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  • Normalization of U.S.-China Relations: An International History
  • Yu Shen (bio)
William C. KirbyRobert S. RossGong Li, editors. Normalization of U.S.-China Relations: An International History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005. xix, 376 pp. Hardcover $49.50, ISBN 0–674–01904–0.

This collection of essays is the result of collaboration between the Center of International Strategic Research of the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party and the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard University. It claims to have pursued “a more comprehensive approach to the normalization of Sino-U.S. relations,” and consequentially it offers “a more multilateral perspective on bilateral Sino-U.S. relations” (preface, p. ix). Indeed, it has. All of the eight essays address the dynamics of the normalization process during that crucial decade of 1969–1979, but each follows a different path in his or her research. As the subtitle of the book suggests, the result is “An International History.” True to its promise of an international scope, the volume comprises essay by writers who come from not only China and the United States, but also from Taiwan, Canada, Great Britain, and Russia, bringing with them perspectives firmly grounded in their close examinations of myriad historical materials, many of which are official documents recently declassified by their respective governments.

This volume, designed to study the making of Sino-American bilateral relations in the 1970s, goes an extra mile in the direction of making it an international history. [End Page 146] It includes essays dealing with bilateral exchanges between the two major protagonists in the game, which is the norm; it also contains essays that focus on players other than China and the United States, which is extraordinary. The three players that draw special attention are Taiwan, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union, all of whom weighed heavily on the minds of the leaders of Beijing and Washington. The inclusion of these essays broadens our vista of the contemporary political and cultural landscape that complements our appreciation of the complexity of the negotiations between the two rivals trying to arrive at a strategic partnership.

This book is a conference collection. In January 2002, the Central Party School in Beijing hosted the meeting. Among the participants, besides the speakers, were people who had been players in and witnesses to the historical moments, such as former diplomats from both China and the United States involved in the negotiations at various stages of the normalization. Papers presented at the conference thus benefited from comments by these historical players and were further enriched by their personal experiences and observations.

There are eight essays in all, arranged both chronologically and thematically. Some of the essays can be read in pairs; all can be cross-referenced. Each focuses on a respective country, but none confines itself to the environment and conduct of that one country only. For example, Rosemary Foot’s essay illustrates political dynamics in American society that influenced Nixon’s decision and behavior in dealing with the Chinese. However, in her discussion of domestic politics on foreign policy making in the United States, she gives much attention to Taiwan’s reaction and the pressure Taipei exercised on Washington.

A brief preface by Gong Li is followed by a succinct introduction by all three editors. Both the preface and the introduction summarize central findings and common themes as well as the unique focus and argument of each individual essay. Consensus is found among the presenting scholars, who all recognize the efforts by both Beijing and Washington to seek and nurture a common ground, despite their fundamental differences on some important issues and their separate sets of domestic political constraints. They were able to work together because both sides were motivated by pragmatic attention to their respective country’s national security objectives. It is also pointed out that there are different opinions that distinguish Chinese and Western scholars, especially in the writings that explain China’s foreign policy conduct. For example, Western scholars emphasize the disruptive forces in China during the 1970s that slowed down the progress toward normalization, whereas Chinese scholars insist that the interference in China was minimal, and it...