First Published: The Guardian, May 5, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What is China’s view of the world today? Few Americans are as well equipped to answer this question as William Hinton, national chairman of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association. Hinton, who has lived and worked in China and authored several books about the country, engaged in many conversations about China’s world view when he and nine other members of the association’s steering committee visited Peking last fall. The following interview with Hinton was published last week in the March-April issue of China and Us, publication of the association’s New York chapter.
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Did you discuss questions of foreign policy [during your visit]?
Yes, we had some extensive exchanges on the world situation and China’s foreign policy. These discussions were off the record. We cannot quote our hosts but there is no reason not to sum up in our own words the understanding that we gained.
We asked about war–can a third world war be prevented? The thinking in China is that short of revolution in the U.S. and the USSR, a third world war is inevitable. The people of the world can take measures that may delay war but as long as these two great powers–the American and the Russian– exist in their present form and contend for dominance, war is bound to come. Detente is an illusion, a smoke screen that covers up underlying stark reality–an arms buildup leading to war.
How soon do they think war will break out?
The thinking in Peking seems to be: in three to five years, war is unlikely; in 10 years, it is a possibility, if one thinks in terms of a 30-year period (the time that has elapsed since World War 2), it is likely to be sooner rather than later. Another 30 years without world war? Impossible.
Does world war mean nuclear war?
Not necessarily. The feeling is that a major world war might well be fought with conventional arms. Even a nuclear war will not destroy mankind. “Mankind will destroy the bomb, the bomb will not destroy mankind.” At least half the human race will survive. War will hasten revolution and revolution will solve problems that have long been unsolved.
Isn’t that whistling in the dark?
Well, regardless of the price to be paid, fear will not help at all. War is coming. The people of the world must be prepared. Those who are prepared will fare better. It is no use at all to be afraid. Furthermore, problems will be solved, in spite of the intentions of those who instigate war.
How could a war on such a scale begin?
Certainly not with a major strike by one superpower against the other. The Russians are not likely to attack the United States directly. Two previous world wars have begun at unlikely times in out of the way places. The third world war will probably begin in the same way–say, a thrust by the Russians in the Middle East. Then an American counterblow that escalates the conflict. At some point the Russians will push on Europe. Once they do they can reach the channel in a few days. If they did not take England, the Americans may hold back hoping to involve the Russians in an attack on China. Should that happen, once both combatants exhausted themselves, America could step in and impose a Pax Americana. This scenario, adventuristic in the extreme, is fancied by some American leaders. It could easily lead to disaster because, once in control of Europe, the USSR would be difficult to dislodge.
Do the Chinese consider the two superpowers to be equal dangers to the people of the world?
Not any more. There was a period when the superpowers were seen as more or less equal enemies threatening not only the emerging nations of the third world, but also the independence of the lesser industrial nations of the second world. What China called for them was a worldwide united front against the two superpowers. “Mobilize the third world, unite with all those forces of the second world willing to struggle and oppose the two superpowers.” Today, there is still a major contradiction between the peoples of the world and the two superpowers, but as between the two superpowers, one–the Soviet Union–is more dangerous than the other. It is, in fact the main danger confronting the whole world today. So now a more appropriate slogan would be “Mobilize the third world, unite all the forces of the second world willing to struggle, neutralize the United States and strike the main blow at the Soviet Union.” China judges world leaders by how well they understand this new relationship of forces. Thus they prefer Heath to Wilson, Strauss to Brandt and Schlesinger to Kissinger.
If the Soviet Union is the main danger, isn’t there some basis for a worldwide united front, even including the United States, against the Soviet Union?
We discussed this at some length while in China. We asked if World War 3 would develop along the lines of World War 1 (an inter-imperialist struggle in which the people had no stake – “neither king nor kaiser”) or along the lines of World War 2 which, in its main phase, saw the creation of a united front of all the world’s nations and people against the Axis powers. The conclusion was that while a united front of all forces against the main danger is not ruled out in the future, the conditions for it do not exist at present.
If the Soviet Union is the main danger, does that mean it is already stronger than the United States?
No. The United States in its total, all around ability to command world resources, to produce and to make war is still considered to be the strongest power, but this strength is limited in many ways and difficult to mobilize. The United States is overextended, it has suffered two major defeats overseas, its imperial ambitions have been exposed before the world’s people and before the people of the U.S. The latter will not readily support overseas adventures in the future. The U.S., in a word, is an empire in decline that cannot easily bring its great strength to bear.
The USSR, on the other hand, is an empire on the make, aggressively seeking a redistribution of the world’s resources, devoting a far larger part of its gross national product to’ armaments than the U.S., an empire, furthermore, that has not been fully exposed to the people of the world or to the Russian people. All these factors, in spite of many serious internal contradictions, make the Soviet Union the most likely to launch a. third world war.
Isn’t this a major reversal of roles?
Yes. The history of China’s relations with the Soviet Union illustrates the shift. Originally there was close unity of outlook and policy between liberated China and the Soviet Union, then still a socialist country. With the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Russia embarked on a capitalist road. Differences arose between the leading parties of the two countries, but unity was still the main content of the relationship. Struggle over these differences played a secondary role at first. Since the differences were irreconcilable, the polemics between the two parties broke into the open in the 1960s. Struggle became primary but unity was still possible on a number of issues, especially foreign policy issues. Since 1972 the situation has developed. Between China and the Soviet Union today there is only all-out struggle. No basis for unity on any major issue exists.
Relations with the U.S. seem to have moved through just the opposite development?
Yes. Obviously during the liberation war in China and the Korean War there was all-out struggle between China and the United States. Since then things have changed and today, while the two countries are in conflict on many fronts, unity is possible on certain specific issues and has in fact developed.
What are these issues?
Such issues as the defense of Japan, the Philippines and Europe. Due to policies that originated with the occupation, Japan does not have adequate defense forces today. Japan is dangerously vulnerable to Soviet attack. The Soviet navy and air force are constantly maneuvering in the Sea of Japan. Until Japan is able to build up adequate defense forces, it is necessary for the Japanese people to continue to rely on the alliance with the United States. Chinese leaders urge all people to be self-reliant and not to depend on anyone else for their basic defense, but the reality of the situation for Japan is that, as of now, its own armed forces are very weak. As long as that is so, it is necessary to maintain a military alliance with the United States.
The same thing holds true for Europe. There is no European country that can stand alone against overt and covert pressure from the Soviet Union. Even if the European countries united, their collective strength would not today be sufficient to hold off a Russian attack. Therefore it is necessary for them to maintain their NATO alliance with the United States. And this will remain a necessity until their own forces have been developed to an adequate level.
The Philippines are demanding that the U.S. vacate its bases one by one. This is a prudent policy. Complete withdrawal would leave the islands vulnerable to Soviet incursion. The Philippines also need time to develop an adequate defense.
Do the Chinese consider Europe to be the main center of conflict?
Yes. A feint to the East covers up an attack in the West. Europe is still central to any plan for world domination. The main prize continues to be Europe and the Russians definitely have in mind control of the whole continent. Three-quarters of their forces are concentrated on the western front and only one quarter on the eastern. Of the quarter in the East only a part has been concentrated against China. The bulk of the forces are there to counter Japan and the United States.
Is China asking the U.S. to stay in Taiwan for similar reasons?
No. A Taiwan united with the mainland would not be defenseless. China is asking the United States to withdraw from Taiwan, abrogate the military defense treaty and break relations of the Chiang regime. This would make possible the reunification of China and also set the stage for normalization of relations between the U.S. and China.
Some American leaders think China will not push hard on the Taiwan issue because of the threat China faces from Russia. The Chinese, on the other hand, think that it is the U.S. that is confronted with a growing threat from Russia. In this developing world situation, the United States cannot, in the long run, allow the issue of Taiwan to stand in the way of normal relations with China. China also supports the unification of Korea now. A precondition for this is an American withdrawal.
What about Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America? Is China expecting continued U.S. intervention in these areas in order to block Russian expansion?
No. What China says is: “While driving the wolf from the front door, one should not allow the tiger to enter through the back door.” In this case the wolf is the U.S. and the tiger is the USSR. The symbols have not been picked at random. Both wolves and tigers are vicious beasts but the tiger is the more dangerous of the two. What China is saying is that people of the third world should conduct their liberation struggles in such a way as to free themselves from all imperialism, not put themselves under the heels of the Russians in their effort to break loose from the Americans. This does not mean the end of national liberation struggles, but only a new context in which the struggles will be played out.
But in Angola didn’t China support the American backed forces and oppose the MPLA?
No. During the liberation struggle against the Portuguese China gave support to all three Angolan independence movements. When the Portuguese withdrew, China urged that they form a coalition. When this coalition was disrupted China stopped all aid and urged that the coalition be reformed. Instead, the MPLA, with Russian arms and Cuban troops, won control of most of Angola. The question raised by China is whether this is really a liberation. How will the Angolans now deal with Russians and Cubans who gave them little help while they were fighting the Portuguese, but poured in arms and men once the Portuguese had been driven out?
In conclusion I want to stress the importance of developing active friendship between the people of China and the United States in the new, fast-changing world situation. Friendship between our two peoples has been of major importance for a long time. It has helped to insure peace between our two nations in spite of the wide divergence in their social systems. It has helped our two governments to take the first steps toward normal relations. It has stimulated the American people to study with sympathy the great social experiment that the Chinese people have embarked upon–an experiment that is challenging the frontiers of history and solving many problems that still plague our own country and the rest of the world. This has opened minds and widened horizons in unexpected ways.
Now this friendship is even more urgent than ever before. The whole world is facing the threat of a third world war forced by the demands of a rising new empire for hegemony. How governments will react is problematical. New Munichs are already in the making. America’s traditional leaders, even when confronted by this lethal threat, will find it very difficult to unite with the wide coalition of popular forces necessary to contain the Soviet threat. These forces are made up primarily of countries that want independence, nations that want liberation and people that want revolution. There is no room here for American hegemony. Will American leaders choose the broad highway of a united resistance, of collective security? Will they try to go it alone? Will they try for a series of deals that can never be stabilized?
Whatever the policy adopted by the U.S. government, if the American people and the Chinese people stand together they can bend the future in their favor.
Friendship between our two peoples–long a question of major importance–has become a matter of life and death. Great objective historical forces are drawing us together. No counterforce in the world is powerful enough to reverse this tide. All members of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, all Americans interested in friendship with China, and all Americans devoted to the survival and healthy growth of our nation as friend and ally to the people of the world should ponder this question and work out the steps that need to be taken in this unprecedented situation.