- Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia
Behind the Bamboo Curtain is an important collection of essays on Sino-Vietnamese relations during the Cold War. The book covers the period from the first contacts between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vietnamese Communist Party in the late 1940s through the aftermath of the unification of Vietnam in 1975 and covers all the major issues in Sino-Vietnamese relations. To address these issues, Priscilla Roberts has assembled a group of prominent historians on Sino-Vietnamese relations, including some of the best Western-trained historian and the best Chinese-trained historians. An excellent contribution from a Vietnamese historian and well-documented [End Page 143] chapters on Soviet and French policy further augment the importance of the volume. The contributors make extensive use of primary documents from the United States, the People's Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, and Russia and offer authoritative analyses. The volume concludes with a valuable selection of translated Vietnamese documents.
Yang Kuisong's chapter explores the PRC's policy during the 1954 Geneva Conference. He underscoresMao Zedong's shifting tactics in response to changing international circumstances. As the likelihood of U.S. intervention in the Indochina War increased, Mao developed greater interest in a peace agreement and stepped up his effort to persuade Hanoi to accept a divided Vietnam. Similarly, in the aftermath of the 1954 Geneva agreements, China advised Southeast Asian Communist parties to give up armed struggle. Yang shows that whenMao later understood that the PRC's peace offensive would not achieve his objectives, he once again promoted armed struggle both in South Vietnam and throughout the region, though he was careful to avert escalated conflict with the United States.
Noam Kochavi reassesses President John Kennedy's policy toward China and considers whether he would have been able to seek improved relations with the PRC if he had not been assassinated. Kochavi offers the cautious judgment that Kennedy held a deeply pessimistic view of mainland China until his death and that U.S. policymaking was only one of many factors that shaped the Sino-American relationship. Among the other factors were the views of leaders in Beijing, who at that time were equally unprepared to seek a rapprochement. In addition, U.S.-China conflict over the escalating hot war in Vietnam would have necessarily obstructed improved relations.
Li Xiangqian explores the relationship between the Vietnam War and Chinese domestic politics. He considers the impetus behind Mao's implementation of the Third Line, which involved the transfer of Chinese industry from vulnerable coastal and border regions to the Chinese interior. Li, relying on party documents, argues the controversial position that Mao's deeply-held ideological priorities, rather than security concerns, spurred him to launch the Third Front and that Mao initiated the Third Line prior to the escalation of the Vietnam War.
James G. Hershberg and Chen Jian offer what may be the final word on U.S.-China signaling in 1965, when the PRC sought to contain escalation of the Vietnam War and to avoid the mistakes and the failed deterrence of the Korean War. They examine China's use of its media and of "back-channel" communications through visiting diplomats and heads of state to warn the United States of the danger of escalation. They further examine the U.S. government's receipt and interpretation of the signals from Beijing. Hershberg and Chen reach the judicious conclusion that China's signaling likely reinforced President Lyndon Johnson's inclination toward a cautious approach to escalation, lest the United States provoke Chinese intervention and find itself in a "second Korean War."
Niu Jun's chapter on U.S.-China relations examines the strategic and policymaking context for China's opening to the United States from 1970 to 1972. He [End Page 144] shows that the growing Soviet threat to Chinese border security and Mao's pragmatic efforts to limit radical influence on foreign policymaking during the Cultural Revolution contributed to the moderation of China's policy...