For a few unsettling months in 1969, tensions between two nuclear powers reached fever-pinch. On March 2nd, Soviet and Chinese forces engaged in a ludicrous hand-to-hand combat on an uninhabited island in the frozen Ussuri River that separates Manchuria from Russia.
The Sino-Soviet split which reached its high with the above conflict was baffling. Once, Beijing imitated many Soviet projects, from five-year plans to spy bureaus. The Soviets supplied MiGs to fight in Korea. Chinese kids were taught Russian. However, when Mao denounced Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization, the latter decided to cancel the Soviet aid to the Chinese atomic program and many infrastructure projects.
On March 2nd, Chinese soldiers crossed the ice to dig foxholes on the island. Deliberately provoking the Russians, they returned the next day shouting Maoist slogans. No one was sure how it began (both sides blaming each other), but after a two hour clash, two dozen Soviets and an unknown number of Chinese were dead.
In a second incident on March 15th, hundreds of Chinese died. Subsequent clashes occurred and China moved back industries to protect them from an air strike. Eventually, with a nuclear annihilation looming, both sides blinked–in October, a Soviet delegation arrived in Beijing. China looked elsewhere for much-needed allies, and found one in Richard Nixon.