Gregg A. Brazinsky offers an impressively researched, well-written, and valuable study of Chinese American competition for influence in the Third World during the Cold War, touching on the relationship as far back as 1919, with a concluding glance at the days of Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. He argues persuasively that the Chinese were driven by a desire for status, prestige, and recognition as major players in world affairs—and the Americans, ever fearful of the spread of communism, were determined to deny them. Zhou Enlai emerges as the most attractive figure in Brazinsky's retelling of the stories of the Geneva Conference of 1954, the Bandung Conference in 1955, and Zhou's Africa tour of 1963–1964. No one on the American side plays a comparable role. Richard M. Nixon receives more praise than any other American, as his views toward China evolve in the late 1960s. Brazinsky suggests that Washington's reactions to Chinese challenges were often hysterical and were rarely successful at blocking China's gains in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. Beijing's failures were generally due to its own excesses. Its suppression of Tibet, invasion of India, and mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang undermined its benign posturing. It misplayed its hand with Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, and its efforts were sometimes undermined by coups against friendly leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Sukarno of Indonesia. The Chinese were often able to outmaneuver the Soviets (an activity they found especially pleasurable after the Sino-Soviet split) and the Americans in winning praise for their aid projects—particularly in Africa—because of their willingness to work alongside indigenous peoples. Chinese personnel endured difficult conditions and did not expect the superior living accommodations demanded by Soviet and American aid workers. Moreover, they were willing to undertake tasks that neither Moscow, Washington, nor the World Bank considered cost effective—most notably the Tanzania-Zambia Railway. Another advantage the Chinese enjoyed in their propaganda was color. They delighted in referring to racism in the West, especially in the United States. They were prepared to lead people of color throughout the world against white imperialists. Often this meant posing as leaders of the Third World at Soviet expense. Most striking was Beijing's willingness to extend aid, including rice, at a time when millions of Chinese were starving to death as a result of Mao Zedong's inane Great Leap Forward (1958–1962). China also appears to have continued to provide aid to Third World countries during its bizarre Cultural Revolution—although Brazinsky offers little analysis of this period, for which documentary evidence is relatively scarce. China's support for “wars of national liberation” panicked American leaders, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in particular, providing justification for the escalation of intervention in Vietnam. Elsewhere in the Third World, local leaders roundly rejected Beijing's call for revolution. Brazinsky notes Chinese American cooperation after rapprochement in Afghanistan, most obviously, and to some extent in Angola—and Jimmy Carter's willingness to set aside his commitment to human rights to facilitate that cooperation. Brazinsky hopes more opportunities for cooperation will arise in the near future, to avoid the now-clichéd “Thucydides trap,” coined by Graham T. Allison in 2017 to refer to a rising world power causing fear in an established power, escalating toward war. I do have one complaint: the book's index leaves much to be desired. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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