- Washington's China: The National Security World, the Cold War, and the Origins of Globalism
James Peck has written a thoughtful, interesting book that would have been a provocative and valuable contribution to the debate over policy toward China had it been published forty years ago. His central theme is that U.S. government analysts in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s consistently failed to understand Chinese realities and were determined to force China into an American-structured global economy that had no place for a revolutionary socialist regime. He raises useful questions about how ideology works in the national security bureaucracy and writes persuasively about the tendency of U.S. officials during the Cold War to blur the line between Communism and radical nationalism in the Third World.
Peck begins with a revival of the "lost chance in China" argument to which many of us contributed in the 1960s and 1970s, contending that the U.S. government wasted an opportunity to win friends in Beijing in the late 1940s. Unfortunately, this interpretation of Chinese-American relations during those years has been debunked by evidence to the contrary from Chinese and American sources. Peck ignores most of the work of Chinese scholars and cherry-picks from the work of their Western counterparts.
Chinese scholars, Chen Jian and Michael Sheng in particular, have insisted that Mao was not interested in good relations with the United States, substantiating the contention of Steve Goldstein in 1978 to which Peck takes exception in his endnotes. Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, among others, has documented the determination of the Truman administration to abandon Taiwan and seek accommodation with the People's Republic of China (PRC)—rather than making Taiwan the "linchpin" of Washington's containment policy. We now have ample evidence that the Truman administration [End Page 163] was preparing to recognize Beijing in 1950—evidence that Peck chooses to ignore rather than refute.
Could Americans have been more sensitive, tried harder? Of course. Would a kinder, gentler American approach to Beijing have brought happier results? Tucker and Michael Hunt still think it might have. Chinese scholars do not; nor did any of the other participants in the symposium I edited for Diplomatic History in 1997.
Peck's contention that the Eisenhower administration did not attempt to improve relations with the PRC after the Korean War is plausible. Certainly the administration did not take advantage of possible opportunities, despite the president's public insistence that it was wrong to isolate China. But the United States did do more than Peck acknowledges, specifically in the economic arena that appears to be his ultimate concern. He ignores the evidence presented by Qing Simei in "The Eisenhower Administration and Changes in Western Embargo Policy against China, 1954–1958," in Warren I. Cohen and Akira Iriye, eds., The Great Powers in East Asia: 1953–1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 101–124, a volume Peck cites for his own purposes. Qing points out some of the ways Dwight Eisenhower circumvented the supporters of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) to permit subsidiaries of U.S. corporations to trade with China. Eisenhower also overcame resistance within his administration and allowed both Great Britain and Japan to ease the sanction regime in their trade with the PRC. Chinese intentions in the 1950s remain unclear. Would Mao have been more receptive to U.S. overtures in the mid-1950s? Some Chinese archival material is now becoming available, and we may know more once scholars have combed it.
Peck has done an excellent job of finding and analyzing U.S. government documents that support his argument—although he does less well when discussing the 1960s, for which he offers some of the brilliant memoranda written by Jim Thomson, but tells us little about the intentions of either John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson. Noting the acceptance by the national security bureaucracy of the "containment without isolation" concept—an important move away from the policies of the 1950s and early 1960s—he shifts his focus...