Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Ota

Aims of Reagan’s China visit thwarted

China sharply criticizes U.S. foreign policy

First Published: Unity, Vol. 7, No. 8, May 11-24, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What is the significance of, or is there any significance to, Reagan’s recent visit to China? Was it just an election-year junket by Reagan, who hoped to improve his peacemaker image or did it have greater significance for world affairs? Why are the Russians so incensed by the trip? What did the Chinese hope to gain from this trip? Has this trip helped or hindered the prospects for world peace, a topic foremost in the minds of the American people in this election year 1984?

Trip highlights world situation

Many presidential or summit visits often merely highlight the existing state of relations between countries and the culmination of trends in development for some time. The three pacts signed during this trip (a two-year accord to renew cultural exchanges; a treaty on the peaceful use of nuclear power, which will allow U.S. companies to bid on nuclear plant projects in China; and a tax treaty which provides rules on the kinds of taxes each country may impose on income earned by corporations within their borders), while significant to certain sectors of the U.S. bourgeoisie, were not earthshaking and certainly did not require Reagan’s personal presence in China to cement.

Rather the trip merely underscored a world situation which had existed for some time. This trip, above all, highlighted the greatly increased tension and rivalry between the two superpowers. Reagan’s attempt to use China as a staging area for verbal attacks on the Soviet Union, and Russian efforts to bully and attack China for even hosting the Reagan visit, illustrate this point.

Unlike 1972 when China was still in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, the United States was seeking to extract itself from its defeat in Viet Nam, and the Soviet Union was skillfully wielding its anti-China club and detente with the United States, the world situation today has changed dramatically. The majority of the countries of the world increasingly see the two superpowers as the source of tension and war and recognize that the path forward should be one of independence and non-alignment.

In this complex international situation, both superpowers are seeking more allies and trying to force third world countries to “take sides” in their drive for hegemony. The U.S. wants to draw China into an anti-Soviet partnership. The Soviets, given their past hostility to China, cannot realistically win China as a partner, but they want China to tone down its forthright condemnations of Soviet aggression. At the least, neither superpower can afford to let China get too close to the other.

All this illustrates the intensified rivalry between the two superpowers and their attempt to reshape international politics into this context. But the trip also placed in sharp relief the difficulty of accomplishing this. The trip demonstrated clearly that China had little interest in being drawn into the inter-superpower rivalry and that world peace can only be helped by efforts of third parties to oppose superpower contention and call for a reduction in international tensions.

Reagan’s purposes for the China trip

Undoubtedly Reagan hoped for election-year mileage out of his trip. The jostling of Republican Party cameramen for the best camera angles throughout his trip attests to that. But it would be too simple to say that Reagan went to China solely for that reason.

Rather, many observers believe that Reagan went to China because the U.S. wants more leverage against the Soviets. Related to that, the U.S. wants friends in the third world, where China plays a prominent role. The attempts by the U.S. to more aggressively defend its empire in the third world have recently met with harsh condemnation around the world, even by U.S. allies.

If these were his aims, it would appear that Reagan fell short of his goals. China made it clear that it has no wish to be an ally of the U.S., nor would it be used as a pawn in the rivalry between the two superpowers. China refused to allow its soil to be used by the U.S. to attack Moscow. In addition, China, in the words of Newsweek magazine, was “scathing” in its denunciation of U.S. policies in Central America. Almost the only points on which the U.S. and China could agree were that the Soviet Union should remove its troops from Afghanistan, and that Viet Nam should end its occupation of Kampuchea.

Reagan also had on his mind the U.S. economy, which remains far from healthy. The U.S. still needs new markets, and Reagan was worried about the decline in U.S.-China trade after 1981. That is why the U.S. was so eager to sign the nuclear energy pact with China, clearing the way for up to $10 billion in sales over the next decade or so. China needs the technology, for energy is one of the bottlenecks in the modernization drive, but China still has the option of buying technology from Europe or Japan, rather than the U.S. The U.S. needed the pact just to keep its foot in the door.

The Soviet response

Like the U.S., the Soviets see the world in relation to their competition with the other superpower. If a country is not in Moscow’s camp, the Soviets feel they must be on the side of the U.S. They have little tolerance for independent and non-aligned forces. Both the U.S. and the Soviets try to take advantage of anti-hegemonist struggles directed against the other superpower.

During Reagan’s trip, they were reduced to sputters of indignation. In an unsigned commentary in the Soviet News Agency Tass entitled “Regarding Reagan’s Visit to China,” they attacked China for equating the aggressive actions of the U.S. in the Middle East and Central America with Soviet actions in Afghanistan and Indochina. The Tass commentary was filled with distortions of China’s positions claiming that China did not sufficiently attack U.S. policy around the. world, despite much evidence to the contrary.

The Soviet Union would like to bully China back into its so-called, self-proclaimed “socialist camp” and continue its rivalry with the U.S. undeterred by independent third forces. But China stands in Moscow’s way, because it gives encouragement to other third world and non-aligned countries that desire to remain independent of both superpowers.

A “change” in Chinese attitude towards the U.S.?

The bourgeois press in the United States has made much about a supposed change in China’s stand towards the U.S. Commentators speculate that since the U.S. is stepping up its confrontation with the Soviet Union, China now has the “luxury” of “equidistancing” itself between the two. This presupposes that China used to be a part of an “alliance” with the U.S. and that now China is attempting to hew to a more independent path.

This is patently absurd. While China has adjusted some tactical aspects of its international policies, its fundamental stance has remained consistent. Despite distortions generated by the Western bourgeois press and outright lies fabricated by the Soviet KGB seeking to paint China as having abandoned revolutionary principles to side with the U.S., China has consistently stood by proletarian internationalist principles. Tactical adjustments were made during different periods, but these were due primarily to different developments and changes in the objective situation.

The international situation in the past 12 years or so has been one of turbulence and change. In the post-Viet Nam War period, the U.S. entered a period of retrenchment characterized by many as the “Post-Viet Nam Syndrome.” This coincided with a period when the U.S.S.R. stepped up its aggressive activities, the most notable being its invasion of Afghanistan. After the Iran hostage crisis and the rise of Ronald Reagan, a newly resurgent aggressive U.S. imperialism on the warpath could be clearly seen.

Since the early 1970’s, when Chairman Mao put forth, on behalf of the Communist Party of China, the theory of the three worlds as the guide for China’s conduct of international affairs, China has been, on matters of principle, consistent. The August 9, 1982, issue of Beijing Review stated, “China still upholds Chairman Mao’s theory of the three worlds in its foreign policy. Opposition to hegemonism is one of the three basic points of China’s foreign policy (the other two are: strengthening the unity and cooperation among the third world countries and safe-guarding world peace).”

The April 23 Beijing Review, on the eve of Reagan’s visit to China, reiterated, “the primary concern of China in the international realm is the preservation of world peace and security. The best way to achieve this, as the Chinese see it, is to stem hegemonism and respect all countries’ legitimate right to settle their own problems.” Another article in the same issue characterized the superpowers’ recent military exercises as “a stepped-up rivalry ... for global supremacy.”

Based on its stand for peace and against hegemonism, China has criticized the U.S. more in the last year or two because the U.S. has increasingly returned to open aggression in the post-Viet Nam period, not because China wants to “distance” itself from the U.S. U.S. actions – invading Grenada, intervening in Lebanon, attacking the Sandinistas and interfering in the Salvadoran civil war – have clearly demonstrated a resurgent and more aggressive United States.

Frank statement of Chinese views during Reagan visit

During Reagan’s trip, China’s leaders firmly put forth their views. In a meeting with Reagan on April 27, Premier Zhao repeated China’s criticisms of U.S. and Soviet nuclear missile deployments in Europe and called on the superpowers to resume nuclear arms reduction talks, with the goal of halving their nuclear arsenals. Zhao expressed China’s opposition to the “meddling in the affairs of Central America by any big power,” and criticized U.S. mining of Nicaraguan ports.

Zhao also urged the U.S. to “stop backing Israel’s expansionist and aggressive” policies and, instead, to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization. Later the same day, Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, reiterated China’s position that the 40,000 U.S. troops in south Korea should be withdrawn, and supported the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s call for reunification talks. Politburo member Deng Xiaoping summed up much of China’s differences with U.S. policy when he criticized Reagan for relying too much on his “four aircraft carriers” – Taiwan, south Korea, South Africa and Israel.

At the same time as China has criticized the superpowers, it has combined a number of approaches towards them in its foreign policy. China has improved its diplomatic relations and cultural exchanges with both superpowers in order to build greater understanding between the countries and reduce tension; expanded trade and technological cooperation in order to strengthen China’s socialist system; and utilized contradictions between the superpowers to aid the victims of hegemonism.

For example, on the eve of Reagan’s trip, China announced that Soviet First Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Arkhipov would be coming to China in May, the highest Soviet official to visit in 15 years. The purpose was to discuss increasing trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. (The Soviets indefinitely postponed the trip on May 9.)

U.S.-China relations

Discussions during the trip also touched on U.S.-China relations. Neither side expected any breakthroughs, but Xinhua, China’s official news agency, reported that each Chinese leader who met with Reagan “made it clear time and again that the major barrier to further growth of Chinese-U.S. relations remained the Taiwan question. Unless this question was resolved, no relationship of mutual trust could be formed on a solid foundation.”

The U.S. continues to sell arms to Taiwan, in violation of the U.S.-China communique of August 1982. China has steadily demanded the end of those arms sales and the repeal of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. China sees that act, which calls for arms sales and all but official relations with Taiwan, as interference “in China’s internal affairs (and) unreasonable and arrogant.”

In China, Reagan again agreed to abide by the August 1982 communique calling for reduction and the eventual end of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and said he would oppose any efforts to upgrade U.S.-Taiwan ties.

Improved prospect for world peace?

Visions of Ronald Reagan, the diehard anti-Communist, standing on the Great Wall and shaking hands cordially with his Communist hosts may make some people more hopeful about peace in the world. However, this trip, in reality, demonstrates, nothing very positive about Reagan and peace. Reagan rudely attempted to use his China trip to further his own hegemonic and aggressive rivalry with the Soviet Union and violated the hospitality extended to him by launching into totally offensive lectures about God, capitalism and the family. If there was anything positive about Reagan’s trip it is his final recognition that China is a reality and his concession, uttered upon his return to the U.S., that it is clear to him that China has no expansionist designs whatsoever.

The Soviet diatribes about the trip also say little about its desires for peace and demonstrate its flagrant disregard and lack of respect for the independence and sovereignty of other nations.

Perhaps the only positive hope for peace coming out of this trip is the stance taken by the Chinese. The Chinese, far from advancing the cause of censorship, actually aided world peace by deleting from Reagan’s speeches, for publication in the Chinese press, the most unsuitable attacks on the Soviet Union, making it clear that the Chinese oppose superpower rivalry and would not be drawn into its midst.

The Chinese also expressed their clear opposition to U.S. imperialist interference in the internal affairs of other countries. But it was on the issue of world peace that the Chinese seemed to have best expressed the sentiments that millions of people around the world share: “. . . (there is a) sense of responsibility and urgency of all peace loving countries and people to maintain world peace. China will work in concert with them to ease international tension, stop the arms race, oppose power politics and uphold peace.”