20 JANUARY 1967, Page 6

As Russia Sees It



OMETHING has got to give. But whether it will abe Mao's Cultural Revolution or the Liu Shao-chi/Teng Hsia-ping opposition no one in Moscow can say with any certainty. Few people have any doubts, however, that events in China are fast reaching a climax, which may be a fear- ful one. This explains more than anything else the current campaign being undertaken by the Soviet leaders to warn and educate their people about the Chinese threat.

Coming so soon after the resolution of the Central Committee plenum last December, which strongly condemned Mao and his group, this campaign serves several purposes. First of all, it provides the Russian leaders with an opportunity to disclose in some detail what they think of recent developments in China. Secondly, it pre- pares public opinion in a definite and official way for any untoward incidents that might break out between the two countries. Above all, the cam- paign is directly related to the latest turn of events in China and is based on certain tentative conclusions which the Russians have reached about what is really happening.

While few people conclude that there is any imminent danger of military conflict with China, even the most cautious and reserved of them admit that they are worried about the latest developments. The Cultural Revolution has not, as some predicted, worn itself out. According to information available here, the unrest in China seems to be spreading. This is suggested not only by the riots in the big cities. Much more crucial are the disturbances in the countryside and the more remote provinces where the control of the army is not so overwhelming and where the ex- cessive zeal of the Red Guards is believed to have brought into the open antagonism between the people and the vanguard of the cultural revolu- tion. Although so far there has not been too much bloodletting, it is thought that a bloodbath may come if the Chinese leaders do not act positively to control and ease the situation.

From the Russian viewpoint there are two immediate dangers. The first is that the army may decide to be adventurous and stage incidents on the Soviet border. This could be done as a way of appealing for unity in the face of an external enemy. Although the Chinese army is not con- sidered in a position to undertake any large-scale. operations against the Soviet Union, the Sovi5 preparedness is remarkable. There are reports of

tank crews in the border areas having to sleep in their tanks round the clock, in case there is a sudden emergency.

The second possible danger, as the Russians see it, is that the situation in China may get

beyond the control of the party as well as of the army. In this case the Soviet Union would have to guard its frontiers even more closely so as not to get involved in the internal turmoil in China which would follow. To talk about a counter- revolution in China is perhaps not realistic at this stage. Yet the Russians believe that there is sufficient disaffection among the people in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and that the party is disorganised and demoralised enough for the possibility not to be ruled out.

Thus the Soviet dilemma about China is even greater now than it has ever been before. With the revolution in China being threatened with total collapse, and no one knowing who will win the battle for the leadership, Moscow is unlikely to do anything which could damage relations with China beyond repair. That is why the Russians take heart from the one faintest sign of hope in the whole confused situation. This is that the Chinese Communist party is too old and experi- enced to be wiped out even by the most damaging vagaries of Maoist thought and practice.

It is regarded as very significant that both Liu Shao-chi and Teng Hsiao-ping are still holding on to their posts despite the attempts to dislodge them. It suggests that the resistance to Mao and Lin Piao must be growing. Men like Liu Shao-chi may, it is hoped, still be able to rally the dis- affected ranks, regroup and restore normality to the country and the party. (It is worth noting here that, after some hopes that Chou En-lai might disassociate himself from Mao, the Russians have given him up as an opportunist of the worst kind.) This kind of optimism is supported by authora- tative reports current in Moscow about a secret plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese party held some time last month. At this meeting, it is said, the Mao/Lin Piao group moved the formal expulsion of Liu Shao-chi and' some of his colleagues, but failed to get the resolution carried. All this fits in very well with the sudden burst of what seems like impotent fury against Liu and may signify a rearguard action being fought by Mao and Lin Piao to save the Cultural Revolution from growing resistance. According to this Soviet view, it has become essential for Mao and Lin Piao to get Liu Shao-chi and his sup- porters out of the way. They might even be pre- pared to call off the Cultural Revolution if this could be done. But the only way to do it is by changing the membership of the Central Com- mittee, which would then require fresh elections. Alternatively, they could be removed the way other comparatively minor figures have gone, but Mao is believed to be reluctant to employ these illegal methods against a man so well entrenched in the party as Liu because it would be too dangerous. The struggle between Liu and Mao, therefore, is held to be at once the most optimis- tic and most dangerous aspect of the situation in China.

In this situation it seems that even the idea of a conference of the world communist parties is receding. Although the Soviet view still is that the conference should be held 'after due prepara- tions,' the timing of the meeting is becoming more and more flexible. The chances are that it may not take place this year at all. All depends on developments in China, for it was, after all, to deal with China that the Russians called the conference in the first place. Clearly this is not the time for the Soviet Union to take any formal anti-Chinese initiatives. To do so would not only smack of vindictiveness and cost the Soviet leaders precious prestige and goodwill among the Communist parties; it would also play into the hands of the Maoists who have been declaiming from the housetops that the Soviet Union is China's one and only enemy. Apart from this, there is also the faint chance, held dear in Moscow, that the situation in China may change to the extent that she will be willing to participate in a conference after all. That is why the Russians are now tending to plan the conference in such a way that by the time it takes place, there will have already been a showdown between the Chinese leaders and China's position will be known for certain.