That time China and Russia nearly started World War III

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Fifty-one years ago yesterday, the People’s Liberation Army launched a surprise offensive at the Russian border, causing 31 deaths, thus beginning the Sino-Soviet border conflict. The Soviet Union retaliated by deploying trucks mounted with multiple rocket launchers that killed hundreds. For the next several months, everyone watched nervously as the world’s two biggest Communist powers bristled at each other across the Ussuri River in the area around Zhenbao Island.

“It may have been the time the world came closest to a nuclear conflict, the Cuban missile crisis notwithstanding,” said historian Stephen Smith.

Today on SupChina, we take a look back at this military conflict and its legacy, and find out why such a monumental event at that time has now been all but forgotten (and why Beijing and Moscow would prefer it that way).

—Anthony Tao