Anzhi the collapse of the Soviet Union and


Foreign Policy

16, 2018

A Comparative Study: Chinese Foreign
Policies under Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping

The 20th century has witnessed China’s
rise from a weak, economically backward country to an important actor in the
international system. In 1949, Mao Zedong attempted to break the bipolar system
and make China an independent and important strategic power. The reform and
opening to the outside world policy program, also known as China’s second
revolution, initiated by Deng Xiaoping in late 1978, laid the foundation for
China’s spectacular economic growth and enabled it to become an effective actor
in the international system.

view of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, a rising China has become more significant yet more
vulnerable, as the US emerged as the sole superpower in the post-Cold War era.

Talks about the so-called China Threat in fact reflect a recognition of China
as an emerging great power.

While Xi Jinping has been considered as
China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong after a new body of political
thought carrying his name was added to the Communist party’s constitution.

In the era of Mao Zedong, the focous of
Chinese foreign relations strategy shifted between the Soviet Union and the
United States


???yibiandao (leaning to one side) strategy

the founding of the PRC in 1949 to the end of the 1950s, the basic
characteristics of Chinese foreign policy was that China struggled against a
US-led imperialist camp through the Sino-Soviet alliance established in the
1950s. China signed the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship in February 1950. The
leaning to one side strategy laid out the basic structure of Chinese foreign
relations strategy in the 1950s: cooperating with the Soviet Union to struggle
against the US, thus positioning China as a key member of the socialist bloc
against the imperialist camp in the bipolar Cold War era. The leaning to one
side strategy did not mean that China would lose its independence and become a
satellite state of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, the leaning to one
side was just a strategy for survival, which was to guarantee China?s security,
sovereignty and independence as it was in no position to deter the US
alone.  In many ways, the leaning to one
side strategy was a security-oriented strategy with a fixed enemy.


??????liangge quantou daren (fighting with two
fists) strategy

the 1960s, China adopted an anti-imperialist (US) and antirevisionist (Soviet
Union) international united front strategy which was known domestically as the
liangge daren strategy, or the liangtiao xian (two united fronts) strategy, or
the shijie geming (world revolution) strategy. The Sino-Soviet split, as well
as the Sino-American confrontation, led to the adoption of this strategy by the
Chinese leadership. By the end of the 1950s, Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet
leader, was perceived to be ready to cooperate with the US to control the world
and impose many unreasonable demands on China?s sovereignty. When Mao Zedong
and other Chinese leaders opposed the Soviet stand, Moscow then took a number
of steps to threaten China politically, economically and militarily. As a
result, the relationship between China and the Soviet Union sharply
deteriorated. On the other hand, the Sino-American confrontation had not shown
any signs of relaxation.

such circumstances, the fighting with two fists strategy pushed China to
confront the two superpowers at the same time.


???yitiaoxian (one united front) strategy

view of the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations, especially the armed
conflicts along the Sino-Soviet border in 1969, the Chinese leadership realized
that China’s biggest threat came from the north. China’s very survival was at stake,
and China had to change its fighting with the two fists strategy to escape from
this strategically disadvantageous position. In preparation for the increasing
military threats from the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong called for preparation for
war, for famine and for the people,” while looking for allies to deter the
Soviet Union. The best choice obviously was the US, the only country that could
stand up to the Soviet militarily. Hence China had to improve its relations
with the US. As a result, Mao declared that: “We must win over one of the two
superpowers, never fight with two fists, we can take advantage of the
contradiction between the two superpowers, and that is our policy.”1

on the common interest of deterring the Soviet Union, China and US normalized
their relations in February 1972.

summary, China greatly benefited from the yitiaoxian strategy. Not only had
China realized its security benefits, but the Sino-US rapprochement also
promoted China”s relations with many other countries, especially Western
countries.  As a result, China emerged
from its isolation to the world community and laid a solid foundation for the
next phase of economic reform.


foreign relations strategies under Deng covered both the Cold War and the post-Cold
War era, during which China had a broad agenda including economic construction
and opening to the outside world, national reunification, securing global and
regional security, and the establishment of a new political and economic order.


Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform starting from the 1980s, For nearly three
decades, China’s annual GDP rose by more than 10 percent, while now, according
to some conservative estimates, it has dropped to just 5 percent. Given the
lack of the former economic success that somehow substantiated the legitimacy
of the Party’s staying in power, Xi Jinping will have to place a stake on new
mechanisms to ensure the loyalty of the population. Beijing has made a choice
in favor of nationalism and even building Xi’s cult of personality.


leaders have long bemoaned their country’s “Century of Humiliation,” which
spans from China’s 1839 defeat in the Opium Wars to the birth of the People’s
Republic of China in 1949. Xi promised to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the
Chinese nation” and restore China to its rightful great power status by 2049 —
the centennial of the PRC’s founding.

speech on the 19th Party Congress announced China’s renewed focus on “global
combat capabilities” and declared a new “era that will see China move closer to
the center of the world” stage.


Launched in 2013, the One Belt One Road
Initiative (OBOR or BRI) is a Chinese foreign policy of a transnational
economic belt. The scale of the initiative is astonishing for it is so far the
largest of its kind launched by one single country. The OBOR is consisted of two
parts: The Silk Road Economic Belt, historically it was a route for ancient
China to communicate and trade with Central Asia and the Middle East over 2000
years ago, with the first record of the Silk Road can be dated from Han
dynasty, when emperor Wudi send Zhang Qian from west China to the Middle East.

Another segment is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is a maritime
route that goes around Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Horn of
Africa. In summary, more than two thirds of world population and more than one
third of global economic output will be involved in the initiative, and could
involve Chinese investments that total up to $4 trillion.


despite the huge economic influence of the BRI, the initiative was described as
a “response” to the new geopolitical situation marked by the U.S. “rebalance to
Asia,” Japan’s accelerated “steps toward normalization,” India’s rapid economic
growth, and increasing worries toward a stronger China among China’s
“neighboring Asian countries.”  From this
geopolitical perspective, the One Belt, One Road initiative can be seen as a
new kind of “strategy” designed to support the larger effort announced by Xi
Jinping, to strengthen Beijing’s periphery diplomacy and create a “new type of
major country relations”.


a foreign relations perspective, Under Xi China has taken a more critical
stance on North Korea, while improving relationships with South Korea.

China-Japan relations became worse under Xi’s administration and there’s still
a territeorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Xi Jinping called the
China–US relations in the contemporary world a “new type of great-power
relations”, and he said, “If China and the United States are in
confrontation, it would surely spell disaster for both countries”. Xi has
cultivated stronger relations with Russia, particularly in the wake of the
Ukraine crisis of 2014, and Xi seems to have developed a strong personal
relationship with Putin, given the fact that they are both viewed as strong
leaders with a nationalist orientation.


summary, the goals of Chinese foreign relations strategies under Mao may be
listed as follows: 1) to safeguard national security; 2) to guarantee China’s
hard-won state sovereignty and territorial integrity; and 3) to enhance China’s
international status. In this sense, the foreign relations strategies under Mao
displayed caution and pragmatism, for they were basically for survival and were
security oriented strategies. Meanwhile, Goals of Chinese foreign relations
strategies under Xi Jinping could represent a bold attempt to be actively
engaged in the construction of new global economic and financial institutions,
which can promote the establishment of the new international political and
economic order. From a security perspective, Xi Jinping’s policies project a
more nationalistic and assertive China on the world stage.



1.     Zhang, Wankun Franklin. 1998. China’s
foreign relations strategies under Mao and Deng: a systematic comparative
analysis. Hong Kong: Dept. of Public and Social Administration, City University
of Hong Kong.





1 Zhang, Wankun Franklin. 1998. China’s
foreign relations strategies under Mao and Deng: a systematic comparative
analysis. Hong Kong: Dept. of Public and Social Administration, City University
of Hong Kong.