In The Nation, Rick Perlstein writes a lengthy essay about U.S.-China relations through the lens of three recent books on the topic: The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression by James Mann; Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan; and Washington’s China: The National Security World, the Cold War, and the Origins of Globalism by James Peck:
China has become rather like Israel: No matter the party, no matter the leader, certain de rigueur formulas must be uttered. Mann strips the hustle bare: “Every single American president since Nixon has, in one way or another, either ignored or quietly given up on the issue of Chinese democracy.” Since this abandonment has been hemmed around by strenuous presidential representations that democracy is precisely what American policy toward China is all about, this has required some fancy ideological footwork. Mann lays out the steps. He says that the apostle of human rights, President Carter, made the second breakthrough, after Nixon’s: He came up with the rationalization that whatever the abuses evident in the 1970s, the situation was much better than it had been during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Ronald Reagan, President during Deng Xiaoping’s first moves toward market liberalization, was able via that patented Reagan magic to explain away China’s Leninist state with a verbal wave of the hand: He referred to the People’s Republic as “so-called Communist China.” “Mr. Deng, keep up this wall!” [Full text]
– Read a CDT interview with James Mann about The China Fantasy.