim Il-Sung assumed power from his father then started imposing even more isolationist policy of his own in his attempt to preserve the political status quo. Within this light, North Korea’s desperation could be also seen in its hasty nuclear development, in an attempt to have both a deadly threat and a viable bargain weapon with the outside world without letting the North Korean populace to start questioning the legitimacy of the rigid Stalinist regime through outwards access.

Given the incompatible nature of North Korea’s regime we have observed thus far, one could naturally suggest that there is a vast array of reasons one could suggest why North Korea will collapse in not a distant future. One of such reasons is North Korea’s economic reality, which is barely sustaining itself by “unconditional” aids from China and South Korea. The lack of food resources and resulting famine is a serious concern in North Korea since early 1990s, while not a substantial improvement was made from Pyongyang’s Politburo. The leadership of North Korea, meanwhile, is more concerned in preserving its seat as an authoritarian ruler of the nation, as any substantial open-door policy –especially at this point– will immediately let the populace question the legitimacy of the communist leadership, thus creating an atmosphere where reversal of the status quo is possible in any occasions.

Hereby the current governance of North Korea faces a serious dilemma: whether to preserve the current system under the Juche ideology that has no chance of improving North Korea’s economic conditions while relying upon occasional aids provided by China and South Korea, or to impose an open-door policy to save North Korea from itself, a move that will put leaders of North Korea a severe crisis of legitimacy. One must also consider a fact that if the current dismal economic conditions become prolonged for a long period of time, there will be good potential where there will be inner conflict within North Korea to transform the leadership to one that is capable of resolving North Korea’s diplomatic status and economic difficulty at least to a certain extent.

Another major factor that could contribute to the downfall of current North Korean leadership is its diplomatic status where North Korea caused itself to be left with arguably no reliable allies. One could argue that as a communist nation, the Kim Dynasty might still have strong ties with its Chinese counterpart. This assumption, however, is misleading, as North Korea’s relationship with China has deteriorated over time due to a number of causes. One of those reasons is North Korea’s unwillingness to comply with what Beijing demands, especially in terms of its pursuit of nuclear weapon and military strength for aggressive warfare disregarding China’s warning not to do so. This, without a doubt, poses a serious threat to the neighboring countries of the communist rogue state, while also aggravating Beijing’s intent to utilize North Korea as its buffer zone without being a threat to China itself. After the North Korean nuclear experiment in October 2006, China was one of the first nations to condemn Pyongyang’s decision to engage in such attempts. With this in regard, the Pyongyang Politburo will have to be prepared to face China’s reluctance to help the Hermit Kingdom in case of conflict with the western world, especially when such problem was generated by North Korea’s ongoing nuclear problems.

Throughout this essay, we have observed the reasons why North Korea’s status quo will be put on the verge of collapse for a wide variety of reasons. One major factor, of course, would be a potential crisis of legitimacy once North Korea attempts to save itself from a seemingly endless economic downfall, which seems to hardly improve despite economic aids from China and South Korea. Pyongyang, therefore, is bound to be rather reluctant towards any kind of openness, while the continuation of the status quo –along with North Korea’s brinkmanship diplomacy– will further global pressure on North Korea and could result in a massive warfare that could be a major geopolitical catastrophe in the East Asian region. At the same time, one potential major factor during the collapse would be People’s Republic of China, as Beijing would like to preserve North Korea as its buffer zone against the mounting western pressures, as seen by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, all of which retain close ties to the United States. This, I believe, means that while the collapse of the current leadership in North Korea seems inevitable at some point, there shall be a considerable degree of mutual compromise between the two sides should there be peace and stability in the East Asian region, though possible aftermath like a rapid reunification of the peninsula may pose a colossal geopolitical catastrophe at the peril of the region’s stability.

This essay is essentially an expansion of a final project I did for a class I took in a college here in the United States. Everyone in the United States -amongst those who bother to be concerned about his country’s stature in a near future- talks about the rise of European Union or People’s Republic of China, whereby people hardly are aware of the rise of a new diplomatic paradigm amongst the nations the Goldman-Sachs institution dubbed as BRIC- Brazil, Russia, India and China. On the center of such transformation was Putin’s Russia, whose influence within these nations is surprisingly high due to its abundant possession of petroleum -arguably the world’s most talked-about raw material in recent years. Russia’s transition from its constant attempt to become a member of a small clique of the western world to its current form of diplomacy, I observe, was at least in part accelerated by the western intent not to include Russia in its group as shown in the ongoing expansion of NATO* and the European Union. With this in regard, I’d like to address in this essay how these nations have formed an impressive degree of mutual collaboration within a short period of time -the BRIC thesis came out in 2003- and how an alliance of these nations would become a formidable world power in not a distant future and thus become a major counterpart against the current dominance of the United States in the contemporary global geopolitics- presumably more so than the rather fluctuating European Union.

*NATO began as an alliance of non-Communist Nations in Europe and North America in an attempt to contain the communist military behind the Iron Curtain. As of 2008 –about two decades after the end of the Cold War– the NATO includes a greater amount of member states and military power than ever.

Note: This essay could be subject to an ongoing modification.

The Rise of BRIC Nations and How This Will Reshape World’s Geopolitics in a Near Future – And Why the United States Must Care

For almost half a century following the aftermath of the World War II, the global hegemony was divided between two factions: one was the “free world” led by the United States and the British Empire,[i] the western wing of the victorious Allied Powers, while the other being the Communist Bloc spearheaded by the Soviet Union and Communist China. The world order as it was known during the Cold War era, however, went through a massive amount of changes after the breakdown of the Communist Bloc and ultimately the Soviet Union that occurred between 1989 and 1991. The Russian Federation, a non-communist reincarnation of the RSFSR within the Soviet Union, assumed the role as a major world power from its Bolshevik counterpart. For much part of the 1990s, the newly-born Russian Federation attempted to recreate its image as a legitimate member of the western world. Some of such attempts proved successful to an extent, as seen in the Russian entry in the Group of Seven (now G8), which was initially meant to be a forum of influential nations within the western world.

Furthermore, many Russian politicians started pointing that while Russia seemed to pioneer a more constructive relationship with the west through its participation in the G8, the western world in reality put effort to mount a greater geopolitical pressure to Russia, as seen in the entry of former Communist Bloc nations (e.g. Poland, Czech Republic, and the Baltic States to name a few) into NATO, a military alliance that was designed as the western counterpart to the Warsaw Pact, which went defunct for nearly two decades. To counter such pressures, Russia has aligned with the People’s Republic of China, another non-western member of the United Nations’ Security Council. At the same time, Russia’s economic dependence towards the western world with its burgeoning oil industry could be alleviated through realignment with other emerging economies across the world, as vividly seen in a recent Goldman-Sachs thesis known as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and the PRC). In this essay, indeed, I would like to present the course of Russia’s disillusion from its involvement in G8 and an attempt to assimilate in the western world in general -that resulted in the rise of Putin and current “Strong Russia” agenda, and how this could result in a diplomatic realignment as predicted by Goldman-Sachs’ BRIC thesis, which projected that a mutual collaboration between these states will be “inevitable” in not a distant future.

Russia’s pro-western initiatives practically began with Yeltsin’s takeover of power in 1991. Many speculated that such cooperation with the west was necessary, as Russia, formerly the largest command economy in the world, was now obliged to transform itself into a free market economy in order to survive. While the reform itself proved to be a fiasco, Yeltsin attempted to implement yet another policy that would strengthen the ties between the western world and the Russian Federation, namely the Russian membership in the G8, then known as the Group of Seven. The G7, as mentioned earlier, was initially created as an international forum between the world’s major industrial democratic polities. Henceforth, it was viewed by many –amongst both western and Russian politicians– that such a transition would accelerate the Russian effort to integrate itself into the western world, whereas the alliance of established western industrial powers will obtain an undisputable hegemony over the world following the collapse of the Communist Bloc. Nonetheless, the failure of Yeltsin’s economic policies that was largely designed by western economists forced many to reconsider whether the aftermath of such transition would be positive for Russia’s future. Further, the conflict of interest between Russia and the western world with regards to many geopolitical issues surrounding the globe also played a major role in making Russian political leaders to turn skeptical of a further collaboration with the west. Another major concern was Russia’s political system, which many westerners view as somewhat quasi-democratic or not democratic at all. While the western world has been known for its alignment with some of the world’s most loathed dictators in necessary cases, this clearly is an obstacle for Russia and the west to engage in a respectable degree of mutual collaboration. These factors, I observe, are the main causes of the recent split between Russia and the western world as seen in the Putin years, as I will clearly show during the course of this paper.

Before addressing this point, however, I intend to briefly assess the state of the Russian Federation in the years where there was a continuum of endeavor in favor of the westernization of the Russian state. This, I observe, would consolidate our understanding of Russia’s eventual skepticism on cooperation with the western world, thereby offering a better explanation regarding why a diplomatic realignment as projected by the BRIC thesis could occur in a near future.

In the initial stage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Russian Federation, the west generally believed that a rapid transition towards free market economy would work for Russia, as it did –or seemed to– work in many former members of the Communist Bloc, including Poland and Czech Republic. Behind this was the reality of western politics at the time, which hailed the kind of ideology embraced by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as a viable alternative to a form of social democracy that lasted for decades in these countries, more popularly known as the Postwar Consensus. It did not, however, fare so well in Russia for a number of reasons. For the first if not foremost reason, we could cite the hasty implementation of neoliberal-oriented “Shock Therapy” into the Russian economic structure. Throughout the course of modern history, it became apparent that the implantation of western political or economic structure without adequate preparation beforehand could result in an utter catastrophe in regard to both the development of the nation itself and the well-being of its citizens, as perhaps most vividly seen in a vast array of African states that became independent in the latter half of the 20th Century. Despite proving itself to be a formidable political and economic superpower during the Soviet era, Russia was extremely prone to such drawbacks from rapid westernization, as proved in the economic disaster of that happened through the grim decade of 1990s. Another major bottleneck was a division of labor within the former Soviet Union that became null and void since the breakdown of the Bolshevik dominion in 1991. This proved to be a disaster to not only minor former Soviet Republics, but to many regions in the Russian Federation, as the rapid privatization of such assets left the collapse of the country’s vast working class populace virtually unchecked. This, in turn, resulted in the breakdown of the potential consumer market in Russia’s newly operated market economy, which –with the ever-growing effect of hyperinflation caused by Yeltsin’s rather clumsy handling on price control– plunged Russia into an unprecedented economic depression that plagued the Yeltsin Administration till its very end.

Despite such setbacks, Russia remained as a respectable world power throughout the 1990s, perhaps owing to its vast nuclear arsenal from the Soviet era bolstered by its status as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Thus, there was a series of attempts to groom Russia into the prestigious Group of Seven throughout the 1990s, most notably by the United States President Bill Clinton. The Russian Federation became an official member of the G8 in 1997, which –to an extent– seemed to prove that Russia was now a member of an exclusive group of major western industrial powerhouses. For the western world, Russia’s entry into the G8 meant the expansion of the sphere of influence of the market economy. Some even speculated that the inclusion of Russia into such an exclusive group would lead to the emergence of the United States as a sole superpower across the globe, as no other member of the nation did not seem to possess any chance to eclipse the United States, which was hailed as the leader of the “free world” for a long period of time, in its military and economic powers.[ii] The age of reconciliation between Russia and the western world fell short, however, for several reasons. These reasons are what I intend to present in the latter part of this essay.

Behind the Russia’s admittance to the G8, there was a rather naïve assumption on the western part that Yeltsin and the Russian Federation was a democratic successor of the oppressive Soviet regime, which was, of course, quite distant from reality. On the other side of the coin, Russia and its leaders had intended to reassert Russia’s geopolitical influence in the Soviet era once domestic affairs became stabilized. Russia also had to be cautious towards the growing insurgency within its own borders following the independence of various ethnic groups after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as vividly seen in the Chechnya crisis that nearly annihilated Yeltsin’s image as a democratic liberator in the eyes of the western populace. The Russian Federation’s skeptical attitude towards the Chechen independence and a subsequent war, though condemned by the west, is somewhat understandable from Russian standpoint, as a lax reaction towards such movement may have resulted in a series of violent uprising across the country that could have transformed this minor disorder into a full-scale chaos. Conversely, the western criticism of Russia’s decision to wage a war against Chechnya –which, from a Russian perspective, could be seen as a mere act to stabilize the already fluctuating nation– made many Russians question its alignment with the west, as the western world now seemed to be a threat to Russia’s domestic tranquility, not a reliable partner for mutual coexistence and prosperity.

Another major factor that brought many Russian politicians into the brink was the ongoing expansion of the NATO, beginning in 1997 when the NATO invited Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland[iii]. A notable fact besides an expansion itself is that these nations –along with most if not all of the subsequent new members of the NATO– were formerly under the Soviet sphere of influence, whereby these nations aligning themselves with the western powers could also pose a direct threat to Russia’s status as a major player in the world politics. During the course of such events, a horde of formerly pro-western Russian politicians became increasingly skeptical of their views, with two of whom being the current President Vladimir Putin and the President-elect Dmitry Medvenev. With this in regard, one could as well argue that Putin’s reconstruction of a military state in Russia was based upon fear and uncertainty on the part of the Russian populace regarding Russia’s stature as a global world power in the 21st Century, a concern Putin and his proteges in the Duma did manage to address following their rise to power about a decade ago.

It shall be noted that a sign which showed that Yeltsin was hardly a liberal democrat could be seen as early as 1993, when he dissolved the democratically-elected Parliament to issue what is now known as the Constitution of 1993, which significantly extended the rights of a president, including the rights to dissolve the Parliament –now known as the State Duma– if necessary. Nonetheless, many believed that as Russia still preserved some aspects of democracy and is a newly-born nation, as seen in the Presidential Election of 1996, where Yeltsin once again proved himself as a somewhat legitimate democratic leader through his victory in the election. One could also observe that perhaps some of the western leaders feared a potential for a Communist thermidor if there was not any support towards Yeltsin, as the most formidable opponent of Yeltsin at the time was the Communist Party of the Russian Federation led by Gennady Zyuganov. Further, the inclusion of Russia in what was formerly seen as a consortium exclusively within the western world have arguably increased the group’s legitimacy as a group of the world’s major economic and political powers, as one Russian journalist stated in a recent source.[iv] Even this journalist, however, agrees on a fact that there has been a series of disagreements between Russia and practically the rest of the G8 regarding many if not most geopolitical issues across the world. That includes the deployment of strategic missiles in former Communist Bloc states –of which are now members of the NATO– as clearly seen in the recent Bush-Putin summit in Sochi, and Russia’s continuing alignment with People’s Republic of China –currently its most reliable ally–[v] in the United Nations’ Security Council.

In the meantime, the mutual trust between the west and the Russian Federation further deteriorated during the Kosovo War of 1999. The conflict in Kosovo erupted from an internal disorder within the former Yugoslavia that many speculated was bound to happen at some point following the collapse of the Communist Bloc. From the moment of its creation, Yugoslavia was a rather unstable multiethnic nation that was held together by a charismatic yet ruthless leader, Josip Broz Tito. Thus, after a series of events that saw a rapid change in world order spearheaded by the fall of the Soviet Union, the old Yugoslavia became rapidly disintegrated, giving birth to a number of nation states that refused to remain loyal to the artificial state[vi] that had endured decades of internal grievance through Tito’s leadership and the presence of Soviet influence. Despite the Serbian[vii] aggression in some of these countries that persisted throughout the early half of the 1990s,[viii] these republics secured their independence within relatively short period of time. The ethnic minorities within the remaining Serbian realm, however, were not as fortunate, as they were now put under an iron-fist control by the leader of the remnant of the former Yugoslavia, a Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic. The conflict itself, however, did not seem to strain the relationship between Russia and the western world until NATO, a predominantly[ix] western military alliance, decided to impose military action on the Federated Republic of Yugoslavia. The western world –especially the United States– viewed the attack as justifiable, as the NATO military operation began only after the alleged humanitarian crisis in Kosovo became apparent. For the west, therefore, its intervention was an endeavor to stop a large-scale massacre committed by the oppressive Serbian regime, not a menacing reminiscent of western imperialism under the disguise of justice.

The non-western members of the United Nations Security Council, however, viewed the attack as an example of a vivid display of arrogance of power, as the NATO’s aggression flatly disregarded the decision made by the Security Council not to intervene. In addition, the former Yugoslavia was largely under the Soviet sphere of influence[x] till the collapse of the Communist Bloc, whereby a NATO military operation in this area meant Russia’s status as a major world power was fluctuating. In his attempt to address such concerns, Yeltsin clearly stated in the wake of the conflict that there could be a full-scale war between Russia and the west if there shall be a NATO aggression in Kosovo.[xi] While this never happened, Russia still chose to involve itself throughout the conflict, assuming the role as a mediator between the NATO and the Serbs. Russia initially achieved some success in convincing Milosevic to withdraw troops from Kosovo, thus ensuring non-NATO occupation of the area following the Serbian withdrawal.

Nonetheless, the relationship between Moscow and the west once again suffered during the occupation of Kosovo by multinational forces including Russian troops, as the NATO command attempted to control all members of the coalition including the regions with Russian garrison. Outraged, Russian troops started acting on its own, even disrupting operations of NATO troops on multiple occasions.[xii] The NATO command, however, was not willing to give up exercising its rights as a chief coordinator of the occupation. At this point of time, the split between Moscow and the western world became more obvious than ever, to a degree where Russian delegation in G8 openly disagreed with the rest of the member states regarding the Kosovo issue.[xiii] Russia, which was opposed to the western intervention in Kosovo from the very beginning, became severely disgruntled with the west and started seeking an alternative answer to its foreign policy.[xiv] Amid such disillusion came Vladimir Putin, then the Prime Minister who assumed the role as President of the Russian Federation after Yeltsin’s unexpected resignation in December 31, 1999. As the new leader of Russia, Putin’s chief platform was “strong Russia,” the phrase that reflected Russia’s fallout with the western world and a sign for a new paradigm in terms of Moscow’s directions in its foreign policies.

Besides the failure of neoliberal-inspired economic reform and a series of diplomatic crises, the discordance between Russia and the western world throughout the 1990s largely owed to the vast difference of value system between the leadership and perhaps the populous of the west and the Russian Federation, despite the Russian attempt to integrate itself into the established, capitalistic west. Perhaps, the most vivid contrasts were made during the conflict in Chechnya and Kosovo. In these conflicts, one of the main rationales behind the western causes was “human rights,” which was to an extent a valid concern. It did not, however, consider what could happen if Russia did not make the kind of decisions it made, especially in the Chechen crisis where Russia could have been disintegrated had Moscow chosen not to take a tough stand.[xv] As a matter of fact, Putin, with his tough stance on Chechnya, proved himself to be more compatible in running a “War on Terrorism” when compared to his counterparts in Pentagon, whose incredibly expensive and prolonged attempt in Iraq hardly put down any potential terrorist threat to the United States. Similar case could be made on the war in Kosovo, where the NATO decided to attack Serbia in a hardly multilateral manner, a move that could have provoked Russia into a war by a direct perception of threat. After these years, it became apparent that Russia and the west do not exactly adhere to the same kind of philosophy behind its governance, whereby a new school of thought that would differentiate Russia from its western counterparts became under a heavy demand. One school of thought became immensely popular during this era. This school of thought was called Eurasianism,[xvi] which insisted that Russia never was a purely European nation, whereby its identity as a nation is quite distant from a western standard. Such philosophy played a major role for Russia to seek a new diplomatic alignment besides its involvement in the G8 and its not-so-successful attempt throughout the 1990s to assimilate in the western world.

There were, however, a number of problems to be addressed before Russia could make such a large-scale diplomatic realignment. One of such problems was the lack of potential partners besides People’s Republic of China and a handful of former Soviet nations. The western world led by the United States was perceived to be the sole superpower of the new world order at the time, while an alliance consisted of just Russia and China was not thought to become a formidable counterpart of the western alliance. Another major concern stemmed from the structure of Russian economy, whose export heavily relied upon raw materials, especially oil. This, in turn, made Russia somewhat economically dependent towards the west, as these countries constituted the region where there was a substantial amount of consumer market that required a large amount of raw materials –especially oil– to meet the demands from its domestic market. In recent years, however, Russia was capable of distancing itself from the western circle and making a certain degree of progress in befriending countries outside the west. How could that happen despite the obstacles stated above in such a short amount of time? There is a variety of answers that could be offered to this question, yet the one of the key reasons this could happen was a relatively new paradigm that was theorized in a recent Goldman-Sachs thesis, commonly known as BRIC.

First introduced in 2003, the BRIC thesis argues that Brazil, Russia, India, and the People’s Republic of China are the world’s emerging economic powerhouses, with Brazil and Russia specializing in natural resources and India and China having an expertise in manufacturing industry. Though dismissed by some as a mere list of countries with recent economic breakthrough, there have been a considerable amount of signs where the concept –and mutual collaboration between each BRIC state– is real. And on the center of such paradigm was Vladimir Putin, the man who also is a chief architect of the current Russian system whose capabilities in most fields vastly supercedes its predecessor led by Boris Yeltsin. While we will discuss this aspect of the BRIC thesis subsequently, let us briefly assess the economic achievements these countries have made during recent years.

The cases where the BRIC nations proved themselves the world’s emerging economies could be most clearly shown in the private sector, as the BRIC thesis itself was developed in Wall Street, not the Capitol Hill. The British Telecommunications Group,[xvii] for instance, emphasizes the potential of these countries in terms of their capability to adjust themselves in technological progress to a greater degree than established nations, while showing avid interest in working with these nations as part of the company’s venture.[xviii] The recent outsourcing of information technology firms to India must rank high among actual cases where the BRIC nations started playing a huge role in global economy, as an incredibly large portion of private enterprises from developed nations flocked into India looking for an effective, yet more affordable manpower. Outsourcing industries, most notably in the field of information technology, is also burgeoning in Russia to a limited degree.[xix]

The rapid development of these nations, however, brought in the necessity for them to find sources for adequate amount of natural resources to sustain their recent economic growth, on which their western investors are not always so sympathetic with. A recent example of such cooperative act between the BRIC nations was a joint effort made by China’s China National Petroleum Corporation and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in their bid to obtain a $573 million worth of oilfields formerly owned by a firm in Canada, a member state of the G8, in December 2005.[xx] At a similar timescale, the Russian president Vladimir Putin put forth endeavor to cement the cooperation between BRIC states during the nationalization of Yukos, the largest oil producer in Russia, through offering assets from the defunct company to the fellow BRIC states, especially China and India.[xxi] From the Russian standpoint, the construction of such alliance will help the country not only in economic means, but in terms of Russia’s political stature across the globe as well, as Russia is in dire need of finding a group of formidable allies to counter the loss of the former Communist Bloc and the mounting pressure from the ever-growing western political alliance spearheaded by NATO. The other BRIC nations, on the other hand, need natural resources a la oil to sustain their fast-growing industries. In an era where many observe that there is a tense competition between countries looking for natural resources, an amicable relationship with Russia would serve as a ticket for these nations to avoid future shortage of such needs. Even the United States -which produces a sizable amount of petroleum by itself and thus did not have much problems in gas price control- has lately experienced a stunning disaster in ensuring enough amount of oil to stabilize its prices in domestic market. With this in regard, Russia’s possession of vast amount of oil –one of the key resources of the 21st century in terms of economic and political bargains– could make Russia a key player in coordinating a collective political agenda by the BRIC nations, as this would make the other states in the BRIC thesis to rely upon Russia in terms of oil without pressure or competition from the west, while Russia, in turn, receive support from these nations in terms of a vast array of geopolitical issues concerning Russia’s interests.

From we could observe from the events above, the realization of a somewhat political entity between the countries in the BRIC thesis is already in progress. Before we move on to conclusion, however, let us shortly assess the geopolitical reasons why this alliance will persist for a long period of time. Besides the economic rationale behind the political and economic agreements we have observed, there are some fundamental reasons why an alliance between BRIC nations will be further solidified as time goes on. One major factor we shall look over is the political status of Russia and the People’s Republic of China, who now seem to have common goal in their attempt to prevent a full hegemony of global geopolitics by the western circle.[xxii] This, as I mentioned earlier, is especially true in Russia’s case, because of Russia’s visible marginalization from the G8 and its undeniable reduction in sphere of influence following the collapse of the Communist Bloc. Even from the Chinese standpoint, Beijing would be aware of the need to sustain itself from its rapid growth that has lasted for decades, with one of the top priorities being securing a large amount of natural resources including petroleum. China’s effort to meet such goals could be seen also in its collaboration with India in their joint acquisition of Syrian oil assets, which also cemented India’s involvement in the collaborative process between the four nations mentioned in the BRIC thesis. China also is in need of a neighboring political alliance facing a group of pro-American nations surrounding it, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Further, the geopolitical -let alone China’s vast line of production of manufactured goods in our everyday lives- the amount of tensions between China and the west is soaring day after day, as seen in Summer Olympics of Beijing, where many westerners -including the relatively conservative German chancellor Angela Merkel- have openly refused to celebrate an Olympic held in what they perceive as a rigid, oppressive polity. While Brazil and India do not have much of their self-interest directly at stake in these issues, they were never treated as a full member of the established circle of industrialized nations, whereby the realization of an alliance between the BRIC nations will be good for their self-interest as well, given these countries’ need for a reliable supplier of natural resources and inability to become a full-fledged member of the western establishment.

After the collapse of its former incarnation the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has gone through a series of setbacks and recoveries in terms of both its economic strength and political stature across the globe, with most of decline coming during the Yeltsin Years and a surprising degree of recovery occuring under Putin’s leadership. In its early years, Russia tried to become a legitimate member of the club of western industrialized nations as seen in its involvement in the G8, which seemed to consolidate Russia’s new image as a democratic successor of the former Soviet Union. There was, however, a vast array of obstacles in this way that neither Russia nor the west could perceive at the beginning that ultimately doomed the Russian effort to join the western rank. The major factors behind this failure included the clash of self-interest between Moscow and its western counterpart in terms of geopolitical issues as seen in the expansion of NATO and Kosovo War, the miserable fiasco of western-advised economic reform during the Yeltsin years, the Russian distrust towards the west after the western reaction towards the Chechen crisis, and an enormous gap of values between the two side in terms of political philosophy[xxiii]. True, Russia, to a certain degree, did manage to exert its influence in the G8 as the only non-western[xxiv] delegation in what was formerly a club of developed western nations. The increasing pressure by the ever-expanding NATO and the continuing discordance with the west, however, obliged Russia to search for a major diplomatic shift to balance the status quo and –to an extent– reclaim its stature as a successor state of the Soviet Union. First published in 2003, the BRIC thesis by the Goldman-Sachs institution in 2003 offered Russia a clear blueprint on what kind of realignment should it make after over a decade of disillusion from the ill-fated diplomacy with the western world. It’s a popular rationale amongst the western conservative circle to take the example of Nelville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler to display how appeasement towards a bully does not work. From the Russian standpoint, indeed, Moscow’s friendly approach towards the west during the 1990s could be seen as the Chamberlain of their own, whilst Putin being their Winston Churchill- with Churchill being the fearless leader of the Britons who repelled and defeated the Nazi war machine and Putin the savior of the Russian might from the mounting pressure of western imperialism. The BRIC thesis projected that Russia and Brazil will be chief raw material providers while China and India dominating the manufacturing industry, which proved incredibly accurate when compared with recent actual events. While the realization of mutual collaboration between the nations in the BRIC thesis is still an ongoing event, there has been an immense degree of progress in terms of a sense of mutual collaboration between these nations, as seen in joint-bidding of Syrian oil assets by Chinese and Indian firms and Putin’s willingness to redistribute the oil fields from the defunct Yukos to the fellow BRIC nations.

As of far, Russia’s realignment with the countries listed in the BRIC thesis became realized to an incredible degree within a short period of time, even though the thesis was published only in 2003. One must remind him/herself that, however, Russia’s diplomatic transition with the BRIC nations is a very recent phenomenon that shouldn’t be hastily judged at this point of time, as I write this essay only five years after the BRIC phenomenon began. While it remains unclear[xxv] what the future of the current mutual collaboration between the nations in the BRIC thesis would be, I project that the current bond between the nations in the BRIC thesis will persist, as these nations will be in need of each other to establish themselves as a formidable world power outside of the western world, which continues to attempt to expand its sphere of influence over the world to this day. In the earlier years of its history, the Russian Federation suffered from its conflict with NATO and the western world as a whole. Given such struggle, it would be hard to believe if Russia was not looking for an alternative ally beside this, as Russia would never let its geopolitical influence slide when there is an option to prevent such from happening, namely a formidable alignment outside the western world that now seems to be in Russia’s grasp. The realization of an alliance between the BRIC nations will pose a serious threat to the dominance of the United States and NATO in the world’s current geopolitic dynamics, which in turn will force the United States to rethink its current diplomatic stance that has remained largely unchanged since the end of the Cold War and the creation of new world order accordingly.
i] Even though I see nothing “free” about Southern United States under Jim Crow laws and colonial subjects of the British Empire, especially when they’re not Anglo-Saxon (See Also: Irish Independence Wars).
ii] At least until the solidification of the European Union and the rise of People’s Republic of China. The United States now will have to once again confront a formidable opponent –or two– of its size in a not very distant future.
[iii] All of which are former members of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact.
iv] Lukyanov, Fyodor. The Moscow Times, 06/06, 2007. G8 Membership as an Exercise in Legitimacy.
True, this writer seems to remain silent with regard to Russia’s political structure, yet he does offer a valid point regarding what aspects attracted Russia to join the G8, or what merits the former G7 had to invite Russia into its membership
[v] Although historically, these two often did not get along (See Also: Sino-Soviet Split)
[vi] The “artificial state,” I believe, is a very appropriate term to describe the former Yugoslavia. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the predecessor to its communist counterpart, was hastily formed as a merger of the south-Slavic part of the fallen Austria-Hungary Empire and the formerly independent kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro. The term “Yugoslavia” means “nation of southern Slavs (Yugo [south]-Slavia). The pan-Slavic sentiment within (I didn’t fancy with Russia, so I do believe this notion of pan-Slavism is appropriate) southern Slavs must rank high among this rather tenuous unification, as the founders of this ill-fated nation –essentially a handful of noble intelligentsia– never saw a series of conflicts between the south Slavic (or shall we say, “Yugoslavic”) ethnicities coming after the country’s creation.”
[vii] At this point, a country still known as “Yugoslavia” merely consisted of the territories of Serbia and Montenegro.
[viii] As seen in the Bosnian War and Croatian War of Independence (both lasted till 1995.)
[ix] Predominantly, not entirely. Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, which are hardly “western” in its traditional means, became members of NATO in the wake of the western bombings of Serbia and Montenegro.
[x] Though Yugoslavia did not take part in Warsaw Pact and was hesitant in playing a substantial role in COMECON, an economic organization of communist states.
[xi] Yeltsin warns of possible world war over Kosovo, CNN, April 9, 1999.h
[xii] Karon, Tony. Mightily Miffed, Moscow Draws a Line in the Mud, TIME Magazine, June 14, 1999.

[xiii] This, I observe, has been a regular pattern for years now. No wonder many choose to call G8 “Group of Seven and Russia” instead
[xiv] Kosovo remains to be a hot potato with regards to relations between Russia and the west to this day. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, a plea that was recognized by all members of the G8 but Russia. Russia, China and many nations aligned with these two do not recognize the independence of Kosovo to this day (5/1, 2008)
[xv] Not that it is justifiable for Russian troops and pro-Moscow Chechen paramilitary organizations in some inhumane acts they did engage in.
[xvi] Or “Neo-Eurasianism,” to be more precise
[xvii] Formerly known as British Telecom. The company name changed following a privatization process in 1984.
[xviii] The British Telecommunication Group, BRICs driven by innovation
Note: Due to the recent nature of BRIC issues, the internet database proved to be the most reliable source regarding news that is related to this topic. At least I don’t use Wikipedia.
[xix] Russia’s IT Boom, Outsourcing-Russia/Russoft.org. http://www.russoft.org/docs/?doc=1295</
xx] Basu, Indrajit. China Business, Asia Times Online, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/GL22Cb06.html
[xxi] Chadda, Sudhir. Putin leads BRIC alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and plays oil trump card – some Russian Yukos oil assets for China and India, India Daily, January 4, 2005, http://www.indiadaily.com/editorial/01-04f-05.asp
[xxii] Or the former G7, if you would
[xxiii] For instance, the western puts priority in human rights and full-fledged democracy, whilst Russian politicians –sometimes correctly– believed that if such practice takes place in the post-Soviet Russian context, the Federation could break apart altogether. Had Moscow been soft on Chechen insurgency, for instances, there was no guarantee whether other ethnic minorities within Russia could launch a similar disorder in numerous areas within Russian borders
[xxiv] While Japan is not technically western, its 52-year-straight ruling party agrees with vast majority of decisions made by other western members of the G8 in most occasions
[xxv] One reason why I prefer could over would.