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

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This is the fascinating inside story of the people, forces, politics and diplomacy that have shaped contemporary relations between the United States and China. James Mann, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1987, draws on hundreds of newly uncovered government documents, scores of interviews and his own experiences in writing this superb investigative history.

Mann begins with an account of the process by which ...
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Overview

This is the fascinating inside story of the people, forces, politics and diplomacy that have shaped contemporary relations between the United States and China. James Mann, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1987, draws on hundreds of newly uncovered government documents, scores of interviews and his own experiences in writing this superb investigative history.

Mann begins with an account of the process by which Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger first courted and built up ties to China's Communist government in an attempt to find a way out of the war in Vietnam. At first, the aim was to create flexibility for the United States in dealing with both the Soviet Union and China; but gradually, as the 1970s progressed, the opening to China took on a life and momentum of its own. During the Carter and Reagan administrations, American leaders saw China as an ally against the Soviet Union, and a tacit understanding emerged that the United States would not subject China to the standards and principles applied to other countries. We are shown how subsequent administrations failed to construct a new framework for dealing with China—President Bush tried to preserve the old American relationship with Beijing, and President Clinton has been unsuccessful in his efforts to create something new.

Mann also reveals little-known episodes in the history of U.S.-China relations: that the price of Kissinger's first visit to China in 1971 was a secret promise that the United States would never support independence for Taiwan; how the United States and China worked together in guerrilla operations in Afghanistan and Cambodia; how the movement to restrictChina's trade benefits originated and how Bill Clinton came to support these efforts during his1992 presidential campaign. The disclosure of new information, coupled with Mann's incisive and compelling analysis, makes About Face a work that is sure to shed light on the current debate on the United States' relations with China.
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
The inside story of the people, forces, politics, and diplomacy that have shaped contemporary relations between the US and China, written by James Mann, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1987. He begins with an account of how Nixon and Kissinger first built up ties to China's Communist government in an attempt to find a way out of the Vietnam War. He then shows how the Carter and Reagan administrations saw China as an ally against the USSR and how a tacit understanding emerged that the US would not subject China to the standards and principles applied to other countries, which subsequent administrations have failed to change. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Arthur Waldron
...[I]ndispensable for understanding [Clinton's failed China policy]....Mann's new book...is...substantial...as easy to read as the mountain of declassified papers and interviews on which it rests makes it authoritative.
The New Republic
Charles Horner
If, as James Mann indicates, the history of our relations these past 25 years is indeed "about face," then our two countries still have much of it to regain.
The New York Times Book Review
Robert A. Manning
About Face is a well-crafted chronicle that fleshes out much of the "inside story" of U.S. efforts to cultivate ties with China....[H]e has doggedly pursued a host of declassified material to enrich the record....Mann adds important insight into both President Richard Nixon's sometimes underrated role as Grand Strategist, and to Kissinger's Talleyrand-like duplicity and "excessive secrecy" that, despite the author's dismay, has historically been the trademark of diplomacy.
Far Eastern Economic Review
Kirkus Reviews
An engrossing history of U.S.-China relations from the Nixon era to the present day. According to Mann, Richard Nixon's 1972 journey to China brought a more rational approach to U.S. dealings with that nation and also set the stage for America's China policy for the next three decades. In a remarkably short time, China changed from being an implacable foe to a friend. Diplomatic relations were restored; Washington helped arm the People's Liberation Army and held secret strategy sessions with Chinese political and military officials over how best to contain the Soviet Union. The U.S. strongly supported China's economic development. It was assumed that China was stable and would over time become a more open society.

Then two things happened in 1989: the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and the Chinese leadership ordered the shooting of its own citizens in Tiananmen Square.

With the demise of the Soviet Union the whole rationale for supporting China evaporated, and the shootings deeply angered the U.S. public. Yet Mann, a Los Angeles Times correspondent formerly based in Beijing, argues that post-1989 policy was trapped by the policies that had preceded it. The overly positive image of China portrayed by successive U.S. administrations and the elite, secretive nature of the U.S.-China official dealings before 1989 made Tiananmen that much more bewildering to the public and to Congress. Consensus on what to do about China was thus difficult to build. If after 1989, the U.S. feared the military power of China, it was a power the U.S. had done much to create. If the economic strength of China made it a difficult nation to ignore, the U.S. had done much to develop that strength.And it was, claims the author, U.S. commercial interests with that country that eventually pushed Clinton toward rapprochement with China.

Basing much of what he writes on previously classified documents, Mann's conclusions are most persuasive. A fine history that skillfully unravels the tangled tale of recent U.S. China policy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679450535
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Pages: 433
  • Product dimensions: 6.61 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.54 (d)

Meet the Author

James Mann, the author of Beijing Jeep, is a diplomatic correspondent and foreign affairs columnist for the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 3
Ch. 1 Opening Moves 13
Ch. 2 The Kissinger and Nixon Trips 26
Ch. 3 Tacit Allies 53
Ch. 4 Carter and Recognition 78
Ch. 5 Carter's Cold War 96
Ch. 6 Ronald Reagan and Taiwan 115
Ch. 7 Reagan and the Golden Years 134
Ch. 8 Trouble in Paradise 155
Ch. 9 A New President Confronts Upheaval in China 175
Ch. 10 The Immediate Aftermath of Tiananmen 194
Ch. 11 George Bush Misjudges 210
Ch. 12 Stirrings of a New Decade 226
Ch. 13 China's Long March Back to Respectability 246
Ch. 14 A Campaign and an Arms Sale 254
Ch. 15 Enter President Clinton 274
Ch. 16 Clinton's Retreat 292
Ch. 17 Crisis over Taiwan 315
Ch. 18 The 1996 Campaign and Its Aftermath 339
Conclusion 369
Note on the Spelling of Chinese Names 377
Notes 379
Acknowledgments 415
Index 417
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