October 5, 1969 – Radio Peking – Report On First Underground Nuclear Test from September 23, 1969 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
1969 was a pivotal year in the Communist world. In 1969 The People’s Republic Of China came very close to an all-out war with Soviet Russia. It began in March of 1969 and lasted some seven months until things calmed down – a series of skirmishes, incursions and accusations back and forth, all over a border dispute that had been brewing for decades with both Beijing and Moscow laying claim to the disputed territory.
The Soviet Border Service started to report an intensifying Chinese military activity in the region in the early 1960s. Tensions at first built slowly, but the Cultural Revolution made them rise much faster. The number of troops on both sides of the Sino-Soviet border increased dramatically after 1964. Militarily, in 1961, the Soviets had 225,000 men and 200 aircraft at that border. In 1968, there were 375,000 men, 1,200 aircraft and 120 medium-range missiles. China had 1.5 million men stationed at the border and had tested its first nuclear weapon (the 596 Test in October 1964, at Lop Nur basin). Both sides’ political rhetoric was increasingly hostile.
The key moment in escalating Sino-Soviet tensions was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on 20–21 August 1968 and the proclamation of the Brezhnev Doctrine that the Soviets had the right to overthrow any communist government that was diverging from what defined by the Kremlin. Mao saw the Brezhnev doctrine as the ideological justification for a Soviet invasion of China to overthrow him and launched a massive propaganda campaign attacking the invasion of Czechoslovakia although he had condemned the Prague Spring as “revisionism”. On 21 August 1968, the Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu gave a famous speech in Revolution Square in Bucharest that denounced the invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was widely seen both in Romania and abroad as virtual declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Romania started to move away from being in the Soviet sphere of influence to the Chinese sphere of influence.
On 2 March 1969, a group of People’s Liberation Army troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. According to Chinese sources, the Soviets suffered 58 dead, including a senior colonel, and 94 wounded. The Chinese losses were reported as 29 dead. According to Soviet and Russian sources, at least 248 Chinese troops were killed on the island and on the frozen river, and 32 Soviet border guards were killed, with 14 wounded.
Both sides have since blamed the other for the start of the conflict. However, a scholarly consensus has emerged that the border crisis had been a premeditated act of aggression orchestrated by the Chinese side. The American scholar Lyle J. Goldstein noted that Russian documents released since the glasnost era paint an unflattering picture of the Red Army command in the Far East with senior generals surprised by the outbreak of the fighting and of Red Army units haphazardly committed to action in a piecemeal style, but all of the documents speak of the Chinese as the aggressors. Even most Chinese historians now agree that on 2 March 1969, Chinese forces planned and executed an ambush, which took the Soviets completely by surprise. The reasons for the Chinese leadership to opt for such an offensive measure against the Soviets remains a disputed question.
This news broadcast from Radio Peking via shortwave, announces the very first underground testing of a nuclear device by China, which happened on September 23rd, with a second one on September 29. However, they weren’t reported until October 5th. Western historians believe the events at Zhenbao Island and the subsequent border clashes in Xinjiang were caused mainly by Mao’s use of Chinese local military superiority to satisfy domestic political imperatives in 1969. Yang Kuisong concludes that “the [Sino-Soviet] military clashes were primarily the result of Mao Zedong’s domestic mobilization strategies of the People’s Army, connected to his worries about the development of the Cultural Revolution.”
Russian historians point out that the consequences of the conflict stem directly from a Chinese desire to take a leading role in the world and to strengthen ties with the US. According to the 2004 Russian documentary film, Damansky Island Year 1969, Mao sought to elevate his country from the world’s periphery and to place it at the centre of world politics. Other analysts say the Chinese intended their attack on Zhenbao to deter future Soviet invasions by demonstrating that China could not be “bullied”.
Here is that news broadcast – the sound is strained and difficult to make out at times since it is Shortwave and something of a crap-shoot – the gist is clear as is the martial music at the end.
Our world, fifty-two years ago.
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