You’re Both Wrong, Now Give Me Your Money
North Korea was never good at making friends, but he had a lot of comrades by default. The Golden Rule of Communism stated that every communist be friends with every other communist (which was funny because many communists hated each other). But when it came to people North Korea felt a deep personal connection with, there were really only two. So when those two began to have a horrible falling out, he knew he needed to do something. And that something was to take advantage of their hatred for each other.
The early 1970s
Five minutes into the conference call and already China and Russia were slinging communist buzzwords at each other.
“Revisionist,” China hissed.
“Splitist,” Russia growled.
China’s sneer could be heard in his voice. “You lie in bed with imperialists and dawn only the mask of socialism. What a perfect illusion you’ve created!”
“How poetic!” And Russia’s glower could be felt in hers. “You are no better than them, China. You’ve strayed from what it truly means to be Marxist!”
“Comrades!” North Korea interrupted. “Comrades… let me tell you something. You’re both idiots.”
China and Russia’s reply came at exactly the same time in exactly the same tone. “Excuse me?”
North Korea didn’t flinch. “Friends, do you not understand the implications this breakup will have? The solidarity of the non-Western world will crumble if the forerunners of communist thought fight each other.” Would Russia and China’s spat really make the world stop turning? Of course not. But he needed them to believe it would.
He continued. “You are the mother and father of the revolution, are you not? Is it not you, Russia, who actively seeks to counter U.S. aggression in your household? And China, do you not struggle to keep imperialism from engulfing Asia in its black shroud?” The two regional power groaned with a hint of agreement.
“What is fraternity?” North Korea asked, voice rising with urgency and passion. “What is strength? Strength is us! We will walk boldly onto the tracks and, linking our friendship hands, face the oncoming train of dissidence without fear! Our revolutionary spirits will make us like titanium and the train is will be torn asunder as it tries to destroy us–to no avail!”
Silence on the other ends. North Korea stared at the phone expectantly, heart racing from the rousing speech. “Well?” He asked. “Did that help?”
And then, a unified reply:
The next day (China’s office)
“Russia is full of shit,” North Korea said.
“You were right the other day.” Pain laced the Korean’s tone. “She’s a revisionist. A filthy revisionist.”
“Of course I was right.”
“But this puts me in a bad position.” North Korea turned away from the bookshelf to look at China. “The Soviet Union’s appeal is, quite honestly, waning. You have far greater potential as an ally than they do. However, I can’t openly oppose the Soviet Union because that would push Russia away. I need her,” North Korea said, and he swore he felt something acidic creep up his throat. “Soviet aid is crucial now more than ever as I try to reconstruct what the American bastard destroyed. The growth of my economy and infrastructure rides on the help of my socialist brothers and sisters.” He gave a sigh. “As much as I hate to say this, keeping Russia’s favor seems like my best, if not only, option.”
There was a bought of silence as China thought on the issue with pursed lips. And then he finally said, “If you kept yourself ideologically distant from the Soviet Union, I would be eternally grateful.” China’s word may have sounded like a soft plea, but his tone suggested cunning. “Such a gesture of goodwill would encourage me to assist you financially, in order to ensure that your neutrality does not compromise your plans for development.”
North Korea smiled.
The day after that (Russia’s office)
“China is full of shit,” North Korea said.
“You were right the other day. He’s absolutely reckless. The Cultural Revolution?” North Korea shook his head. “Pure idiocy.”
“But this puts me in a bad position.” North Korea turned away from the freshly painted model tanks on Russia’s desk to look at her. “Ever since the 60s, he’s been trying to turn me against you by pressuring me into accepting his Maoist ideology.”
Russia sneered. “Yet another fruitless endeavor of his.”
“Of course. How could I possibly betray you when you’ve given me everything?” There it was again—that bile in the back of his throat. “I’m doing all I can to resist China’s influence, especially now that he seems determined to make an enemy of you.”
Russia suddenly cried, “Oh, North Korea!” She sprung up, threw her strong arms around the Korean, and wrapped him up in a nurturing embrace. “My sweet child,” she cooed. “I knew you would stay loyal to me.”
“W-Well, wait, there’s a problem,” North Korea said, though it was a little muffled due to the fact that his face was smushed into her Ural Mountains. “China is offering to pay me a considerable amount of money to side with him.”
Russia’s grip tightened. “That bastard.”
“I-I don’t want to support such treachery,” North Korea said while squirming a little, “but I need the money. I can’t contribute to the struggle—our fight against wrongful ideologies and Western imperialism—unless I have money to develop my economy. I would be loath to take China’s offer, but—”
“Shhh, shhh, shhh… Say no more.” Russia released him and he took a big step back. “It was wrong of China to drag you into our conflict,” she said, not mentioning that she’d tried to do the same. “If I provide you with considerable concessions, you won’t have to side with that traitor. In turn, you can remain comfortably neutral. That is what you want, yes?”
North Korea breathed a sigh of relief and bowed to show gratitude. “A reliable ally as always, Russia.”
By the end of the week, North Korea’s pockets were lined with both Chinese and Soviet money and everything had gone according to plan.
Several months later
China and North Korea talked over cigarettes. Through the windows they had a nice view of the reconstructed Pyongyang; once a symbol of the devastation of the Korean War, now a testament to the fraternity of socialist nations.
“North Korea, I wanted to tell you something.”
“I am thankful that you decided to stay neutral during this feud I am having with Russia. I understand that seeing us like this must be difficult for you, especially since you consider us your mentors and closest friends.”
“I am strong, China. I know that no matter what happens around me, I’ll be okay. The building up or breaking down of alliances will not faze me.”
“I am glad you feel that way, especially since…”
North Korea perked up anxiously. “Since? Since what?”
China blew out a long stream of smoke, as if to delay. “Well, with the loss of the Soviet Union as a key ally, I’ve decided to pursue a new political partnership.”
“Oh, that sounds fun. Who is it?”
“The United States.”
A bloodcurdling scream rang throughout the house.
It’s worth mentioning that although North Korea’s plan worked at first, he actually ended up pissing Russia off by seeming too friendly with China. The Soviets labeled Kim a China-sympathizer and the relationship between the USSR and DPRK worsened because of it. Which probably didn’t matter a whole lot, considering his relationship with China improved greatly during the 70s. Lose a friend, gain a friend. Politics.
Marxist.org is a helpful website with information about the Sino-Soviet split and what mean names Russia and China called each other.
If this got you interested in North Korea’s role in the Sino-Soviet Split, try looking into Chin Chung’s P’yongyang: Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea’s Involvement In The Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958-1975. I simplified the whole issue for the sake of storytelling, but Chung goes into excellent detail about all the little complexities and how they affected each country. Good stuff.
Pyongyang was in ruin after the Korean War. Many socialists countries came together to help rebuild the city, either through providing monetary aid or by providing actual manpower on the ground to aid in the reconstruction. These countries included the USSR, China, the GDR, Poland, and North Vietnam (to name a few). The power of socialist friendship, am I right?