Live Updates: Xi Says Taiwan ‘Issue’ Is China’s Internal Matter

President Biden and other American officials have invoked fears that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at its highest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Russian officials have warned of “Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0,” blaming the West for the escalation.

It is a big part of the geopolitical backdrop to China’s Communist Party Congress, which coincidentally opens 60 years to the day since the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Back then, China was an impoverished, isolated country, ruled by Mao Zedong whose revolutionary zeal appealed to leaders in countries emerging from colonial rule. Mao had fallen out with the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, over ideology in the late 1950s.

The Cuban crisis made the split between the world’s two big Communist powers even worse. In Mao’s eyes, the Soviet leader caved to the Americans by agreeing to remove its missiles from Cuba in exchange for the secret withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey.

The deal brokered by President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev over a tense 13 days was the closest the world has come to nuclear war. In the midst of the tensions, Kennedy told his press secretary, Pierre Salinger: “Do you realize that if I make a mistake in this crisis, 200 million people are going to get killed?”

“Mao publicly demonstrated an image of a strongman who was not afraid of nuclear war,” said Tong Zhao, senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This was partly why Khrushchev parted ways with Mao — the Soviet leader believed Mao was too hawkish and reckless.”

On Sunday, Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, skipped the opportunity to note the dangers of nuclear war and the anniversary of the missile crisis of 60 years ago. He made no mention of the war in Ukraine, or the need for a negotiated settlement, which China has suggested in vague terms.

Minxin Pei, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, who was in school in Shanghai in the early ’70s after the crisis, recalls the hot rhetoric.

“The official line referred to the U.S. and the Soviet Union as one imperialist fighting another imperialist, each one a threat to the world,” Mr. Pei said. “It was a case of ‘dog biting dog.’”

Decades later, China is in a different place on the world stage as a major geopolitical pivot player.

It is challenging the United States economically and militarily. Beijing remains behind the United States and Russia in nuclear weapons but is expanding its stockpile. China has nuclear-capable forces that can operate on land, in the air and on the sea.

It has also created an “alliance of autocracies,” with Moscow, with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia declaring a “no limits” friendship just before Russia invaded Ukraine. The two men have spoken of their fondness for each other.

If the nuclear threats intensify, it is unclear how Beijing would respond. China has called for a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine, and made suggestions about the need for talks, but without conviction. And it has been a crucial trading partner for Russia since the war began but appears, so far, to have refrained from sending weapons.

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