Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry During the Cold War.
Since the early 2000s, the aim of what is broadly called New Cold War History has been to rethink the period between the Second World War and the collapse of the Soviet Union as a multi-polar conflict rather than one between American and Soviet superpowers. Much of this work has involved a reevaluation of China's relations with both the West and other Communist countries during the Mao Zedong period. While scholars like Anne-Marie Brady, in Making the Foreign Serve China, demonstrate how developments in international affairs were retold within the PRC to affirm the global significance of the CCP and Mao Zedong Thought, Chen Jian, in Mao's China and the Cold War, argues China's foreign policy was dictated by the need to generate domestic support for major projects like the Great Leap Forward. Other works by Qiang Zhai and Lorenz Luthi have focused on the PRC's relations with Vietnam and the Soviet Union, respectively. Gregg A. Brazinsky's new book, Winning the Third World, marks the largest geographic expansion of this literature in a single monograph while staying rooted in New Cold War History perspectives on the PRC and its leadership. The book consists of an introduction, ten chapters that are ordered both chronologically and thematically, and a conclusion. Due to the length of Brazinsky's work, I will focus on his main points.
Much of the current understanding of how PRC foreign policy developed hangs on the idea that officials were fixated on China's victimization at the hands of imperialist powers and sought to restore its former glory. Brazinsky begins from this position and argues that status was the prize at the center of Sino-American competition in the Third World. He clarifies that status, unlike military or economic power, is difficult to quantify, and, unlike territorial gains from other states, is not unilaterally won. Rather, status is conferred willingly by other nations and peoples through diplomacy. Beijing wanted the leaders of the Third World, or more precisely Afro-Asia, to see China as a model for both revolution and nation building. Yet, it faced a contradiction. On the one hand, it saw itself as a "middle kingdom that deserved a central position in international affairs" (p. 5). On the other hand, equality and solidarity were key to Beijing's claim of fitness to lead in Afro-Asia. Beijing, therefore, attempted to "create an informal, antihierarchical hierarchy, subtly promoting itself as the first among equals without commanding formal deference" (p. 5).
Despite constant attempts by Washington to counteract its efforts, the PRC's successes and failures in its quest for status were of its own making. Brazinsky writes convincingly on this point, distilling PRC engagement with Afro-Asia from the Geneva and Bandung conferences to rapprochement with the US into three themes. First, the peoples of Afro-Asia were "not without admiration for the PRC" (p. 349). China's appeals to newly independent nations based on a shared history of colonial oppression spoke to one of the Cold War's most powerful discourses. China's revolutionary and state building successes, therefore, allowed it to sell itself effectively to Afro-Asian leaders. Second, the PRC "often did more to damage its prestige than did those of its rivals" (p. 349). Brazinsky cites the suppression of Tibet in 1959 (pp. 155-159), the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962 (pp. 173-178), and the PRC's insistence on holding the Second Afro-Asia Conference (pp. 214-223) as examples of Chinese radicalism alienating foreign allies and destroying the good will it had built after the Bandung Conference. Third, China's relations with the Third World were fraught because the political environments of newly independent nations often experienced sudden, dramatic changes. While Suharto's 1965 coup against Sukarno in Indonesia overthrew one of the PRC's most powerful allies in Southeast Asia (pp. 227-229), a 1966 coup in Ghana deposed another key PRC ally, leftist President Kwame Nkrumah, and installed a government that one US official described as "almost pathetically Western" (p. 302). Admiration for Chinese state-building and shared historical experience of colonialism notwithstanding, the PRC at its best could not predict the fortunes of the leaders providing it the status it desperately sought.
Each of these points is clearly stated with ample empirical support. However, I cannot help but wish the book made a stronger claim than Brazinsky's thesis about Sino-American competition for status. Some readers may be bothered by the bracketing out of ideology when considering why Afro-Asian leaders, especially militant groups, chose to align themselves with the US or the PRC. Others may take issue with the unclear position on US imperialism created by a focus on diplomacy. In 1960s Laos, the PRC tried to increase its status by sending the Lao Patriotic Front weapons and military advisers, accepting delegations to China, and providing economic aid (pp. 247-251). During this time, although the US likewise employed cultural and economic diplomacy, it also turned Laos into the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
Reducing this imbalance to competition over status via support for or initiatives against insurgency may obscure more about these relations than it clarifies. Nonetheless, this book is indispensable for having gathered such a broad history into one place.
Winning the Third World is timely and important for two reasons. First, discursive support for Xi Jinping's One Belt One Road relies heavily on the history examined in this text, which places projects like the TAZARA railway (pp. 295-301) and PRC support for Pakistan (pp. 223-227) into a broader Cold War context. As current Sino-American competition for economic dominance in Africa and Asia grows, so will the relevance of this book. Second, Brazinsky has written what may be the broadest application of materials available in the PRC's Foreign Ministry Archives before they closed in 2012 only to reopen a few years later with a significantly diminished catalogue. China scholars hoping to study this period will be grateful for the geographic scope of this book as they search for ways to supplement the loss of the archives as will anyone interested in Third World and Cold War history in general.
REVIEWED BY NICHOLAS R. ZELLER, University of Wisconsin-Madison
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Zeller, Nicholas R.|
|Publication:||Journal of East Asian Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2019|
|Previous Article:||From Miracle to Mirage: The Making and Unmaking of the Korean Middle Class, 1960-2015.|
|Next Article:||Shenghuo de luoji: Chengshi richang shijie zhong de Minguo zhishiren, 1927-1937.|