For help in political consolidation and economic reconstruction, Mao had formed alliance with Stalin and the Soviet Union. However, Stalin ensured that he was the senior partner, and Mao was the junior supplicant. What were the details of this alliance?
After the Maoists’ victory in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party was in dire need of economic, technical, and military assistance. Mao swallowed his pride and “leaned to one side”, turning to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union for help.
With that, Mao’s mild flirtation with the United States ended abruptly.
Mao’s Trip to Moscow
Two months after the declaration of the founding of the People’s Republic, Chairman Mao boarded a train for Moscow.
It was Mao’s first trip ever outside of China’s borders; and it came in the middle of a brutally cold Russian winter. Expecting Stalin to welcome him personally, Mao was greeted at the Moscow train station by a group of second-tier Soviet officials. In fact, Mao was made to wait for an entire week at a suburban Moscow dacha before being granted an audience with the mighty Stalin.
Historians have suggested that this obvious slight was intended as a stark reminder to Mao that in any arrangements that might be entered into between the two of them, Stalin was the senior partner, and Mao was the junior supplicant.
With difficulty, Mao swallowed his pride once again. Having already burned his bridges to the United States, he had nowhere else to turn.
After six weeks of arduous haggling, Mao and Stalin struck a bargain in February of 1950. Its terms clearly revealed Stalin’s ambivalence toward his Chinese “comrades”.
This is a transcript from the video series The Fall and Rise of China. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Stalin’s ‘Help’ to Mao
In an apparent gesture of fraternal generosity, Stalin extended to Mao credits worth a total of U.S. $300 million.
Half of these funds were to be earmarked for the purchase of Soviet military hardware, while the other half was for the purchase of Soviet heavy industrial plant and equipment, including power stations, metallurgical and mining facilities, and railroad stock.
Much to Mao’s dismay, the Soviet credits amounted to far less than Stalin had given to the new Communist regimes in east and central Europe in the late 1940s. Worse yet, whereas the aid to Stalin’s European satellites had been in the form of outright grants, the credits to China were written up as loans, repayable over a 10-year period—with 1 per cent annual interest.
The irony of the Soviet “big brother” charging interest—a device that had been denigrated by Karl Marx as an instrument of capitalist exploitation— on a loan to a fraternal socialist ally was not lost on the thin-skinned Chairman Mao.
Learn more about Mao’s program to rebuild China’s shattered economy.
Conditions in Soviet Credits
Adding insult to injury, there were a number of strings attached to Stalin’s rather modest display of Soviet largesse.
For example, as a condition of receiving Soviet credits, China was obliged to grant to the Soviet Union a controlling interest in a number of strategic military and industrial facilities in Manchuria—including naval bases, harbors, and railroads that had earlier been seized by Soviet occupation forces in 1945.
In addition, a number of Sino-Russian joint stock companies were set up for the purpose of jointly exploiting metallurgical and oil resources in Manchuria and in China’s northwest border province of Xinjiang.
In yet another bit of irony that could not have escaped the notice of Mao or his colleagues, the terms of the February 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship appeared to fly in the face of a solemn Soviet pledge, issued in 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, to renounce all Russian special privileges and concessions in China that had been extracted under duress by the imperial czarist regime.
Now, more than 30 years later, a new imperial Russian regime was picking up, seemingly, where the czars had left off.
Mao clearly resented such Soviet hypocrisy. It was an issue that would smolder for the better part of a decade before erupting into bitter polemics when the Sino-Soviet dispute burst into the open in the 1960s.
Learn more about the key events in Mao’s early life.
Stalin’s Gift to Mao
On the eve of Mao’s return to Beijing in February 1950, Stalin gave him a parting gift: He handed over to the Chinese leader a list of all Soviet spies, moles, and double-agents who had been operating in China.
When senior Soviet intelligence officers learned that Stalin had turned the names over to Mao, they were horrified. A short time later, they watched helplessly as Chinese security forces systematically rounded up, tortured, and executed hundreds of their compromised colleagues.
Whatever misgivings Mao and Stalin may have had about their initial encounter, they kept to themselves. For all the outside world knew, Mao and Stalin were the closest of fraternal allies, joined at the hip in the global struggle against “U.S. imperialism and its running dogs”.
The Korean Challenge
The first major test of the Sino-Soviet alliance came in the early summer of 1950.
For years, tensions had been running high on the Korean peninsula. At the Yalta Conference, the task of liberating Korea from Japanese control had been jointly assigned to the Soviet Union and the United States. Soviet troops would occupy the northern half of the country, down to the 38th parallel, with Americans occupying the south.
This situation of partitioned occupation remained in effect until 1948, when the Americans and the Russians both withdrew their respective occupation forces. Before departing, however, each side set up a “friendly” government in its own zone.
In the north, a Communist regime was established under a pro-Soviet military officer named Kim Il-Song. In the south, a pro-Western regime was installed under Syngman Rhee, an intensely nationalistic, American-educated political activist.
Following the agreed-upon withdrawal of Soviet and American forces in 1948, relations between the two Korean governments became increasingly strained. Both sides advocated reunification—under their own auspices. And each side repeatedly engaged in provocative behavior designed to paint the other side as an aggressor.
By 1950, tensions were running extremely high along the 38th parallel.
Common Questions about the Sino-Soviet Alliance
Half of the U.S. $300 million that Stalin had extended to Mao as credits were to be earmarked for the purchase of Soviet military hardware, while the other half was for the purchase of Soviet heavy industrial plant and equipment, including power stations, metallurgical and mining facilities, and railroad stock.
At the Yalta Conference, the task of liberating Korea from Japanese control had been jointly assigned to the Soviet Union and the United States.
Following the withdrawal of Soviet and American forces from Korea in 1948, a Communist regime was established in North Korea, and a pro-Western regime was installed in South Korea.