Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gregg A. Brazinsky's "Winning the Third World"

Gregg A. Brazinsky is Associate Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry during the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Winning the Third World prominently features a photo of Premier Zhou Enlai addressing the Bandung Conference in April 1955. Assembling delegations from twenty-nine Afro-Asian countries, Bandung represented a historic moment of unity for the disparate voices that proliferated in the Global South during the era of decolonization. For the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this conference represented a critical opportunity to fight the diplomatic isolation that the United States sought to impose on it and enlarge its range of contacts with other Afro-Asian nations.

In the photo, Zhou faces the room with a determined and confident look. The urbane and charismatic statesman was the ideal person to represent Beijing on the international stage. Poised and unflappable, he projected a moderate image of “New China” even at times when economic and political turmoil was sweeping the country. The premier had already gained the admiration of other world leaders through his measured and skillful performance at the Geneva Conference a year earlier. There he had played a critical role in brokering a compromise between France and the Viet Minh over the future of Viet Nam. At Bandung, Zhou strove to persuade the rest of the Afro-Asian world that China was trustworthy and committed to peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.

The photo quite literally shows Zhou Enlai in the spotlight, an apt symbol for what the PRC was trying to accomplish more broadly in its foreign relations at the time. The central argument of the book is that what China really wanted to gain through its activism in Afro-Asian countries was status. During the 1950s it used conferences such as Geneva and Bandung to raise its international profile and pave the way for normal relations with newly independent countries. I argue in the book that, for a time, China was highly successful with this strategy despite America’s constant efforts to undermine it. Eventually, however, Beijing would undermine its own policies through clashing with India over Tibet and pressuring neutral countries to side with it in the Sino-Soviet split.

Page 99 is ultimately a reminder that contemporary Chinese efforts to gain influence in Asia and Africa through initiatives such as One Belt One Road date back further than the corporate media recognizes. We need to look at the Cold War to understand world politics today.
Learn more about Winning the Third World at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue