Our present relationship with China began when President Nixon attempted
to “play the China card” against Russia. In 1971 China was a weak
country with a collapsed economy. At the same time, the United States
was involved in the Vietnam War. By extending a hand of friendship to
China, Nixon hoped to strengthen America’s strategic position in dealing
and North Vietnam.
This was a classic game of “divide and conquer.”
But why did Nixon think he could play such a game with the strategists
of the Kremlin?
Meaningful Soviet economic and technical assistance to Beijing had been
withdrawn a decade earlier (in 1960). In truth, the Russians did not
have the means to upgrade China’s economy. More significant for Nixon,
Russia’s economic abandonment of China was said to be part of a raging
dispute between the Chinese and the Russian leaders. Nixon believed he
could exploit this dispute.
James Angleton, chief of CIA counterintelligence, was against Nixon’s
plan. He thought the Russia-China split was too good to be true. Besides
that, a Russian KGB defector named Golitsyn had reported on a lecture
delivered by KGB chief Aleksandr Shelepin in 1959. Shelepin had
explained how a phony split could be staged between Russia and China.
The result of this split would be Western economic assistance for China.
Russia would then be free to focus on building nuclear missiles.
By the mid-1960s Angleton’s counterintelligence staff was looking for
evidence of secret Sino-Soviet collusion. As it happened, the National
Security Agency found proof. The Russians were picking up U.S. bomber
data and relaying the information to the Chinese, who then relayed it to
the North Vietnamese. Throughout the 1960s Angleton continued to gather
this sort of information. Item after item confirmed the reality of the
deception. Then, in 1969 a border war flared up between the Soviets and
Chinese. Communist soldiers were killing each other on the Ussari River.
There was real blood and real bodies. Angleton’s theory was discredited.
But the Sino-Soviet border war has a curious history, which no historian
has dared to investigate. In 1971 a strange bit of intelligence appeared
in the West. The head of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, Gen. Lin
Biao (Mao’s chosen successor), had supposedly formed a secret liaison
with the Soviet General Staff in order to stage (of all things) a phony
border war. One source later reported that this phony war would involve
the actual destruction of two Russian regiments and four Chinese
How did the Americans hear of this? There is no way to be sure, but it
seems that U.S. intelligence may have penetrated the Chinese General
Staff in the first half of 1971. Henry Kissinger states in his memoirs:
“…on July 2 the Chinese sent up two MiG-19s in an apparently
premeditated attempt to intercept and possibly shoot down a C-130 flying
an intelligence mission
one hundred miles off the Chinese coast.”
On the eve of Kissinger’s groundbreaking 1971 trip to China, Beijing was
trying to shoot down U.S. aircraft — the first such attempt in six
years! Kissinger sent a memorandum to Nixon, calling the Chinese action
“puzzling and even disturbing.” Why would the Chinese jeopardize his
mission to China? Why would they risk a confrontation when a new era was
about to begin?
Perhaps that C-130 was about to make contact with an American agent
within the Chinese General Staff. Perhaps that agent was about to report
that the Sino-Soviet split was a fabrication, that the border war
between Russia and China was “contrived.”
Then came another piece of the puzzle. On 27 November 1971 the
Washington Post sported the following curious headline: “Lin Biao
Believed To Be Dead.” A British-built Trident airliner belonging to
China had crashed in Mongolia on Sept. 12, 1971. Gen. Lin was supposedly
on the plane.
Several months later the Chinese government released its official report
on Lin Biao’s death. The report asserted that Gen. Lin was killed while
fleeing to the Soviet Union. He had attempted to overthrow Chairman Mao.
But the official report was a lie. According to Col. Stanislav Lunev,
formerly with the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General
Staff, everyone on Lin’s Biao’s plane had been killed long before the
plane took off. After flying the corpse-filled aircraft across the
border, the Chinese pilot parachuted out and walked back to China. In
other words, the crash was staged.
Obviously, the staged crash of Gen. Lin’s plane wasn’t meant to fool
Moscow. Rather, it was something for the Americans, just like the phony
border war that Lin had been arranging. But Chinese intelligence could
not let the American’s put two and two together. Chinese sources quickly
emerged, offering a new twist to the story. According to these sources
Lin Biao’s attempt at a contrived border war had nothing to do with the
“genuine” border wars of 1969-70. Lin’s phony war with Russia was
nothing more than a device for overthrowing Chairman Mao. There was no
secret Chinese-Russian collusion. America could rest assured that the
Sino-Soviet split was genuine.
But wait. If this were true, why stage the phony air crash? And why did
the Russian’s keep the details of the air crash to themselves? Was the
air crash itself an example of Chinese-Russian cooperation?
In 1977 Deng Xiaoping said something interesting to his fellow
Communists. He said that Communism was engaged in an “international
united front struggle.” This united front, said Deng, was a strategy
about which the American imperialists know absolutely nothing. “We
belong to the Marxist camp,” declared Deng, “and can never be so
thoughtless that we cannot distinguish friends from enemies.”
Deng went on to explain that Nixon, Ford, Carter and all future
“American imperialist leaders” were enemies. Nonetheless, these enemies
had momentarily become useful because “what we need mainly is scientific
and technical knowledge and equipment.” Deng emphasized that in the
future, due to the united front strategy, America “will have no way of
avoiding defeat by our hands.”
Nixon’s policy strengthened China on the assumption that China would
oppose Russia in the future. Today China has the largest army in the
world. The Chinese have stolen many of our most vital secret weapons.
But today Russia is on China’s side, not on America’s.
According to Christopher Cox and his committee, Russia is sharing much
of its high tech weaponry with China. In turn, China shares its missile
technology with North Korea.
The Communist Bloc, by any other name, is yet the Communist Bloc. We
need to wake up in this country. We need to rethink the history of the
Perhaps we have lost something more than a few warhead secrets.
Edward Jay Epstein, “Deception: The Invisible War Between the KGB and
the CIA” (New York, 1989), pp. 97-8.
Yao Ming-Le, “The Conspiracy and Death of Lin Biao” (New York, 1983),
Henry Kissinger, “White House Years” (New York, 1979), p. 697.
David Nelson Rowe, “The Carter China Policy: Results and Prospects” (New
York, 1980), p. 16.