The Zhenbao Incident of 1969: Mao’s Version of “Manufacturing Consent”

In: International Journal of Military History and Historiography
Joseph Lee Department of International Affairs, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand

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In March 1969, the Sino-Soviet military clash on Zhenbao Island marked a critical juncture in the development of the US-China rapprochement. Despite Mao’s solid grip on power and the opportune momentum for policy change after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, a formidable anti-US sentiment had taken shape since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially during the Cultural Revolution, which provided insufficient opportunities to change the diplomatic course. Eventually, Mao directly ordered an ambush on Zhenbao to persuade the public by heightening tensions with Moscow. When the Soviet threat had surpassed that of the United States and the justification for a conciliatory approach toward Washington was prepared, Mao resumed a restrained strategic move toward Sino-American rapprochement. The Zhenbao incident was Mao’s version of “manufacturing consent”, as he laid the foundation for the trilateral relationship’s transformation.

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