Qian Qichen, former Foreign Minister of China, writes in his book "Ten Episodes in China's Diplomacy" published in 2006 that it took ten years to prepare the two leaders' meeting. By 1982, China formulated several principles for normalizing bilateral relations, which had been on ice since their confrontation in 1969-1979.
To begin with, China demanded that the Soviet Union stop supporting Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia. China needed a peaceful southern border (with Vietnam) because Deng and other Chinese reformers knew that foreign investment could come to China only from the south, from Southeast Asian countries.
The second principle concerned the northern border. China wanted the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops from Mongolia and to cut the number of its troops on the Soviet-Chinese border.
Taken together, these problems were described as "three barriers."
China, which the Soviet Union was pressurizing from the north and the south, was also fighting a cold war against the United States. But there was also a similar, if not larger, war between the Soviet Union and the U.S.
In general, the Brezhnev-led Soviet Union was tottering on the brink of a geopolitical catastrophe preparing for a possibility of two nuclear wars, one with the U.S. and the other with China.
Soviet-Chinese consultations on Beijing's proposals began in October 1982. Leonid Brezhnev died three weeks later, and the subsequent Soviet leaders, Yury Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, did not survive him for long. Meanwhile, consultations continued, sometimes very slowly and at other times resembling a conversation between the deaf and the dumb.
All the while, the two countries were waiting for a new Soviet leader who would be able to take decisions.
Mikhail Gorbachev made his policy speeches in Vladivostok in 1986 and later in Krasnoyarsk. Russia's policy in the East is still based on them.
Soviet-Chinese confrontation was finally put to rest when Gorbachev was in China from May 15 to May 18, 1989. This greatly strengthened their international standing and allowed each country to start economic reforms (China's reforms proved to be more successful than the Soviet Union's).
The two countries got rid of their illusions about the possibility of an ideological union between them, especially since neither was a purely Communist country by that time. Instead, they started working as partners, promoting relations based on geographical proximity.
China got what it wanted: The Cambodian problem was solved, and Soviet troops pulled out of Mongolia and from the Soviet-Chinese border. Chinese troops on the mutual border changed their deployment system.
Moscow's gains were no less important.
Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong once told Japanese Socialists that China would eventually present claims to the "Soviet revisionists" for huge territories in Siberia and the Far East.
"We are making these claims now," Deng Xiaoping told Gorbachev during their meeting in Beijing.
It is difficult to say whether or not they were aware of the enormity of the problem, because they settled it there and then.
China recognized the 3,110-mile border with the Soviet Union, and the two countries started talks on its demarcation. They lasted for 20 years, but now Russia has a peaceful border with China free of time bombs such as a river where the border was laid on the Chinese bank rather than along the middle of the river, as is done by other countries.
Had Gorbachev done nothing else in his political career, the Chinese achievement would have still earned him undying gratitude from his compatriots. It was thanks to him that Moscow got an opportunity to terrorize its geopolitical rivals with its special relations with Beijing, thereby solving many of its problems.
Gorbachev was in Beijing at the time when the city's main square, Tiananmen, was the site of permanent student unrest. Demonstrations, brawls and barricades were daily events throughout China then. They were provoked by 10 years of pro-market reforms, which showed that some Chinese were getting richer while others continued to suffer from abject poverty. It was not a youth movement for democracy, but a revolt of everyone against everything.
The worse came to the worst three weeks after Gorbachev's visit. The Chinese army attacked the students, unable to take their provocations any longer. Ten years of reforms could end in catastrophe.
On June 4, the army forced the students out of Tiananmen Square. No one was killed in the square itself, but soldiers "caught up" with some of the students in the nearby streets.
Next followed a period of economic revival in conditions of a political freeze. Twenty years later, China became one of the world's top economies.
However, the United States and Europe ostracized China back in 1989. Gorbachev refrained from following in their wake, but instead used the situation to strengthen relations with China and even helped rearm the Chinese army, which no longer threatened the Soviet Union.
It was a bit of historical luck. If not for the events in Tiananmen Square, relations between the Soviet Union and China, which were still smoldering over the 1969 border conflict, could have taken a different turn.The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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