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Relations with the Third World

Next in importance to its relations with the superpowers have been China's relations with the Third World. Chinese leaders have tended to view the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America as a major force in international affairs, and they have considered China an integral part of this major Third World force. As has been the case with China's foreign relations in general, policy toward the countries of the developing world has fluctuated over time. It has been affected by China's alternating involvement in and isolation from world affairs and by the militancy or peacefulness of Beijing's views. In addition, China's relations with the Third World have been affected by China's ambiguous position as a developing country that nevertheless has certain attributes more befiting a major power. China has been variously viewed by the Third World as a friend and ally, a competitor for markets and loans, a source of economic and military assistance, a regional power intent on dominating Asia, and a "candidate superpower" with such privileges as a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

China's relations with the Third World have developed through several phases: the Bandung Line of the mid-1950s (named for a 1955 conference of Asian and African nations held in Bandung, Indonesia), support for liberation and world revolution in the 1960s, the pronouncement of the Theory of the Three Worlds and support for a "new international economic order" in the 1970s, and a renewed emphasis on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in the 1980s.

In the first years after the founding of the People's Republic, Chinese statements echoed the Soviet view that the world was divided into two camps, the forces of socialism and those of imperialism, with "no third road" possible. By 1953 China began reasserting its belief that the newly independent developing countries could play an important intermediary role in world affairs. In 1954 Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India agreed on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as the underlying basis for conducting foreign relations. China's success in promoting these principles at the 1955 Bandung Conference helped China emerge from diplomatic isolation. By the end of the 1950s, however, China's foreign policy stance had become more militant. Statements promoting the Chinese revolution as a model and Beijing's actions in the Taiwan Strait (1958) and in border conflicts with India (1962) and Vietnam (1979), for example, alarmed many Third World nations.

During the 1960s China cultivated ties with Third World countries and insurgent groups in an attempt to encourage "wars of national liberation" and revolution and to forge an international united front against both superpowers. China offered economic, technical, and sometimes military assistance to other countries and liberation movements, which, although small in comparison with Soviet and United States aid, was significant considering China's own needs. Third World appreciation for Chinese assistance coexisted, however, with growing suspicions of China's militancy. Such suspicions were fed, for example, by Zhou Enlai's statement in the early 1960s that the potential for revolution in Africa was "excellent" and by the publication of Lin Biao's essay "Long Live the Victory of People's War!" in 1965. Discord between China and many Third World countries continued to grow. In some cases, as with Indonesia's charge of Chinese complicity in the 1965 coup attempt in Jakarta and claims by several African nations of Chinese subversion during the Cultural Revolution, bilateral disputes led to the breaking off of diplomatic relations. Although the Third World was not a primary focus of the Cultural Revolution, it was not immune to the chaos this period wrought upon Chinese foreign relations.

In the 1970s China began to redefine its foreign policy after the isolation and militancy of the late 1960s. China reestablished those of its diplomatic missions that had been recalled during the Cultural Revolution and began the process of rapprochement with the United States. The People's Republic was admitted into the UN in 1971 and was recognized diplomatically by an increasing number of nations. China's major foreign policy statement during this time was Mao's Theory of the Three Worlds, which was presented publicly by Deng Xiaoping at the UN in 1974. According to this theory, the First World consisted of the two superpowers--the Soviet Union and the United States--both "imperialist aggressors" whose rivalry was the greatest cause of impending world war. The Third World was the main force in international affairs. Its growing opposition to superpower hegemony was exemplified by such world events as the Arab nations' control of oil prices, Egypt's expulsion of Soviet aid personnel in l972, and the United States withdrawal from Vietnam. The Second World, comprising the developed countries of Europe plus Japan, could either oppress the Third World or join in opposing the superpowers. By the second half of the 1970s, China perceived an increased threat from the Soviet Union, and the theory was modified to emphasize that the Soviet Union was the more dangerous of the two superpowers.

The other primary component of China's Third World policy in the early 1970s was a call for radical change in the world power structure and particularly a call for a "new international economic order." Until the late 1970s, the Chinese principles of sovereignty, opposition to hegemony, and self-reliance coincided with the goals of the movement for a new international economic order. Chinese statements in support of the new order diminished as China began to implement the opening up policy, allow foreign investment, and seek technical assistance and foreign loans. China's critical opinion of international financial institutions appeared to change abruptly as Beijing prepared to join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1980. Chinese support for changes in the economic order stressed the role of collective self-reliance among the countries of the Third World, or "South-South cooperation," in the 1980s.

Also in the 1980s, China reasserted its Third World credentials and placed a renewed emphasis on its relations with Third World countries as part of its independent foreign policy. China stressed that it would develop friendly relations with other nations regardless of their social systems or ideologies and would conduct its relations on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Beijing exchanged delegations with Third World countries regularly, and it made diplomatic use of cultural ties, for example, by promoting friendly links between Chinese Muslims and Islamic countries. Officially, China denied that it sought a leadership role in the Third World, although some foreign observers argued to the contrary. Beijing increasingly based its foreign economic relations with the Third World on equality and mutual benefit, expressed by a shift toward trade and joint ventures and away from grants and interest-free loans.

By the second half of the 1980s, China's relations with Third World nations covered the spectrum from friendly to inimical. Bilateral relations ranged from a formal alliance with North Korea, to a near-alliance with Pakistan, to hostile relations with Vietnam marked by sporadic border conflict. Many relationships have changed dramatically over time: for example, China previously had close relations with Vietnam; its ties with India were friendly during the 1950s but were strained thereafter by border tensions. Particularly in Southeast Asia, a legacy of suspicion concerning China's ultimate intentions affected Chinese relations with many countries.

As of 1987 only a few countries in the world lacked diplomatic ties with Beijing; among them were Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Republic of Korea, and Uruguay. Some of these had formal ties with Taiwan instead. China's growing interest in trade and technical exchanges, however, meant that in some cases substantial unofficial relations existed despite the absence of diplomatic recognition.

Data as of July 1987

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