The Sino-Soviet Split
In the mid 1950s the Soviet Union and China began to differ on fundamental issues. While Khrushchev embarked on his de-Stalinization campaign, talked about loosening control of civil society, and initiated arms control talks with the West, China was headed in a more militant direction.
Following a rapid program of industrialization and socialization that had been aided by the Soviet Union, Mao from 1958 to 1961 initiated the Great Leap Forward, an ambitious program of economic development.
However, the program ended in disaster, and three bitter years of economic crisis and famine fol-lowed in 1960 to 1962.The split between the two great communist powers worked well for North Korea. Kim Il Sung first sided with China and signed a special agreement with Premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976) that provided more aid to North Korea. Then Kim signed a Soviet agreement that gave the country even more aid.
At their 1962 party congress Soviet leaders began to criticize the Chinese openly. North Korea, after splitting loyalties in order to obtain aid packages from both sides, ended up siding with the Chinese and even criticized the Soviet Union for backing down during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). The Soviets cut off aid to Korea, but then North Korean relations with the Chinese soured.
By 1966 China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, a purge of perceived capitalist and revisionist elements in China. First Mao’s wife and then the Red Guards criticized Kim as a “fat revisionist.” The Sino-Soviet split, which had helped Kim Il Sung to assert his independence while receiving substantial amounts of aid from both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, now increased North Korea’s isolation.
The situation was not permanent, however, since both China and the Soviet Union viewed North Korea as a buffer state whose continued existence as a communist country was strategically important. They would not abandon it entirely until the end of the cold war. Even now China has a vested interest in preventing the total collapse of the DPRK, since such a collapse would create instability and refugee problem on China’s borders.