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India-China Relationship




Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea


Premier Zhou Enlai, who dominated the international sector of Chinese polity for close on half a century, has been widely credited with the crafting of what is called China’s “foreign policy”. However, the basic presumption of this article is that for Mao Zedong, foreign policy was an integral part of a holistic strategy for “making revolution”. Consequently during the Maoist era, “foreign policy” was not distinguished from “domestic policy”, and the compulsions of state and national interests in “foreign policy” were no less amenable to ideas and value change than were those in the arena of “domestic policy”.

It is the burden of this exploration that the ideas and perceptions, the methods of analysis, the identification of objectives and the strategies for their realisation that dominated the making and implementation of Foreign policy” (or, what the Chinese call “diplomatic work”) were those of Mao. They were derived, as will be discussed later, from the understanding that Mao came to acquire of the objective world of China and of its domestic and external oppression. This understanding provided Mao with the answers he had been seeking to the three linked questions of what was meant by making revolution, who would make revolution, and how it was to be made. From the answers relating to making revolution in China, Mao drew large generalisations about the what, who and how of making revolution worldwide. Even more, the possibilities as well as the fate of the Chinese revolution were, for Mao, linked inseparably with those of the revolutionary forces in the world as the national part of the global whole. In Mao’s holistic approach, the revolutionary prospects of the global whole exercised hegemony which, in varied and critical ways, determined the prospects for revolution within China and all other countries.



I venture to think that no other leader in the post-war world viewed the interaction between states, the analysis of the global balance of power, or the education of the masses and the training of diplomatic cadres with the same seriousness as did Mao. The corpus of Mao’s writings is interspersed with periodic analysis of the “present situation” that Mao undertook in order to identify the state of the world revolution, and the tasks and goals of the CPC in both its domestic and diplomatic work. A constant purpose of such analysis was to assess the alignment and distribution of global power. Each such assessment reaffirmed the Maoist conclusion that the global and national balance was heavily weighed in favour of the reactionary or imperialist forces. Mao was, therefore, constantly aware of the weakness or, of what I have called the minority status of revolutionary forces within China and in the world.[1] He, therefore, made developments in the outer world, the critical determinant of the strategy and tactics, the methods and objectives of “making revolution” even within China.

Yet Mao did not abandon the possibility of or abdicate the domestic and national responsibility and initiative for “making revolution”. What he did was to inspire a revolutionary optimism, born of a distinctive perception and a unique mode of analysis, and to innovate the strategy of the united front as a means of transforming present weakness into future strength. Such transformation was, for Mao, a process, not an event. The present therefore acquired great significance: it was the womb and the guarantor of the desired future, as was the insightful identification of objective universal trends. Thus, as the situation in the outer world changed, so did the Maoist style of leadership, his broad strategy and methods of work. The core of Mao’s holistic approach, namely, anti-imperialism and the paired objective of making revolution, nevertheless, remained constant, as did his strategy of the united front. What changed was his personification of “imperialism” identified as a particular state and determined by an alteration in its power and policy. Thus, imperialism was first personified in Japan, then the US and in his last years, the Soviet Union.

The above is by way of explaining the title of and the exploration behind this essay. It takes Mao and his perception of the objective world, and his delineation of strategy for making revolution as the founts of China’s interstate behaviour and its diplomatic work, Consequently it also takes as credible the Maoist concern with establishing new norms of state behaviour, namely, the Panchsheel (Five principles of Co-existence), as well as the attempt to introduce these in the behaviour of the Chinese state.

This essay analyses eight interventions made by Mao in response to developments in the outer world, that brought about a change in Maoist strategy and method. Three of these interventions took place prior to the founding of the PRC and five between 1949 and 1976. In keeping with the title, the essay also examines China’s bilateral relations with India to argue that Nehru and India were given a pivotal role in the united front strategy throughout the Maoist era. Consequently, all bilateral Sino-Indian issues were demoted in significance and were not permitted to upset the united front against US imperialism. The 1962 war, from this analytical perspective, had immense strategic and political purposes for Mao, precisely because of India’s pivotal role in the united front. The confrontation with India, it will be argued, was intended to forestall a Soviet inspired fundamental change in the agenda of world politics from anti-imperialism to anti-nuclear war, and the consequent re-alignment of world power and forces that would come about. Both the new agenda and the re-alignment of power would, in Mao’s perspective, be greatly detrimental both to the Chinese state and to “making revolution”.

Though the intervention of 1962 was, from Mao’s perspective, largely successful, it was not, however, decisive. It set Mao on the awesome task of substituting, in the world’s eye, the USSR - the world’s first socialist state - for the US as the contemporary personification of imperialism. To prepare China, the CPC and its leadership, for battling the dangers posed by Soviet revisionism to “making revolution”, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution within China. In the mid-seventies he proposed a new paradigm of international politics, contained in the Three Worlds thesis, to explain the distribution of global power after the defection of the Soviet Union to imperialism, as well as the dynamics and trends in the contemporary world. Mao was too and too feeble perhaps to lead China out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and to ensure that future leaders would follow his strategy for making revolution. His last intervention failed and brought to an end the Mao era of “making revolution”, together with its unique way of perceiving the interlocking relationships between China, the world and India.

An essential feature of Maoist analysis was the intimate, inseparable and critical relationship he posited between the cuter world and the inner world of China. The boundaries of the Chinese nation as he had delineated them in 1939, enclosed the domestic or inner of China as they did for all other states. And, together with the right to sovereignty, they separated the inner world from the outer world of China in seemingly traditional ways. Influenced by Marxism, however, Mao superimposed on this conventional divide, a structure of systemic unity between elements belonging to the traditional domestic and elements belonging to the traditional external. Thus, not Japan but Japanese imperialism was linked to domestic counter-revolutionary forces in an inseparable class pairing. This conjoining blurred the line separating the conventional domestic and external of China, as it did for all other states. It also altered their meaning and concept. For example, from the conventional perspective, all of Japan was the external enemy of all within China’s domestic world. At the same time, however, Japanese imperialism had breached the traditional domestic to find a support base within China. This consisted of more than the traitors or collaborators that every war or revolution has known. They were, in Maoist analysis, social groups and classes, the seedlings of domestic imperialism within China -the comprador classes or elements. Together with Japanese imperialism they constituted for Mao, a new non-conventional “outer” of China. As a counterpoint, the revolutionary “inner” comprised the revolutionary anti-imperialist forces within China that, in like manner, had systemic links with similar forces within the conventional domestic of Japan and of other imperialist countries.

The balance of forces and the balance of power that existed in both the traditional and non-conventional meanings of the inner/outer world concept became, thereafter, the most critical detriment of the Maoist strategy for “making revolution” both at home and abroad.

Mao’s holistic approach and mode of analysis acknowledged with stark realism that the revolutionary forces were in the minority in the world, as were the CPC and the revolutionary forces within China. Mao’s awareness of being in the minority in both global and national terms appears to have dominated all his thinking and analysis thereafter. To counter this disadvantage, Mao argued that weakness could be transformed into yet undiscovered advantages or strengths. Mao innovated the appropriate strategy and tactics for bringing about this dialectical transformation in the political and organisational form of the United Front, Both the domestic and international united fronts had the same “principal enemy”: Japan or imperialism or fascism. Thus, in the anti-Japanese war, revolutionary optimism meant perceiving the opportunities for alliance and the spaces for political action provided by China’s semi-colonial status. In the outer world of China, by carefully differentiating between the competing interests of the various imperialist powers and by aggregating the support of all countries and groups opposed to Japan or fascism. Within the inner world of China, by aggregating the strength of disparate social groups in united resistance to Japanese aggression and by introducing hitherto peripheral groups or people into the calculus of forces. In short, in the outer world, the Maoist strategy attempted to enlarge the space between Japan and all possible constituents of the international united front. In the inner world of China, he attempted to narrow the political space between disparate, often mutually hostile, elements that were to be brought into the domestic united front. The “single spark” thesis explained the possibility of victory in the Chinese anti-Japanese war together with the support that would be provided by the international united front. Later, during the civil war, when both united fronts had broken down, Maoist calculations included intangibles like the inherent weakness of the KMT and the support of the people to anticipate the collapse of the KMT and the victory of the CPC.

It is part of the folklore of the CPC revolutionary history that the Chinese national war of resistance brought about the defeat of Japan in the inner world of China. This defeat was by any reckoning one of history’s critical junctures : it also resolved the central political question that had faced China since the May 4 Movement. In brief, the danger of China becoming a Japanese colony had been averted. Even more, China’s role as a frontline state in the global anti-fascist war had finally brought about the end of the unequal treaty system and so ended China’s century of humiliation, It is one of the ironies of history that China in its time of greatest weakness gained recognition as a great power. It was made a founding member of the United Nations, a permanent veto wielding member of the Security Council.

In an interview with Anna Louise Strong (not made public till 1958), Mao posited a three-way division of the world that interposed a vast intermediate zone lying between the Soviet Union and the United States.[2] It reflected Mao’s analytical method and arraigned the world forces in three vertical bands. It, therefore, differed from Stalin’s two bloc -“we” vs “they – division of the world’s forces, the rigidity of which left no political space for “friends” in the Soviet global strategy by discounting the dynamic of nationalism. Mao’s intervention, on the other hand, enlarged and created political space between the newly independent countries and imperialism. In short, Mao recognised nationalism as the contemporary global dynamic of political change, emphasised its anti-imperialist, pro-democracy character and created possibilities for the implementation of his broad United Front strategy. In the outer world, this enabled China to make common, though limited, cause with all anti-colonial national liberation struggles, as well as with the newly independent states anxious to protect their sovereignty. This laid the ground for a global international united front so essential for Mao’s strategy of making revolution. In the same interview, Mao also attempted to dispel the fear of the nuclear weapon whose terror had been demonstrated in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He revived revolutionary optimism by describing it, in strategic terms, as a “paper tiger that could be defied by a resolute people’s struggle. By undertaking and winning the civil war, the CPC was to demonstrate that this could indeed by done.

Months before the PRC was formed, in an essay entitled “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship” Mao reaffirmed the CPC’s commitment to socialism and its membership of the socialist camp. By then, as will be recalled, the fragile war time alliance between the US and the USSR had already broken down to be replaced by the Cold War. Once again, Mao responded to this critical change in the international arena in a manner consonant with his commitment to socialism. As earlier, this was accompanied by a change of pace and strategy at home. In anticipation of the CPC’s victory in the civil war and its assumption of leadership of the nation and the revolution, the CPC’s commitment to New Democracy innovated in 1940,[3] was upheld but in the significantly new form of a people’s democratic dictorship. After the victory, the CPC’s organisation of state power would be such as to ensure that the CPC would effectively have the power and authority to undertake the gradual transition to socialism.

All this created a natural and special role for Nehru and India in the Maoist scheme of things. The legitimation and recognition of the force of nationalism appealed to Nehru who had long sympathised with China’s fate. Moreover, Nehru was eager to witness the emergence of India and China as well as the rest of the colonised world as proud indepedent states where they would no longer be “the playthings of the west”. It was also part of the Nehruvian vision of the future that these countries, having suffered aggression and colonisation, would strive jointly to introduce a new moral pattern of inter-state behaviour. The intermediate zone of Mao’s conception could, from Nehru’s perspective, help to confirm his rival concept of a non-aligned grouping of countries following a third path in world politics. In the Nehruvian vision as it unfolded, China occupied the same pivotal rote as was assigned to India in the Maoist strategy.



From 1949 until his death in 1976, except for a brief period after 1957, Mao extended this holistic approach and analytical method to the international arena to arrive at broadly the same strategy and tactics of the United Front that he had adopted both during the anti-Japanese war and the civil war. During this period, Mao intervened on at least five occasions to ensure the continuance of his strategy of making revolution. Bach intervention came in response to developments in the outer world, but impacted on domestic policy. Each intervention acknowledged that the balance of forces both globally and nationally continued to be unfavourable. Nevertheless, the course of making revolution could be pursued with cautious optimism if an appropriate strategy was devised to take advantage of the favourable trends. Thus, with each intervention, Mao attempted to create conditions for the constitution of a new united front by redefining its central idea, namely, anti-imperialism. At the time of his last intervention this redefinition that cast the world’s first socialist state as the No.1 imperialist more dangerous than even the United States, was so startlingly unorthodox as to find few sympathisers. Whether his attempt in the mid-seventies to create a new international (and domestic) united front against Soviet imperialism would have succeeded or not, wilt remain one of history’s unanswered questions. Mao was too ill and too old to provide the continuing leadership to do so. His death in 1976 opened the domestic flood gates for an almost complete denial of his holistic approach, his mode of analysis and his broad strategy for “making revolution” by the new leadership.



China’s decision to enter the Korean War and to confront the powerful United States despite weakness and the tasks of reconstructing a war-torn economy and society is attributed to Mao.[4] It derived from his analysis of the US policy towards the revolution, following the US action in Korea and the June decision of the USA to recognise Chiang Kai-shek regime as the legitimate China, protect Taiwan and isolate communist China. Mao concluded that the US had reached a strategic decision to oppose the Chinese Revolution and overthrow the CPC government. He envisaged a US threat and possible attack against China from vulnerable points along China’s periphery: Taiwan, Korea, Indochina and even from far away Tibet. In response to this perceived multiple threat, China, almost simultaneously, took the following actions: it despatched “volunteers” and advisers to North Vietnam; sent “volunteers” to North Korea; claimed sovereign rights to Taiwan and charged the US with the occupation of its territory of Taiwan. The cumulative effect of these actions was to confirm the ideological and strategic confrontation with the US, and to cast the US as the principal threat to China, nationalism and socialism.



A year later, Mao intervened personally to set in process a policy of damage limitation targeted at India and the colonised world. It was designed to contain and limit the fall-out of the Tibetan events on Nehru and India and to revive the possibility of future political cooperation between the two countries.

In a most unusual and highly symbolic gesture, Mao attended the national day celebrations at the Indian Embassy in Beijing in 1951. His speech called for unity with India in ‘working for peace”.[5] This gesture gave public sanction and legitimacy to China’s desire for a special relationship with India in the common cause of “working for peace”.

As part of its policy of damage limitation, China proceeded to handle sensitive issues in Sino-Indian relations in a manner that would not be immediately provocative to India. For example, Beijing did not protest independent India’s exercise of erstwhile British rights in Tibet. Nor did it end them unilaterally as it had done in the case of the rights that had been exercised by the imperialist powers in China. Taken together, Mao’s gesture as well as the sensitive handling of delicate bilateral issues helped to assuage Indian fears of China. Indeed, it was shrewd Maoist understanding of Nehru’s personality and politics and of his dominant role in the making of Third World public opinion and Indian national policy, that enabled the policy to succeed. Its success, in turn, revived the political possibility of united action for shared purposes by Mao’s China and Nehru’s India in the international arena. As the Maoist strategy unfolded, India was cast once more in a pivotal role : as the champion of nationalism and anti-colonialism, and as the natural leader of the newly independent countries. The success of the policy of damage limitation (that also encompassed the armistice in Korea and the Geneva spirit) led to Zhou Enlai’s visit 10 India in 1954; to the India-China agreement on Tibet: and to the Panchsheel as the new universal norm of state behaviour. The momentum was maintained with Nehru’s “Roman triumph” visit to China later that year. Within a few months, it led to the Bandung Conference and the emergence of an Afro-Asian grouping that included a Communist China willing to leave future initiative and leadership to India and Nehru.

Bandung demonstrated how successfully the PRC had overcome the grave risks that attended Mao’s 1950 decision to enter the Korean War. In fact, it did more. It brought into being the intermediate zone that Mao had envisaged in 1946 as an essential requirement for the pursuance of the united front strategy. Friendship and common cause with India and the newly independent countries of Asia, moreover, helped to project a PRC identity distinct from that of the Soviet Union despite ideological fraternity and treaty partnership. The PRC’s new image was that of an Asian country struggling to develop and modernise its economy and society and safgeguard its sovereignty, as were all the newly independent countries. Particularly India.



The Chinese leaders sponsored discussion within the socialist community in 1957 on the dangers of “revisionism”. China also declared in Moscow that the balance of power and forces was so delicately poised that :it could be made to tilt in favour of global revolutionary forces to end their minority status. The East Wind, Mao said, new prevailed over the West Wind. In short, Mao was arguing the possibility of a strategic shift from the defensive to a seizure of the initiative. For Mao, the two events were interrelated. The strategic shift demanded a recognition that “revisionism”, which he saw to be inherent in Khrushchev’s 1956 strategy of peaceful coexistence, was enfeebling and would be unable to seize the historical opportunity.

The Maoist intervention of 1957 was not episodic: it continued over many years in which the central issue of debate was revisionism. Its episodic failure of 1957 resulted in grave ideological and political cleavage between China and the Soviet Union, and it dominated Maoist thinking and strategy thereafter.[6] As earlier, Mao initiated new policies within China that divided the CPC leadership and led inexorably to the Cultural Revolution and to the ensuing power struggle. It was accompanied in China’s diplomatic work by the temporary abandonment of the United Front strategy. In its place, China supported socialist forces everywhere. It tested the outside limits of the US and the USSR strategic and ideological responses to this initiative during the

Qumoy crisis of 1956. India’s friendship and Nehru’s commitment to “progressive policies” were similarly under test over the India-China boundary issue.



The 1962 border war with ‘India developed ostensibly out of rival nationalisms and conflicting territorial claims. But, it was a major strategic decision designed to alter the Khrushchevian agenda of world politics.

According to this new agenda, detente and prevention of nuclear war, instead of oppositon to imperialism, was the central concern of international politics. Its acceptance by the countries of the Third World - Mao’s intermediate zone –would after the balance of world forces in favour of a revisionist Soviet Union and, therefore, in the Maoist view, of imperialism, In this still transitional phase, India’s role acquired signal importance precisely because of its leadership of the Third World and the pivotal role it had been given in Mao’s United Front strategy.

The new agenda was seductively attractive for many in the non-aligned world, particularly for Nehru who had long espoused these concerns. Thus a strong, almost ideological, commonality emerged between Khrushchev’s USSR and Nehru’s India. It was to be reflected in Nehru’s support to super power detente and the test ban treaty. Thus from 1959 onwards, (here was growing convergence in Indian and Soviet strategic perceptions of China -which opposed both-and its role in the world. Soviet reluctance to support  its fraternal neighbour. China,‘in its territorial dispute with India was a manifestation of this covergence. The realignment of forces that it would lead to would not, in the Maoist analysis, be favourable to China and to making revolution.

China’s hardline policies and its “testing” of the responses to its initiatives by the leaders, as it were, of all three zones of Mao’s framework, i.e., of the Soviet Union, the US and India, was thus an attempt to deny legitimacy and centrality to the new Soviet agenda. By simultaneously fanning tensions between them, Mao was attempting to create political space and greater manoeuvreability for Chinese diplomatic, state and revolutionary action.[7] The failure of Zhou Enlai in acheiving any result in his visit to India in 1960 shadowed the prospects of arriving at a peaceful settlement with India. For the next two years however, China continued to adopt a dual track policy: it pressed for negotiations or for an agreement to respect the line of actual control and non-disturbance of the status quo. Simultaneously, it strengthened and advanced its position on the ground, as did India.

The Chinese decision to use force in 1962 was once again a calculated high risk policy. Like the decision to enter the Korean War, it revealed China’s minority status and possible isolation in world affairs. As in 1950, it also destroyed all possibility of Indian participation in any future united front partnership with China. The year 1962 furthermore compounded China’s security concerns for it had, in effect, created three live fronts. The decision to use force was, it must be presumed, not taken lightly. Its importance for Mao’s strategy of “making revolution” as also for the Chinese state, may be gauged from the fact that it was taken at a time when China was facing a severe economic and leadership crisis. China’s military and diplomatic success, despite these highly adverse factors, can be attributed, once again to a shrewd understanding of Nehru’s personality and India’s lack of military preparedness, and to a remarkable capacity for innovation.

China’s military strategy of conducting a controlled war, limited in time and depth across the length of the entire border, took Nehru, India, and perhaps the whole world, by surprise. It resulted in a humiliating defeat for India, and the exposure of its inability to defend itself even against a Third World country. Diplomatically, it revealed that India did not command the support of all Third World countries.

This intervention was accompanied, once again, by a policy of damage limitation. This time, unlike in 1951, its success relied on demonstrating China’s ability to take independent decisions and actions (contrasting India’s inability in this regard), as well as on the display and acquisition of sufficient capability for national defence. It also aimed, in essence, at establishing China as an independent power centre. The military success of 1962 was followed by the first atomic test in 1964 and by the more intangible assertion of the national will by the Chinese to defend their country. Like the resort to force in 1962, these were presented to the world as defensive measures forced on the Chinese state.

The war itself had been preceded by a diplomatic initiative that resulted in the conclusion of a series of border agreements with neighbouring countries, most of which were also India’s neighbours. These agreements suggested that China’s bark was worse than its bite, that China’s real territorial demands were reasonable and limited. It was followed by a statement of China’s territorial policy and negotiating strategy vis-a-vis India which remained unchanged despite its military victory. By not enlarging the war and by refraining from occupying Indian and disputed territory into which it had advanced in the eastern sector, China gave credibility to its intention of limiting the political damage and keeping the door open for a return to the negotiating table. The Maoist policy of damage limitation was again targeted primarily at India to prevent 1962 from making China the national and strategic enemy of India. Eight years later in 1970, as in 1951, Mao was to personally and publicly articulate China’s desire to put the past behind and forge a new constructive relationship with India. This time, however, this gesture was made as China attempted to normalise its relations with the US and as Mao prepared to identify the Soviet Union as the principal imperialist power. Once again, Mao cast India as an important, though no longer, the pivotal player in a putative united front, directed more against Soviet imperialism. At that time, in Maoist calculations, the pivotal player in a re-alignment of world power to counter the Soviet Union was the United States.

Beginning from 1962 till the end of the Maoist era, the policy of damage limitation in relation to India was, in effect, a holding operation. Its underpinning was an undisturbed line of control along the India-China boundary, an unchanged policy position on the territorial issue, and skilful management of its new status as a nuclear weapons power. China relied on the passage of time for the Indian wounds of 1962 to heal, for greater exposure of the Soviet Union’s expansionist and interventionist tendencies, as well as for the resurgence of an Indian search for an independent and sovereign role in world affairs. This policy began to pay dividends fourteen years after the disastrous war of 1962. In 1976 (the year of Mao’s death and after India’s first nuclear “implosion”), the two countries raised their diplomatic representation to ambassadorial level. As India withdrew her ambassador first after the 1962 war, she had to be the first to send back her ambassador.

The process of opposing “revisionism” and the new international agenda proposed by the Soviet Union that was initiated by Mao in 1957 was thus advanced further in 1962. It was to culminate in his next major intervention in 1964, accompanied by a profound change in domestic politics, namely, the Cultural Revolution. The objective of which was to weed out “revisionists” from the leadership of the CPC and keep China on the path of “making revolution”, and provide an alternative to Soviet revolutionary strategy for revolutionary forces everywhere.



The Maoist intervention of 1964 was in response to a development in the socialist world. It followed what was called the systemisation of revisionism at the Twenty-second Party Congress of the CPSU into a general strategy for all socialist countries and parties. In proposing an alternative strategy for the international communist movement and not just for China, Mao challenged not only Soviet strategy for opposing imperialism but also its leadership of the socialist world.

This was as momentous a decision as the 1946 decision to embark on a civil war with the KMT supported and equipped by a nuclear United States and that of 1962 to enter into a confrontation with India. In both the 1946 and 1964 instances, the odds were stacked against Mao and China. If 1962 destroyed the international united front. 1964 split the socialist bloc and communist parties everywhere. In doing so, it marked the end of a pattern of international politics that had existed since 1945. Consequently, it initiated a process of re-alignment and readjustment of world forces that eventually wrought the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc.

In the mid-seventies. Maoist China began to resume interaction with the international community China was no longer an international outcast: the PRC finally occupied the China seat in the UN, received US President Nixon in Beijing, and exchanged diplomatic recognition with those countries which had refused to do so until then.

Accordingly, Mao prepared to revert to his holistic approach, analytical method and strategy of making revolution in the PRC’s interaction with the outer world. As was his style, Mao offered a fresh assessment of the global balance of power and forces, and of the dominant or universal trends in world politics. Having firmly placed the Soviet Union in the imperialist camp, it is not surprising that he found the balance to be grossly disadvantageous to the revolutionary cause and to the Chinese state.

In his perception, however, the states of the world could still be divided in three ways but not, as earlier, into three broad horizontal zones of countries distinguished by their ideological proclivities. Mao’s new paradigm was triangular, seemingly similar to the traditional hierarchical ranking of stales in terms of power. It differed, however, in that it clubbed countries together to create new unities, or three worlds, distinguished by the degree of combined economic and political power each commanded. Significantly, Japan was not placed in the First World as an economic super power. But, largely because it lacked independent military capability, it was placed in the Second World of developed countries.

At the apex of Mao’s paradigm were the two super powers, constituting the First World. The Second World was that of the middle ranking developed countries that was not expected to play the role of the intermediate zone of Mao’s earlier formulation. The developing countries together formed the Third World. The Maoist paradigm rested on the assumption that the era of anti-colonialism had ended with the emergence into nationhood of the colonised territories. The dominant trend as he identified it, was the pursuit of economic and technological development by all states, whether capitalist or socialist The universal dynamic, however, was still identified as being nationalism.[8] Thus, in Mao’s perception, the international arena continued to be marked by interstate struggle that could be moulded into an inter-world struggle which, in turn, would lead to fresh possibilities of creating a united front against imperialism, now conceived as hegemonism. The possibility flowed from two fault lines that Mao perceived within the international system: one created by the resistance of Second and Third World states against the thrust of hegemony by either or both of the super-powers. The other by the spontaneous and natural rivalry that he saw as existing between the two super-payers and their friends and allies. Both fault lines also created large areas of possible unity among states on the other side of the line. Thus, a united front against “hegemony” directed against one or both super-powers, at any given time, became plausible. The differentiation between the three worlds based as it was on economic and political power, reduced the Third World to playing the role of the poor peasant, oppressed by the rich, the developed and the powerful. Consequently, countries of the Third World and India in particular continued to play a revolutionary but no longer a pivotal role in bringing about an alteration in the world balance. That role was now assigned to countries of the Second World and in particular to Japan, China on its part stood alone and apart from the Third World, not within it - a lone socialist country ploughing a lonely furrow as exemplar, The wodd, as perceived by Mao in the mid-seventies, was a far more complex one than that of two decades earlier. It was spontaneously less revolutionary, more likely to succumb to the sugar coated bullets of the super-powers and to the goals and fears of conventional nation states.

Consequently, when Mao’s Three Worlds thesis was boldly pronounced at the UN General Assembly in 1974, it was accompanied by a long list of what China - as exemplar of a revolutionary state - would or would not do in its international behaviour. Ironically, this pronouncement was made by Deng Xiaoping, recalled for this purpose from political exile when illness struck down both Mao and Zhou Enlai. Four years later, after Mao’s death in 1976 and his being waylaid again, Deng Xiaoping emerged as China’s strong man and leader. As he consolidated his power, Deng, once the second most important target of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, put forward a long-term strategy of modernisation. He advocated integration with the world economy, and the opening of China to foreign investment. Five years after Mao’s death, the Cultural Revolution was severely condemned for having obstructed and delayed China’s economic and technological development, and for the cleavages it had introduced into both its inner and outer worlds. Soon thereafter, the Three Worlds thesis was given an unceremonious burial together with the approach and the method of analysis for making revolution unique to Mao.

[1] See Selected Works of Mao Tse-fung, Vol. I (Peking : Foreign Languages Press, 1967) p. 162.

[2]  “Talk with the American Correspondent Anna Louise Strong August 1946”, ibid., pp. 99-100.

[3]  “On New Democracy”, ibid, Vol. II, op. cit., pp. 339-62.

[4] Diplomacy of Contemporary China (Hong Kong : New Horizon Press, 1990) p, 49.

[5] Ibid., p. 213.

[6] Stanley Karnow, Mao and China - From Revolution to Revolution, (New York : Macmillan, 1972) pp. 92-109

[7] Sea Mira Sinha, “India China Confrontation - A Re-Interpretation”, China Report, Vol. VI, No. 3, May-June 1970, pp. 1-15.

[8] The Three Worlds thesis was propounded in a speech to the UN General Assembly by Deng Xiaoping, leader of the Chinese delegation, on 10 April 1974. For an analysis of this thesis sea Mim Sinha, “Strategic Rediscovery of the Third World”, China Report, Vol. X, No. 3, May-June 1974, pp. 44-45.

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© 1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

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