Relations between the Soviet Union and China reach the breaking point as the two governments engage in an angry ideological debate about the future of communism. The United States, for its part, was delighted to see a wedge being driven between the two communist superpowers.
In mid-1963, officials from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China met in Moscow to try to mend their ideological rift. The Chinese government had become openly critical of what it referred to as the growing “counterrevolutionary trends” in the Soviet Union. In particular, China was unhappy with the Soviet Union’s policy of cooperation with the West. According to a public statement made by the Chinese government on June 14, 1963, a much more militant and aggressive policy was needed in order to spread the communist revolution worldwide. There could be no “peaceful coexistence” with the forces of capitalism, and the statement chided the Russians for trying to reach a diplomatic understanding with the West, and in particular, the United States.
Exactly one month later, as the meetings in Moscow continued to deteriorate in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and recrimination, the Soviet government issued a stinging rebuttal to the earlier Chinese statement. The Russians agreed that world communism was still the ultimate goal, but that new policies were needed. “Peaceful coexistence” between communist and capitalist nations was essential in the atomic age, and the Soviet statement went on to declare that, “We sincerely want disarmament.” The Soviet statement also addressed the Chinese criticism of the October 1962 missile crisis, in which Russia aided in the establishment of nuclear missile bases in Cuba. Under pressure from the United States, the bases had been withdrawn—according to the Chinese, Russia had “capitulated” to America. Not so, according to the Soviets. The missile bases had been established to deter a possible U.S. invasion of Cuba. Once America vowed to refrain from such action, the bases were withdrawn in order to avoid an unnecessary nuclear war. This was the type of “sober calculation,” the Soviet Union indicated, that was needed in the modern world.
The July 14, 1963, Soviet statement was the first clear public indication that Russia and China were deeply divided over the future of communism. American officials greeted the development with undisguised glee, for they believed that the Sino-Soviet split would work to America’s advantage in terms of making the Russians more amenable to fruitful diplomatic negotiations on a variety of issues, including arms control and the deepening crisis in Vietnam. That belief was not entirely well founded, as U.S.-Soviet relations continued to be chilly throughout most of the 1960s. Nevertheless, the United States continued to attempt to use this “divide and conquer” tactic well into the 1970s, when it began a rapprochement with communist China in order to gain leverage in its dealings with the Soviet Union.