The chinese debate about gorbachev’s new thinking, 1985-1999

Jie Li

This article examines Chinese scholars’ evolving perceptions of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign policy that was defined by his concept of New Thinking, from the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s.
The existing secondary literature seems to indicate that Chinese scholars began making positive comments about Gorbachev immediately after he assumed power in 1985, but that soon after the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 they had become completely hostile to him, and that their criticisms did not stop even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
First, the paper is going to show that most Chinese commentators took a dim view of Gorbachev upon his assumption of the leadership in 1985. Only around one year after he took the helm did Chinese scholars start to view his policies more positively, when Sino-Soviet relations were gradually improving.
Second, it will demonstrate that strong criticism of Gorbachev by Chinese scholars did not appear until early 1990, and not immediately after Tiananmen as existing secondary scholarship claims. After Gorbachev was elected President of the Soviet Union, and after he initiated the process of terminating the power monopoly of the Soviet Communist Party on March 15, 1990, both the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese scholars became aware of the possible negative ramifications of such a move on China, which has remained committed to one-party communist rule.
The main argument of this research is that changing Chinese views on Gorbachev and his foreign policy were not only shaped by the ups-and-downs of Sino-Soviet (and later Sino-Russian) relations. More importantly, views changed in response to China’s domestic political climate and the political developments in Moscow.

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