About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

James H. Mann, Author, Jim Mann, Author
James H. Mann, Author, Jim Mann, Author Alfred A. Knopf $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-679-45053-5
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-679-76861-6
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The Cold War may be over, but its effects live on in the United States's desire to seek close ties with China. That's one of the main threads that Mann (Beijing Jeep), a Los Angeles Times reporter, skillfully pulls through his entertaining history of Sino-American relations since Henry Kissinger's fateful 1971 mission to Beijing. Mann deftly chronicles how Nixon's desire to open up China in order to diplomatically outflank the Soviet Union has become a virtual straitjacket on American policy. America's key decision-makers in successive administrations, Mann argues, mistakenly believed that younger leaders would reform China in much the same way that Mikhail Gorbachev transformed the Soviet Union. Using scores of interviews with top American players (former secretaries of state, national security advisers and CIA directors), as well as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, he shows that the U.S. has been unable, especially in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, to pressure China to reform. By the 1990s, economic ties with Beijing had become such a driving force that the Chinese knew that all American threats--most importantly the threat of revoking Most Favored Nation trade status--were empty. Mann's descriptions of the behind-the-scenes jockeying among U.S. policy makers--the micropolitics behind the geopolitics--are so entertaining that his book will appeal to readers beyond foreign policy junkies. (Jan.)
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